Review: Catholicism in the Time of Coronavirus

Catholicism in the time of coronavirusCatholicism in the time of coronavirus by Stephen Bullivant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although written from the particular perspectives of the United States and the United Kingdom, and therefore directly applicable to the Australian context, I’m very glad that someone has given some thought to the response and challenges facing the Catholic Church during and after the time of the COVID-19 pandemic event. I wouldn’t agree with everything that Stephen Bullivant has written – in fact, in some points I believe he has missed the mark completely – it was good to have something with which to engage, and therefore to stimulate my own thinking.

From that perspective, this is a good book, and one worth reading at this time in society’s life.

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Review: See Delphi and Die

See Delphi and Die (Marcus Didius Falco, #17)See Delphi and Die by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our hero, Marcus Didius Falco, and his wife, Helena Justina, take a trip to Greece, to see the sites, visit sacred shrines…and to find a killer!

Prompted by familial commitments, Falco and entourage visit all the sites that one might expect to visit during first century Greece – Olympia, Corinth, Delphi, Athens – in search of a killer who had been preying on young women who were also travelling. Venturing into the world of ‘budget travels and tours’, we discover not only the identity of the killer (at the end) but also the long history of travel company who were seeking to make profits by promising much but delivering the very basics.

Along with the identity of the killer, our hero also uncovers the beauty of ancient Greece, or rather what’s left after the Romans have conquered and ravaged ancient Greece. The situation is beautifully captured in the descriptive writing of Lindsey Davis. The ongoing lives of our well-loved characters is always interesting to follow with each volume of the ongoing series of adventures of Rome’s most well-known informer.

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Review: Hannibal: Enemy of Rome

Hannibal: Enemy of RomeHannibal: Enemy of Rome by Ben Kane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The time taken to ‘read’ this book shouldn’t be taken as a sign of disinterest. The reality is that most of my ‘reading’ of audio books takes place when I am in my car – something that has been sorely lacking for the last couple of months during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic event.

The story of this book, set in the lead up to and during the historic journey of Hannibal across the Alps into northern Italy, takes place in a period of ancient Roman history with which I not overly familiar. It was interesting, therefore, to hear the story of two young men – one Roman, one Carthaginian – and their families as it is impacted by the ongoing hostilities that exist between their two City-States. Bound together by a developing friendship, the internal struggles between them are complex and, alas, seem destined to tragedy.

As with his other novels, Ben Kane has woven together an engaging narrative with an historical backstory to provide the ‘reader’ with a tale that captures the attention (even if it took me longer than expected to complete it!). The voicing of this novel by Michael Praed makes only positive contributions to the enjoyment of this tome, his nuance of tone and each individual character being masterful and enjoyable.

A wonderful ‘read’, and one I’d recommend to any student of ancient Roman history.

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Review: Scandal Takes a Holiday

Scandal Takes a Holiday (Marcus Didius Falco, #16)Scandal Takes a Holiday by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another enjoyable read in the ongoing and unfolding adventures of our hero Marcus Didius Falco, his family, and the wider group of regulars who, by now, are well known to the reader.

The opportunity to visit Ostia while searching for a missing ‘journalist’ sees Falco pack his household and head down for a holiday as well. It was going to be an easy assignment, and the opportunity was just too good to miss. And then the trouble starts…

Stumbling across local intrigue, Falco is drawn into more than he bargained for. There is kidnapping, there is murder, there is graft and corruption, and there is foreigners with shady pasts. Falco is almost at home, but his doggedness – along with some help from family and friends – eventually unravels the various threads to reveal not only what was truly happening in Ostia, but also the surprise identity of who was behind it all.

Lindsey Davis is rapidly proving to be a favourite author. Her grasp of her characters, by now well developed and loved, along with the historic setting in which Falco’s adventures are set, are masterful and engaging. Reading these novels are not a burden; it is like delving into the story of the extended family. I’ve already started the next edition…

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Review: The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire

The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on FireThe Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire by Richard Lennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though responding to the summons of the Holy Spirit opens a pathway to a deeper engagement with God and a richer appreciation of God’s presence in the world, our response to the Spirit is often fraught with ambiguity. Such ambiguity arises from the fact that so much of human inclination is given to reducing the Spirit to a mere support for our own desires and goals, on a personal and social/collective level. In other words, we can want to respond to the Spirit, while also wanting to guarantee that the Spirit does not take us beyond the limits of our own designs.

These words from the Epilogue of The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire beautifully encapsulates the significance of what is contained between the covers of this book. The movement of the Spirit is given less credence – and therefore less intellectual consideration – in most of the Western forms of Christianity, and as such the Third Person of the Divine Trinity is often overlooked as people attempt to understand the dynamics of the Christian life.

For Australian Catholics in particular, who are preparing for a national Plenary Council as soon as the current COVID-19 pandemic event resolves itself, a greater and deeper understanding of the place and significance of the Holy Spirit would not go astray. Attempting to discern God’s intention for the Australian Church will require not only consultation and conversation, but also a profound understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit in and around those people who are constituted as the Church.

A collection of essays on a range of topics, each individually coherent yet wonderfully curated as a collection, this book provides the insights of scholars in an accessible form to all readers. It provides food for thought, reflection, and, dare I say it, prayer for those who dare to pick it up and open the front cover. For that reason alone, although published in 2017 this book is all but a ‘must read’ for the Australian Church and, particularly, those who will be delegates to the sessions of the Plenary Council.

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Review: The Accusers

The Accusers (Marcus Didius Falco, #15)The Accusers by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was murder and intrigue a plenty in this volume of the unfolding Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries series, but the location for the revelation of the mystery was not focused on the streets of Rome but the law courts of the Basilica Julia.

