Review: The Fifth Gospel, by Ian Caldwell

The Fifth Gospel

I decided to pick up The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell because I’d read The Rule of Four, which Caldwell co-wrote with Dustin Thomason, a while back and really enjoyed it. And Caldwell definitely didn’t fail me with The Fifth Gospel. The quick review? I enjoyed it. A lot.

Here’s what it’s about:

In 2004, as Pope John Paul II’s reign enters its twilight, a mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered at a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of Rome. That same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of the curator’s research partner, Father Alex Andreou, a Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his five-year-old son. When the papal police fail to identify a suspect in either crime, Father Alex, desperate to keep his family safe, undertakes his own investigation. To find the killer he must reconstruct the dead curator’s secret: what the four Christian gospels—and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron—reveal about the Church’s most controversial holy relic. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend’s death and its consequences for the future of the world’s two largest Christian Churches, Father Alex finds himself hunted down by someone with a vested stake in the exhibit—someone he must outwit to survive.

Readers who see the title The Fifth Gospel might, understandably, think the novel is a Da Vinci Code kind of read. It isn’t. Sure, there’s a lost gospel and an ancient holy relic, but the similarities end there. If you’ve read any of Dan Brown’s novels, you’ll know they clip along at near-breakneck speeds. They are definitely fast rides, and the thrill is entirely in the plot.

The Fifth Gospel, while highly readable and entertaining, has so much more. In addition to the lost gospel and the ancient, controversial holy relic, there’s also a murder mystery and a lot of Vatican politics and intrigue. And at its core, the novel is the story of two brothers, one a Roman Catholic priest, the other a Greek Catholic priest with a five-year-old son.

While definitely a page turner—it is, after all, a thriller—the writing has a literary feel to it. There are some beautifully written passages throughout. This, for example, on the gravity of a priest being laicized: “This is what gives the sentence such power: it turns us into ghosts. It obligates the world to deny our existence.”

In the Acknowledgments, Caldwell notes it took him ten years to write the novel, and the extensive research he performed is something that takes the book to a whole other level. There’s no info dump going on here; details are revealed to us within the lives of the characters and the setting in which they live. We become immersed in the world of the Vatican, that small, walled country so few of us know anything about.

I learned a lot about so many things: ways of reading the gospels, the rift between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the Eastern Catholics, how the Vatican is run. Yet I didn’t realize I was learning these things until after I finished the book, because none of it is fed to us as information. It all forms a solid part of the story itself.

If you like a thriller or mystery that does more than drive you quickly through the pages, you should definitely add The Fifth Gospel to your to-read list.

Wednesday Inspiration: A Me Day!

Yes, I took today off!

Aside from replying to emails and messages, I didn’t do any work at all. Instead, I started my day off with my morning read (Madeleine L’Engle’s Circle of Quiet) and then some journaling. And then I went shopping! I woke up later than I’d intended—so instead of going for my morning walk, I walked to where I wanted to go shopping.

It took about 4300 steps altogether, there and back. Not great, but not too bad.

I’ve had a ton of stuff I needed to buy for myself—small things I needed, the kind of things it’s so hard to make shopping time for, because on their own they’re so, well, small, and the time it would take to find a store specifically to get the thing just never seems worth it. Today, though, it was like a quest, and since it was the morning of a weekday, the shops weren’t crowded and I had such a good time.

And once those little things were seen to, I bought some summer clothes! I can’t remember the last time I went clothes shopping. I think it was snowing at the time.

But it wasn’t really the shopping that made it a Me Day. It was leaving the guilt at home, wandering through the aisles of the store, just browsing. Seeing what caught my eye.

When I got back I had a lovely late lunch of shawarma chicken salad which my husband brought back (he and Dylan went for a visit with my mom today), and then I spent the rest of the day sprawled on my bed, playing a fun quest kind of game on my Android.

As for tonight? A glass of Malbec and then it’s early to bed. A perfect way to end a Me Day, catching up on much needed sleep.

It feels strange to have spent the day like this. But I feel both refreshed and revived. And on my way home today, I thought to myself, I need to take Me Days more often!

Snapshot: May 26, 2015

Time: 8:08 p.m.

Feeling: Pretty good – yay! This early morning walking has really been making a difference. I love it, and I feel so energized for much of the day. Mind you, I end up going to bed earlier than normal, but that’s a good thing, since it’s something I’ve been trying to accomplish for a while now.

Eating: I’ve got spinach and ricotta sausages in the oven. Will pair them with stir fried cabbage and stir fried spinach.

Drinking: Water! Loving my water. But also looking forward to my nightly glass of Malbec.

