Tales from the Vatican Vaults edited by David V Barrett (Robinson, £9.99). This is a fascinating and enjoyable collection of short stories by different authors, all based on the (alternative reality) premise that Pope John Paul I did not die a month after his accession but instead reformed the Vatican and opened up its ‘‘secret vaults’’. Each writer takes this as a starting point to spin a strange and entertaining tale, encompassing everything and everyone from Charlemagne, Captain Cook and witches to gargoyles and apocrypha. The stories are all written with verve and an attention to detail, yet also demonstrate great imagination.
Saint Walstan: The Third Search by Carol Twinch (Media Associates, £9.50). This is the final volume in a trilogy on the life of this popular Anglo-Saxon saint. Twinch reminds us that devotion to St Walstan, the East Anglian patron saint of agriculture, has lasted more than 1,000 years. With 21 colour plates, evoking tantalising reminders of English Catholic history, the author succeeds in bringing to life a man originally dismissed as an “unsubstantiated figure”. Twinch’s archival research has been indefatigable, throwing light on a whole period of embryonic parish churches, local saints and small rural communities.
What is the Religious Life? by Aidan Nichols OP (Gracewing, £6.99). In this historical survey of religious life from the Gospels to Aquinas, Nichols condenses much knowledge in a mere 80 pages. It provides an excellent introduction to monasticism, with chapters on the monks of Egypt, the later Desert Fathers, the Latin world and the medieval period. Great personalities such as Augustine, St John Cassian and St Benedict are considered, as well as Jewish asceticism (the Essenes of Qumran) that predates the Gospels. Fr Nichols concludes that the monastic way “is the simplest and most basic form of Christian discipleship.”
Heroic Failure and the British by Stephanie Barczewski (Yale, £20). What is it about failure that so appeals to us? This is the question Barczewski sets out to answer in this strange but enthralling book. Whether it’s the abysmal failure of the Charge of the Light Brigade or Captain’s Scott’s grim death on the ice, or Shackleton’s daring foray to save a ruined expedition, we as a country always seem to regard these noble failures higher than mere successes. Barczewski looks at what it is about the national character that idolises failure and what this says about Britain as a nation.
Come Follow Me by Daniel Mueggenborg (Gracewing, £12.99). In these “Discipleship Reflections on the Sunday Gospel Readings for Liturgical Year C”, the author provides a reflective and prayerful commentary for those who would like to become more familiar with the Gospels. Mueggenberg, an American priest and academic, challenges readers to incorporate the invitation to follow Christ into their own lives. This book is a useful resource for small group Bible studies or for the individual. It would particularly benefit homilists, parishioners and parish ministry staff.
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