Archive for the ‘authors & guests’ Category

Hickem, Catherine. (2012). Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What It Means for You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. ISBN 978-1-4002-0036-8.

What do we know of Mary?

 What we know of Mary’s family is that she is of the house of David; it is from her lineage Jesus fulfilled the prophecy. Given the archeological ruins of the various places thought to have been living quarters for their family, it is likely the home was a room out from which sleeping quarters (cells) branched. As Mary and her mother Anne would be busy maintaining the household, with young Mary working at her mother’s command, it is likely Anne would be nearby or in the same room during the Annunciation. Thus Mary would not have had a scandalous secret to later share with her parents but, rather, a miraculous supernatural experience, the salvific meaning of which her Holy parents would understand and possibly even witnessed.

 Mary and Joseph were betrothed, not engaged. They were already married, likely in the form of a marriage contract, but the marriage had not yet been “consummated”. This is why he was going to divorce her when he learned of the pregnancy. If it were a mere engagement, he would have broken it off without too much scandal.

 Married but not yet joined with her husband, her mother would prepare her by teaching her all that she needed to know. This is further reason to assume that Mary would be working diligently under her mother’s eye when the Annunciation took place.

 We know that her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy was kept in secret for five months, and not made known until the sixth month when the Angel Gabriel proclaimed it to Mary. We know Mary then rushed to be at her elderly cousin’s side for three months (the remaining duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy), and that this rushing appeared to be in response to Elizabeth’s pregnancy (to congratulate her), not an attempt to hide Mary’s pregnancy. Note how all of this is connected to Elizabeth’s pregnancy rather than Mary’s circumstances. As Mary was married to Joseph, he likely would have been informed of the trip. Had the intent been to hide Mary, she would have remained with Elizabeth until Jesus was born, not returned to her family after the first trimester, which is just about the time that her pregnancy was visible and obvious.

 So we these misconceptions clarified, we can put Mary’s example within an even deeper context and more fully relate to her experience. We can imagine living in a faith-filled family who raises their child in strict accordance of God’s word. The extended family members may not understand, and certainly their community will not, so Mary, Anne and Joachim, and Joseph face extreme scandal as well as possible action from Jewish authorities. But they faced this together steep in conversation with God, providing a model for today’s family.

 Although sometimes scriptural interpretations are flavored with modern-day eye, overall this book will be more than just a quick read for a young mother (or new bride, or teen aspiring to overcome the challenges of American culture, or single parent losing her mind). It is a heartwarming reflection with many examples that open up conversation with God. As an experienced psychotherapist, the author’s examples are spot on and easy to relate to. We do not need to have had the same experiences to empathize, reflect, and pursue meaning; we see it around us in everyday life. As such, a reflective look upon these examples can help one overcome an impasse in their own relationship with God and also open the reader up to self-knowledge as His child. In the lifelong quest to see ourselves as He sees us so that we can better serve Him in loving others, this book can be a helpful step.

 The format of the book early on tends to present scripture + client example side-by-side. However, further on the personal meaning attributed to Mary’s experiences are deeper and more poignantly associated with the real-life examples given. Not only is Mary’s example explored, but the importance of women supporting one another and true community is also emphasized. Practical chapters such as the proper questioning of God are instructive. The best part is the manner in which the study guide at the end is designed, which helps to really make this an experience and not just reading.

 Occasional criticism in my mind arose in early chapters. For example, the author gives her own experience of questioning God as to “why” (regarding adopting, then conceiving, children). Later, a chapter devoted to Mary’s example of the proper questioning of God (and the healthiness of any proper questioning) is fruitful but I found myself wondering why she did not tie back to her own misguided “why”. Proper questioning of God, as we see in Mary’s Fiat, is “What” (what do you want of me?) and “How” (how can I do this for you?), never “Why”. Nonetheless, by book’s end I was moved :>)

 With subtlety, Hickem brings out important questions to ask, gently explains functional and dysfunctional behaviors (that bring us to or separate us from God), and talks about important truths that too often go unrealized. An excellent book for:

  •  Mothers of any age, particularly new mothers or single parents without a strong support network (family, friends)
  • Mothers of children who present additional circumstances such as gifted or disabled
  • Mothers who grieve the loss of a child
  • Teens still learning the beauty of their authentic femininity and fighting a culture bent on destroying it
  • Women who simply aspire a deeper understanding of their own Created beauty as mirrored by the Mother of God

 Pick up a copy for yourself or someone you love at our bookstore.

