Friday, October 31, 2014

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales (Quatro Publishing Group)

Disney, Hans Christian Anderson, Andrew Lang, and the Brothers Grimm. No matter what your preference, fairy tales are an essential part of any childhood. Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to find these tales compiled in a nice hardcover or hardcover series. Hesperus Press is slowly releasing all of Andrew Lang's fairy books. Race Point Publishing has done their part by publishing The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales.

The book is a gorgeous hardcover that spans over 700 pages. It comes with a ribbon marker and a slipcase and all for $30 (or less depending where you buy). There are 201 fairy tales (not 200 because "The Three Sluggards" and the "Twelve Idle Servants" were split into two tales), like Cinderella and Little Red-Cap, and 10 children's legends, which while having a religious theme are a bit strange. One legend for example is about a mother with twelve sons, who sleep for 300 years and become the twelve apostles. There are also tons of illustrations, both color and black and white. My biggest gripe with the color illustrations is that they aren't placed in the context of the story they coincide with. For example, a color illustration of Rapunzel is wedged between pages 98 and 99 when the actual story runs from pages 44 through 46. The pages are also very thin, as in you can see text from the other page through the pages. This is a bit of a nuisance when reading, and means the pages can rip easily, so you'll want to read this book to your children and not the other way around.

The content is five stars. It is complete (hard to find) and has a plethora of illustrations. It is also written in language that the modern ear won't scratch their head over, i.e., not King James.  Lastly, there is a nice introduction that your kids might not find interesting, but those older souls, like myself, might be interested in reading about the Brothers Grimm. The presentation, primarily page transparency and image placement, leave something to be desired and make this more of an adult book than a kid's book, which is a bit of a shame. Overall, I would give this book four stars, but still recommend you buy it!

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life (Our Sunday Visitor)

Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life is the third commentary in the Opening the Scriptures series. George Martin's other two in this series include one on Mark and another on Luke. Alas, I do not believe there is a volume on John's Gospel. The book is laid out in a format where it gives a Scripture passage first to read. Then, it breaks up the passage into individual verses with a commentary for each verse. In addition to commentary, there are hundreds of questions for personal or group reflection, which are designed to make you think and grow in your understanding of Scripture. The sections that provide background information on the world Jesus lived in or the audience to which Matthew wrote his Gospel are invaluable if you are looking to dive deeper into the Gospel.

It would be impossible for me to touch on every passage in this book, so I am going to focus on the first chapter of Matthew, which details the genealogy of Jesus. A lot of commentators will make mention of a couple of big names in this genealogy, i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but gloss over the genealogy as a whole. Mr. Martin, however, walks us through person by person, pointing out significant figures and also anomalies in the genealogy. The main anomalies are the women, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. The first two women were not women of great moral fiber, yet they are part of Jesus' genealogy, and it shows us that God can bring about salvation through imperfect people.

The depth Mr. Martin dives in these books is astounding. I led a Bible Study on Luke last year, and, used his volume on Luke as my primary source. It was an immense help, and made me feel wiser and able to answer questions with certainty. The beauty of there being three volumes in this series is that each one corresponds with a specific Year in the Church (A = Matthew, B = Mark, C = Luke). Since next year is Year B, I would recommend purchasing the volume on Mark first. However, whichever one you choose to purchase first, you will not be disappointed and will want to own all three eventually. Five Stars!

This book was provided to me for free by Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Struggle for Virtue (Holy Trinity Publications)

Asceticism can be a scary word to laity. We tend to largely ignore it, and convince ourselves that it is something suitable for priests, sisters, and monks, but certainly not us! That thought process could not be further from the truth. Asceticism is, in fact, the "constant practice of good works." These works consist of love of God, love of neighbor, and any other works that show we are trying to love God and neighbor. All of this information is spelled out in the introduction of the book, The Struggle for Virtue.

The book then goes on to discuss subjects such as pride and humility, Christian love, conscience, and spiritual warfare. I am not bold enough to pick a section that spoke to me more than the others, because it felt like they were all shouting at me, not in a bad way, but in a you can do better in your spiritual life. You can be better. For example, Chapter Seven deals with the distractions of life. This is something that has always been present, and not a new phenomenon that just affects our current generation. Thus, we must work to shield our heart from seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or feeling anything that will lead us to sin. Easier said than done. I know!

