Friday, February 27, 2015

The Olympians Boxed Set (First Second Books)

The Olympians Boxed Set is collection of the first six graphic novels in the Olympians series. They are in paperback format in the boxed set. If you want to buy hardcovers, you'll have to buy individual titles. The individual titles in this set are Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite. I would have probably published Hera second, but that is a personal preference. Each book is written and illustrated by George O'Connor. The books are written and illustrated beautifully. You see this not only on the pages themselves, but on the spine work. If you line up the spines of the first six books you see half of Medusa, so you know that the next six books will finish this picture. It's a little thing, but I love it when books don't change their format and provide you a visually appealing look on your shelf. Also, in this boxed set is a poster that The poster is beautifully drawn, but I honestly like the back of the poster better, as it shows a family tree, which is helpful for keeping gods and goddesses straight!

Even though, most people are familiar with mythological tales, I will provide you with a bit of information on Book 1: Zeus. It would have been easy to skip straight to Zeus as an adult god, but we would have missed a lot of mythology in doing so. Instead, the story starts with the creation, including Gaea and her husband Ouranos. We also see the creation of the Cyclops, Hecatonchires, and the twelve Titans. We then see the birth of Zeus' siblings, who are eaten by Kronos, followed by Zeus' birth. As you are all aware, Zeus is hidden and ultimately saves his siblings from the belly of their father. We then see an all out war between gods and Titans. The story-line flows very nicely, both in words and pictures. It really helps the stories come alive for younger readers, and is sure to appeal to boys who love comics!

At the end of every book is a bibliography, recommended reading (a feature I always love), and discussion question. All these useful features make the books perfect for teachers or homeschooling parents! If you grew up on D'Aulaires Greek mythology book, like I did and your kids are looking for a different illustration style of these classic tales then I recommend The Olympians Boxed Set. It is also a nice bridge between D'Aulaires and Bulfinch or Edith Hamilton. So whether your kids are Greek mythology veterans or novices, they are sure to enjoy this book. Be sure to look for #7 Ares and #8 Apollo!

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Journey to Easter (Crossroad Publishing)

Journey to Easter is a series of Lenten reflections given by Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) during 1983 to the papal household of Pope John Paul II. The book begins with the First Week of Lent by walking us through the daily Mass readings from Cycle A or the Cycle of Matthew. We begin Sunday in the desert with Jesus where he spent forty days and forty nights, only to immediately be tempted by Satan. Ratzinger shows how other figures in salvation history went to the desert, like Moses and Elijah. Monday calls us to repentance, and the second meditation for that compares Christian Rome to Jerusalem. Tuesday enlightens the mystery of Mary. I could work my way through the rest of the week, but there is more in this book to discuss.

Part II walks us through The Mystery of Jesus, which includes the following three key passages of the Nicene Creed - "He came down from Heaven," "He became man," and "True God and True Man." The Paschal Mystery is also studied, including Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Lastly, there are meditation on Christ and His Church and the Priesthood. My favorite section in this book was easily the one on the Paschal Mystery. I always knew the importance of the Triduum, but this book further reinforced it. The way Ratzinger connected the Cross and Resurrection with the Eucharist is a passage I will reference and read again just to let it sink in further and meditate on it more deeply.

If you are a fan of reading Pope Benedict, like myself, then this is definitely a book you will want in your collection. It not only takes you on a journey to Easter, but a journey through Easter, as it covers Pentecost as well. It is also written in a clear, easily understood format and each sub-section is short enough that you won't feel overwhelmed with having to read a lot of pages to get to the main message. Five stars.

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Signs of Life (Image Books)

The Catholic (and Orthodox) Church have a long history that stretches all the way back to the time of Christ and His Apostles. In that history, we have developed traditions, customs, devotions, and practices. Dr. Scott Hahn penned a book entitled Signs of Life in which he looks at forty of these traditions and their Scriptural roots. These forty "signs of life" are divided into nine categories: 1. Life Begins, 2. Life Times, 3. A Day in the Life, 4. Life Lessons, 5. Stages of Life, 6. Spice of Life, 7. Abundant Life 8. Love of My Life, and 9. Life Goes On. In "Life Begins," you will find some of the basics of the Faith, like the Sign of the Cross and Baptism. "Stages of Life" contains signs such as Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. You get the idea.

