Monday, November 25, 2013

Equate Board Game (Conceptual Math Media)

In sticking with my one homeschool product a month, I would like to introduce you to the board game Equate. If you are a fan of math, then this is the game for you. As you can see by the image, the layout of the board game is similar to that of a Scrabble board. However, instead of letters, the game features numbers and mathematical symbols. This means the object of the game is to build equations instead of words.

Each board game comes with the original tile set, which is comprised of 190 tiles. Tiles are integers from 0-9, fractions like 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc. and the standard mathematical symbols: +, -, x, /, and =. You then take those tiles and form equations like 2 + 2 = 4, or something more complicated like 20 / 1/2 = 40. The game is designed for children 8 and up. However, if you have younger ones who would like to play, you can purchase a Junior Tile Set with more 1s and fractions with a denominator of 2; if you have older kids who need an extra challenge, there is also an Advanced Tile Set with more complex fractions and negative integers.

I love the concept of this game. I was always a child who loved math, but the only real math game out there was Monopoly. I grew to appreciate word games like Scrabble or Boggle, but I am thrilled that there is finally a math equivalent to Scrabble. However, no game is perfect, and if I had to name a flaw with this game it would be the quality of the tiles. The board is standard chipboard; unfortunately so are the tiles, so keep them away from water. I personally would prefer the tiles to be made of plastic as that would make them more durable. That gripe aside, it is still a wonderful game. The beauty of Equate is that if you don't have time for a full game, you could always use the tiles as classroom manipulatives to reinforce what your children already know.

If your child loves math, then this will be a fun game and a delight to play. If they don't, then they might grow to appreciate math more. I'm not guaranteeing it will turn them into a math-ophile, but they will at least see that math can be fun and not just a chore. With the glut of word games out there, it is refreshing to see that there are companies out there like Conceptual Math Media who make games for the number people. If you are a number person like me, then be sure to support them by purchasing this game or other games they produce like PrimePak or Conceptual Bingo.

This game was provided to me for free by Conceptual Math Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, click here and hit Yes!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dangers to the Faith (Our Sunday Visitor)

I don't get to listen to Catholic Radio as much as I would like. Generally, I am able to catch about 15 minutes each morning and afternoon on the way to and from work. I only get to hear a bit of our local live show in the morning, and either the beginning of Catholic Answers Live or the tail-end of Kresta in the Afternoon. Al Kresta's show has always interested me, so I considered it a real treat to have the opportunity to review his book Dangers to the Faith.

Ever since its inception, the Catholic Church has had many opponents. People fear what they do not understand, and that fear can lead to hostility and attacks. Throughout the centuries, some of these opponents have vanished while others persistently remain. Dangers to the Faithidentifies fifteen such opponents to Catholicism. However, Mr. Kresta does more than point out these opponents; he also explains what they believe, why they are a threat, and why they are wrong in light of the Catholic Church. The opponents are divided into four categories - Abusers of Spirituality and Revelation, Abusers of Science and Reason, Abusers of the Past and the Future, and Abusers of Power and Wealth. No one abuser is any less dangerous than another. Each are equally dangerous and pose a challenge to the Church. Specific opponents include the New Age movement, Islam, Evolutionism, and Secularism to name a few.

Part Three - Abusers of the Past and the Future was definitely the most interesting section for me. I believe that was because the others abusers are more obvious, but these are more subtle and therefore require greater attention. For example, in "Redefining Orthodoxy," Mr. Kresta discussed gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Judas and Dan Brown's works. He explained that people try to use these texts to distort Christianity and make it seem like Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene or Judas was actually a saint and doing God's will by betraying Jesus. These are all heretical thoughts, but sadly some Christians are led astray into believing these to be true.

