Friday, November 28, 2014

The Troll With No Heart in His Body and The Terrible Troll-Bird (University of Minnesota Press and New York Review of Books)

The Troll With No Heart in His Body is a compilation of nine troll tales from Norway compiled and re-told by author Lisa Lunge-Larsen. In addition to the tale the book is named after, you will also see stories such as "Butterball," "The Boy and the North Wind," and the well known/personal favorite "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." The book begins with a note from the author, which includes the importance of folk tales, childhood memories of these Norse tales, and fifteen lessons she learned from these tales. Before she gets to the stories, she also includes a map, because when trolls die they help reshape the landscape around them.

Each story is written in large print and includes helpful features like pronunciations and BOLD font so you know when to make your troll voice loud and booming. At the end of each tale are two features. The first is the phrase, "Snip, snap, snout, This tale's told out!" This is a cute translation of a Norse phrase and is a nice touch. The second feature at the end of the tales is a little side box of text, which tells the origin of the story and what the author changed in the story (if anything). The illustrations have an old world feel to them, as they are beautiful woodcuts that seem so appropriate for this style of book. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially if you are a family with Scandinavian or if you just want to expose your children to quality literature. The book could have stood alone on its own with the stories, but the gorgeous illustrations complete it; making it a favorite around my household for both children and adults.

The Terrible Troll-Bird is another Norse book from the authors and illustrators Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. The story focuses on Ola and his three sisters, Lina, Sina, and Trina. They are off to go get firewood one day when they spied an enormous troll-bird. The natural reaction was fear, but when they returned home they were able to slay the bird, cook it, and used its feathers for down. While cooking, trolls followed their nose and showed up. Fortunately, the sun was coming up about that time so no one was hurt/killed and the trolls were wiped out by the sun.

The illustrations are really the best aspect of this book. Some are color and some are black and white, but all of them are very harshly sketched out and felt very troll-like. Overall, the story was a little lacking, and while I'd recommend checking it out from the library, I wouldn't recommend owning it unless you found it on sale, your kids absolutely love everything troll-related, or you want to own all books by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.

These books were provided to me for free by University of Minnesota Press and New York Review of Books in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms (Georgetown University Press)

The Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms is 260 page volume containing over 800 moral terms and definitions. It is not comprehensive by any means, but it is current as it contains topics like Theology of the Body, Natural Family Planning, and Humanae Vitae. As another reviewer pointed out, there are some peculiarities in the book. For example, there is no clear definition on grace but just a referral to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran. There is also an entry for the Lambeth Conferences, a Anglican and Episcopalian conference. Yes, there were some controversial decisions made at these conferences, i.e., female ordination, but why reference it? These is a book for ROMAN CATHOLICS, not Protestants! The author/editor, James T. Bretzke, seems to view Natural Family Planning (NFP) as "Catholic birth control" and though he does include some pro side of NFP, he also includes several references to people who tried NFP.

I was a bit disappointed with this book. There are some good entries in here, but there are some confusing/troublesome entries as well. There also entries that you wish would have had their own section devoted to them, rather than just referencing another entry and the topic you wanted being a mere footnote. Perhaps, it is become I am not scholarly enough and I misunderstood some entries. However, Bretzke does seem to be a bit liberal in his theology. Overall, I'd give this book 3 stars. If you are studying moral theology, then this book might be of interest to you and you might get more out of it than I did. For the casual/average reader though, you're better off not bothering.

This book was provided to me for free by Georgetown Press University in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Remember Jesus Christ (The Word Among Us Press)

It's almost time for my favorite season of the Church Year...Advent! It's a time to start fresh, a time to make goals/resolutions for the coming year, a time to grow closer to God. For the past couple of years, I have made a book recommendation for the Advent season. Normally, I'll recommend something that provides you with short daily readings for the season to keep your mind and heart focused on the true purpose of preparing for the coming of our Lord. This Advent I decided to try a more difficult book, called Remember Jesus Christ.