Each sign/chapter is four to six pages long and is chock full of Scripture, history, and teachings of the saints as it relates to the particular sign. Each chapter then closes with a section called "Ponder in Your Heart." In this closing section, we are provided with a long quote from a Church Father (such as St. Jerome), saint (such as St. Teresa of Avila), or theologian (such Romano Guardini) that further crystallizes the meaning and beauty of the particular "sign of life." Part 3 - A Day in the Life was very insightful for me, because the day to day aspects of life is where I get distracted or often feel like a failure, like I could be doing more and should be doing more. In this section, Dr. Hahn discusses discusses posture (like at Mass or in daily prayer), explained and recommended the practice of making a Morning Offering, and discussed other prayers like the Angelus and Grace Before Meals. These all seem like very simple things to do, which they are, Making ourselves do these to develop a spiritual discipline is the hard part.

Whether you are a lifelong Catholic or a new Catholic, you can benefit from reading this book. In fact, given the amount of topics in the book (40), you could make this a Lenten reading either this year or next if you already have a book this Lent. In fact, if you know someone or are sponsoring someone going through the RCIA process, this would be the perfect gift for them either after they are Catholic or for them to read through Lent all the way up to their journey at the Easter Vigil and initiation into the Church. I highly recommend 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!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz (Sunday Press Books)

If I think hard enough, I can remember the first time I saw the movie The Wizard of Oz. I was still a young child and though, I didn't grow up on black and white television, when the movie switched from black and white to technicolor, it was a bit of a breathtaking moment. We were no longer in dull, gray Kansas, but instead were now transported to the magical and colorful land of Oz. It wasn't until I was in college or out of college that I took the time to read the Oz books. Ashamedly, it was that late in life that I realized there was more than one book. However, I had just received a Kindle and was loading up on free books from Amazon, so I put those on there and read them. They were good, quick reads but it felt like something was missing. It was only in the past year that I realized these books were originally illustrated, and naturally I had to own them. I am a firm believer that if children's books were originally illustrated, then that is how they should be read. Opening those books and seeing pictures on every page, it took me back to the first time I saw the movie. Pages of black text on white background now came alive with color and illustrations. Surely, I wasn't in Kansas anymore!

I bought these 15 Oz books from Books of Wonder. This is honestly the first time I have purchased books in a while, but as I said before, I had to own them. You can buy them individually at this site or at Amazon (with some careful searching), but buying all at once (if you can afford it), is the cost-effective way to go. Just call it a family Christmas gift like I did! For those who are Oz-ignorant like me, there are apparently many Oz books. Only 15 of them are written by L. Frank Baum, but there are other authors that wrote Oz books that are considered canon by the Baum Trust. The 15 titles by Baum are:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Marvelous Land of Oz
Ozma of Oz
Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
The Road to Oz
The Emerald City of Oz
The Patchwork Girl of Oz
Tik-Tok of Oz
The Scarecrow of Oz
Rinkitink in Oz
The Lost Princess In Oz
The Tin Woodman of Oz
The Magic of Oz
Glinda of Oz
Little Wizard Stories of Oz

There is also a lesser known work of Baum's, because it was not-written in his traditional format. After Baum had written The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum teamed up with cartoonist Walt McDougall to create a comic strip called Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz. Why didn't he use W.W. Denslow (the illustrator for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) for this comic strip? It turns out that Baum and Denslow had a falling out over royalties, and they went their separate ways. Denslow in fact went on to create a less-successful competing comic strip called Scarecrow and Tinman. Looking at the illustrator for the remaining Oz books (John R. Neill), it is clear to see that Baum and Denslow never patched things up, which is a shame because the first book definitely had a magical feel to it (not to take anything away from Mr. Neill).

When one looks at Sunday Press Books, it is a small publisher with a limited number of titles. However, what they lack in terms of quantity, they more than make up for in terms of quality! Their book Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz is a whopping 16" x 18" so unless you have huge bookshelves, it won't fit on them. That's not a bad thing, though, as the comic strips are printed in full color and original size. People my age and younger might not realize how big comic strips actually used to be, but compared to the strips you find in modern newspapers, they are ginormous.

