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Cathie D'Auria Phoenix

Ask to Fire: A Contemporary Journey Through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila by Carolyn Humphreys (New City Press, 1997, $9.95) is realistic, practical and easy reading for those laity and theologians who are seriously interested in an intimate friendship with Jesus.

Janetta Gallagher Springfield, Ore.

I want to praise Whooping Crones: God-Songs for Women (Catherine Joseph Publications, $24.95), a prayer/reflection book for women that sets aside sexism in the experience of God. The author, Nancy Williams, swims with the God who is as close to her breath and brings others along in this dance of intimacy. The book celebrates women's instinctive grasp of a God beyond the doctrinaire limits of the Trinity. Sr. Joyce Roach, a Tacoma Dominican, presents 46 of her striking color photos.

Edgar J. Kline Bridgeton, Mo.

I read a recently published novel, The Call of Pope Octavian by Jesuit Fr. William B. Faherty (JKL Associates) that gave me a close-up view of the drama of a papal election and set my hopes high as the new pope outlines his plans. The novel focuses on a young woman reporter from Missouri who is assigned by her editor to cover the papal conclave to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II.

The reader is made to feel as if he/she were in Rome amid the action. As the conclave stretches into several days while the cardinals wrestle with who would be the best man to lead the church in the next century, the reporter follows up on a tip that a little-known but holy abbot might be a possible candidate.

When the white smoke rises from the Vatican we find out who is the new pope and that he has taken the name "Pope Octavian." During the next few days, Pope Octavian lays out his ideas and plans for the church in the new millennium. He has some definite ideas on what should and must be done to expand the role of the religious and laity, men and women, in the church. In one of his early addresses, he offers general absolution and forgiveness of sins, so that all men may begin anew with a "clean slate". He brings a message that instills an increase in faith, and in hope and charity towards all. The message of hope is especially heartening.

Patricia C. Sheridan Eastchester, N.Y.

A Song for Mary: An Irish-American Memoir by Dennis Smith (Warner Books, 1999, $23): Written by New York City firefighter Dennis Smith, this book is a biography that reads like a novel. It is about growing up poor and Catholic in a single parent home in New York. It vividly reveals the life and traditions among the Irish community in New York.

Hard-biting and poignant description of the effects of poverty on Smith, his brother and his struggling working mother will certainly move the reader. The streets of New York come alive with his deft portrayals of the city in everyday life. Smith has many sensitive and psychological insights that will make the reader pause and think about his/her own life in relation to his. The book shows the value of faith, religious practices, Catholic and public schools, good upbringing and direction from other members of the community.

Smith is particularly adept at describing his mother, Mary, as she tries to cope with a difficult life, hard work, family and poverty under severe conditions. The book contains moving accounts of bouts with drugs, violence and mental illness.

Robin Zeka Joplin, Mo.

This Much I Know Is True by Wally Lamb (Regan Booksm 1998) is really three books in one (not surprising at 900 pages). It speaks to the power of forgiveness: What is the cost of forgiveness and what is the cost of failure to forgive. Lamb tells the lives of identical twins Dominick and Thomas, one a schizophrenic peace activist trying to move from today into tomorrow, the other an ex-teacher and ex-father swimming in a pool of anger, assumption and fear. At the book's end, the reader has traveled a circle, each tale blending itself into one. …