(A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher through BookSneeze®. No remuneration has been received for this review.)



Plan in advance for father’s day! The month of June is dedicated to books for dads and boys…don’t worry, a few dads & daughter books thrown in too! Good list for reluctant readers as well as summer vacation. Enjoy!



In celebration of Mother’s day, moms, women and daughters, recommendations span ages and areas of interest. Great for summer vacation reading too!


The full April list is here. Get a sneak peak at the 2nd half of the month and stock up for summer vacation too!


Spring is upon us, and you can prepare for both Spring and Summer vacations with plenty of good books! Check out recommendations for all ages, plus DVD’s and teaching too!


No need to wait until the end of February for the complete list. Here it is–plan ahead! Click on the link above, and also follows us on Facebook at Litland Reviews


Here it is! The book of the day challenge, to recommend a new book or related media every day in 2012. January is complete, and attached for handy download–just click on the above link. February is on the way! “Friend” Litland Reviews on Facebook to see daily recommendations as they post.

Introducing Karina Fabian!  

 After being a straight-A student, Karina now cultivates Fs: Family, Faith, Fiction and Fun. From and order of nuns working in space to a down-and-out faerie dragon working off a geas from St. George, her stories surprise with their twists of clichés and incorporation of modern day foibles in an otherworld setting. Her quirky twists and crazy characters have won awards, including the INDIE book award for best fantasy (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem), and a Mensa Owl for best fiction (World Gathering). In May 2010, her writing took a right turn with a devotional, Why God Matters, which she co-wrote with her father. Mrs. Fabian is former President of the Catholic Writer’s Guild and also teaches writing and book marketing seminars online.

 Let’s hear what Karina has to say about science fiction writing…

 Why Science Fiction?

By Karina Fabian

 Rob and I have a confession to make:  Neither of us likes literary fiction much.  Oh, we can appreciate the classics like Dickens and Twain, and I was impressed by the beauty of the language in the Secret Lives of Bees, but when it comes to angst and personal reflection, we’d like to have that mixed in with some aliens or a rip-roaring space battle.

Too often, however, science fiction gets a bum rap.  People see only the aliens or the fantastic battles in space, or they classify science fiction with “Godless” fiction, and doubt it has any redeeming value beyond entertainment.

The truth is, science fiction is often used to examine the big issues in an entertaining and “safe” environment.  Star Trek, of course, is well known for this, but it’s not unique.  Aldous Huxley’s 1984 is a classic example–an examination of a future world where comfort and security have taken supreme precedence over individuality.  This book, written in 1931, still informs our political decisions, as we balance our own needs for security against letting our government become a “Big Brother.”

Another great example, made into a movie not so long ago, was Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.  The crux of the story (and of many of Asimov’s other robot stories) were the Three Laws of Robotics:

1.         A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2.         A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3.         A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

At the heart of the stories lie the questions:  Can you legislate morality?  Is Right more than a set of rules to follow?

Science fiction tackles other big issues, too–prejudice (against aliens rather than a particular race–check out the TV show Alien Nation); conflict of cultures and the origin of ethics (Patchwork Girl by Larry Niven); Little Brother by Cory Doctorow looks at the opposite side of 1984–people banding together in reaction to the “Big Brother” state.  Naturally, it also looks at the impact technology has on our lives–a good one for that is Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge, where Alzheimer’s patients are cured and must reintegrate into a radically different society from the one they remember.