As for the comics content themselves, Baum's comic strip focuses on Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Woggle-Bug, the Flying Gump, and the Animated Saw-Horse's trip through the United States. The adventures are more misadventures, as they stumble upon a beauty doctor, a pawn shop (where Saw-Horse is pawned), celebrate Thanksgiving, and even run into Dorothy and Toto. The strip is humorous, but definitely has a promotional feel to it, as it is like they are touring the United States to plug the second book in the Oz series. Denslow's comic strip features Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. Their journeys are both domestic (Fifth Avenue) and international (Bermuda and the Yucatan Peninsula).

Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz is a true treasure of a book. It not only contains Oz comic strips, but also another Denslow comic called Billy Bounce, another McDougal comic called Hank the Hermit, and a comic strip by John R. Neill (the 2nd Oz illustrator). There is also biographical information on Baum and McDougal. This book combines history and art. It's like opening a time capsule as you turn through the pages and look at what comics and newspapers were like over 100 years ago. It is surely a treat for the true Oz lover and the comic book lover as well.

I close this post with what may seem obvious, but a plea to buy your children physical books. It may seem obvious, but children respond better to turning physical pages and reading books with lots of pictures! It may seem obvious, and it may be a little bit more expensive, but it is completely worth it and will help your children develop a lifelong love of learning.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Season of Repentance (Holy Trinity Publications)

Before the season of Great Lent begins in the Orthodox Church, it is preceded by five Sundays. They are Zacchaeus Sunday, the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Meatfare Sunday (or Judgment Sunday), and Cheesefare Sunday (or Forgiveness Sunday). After Forgiveness Sunday (which is this coming February 22nd), Great Lent has officially begun. If you are Orthodox and still looking for what to read this Lent, then I recommend you the book Season of Repentance: Lenten Homilies of Saint John of Kronstadt. For those unfamiliar with who Saint John of Kronstadt is, he was a presbyter of the Russian Orthodox Church, and one of the most influential Russian saints leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution.

The book, Season of Repentance, begins with homilies for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, and unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church only reads it in Church once every three years. In the first homily for this Sunday, he discusses how publicans and Pharisees still figuratively exist in today's day and age. He explains how pride and self-praise coupled with humiliation of others is a disease of the soul. In the second homily for this Sunday, he talks about not judging others sins, because we have our own sins. He also mentions that every time we do a good deed that we should forget it, because as the Bible says, "We have done what was our duty to do." These excerpts/summaries are just the tip of the iceberg with this book.

Most of the Sundays during and before Great Lent have several homilies associated with them, except for the Third Sunday which has one homily and the Sixth Sunday which does not have a homily at all. You can choose to read all of them for that particular Sunday or just read one a year and visit the other homilies the following years. There are also homilies associated with Great Monday, Great Wednesday, and Great and Holy Friday. There is also an epilogue or bonus homily for Thomas Sunday. My only wish for this book is that there were homilies for Palm Sunday and Pascha to accompany these great Lenten homilies. That small wish aside, these are great homilies filled with Scripture and practical advice that still applies one hundred years later. If you are looking for something to read this Great Lent, then pick up a copy of Season of Repentance.

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!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Didache Bible (Ignatius Press)

Catholics get a bad reputation for not reading the Bible, and while it isn't entirely untrue, we Catholics could do a better job of reading, knowing, and studying the Bible. One of mine, and many other Catholics favorite Bibles has been the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. It is a great gift to the English speaking Church, but unfortunately, it is only the New Testament. Old Testament books are being churned out (slower than some of us would like), but until the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible's completion, people like myself have been using editions like the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) for their Old Testament readings and study. That was until the release of The Didache Bible! For the same price as the hardcover Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, you can get The Didache Bible, which contains both Old and New Testament. But what else makes this Bible special? I'm glad you asked!

