40 Days uses Lenten season to support suspense

Book review:

By donna Biggert
With his latest novel 40 Days, Joe Lee has created another page-turner set in the fictitious Mississippi town of Oakdale. The story begins with the protagonist, Duane Key, starting to realize he must make some drastic changes to set right the results of a life of bad decisions. Joe writes him with an all-too-believable list of screwed-up relationships, but gives him true-to-life redeeming characteristics while he surrounds him with a faithful lifelong friend, a sincerely loving girlfriend, and a precious six year old son.

Additional characters like Duane’s self-centered egotistic career-minded wife Toni, his crazy ex-girlfriend and Oakdale’s librarian, Candi Redding, as well as the individuals they each interact with, also display an overabundance of mixed-up personalities indicative of real life. As with his other seven novels, Lee develops his characters to the extent that you feel you know them. With his meticulous descriptions and every-day life details, he makes Oakdale seem like many a small Mississippi town, with colorful and off-color citizens, nosy neighbors and a laid-back pace.
The faith-based element of this story makes it a little different from Lee’s previous novels. With references to the Catholic Church, a tremendously understanding priest, and the Lenten Season, this book is a good representation of a lay Catholic’s grasp of God’s love. Particular descriptions about Duane’s baptism, the church, and God’s love and forgiveness are comforting reading for a believer. The entire story is built around an almost unbelievable numerical countdown that Duane experiences which only he can see. Lee even numbers the chapters in descending order to accentuate the countdown of forty days, emphasizing that time is running out. As the suspense builds with the countdown, so does the sense of urgency for making amends for past misdeeds.
The all-too-lifelike unpredictability of troubled individuals is played out in several scenarios. Virtues like hope and charity as well as the determination to correct past misdeeds are demonstrated all through the story.
As Duane, the protagonist, deliberately and methodically sets about making many big and positive changes in his life, the writer uses the countdown to underscore the sense of urgency Duane feels. True remorse, forgiveness, and redemption are threaded throughout the pages.
40 Days, like Joe Lee’s other novels, is an easy and entertaining read. The characters are at once familiar and believable and while they don’t necessarily behave in a moral way, the reader is left with insight into the rightness of making amends while there is time.

(Donna Biggert is a parishioner of Madison St. Francis of Assisi. Joe Lee is a Madison author and publisher.)

Children’s books show Christmas’ true joy with beautiful stories, art

By Regina Lordan
NEW YORK (CNS) – The following books are suitable for Christmas giving:
“The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017). 42 pp., $17.

“The Watcher” is a rare treasure in the world of children’s books: The verse is poetic, the illustrations are a compelling blend of photographs and drawings, and the story is a gripping tale of bully and victim … or is it? The narration unfolds and reveals that the instigator is really just a lonely child desperate for a friend. Influenced by Psalm 121, which attributes all help to God’s loving protection and care, it is written in “golden shovel” form, in which the last word of each verse is a word from the psalm. “The Watcher” is a story that holds onto you as it slowly reveals understanding, compassion and innocent faith in God’s love and protection. After it is read, its lyrical tale will not be soon forgotten. Ages 6-10.

These children’s books are suitable for Christmas giving: “The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, “That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger and “The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio. The books are reviewed by Regina Lordan. (CNS).

“Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Girls” by Amy Brooks. Gracewatch Media (Winona, Minnesota, 2017) 100 pp., $20.
“Be Yourself” is a place for Catholic girls and young women to indeed learn how to be themselves, just the way God intended them to be. Colorful, interactive and brimming with saint spotlights, prayers and biblical quotes, “Be Yourself” will encourage Catholic girls to, as author Amy Brooks writes, nourish their relationship with God to better know his will for them and to use the journal to “navigate that relationship – on good days and bad days.” Ages 9 and up.

“Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas” by Laura Alary, illustrated by Ann Boyajian. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2017) 32 pp., $16.99.
Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting, but it can also be a time for reflection and mindfulness of today … if we take the time to look. Author Laura Alary welcomes children to be aware, appreciate and change during Advent within a biblical and present-day context. She tells the story of Jesus’ birth within the framework of children’s daily lives, and she encourages children to anticipate Christmas by preparing to say “yes” to God with simple, practical activities and works of service. Ages 5-10.

“Anointed: Gifts of the Holy Spirit” by Pope Francis. Pauline Books and Media (Boston, 2017) 120 pp., $18.95.
Intended for young men and women preparing to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, but appropriate for all teens, “Anointed” is a compilation of the teachings of Pope Francis brightly illustrated with graphics and photos, Bible verses and prayers. “Anointed” makes the pope’s teachings accessible and engaging, and invites readers to openly receive the gifts that God has given us. Ages 12-18.

“That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger, illustrated by Chloe E. Pitkoff. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2017) 31 pp., $15.99.
Father Prak was puzzled: A group of curious children, beautiful in their multicultural diversity, were preparing for Christmas Mass when they started asking questions about the statue of the baby Jesus. Why didn’t he look like many of them, and why didn’t he look like Jesus most likely did, with dark skin, hair and eyes? The priest turned to God for help while an innocent parishioner in the church overheard the discussion. Answering Father Prak’s prayers through the eavesdropper’s clever idea, the children discovered that through the gift of Christmas, Jesus has come to save each and every one of them, no matter what they look like. A perfect Christmas gift for children, this book celebrates the truth of Christmas while highlighting the mystery of God’s interactions with us through prayer and each other. Ages 4-10.

These children’s books are suitable for Christmas giving: “The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, “That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger and “The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio. The books are reviewed by Regina Lordan. (CNS)

“Angel Stories from the Bible” by Charlotte Grossetete, illustrated by Madeleine Brunelet, Sibylle Delacroix and Eric Puybaret. Magnificat (New York, 2017) 47 pp., $15.99.
Beginning with Jacob’s ladder and ending with the angel appearing at Jesus’ tomb, author Charlotte Grossetete adapts biblical passages of God’s celestial messengers into children’s short stories. Children will enjoy the illustrations of the five stories, created by three artists with varying styles, and the narratives of God intervening in human lives with his angels out of love and care. Particularly appropriate for Christmas, “Angels Stories from the Bible” includes St. Gabriel the Archangel visiting Mary to announce Jesus’ impending arrival. Ages 5 and up.

“The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio, illustrated by Elena K. Makansi. Treehouse Publishing Group (St. Louis, 2017). 32 pp., $16.95.
There comes a time in every parent’s life when a child anxiously asks them, “Is Santa real?” Many parents struggle with this answer, knowing that with the loss of belief in the jolly old man comes the loss of a part of childhood. But fear not, the Catholic faith shows us that the real joy of Christmas is Jesus’ birth itself and the joy of the mystery of Christmas comes not from Santa but from everyone but Jesus himself. “The Secret of the Santa Box” is a needed book for curious children ready to move past the secular stories of Christmas and into a deeper relationship with the true meaning of Christmas. It gently explains the sometimes sensitive topic in cheerful and thoughtful rhymes and illustrations. Ages 7-10.

These children’s books are suitable for Christmas giving: “The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, “That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger and “The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio. The books are reviewed by Regina Lordan.

araclete Press (Brewster, Mass., 2017) 64 pp., $11.99
Ever find yourself at a loss of words when trying to pray? Sometimes the actual effort to find the right thing to say is so distracting that prayer is lost in frustration. Author Sybil MacBeth found her words trivial and trite compared to the magnitude of her prayer intentions, so she created a doodle book to encourage focus, creativity and a space to pray. Guided by a relaxed formula, older children can practice this version of “lectio divina.” “Pray for Others in Color” and “Count Your Blessings in Color,” also by Sybil MacBeth, offer similar avenues for intercessory prayers and prayers of gratitude. Ages 12-18.“Molly McBride and the Plaid Jumper” by Jean Schoonover-Egolf. Gracewatch Media (Winona, Minnesota, 2017) 32 pp., $11.
One in a series, “Molly McBride” helps normalize discussions about religious vocations through its cheerful and accessible narratives about a young girl and her women religious friends. Molly wants to be one of the “Purple Nuns,” and she wears her purple habit everywhere. But she will be attending Catholic school soon and will have to wear a school uniform. Thankfully, a fun-loving priest and her parents help Molly understand that Jesus’ love is much deeper than the clothes she wears. Children will love Molly and her cute wolf pet named Francis. Ages 4-8.