This book is a valuable tool to not only withstand the enemy, but combat him as well. It provides us with details on how the enemy is attacking us, and it arms us with tools for the battle. Sun Tzu was correct in saying, "Know the enemy." However, we must also pray for our enemy. Lastly, we must not get discouraged at being attacked from all sides. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. I would recommend this book to every Catholic I know, but especially to college students. Why college students? If they go to a non-Catholic college like I do, students will be exposed to nearly all of these opponents to the faith from professors and peers. Therefore, they DESPERATELY need to know how to defend and keep their faith. Pair it with How to Defend the Faith, and they will make the perfect gift for your new adult going to college!

I received this book for free from Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes.

Monday, November 18, 2013

101 Tips for a Happier Marriage and Six Sacred Rules for Families (Ave Maria Press)

This is the second post in a row that I am doing a double review. Sorry to my readers if I am overwhelming you with books. Welcome to my day-to-day world! I finish a book, write a review, and see progress in my review stack. The mail arrives the next day and there are three new books to review. Don't get me wrong; it can be an overwhelming juggling act, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It really is a GREAT problem to have if you love books like I do. Today's post includes two books from Ave Maria Press - 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage and Six Sacred Rules for Families.

101 Tips for a Happier Marriage is a brief, but efficient book that provides the reader with 101 practical tips on a happy marriage. The tips are arranged thematically under headings such as "Adjust Your Attitude" or "Get It Done Without Drama." I appreciate that as it makes for an easier and more systematic read. You might need a specific section of the book at a certain time, and you don't want to spend an hour thumbing through the book to find the tip you are looking for.

Generally, I try and find a favorite section or chapter in a book to recommend. However, each tip fits on one page, so I have to take a different approach. What I like best about this book is that the book is addressed to the reader. The authors don't give tips on how to improve your spouse so your marriage will be happy. They give you tips on how to improve YOU! There were definitely some tips in here that opened my eyes and made me say, "I do that and I need to stop." Even though I have been married for just under two years and we are still in the honeymoon phase, I want to always have a happy marriage. This book isn't the magic bullet to accomplish that, but it is a no-nonsense practical guide to help along the journey. It would make a perfect wedding gift or a 50th anniversary gift. Five stars!

Six Sacred Rules for Families is a practical manual for the Catholic family on how to integrate faith into every aspect of life. Starting with "Section One: A New Vision for Family Life," Tim and Sue Muldoon invite you to change the way you look at your family life, and decide what ultimately and what eternally matters. By doing this, you will see family life as a vocation. This shouldn't be a novel concept, because we see priesthood and marriage as vocations. However, parenthood is an equally important vocation!

Part Two is the meat of the book and the basis of the title - the six rules. I won't give you all the rules listed. (You'll have to buy the book for that!) Instead, I will address the one which spoke most loudly to me - "The Third Rule: Our Family Doesn't Care About Success!" Life is more than lots of money, big houses, and fancy cars. As the Muldoons say in this chapter, "The third rule invites us to question what we think is good, to ask whether our vision of what's good is ultimately in service to an expansive and generous love. If it is not, then it is also an invitation to let go of that vision, so a newer one might grow in its place." Part Three wraps up the book nicely by providing real world advice on how to follow all the rules.

As someone with a new family, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a realistic and straightforward approach on how to build a domestic church. If we want our children to love God and the Church and not fall away, then we must be vigilant! We must not compartmentalize our faith to just Sundays. We must let our Catholic faith permeate every part of your life. A large fire ignites from a single spark. Are you willing to be that spark that sets ablaze the love of God in your family? In the world?

Both of these books were given to me for free by Ave Maria Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found the reviews helpful, click here or here!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jorge from Argentia and Blessed James Alberione (Pauline Books and Media)

Welcome back to the Children's Corner. Unfortunately, this segment doesn't appear as often as it used to at Stuart's Study. The Catholic publishing industry does print hundreds of books a year, but I'd say about only a dozen or so of those books are geared towards kids. Luckily, we have companies like Pauline Books and Media who keep printing faithful children's books, while everyone else is focused mainly on adults. Today, therefore, I am reviewing two of their books - Jorge from Argentina and Blessed James Alberione: Media Apostle.