The Didache Bible begins with an introduction of what Sacred Scripture is and how to read the Bible. It then provides a brief summary of each of the books of the Bible. For example, Genesis is summarized as such: Creation and origin of mankind (1-11); Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (12-36); and Joseph in Egypt (37-50). There is then a chronology of both the Old Testament and New Testament. Here, the beginning student of the Bible learns that the Old Testament books are not arranged chronologically. Lastly, before we get to the text of Scripture, there are several lists Scripture passages for personal meditation. The lists are "The Birth and Hidden Life of Christ," "The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ," "The Parables of Christ," "The Miracles of Christ," and "Passages About the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Each book of the Bible begins with an introductory page, which contains information on the author, date of composition, intended audience the book was written for, and main themes in the book of the Bible. Looking at the Gospel of Matthew in The Didache Bible and comparing it to the Gospel of Matthew in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, one can see that the Scriptural cross-references are consistent. For example Matthew 1:1-17 cross-references to Luke 3:23-38. The footnotes however are different, in a good way. Footnotes from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible focus a lot on word-meaning and the original Greek and Aramaic that Matthew wrote in, as well as more Scriptural cross-references. The Didache Bible's footnotes, however, focus on what the text actually means, why it is important, and cross-references to the Catechism. This is the biggest difference between the two Bibles and is what makes The Didache Bible what it is. The commentaries at the bottom are all based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, the Bible's cover even looks like the Catechism. On some pages, like at the bottom of pages 92-93 (Exodus 23-25), there are bits of the Catechism discussed, like "the obligation to speak the truth."

Other great features in The Didache Bible include full page apologetical explanations on topics such as Baptism, Mortal and Venial Sin, and Apostolic Succession, just to name a few. There is a brief glossary (if you consider 43 pages brief) and topical index at the end of the Bible, and there are also 27 full-color Biblical maps which include Old Testament maps (like The Journeys of Abraham) and New Testament maps (like Christ's Journey to Jerusalem). The size of the Bible is 6" x 9", with a font of 9.5 points. Both of these are smaller than the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, but the font was not a strain on my eyes to read. It is approximately 2000 pages, and the margins are very tiny, so don't expect to make many notes in this Bible. That's not a deal-breaker for me, as I do not make notes in my Bible. Lastly, there are not one, but two ribbon markers. I assume for both testaments, but if not that is how I plan to use mine.

Overall, I am greatly impressed with this edition of the Bible. Normally, if a book is that impressive, I would say that it deserves a place on your bookshelf. The Didache Bible, however, deserves a spot on your desk, dining room table, coffee table, or wherever you read your Bible. It will not be replacing my Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, but I will be using the two in conjunction. This is the complete Catholic Study Bible that Catholics have been awaiting for at least a decade. The only thing I found odd about it was that 1st and 2nd Maccabees were at the end of the Old Testament, instead of between the books of Esther and Job. So either pick up a copy of the hardcover now, or if you insist on leather, wait a little bit longer for that one to be released.

This Bible was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes! To read some sample pages, click here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Princess Bride (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

If you are a child of the 80s like me, then you are probably a fan of the movie The Princess Bride. And if you're not, well that's inconceivable! What's not to love about it? It's got adventure for the boys and a love story for the girls. It also has one of my favorite actors, Cary Elwes. He played a young Karol Wojtyla in the movie Pope John Paul II. Back to The Princess Bride...if you have seen the movie, and haven't read the book, well you are missing out! There are several editions on the market right now, and the one I am recommending to you is the 30th Anniversary Edition.

The structure of The Princess Bride is that it is a story within a story. The story claims to be written by S. Morgenstern, but Morgernstern is juts a construct of the author William Goldman. In a nutshell, Goldman created Morgernstern who created The Princess Bride. The story itself contains pirates, swordfighting, a giant, a miracle, and of course true love. The book has several asides that interrupt the flow of the story. This is something you either hate or you tolerate. I have found very few people who love having a built in interruption within their story, but there is a small minority. Don't let this be a deterrent to reading the book if you haven't yet. Reading about Princess Buttercup, Westley, and the rest of the gang is worth it...interruptions and all. There is also a very brief section at the end that spoke very briefly about Buttercup's baby and the death of Fezzik.