Chapter Eight: Resisting Evil and Chapter Nine: Waging Unseen Warfare are both vitally important to your everyday life. Four steps are given by the Holy Fathers, which I will briefly summarize:
  1. Based on your life experience, know your weakness and know that you cannot do any good without God's help.
  2. Ask God to reveal to you your weaknesses.
  3. Fear for yourself and beware of Satan, knowing that you can only wrestle with him with God's help.
  4. When you fall into sin, recognize your weakness and know that God allowed this fall so that you will recognize your weaknesses and rely on Him.
Overall, this was a very fascinating read. It was written in a clear and easily understood manner, but the content required you to read and re-read it, so that you could absorb the message. There was one confusing part in the book, which dealt with the trichotomy of man. I always understood man to be a dichotomy of body and soul, but this book touched on body, soul, and spirit. Perhaps one of these parts is meant to be mind, so that it would be mind, body, and soul. If that is the case, it makes a bit more sense to me. If you are a lay person in the Orthodox Church looking for practical advice on asceticism, this book is for you. Catholics and Protestant denominations could find value in this book as well.

This book was provided to me for free by Holy Trinity Publications in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Hope of the Family and The Gospel of the Family

The Hope of the Family is a brief (70 pages not counting Introduction and Preface) dialogue between Gerhard Cardinal Müller and Carlos Granados Garcia, the editor-in-chief of Biblioteca de Autores (BAC). The purpose of this book is to "address the question that the Holy Father posed by convoking an Extraordinary Synod on the Family scheduled for October 2014, the question of the 'pastoral challenges of the family.'" The format of this book is question and answer, but instead of looking at problems, it looks at the family or domestic church as a source of hope and a solution, not a problem.

The book starts off by addressing contemporary challenges the world poses to the family. For example young people have a hard time believing in the permanence of love and therefore delay or forego marriage completely. There is also the modern idea that the family is something that should be private and therefore is not relevant among the general public. Cardinal Müller, however, sees marriage as the "original cell of the social organism." Other topics addressed include the sexual revolution, what marriage is, and divorced and re-married persons. Cardinal Müller is astute in pointing out that while civilly remarried Catholics are a problem, they are a minor percentage of the problem, and a bigger percentage problem is Catholics who live together before marriage or just choose to marry civilly as opposed to sacramentally. In this book, Cardinal Müller shows mercy and compassion, but he never veers from Church doctrine and authority. For that I am eternally grateful, and I can only hope that more bishops and Cardinals stick to the Church's teachings. 5 stars.

With the media frenzy surrounding the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family, it is easy for non-Catholics and possibly even Catholics to be confused on issues such as divorce and re-marriage and homosexuality. Cardinal Kasper's book did not help matters any, but thankfully, Ignatius Press has released a new book entitled The Gospel of the Family. This book is both an explanation and rebuttal to Cardinal Kasper's liberal and controversial book, with a similar name.

The book begins by discussing the cultural challenge of understanding the role of the family, both in the Catholic Church and in the world, of which the latter has become over-exposed to sex. One must start at this point to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. Chapters Two focuses on what makes up a real, sacramental marriage, and Chapter Three explains how the Early Church defined marriage, given the context of their culture and lack of tradition to fall back on for definition. The last two chapters then conclude by explaining the modern moral perspective and approaches for pastoral care regarding homosexuality and divorce and remarriage. There is also an appendix, which I found to be extremely helpful as it contained thirty questions for the synod. However, you could also use them to better understand, answer, and defend the Church's teachings. Such questions include, "How is marriage indissoluble?" and, "Why is it not possible to give absolution to those divorced and re-married?"

I admit I had a bit of curiosity regarding Cardinal Kasper's book. Part of me wanted to read it just to see what all the hubbub was about. However, this book squashed that curiosity. There were ample quotes and references to Kasper's writings, and they really did a nice job showing how he twisted Patristics and Church teaching to push his agenda. This book, however, shows that it is possible to be merciful without violating Truth and Church teachings. If you are looking to be more informed on two of the hot-button debates in the Church today, then you not only want this book but need this book. The material was presented in a way that was easy to understand, and I walked away from this book feeling more informed and more intelligent.