It is true that religion does not often play a large role in science fiction, but often, the spirituality lies behind the scenes.  However, religion in speculative fiction, even science fiction, is becoming more prevalent.  When Rob and I wrote our first anthology of Christian SF, Leaps of Faith (, we were in a small pool of writers.  Now, the presence is growing, not only with publishers (like Splashdown and Marcher Lord) that are focusing on religious speculative fiction, but also with secular publishers willing to take a shot at well written books of any kind.  We’re proud to be part of it with our Catholic science fiction anthologies, Infinite Space, Infinite God and Infinite Space, Infinite God II (  These last two anthologies look specifically at our faith in the future and how science and faith interact, inspire and guide humankind. (And the stories feature fantastic conflicts in time and space!) So for those looking for a more specific religious interaction, take heart!  It’s out there.

Science fiction is a lot of fun. It’s exciting and escapist and fully fantastic.  However, it’s also a great way to examine the big issues of our time in an environment that is removed from our day and age.

(Litland’s Note: Spot on Karina! Sci fi is fun while teasing the intellect too. Thanks for your wonderful views on this!

Tomorrow I’ll begin to post a few thoughts about each story in the anthology, so keep coming back folks. Also, today is the last day for discounted books & Kindle on Amazon for both the original ISIG and the new ISIG II…don’t miss out! )

Born and raised in Waterford, Michigan, Ann Margaret Lewis attended Michigan State University, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature. She began her writing career writing tie-in children’s books and short stories for DC Comics. Before Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, she published a second edition of her book, Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species, for Random House.

 Ann is a classically trained soprano, and has performed around the New York City area. She has many interests from music to art history, to theology and all forms of literature. She is the President of the Catholic Writers Guild, an international organization for Catholic Writers and the coordinator of the Catholic Writers Conference LIVE. After living in New York City for fifteen years, Ann moved to Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband Joseph Lewis and their son, Raymond. Together they enjoy their life in the heartland.

 Now for some questions for this author!

 Interview with the Ann Lewis

 First, tell us a bit about Murder in the Vatican!

Ann: I have a tagline I like to use that also appears in the trailer: A sudden death in the Vatican. An international incident over stolen artifacts. A priest’s wrongful imprisonment for murder.” But really, Murder in the Vatican is a collection of three stories (novellas) that tell “untold tales” from the Sherlock Holmes canon. “Untold tales” are stories that Watson mentions, but never gives us the details. With this book, Watson alluded to three Church-related cases, two of which deal directly with the Pope of his time, Pope Leo XIII. “The Vatican Cameos” is mentioned in The Hound of the Baskervilles, “The Case of Cardinal Tosca” is mentioned in “The Adventure of Black Peter,” and “The Second Coptic Patriarch” is mentioned in “The Retired Colourman.” So fans of the original stories can go back and find those references if they are so inclined.  

 Has anyone ever tried this sort of story before?

A: “Pastiche” writing, or writing Holmes stories in imitation of Conan Doyle’s style, has been done by many authors. Nicholas Meyer, Isaac Asimov and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own son Adrian have given it a try. There are literally thousands of these kinds of stories published. (Curious folks and find an exhaustive database of Holmes-related fiction here: .) Many of these are takes on “untold tales” and all three of these very church mysteries have been tackled by other authors independently. But no one has written all three of the church mysteries mentioned in the original stories and collected them together in one volume.

 It’s obvious that you imitate Doyle’s voice in this book (it wouldn’t be a Holmes story otherwise), but you also write in the voice of the Pope.  What did you do to create a “voice” for someone who really existed?

A: You mean Holmes isn’t real? {Big cheesy grin} Seriously, though, Pope Leo was a writer himself, in fact one of the most prolific popes in history. So I read his writing—encyclicals mainly. He wrote about 85 of them. And I discovered that in the topics he covered, and how he addressed those topics, he was a man who was regal (he was nobility), extremely devoted to his faith (one would hope), and definitely loving and fatherly. This was confirmed when I discovered primary source material about him. I came across a great article by a contemporary journalist named James Creelman who personally met and interviewed Pope Leo—the first journalist to interview a pope. Creelman was an Agnostic/Protestant, but he was impressed by Leo’s brilliance as well his as soft-spoken, kindly nature. I also read a period biography that covered him quite well. Using works from that time helped me get a good picture of the type of man he was, and gave me good insight into his voice.