The question you have to ask yourself is not whether you are going to buy this book, but why you should buy this edition of the book? For starters, it is a hardcover edition. Every book is better as a hardcover. They may be a little pricier, but they are prettier and will stand the test of time/multiple readings. I understand the paperback crowd who crack the spine and the book falls open to their favorite passages, but that's not me! The second reason you need this edition is the illustrations. Now, don't get me wrong, the book isn't chock full of illustrations and they aren't exactly my style of illustrations, but children respond better to stories with pictures, so they serve a purpose. The last reason to buy this edition is because of the paper quality. Weird reason, but it's a nice, thick, glossy paper. It just makes the book pop! So buy this edition of The Princess Bride. You won't regret it!

This book was provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Mystery of Art (Ancient Faith Publishing)

A quick Google search of Jonathan Jackson pulls up a list of acting and musical credentials. He was Lucky Spencer on General Hospital, a role that landed him five Emmy Awards. He was the title role, Jesse Tuck, in the book-turned-movie Tuck Everlasting. I admit to not knowing him for either of these roles. I actually know him as Ricky Ferris, aka the guy who almost prevented Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence on Boy Meets World. Just think, if Ricky and Topanga had ended up together our TVs would have never been graced with Girl Meets World. In all seriousness though, Jonathan Jackson is more than an actor or a musician, he is a Christian (and a convert to Orthodox Christianity), and to his immense credit has never shied away from it like other Hollywood celebrities have. Today, I am reviewing his book, The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God.

Jackson begins his book by explaining that the highest form of art is prayer. He quickly clarifies that one does not need to be a Christian to be an artist or vice versa. He does, however, ponder whether one can reach the pinnacle of either (Christianity or art) without being both a Christian and an artist. He then defines the purpose of this book, which is "to open a dialogue between the Christian soul and the mystery of art." Lastly, in the introductory material, we learn a brief bit about his journey to Orthodoxy, the Christian East. He explains his clash with Christian Fundamentalism and their view of art as unnecessary at best and sinful at worst. Unfortunately, he paints the West with a broad-stroked brush with the lines, "The original vision of Christianity was maintained in the East and faithfully passed on from generation to generation. There were no crusades or inquisitions, no papal demands for supremacy, no systematic theology or Reformation." This is a broad statement that is not entirely true. It is also a hurtful and unnecessary shot to take at Roman Catholicism.

Jackson then devotes the rest of the book to explaining what art is and what it is not. For example, art is prayer, beauty, mystery, and sacrament. Each chapter is written in a very personal style with references from Jackson's own life and career. The book also has the feel of a lecture/talk that was given and transcribed (not that is a bad thing). I imagine this would make a fascinating audiobook, especially if Mr. Jackson was the one reading it. In between some chapters is what I call "bonus material." This bonus material are poems that Mr. Jackson has written. Anyone who says that actors lack a brain just need to read this poetry to see that couldn't be further from the truth. The account of St. Genesius of Rome was the perfect way to end this book. So whether you are an artist or a Christian, or just one looking to understand how the two converge, I recommend this book.

This book was provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes. For great Lenten reading, check out their wonderful selection of Lenten books here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Encounter (Saint Benedict Press)

Every Lent, I get asked for recommendations on what to read by my friends. I take this as high praise, as that is why I write this blog. I want people to ask me for advice about books, because I love books, and I love connecting people to the right book. For my Lent, I have two books I will be reading and meditating over. If you regularly read my blog, then you know the first book is 40 Days, 40 Ways. The other book, which I will be reviewing today, is The Encounter by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.

The Encounter is a genre of books that I have been gravitating toward lately. They aren't an official genre, but they are retreats given to the papal household every Lent (and sometimes Advent). I like to read these books, even if they are a bit difficult, for two reasons. Reason #1 is that there are so many introductory Catholicism books, it's nice to see one in the intermediate to advanced section. Reason #2 is that reading these books makes me feel like I was there when the retreat was given. I get to read what the Pope heard, and if it's good enough for him and edifying for him, then it must be for me too! The Encounter is the last papal retreat given to Pope Benedict XVI, and as I hold a special place in my heart for Pope Benedict, that makes this book all the more special to me.

