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Notable books

Notable Books | Four new novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 18, 2010

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English

In this delightful novel Jack Rosenblum, a German Jew, flees to England with his wife Sadie and infant daughter. Upon arrival he receives a brochure of helpful information and guidance about living in England. Determined to assimilate by following the list scrupulously, he even adds to it as he learns new things about his adopted country-yet, despite his best efforts to fit in by buying his clothes at the right stores and sending his daughter to Cambridge, Jack can't gain admittance to a golf club. He's unwilling to give up the dream, so he moves to Dorset and sets out to build his own course, risking everything and gaining some unexpected rewards. Note: When severely provoked, Jack does very occasionally use bad language-sometimes in German.

The Blind Contessa's New Machine

Carolina Fontini, a young contessa in an idyllic corner of Italy in the early 1800s, has one friend, Turri, an eccentric inventor who is 10 years older and married. The contessa falls in love with a rich young neighbor, but before they are wed she begins to go blind. She warns her fiancé, but only Turri believes her. After she's completely blind, she and Turri commence a passionate affair. He creates a typewriter so she can write to him, and it sets free her imagination. Wallace takes a nugget of historical truth about the invention of the typewriter and fashions a fairy tale rich with images of light and darkness, sight and blindness (of both a physical and moral kind).

Romancing Miss Brontë

Gael could have written a biography of Charlotte Brontë-she certainly did the research-but instead chose to write a novel. For the most part her attempt works, although occasionally she settles into biography mode and in several places lapses into bodice-ripping romance novel territory. Set primarily in the Yorkshire parsonage where Charlotte lived with sisters Emily and Anne, her crotchety father and wastrel brother, the book begins when a new curate (who much later becomes Charlotte's husband) comes to their bleak village. Gael convincingly depicts the relationships between the Brontë sisters and recreates the literary world in which they published. She also tells a convincing love story, although in more detail than required.

The Convent

A half-dozen nuns live in a crumbling convent in the mountains of Spain in the early years of the 20th century. Eight times every 24 hours they gather for prayer, but one day they find a baby in a suitcase on the convent steps. The Mother Superior immediately sees in the baby a sign that God has forgiven her for a sin committed decades earlier. Another sister sees a sign of Satanic activity. We eventually learn the baby's history and see people who gave in to temptation and then tried to cover up their sin. Whether intentionally or not, Karnezis shows how religious systems are unable to take away the guilt and shame of sin-and often compound it.

Spotlight

Pastor Douglas Wilson writes in the acknowledgments of his book What I Learned in Narnia (Canon Press, 2010) that he "grew up marinating in the Narnia stories." In this book, based on a series of talks Wilson gave to the children in his church, he explains how the books deepened his understanding of seven themes-authority, confession of sin, nobility, spiritual disciplines, love of story, thorough grace, love for Aslan/ love for God. Each chapter explains one of the themes and shows how Lewis developed it throughout the series and in various characters. Wilson writes with a direct style that should appeal to young people and their parents. By quoting generously from the Narnia books and drawing attention to Lewis' use of particular words and phrases, Wilson also shows how to be a more discerning reader.

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