Reading: Lots of things! I’ve been peckishly bookish all day—ever have that, when you find yourself jumping from book to book? So I’ve basically read a little bit of everything I’ve got going.

the damned

Sped through the first part of Andrew Pyper’s The Damned this afternoon. Very readable, although things kind of slowed down a bit towards the end of part I. I’ll probably finish this one fairly quickly, as long as it picks up speed again.

disclaimer

I’m also reading Disclaimer, by Renée Knight, for a book tour scheduled for next week. The story is compelling. The writing? Not so much. Still quite readable though.

Listening: I finished Jurassic Park in audio last week, so I moved on to Lost World this week. Unfortunately, I fell asleep while listening to it the other night, so a whole lot of rewinding is in order. My falling asleep while listening to it shouldn’t be held against it—I was just really, really tired that night (all that walking, right?) So far, though, it’s as interesting as I remembered.

Writing: Well, I’ve been thinking about it, so that counts, right?

Working: Finished off an indexing deadline last night, and have four articles to write this week and next, but otherwise the deadlines are light. Which is great because it gives me time to work on the book marketing stuff for Booktrope. And I still have to create a website and Twitter account for that particular hat.

Exercise: I’ve now gone for my early morning walk five days in a row! I’m really really excited and pleased and happy about this new routine. The best part is, I’m even sneaking in some running!

I don’t love running enough to wake up in the morning eager to go for a run, but walking’s a totally different thing. So what I’ve been doing is running just a little bit when I start my walk—and when I say a little, I mean a little! Like, maybe two minutes! Okay, I might be up to three minutes by now. What I’m doing is going just a tiny bit further every day. Building up my stamina bit by bit. Eventually I’d love to be running for half of my walking hour, but I’m quite willing to take it slow.

My Early Morning Read

It’s funny how sometimes a habit can change without you noticing it. I’ve been focused on waking up earlier (my early morning walk is turning out to be a great incentive!) and it wasn’t until this morning that I realized I’ve changed another habit: what I read first thing in the morning.

For a long time now, my morning reading routine has gone something like this:

  1. Check email on phone.
  2. Add interesting-looking items from email newsletters to Safari reading list on phone.
  3. Read from reading list.

The problem with this routine, though? There aren’t all that many gems. For example, I’m a sucker for articles about productivity, but unless someone is taking you through a new system they’ve developed, there’s just not a whole lot of anything new you can say about productivity. So even articles with eye-catching headlines (“This One Little-Known Technique Will Super-Charge Your Productivity”) usually turn out to be a rehashing of a productivity maxim I’ve already read about (and read about and read about …)

But still, it was my routine, and a while back when I was considering changing how I started my day, I felt very resistant to changing this part of my routine.

And yet …

It turns out I went ahead and changed things quietly, under my own radar. For the past four days, I’ve been turning to A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle, first thing in the morning. For some reason I’d brought it into my bedroom and placed it on my bedside table (I don’t usually keep any books on my bedside table, as I rarely read in bed).

circle of quiet

And every morning now, I open it up and I read a few pages. Not a lot of pages—I’m definitely not reading it like I would a novel. But the words are beautiful and some of the passages really speak to me. So much so, I’ve even taken to underlining sections (with a pencil—I don’t dare yet to mark up the book with a pen, even though I like using pens better).

It kind of feels like L’Engle is holding my hand, turning my attention to some things I really needed to look at. Here’s a passage I underlined recently:

“A self is always becoming. Being does mean becoming, but we run so fast that it is only when we seem to stop—as sitting on the rock at the brook—that we are aware of our own isness, of being.”

She’s one of my favourite authors (A Wrinkle in Time is a childhood favourite, but I’ve read most of her children’s fiction) and I find myself wishing I’d come across this book when I was younger, fresh out of university. I definitely could have used her perspective back then; I definitely can use her perspective right now, too, for that matter!

The funny thing is, I’ve had this book in my TBR stacks for ages. And I mean ages. Maybe five or six years. I never felt like I had the time to read it, but now I’ve carved out some time. It’s only ten or fifteen minutes in the morning, but that’s enough time to let me drink in a few more of L’Engle’s words and thoughts.

This is one habit I’m going to keep.

Tracking My Monthly Reads with Goodreads

Goodreads

It really isn’t such a big surprise that I’ve been slacking off when it comes to tracking my monthly reads. I have these lovely reading spreadsheets, but they’re not much use unless I’m actually using them!

Last month I started keeping track of my reads by creating a folder for April reads on my  laptop and then saving jpgs of book covers into the folder every once in a while when I was creating a blog post, since I normally talk about my reading so I usually need to download book covers to go with a post.