These books were provided to me for free by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here hit Yes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Joy of the Gospel

Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of the Gospel was an apostolic exhortation delivered by Pope Francis on November 24, 2013, which was the Solemnity of Christ the King and the conclusion of the Year of Faith. In the introduction, Pope Francis gives Biblical examples showing the relationship between the joy of the Christian faith and the joy of missionary work. The rest of the exhortation is divided into five chapters:
  1. The Church's Missionary Transformation
  2. Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment
  3. The Proclamation of the Gospel
  4. The Social Dimensions of Evangelization
  5. Spirit-filled Evangelizers
Looking at the numbers of this document, it is clearly a large document. It is 47,560 words. In this glut of words, Pope Francis uses the word "love" 154 times, "joy" 109 times, "the poor" 91 times, "peace" 58 times, "justice" 37 times, and "common good" 15 times. These figures were taken from Wikipedia. I am not going to analyze the words in this document. More brilliant minds than mine have done so. Instead, I am going to briefly compare two editions released by two different publishers.

The Image Books edition screams papal edition with its bright white cover. The unique features of this books are as follows. 1. It is a hardcover, so you know it will last longer and have shelf appeal. 2. It is deckle edged, which gives it a unique look. 3. It has a Foreword written by Fr. Robert Barron and an Afterword by Fr. James Martin. 4. The notes are at the bottom of the appropriate page and not at the end like normally issued by the Vatican. The only weird thing is the Table of Contents of the actual document (not the book) is in the back instead of the front and listed as an Index. 

The Word Among Us edition is a paperback version like, the one released by the USCCB. Because of this, it is slightly less expensive than the hardcover edition listed above. The cover is similar to other Word Among Us papal document releases, including Lumen FideiVerbum Domini, and Evangelii Nuntiandi. This creates an appealing looking on your shelf to have these important documents similar in look. The great part of this book and what sets it apart is the study guide. This makes it ideal for individual study or small group study.

So which edition should you get? The price is very similar, so you'll have to decide which features are most important to you. Perhaps, you're like me and will get both of them. The important thing is to read the words of our Holy Father, because they do contain a great deal of truth in them. Enter to win a copy here.

These books were provided to me for free by Image Books and Word Among Us Press. If you found this comparison helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Number the Stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Number the Stars takes place in Denmark in 1943. World War II is affecting people globally and the Nazis are spreading their reach in Europe. The story's protagonist is Annemarie Johansen, whose best friend is Ellen Rosen, a Jewish girl. During this period of time, Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, and the Nazis had plans to "relocate" the Jews. The people of Denmark, however, actively resisted the Nazis and wanted to save the Jewish people in the country. For example, in this story, Annemarie's family takes Ellen into their home and pretends to be part of their family. In this story, we not only see the tragedy of World War II, but the character growth and development of Annemarie. It is truly a remarkable and eye-opening story that, while aimed at a younger audience, has reached older audiences as well.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released a 25th anniversary edition of this book. The cover looks like original cover, only with a Newberry Medal sticker on it. It is hardcover, which is nice because it will hold up to the multiple people in your house that will read this book through the years. The cons are that there are no added features. I'm not sure what I was expecting to be added, but it seems whenever a book or movie releases some significant anniversary edition, that there are "special features," like an author interview. So I was disappointed, even though I shouldn't have been. The book is fine as is. I have just been spoiled by what popular culture has taught me. With that said, if you already own a copy of this book, there's nothing new here for you. If you are looking for a new copy or a gift for someone, this makes a nice edition for that.

This book was provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Understanding Love and Responsibility (Pauline Books and Media)

Last year, I was privileged to receive a review copy of Love and Responsibility from Pauline Books and Media. I remember having a very profound sense of amazement reading the late Karol Wotyla's (Pope John Paul II) word. I also remember feeling over my head reading these words and wishing that I was smarter or that there was some guide in common everyday language so that I could better understand this. Well my prayers (and I imagine the prayers of many others were answered) with the release of Understanding Love and Responsibility.

