Tag Archives: ebooks

Book review; Lay Siege to Heaven Louis de Wohl

lay-siege-to-heaven2248lgI think Lay Siege to Heaven is the best of de Wohl’s books. He has always done his homework on the historical context for any of his books and there’s a great deal of history here, but in this book he seems to have a strong understanding of Catherine Benincasa and her mother which gives a strong, three dimensional figure to both women. The books isn’t really about Mona Lapa Benincasa but she is there and you can’t help getting to know her.

Louis de Wohl does not give us a sloppy plaster saint, but rather a woman of fire and energy driven by her love of God and His demands on her.  He treats her relationship with God well and seems to have a good grip on the miraculous happenings from her intersession. I particularly love the way she seems to tell the hospital doctor off for being lazy lying dead in bed. Up he gets – plague free and alive again – and sets about his work with the same gusto she had with her care of the plague victims crowding the hospital and town of Sienna.

De Wohl does not shy away from the terrible mess the Church was in, with weak, comfort loving Popes keeping the Bride in her Babylonian Captivity in Avignon. The greed, simony and vice of the whole Avignon set up is made clear by de Wohl who has his information from history, the writings of St. Catherine’s friend Fra Raymond Capua and from Catherine’s amazing and at times rather shocking letters.

For the last ten years of her life (she died at the age of 33) Catherine ate nothing but the Eucharist. She is not the only saint who has been a living proof of the life of the Bread of Life. There’s a touching scene in the book in which the Pope, to test Catherine’s obedience, asks her if she would eat something should he command her.

She says she would obey him and eat whatever he commanded, but she could not obey him if he asked her to keep it down. She had eaten less and less over the years as food immediately came back until she stopped eating altogether.

There is a great deal of historical and biographical information on St. Catherine of Siena as well as the historical record of the years of her life. De Whol has been faithful to this giving the book it’s authenticity.

He touches briefly on her relationship with St. Bridget of Sweden and her daughter St. Katrin of Vadstena (aka St Catherine of Sweden). There’s a moment when she had asked Katrin to negotiate with the awful Queen Joanna of Naples and Katrin still smarting from what had happened to her older brother Karl, refused.

The Church has produced a few very great saints and St. Catherine of Siena is one of the greatest.

A chapel built on a rock in the grounds of the St. Malo retreat centre is named for her and was visited by Bl. Pope John Paul II. Recently a massive flood and mudslide destroyed a lot in the area although the floods came right up to the rock the chapel remained untouched. Catherine weathered the storms that hit the Church in her era, and those storms were great as the Popes were so weak. But she prevailed and at last the pope returned to Rome where he belonged and the beginning of the renewal could take place. There are many times over the 2000 years since Christ established His Church on Peter -Kephas- the rock and the apostles that the storms and flood waters looked to destroy her; but His promise stands firm.

F.Hodgson Burnett’s Lord Coombe, and my grandma.

burnettfetext04hdhcm10Frances Hodgson Burnett is perhaps better known for her children’s stories such as The Secret Garden  and Little Lord Fauntleroy, but her last novel is a fascinating insight into a world on a the cusp of war. Published in 1922 The Head of the House of Coombe follows the story of a neglected child Robin and her strangely enigmatic benefactor Lord Coombe. Robin’s mother is a selfish airhead while Coombe finds friendship with a chronically ill Duchess who has wisdom.

Coombe travels and observes, coming home to England to sit with the Duchess and discuss his observations. He is concerned, “…The very babes are born and bred and taught only that one thought may become an integral part of their being…that the world has but one reason for existence — that it may be conquered and ravaged by the country that gave them birth.”

The Duchess concurs as her own observations have been the same.

“In little schools — in large ones — in little churches and in imposing ones, their Faith is taught and preached….There exists for them no God who is not the modest henchman of their emperor…”

These words brought back memories of my gran. She was a good Irish woman of Limerick stock who was born in the 1881 and died in 1978. She spoke of the Potato Famine (1845 to 52) with such feeling I thought at first she was alive when it happened. But it was her parents and grandparents who saw it first hand. She married an Englishman who lost his arm in the First World War. She lost her little brother, aged 16, illegally out at the front. By the end of that war the age limitations were being ignored in the desperate bid to replace the dead as the war went on. Jack was killed on the last day of the war.