At the end of the month when I was writing my monthly wrap-up post, I had to spend some time entering everything in that folder into my spreadsheets (I use two because they track different things and I’m not Google spreadsheet-savvy enough to merge the two spreadsheets into one). A bit time-consuming and I’m not looking forward to going through the process again when I write my May wrap-up post.

So it occurred to me the other day that Goodreads might be a better way for me to track my monthly reads. I haven’t exactly been diligent about updating my bookshelves there, but the thing is, the Goodreads iPhone app is easy to use and I’m thinking the increased accessibility will probably make it easier for me to track my monthly reads. I’m thinking about using bookshelves tagged with the month and year, and I can sort other bookshelves (like “audiobooks” and “POV characters and authors”) by date so I can see what my stats are like for each month.

I also decided to see how other people were using Goodreads. This post, Get Organized on Goodreads, gave me some good ideas (like temporarily hiding my activity from my update feed so I don’t flood my friends’ feeds with all my changes—definitely going to do that when I roll up my sleeves and wade in to get my shelves organized!).

And there was a Bloggiesta mini-challenge on How to Make Goodreads Work for You from The Book Addicts Guide back in 2013! Very interesting read, and I learned something very helpful: in addition to the three “exclusive” shelves Goodreads gives you (Read, To Read, Currently Reading), you can make other exclusive shelves. Not that this has anything to do with tracking my monthly reads, but I’d love to set up an exclusive shelf called “TBR-Books Owned” so I can keep track of what books are on my to-read list that I actually own. That way, I can use the “To Read” shelf as my Wishlist.

I seem to go through phases with Goodreads, sometimes being very diligent about updating my currently reading progress, and sometimes not bothering to even add a current read. My Read shelf should hold so many more books than it currently holds. But it’s definitely an easy way for me to track my monthly reads, so come June, I’m going to get those shelves organized and start tracking my June reads!

How are you using Goodreads right now?

Saturday Random: Walking Gear, Anyone?

Time for a bit of self-congratulations (or should that be self-congratulation?): I went for another walk today, first thing in the morning! So that’s two for two, right? Fifty-seven minutes and one more tick on the ole habit chart. With any luck I’ll be able to say, “Yay! New walking habit firmly established!” once I add another 64 ticks to the habit chart (because science tells us it takes 66 days to create a new habit, rather than the 21 days of myth).

So now that I’m thinking I may be on my way to daily exercise via walking, I’ve also been pondering all the gear I need. And you thought all one needed for walking was a pair of good shoes, right?

Well, okay, that’s true, but the consumerist in me wants a bit of fun, too. (Confession: the consumerist in me often wants a bit of fun.)

I already bought a bigger walking pouch yesterday; I could barely squeeze my phone and my keys into the old one I had. The bigger pouch lets me carry a small bottle of contact lens solution plus a lens case (in case something gets into my eyes), my sunglasses (which I don’t like to wear but if I’m walking past construction sites with mounds of dirt I need them on to keep stuff from flying into my eyes … are you noticing a trend here?); my earbuds, my debit card (for, you know, in case I get thirsty for an iced decaf Americano or get the munchies) and a loonie and a toonie—for non-Canadians, the Canadian dollar coin and two-dollar coin (for places that don’t take debit cards).

So what’s on my want list, you’re wondering? (I’m sure it’s more likely you’re thinking, what on earth else do you want to lug around with you, Belle?) No worries. I’m feeling only a little bit consumerist, so there are just a couple of things on my list.

First, I’d like a wide-brimmed a sun visor because unfortunately, when I get too much sun on my face my freckles now like to multiply into brown spots, even when I’m wearing zinc oxide sunscreen. My baseball cap doesn’t have a wide enough brim to do the trick of shading more than just my eyes. I do have a big floppy straw hat but I look kind of ridiculous wearing it with my t-shirt and workout pants. Plus it tends to fly off when things get even a little windy.

Second, I’d like a bottle to hold my water, with a handy dandy wrist strap. So much better than carrying bottled water (more environmentally friendly, too). Plus, as I know already from my walk today, it means I won’t have to juggle holding a water bottle plus a decaf Americano while trying to fish my keys out of my walking pouch. (I have no willpower when I smell coffee.)

I’m also thinking about trying one of these walking apps, too. Luckily, they all seem to be free for the basic versions.

Not that I’m going to let the lack of these things deter me from developing a new morning walking habit. Which is a good thing, because I’m the kind of consumerist who likes to add things to her want list but doesn’t like to actually head out to the stores to find and buy them. (It’s the “find” part that puts even the consumerist in me off.)

Now that I think about it, though, a Fitbit would be nice, too. And easily available online …

Do you like to go for long walks? What’s your favourite walking gear?

