Scarpia by Piers Paul Read (Bloomsbury, £8.99). In this characteristically bold and stylish novel, Read re-imagines Puccini’s grand opera Tosca, focusing on its villain, the young Sicilian noble Vitellio Scarpia. After finding himself destitute, Scarpia joins the papal army and falls in love with a countess. From Rome he is sent to Venice on a special mission for a cardinal. From here the novel steps into higher gear as love, treachery and art intermingle in a heady stew. Read is great at evoking 18th-century Rome and even better on the inner machinations of the Vatican.
10-Minute Diary 2017 edited by Fr Javier Ruiz-Ortiz (CTS, £7.95). If you struggle to find time to pray each day, then this might be the solution. This beautifully presented diary not only gives you space to manage your daily tasks, but also helps you to take 10 minutes out of each frantic day to meditate on Scripture. The diary includes a list of Holy Days of Obligation, prayers for different occasions and an aspirational map of the world’s pilgrimage destinations. This would be an ideal Christmas gift for a busy young Catholic.
God, You’re Breaking My Heart by Brian Grogan SJ (Messenger Publications, £9.99). The author, an academic and superior of the Jesuit House of Writers in Dublin, explores the perennial question Christians have raised throughout the centuries: why does God allow evil and suffering? Each chapter is short, with passages for reflection, and includes contemporary stories about the Trappist monks in Algeria and the “Disappeared” in Argentina, as well as reminiscences by Holocaust survivors, such as Viktor Frankl. Evil, Grogan writes, is a “dark mystery” and only in Christ, who provides a light in the darkness, will the darkness be overcome.
Matteo Ricci and the Catholic Mission to China by Ronnie Po-chia Hsia (Hackett, £13.99). In 2010, the 400th anniversary of Matteo Ricci’s death, Ronnie Hsia produced a superb study of the most famous Jesuit missionary to China. Here, we have a briefer but still very rewarding account of Ricci’s fascinating life. Hsia explores the economic, intellectual and religious contexts of Ricci’s mission, and provides translations of numerous contemporary documents. Ricci’s adventure was one of the most important episodes in the early modern Sino-European encounter, setting the trends and exposing the tensions that would prevail for decades.
The Cistercians in the Middle Ages by Janet Burton and Julie Kerr (Boydell Press, £17.99). This excellent survey reveals the Cistercians as “far and away the most prolific and enduring experiment” to emerge from the era of Church reform during the 11th and 12th centuries. In no time at all they had houses across Europe and, while preferring rural locations, they were hardly set adrift from the intellectual and political currents of their time. Analyses of Cistercian spirituality, architecture, economics and daily life add up to a first-rate account of an enduringly fascinating religious order.
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