I find myself collecting and reading a type of Catholic book I wasn't aware was available until recently. They are books which contain talks/retreats given to the papal household. My logic is that if these priests and their message is good enough for the Pope to hear, then they are good enough for me to read. I own several now, and my most recent one is Remember Jesus Christ by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. Fr. Cantalamessa was appointed to the papal household in 1980 by Pope John Paul II, and the book Remember Jesus Christ contains meditations that were given in Advent 2005 and Lent 2006 in front of Pope Benedict. It's like getting two books in one!

The book has eight chapter, four for Advent and four for Lent, with the entirety of the book focusing on the question, "What place does Christ have in modern society?" The Advent section's message revolves around the "proclamation of Christ." While the section on Lent has a message of "imitation of Christ, especially Christ in His Passion." Each chapter is broken down into four to six subsections. I recommend using each of these subsections as a daily reflection through Advent and Lent. There aren't enough subsections to get you through every day of either season, but they are interesting and deep enough that you'll want extra days to re-visit deeper parts.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 4: "To You This Day is Born a Savior: How to Proclaim the Salvation of Christ Today." In this chapter, Fr. Cantalamessa discusses what type of savior humanity needs. Though we all need salvation, we all come from different walks of life and therefore need salvation presented to us differently so that we can more easily understand it and accept it. However, the Faith does not just respond to expectations of salvation but creates and expands these expectations as well. He also explains why we still need a savior today and how that Savior is Jesus Christ Himself. Lastly, he discusses how Christ saves us from both space and time. We are saved from space by being freed from living in the vast universe being envious and instead are content with who we are. We are freed from time by Christ defeating death.

This was a very enlightening book that I plan on reading through again at a slower pace during Advent. I will then pick it up again during Lent and visit that section anew as I will have had time to let things marinate in my head. If you are looking for a challenging, but fruitful read for Advent, then I recommend Remember Jesus Christ. I look forward to checking out Fr. Cantalamessa's other two books Contemplating the Trinity and The Fire of Christ's Love.

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Chronicles of Xan Trilogy (OakTara)

Recent literature for children in the middle school range is a bit lackluster to say the least. We see vampires, werewolves, and dystopian futures, but no real substance. Recently, Antony Barone Kolenc sent me three books he had written entitled The Chronicles of Xan trilogy. I'm embarrassed to say it has taken me so long to read through them, but that is because I wanted to make sure to do the review justice, since I rarely review fictional works. Hopefully, I have.

Book I, Shadow in the Dark, begins with the sound of thundering hoofbeats. Our young protagonist sees a group of bandits riding and is in a hurry to go tell his father of the danger approaching. Unfortunately, he is too late. The village has been destroyed. Everyone he knows; everyone he loves has been killed. The bandits attempt to kill him as well, but somehow he manages to survive only without his memories. Inside an abbey, he awakes as a blank slate. He does not remember his family or where he is from. He doesn't even know his name. Brother Andrew, who eventually becomes the boy's spiritual guide and I'd say one of his closest friends, suggests the name Alexander (Xan for short). While trying to discover both his identity and his place in the world, Xan and some of the other orphan children at the abbey notice that there is an ominous figure roaming the grounds, and that wherever this figure appears, people die. In an effort of equal parts adventure and self-preservation, the youth attempt to solve the mystery of who this deadly shadow is.

This story is not only an adventure story, but also a mystery and a coming of age story. Kolenc combines these elements while painting an accurate picture of life in the 12th century. We see this in minor things like descriptions of everyday life and appropriate language, and he even helps the younger reader by explaining what unknown terms might be. I won't tell you the resolution to the story, but there's are very good Catholic messages running throughout this book, which include Christian love/charity and above all forgiveness of those who have wronged you. I'm always wary of younger kids books when mystery is involved, because they are sometimes a bit too simplistic. That was not the case, as there were some red herrings to keep you guessing. This was a very enjoyable book and is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Book II, The Haunted Cathedral, picks up several  months after the conclusion of Shadow in the Dark. In this book we see a bit more displeasure and resentment in Xan. The memories of his former life and family haunt him. His relationship with his girlfriend is complicated and tumultuous. He also realizes what it means to be a serf and have no control over his own life. In fact, if his uncle so desired, he could send Xan off away from his friends and mentor, Brother Andrew, to live in a different city and become an apprentice.

