During my growing-up years, summer meant a week or two at the beach, so trust me that I take“beach reading” seriously. But that doesn’t mean books can’t be fun and nourishing to our Catholic faith. Here is my annual list of great finds, in fiction and non-fiction, for young and no-so-young, to enjoy this summer:
* Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth by Dion DiMucci is the spiritual autobiography of one of the first (and first one-named) rock’n’roll stars. It’s also a great read with surprising spiritual depth and gems scattered throughout Dion’s transformation from rocker addict to faithful Catholic apologist. Dion seems genuinely a seeker, honest about his shortcomings, and darn it, just very Italian (I feel confident about accusing him of this as I, too, am Italian, and I’m also married to one).
*Wow! Is my one-word review of Manga Hero, a Catholic publisher of well-crafted manga (Japanese style-comic books) stories on Catholic themes. I know I’ve got a winner when I can’t get the books back from our kids, who tore through the 3-volume Paul: Tarsus to Redemption and 2-volume Judith: Captive to Conquerer.
Manga Hero’s founder and publisher is Jonathan Lin, a young Catholic who takes seriously John Paul II’s call to evangelize in all ways, even manga. Lin plans to distribute 300,000 copies of a new release, Habemus Papem, at World Youth Day in Madrid later this summer. Go ahead, discover Manga Hero ahead of the WYD crowd.
Three novels with specifically Catholic themes:
*For years friends have recommended that I read Junia: The Fictional Life & Death of an Early Christian by Michael Edward Geisler, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a powerful, well-done story of a privileged Roman young woman, Junia, whose life is changed by her encounter with early Christians. Junia reminded me of the popular Louis de Wohl novels published last century, where de Wohl imagines fictional characters in the lives of saints like Catherine of Siena, Thomas Aquinas and others. Many of his novels are now republished by Ignatius Press; any of those would also make excellent summer reading.
*Awakening by Claudia Cangilla McAdam is a time travel novel from the Imagio Catholic Fiction series from Sophia Institute Press. I raced through this story of an American teen, Ronni, who finds herself in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ Passion. Ronni’s emotions and self-centeredness are so realistic, as is the ways she is changed—and not—by her encounter with Jesus.
*Secrets of Siena by Diane Ahern, is #4 in the series” Adventures with Sister Philomena, Special Agent to the Pope.” Yes, it’s just as silly as it sounds, and therefore, yes, this book is great for young readers. Two kids have adventures with a spy nun who solves improbable faith-related mysteries in Italy. Cute!
Three recent novels with more general interest, but also great for summer reading:
*For adults, The Forgotten Garden is Kate Morton’s first and best novel, a multigenerational tale spanning the 20th century with secrets, English country houses, Australian antique dealers, and early 20th century writers. What’s not to love? Even though the book jumps around in time each chapter, the book reads smoothly and as a whole. One of the best elements of The Forgotten Garden is the complicated love between grandmother and granddaughter, ultimately providing the answer to the book’s central mystery.
*If you haven’t discovered the Penderwick family yet, you’re in for a treat. Brand new and third is the series, The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette, is Jeanne Birdsall’s delightful take on a family of four unique sisters. The entire family will love these wholesome adventures about the best –and worst—of siblings and growing up.
*The Emporere of Nihon-Ja is John Flanagan’s 10th and last installment in the enormously popular 10-book Ranger’s Apprentice series. Flanagan has championed all sorts of unpopular virtues in these adventurous stories, from honesty to servant leadership to courage and hard work. They are easy to love and hard to put down.
What are you reading this summer? Be sure to check back on the blog all month long for author interviews, longer reviews of some of these and other titles, and more.