This is the second book I have had the opportunity to review by the author, Dr. Richard Spinello. He has written several books about Pope John Paul II and his writings, so I knew this was the right person to undertake this book. Chapter One begins with a discussion of who Wotyla was and why we should want to read Love and Responsibility. If you own both books, like myself, you'll want to read this chapter before reading anything in Love and Responsibility. Each subsequent chapter then focuses on a specific section of Love and Responsibility. As ways of helping the common person grasp this text, Dr. Spinello provides examples, summaries, and simpler English. There are also a great amount of footnotes, some of which provide interesting cross-references to Wotyla's other works.

While it might be superficial to say, I found the concluding chapter of this book to be the most beneficial to me. Dr. Spinello not only beautifully and succinctly summarized Love and Responsibility, but he also provided a framework for defending Wotyla's work, which might prove helpful to some. Understanding Love and Responsibility is billed as a companion book, and that it is. However, I would argue that you could read it on its own, even though I know that wasn't the author's intent. My recommendation is that you read this book by itself first. Once you are finished, if you find yourself wanting to dig deeper, then by all means pick up Love and Responsibility. Be sure to keep this companion book handy. Otherwise, you'll risk getting overwhelmed by the depth that Wotyla can dive.

This book was provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mary of Nazareth Blog Tour/Rosary Crawl Day 3

Today, I am pleased to be part of another blog tour, sponsored by Carmel Communications, which you can learn more about here. This one is for a wonderful movie being released (today in fact) by Ignatius Press, entitled Mary of Nazareth. In order to promote this beautiful film and companion book, Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures, we on the blog tour are going to share with you a video clip that corresponds to a mystery of the Rosary, and either an interview, a review, or our own personal thoughts on Mary and the specific mystery. Today, I will be sharing with you my thoughts on The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which is the Fourth Joyful Mystery. Before I share my reflections, let us first get our minds right by praying this decade of the Rosary. We will then view the clip, and I will provide a brief reflection on it.

Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple
"And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord') and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons"' (Lk 2:21-24).

"Jesus' circumcision, on the eighth day after his birth, is the sign of his incorporation into Abraham's descendants, into the people of the covenant. It is the sign of his submission to the Law" (CCC, 527).

Our Father, 10 Hail Marys (contemplating the mystery), Glory be to the Father.

The Presentation in the Temple is a Feast Day that is widely forgotten/ignored in the West, but the East hold it in high regard and consider it one of the twelve Great Feasts. It is celebrated on February 2nd. Why this day? Because this is 40 days after the Nativity, and would have been when Mary's ritual purification was complete. There are some key points to notice in this scene. For starters, we see that Joseph brought two turtledoves for the sacrifice. Turtledoves were the poor family's offering. Had Joseph and Mary been wealthy, they would have brought a lamb for sacrifice. Jesus, the King of Kings, chose to be born into a poor family to show his great humility. If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you will notice that there was no offering to redeem Jesus from service to Yahweh. From this, we understand that Jesus was now in complete service to God. You could also say that He was not redeemed, because he was the One sent to redeem us all from our sins.

I have always loved the figure of Simeon in the Bible. Though, he is in such a brief section, his appearance packs a punch! Here is a man who has been waiting his entire life for the coming of the Messiah.We too should be awaiting this glorious Second Coming and remember we are in this world, but not of this world. If you notice in the video clip above, Simeon also recognized Mary. Some would view this as taking a creative license. However, according to Tradition, Mary was taken by her parents to the Temple as a young girl. She lived there and served as a Temple virgin until she was betrothed to Joseph. We can find this tradition in the Protoevangelion of James. This feast is celebrated on November 21st and unfortunately is largely unknown in the West. I invite you to take the time about both Mary's Presentation and Jesus' Presentation. They reveal small, but key parts of Salvation History that will enrich our understanding of both Jesus and Mary.