Xan goes on a cart-ride from the abbey to the city of Lincoln. Accompanying him on the ride is Brother Andrew, two guards, and Carlo (the bandit leader from the first book who killed his parents). On this ride, Brother Andrew teaches Xan (and the others) about turning the other cheek and loving all people. We also see a different side of Carlo, a more humble and contrite side. When the cart over turns, he even goes so far as to save Brother Andrew's life in lieu of escaping. Within the city of Lincoln there is a cathedral that the children of the city believe to be haunted (hence the title of the book). Xan decides to solve the mystery and show them that it is not haunted. Kolenc does a masterful job of reinforcing the ideas of Christian love and forgiveness from the first book, while also mixing in adventure and mystery to keep your young reader interested.

Book III, The Fire of Eden, has two important events happening - Brother Andrew's ordination and Xan deciding his path in life. Xan can either decide to apprentice like his uncle wanted him to or he can join the abbey and become a brother. I won't tell you which one he picks, you'll have to make it to the end of this book to find that out. In this book, we get to meet a few more new characters, including Brother Andrew's mother. Another character we meet is a Magician. While awaiting Brother Andrew's ordination, a precious jewel, the Fire of Eden, is stolen and everyone expects the Magician. Once again it seems up to Xan to solve the mystery.

The themes of helping others, Christian love, and forgiveness are present again. But I found myself having a hard time getting into this final novel. I appreciated the surprise of who stole the pricey jewel and why it was stolen, but it felt a bit too much like the first two books in the series. It was nice that all the characters we met were given a resolution, but it left enough wonder to see if there will be a fourth book or if this series will end as a trilogy. Overall, I was very impressed with these three books. Antony Kolenc did a nice job of mixing mystery, adventure, and Catholic values into a story that middle-grade children, primarily boys, will find interesting and want to pick up.

These books were provided to my by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Battle Against Hitler (Image Books)

Germany after World War I was a place of upheaval. Social and economic issues threatened Germany's new democracy and led to the formation of radical right-wing parties. One such right-wing activist was Adolf Hitler, who formed the Nazi party, attempted to overthrow the Bavarian government, and start a national revolution with his infamous "Beer Hall Putsch." This treasonous act landed him a five year jail sentence, of which he served a mere nine months. After several years, Hitler continued his rise to power, first becoming Chancellor and eventually a dictator. We need not be reminded of the gruesome actions after his gain of control. We simply look back and ask, why didn't someone try and stop him? The reality is one man did. Dietrich von Hildebrand was a German Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian. His book My Battle Against Hitler details his fight against one of the greatest evils of the 20th Century.

The book is divided into two sections. Part One is von Hildebrand's memoir and Part Two are direct writings against Hitler and the Nazi party. The memoirs span from 1921 to 1937. There is a brief section in 1938, which discusses von Hildebrand's escape to Vienna. Before each section, the editors provide vital background information. This helps contextualize the writings and gives the reader a better understanding of what was going on in a given year, both in von Hildebrand's life and on a global scale. There is also ample commentary located within the writings, which reflect on not only the writings, but the challenges and dangers von Hildebrand faced for taking on Hitler.

Reading through the memoirs (Part One). Some parts were very fascinating, like why he decided to declare himself a "non-Aryan." Other parts were a bit dry and might take considerable effort on the part of the reader, if it is not something that interests them or that they are overly familiar with. The essays in Part Two really made me stop and think. Even though von Hildebrand's battle was against Hitler and the Nazi Party, he had no problem calling out Catholics who tried to "build bridges between Christianity and Nazism" or Catholics who tried to ignore the atrocities going on and act like their Faith was something that could be lived inwardly focusing only on themselves and going to Mass, and not others in need of help.

