Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Redeemed by Grace (Ignatius Press)

Abby Johnson's book UnPlanned is one of the most well-known stories of a former Planned Parenthood employee's journey from the side of pro-choice to the side of pro-life. What we don't realize is that there are other women who have made that same journey and even more women who want to make that journey but are scared to do so. Redeemed by Grace is the true story of Ramona Treviño's journey from Catholicism to the lies of secularism and back to the truth of Catholicism. As the last stop on the blog tour for her book, I will be providing a general review.

Redeemed by Grace begins with Ramona's first day of her first week as manager of a Planned Parenthood in Sherman, Texas. She was driving home; listening to Catholic radio, as she had been for the past several months; and opening herself to the Spirit, whether she knew it or not. All of a sudden, it hit her. What she was doing was wrong! She was not helping young girls, but instead she was making their lives worse. Tears poured from her with no end in sight, but God's voice told her that it wasn't too late to turn her life around. The book then flashes back to 1985 when Treviño was a little girl and her first inquiry into God's existence and presence in her life. Subsequent chapters detail harsh moments in her life, including getting pregnant at sixteen, marrying into an abusive marriage, and divorce. We also learn of her involvement and advancement in Planned Parenthood and the glorious story of her escape from the lie that is Planned Parenthood.

Chapter 16: Resounding Trust was the chapter that brought everything into perspective for me. Here we see the childlike trust a wife and mother places in God. Ramona was no longer working at Planned Parenthood, so she was looking for a job to help her family that just went from two incomes to one income. She starts by selling insurance, but soon felt that she was preying on the elderly. She then moved to payday loans, but felt she was preying on the poor. She quit both jobs and had to trust in God that He would provide for her family. Monetary gifts rolled in from friends and people she didn't even know. However, the birth of her third child, Philip, was the greatest proof of God's love for her and her husband. That's so simple but profound. Life is the greatest gift of all, and that message emanates from his book.

With a personal narrative writing style, this book can be read very quickly. If you are a reader of average speed, it will take you about a day. That's not to say that this book is an easy read though. It was a hard read packed with emotion and sadness. You ultimately know where she is headed in her journey (toward God and the Catholic Church), but you have to experience the suffering with her before she gets there. When I first received this book, I put it on a shelf to read if I ever had spare time, because I wasn't the target audience for this book. After reading it, I still don't believe I am the target audience for it, but I am glad I read it.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

Zealous (Servant Books)

Zealous is the latest book release from "Bible Geek" Mark Hart. In this book, geared toward teens, he and Christopher Cuddy walk use the book of Romans as a guideline for how to follow Jesus. The book begins with a foreword by Dr. Scott Hahn (instant credibility) and an introduction to the man who was Saul and became the greatest missionary, St. Paul. The first two chapters then seek to provide a basic understanding of two of life's greatest questions - 1. Who is God? and 2. Who is Man? We then see chapters focusing on man's relationship with God, man's relationship with himself, and man's relationship with his fellow man. The book then concludes with a plea and a challenge. The plea is for the reader to long for more than this earth and to long for heaven, and the challenge is a series of difficult questions related to your life. The questions build on each other, i.e., "Are you willing to be uncomfortable for God," and "Are you willing to trust God completely?"

The two sections I liked the best came at the end of the book. The first was the one I just told you about - the series of difficult questions. Even if you aren't able to answer yes to one of the questions? They are questions that you need to spend time thinking about and praying about, so that one day you can say yes to God about anything He asks of you. The other part I enjoyed was the appendix that detailed where Paul went and what he preached about. It is arranged in the order the books are ordered in the Bible but does provide the proper chronology for when the books are written. I think adding a map would have helped with this appendix and made it easier to follow/picture. With the approachable writing style and cultural references to music and movies, this is a book that is well-suited for the teenage audience, and perhaps early twenties. Will it stand the test of time with these references? Probably not, but it makes a great graduation present or birthday gift for the young Catholic looking to follow Jesus. Four stars.