Ignatius Press has been releasing many great movies the past several years, and Mary of Nazareth continues that remarkable streak. In this movie, we see an intimate portrayal of the life of the greatest saint Mary. And while it will bring us closer to Mary, she will bring us closer to her Son Jesus. This movie will be a benefit for Catholics and Orthodox, and could even be used as an evangelization and educational tool for reaching Protestants. Be sure to check out my buddy Sarah's site, Snoring Scholar, tomorrow for the next stop on the Rosary Crawl.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Farmer Giles of Ham (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Farmer Giles of Ham is a novella written by J.R.R. Tolkien that takes place in England during the time of giants and dragons. Aegidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo or Giles of Ham (in the vulgar tongue) is the protagonist of this short tale. He is married and has a dog, named Garm, whom he generally mistreats. If this man doesn't sound like your typical hero, you would be correct. However, Garm likes to roam around and on these outings, he discovered a giant and a dragon (on different occasions). He ran back to his master for help, and Ham reluctantly takes action only when necessary. In this mini-tale, the story of the giant is a mere footnote, a build-up to his encounter with the dragon Chrysophylax Dives. The whole encounter with Chrysophylax is comical. We don't see a ferocious dragon like Smaug, but instead a dragon who uses his wits as much as his size and power. That's all I'll say for the plot of this story.

The 50th Anniversary edition of this book is a treat for Tolkien lovers. For starters, it contains original illustrations by Pauline Baynes. She has illustrated for other Tolkien titles as well as The Chronicles of Narnia. There is also a copy of the original manuscript and some notes on a possible sequel. The original manuscript was of some interest, but the sequel was disappointing in the lack of pages that were written. It really makes you wonder how much abandoned or unwritten stories were floating around in Mr. Tolkien's head during his lifetime. My only major gripe was the text quality of this book. I'm not sure if it was my copy or the intended text effect the publisher was going for, but a lot of my words were faded and hard to read. Overall, I'd give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I'm happy to own it, but for several more dollars, I think a better investment would be Tales from the Perilous Realm.

This book was provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, October 10, 2014

An Introduction to God (Ancient Faith Publishing)

There are many books in the Christian world that bill themselves as an introduction of sorts. Most introduce you to key tenets or beliefs of Christianity. Some introduce you to key characters in the Bible. Few are even so bold as to introduce you to Jesus. However, the book I am reviewing today is the FIRST book I have seen that is An Introduction to God.

An Introduction to God is written by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, author, podcaster, and blogger for Ancient Faith Radio. In this book, Fr. Damick seeks to answer five key questions:
  1. Where is God?
  2. Who is God?
  3. Why Go to Church?
  4. Whom Can We Trust?
  5. Why Be Moral?
I believe that I, like most people, have struggled with all of these questions in some form or another. However, I was immediately intrigued by Questions 3. I think that is because Christians struggle with this issue most of all. I can't tell you how many times, I have heard, "Why do I have to go to Church? I can meet God in my backyard." It's the tired, "I'm spiritual, but not religious argument." In his answer to Question 3, Fr. Damick presents us with another question, "What is Worship?" He then goes on to define worship and explain the center of worship, which is the Eucharist. We then see a history of worship in the Bible, Christian History, and Ecclesiology. After this detailed study on what authentic Christian worship is, we finally are given our answer to the question, "Why Go to Church?" We worship God because we need communion with Him. We find that union in worship centered around the Eucharist.

I think the part of the book that troubled me the most dealt with Question 4, "Whom Can We Trust?" There were some good parts to this section, like when he discussed Sacred Scripture. However, his attitude and treatment towards the Roman Catholic Church was a bit harsh. He seemed to look down his nose at "organized" religion and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, when I think it could be argued that the Orthodox Church could benefit from some more organization. He seemed appalled that the Pope has his own webpage, when the Ecumenical Patriarch  Bartholomew does as well. He also also chose to only reference the Roman Rite when discussing the Catholic Church. Though it is by far the largest Rite, there are 20+ Eastern Rites in the Catholic Church also under the authority of the Pope. 