Jorge from Argentina is a biography of Pope Francis told at a level that children can understand. This book begins with the wedding of Jorge's parents and his subsequent birth.  It ends with his election as Pope and the most recent World Youth Day in Brazil. Interspersed throughout the biography are interesting facts about his life that show us what made him the man he is today. For example, as a young boy, he spent days with his grandparents where they spoke Italian to him. This exposure to a second language explains why he is fluent in both Italian and Spanish. One chapter even talks about where he first discovered his call to priesthood at the age of 17. This was a beautiful chapter that teaches children to always be open and listening to God. In doing so, God will reveal His will for their lives to them.

This is the third book published from Pauline Books and Media that tells the life story of the current pope with the previous two books in the "series" being Karol from Poland and Joseph from Germany. While my son (and future children) were not alive for the reigns of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, I still bought these books so they can know about the popes who helped shape my faith. Like the first two books in this "series," Jorge from Argentina's  story and pictures will captivate your young readers. You might learn something too from reading it with/to them. My only gripe with the book is that it is a different size than Karol from Poland and Joseph from Germany.I'm a big fan of books in series looking uniform. That minor gripe aside, I still recommend this book to you all. As an added bonus, it is also available in Spanish under the title Jorge de Argentina!

Blessed James Alberione: Media Apostleis the 32nd book in the Encounter the Saints Series. For those of you unfamiliar with the books in this series, they are pocket-sized biographies of saints or near-saints. I'm ashamed to admit that I have never heard of Fr. James Alberione until today, not because I think I know every saint in Heaven but because he was the founder of both the Society of St. Paul and the Daughters of St. Paul. The Daughters of St. Paul is the group that published this and many other books I have reviewed. The book is approximately 130 pages long and is recommended for children ages 9-13. However, I believe your high schooler could benefit from reading it as well.

Apart from the interesting details of Fr. James Alberione's early life, I found the most fascinating parts of the book were his life after he was ordained. From all accounts, it seems like he should be fulfilled in his vocation. He had a doctorate in theology (something I would love to have), and he was working as a teacher, a spiritual director, and an associate pastor. However, there was still a yearning inside of him to do more. I think we all feel that call, but we don't always act on it. Fr. James did not make this mistake of ignoring the call. Instead, he responded with gusto and used media such as radio, film, and, my favorite, printed works to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it wasn't for him, there would be A LOT less Catholic children's books in the U.S today. This was such a well-written book that I now want to read the rest of the series. I guess I better start saving up, because I am 31 behind! Your children will love to read this, and you will probably want to borrow it when they are done. I can't wait to see what Volume 33 will be.

I received both of these books for free from Pauline Books and Media, in exchange for honest reviews. If you found the reviews helpful click here and here, and hit Yes!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Advent of Christ (Servant Books)

We're quickly approaching my favorite Church Season, Advent. I know I'm unusual, as most people prefer Christmas, but I'm okay with that. Last Friday, I reviewed a wonderful Orthodox book for Advent. Click here in case you missed it. I figured it was only appropriate to review a Catholic book for Advent too, and boy, do I have a good one for you! This book is written by my favorite Catholic author, Dr. Edward Sri, and is entitled The Advent of Christ.

The Advent of Christ is laid out like your standard daily devotional. It spans from the First Sunday of Advent to the Feast of the Epiphany. Each day includes a Scripture reading, a meditation on the Scripture, a reflection question to apply to your daily life, and a closing prayer. The commentary is mostly drawn from one of Dr. Sri's other books, Dawn of the Messiah. If you have never read this book, then you will be in for a treat. Dr. Sri breaks down the story leading up to Jesus' birth into manageable daily bites.

I particularly enjoyed the readings in the First Week of Advent. People always focus solely on Jesus and Mary, and OCCASIONALLY Joseph during Advent, which is very appropriate for the season. However, in focusing on only the Holy Family, one misses out on the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. Apart from just being an interesting story about an aged wife becoming pregnant and a husband who can't speak throughout the whole pregnancy, these people are all key players in Salvation History! It was also interesting to read about Gabriel's appearance in the Old Testament, particularly Daniel 9, compared to Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah.

