A dry but informative examination of an eminent philosopher and theologian.

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HUMBLE SERVANT OF TRUTH

A NOVEL BASED ON THE LIFE OF THOMAS AQUINAS

This debut religious novel fictionalizes the life of Thomas Aquinas.

Just as Italy is becoming a hotly contested battleground between the forces of the pope and those of the Holy Roman Empire, a child is born in 1225 to the landowning Aquino family, whose castle sits on the frontier of these warring states. His mother, Theodora, names the infant after the apostle famous for doubting the risen Jesus: “But flowing through the veins of this infant was the antithesis of doubt. It was soon quite clear that he was endowed with a double portion of the spirit of truth.” Thomas’ education exposes him to ancient philosophers, while an encounter with the Dominicans, a contemporary order, spurs his religious zeal. Despite the disapproval of his mother, Thomas joins the Dominicans. He goes to Paris to continue his studies under Albert the Great, where his silent studiousness earns him the nickname “the Dumb Ox.” In the city’s tempestuous scholastic environment, Thomas begins fusing ancient and Eastern thought with Roman Catholic doctrines, a practice that causes much controversy. Despite his detractors, Thomas’ deep commitment to both reason and faith leads to groundbreaking theology, which will eventually earn him a reputation as one of the church’s greatest scholars and leave an indelible mark on Western philosophy. O’Reilly writes in a breezy but exact prose: “In Viterbo, where Pope Clement IV was living, Thomas preached and offered spiritual sustenance to the pope and the curia, as well as to the Dominicans in his charge, but late into the night he dictated the theological masterpiece, his Summa Theologiae, to several secretaries at once.” The author tells most of the story via exposition, which does not allow Thomas to emerge as a fully formed character. As a result, the book reads less like a novel than a biography. Even so, O’Reilly does an excellent job contextualizing Aquinas within the political, religious, and philosophical battles of his day, making this a pleasantly accessible work for those learning about the theologian for the first time.

A dry but informative examination of an eminent philosopher and theologian.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947431-12-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Barbera Foundation

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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