I had mixed feelings about this book. There is merit to it for Christians, atheists, and agnostics. However, some branches of Christianity might feel attacked reading certain sections and put it down and never return to it, which is a shame. However, it seems that this book is geared towards those seeking God and have an interest in learning more about the Orthodox Church or are already on their way to joining the Orthodox Church. I am very appreciative of the bibliography at the end, which contains recommended readings for newcomers to Orthodoxy Christianity. It is always frustrating to finish a book and wonder what to read and where to go next on your journey. Thankfully, Fr. Damick didn't leave the reader hanging. Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

This book was provided to me by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Our Island Story (Naxos Audiobooks)

Our Island Story is the second audiobook I received for review from Naxos Audiobooks. While, Naxos Audiobooks has a good variety of audiobook genres, my personal favorite is their unabridged selection, which contains a great many works of classic literature including Dante, Homer, Shakespeare, etc. For those unfamiliar with the premise of Our Island Story, it is a sort of history book of England. However, it is more than boring dates and facts, it is a history book for kids, so it is more lively; playful; and at times, embellished. The author is Henrietta Elizabeth (H.E.) Lawrence. She shortened it to the two initials, so that she could conceal her gender. She also wrote other works, which dealt with other parts of the "Empire," such as Canada, India, and Australia. While these works are all in public domain now, I believe most are long out of print.

The beginning of Our Island Story immediately draws the reader, both young and old, further into the book, as it traces England's origin all the way back to Greek mythology. Neptune and his wife, Amphitrite, had several sons. As each son became old enough, they were given an island to rule over. Neptune and Amphitrite love their fourth son, Albion, the best, so they felt he had to have the BEST island. Therefore, all the mermen and mermaids had to scour the globe, until a suitable island was found. Eventually, an island was chosen and named Albion. Eventually, it was conquered and renamed Britannia. We know it today as England. Now, of course this is completely mythological and made up, but it is a fascinating and makes you want to keep reading.

After this tale, we dive into several chapters on the Romans and Britain. It seems that early on the Romans were always invading and conquering Britain. Yet, the Romans never stayed and set up rulers, so they kept returning, and according to the author Britain always survived. You start to notice early on that this is a very biased book toward Britain, which is to be expected, but can be a bit annoying at times to the non-British reader. Other biases that pop up are pro-Protestant/anti-Catholic bias. I won't walk you through the entire book, as that would take pages to accomplish. The main driver of the book was monarchs. There was occasional deviation from this theme, like when they talked about the Industrial Revolution, but it was a very royal-centric work. I appreciate there being some mention of King Arthur, but I have to admit that part of me wanted a little more. The book ends with the reign of Queen Victoria, Britain's longest reigning monarch and the last of House of Hanover.

As for the presentation of this audiobook, I was pleasantly surprised. There were two narrators in this audiobook - Anna Bentinck and Daniel Philpott. It's always weird to me when there are two different narrators in a book, but somehow they made it work. I had a personal preference for Mr. Philpott over Ms. Bentinck, but that's just me. They both were very lively in their reading, and despite the biases I mentioned earlier, they made me want to keep listening. As I listened to these in my car, I found myself disappointed whenever I arrived at my destination. My wife is an English history buff, so she absolutely raved about this book. I can't wait to share it with my children when they are older, as it is a very approachable way to teach a subject that many consider boring. So whether you are someone who likes history mixed with some mythology/legend, or are a homeschooling parent looking for a way to get your kids interested in history, you will enjoy this book. And it's also available on Audible, if you prefer your books on the cloud,

This book was provided to me for free by Naxos Audiobooks in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Christmas in Harvard Square

Every year, the musical world is flooded with Christmas CDs from musical artists. Artists come into the studio; crank out the same tired carols, maybe a religious hymn or two; and leave having earned a quick buck from easy record sales. Yes, this is just a generalization, but it is rare to hear a sense of awe or amazement at this holy time of year when Christ became man for us. If you are looking for that powerful experience you should get from hearing Christmas music, look no further than Christmas in Harvard Square.

Christmas in Harvard Square is the debut album release of The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School. Some schools say, "We are a school with a choir." St. Paul's proudly states, "We are a choir with a school." The reason for this is the music permeates every facet of the school. It is not just some after school activity, but it is the heartbeat of the school. St. Paul's Choir School was founded in 1963, so this album is being released "as part of their initiative for the New Evangelization and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the school." It's remarkable that children this young are participating in the New Evangelization, but it just goes to show you that you're never to young to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

There is a nice variety of Christmas music among these 19 tracks. You have English tracks and Latin tracks; traditional songs and modern songs; songs you recognize, like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and songs you might have never heard of, like "Jesus Christ The Apple Tree." No matter what type of Christmas music you like, you will find something on this album for you, and all of it is beautifully sung. I would go so far as to say that I was blown away by these young boys' voices. You would never guess from hearing them that they were so young, because they sing well above their age.