(Lordan, a mother of three, has master’s degrees in education and political science and is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.)

Late exorcists words lift the veil on the demonic, Satan

By Allan F. Wright
“An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels” by Father Gabriele Amorth with Stefano Stimamiglio. Sophia Institute Press (Manchester, New Hampshire, 2016). 145 pp., $14.95.
The world-renowned exorcist, Pauline Father Gabriele Amorth has left his wisdom and experience in dealing with evil forces through this insightful compendium gleaned from interviews published in Credere magazine over the past few years.
Father Amorth founded the International Association of Exorcists and performed thousands of exorcisms in his life. He is refreshingly direct throughout the book and doesn’t mince words when it comes to the reality of the demonic, evil spirits and Satan.
His writing conveys a sense of comfort and hope for those suffering from physical and spiritual ailments such as vexation, obsession and infestation, all believed to stem from demonic forces.
Father Amorth attributes the rise on demonic activity to the decline in faith in God. “When faith in God declines, idolatry and irrationality increase; man must then look elsewhere for answers to his meaningful questions.” The principle of total and complete liberty apart from God and the denial of truth itself are indeed seductive in appearance but ultimately fail to satisfy the “desires of the human heart.”
Young people in particular, “are easily deluded and are attracted to these ‘seductions’ which has been the desire of Satan since the beginning.” Extreme danger arises when these demonic spirits are invited into a person’s life. Amorth goes into detail on specific cases he has encountered.
While we are all victims of temptations, not everyone is a victim of what he calls an “extraordinary action of Satan.” Nor are extraordinary actions of Satan or evil spirits the fault of those who are victim of these attacks.
However, there are an incredible amount of people who declare their allegiance to Satan, the “father of lies.” The casting of spells and “infestations of the demonic” are in fact a reality and chronicled in this book.
In chapter three, “The Cult of Satan and Its Manifestations,” topics such as spirtism, occultism, fortunetellers, piercings, tattoos and satanic music are addressed.
He states that the three rules of Satanism are: “You may do all you wish, no one has the right to command you, and you are the god of yourself.” One doesn’t need to be exposed to a satanic heavy metal band to see those three elements alive and operating in our culture.
Although “An Exorcist Explains the Demonic” is profoundly disquieting, Father Amorth reminds readers of God’s victory over Satan and the tools for growing in holiness and fighting evil provided by the church in the sacraments, sacramentals and prayer. God loves us as a father and desires to protect us.
The reader may be surprised by the amount of demonic activity that Father Amorth records in a matter-of-fact manner, yet always with the confidence that God is stronger. He recalls invoking with much success Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Father Amorth also was the exorcist for the Diocese of Rome during St. John Paul II’s pontificate so he has firsthand knowledge of at least three exorcisms that the pontiff performed in his private chapel. The demons are recorded as having a special indignation when his memory is invoked because St. John Paul “ruined their plans.” Father Amorth believes the reason for this is linked to Fatima and to the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by St. John Paul March 25, 1984.
The book also relies on Scripture and the Catechism for insights into heaven, hell, purgatory and the rite of exorcism itself. Father Amorth makes a solid case for the need for many more exorcists and even suggests that every seminarian be exposed to the work of exorcism as an essential course of study. This compendium is a suitable witness to both the man and his struggle with evil.
(Wright is an author and academic dean of evangelization for the Diocese of Paterson and resides in New Jersey.)