Gran had three sons, one of whom died of twisted bowel when he was six. Her oldest son grew up and was old enough to join the Engineering Corps in WWII. I was told he was part of the crew that entered Dachau and buried the piles and piles of bodies.

Gran never went to Mass. Her sister, whose fiance had been killed in WWI and had never married, came with us each week, but not Gran. I asked her why she didn’t come with us.

She told me she would never forgive the Church for it’s support of the wars. I was only a child and gran couldn’t explain things to me. I was much older before I began to get a sense of her pain. She died when I was 14. I was also too young and not educated enough to understand her sense of betrayal as Britain was so deeply culpable in the potato famine

Lord Coombes observations from the mind of FHB just brought it all back. He speaks of a culture in which churches and education are all soaked in an arrogance of nationalism that, from Coombe’s thinking, was inevitably leading to a terrible war. Hodgson Burnett is probably writing this with hindsight as the book was published in 1922, but I can’t help thinking there probably were some real life Coombe like people who saw where the culture was heading and may even have been Cassandra’s at court.

World War I was the war to end all wars. It was the war that was to teach mankind that something like that must never happen again. I am sure gran thought that in losing her little brother, her prospective brother-in-law and having a husband come home with one arm missing (he lost it in a canon wheel) that the price had been paid. More than paid.

She just couldn’t deal with the next war.

We have forgotten so much – my generation and our children. We don’t teach them what they could really do with knowing. But truth has a habit of finding a way. As more and more books are available in the public domain and people get to read those forgotten classics like Hodgson Burnett, Dorothy Sayers, among others as well as the non-fiction writings of people like Chesterton, Sheed, and Belloc,  we are beginning to clear our memories. I think something good must happen from that.

Book Basket; kids kindle and hardcopy reading.

books basketRonan got a Kindle for his birthday and he loves it. I love the fact that both he and Avila will spend quiet time reading, (Avila has my old Kindle) often with Profiterole and Cecily on their laps (Prof and Ces are the guinea pigs).

I had bought some books for the kids Kindles and a friend gave Ronan some money towards more books.

He has read the first two books in Meriol Trevors Letzenstein Chronicles. With the money from J N P I’ve  bought the third and fourth books in the series as he has requested.

He’s reading The Mitchells at the moment and says it’s good. I think I got it as a freebie some time ago.

Avila has been reading Alvin’s Secret Code and would like some more of those books. She’s reading aloud (to me) Children of the New Forest which is certainly stretching her vocabulary.

She’s also read Five Children and It

We don’t have a book basket this week but Ronan was reading St Francis of Assisi which is a book I bought for Alex for his Confirmation as he took that name.

Also they’ve been reading Marguerite Makes a Book

I do love the fact that both Ronan and Avila love to read. I hope I can encourage them to read good stuff and so grow with their reading. I don’t buy into the idea that all books are good and all screens are bad. That simply isn’t true. Neither do I believe that all old books are good and modern ones are bad. If that were the case Charlotte Mason would not have needed to warn parents against exposing their children to “twaddle”. It is sad that perhaps we can say the newer versions of twaddle are more poisonous than the old versions, but I think as parents we have to be cautious in all the stuff we expose our children to.

There’s plenty of really good books out there, especially once the children have hit a stage where they can read fluently.

Heleyna is reading some of the Oxford Owl books as part of her reading.

She loves it when Avila reads Winnie the Pooh and from me she always chooses Sheepford and Oxley (bk 1)  As Classical Academic Press are  promising bilingual versions I will hang on before buying more.

The other books she’s had out a few times is Our Lady of Guadalupe pop up book. She and her friends seem to love it.

Ronan has been reading the beautifully illustrated Gregor Mendel; the Friar Who Grew Peas

I like the way the children are able to mix happily between ebooks and hardcopy.

