God’s Wild Flowers by Pia Matthews (Gracewing, £12.99). Dr Matthews, who lectures at Wonersh seminary and St Mary’s University, has subtitled her book “Saints with Disabilities”. These brief lives of 141 saints and Blesseds who all suffered from ill health or chronic conditions show us that holiness is for everyone, including those with physical or mental problems. In her moving preface, the author relates the story of her daughter, the fifth of eight children, who has Rett Syndrome, a rare developmental disorder leading to profound disability. These inspiring stories tell us that sanctity and human talents and abilities are often different things.
Mother of God Similar to Fire by William Hart McNichols and Mirabai Starr (Alban Books, £16.99). McNichols, a Catholic priest and iconographer, powerfully drawn to ancient Orthodox icon spirituality, presents 50 icons of Our Lady, some depicting her traditional titles and others her various apparitions. Mirabai Starr accompanies each painting with prayerful reflections, such as the one to the Mother of God of Magadan, which speaks of “the blood of the martyrs … in prison camps and inner cities, on battlefields and in hospitals”.
White Eagle, Black Madonna by Robert Alvis (Fordham University Press, £25.99). Robert Alvis, professor of Church history at St Meinrad Seminary, has written an informative history of the Catholic Church in Poland. Starting with its Christian origins over a thousand years ago, he explores the chequered story of Poland’s long relationship to the Church. The country’s recent history, described in the chapter “From Triumph to Turmoil (after 1989)”, is of particular interest. Alvis asks if the Polish Church will suffer the same decline that has bedevilled much of Europe or be the “evangelising vanguard” John Paul II envisaged.
The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman by Anabel Inge (Oxford University Press, £22.99). The rise of Salafism in the West is part of the national narrative in these uncertain days, so Dr Inge’s new book is welcome reading. Inge spent two-and- a-half years interviewing Salafi women in Britain, asking them a range of theological, social and personal questions. She asks why Salafism is so attractive to Somalis, Afro-Caribbean converts and others in 21st-century Britain. This is a brave and important study of a group normally residing in the shadows of academic debate.
Rasputin by Douglas Smith (Macmillan, £25). One of the most infamous characters in history, Rasputin is part-mystic, part-revolutionary and part-libertine. A hundred years after his assassination, he is still a cipher. Was he a charlatan? A visionary? Did he help bring about the Russian Revolution? Smith’s masterful account is perhaps the most comprehensive biography of this mysterious man, abounding with folklore, myth and history and attempting to portray Rasputin as the complex conundrum he truly was. This is a superb biography that traces the fall of the last great European empire.
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