So I Said Those Fateful Words Today …

roadway

I managed to get up bright and early for my walk with my friend Christy—I actually woke up before my alarm was supposed to go off! And while 7:15 a.m. probably sounds like a normal wake-up time to a lot of people, I can’t remember the last time I was up so early in the day, as in up and about and doing things like, you know, moving around.

We met at 8:10 a.m. and walked together for a little over an hour. Then I race walked the ten minutes it took me to get home. It’s just a little after 10:30 a.m. right now and I am absolutely bursting with energy!

It was SO much fun, we’ve decided to meet up every Friday morning. Plus I want to walk every morning, so I’m planning on walking by myself all the other days, too. This energy I’m feeling is just amazing!

But for Christy, our walk today was really later than she’d like. She runs a food business and usually has meetings scheduled on Friday mornings.

So yes, as we were discussing  meeting up next Friday, I said those fateful words.

“Why, yes, I can meet you at 7:15 am on Fridays.”

I know, right? I ACTUALLY SAID THIS.

But you know what? I think I can do it. I really think I can start getting up at 6:30 am.

But just in case, if you all could send early-morning-wakefulness vibes my way, it would be much appreciated.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Snapshot: May 21, 2015

The Victoria Day long weekend really threw me off—I normally write my Snapshot posts on Tuesdays, but when Tuesday came around I thought it was Monday, and on Wednesday I wanted to write about something else so I’m doing my Snapshot post today. Whew. That was a long, and probably unnecessary explanation!

Time: 2:09 pm

Feeling: I wish I could say refreshed, because I’ve been feeling quite refreshed the past few days, but wouldn’t you just know it, since I’m writing a Snapshot post of course today I’m feeling tired.

Eating: I’m about to make my anything-goes veggie soup. So delicious, and with heaps of veggies in it. And parmesan cheese.

Drinking: Water. Lots and lots of water. It’s my latest thing, drinking water, and I’m really liking how it makes me feel. Plus I’m starting to recognize again when I’m thirsty (which is fairly often).

Reading: Still working my way through Good Omens; it’s been mostly in my bag, so I’m not getting through it as fast as I would if it was an “at home” read. It’s good and funny and just a great read for when I’m out and about.

I also started A Game of ThronesI just couldn’t resist the temptation. But I only read the first couple of pages, because I’m just not ready yet to be caught up in a whirl of down-the-rabbit-hole book addiction the series promises to be. I’m witnessing that firsthand anyway: my older son is still working through the series; he started book 4 yesterday.

Listening: I’m almost finished Ready Player One and am wondering WHY it took me so long to get to this book. It’s so good, and Wil Wheaton is perfect narrating as Wade Watts.

ready player one

And some slightly related fun: Dylan downloaded the Akinator app on the weekend, and yesterday we had a such a fun time with it. Akinator is a genie who’s able to guess the character you’re thinking of, simply by asking you a bunch of questions. I was slightly awed by how he managed to guess Wade Watts. I did manage to stump him several times, though, with characters from and authors of some of my favourite, but older, reads. If you want to give it a whirl, here’s the web version. Warning, though: it can be slightly addictive!

Writing: Yes, I’ve been writing! Yay! So okay, it’s only been a few paragraphs to start off a couple of short stories, but I also pulled out my half-completed manuscript for the dark fantasy I’ll be workshopping this summer in Kelley Armstrong’s writing class. I have the next scene in mind, and in the meantime I’m rereading it to get reacquainted with all my characters. It’s progress!

Working: The indexing load has been nice and even, which helps a lot when it comes to my stress levels. I just finished an indexing deadline, and have another one next week, plus an article. In other news, I’ve signed on as the marketing manager for my first author at Booktrope, and it’s been such fun working with her.

Creating: Nothing yet. *sob* So much for being creative every day, right?

Exercising: I’ve been trying my best to keep moving throughout my day, and I’ve also been using my standing desk, too. Tomorrow is my first walking date with my friend; we’re meeting at 8:00 a.m., a time at which I’m usually still sleeping, so wish me luck!

So that’s the Snapshot of this past week. All my focusing on stress reduction seems to be working so far – yay! How has your week been?

Moving Back Towards Grace

I’m what you might call a “glass is half full” kind of person—and this is despite the fact that I’m a worrier. I have always had a tendency to see the good side of things, all the silver linings.

But not lately.

I had one of those “this morning I woke up and I realized” revelations today: I’ve been letting stress and overwhelm get to me in other ways, not just physically.

Mainly, I’ve been seeing the world through hypercritical glasses. I’m not sure where I found these glasses, but I really don’t want them anymore.