Meanwhile I am a Kindle only reader these days. I’ve just finished re-reading Marcus Grodi’s first novel How Firm and Foundation and I’m on to his next one Pillar and Bulwark I have the first one in hard copy but I’ve rebought it for Kindle and don’t mind as I know a lot of Marcus’ work is supporting those who in coming Home to the Catholic Church have lost everything; job home and sometimes a big chunk of their family and friends.

And for lighter reading I’m reading the Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz

I am also slowly pre-reading The Mystery of the Periodic Table with a view to planning some lessons around it.

Also reading A Father’s Tale by Michael O’Brien

Iona is reading some Raffles books (in hardcopy) but the link is for the free ebooks

The Deacon brought me Holy Communion yesterday, and we gor talking about the joy of books

Book Basket

P1010995This weeks book basket has the following books:

Frog and Toad books. There’s a great story about frog and toad going sledging in the snow. Just right for all the snow we have here at the moment.

Diary of a Wombat This is a simple and funny little tale for the younger ones. Heleyna loves it and Avila often reads it to her.

Charlie Needs a Cloak. Another good winter story for Heleyna. It’s by the children’s favourite author Tomie DePaola.

Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery Just a lovely story with beautiful illustrations about a monk who has a bakery to help make the monastery make ends meet. Rona loves this story as he wants to be a baker.

Paintings First Discovery/Art

The 5000 Year old Puzzle

feature-prime._V386282737_I have given Avila my old Kindle, and have a Paperwhite for me now which is brilliant in all sorts of light from dark to bright sunlight. It’s a touch screen which I was unsure about at first because of my peripheral neuropathy. I wasn’t sure the screen would recognise my fingers but it’s been fine most of the time.

Keeping secrets in our house is nigh on impossible – (which I suppose is ok really because I don’t approve of secrets; they always end with biting someone) – but anyway, dear old Ronan has found out that he is getting a Kindle for his birthday.

At the moment he and Avila are sharing my old one.

She is reading E.Nesbit’s(opens list)  The Phoenix and the Carpet which I read to them as a read aloud some time ago. She also has Tom’s Midnight Garden for quick reading. She read it to me ages ago now.

Ronan is reading L. Frank Baum (opens list)  The Tin Woodman of Oz

What the adults are reading:

I am reading Les Miserables  which I read years ago and can’t remember well. Iona has seen the film and thinks we should go too.

I am also reading The Silmarillion which, like Les Mis I haven’t read for many years. Nice to go back to these things.

Al is reading Dorothy Sayers Strong Poison on the train as he goes to and from work.

Iona is reading Daphne du Maurier’s The King’s General. She’s a big Daphne Du Maurier fan.

Book Basket

P1010955I think the book basket this week might only be slightly changed next week. I am not pushing too hard on “personal reading” time but they do seem to just pick a book from the basket and sit with it for a quiet time.

The Usborne See Inside Your Body has been a long time favourite.  As they got Mr. Guts for Christmas it’s been revived as an interest.

Sir Cumference and Knights of the Round Table. A fun way to learn a few maths facts. Avila has taken to these books. I think they are a nice complement to the Life of Fred books they love so much.

The King’s Equal is short and easy to read. Nice relaxing book with some depth of story.

The Glorious Flight of Louis Bleriot across the English channel.

Uncle Chestnut Lovely whimsical stories based around our beloved G.K Chesterton. The book is a very slim paperback for the price. I must admit being taken about by how small the book was for such a price- but it is very well written. (perhaps it’s cheaper in the USA)

At night they are reading something different. The Roman Mysteries that they love so much have a set of mini stories and Ronan has just finished The Trumpeter of Krakow which he really enjoyed.

For read alouds Avila has just finised Kateri Tekakwitha and will read  Mates of the Kurlalong which her aunt has lent to her.

Ronan is reading Swallows and Amazons

I am finding that many books are available as ebooks from Bethlehem, Sophia and Ignatius press and are cheaper in dollars than in sterling. They are certainly cheaper in ebook than hard copy.