 What is most difficult in writing a period piece like this?

A: Avoiding anachronism is definitely a biggie, but I think the hardest part for this project was imitating Conan Doyle’s voice. While I am familiar Doyle’s language, so is everyone else who has ever read Sherlock Holmes. I knew I’d have fans scrutinizing the text for mistakes. With Leo, I was imitating his voice as translated into English, so there was bound to be some leeway. In the Doyle’s case, you have his music or you don’t, and the pastiche will sink or swim depending on how well you sell it. It was an intimidating prospect.

 And this book has illustrations!

It sure does! That was one of the neat thing we managed to do to give it the flavor of the original stories. When the Holmes tales were first published, they were all illustrated by wonderful artists, Sydney Paget in particular. And it is one thing I think most pastiches are missing. Rikki Niehaus did a fabulous job with her drawings. She even used the right pen and ink technique. Her version of Holmes is just as I imagine him and her Pope Leo is spot on. She’s very talented and I can’t wait to see more work from her.

 How did you feel about fictionalizing Pope Leo XIII?

A: Popes are tricky guys to cover. Some people love them; some hate them simply because of who they are. I just wanted do him justice. He was a controversial figure in his own way, but a decent man who reigned at a transitional time for the Church. He was an important figure historically, and yet he is nearly forgotten. It mattered so much to me to get him right. And being Catholic I even asked him to pray for me. I made him, perhaps, a little more active than he really was. He was, after all, pretty old at the time the stories take place. But we’re not talking a Kung Fu action sequence or anything, so it’s all good.

 A bit of spookiness in the book—you write that Leo XIII had a reported “vision” of St. Michael battling Satan. Is that a true story?

A: It is something that was documented by those who knew him and who were present when it happened. It is, apparently, the origin for the Prayer of St. Michael that was, prior to Vatican II, said after every daily (low) Mass. This prayer is still said quite a bit, and I remember being told this very story when I was a child. I looked up references to it to make sure it wasn’t urban legend, but something documented. I was amazed to find that it was.

 So you’d say being Catholic helped you with writing this book?

A: Absolutely. It gave me a starting point—a perspective and a body of knowledge other people may not have. I still had to do research on the church of the time, of course. I began attending a diocesan-approved Mass in the Extraordinary Form (i.e. the Traditional Latin Mass) so I could learn about the Mass as Leo said it. I was eager to share the church as it truly was and is, as opposed to Dan Brown’s version of it.

 What other books do you have in the works?

A: I have written one more Holmes piece called The Watson Chronicles that is more about Watson’s life near the end of his partnership with Holmes. I’m editing that now. Then I hope to jump into a historical novel that tells the true story of a priest in 1840s southern Indiana who was falsely accused of assaulting a woman in a confessional. Hopefully I can tell you more about that another time. J

 I understand you’ve worked with other well-known characters—Star Wars and DC Comics?

A: I wrote The Star Wars Essential Guide to Alien Species in 2001 for Del Rey Books (part of Random House) as well as its second edition, The New Essential Guide to Alien Species (2007). The Star Wars gig was a lucky break for me. I was given the opportunity because I was familiar with the universe, but also because I had experience working with licensed properties. My second job out of college was working at DC Comics in their Licensed Publishing Department, so I had learned how to treat characters that belong to someone else. That was a must for Star Wars. The DC Comics stuff that I wrote is out of print, but I believe both editions of the Star Wars books are still available on Amazon.

 Where can readers find you if they have more questions?

A: You can reach me by emailing me through my web site: Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been great meeting you.