And because of these glasses, I’ve been letting myself focus on all the faults and cracks in my world, stuff I don’t normally tend to notice. Except I’ve been noticing them all lately.

At first I was like, Wow, how could stress and being overwhelmed change me so much?!  But then I realized that wasn’t it.

I haven’t changed. But my focus has.

Yesterday I read Ti’s recent Sunday Matters post, where she talked about how she was going to try to focus on the good. I think that started me on the path of clarity. You know how something can stick to your mind like a little seed—you don’t really know it’s there, but it is, and it takes root and then suddenly you see what’s sprouted from it. I think “focus on the good” was the little seed I read yesterday that bloomed into clarity today.

And the really good thing? I get to choose where I place my focus.

In the past few days I’ve been listening to my body more. I’ve been drinking more water, and have found to my surprise I’m actually thirsty. I just hadn’t realized it. My body knew, though. Yesterday I started moving more, because it felt right and as I moved, it felt good.

So it’s like everything’s converging. I’m waking up, listening to myself. Moving back towards grace.

And you knew there’d be something bookish in this post, right? Because that’s part of my soul too, the bookishness. This morning I decided to dig out Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet; it was buried deep in my TBR stacks but I’d just read Emily Freeman’s monthly newsletter and in it she’d quoted from the book and suddenly I knew I wanted to read it. I held my breath while searching, because I was almost certain I had a copy, but with my TBR stacks, it’s always a “who really knows what’s in there” kind of proposition.

a circle of quiet

And I found it! It turns out my copy is a used copy. Here’s the title page, with someone’s inscription on it (along with what looks like a coffee stain):

circle of quiet inscription

“What we all need.” I don’t know who M & R are, but I hope they’re right. I think there’s a good chance they are. I just started reading L’Engle’s introduction to the book, and here’s something that leaped out at me:

Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody—away from all these people I love most in the world—in order to regain a sense of proportion.

That’s my first step. I feel this way a lot, but I hardly ever act on it. But now, I will. Because I am so ready to move back towards grace.

What about you? Have you ever had moments where you feel like you’re not yourself, that you’ve stepped away from the grace of who you are? What helps to bring you back on track?

Rethinking My Morning Pages

morning pagesScribble, scribble – my morning pages

I’ve posted a few times recently about being stressed—and often not even knowing I’m stressed until I manifest physical symptoms. So I’ve been working on ways to help me deal with my stress.

Doing Julia Cameron’s morning pages is one of the things I’ve turned back to. The idea of the morning pages comes from Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way; the idea is to handwrite three pages of stream of conscious writing every morning, words which you will never go back to reread (so it’s nothing like a journal).

I’ve had great success in the past with morning pages, in terms of commitment—I did them for about an eight year period, during which I very rarely missed a day. I never reread any of them, either. I just kept them all in a stack, and when we moved to the city several years ago, I spent half a day putting all those pages through the shredder. (Not that I really had to. I could have just recycled them as-is. The picture above is a sample of one of my pages, and as you can see, it’s a scribbly mess.)

And I’m finding now they work really well for me when I’m stressed. Just the act of dumping all the things that are stressing me out—sometimes things I’m not even aware of until the words show up on the page—seems to provide the kind of relief I need. My day usually brightens up from there, and I feel lighter.

But I don’t feel the need to go to my morning pages all the time. I have mornings when I’m feeling inspired and motivated, which for me signals the start of a really great day. And I’ noticed something—on those days I put off doing my morning pages, and have to drag myself to do them. And then when I’m done, the inspired, motivated feeling is gone.

I say I “noticed” this, but what really happened was this: yesterday, while doing my morning pages (which I really needed, as I had a lot to unload), this observation spilled out as well. It took me by surprise, but when I examined it, I realized it was true.

The thing is, I did the morning pages for eight years. They felt magical to me. But the bottom line is, I never got anywhere closer to my dreams during the time I did them. In fact, I backtracked. I did hardly any writing at all. Those were my “lost” years when it came to writing, except I felt really productive, because hey, at least I was doing my three pages of stream of conscious, braindump it on the page writing every day.

Based on my past experience, I think I’ve figured out what works best for me. The morning pages are great for helping me let go of the stressors in my life. But it seems they also help me let go of inspiration and motivation, too. So I’m going to use them when I need them. And even though I don’t always know when I’m stressed, when I wake up in the mornings I can always feel if it’s going to be an inspired day, or if I’m feeling ho hum.

Those ho hum feelings? A sign that I’m stressed. And when it comes to blasting away those stressors, the morning pages are second to none.

Have you ever tried doing morning pages? How did they work for you?