If all the hustle and bustle in the month leading up to Christmas is making it hard for you to focus on the real reason for the season, then you will want to pick up this book. Each meditation is approximately two pages and takes at most five minutes to read. Surely, we can all give God five minutes a day. In addition to being a short read, it is easily understood and can be read aloud to the whole family. Lastly, the closing questions and prayer put a nice bow on the package and serve a two-fold purpose of preparing us for Christmas and improving our spiritual health. It's a 5-star book that I plan on reading not only this Advent, but future ones as well.

I received this book for free from Franciscan Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here, and hit Yes!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Faith Understood (Emmaus Road Publishing)

Today, I am going to start my blog post with a confession. I am an avid book collector. I come home at least once a week to a new book in the mail. Gift requests for Christmas or my birthday are always for more books. I even look forward to Catholic lawn parties for the sole purpose of buying more books which I might never actually get to read. Because of this affinity, occasionally a book sent to me by a publisher will fall through the cracks, and I fail to review it in a timely manner. Today is one such occasion. So I would like to offer a sincere apology to Emmaus Road Publishing for letting The Faith Understood sit on my shelf so long before I finally read it.

The Faith Understood is the quintessential introduction to Catholic Theology. Dr. Zia begins the book by defining what theology is exactly. Next, he provides a brief blurb on eight Western and Eastern Doctors of the Church who we still look to today in matters of theology. He then dives headfirst into important topics that fall under the umbrella of theology, including Scripture, faith and reason, sin, Mariology, and eschatology. If all this seems overwhelming, do not despair. Each chapter is broken into manageable bites of knowledge that make it easy to grasp and retain.

Even though I have a deep love for Scripture and all things related to it, the chapter I found most enlightening was the one which discussed Mariology. Subtopics in this chapter are Mary's Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, and her Assumption. Even though I have been a convert for over ten years, I still struggle with fully understanding parts of Mariology. I accepted them on faith before my conversion, but I just wanted a better explanation. This chapter definitely shed a bit more light on Mary for me. For example, the issue of Mary's death has always been difficult for me.  whenever I ask anyone whether Mary died or not, the response is almost always "no." However, my studies point in a different direction.  Many of the sources I read state that Mary died prior to her Assumption into Heaven. Dr. Zia explains that both positions are acceptable as long as you don't believe that she either died because she sinned or didn't die because she is a goddess.

If you are considering converting to Catholicism, this book is for you. If you are a cradle Catholic who doesn't really know what they believe, but have always wanted to, this book is for you. If you just wish you could explain your beliefs better to people who question you on matters of Catholic theology, this book is for you too. This book easily gets a 5-star rating and should be on the bookshelf of every Catholic.

This book was provided to me for free by Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Layperson's Distinctive Role (Ignatius Press)

As humans, there are a variety of needs that we must fulfill to sustain our existence. Abraham Maslow developed a pyramid called a "hierarchy of needs," which categorized those needs and ranked them in order that people would pursue them. For example, looking at the pyramid to your left, one would not seek to fulfill needs of safety like security or property, without first meeting the physiological needs. What does all of this have to do with the book I'm reviewing today? I believe a large portion of the laity in the Church have climbed to the third tier of the pyramid and are seeking a sense of belonging and purpose in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Arinze addresses these needs in his latest book The Layperson's Distinctive Role.

The Layperson's Distinctive Role is more than just an explanation of the laity's role in the Church. It is a call to embrace that role. But what exactly is the role of the layperson? For the longest time, laity in the Catholic Church served three purposes - to pray, to pay, and to obey. That means they were asked to go to Mass, pay their tithes, and obey what the clergy said no questions asked. Priests and other religious were in charge of everything else. Pope John XXIII, in his infinite wisdom, helped change that with Vatican II. In this council, specifically in the two documents Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem, the role of the laity was defined and a charge was given to them to accept their lay vocation and become co-participants in the mission of evangelization.