Even if parts of the book don't speak to you, My Battle Against Hitler is a book that is worth reading. Von Hildebrand shows us that you can stand up against evil without violence. He also serves as an example that we must stand up against evil, even if means personally risking our own life. Von Hildebrand's life and testimony is one we could all emulate. If you would like to learn more about him or see a different perspective on Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, you will want to check out this book.

This book was provided to me for free by Image Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes! To read an interview with the editor, John Henry Crosby, click here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mary Poppins 80th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Children and adults alike fell in love with Mary Poppins when they saw the Disney movie. Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke's musical and whimsical take on this children's book delighted audiences when it was first released and continues to delight audiences today. Fans of the movie were given a different perspective on Mary Poppins with the Disney movie, Saving Mr. Banks. In this movie, we get a Disney-biased look at the author P.L. Travers, her view of the literary character Mary Poppins, and her allowing of the film to be made. Like all "fact-based" movies, Saving Mr. Banks got as much right as it did wrong. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about it, was that it may have opened the eyes of people to read the Mary Poppins books and not just focus solely on the movie. Approximately one month ago, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released a special 80th anniversary edition of Mary Poppins.

The 80th anniversary edition of Mary Poppins is a THICK (over 1000 pages) tome, which contains the first four Mary Poppins books - "Mary Poppins," "Mary Poppins Comes Back," "Mary Poppins Opens the Door," and "Mary Poppins in the Park." To my delight the illustrations are abundant and from the original booksby the o There is also a Foreword written by Gregory Maguire, which I found unnecessary as it just read like an "I met P.L. Travers once" piece, and a closing essay/lecture excerpt by P.L. Travers herself called, "On Not Writing for Children" in which she discusses how though children may love her books, they are not the sole, nor the intended audience. What you will not find in this tome is "Mary Poppins A to Z," "Mary Poppins in the Kitchen," "Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane," and "Mary Poppins and the House Next Door." These last four books consist of a book of vignettes featuring letters in the alphabet, a cookbook of sorts, and two final stories that add little if anything to the series as a whole. They were wise omissions indeed.

The first-time reader familiar with the movies will notice as many similarities as differences between the books. Yes, there are the two children Jane and Michael Banks, as in the movie, but there are also two younger children as well. Bert doesn't play as prominent a role. There's about one chapter where he features prominently. Mary Poppins isn't as "delightful" as she is in the movie. Instead, she is a bit more sarcastic, stern, and doesn't sing catchy tunes like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." She still genuinely cares about the children, and they genuinely love her. Perhaps, there is a bit more fear/respect from the children than the hero worship you see in the movie, but there is definitely a loving relationship there. There's also the familiar scene with Uncle Albert, which is sure to delight readers young and old. One of the big parts where the book is different is the complete change in Mr. Banks. Disney tried to put a nice happy ending on the story, but the Father still remains a bit strict and distant. That's not to say he doesn't love his children, but it didn't have that saccharine sweet ending. Those already familiar with the book will notice that a chapter in the original book was revised to make a compass more politically correct.

The first three books stand on their own, with "Mary Poppins" being the crown jewel, and "Mary Poppins Comes Back," and "Mary Poppins Opens the Door" being iterations of the first book. The last book in this collection, "Mary Poppins in the Park" contains six adventures that happened during the timeframe of the second and third books. If you are a fan of the movie Mary Poppins and would like to know the real story, I highly recommend this book. If you are a fan of the books and your copies are cracked in two and in need of replacing, I recommend this book. If the book size is intimidating for you or your kids, then you might want to get some smaller paperbacks or hardcovers also available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mary of Nazareth (Ignatius Press)

Mary of Nazareth starts off in a startling fashion. A band of marauders with a group of dogs is going through a small town and capturing all the young girls. Anna and Joachim hear them coming and manage to hide Mary from the men. The dogs, however, are sniffing around and miraculously are unable to find Mary. This is the first hint of one of the underlying themes in the movie - Mary is special. What about the captured girls? They are lined up and inspected by a woman, Herod's wife. She is looking for the one who is to give birth to the Messiah, and wants to kill her. This and other scenes, like Mary taken to the Temple to live were inspired by the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. It therefore became clear early on that this movie will be a mixture of Scripture, tradition, and creative license.

