Every year we look through the books we have read, and pick out our best finds. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check these out or don’t know what to read next these adventures are sure to grow your faith and your imagination.
They are in no particular order but are organized by genre.
Battle for His Soul by Theresa Linden
Bad boy Jarret West is a difficult character to like. He is complex, and what I would call a psychologist’s dream in that he takes risks, acts out, craves attention, and is extremely cruel to his younger brother Roland. He manipulates others, is always thinking only of himself and that to which he feels entitled. These attitudes and situations make him vulnerable to the whispered suggestions of the demon Deth-kye, whose purpose is to damn Jarret’s soul to Hell.
Theresa Linden’s books in the West Brothers series relate well to the culture of today’s teens but also capture the supernatural world surrounding them and all of us. That gift is even more apparent in this book, where angels gain strength through the prayers and faithful behaviors of those they protect. Demons also gather strength through opposing actions. Ultimately, the questions are: who will win the battle for Jarret’s soul? Will it be the demons surrounding him or his guardian angel sent by God to protect him?
As the 1st place winner of the 2017 Catholic Press Association Teen and YA Book award, it should surprise no one to see it on our list too.
Molly McBride and the Party Invitation by Jean Schoonover-Egolf
Molly McBride and the Party Invitation continues the series of Molly McBride, a young girl in kindergarten who likes dressing in purple and aspires to be a nun someday. Molly McBride is planning her birthday party, and everyone is invited. Unfortunately, “everyone” also includes Sam, the class bully. Molly doesn’t understand why she should be charitable towards a guy like Sam, who cuts in line and makes fun of Molly and her best friend Dominic. She and Dominic decide to hide the invitation.
Molly’s story is a great way to show how charity goes beyond sharing toys or giving food to the homeless, after all. It also means showing charity to people who may not be nice. I recommend this story to young children and families with young children. This book is also a good way to show how to deal with young bullies.
Playing by Heart by Carmela Martino
Playing by Heart is a historical romance that takes place during Baroque era Italy. Emilia Salvini is passionate about music. Unfortunately, she has to prove her merit as a musician not only to Maestro Tomassini, but to her social-climbing father, who both underestimate her. Emilia’s musical talents aren’t just a way for her father to show off his talented daughters, but an asset in attracting a husband.
Even though the novel takes place in the Baroque Era, it reminds me of a Jane Austen novel with all the social climbing, beautiful settings, and the preoccupation with making a good marriage. It’s a heartwarming romance that will leave you breathless until the very end.
A Bloody Habit by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson
The story begins with lawyer John Kemp meeting a Dominican priest/vampire hunter on a train back to London. He’s only just shaken off the horrid “roman” experience when he learns that a very annoying acquaintance of his has been brutally murdered, his body found ripped open as if by an animal. He finds himself in charge of enacting the dead man’s will. Along the way, he collects evidence that his client may have been murdered. Between working with the police, avoiding marriage to pushy debutantes, and filing the paperwork for a suspicious new branch of the Masonic Lodge, Kemp will have to struggle to keep his life normal, boring and sane; just the way he likes it.
John Kemp starts out as the most pompous Englishman that ever buttered a crumpet, and oftentimes when he was most afraid, I found myself in stitches. He reminded me of some of Chesterton’s comedic characters. Over the course of the book, he learns humility and gets over his many anti-Catholic prejudices.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants a good laugh. Any secular reader or religious reader of another faith will find nothing insulting or problematic because the religion in the book is integral to the characters who simply live their faith honestly without being preachy about it. Catholic readers will simply find an added layer of catharsis and enjoy giggling at the expense of Victorian anti-Catholicism.
The Table by Dennis Lambert
A miraculous table built over 2000 years ago by the grandfather of Jesus Christ and marked beneath with the words “Love has come” survives the darkest moment in salvation history to bring peace over 2000 years later to a modern day musician just as he loses the love of his life in a terrible accident.
Author Dennis Lambert links two different eras in an incredible journey through Church history to the present day. Though the trail of the table isn’t fully revealed until the end of the book, two stories weave together thematically to show how humanity survives through its brokenness with the assistance of faith and love.
This book is undoubtedly great for young adults, but “older folks,” will also enjoy the music scene theme. The worldview is definitely Catholic, but any person who appreciates a good, clean read would find it here.
The Table has also won two 2018 Catholic Press Association Awards; 1st place for Best Book Category and 3rd place in Catholic Novels
How Can You Still Be Catholic? by Christopher Sparks
This is a deceptively simple book. Sparks composed his debut nonfiction book by asking his Facebook friends to finish this sentence for him: “How can you still be Catholic when…?” He then took those questions and answered every single one of them thoroughly in essays of about two pages.
Sparks speaks to the character of the individual who would ask these questions more than just the logical query. And that is priceless because as much as it would be nice if all the attacks against Catholicism were Vulcan-like logical and uncolored by emotion, the reality is far from the educated debates that some of the more famous apologists engage in on TV and radio.
Reading his book taught me as much about how to relate to and emotionally respond to these questions effectively as it taught me the facts and figures needed to answer the question.