In his book The Encounter, Cardinal Ravasi takes on a two-fold journey through the Psalter. The first path is upward and makes up the first part of the book, the Face of God. The second path is downward to see the Face of Man. Ravasi says that these two intersect at the crossroads of prayer. He then begins by explaining the four verbs of prayer. They are breathe, think, struggle, and love. He asks such simple questions to make profound points. "Why do I breathe? Because otherwise I would die. It is the same way with prayer." Ravasi then goes on to quote theologian Yves Congar who also spoke on this theme of prayer as breath. "If one lives in an environment of foul air, all of life is saddened; this is what happens with prayer, which needs a pure atmosphere, free from outside distractions, haloed in silence." These profound comparisons continue for the other three verbs with Mary's pondering things in her heart being the example for think; Jacob's nighttime wrestling being the example for struggle; and the intimacy with which we call God, Abba as the example for love. Ravasi then shows us several other places we see the Face of God, including the Word, the cosmos, the Jewish Temple, history and Jesus. Part Two, The Face of Man, talked about issues of human fragility, healing, and forgiveness to name a few of the topics discussed.

I was warned before reading this book that it was deep, and the person warning me was spot on. Ravasi references art, fiction, poetry, music, Jewish references, and Islamic references. Despite this wide array of deep references, Ravasi's expertise on the Psalms shines. He not only shows us his love for God, but also God's love for us! He also ably demonstrates God's eternal and constant call for use to draw closer to Him, and the best way to draw closer to Him is through breathing, thinking, struggling, and loving in prayer. This is a book I will be revisiting again through the season of Lent, reading it more slowly; meditating on it more deeply. If you are looking for a challenging, but fruitful Lenten read, I highly recommend this work. Just take your time, and don't be ashamed to re-read the chapters two and three times each so that it all soaks in!

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, February 6, 2015

The Little Hippo and One Night, Far From Here

The Little Hippo is a children's book published by Prestel. When you think of Prestel, you don't normally think of kids books, but instead art or photography books. The illustrator of this book, Anja Klauss, based her illustrations on the ancient style of Egyptian art. This story, written by Geraldine Elschner, begins by telling about a time in Egypt when blue hippos populated the Nile River. The youngest one, called Little Hippo, became friends with a man named Antef. As quickly as we learn of their friendship, we learn that Antef has died and is placed inside a pyramid. Little Hippo decided to lay down beside him and slept for centuries. Eventually he was woken up by archaeologists. Little Hippo discovered that instead of growing, he had shrunk. Using his size, he escapes and embarks on a journey to find his family and friends. The rest of the book tells of his epic journey, which you'll have to read to see how it ends.

The colors on the page are bold and vibrant. They go from a beautiful blue, like the hippo on the cover, to a vibrant red that seems to set the page on fire. The hieroglyphics and Egyptian-style art make the whole book a work of art. The story is also cute, but subtly educational. Your children won't realize they are learning about ancient Egyptian culture, archaeology, artifacts, and art. If all Prestel kids books are this high of quality, then I plan on getting a few more and using them with my son as gentle introduction of art and other cultures. Five stars!

One Night, Far From Here is a 14" x 10.5" inch picture book that takes your children through various ecosystems at night. They move from an African Savannah to a Russian Taiga to the Amazon Rainforest to the ocean and finally end up in a North American Forest with a girl reading the very same book. Along the way, the words of the story points out various wildlife, native to these ecosystems. There are spider monkeys, giant squids, snow owls, and wild boars. What makes the book unique is the layout. Each region begins with two acetate (plastic) pages. The first page is mostly dark and reveals tiny creatures like birds and insects. The second acetate page illuminates more over the scene, showing both flora and fauna. Turning this page takes you to the paper page which brings the whole scene in view. At the end of the book is two-page spread, which labels all the animals you and your child could have potentially seen. This encourages you to recall the pages and go back and look through the book again (not that you need motivation to visit this book more than once). This is a book you and your child will visit time and time again, not for the words of the story but just the beautiful book. If you have a child who loves books (whether they can read yet or not), you will want to get them this treat for the eyes.

These books were provided to me for free by Prestel and Flying Eye Books in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

40 Days, 40 Ways (Servant Books)

40 Days, 40 Ways is Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio's latest book. You might remember his previous one, which I also reviewed, called When the Church was Young! In his latest book, he attempts to get us to look at Lent in a new way. Most people dread Lent, and just try and find something to give up to satisfy the requirement and have their "card punched." Dr. D'Ambrosio (aka Dr. Italy) instead provides us with devotions, prayers, or other tasks we can do. He tries to make Lent more about what we can do and not what we cannot do.