So, don’t tell him, but I’ve bought Ronan a kindle for his birthday (24th Feb). Between now and then I will get him a couple of books and I’ve already started loading it with free books. Amazon let you put together a wishlist so I’m building one for him as I go along.

I did spend quite some time looking at other ereaders before I caved to the Kindle again. But the advantage is that we can have the same book on up to five kindles which is brilliant for group reading times. I’ve decided to upgrade to a paperwhite and give Avila my kindle. She’s been asking for one almost more than Ronan.

Literature for Grade 4 (yr 5) (boy)

I am wondering if I should have some kind of book basket or box in which I lay out a number of books I would like the children to read together, alone or to each other. Not sure I need to as they seem to simply help themselves from the bookshelves without me needing to push it too much.

As his read aloud at the moment he is reading Swallows and Amazons

Both Ronan and Avila are reading the Roman Mysteries that Iona’s friend gave them.  This series has really caught their imagination and seems to be teaching them some genuine historical stuff.

Both of them are allowed quiet night time reading in bed.

There are some quick picture books for older children that Ronan has taken to such as Gregor Mendel; the Friar Who Grew Peas, which looks set to be harder to get hold of since when I bought it. Why are so many of the good books so hard to obtain but rubbish gets massive print runs? One of life’s little mysteries.

Don’t get into the idea that by Grade 4 they have grown out of picture books. There are many very well written and beautifully illustrated books that have something to offer for all ages and are ideal for mixed age groups of children. This book about Mendel goes into some detail about his genetic experiments with good illustrations for getting to grips with the science involved.

Another recent read-together that was good for all three of them was The Little Ships: A Story of the Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk.

Ronan has nearly finished reading me the Usborne adaptation of Don Quixote.

For Greek Lit which is recommended for this grade I have D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths (Another find at Wigtown)

The Children’s Homer

and

Archimedes and the Door of Science

Galen and the Gateway to medicine

I also want to revisit The Fairyland of Science.

I’m a bit disappointed that he hasn’t really taken to the Narnia books. I might leave it and try again later on in the academic year and have a go with the Hobbit.

He’s been doing some chilled on the sofa time with Archie’s War and he’s taken to the Usborne books Story of Painting and Story of Inventions

He’ll probably read more Michael Morpurgo as well. So far we haven’t stumbled on anything bad with his stuff, Obviously some books are more suitable for older children so he wont be reading them yet.

As you can see there’s a mixture here, some easy reading and some that will stretch him a little harder.

I’m sure there will be more as the year goes on.

Book Review, Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy.

I have just finished The Cross, the last of the Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy by the award winning author Sigrid Undset. I think the kudos for a beautifully rendered translation goes to Tina Nunnally.  When I blogged about books that are true and therefore speak to us in harmony with natural law,  I was still reading Unset. She shows a profound grasp of human life, love and struggle. She writes from the viewpoint and soul of Kristen as a child, young girl in love, wife and mother of seven sons and mistress of a great house to her old age and the final realisation of her life and struggle, brought about by a sudden opportunity to make an astonishing act of mercy.

Undset’s deep understanding of human nature and the consequences of choices and actions make all the characters of the book very real and believable.

Kristen’s relationship with her saintly father Lavrans and the more difficult relationship with her mother is drawn sympathetically while avoiding  saccharine and vinegar in her description of Kristin’s parents.

Undset’s deep knowledge of history also shines in this story. There are no glaring historical errors to irritate the reader. In fact, there are some details that ring so true that they left me saying “Ah so that’s it!”

While the story is placed in fourteenth century Norway, it has a timeless quality to it, most probably because of the depth of the characters and the fact that human nature has changed little, if at all. I love the complexity of Kristin’s life, love and faith. She commits some truly awful sins, and has to wrestle with her conscience, pride and guilt over them.

Life is way too short to spend reading what Miss Charlotte would call “twaddle” and too short indeed to read trash, so why not make every moment count by reading something good for the heart, mind and soul. This trilogy is it.

A more eloquent review is here: Under Her Heart: Motherhood in Kristen Lavransdatter.

This set of books will be read again (I hope) by me.