Fast forward about a decade, maybe two, and we see Mary back home with her parents. Joseph has come to ask Mary to be his wife. They could have went with one of two traditions regarding Joseph. They could have made him an older widower with children from his first wife (my preference). Or they could have went with Joseph who was slightly older than Mary, never married, and remained a virgin his whole life like Mary. They chose the latter. In the first scenes with Joseph, we see him seek the permission of Joachim to talk to Mary and Joachim blows him off. Anna, however, says to go and talk to Mary. This seems out of place given that time, but it made for a "cute scene."  I'm not entirely sure how I felt about the interaction between Mary and Joseph. It was a bit flirty, and just felt like they reduced it to some superficial love story.

The movie continues on with scenes we are familiar with from the Bible. There is the Annunciation, Mary's visit to Elizabeth, etc. The director takes creative license with the story and embellishes the facts, like Joseph getting FURIOUS with Mary for her pregnancy, and Joseph giving up on Mary for what seems like a long time. It was puzzling to me why Mary's parents refused to believe that Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age or the manner in which Mary became pregnant with Jesus. For starters, Anne and Joachim were supposed to be barren as well, so why should it be puzzling that Elizabeth became pregnant. Secondly, her parents said early on in the movie that Mary was special, so why change that all of a sudden? It doesn't fit with the storyline. I'm sure Mary felt some level of ostracization, as was portrayed in the movie, but she shouldn't have felt judged by her parents.

There are parts of this movie that seemed forced and reaching for an emotional moment, and there are parts that leave you raw after viewing them. The scene of the slaying of the Holy Innocents ripped my heart out, and it caused me to really stop and think about those poor mothers and fathers back then whose children died at the hands of Herod. The rest of the movie is a mixture of Bible, tradition, and creative license. We see Jesus as a child get hurt and bleed, which was nice as it's foolish to think that Jesus never got hurt or bled. We see Jesus as an adult performing miracles, preaching, and ultimately dying on the Cross. The final scene of the movie has Mary telling the Apostles about how Jesus disappeared in the Temple for three days, and how she didn't understand at the time, but did now. Mary Magdalene then comes in to tell them that Jesus is risen, and the Apostles run off to see. The move then ends with one last scene of Mary and Jesus, Mother and Son.

As I expected beforehand, I have very mixed feelings regarding this movie. There were times I wanted to scream at the screen, and say, "That's not accurate!" or, "Joseph would have never acted like that!" There were other times I was in awe of how the scene captured the human experiences Mary endured while on this Earth. I waffled between giving this movie a 3.5 or a 4 and ultimately decided on a 4 for one very important reason - the message of this movie. That message is that Mary, greatest Saint ever, wants none of the attention on her and wants it all on her Son. She is there to lead us to Jesus, not the other way around.

This movie was provided to me for free by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review. Be sure to check out the corresponding book, Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures. Also, EXCITING NEWS, the actress who played Mary, Alissa Jung, will be visiting 5 cities in North America starting November 15th to promote the movie and blog. The schedule can be found here. Unfortunately, I don't live near any of the cities, but if you are lucky enough to, stop by and see her!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Grace of Yes (Ave Maria Press)

I've had the pleasure of "working" for Lisa Hendey for the past year or two. I'm one of the dozens of people who contribute to her website, and though I rarely get a chance to speak with her or thank her for the opportunity to share my small voice on her website, I know she is a special woman. When she asked me to review her latest book, The Grace of Yes, I admit I had severe reservations. What if I hated it? What if I wasn't the target audience, and the book didn't speak to me? How could I tell a person I greatly admire and respect that her book was a dud? To my relief, the deeper I got in the book, the more I realized that I didn't have to worry about any of these questions!