Each day is about two to three pages long, and starts with a suggestion on what to do, not just this day in Lent, but the whole season. Some of the tasks are "easy," like pledging to say the "Our Father" three times a day. Other tasks require more effort like going on a contemplative retreat during Lent. After the task, we are then given a long reflection on the specific task for the day. For example, on the day that tells us to pledge to say the "Our Father," Dr. Italy discusses the word father, its meaning, and how personal it is that we can call God our Father. In addition to covering the 40 days of Lent, there are reflections (but no task to complete) for each Sunday during Lent, as well as Easter Sunday. There is also a helpful section of resources at the end, which includes prayers, devotions, books to read, etc.

I found this book to be a refreshing change of perspective on Lent. Be sure to read the Preface, I didn't my first time through and thought the book was a bit overwhelming. However, reading the Preface he encourages you to read through the Table of Contents, and pick a few tasks you can accomplish this Lent. A lot of the tasks are easy enough to accomplish, but if you try and do too many, you might find yourself burnt out trying to change too much, too quickly. I think I will re-read this book during Lent and try and incorporate some of the ideas and maybe gradually over several Lents, I will have accomplished everything in this book. If you're looking for a book that makes you think and re-evaluate what Lent is about (growth and doing stuff, not just giving stuff up), then pick up a copy of Dr. Italy's latest book.

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

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mary: Virgin, Mother, and Queen and Growing in Faith (Our Sunday Visitor)

Every year; sometimes twice a year Our Sunday Visitor publishes a Bible study book by Fr. Mitch Pacwa. Today, I will be reviewing two of those books. They are entitled Mary: Virgin, Queen, and Mother and Growing in Faith. I won't hem around since this is a two review day, and we'll just get straight to the reviews.

Mary: Virgin, Queen, and Mother is one of Fr. Pacwa's thicker Bible study books, sitting at 160 pages. Most of his other studies are approximately 100 pages. Topics touched on in this book include early events in the Gospels like The Annunciation and The Visitation; and later events like Mary during Christ's public ministry and after His public ministry. I realize this is a Bible study, and Fr. Pacwa is sticking to the Canon of Scripture, but I wish he would have touched on Tradition a bit more and talked about Mary's early life.

The most interesting chapter or session to me was Session One: Old Testament Background. Fr. Pacwa limits his Old Testament prophecies to those that tie Mary and Jesus together, i.e., Mary as the New Eve, Mary as the Burning Bush, and Mary as the Ark of Covenant. As someone who has read a lot on Mary before, this Old Testament allusions to Mary are not new to me. However, if you don't know a lot of Old Testament, this is a great chapter that will teach you a lot.

No surprise, but this was an excellent study by Fr. Pacwa. Whether you are looking for an individual study book or one that you can do in a small group setting, this book will not disappoint. It is at a basic enough level that anyone can understand it, and the tools you need for this study (the book and a Bible) are minimal so there is no high start up cost to lead a study if you wanted to.  If you are looking for a good starting point to understanding Mary this serves as a good beginner. You could even loan it to a Protestant friend or family member, so they might finally understand Mary better. Five stars.

When I first received, Growing in Faith, I noted that it looked a lot like The Year of Faith. The cover color was different, but it had the same images otherwise. Therefore, I thought this was a sequel or follow-up Bible Study. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Growing in Faith is almost identical to The Year of Faith. The biggest difference is that anywhere Pope Benedict XVI's words were, Pope Francis' words now have replaced them. Where Porta Fidei excerpts once were, we now see excerpts from Evangelii Gaudium. I won't be overly reviewing this book as I already have here, but I will say that it is a good study. If you are a Pope Benedict fan, get The Year of Faith. If a fan of Pope Francis, then get Growing in Faith. I would have preferred this more if it was a follow-up, and not just a revision, but since it is a revision, I think it would have been better served to include both Pope Benedict's and Pope Francis' words in the revision. For that reason, I am giving this 4 out of 5 stars.

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