The first chapter of this book starts off with a charge to all baptized Christians to participate in evangelization. The author then explains what constitutes the laity and provides a bit of history on the nature of lay evangelization in the New Testament, with examples such as Mary Magdalene or the Samaritan woman at the well. We then learn about various forms of lay apostolate, primarily Catholic Action. Then, we get to the meat of the book with Chapter 5 - "The Specific Role of the Laity." This chapter explains the contents of important Church documents (including the two listed above). However, Cardinal Arinze simplifies the call of the laity by saying that our role is to let God fill every aspect of our life. We can't compartmentalize our faith and only take it seriously on Sunday. We must be witnesses to our faith in our job, our everyday life, and in everything we do. The rest of the book then goes on to discuss how laity and clergy can work in unison and how the lay ecclesiastical movement is present today, like the charismatic renewal.

The days are gone where we as laity can make excuses or say things like, "I wish my Church had this activity." If you feel like your Church would benefit from something like a Bible Study or Young Adult Group, ask your priest's permission to start one. Don't ask them to start one for you. I can almost guarantee that they will welcome the opportunity for more parishioner involvement. So if you are a layperson trying to find your place in the Church, then The Layperson's Distinctive Role is the book for you. If you are part of the clergy and are looking for ways directions to steer your flock or ways to encourage your flock to get involved, you too will benefit from this book. What I'm saying is that any Catholic would benefit greatly from reading this book. I hope that I can apply its lessons more to my daily life at my job and let my life be a witness in my work.

I received this book for free from Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Meditations for Advent (Ancient Faith Publishing)

There are a few authors out there who have a special way of writing, a way that touches the reader's heart. They paint a picture with their words and shine new light onto subjects we have been statically observing our whole life. Vassilios Papavassiliou is such a writer. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of reviewing his book Meditations for Great Lent and it deepened my appreciation for the season of Lent. Today, I am again blessed with the opportunity to review one of his books, Meditations for Advent.

In Meditations for Advent, Fr. Papavassiliou begins by distinguishing Catholic Advent from Orthodox "Advent." I put Advent in quotations here because it is a Western term and not widely used in Orthodoxy. The three differences are start date (November 15th for Orthodox vs. 4th Sunday Before Christmas for Catholics), focus (Incarnation/First Coming for Orthodox vs. First and Second Comings of Jesus for Catholics), and the fact that it marks the beginning of the Church Year for Catholics, whereas September 1 is the start date for Orthodox Christians. After Fr. Papavassiliou makes these distinctions, we embark on a four part journey which focuses on Spiritual Preparation, the Scriptures, the Icon of the Nativity, and the Incarnation. The careful reader will notice that Fasting is missing, and that is because it was so thoroughly covered in Meditations for Great Lent that Fr. Papavassiliou didn't want to re-hash the same information in this book.

The first section of the book, Spiritual Preparation, is a quick stroll through the season and important feasts on the calendar. Each chapter in this section is chock full of hymns that will help expand your knowledge and deepen your appreciation of the beauty of Christmas. Section Two, which addresses the Scriptures, references Christological foreshadowing in Old Testament stories such as Jonah and the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace. We FINALLY arrive at the section I was itching to read, a discussion of the Icon of the Nativity. I would have loved if Fr. Papavassiliou had addressed all aspects of the icon, but instead he focuses on the manger, the animals, and the star. The explanation from St. John Chrysostom on the star was mind-blowing to me and I will never view the star the same way again. The last section deals with Christ as the New Adam and coming into world as the Light that shines in the darkness of the world.

If you are an Orthodox Christian, then this is an essential book for your library. Even if you're not, reading this book will increase your understanding of Advent and, more importantly, increase your appreciation of what Christmas really is about. I would like to close with a quote from the book. "The Feast of the Nativity is a celebration of divine weakness overpowering human strength, of good conquering evil, of the light of divine knowledge dispelling the darkness of ignorance. This is not just a cause for an annual celebration, but is the strength of our Christian faith and the joy of divine Light which the darkness of evil can never extinguish."

I received this book for free from Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!