This historical novel by Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt follows Catrin, a driven and talented young widow who is desperate for a fresh start after the death of her abusive husband. The story begins in 1654, during the Dutch Golden Age; Catrin sets out from her small village in North Holland in search of work and new opportunities—settling first in Amsterdam before moving on to Delft. As she navigates this new chapter, her life is complicated by secrets from her past and romantic possibilities in the present. Ultimately her journey is brightened by her artistic pursuits, which land her a role in the creation and rise of Delft Blue pottery and even allow her to interactwith real-life famous Dutch painters (much to the delight of Rembrandt and Vermeer fans). Continue reading
Jonathan Goldstein’s podcast, Heavyweight, is a smart and introspective show about revisiting the very moments we wonder about and regret. It’s for anyone who has ever held a grudge, doubted a choice, or imagined how things could have been done differently—and isn’t that every person? Continue reading
Eighty-one-year-old Mary Oliver is widely acclaimed for her wise, lyrical poetry that presents life as a spiritual pilgrimage. Her latest book, a collection of essays, celebrates nature and literature as sources of hope, and points to the power of quiet acts such as taking a slow walk in the woods or spending hours with a book. As fans of Oliver’s work already know, however, she sees such acts as far more than movements of serenity or escape. The very title of her new book, Upstream, alludes to resistance—and the purposeful boldness of her vision should not be missed. Continue reading
Brent Van Staalduinen’s expertly crafted debut novel begins with a thief robbing a thrift store at gunpoint and then pocketing a little silver box from an allegedly magic cubbyhole. This tense, yet unconventional scene is an excellent setup for an imaginative story of family survival. Continue reading
Gina Ochsner’s second novel, The Hidden Letters of Velta B., is a captivating, tragicomic story about family and community relationships in a contemporary Latvian town. A dying mother, Inara, recalls her life and family history to her enormous-eared son, whose heightened sense of hearing allows him to hear both the living and the dead. Continue reading
AMBITION: Essays by Members of The Chrysostom Society
edited by Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker (Cascade Books, 2016).
Review originally published in Christian Courier in July 2016.
I happened to revisit Doris Lessing’s ambition-themed short story “Through the Tunnel” around the time I read Ambition, so it hovered over my experience of the book. Lessing’s story is the tale of a young British boy named Jerry who trains himself to swim through a dangerously narrow passageway. He sees other boys do it first, and does it to be like them – to prove himself worthy of friendship and respect. His eyes and nose bleed and his lungs nearly burst during his triumphant dive. The scene is thrilling, but also frightening. Should Jerry be admired for his risky, pride-led act, or chastised for it?
Ambition’s personal, often lyrical essays also acknowledge that ambition can be viewed as both a virtue and a vice. Its authors belong to The Chrysostom Society, a community named for Early Church Father John Chrysostom. Continue reading
Albums that attract dramatic critical attention tend to be those that set themselves apart from the music of the day. Listeners are often caught by a newcomer’s brilliant debut or seasoned artist’s bold departure of form. Love Letter for Fire – an indie-folk collection of duets by Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop – doesn’t fit any of these descriptions. But I don’t think these musicians were aiming for a shocker or chart topper. I say Fire is worth a listen – repeated listens, even – precisely because it has such classic warmth and familiar ease of style. Continue reading