Pilgrim River by Kenneth Garcia
How he came to his conversion to the Catholic Church is the meat of the book. Garcia came from an abusive home, void of religion, though his mother was Presbyterian and took him and his siblings to church with her a couple of times. By thirteen, he concluded there was no God. After high school graduation, he worked a summer job looking for gold in the Nevada hills with an assistant geologist, a rough older man who drank heavily and cussed creatively. It was then that the beautiful solitude and wide-open spaces brought Garcia a sense of “primordial power. Could it be called Spirit?”
Rachel’s Contrition by Michelle Buckman
Rachel is insane. After the death of her infant daughter, she cannot hold herself together anymore. She lost her husband and even loses custody of her surviving son. But there is one unforeseen effect of her mental breakdown. People feel safe with a harmless woman who can’t even discern what is reality and what is a nightmare. People whisper secrets to insane women; confess things they wouldn’t otherwise, even if those secrets have to do with an unsolved murder. Michelle Buckman writes a thrilling story for mystery fans, but above all her’s is a book for those who struggle to forgive themselves for their own failings; people who desire to heal.
This book would be welcome to Christians of all denominations. Rachel finds solace and healing in a Catholic Church, but the focus is on accepting and asking for God’s forgiveness.
Somewither by John C. Wright
What if the multiverse were real? Only instead of every choice of every person leading to or representing a divergent universe, it was God’s direct intervention that leads to different universes?
That is the world created by Mr. Wright in Somewhither. We learn of it through the eyes of Illya Muromets, a rather strange looking teenage boy plagued with large teeth and a protruding forehead, whose father often goes on strange trips and returns unexpectedly. The elder Muromets is a Templar, a Knight of the Church charged with guarding a thin spot between these realms and preventing the servants of the Dark Tower from entering and dominating our own world.
Unfortunately, things do not go as planned. Illya has been attracted to the work of Dr. Dreadful concerning alternate realities. He is also interested in the professor’s daughter, Penelope. Dr. Dreadful’s interest is more than academic, however, and Illya witnesses him opening a portal, to the realm of the Dark Tower. Illya and Penelope are sucked in, beginning an adventure that leads to his learning of long-hidden powers, his true heritage and the true importance of keeping the commandments.
John C. Wright shook up the sci-fi literary world with his dramatic conversion to Catholicism. This is his first book post-conversion and oh boy was it worth the wait.
Somewither also won the 2016 Dragon Award for Best Sci-fi Novel
Honor at Stake by Declan Finn
Declan Finn is proving himself to be the go-to guy for the campy fun adventure book that is just smart enough to completely subvert your expectations in ways that never fail to delight.
One of the strongest features of the novel and one of the most Catholic is how it establishes a sense of reality by a great balance of sincerity and dramatic irony. Finn has a way of making things look one way, and then revealing things to be exactly the opposite. It reminds me of Jesus saying he came to turn the world upside-down, and in a way, Finn seeks to do just that for Brooklyn via the lenses of vampire romance action horror (with light sci-fi and espionage elements). I loved its masterful use of dramatic irony and it’s a great portrayal of a young masculine perspective.
This book was also a nominee for the Dragon Award, a feat in and of itself for Indie & Catholic book.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Boxers and Saints is a two-volume graphic novel set during the Boxer Rebellion in China. The first volume, Boxers, is told from the point of view of Little Bao, a young Chinese peasant grows up to become a leader of a band of Boxer Rebels hoping to take back their country from European Imperial rule.
The second volume is told from the view of Vibiana, a young convert to Christianity As the Boxer rebellion erupts around her she is plagued by visions of St. Joan of Arc, and reflects on the reality that this ancient Christian saint fought for the same cause as these Boxer rebels: the unity and freedom of her country. And yet these Boxers would willingly kill her foreign friends and Christians like herself. Guided by the soul of St. Joan, Vibiana works to understand her role in the events around her.
This story beautifully reflects on the sometimes compassionate, yet sometimes abrasive ways that Christianity has encountered native religions and cultures.
This book has also won many other awards already and it is encouraging to see such an obviously Catholic book receive recognition from a wider audience.
- Finalist for the National Book Awards, Young People’s Literature 2013
- Booklist’s Top 10 Religion and Spirituality Books for Youth 2013
- School Library Journal Best Books of the Year 2013
- Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Young Adult Literature) 2013
The Joining by J.H. Dierking
This unassuming novella starts out as a typical alien contact story and deepens into an insightful look into body ethics and how the physical structure of our bodies determines much of what is psychologically healthy in a sexual relationship. The author’s exact worldview is undisclosed but the story arrives at some startlingly Catholic-like revelations through the application of scientific principles. The aliens are also an incredibly unique design that will please any sci-fi fan. At the same time, the focus of the story is on the character motivations and dialogue so it an easy read even for those unfamiliar with the genre. This novella is brief but over a year after first reading it still stays with me.
Secrets Visible & Invisible – an Anthology
Secrets Visible and Invisible is an anthology of Catholic short stories for young adults. These stories cover a wide range of genres, but they all show instances of young adults being courageous, compassionate, and virtuous. The best part is that these stories are all compelling and engaging in a completely natural way.
I highly recommend this anthology to young adults who want some short things to read for the times between finals and commutes. I think Protestants and secular non-Catholics can also enjoy these short stories, as they go in ways typical Christian fiction doesn’t expect. There’s a stereotype of inspirational stories being heavy-handed, but none of these stories talk down to the reader. They feel authentic and honest.