Welcome to Ann Lewis! I just reviewed Ann’s latest book against our character education criteria: Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Three entertaining novelettes make for a quick yet entertaining read. It also provides opportunity for creative homeschooling, some ideas for which Ann gives us in her guest post below:


 Ann Lewis!


 When Conan Doyle sat down to write the first Sherlock Holmes stories, his intended audience was teenage boys. Despite what he intended, girls jumped on them as well. Holmes had so many fans, and Doyle wrote him so convincingly, that many readers wrote the detective letters asking for help in solving problems as well as proposing marriage. I, like those the teens of yore, read him first at the age of 16 and have been hooked ever since.

 The Sherlock Holmes books can still be read by teenagers, and they fit well into a reading curriculum. The character is a master of observation and deduction, and he solves crimes using the scientific method. Before there ever could have been a CSI, there was Sherlock Holmes. He is a great literary lead-in for learning about logic, clear-thinking, how science now helps solve crime, as well as part of a reading unit on authors from the Victorian period.

 Now—most of the short stories are indeed fine for teens (especially as they were, for the most part, the intended audience), though there are a few caveats. With “A Scandal in Bohemia” one may need to explain to their teens what an “adventuress” was. And both “The Adventure of Black Peter” and “The Cardboard Box” deal with marital infidelity. Holmes is also a smoker and a drug user, this latter characteristic being one his friend Watson criticizes repeatedly. The good doctor eventually manages to get his friend off the stuff in later stories. Perhaps parents can use these character flaws as a point of discussion when focusing on developing virtue rather than vice.

 Where should one start with reading Holmes?  While the first one I read as a teen was the great classic everyone knows, The Hound of the Baskervilles, I recommend starting with the short stories, that way a young person can get a taste before diving into the deep end. You can print the stories out one at a time as they are available online here with the original illustrations: . Some kids might need a little help with vocabulary, especially since it is British literature, but most of it is pretty accessible.

 For first-time readers, the stories I recommend the most are: “The Red Headed League,” followed by “The Blue Carbuncle” (especially around Christmas time), “The Speckled Band,” “Silver Blaze,” “The Greek Interpreter,” and “The Dancing Men.” After these, “The Final Problem,” and “The Empty House” can be read as a set. One could then progress to other stories and the novels, of which The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best.

 Holmes is most known for the observations he makes of the people around him. He can look at someone and determine much about their life and what they do. For example, after examining a man’s hat in “The Blue Carbuncle,” he deduces that the owner had no gas jets in his house, that he had fallen on hard times, and that his wife had ceased to love him. In “Red Head League,” he can tell, at first meeting his client Mr. Wilson, that he is a Mason, that he was once a laborer, that he had traveled to China, and that he had done a lot of writing in recent days. In each case, after making these declarations, he explains how he knew these things, and his friend Watson is astonished at how simple it all was.

 Homeschooling families can use this simple game of observation and learn how important it is in science and in life. Take time to go “people watching” in the park and ask your kids to play Holmes. Pick out a person and see how many things they can observe about that person. Then have them explain why they believe they are right. If they are bold (and very polite) perhaps they can go ask the person if they are correct. However, you do need to pick the right person otherwise you might get some strange responses. Or—perhaps introduce them to someone you know that they have never met and have them try to figure out this person’s occupation, marriage status, etc. However, they must not “guess”—they must observe, say what they think, then explain why they think that way. Holmes never guesses. J 

 In short, Holmes can teach kids how to reason in a logical, orderly fashion based on what they observe. Then, after reading Holmes, you can pick up the Father Brown mysteries—a character who solves crimes in a way completely different from that of Sherlock Holmes. But perhaps he will be the subject of a later post. For now, say to your kids, “The game is afoot!” and introduce them to Holmes and his Science of Deduction. You and they will never regret it.


 Thanks for the great ideas Ann! And Father Brown is a good suggestion to follow-up Holmes with too. Spring break leads into summer vacation, time to stock-up on these stories now!