Drawn into the sensationalism of corruption and disgrace faced by a prominent Roman senatorial family, Falco and Associates find themselves partnering with a lawyer – who proves to be less than reliable – to defending one member of the family charged with the murder of the patriarch, and forced to first lay and then withdraw charges against another member of the same family. Their attempts to both defend and prosecute are hampered by family members of all sorts distorting the truth and insisting on hiding of a grave family secrets.

Unable to unearth the truth, Falco and Associates face financial ruin, and it is only through the quick thinking of Falco that they avert their own personal disaster while finally learning what really happened.

Another wonderful narrative from Lindsey Davis – unlike her previous editions, but engaging nevertheless – that provides a gripping story and an insight into the Roman legal system.

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Review: Revenger

Revenger (John Shakespeare, #2)Revenger by Rory Clements
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thinking he had escaped – or been pushed out – from his previous role as an intelligencer on behalf of Queen Elizabeth of England, John Shakespeare had established a school with his Catholic wife, Catherine, and was attempting to live a life quietly and out to eyes of the public authorities. Despite his best efforts, however, Shakespeare cannot escape enemies from his past, particularly those who had promised to never let him rest.

Neither can Shakespeare completely escape being drawn back into the world of secrets, intrigue, murders and plots against the Queen. Being caught in the ongoing struggles between Lord Essex and Sir Robert Cecil, both claiming to be the successors of Sir Francis Walsingham, doesn’t bring any comfort to Shakespeare, his wife, or his confederates. Shakespeare plays both sides of the field to perfection and in doing so manages to foil a plot against his Sovereign, save his family from murder, and unravel a mystery that took place half way around the world.

This another wonderful volume from the pen of Rory Clements exploring the world of the late Elizabethan age. The attention to historicity combined with an engaging narrative style captures and holds the reader’s attention from the first page to the very last moment of climax.

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Review: Martyr

Martyr (John Shakespeare, #1)Martyr by Rory Clements
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this first volume of the series we are introduced to John Shakespeare – the older brother of THAT Shakespeare – who works with Sir Francis Walsingham in the ongoing efforts to protect England, and England’s Queen, Elizabeth, from the intrigues of foreign potentates. The usual target at the time of this novel is in the lead up to the well-known intention of the King of Spain to send an armada to defeat the English on both land and sea, and then return England to the ‘one True Faith’ that is centred on the Pope of Rome.

The task that faces Shakespeare is the tracing of yet another Jesuit priest who, having been smuggled into England, is not only providing spiritual solace to the adherents of the ‘old faith’ but is also actively working to overthrow the status quo. Starting with a heinous murder, we follow the journey of Shakespeare as he attempts to unravel a seemingly impossible tangle of different threads of true and misdirection. It is not until the end of the novel that we come to realise that not all of the threads are connected to each other, and some were meant as deliberate attempts to throw Shakespeare from his appointed task. Although Shakespeare ultimately uncovers the identity of the murderer and foils the plot of the Jesuit priest he is seeking, the pursuit of ‘justice’ that prompts his actions remains unfulfilled by the end of this volume.

Along the way, we watch Shakespeare complicate his own personal life by meeting and falling in love with a lady who has remained a ‘secret Catholic’ and who has lived in a household that at one time gave sanctuary to Jesuit priests. When this becomes known to both Walsingham and to Shakespeare’s great enemy, Topcliffe, the life of our hero is endangered in an era where the merest hint of attachment to the ‘old Faith’ could lead to arrest, interrogation (by which I mean torture) and possible death.

How will Shakespeare respond to these developments? We’ll have to wait and see in the next volume.

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Review: Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me A Better Catholic

Finding Jesus among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better CatholicFinding Jesus among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic by Jordan Denari Duffner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very interesting and personal account of a journey of the encounter between a Catholic and many Muslims in a wide variety of settings, in many different places. In doing so, in meeting these people who lived a faith that was different from her own, Duffner was led to a deeper appreciation and practice of her Catholic Christian faith while also becoming aware of the similarities between herself and her fellow Christians and the Muslims she had encountered.

This is a well-structured and well-written book that captures the attention of the reader, all the more so because of the personal nature of the journey it encapsulates. The marrying of personal encounter with good research and, dare I say it, theological reflection, makes this tome a must-read for any Christian who wishes to come to a greater understanding of the Muslims they may know, or even those they have not as yet met.

The inclusion of an appendix containing questions for reflection on each of the chapters makes this the kind of book that could be read in a small group. This feature, which could be used in a group of Catholics and Muslims seeking to engage in dialogue, was an unexpected treasure that only confirms the value of this book.

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Review: Hitler’s Secret

Hitler's Secret (Tom Wilde #4)Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another enjoyable and engaging volume in the unfolding Tom Wilde series that sees our eponymous hero venturing into Nazi Germany to retrieve an unknown package. Little does Wilde suspect that the package has the potential to seriously impact on the day to day existence of the Nazi regime – if only the package can be returned to England safely.

Along the way, Wilde meets some Germans who, while fiercely loyal to Germany, are no great fans of Hitler. The motives might not be ‘pure’, but their help is invaluable in allowing Wilde to escape those who are determined to stop him and to keep hold of the package he was sent to retrieve.

The intrigue, of course, does not stop upon Wilde’s return to England. The package might be in England, but the package is still not safe – neither from Nazi agents nor Western players who wish to use and misuse the package for their own misguided ends. Wilde does not accept those ends, and the package ends up being saved by his sense of honour and integrity, even at the risk of alienating those to whom he has personal loyalty.

Rory Clements provides another well-crafted tale of intrigue set in the opening days of the Second World War. The development of our regular characters, by well known, continues with insights into who they are and why they are compelled to act the way they do. The narrative, both in this novel and in the larger series, is well developed and well planned, and as such entices the reader in the adventure undertaken by Wilde and his friends.

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