I am very pleased to add another CD to my growing collection of Liturgical Seasons CDs. Christmas in Harvard Square is a perfect complement to Advent at Ephesus and Lent at Ephesus. Now, I just need an Easter album, and I'm all set. What about Ordinary Time, you say? Well, since it's the longest season, you need several albums for that, and I have Angels and Saints at Ephesus and Mater Eucharistae. I have also heard that an album on The Rosary is coming out in November! We are truly blessed with all of this Catholic music that is so readily available now, and I look forward to seeing what else lies in store in the future. To see The Making of Christmas in Harvard Square, check out the video below!

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Catholic Baby Name Book

The Catholic Baby Name Book is another book in the series, which are available from Ave Maria Press. Other books in this series include, Imitating Mary, A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy, Small Steps for Catholic Moms, A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa Hendey has authored two of these books and written the foreword for the remainder, so you know that each book has merit, if she stuck her name to them.

This 500+ page book is divided into two sections - Boys' Names and Girls' Names. Each section is alphabetical and contains a GLUT of names. Some of the names are expected, like Benedict or Dominic. Other names leave you scratching your head, like Dioscorus or Numidicus, and make you wonder if anyone would ever burden their child with that name. (Apologies to anyone who gave their kid either of those names.) I appreciate that Mrs. MacArthur included Old Testament names, like Aaron and Elijah, in her book. Even though they are not technically "Saints," they are important Biblical figures we believe to be in Heaven.

The book touts more than 10,000 names, which it does. However, it includes a lot of variations of what I will refer to as "main names." For example the entries Ambrosi, Ambrosius, Ambross, Ambrossye, Ambrotos, Ambroz, Ambrus, and Amby are all variations that said, "see Ambrose." For "main names," I greatly appreciate that the author provides name meaning, language of origin, and some background on the saint. At the end of the book are a few appendices which include name popularity, and my personal favorite - recently canonized Saints. Overall, this was a good book that fell short of great. I believe condensing the number of pages would help dramatically. I see the value in this book, especially for first-time expectant parents. However, it is a book that I would recommend borrowing over buying.

This book was provided to me for free from a friend. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Praise God and Thank Him (Servant Books)

Praise God and Thank Him is the latest book by Catholic Biblical scholar Jeff Cavins. I must admit the subtitle "Biblical Keys for a Joyful Life" gave me pause, but I trusted the author enough I gave his book a shot. Before I continue with my review, let me dispel any fears, and assure you that this book is not "prosperity gospel" at all. Instead, this book looks to teach the reader the keys to joy, not happiness, which is a shallow emotion, but true joy, which comes from God. Mr. Cavins reminds us in the introduction that there will always be problems. We can choose to respond to these problems negatively, or we can "Praise God and Thank Him!"

The book is logically divided into two parts - Praise and Thanksgiving. Each part is five chapters long and closes with a section of "Ten Tips." Mr. Cavins could have taken many approaches with this book. He could have done a strictly Biblical approach to this book, and it would have worked for me. However, he chose to add in some personal stories, Catechism references, and Patristics (always a plus) to give a more complete picture. Overall, I think the most interesting chapter to me dealt with the many Hebrew words for praise. We all know that there are several words for love in the Bible, but very few of us (myself included) know that there are many words for praise in the Bible. They are yadah, halal, shabach, barak, zamar, todah, and kavanah, There are also many postures for praise including standing, kneeling, and falling down to name a few.

Hands down, the most useful sections of the book are the "Ten Tips" at the end of each part. You'll be given tips like, "Start seeing qualities and deeds in others that are praiseworthy," and "Voluntarily fast from something you take for granted." With reflection questions at the end of every chapter, the book is structured in a way that you can use this for individual study or small group study. There are also appendices with Bible verses on praise and thankfulness. You'll have to look them up to read them, as just their citation is in the book, not the actual verse, but I recommend reading through them and finding a couple to memorize. They will prove most useful when life's problems want to weigh you down. I recommend this book and hope that I can take some/all of the tips to heart, so that I can live a more joyful life filled with praise and thanksgiving to God.

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