Add these to your Christmas list or to your stack of books for the coming year.
Each year, it seems as though both the quality and number of novels written from a Catholic perspective are increasing. Catholic presses continue to set up shop and are not only reprinting classic works that have fallen out of print, but are also doing a wonderful job nurturing new writing talent.
If you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas gift or to create your reading list for the coming year, here are a few suggestions.
Markmaker by Mary Jessica Woods
Because they know I’m a sci-fi geek, Chrism Press sent me this book and, once I read it, I was only too happy to recommend it. The book, from the very first page, is imaginative and immersive. It’s thoughtful enough to reward reading but easy enough that turning each page is a pleasure. I found it difficult to find convenient stopping places because I kept wanting to go on to the next chapter. This one is great for both adults and teens.
On their website, Chrism summarizes the plot:
For the Noxxiin people, tattoos define identity: they commemorate birth, ancestry, accomplishments—even crimes. As a tattoo artist living on an ancient generation ship, Mariikel Serix has sworn to record the truth. So when he becomes an unwilling accomplice in the banishment of an innocent man, he is horrified that he has broken his oath—and his eyes are opened to the misery of the Underbelly, the realm of the outcasts.
Despite the risk to himself, the young markmaker begins secretly helping the ship’s exiles. But more trouble is brewing. The Serix guild, which regulates the ceremonial tattoos, engages in a power struggle with the Ascendance, a domineering political faction—and the conflict threatens to destroy the fragile peace among the Noxxiin clans. Amidst this discord, an enigmatic artist named Haza’ruux singles out Mariikel to be his apprentice, for hidden reasons of his own. As Mariikel ventures deeper into a maze of political strife and ancient clan secrets, he realizes that his pursuit of justice may not only cost his reputation—it may cost him his life.
Brave Water by Sarah Robsdottir
Aleteia contributor Sarah Robsdottir published her debut novel this year with Voyage Publishing, a project from Philip Kosloski. It’s really good. She was already interviewed about Brave Water here at Aleteia, but I want to include the book on this list because it’s a rare example of a thoughtful, challenging piece of fiction that’s still suitable for teens. The book is engaging and full of virtue but never devolves into a bland moral lesson.
Here’s how the novel is described at Voyage:
Girls are disappearing on their way to the spring …
Will fear stop Talitha, the sole water gatherer for her hut, from searching for her friend—even if it means scaling the walls of the mine owners’ compound, where locals are shot on sight?
And will terror block Moses’ path—or can this teenage hunter battle an underground human trafficking ring with ties to the cities on the other side of Great Mountain?
Join Talitha and Moses on their journey, one marked with violent drug lords, crippling jealousy, blinding anger, but also … tremendous beauty. And, the flutters of first love.
Meet other villagers and colorful characters along the way, all of whom are grappling with dire loss after a recent mine explosion. Become acquainted with multiple generations of a missionary family who sacrificed all, moving out to the African bush to fulfill a driving passion—one that most would call a crazy dream. Listen, as ageless questions are carried in on the hot winds of the Great Red Valley: Do you know what it means to truly be brave? And, what if you had to risk your life for a simple cup of water?
Works of Mercy by Sally Thomas
Wiseblood Books is a publisher whose website says: “We are wide eyed for epiphanies of beauty.” Their catalog is full of work that searches out the divine through the beauty, struggle, and depth of human experience. The debut novel of Sally Thomas is no exception.
The website summarizes the plot of Thomas’ novel, Works of Mercy:
Kirsty Sain, aging housekeeper for the newly arrived young priest, assumes that despite this personnel change in her rural parish, her own solitary rounds will proceed as always. She will go to Mass, clean the rectory, go home again. She will keep herself to herself in the safely hedged present and coexist in detente with the past. When a hairless, eyeless kitten is thrust upon her, an unlikely deterrent to the mice invading her house, she declares, “I am not going to love that thing.” She has spent a lifetime armoring herself against the risks of affection. But between the hapless Father Schuyler, who teeters on the edge of breakdown, and the crises of the Malkins, a parish family whose cheerful chaos erupts in tragedy, Kirsty finds her own wounds broken open. Drawn against her will into the sufferings of these vulnerable lives, she returns to an old hero, the Elizabethan poet-priest Robert Southwell, whose “Mary Magdalen’s Funeral Tears” provides a skeleton key to her own locked heart. In Southwell’s words, “love is the fire” that renders all things new.
The City Mother by Maya Sinha
This is another title from Chrism Press. I’ve always enjoyed Maya Sinha’s writing when I’ve come across it, so I was pleased when she debuted her novel The City Mother. This one digs deep to uncover grace in unlikely places.
Chrism gives us the basics of the story:
Fresh out of college, small-town crime reporter Cara Nielsen sees disturbing things that suggest, for the first time in her life, that evil is real. But as the daughter of two secular academics, she pushes that notion aside. When her smart, ambitious boyfriend asks her to marry him and move to a faraway city, it’s a dream come true.
Four years later, confined to a city apartment with a toddler, Cara fears she is losing her mind. Sleeplessness, isolation, and postpartum hormones have altered her view of reality. Something is wrong in the lost, lonely world into which she’s brought a child. Visions hint at mysteries she can’t explain, and evil seems not only real—it’s creeping ever closer.
As her marriage falters and friends disappear, Cara seeks guidance from books, films, therapy, even the saints, when she’s not scrubbing the diaper pail. Meanwhile, someone is crying out for help that only she can give. Cara must confront big questions about reality and illusion, health and illness, good and evil—and just how far she is willing to go to protect those she loves.