In the simplest of terms, The Grace of Yes is Lisa Hendey's memoir. In addition to learning about various stages of her life, i.e., childhood, young adulthood, early marriage years, early years as a parent, and being an empty nester, we also learn some cool facts about her. Perhaps, the coolest fact of all is that she's distantly related to Saint Thérèse of a word, that is awesome! However, to call this book merely a memoir would do disservice to the book. Drawing from her life experiences, Lisa pinpoints eight virtues every Christian needs to adopt in order to fully say "Yes!" to God and His will in our life. To my delight, these weren't your typical cliched virtues, like faith, hope, and love. That's not to discredit these tried and true virtues, but Lisa thinks outside of the box and introduces us to the following virtues:

  1. Belief
  2. Generativity
  3. Creativity
  4. Integrity
  5. Humility
  6. Vulnerability
  7. No
  8. Rebirth
Chapter Two: The Grace of Generativity spoke to me the loudest. Before opening this book, the word generativity is a word I might have seen once on one of the old school SATs where they still had analogies. As Lisa states, the word means, "a concern for people besides self and family that usually develops during middle age; especially a need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation." At the ripe old age of 31, I like to think/believe that I am not middle-aged yet. However, when Lisa asks in the book to name three people you love that aren't family, I found myself struggling to find even one. Of course, I love my wife, my son, and the rest of our family. Even if they drive me crazy or I drive them crazy that love is there just because of who they are, not because of what they do for me. However, it made me sad to think that I couldn't even list one friend who I love with no qualifications or because of what that relationship provides me. That's what Lisa's words do. They make you question yourself, your journey with Christ, and how open you are to letting Him work in you.

At the end of every chapter are specific questions to ponder. They are worded gently like reflection questions, but as you read through them a few times to reflect on them, you realize they are a challenge to be better; a challenge to empty yourself of you, fill yourself with Jesus, and say "Yes!" to Him. After these questions, she closes with a prayer, which I always appreciate, as they help direct your thoughts back to God and acknowledge that you can do nothing without Him. You could argue that the primary audience for this book is women, and even if you wouldn't be completely wrong, you would greatly discount the book. Be you man or woman, young or old, you will find yourself relating to some aspect of Lisa's life. I highly recommend picking up two copies of this book, one for you and one to loan out, because you won't want to give up your copy.

DON'T FORGET Today is The Grace of Yes Day. I am participating by reviewing the book The Grace of Yes. If you are interested in participating, please click here for more information.

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

Bergoglio's List (Saint Benedict Press)

From the period of 1976 to 1983, Argentina was a place undergoing political turmoil. It was known as "The Dirty War." Peron had just been deposed and the military took control of the government. It was a horrendous time and place to live, and that is putting it mildly. People were abducted, tortured, and murdered. Pregnant women gave birth to babies that were ripped from their arms. The babies were given to military families, and the mothers were killed. At least 30,000 people were murdered, and the world turned a blind eye to Argentina by and large. To make matters worse, people within Argentina (including some clergy of the Church) did the same or worse, assisted in the murder of these people. Not all in the Church were guilty. Some brave priests, bishops, religious, and laity did their part, either in secret or the open, to save as many people as they could. Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) was one of those priests who did what was right by defying the military government and helping people escape. The book Bergoglio's List highlights the stories of some of those who lived because of him.

The first three chapters of the book provide a mini-history of life during the Dirty War. In addition to detailing some of the general atrocities I listed above, we also learn about a few specific ones as well. For example, Alfredo Astiz lived among the Argentine people and pretended to be their friend. He was known as El Rubito or "the blonde guy." He was actually working for the military government and was giving the government information on who needed to be targeted and killed. The next ten chapters focuses on the stories of specific people that Bergoglio helped save. They were priests, scholars, unionists, Marxists, married couples, etc. The background or affiliation did not matter to Bergoglio. These were human lives, and everyone of them was precious.

I found myself struggling to read this book, particularly the early parts. After almost every chapter, I had to set the book down and step away from it, because it was a harsh reality to accept that things like this occurred not so long ago, and unbeknownst to me, probably still do. The firsthand accounts of people who were saved were tough as well. You knew they were going to escape, but you still feared for them as you read their stories. This is a book that you not only should read, but have to read. It shows us that ordinary people can do extraordinary things and that one person can make a difference. It also shows us firsthand the kind of man and leader our pope is.

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

Friday, November 7, 2014

Zero, One, and Two (KO Kids Books)

Having a young child in your house changes the types of books you read. Instead of some classical work of literature or theological treatise, you now find yourself reading books that have one word per page, and if you don't hide the book every so often, you'll find yourself reading that same book ad nauseum. I long for the day when my son can read Seuss or have Seuss read to him. Books that are nicely illustrated and have a brilliant message are hard to come by. Recently, I have recently had the pleasure of reading three kids books that fit the category of beautiful illustrations and powerful message. They are entitled Zero, One, and Two and all of them are written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi.

One was the first book written in this series. A blue blob was the protagonist and was described as a quiet color. He liked himself, until Red (the antagonist) came around. Red was a bully who picked on Blue and made him feel like less than himself. The other colors in the story (Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple) don't like how Red treats Blue, but also don't have the courage to stand up to Red. Eventually, the Number One comes along and stands up to Red and encourages Blue. Blue decides he wants to count as well, and turns into a number as well. So do the rest of the numbers, except for Red. Blue decides to be the bigger color/number and invites Red to count as well. Red, therefore, becomes a number as well and the colors/numbers all become friends. This was a very well written book that teaches children about numbers, colors, bullying, being proud of who you are, and standing up for yourself and others.

Zero was the second book written in this series, and my favorite of the three. The protagonist of this book is the number Zero. Zero, however, does not like herself. Whenever, she looks at herself, she only sees a big hole in her middle. Like the rest of the numbers, she wants to count! In a sad development, she tries to change her shape. She stretches herself to try and look like the number One. She twists and turns herself to try and look like the number Eight. Eventually, she realizes a way that she can count as well. If you put Zero after a One, it turns into Ten. If you put another Zero after it, you get One Hundred. Thus, Zero is in fact one of the most important numbers there is, and has value like the rest of the numbers. The book like One is gorgeously illustrated and teaches powerful life lessons. For starters, you must learn to find value in yourself and others. I also read somewhere that it teaches lessons about body shapes, and I can see that if I think about it, but I guess as a man, it wasn't the first lesson that popped in my head.

Two is the third and most recent book in Kathryn Otoshi's series. This book tells the story of two friends, One and Two. Three comes along one day, though, and supplants Two. Three convinces One to be friends with only him and abandon Two, which he unfortunately does. This not only devastates Two, but also leads to a battle of Odds vs Evens. Two becomes stressed out, and begins to split. Zero, thankfully, talks some sense into Two and helps Two settle the "war" between Odds and Evens. Three apologizes, and the numbers decide to branch out of their Odd and Even prejudice and befriend numbers from the other group. One and Two also become best friends again. This book felt a little more forced than the previous two. It did a good job teaching children about odds and evens and greater than and less than, but the social issues were a bit of a reach. Your children will definitely learn about friendship and can learn about forgiveness (if taught right). You can also teach them about the importance of finding true friends, and not having to "beg" someone to be your friend when they desert you for someone else.

These books were provided to me for free by the author, Kathryn Otoshi, in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, click here, here, and or here, and hit Yes!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Ancient Faith Prayer Book and The Epistle to the Hebrews (Ancient Faith Publishing)

The Ancient Faith Prayer Book is compiled and edited by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou, author of several other Ancient Faith titles including Meditations for Advent, Meditations for Great Lent, Meditations for Holy Week, and my favorite Thirty Steps to Heaven. The book begins with instructions from St. Theophan the Recluse on how to use this prayer book. At the end of the book is a calendar of Feasts and Fasts, as well as dates for Pascha for the next decade. In between these useful "bookends" is the spiritual meat of the text - the Prayers.

The prayers are a blend of ancient prayers and contemporary editions. You will recognize the Trisagion Prayers, Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Prayers of Thanksgiving, Prayers Before and After Communion, and the Odes. There are also prayers Before and After Work and Before Using the Internet. There are a lot of prayers related to conception, pregnancy, labor, and miscarriages, which is understandable as married couples want (rightfully so) children. The most interesting section to me was St. Chrysostom's Prayers for Every Hour of the Day. I'm not sure I will be able to, but praying these prayers is a goal I would like to set for myself. This is a very useful prayer book for Orthodox, especially, but for others as well. I personally plan to use this prayer book going forward and recommend you pick up a copy and do likewise. Five stars.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is the latest and perhaps last volume of The Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series. The format stays true to previous volumes in that it includes both Biblical text and commentary from Fr. Lawrence Farley. I have been awaiting this volume for a while, because this epistle was always a bit confusing to me for two reasons. Number One, people often misattribute its authorship to St. Paul, and it bugged me that we didn't know who wrote it. Secondly, it was written to a Jewish audience of that time, and since I am not Jewish some of the finer details of this epistle puzzled me.

Fr. Farley however masterfully works his way through this epistle, which explains to us the importance of Jesus. We (and the Hebrew people back then) learn that Jesus is superior to the angels; greater than Moses; like Melchizedek; that He is High Priest of all of Heaven and Earth; and that we must continue to follow Him, even in times of persecution. My favorite part in these books is always the excurses (detailed side notes). Here, Fr. Farley talks about subjects such as the sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist. Abolition of the Old Covenant, and the Wrath of God. This volume did not disappoint. I feel more knowledgeable having read it, and am glad I received it to complete my collection of this series. I hope that Fr. Farley will consider a new series for the Old Testament, but understand if he will not. A great book and a perfect commentary for anyone, not just the scholarly. Five stars.

If you are looking to deepen your prayer life and your knowledge of Scriptures, you'll want to pick up these two books, as well as some more volumes of The Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series. You won't be disappointed! It is also about that time to order your calendars for 2015, so check out their Icon Calendar, which features a dozen stunning icons of the Theotokos. These books were provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing.

Monday, November 3, 2014

O Day of Resurrection! (Jade Music)

Big Sur, California is known for its natural beauty, so much so that it has been the inspiration for artists and authors alike. It has also become a sort of haven for hippies and beatniks, trying to escape the concrete jungle. However, in 1958, the Camaldolese established the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California. This is a perfect example of being in the world, but not of the world.  What is a hermitage? A hermitage is "a community of hermits, each living in an individual cell enclosed by a garden, but praying together." This prayer includes not only the Mass, but the Liturgy of the Hours. The New Camaldoli Hermitage has released a CD, entitled O Day of Resurrection!, which is a recording of the monks’ Sunday chants of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The CD has 27 tracks and is divided into four sections - Vigils, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. If some of these sections sound unfamiliar to you, they are the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer, respectively. These are the major hours of the day. The minor hours Terce (Three), Sext (Six), and None (Nine) are not on this CD. If you are unfamiliar with how the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed, you will notice listening to this CD that it is a lot of Psalms, and a lot of Canticles.

The style of singing can best be classified as plainchant, but you will notice some Byzantine influence, especially in the Trisagion, which happens to be one of my favorite prayers. Other tracks/prayers you should recognize include the Benedictus, Magnificat, Our Father, and Salve Regina. What is missing is the appropriate readings for each office. This is because those change Sunday to Sunday (and day to day, but this a CD for Sunday). So, while you could just listen to this album and sing/pray along with the monks, you would be better served getting a little Liturgy of the Hours book or going to a website, pausing the CD at the appropriate time, and reading the proper readings at the proper time.

This CD spoke volumes to me. The music was bone-chillingly beautiful. I have heard or said these prayers hundreds of times, and to my discredit, sometimes glossing over them. However, hearing them chanted, they spoke to me on a deeper level. I won't say I had a favorite track as the whole album is a beautiful prayer. I will say pay close attention to the closing Troparia (Tracks 6 and 13), as they will provide you with excellent material to meditate on until you arrive at the next hour. I leave you with a behind the scenes video of the monks.

This CD was provided to me for free by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review. If you are looking for more information on the New Camaldoli Hermitage or perhaps have an interest in a vocation there, please click here.