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!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Graphic Universe Greek Myths (Lerner Publishing Group)

Graphic Universe is an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group which publishes fiction and nonfiction graphic novels. From their titles, there was a series that stood out to me as awesome. It is called Graphic Myths and Legends, and it features stories from around the world. There are Norse tales like Thor and Loki or a Korean Cinderella story called Pigling. I received a couple different ones to review, but the ones I will be touching on today are both Greek. The first one is called Hercules: The Twelve Labors and the second one is Demeter and Persephone: Spring Held Hostage.

Hercules: The Twelve Labors begins with a two page spread that covers how Hercules was born (son of Zeus and a mortal) and a glimpse at his uniqueness even in early childhood. It then fast-forwards to Hercules as a young man consulting the Oracle (with Hera pretending to be the Oracle). Hera encourages him to travel to see his cousin King Eurystheus. What Hercules didn't know was that his cousin was jealous of him, and Hera encouraged the king to give him impossible to tasks to test his strength and possibly kill him. These became the Twelve Labors.

I won't go into detail and list all twelve labors, but there was the Nemean lion whose hide weapons could not penetrate; a nine-headed hydra; steal the Queen of the Amazons girdle, etc. Hercules did not like doing some of these tasks, as many of them involved stealing. However, Hercules showed to be more than just someone dumb with muscles. He was also smart and cunning, and a man who cared about the well being of others. When stealing the cattle of Geryon, he shot Geryon with a poisoned arrow so that the violence of a potential fight wouldn't harm others. At the end of the book is a brief glossary and additional reading suggestions. This is a good introduction to Hercules and would be well-suited for homeschooling or a traditional classroom. I enjoyed it, but I just wish it had been longer.

Demeter and Persephone: Spring Held Hostage begins by giving background information on who Demeter is, which is the daughter of Persephone and Zeus. (Yes, Zeus has a lot of kids by a lot of different women and goddesses.) We then get information on Zeus and his two brothers - Poseidon and Hades. Zeus chose to rule the sky. Poseidon was granted the water. Hades was granted the underworld. We see all the gods and goddesses happy, but Hades is further isolating himself in loneliness. Hades tells Zeus that he wants a queen and that he has chosen Persephone as the woman he wants, so he kidnaps her.

At first Persephone doesn't like being in the underworld, and who can blame her? She was kidnapped and separated from her mother. However, she begins to grow accustomed to it, and seems to actually love it down there. Readers are treated to a tour of the underworld and what happens to good souls, bad souls, and so-so souls. Because she is in the underworld, the world is in winter, so she has to make the tough choice between staying with Hades or going back up to the world and returning Spring to mankind. When she returns, she gives the people the gift of agriculture, so that she can return to the underworld for half the year and not leave the people in dire need. This isn't my favorite of the Greek myths, but it does a good job explaining the seasons. Like other books in this series, it closes with a glossary and a guide for further reading. If your child likes comics and mythology, this is a good series and one that they will appreciate.

These books were provided to me for free by Lerner Publishing Group in exchange for honest reviews. If you found the reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Treasure-House of Mysteries (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press)

Poetry can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. It all depends on the reader and the depth, he or she wishes to dive into when reading the poem. To further complicate poems, one has to consider context the poem was written in, references which may no longer be relevant, and meanings which can be lost when translating from one language to another. Today, I will be reviewing the book Treasure-House of Mysteries, which is Volume 45 in the Popular Patristics Series available at St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. Without further ado, here is my review.

When I think of Syriac Christianity, I think of St. Ephrem. When I think of translators of Syriac texts, I trust Sebastian Brock. Treasure-House of Mysteries is both of these and more! In addition to St. Ephrem, there are a number of poems by Jacob of Serugh (also known as Mar Jacob) and even more from anonymous sources. There are five sections in this book. The first one is an introduction to both Syriac Christianity and to recurring themes in this book, like clothing and bridal imagery. The second section addresses Ephrem's reading of the Bible and the way he interpreted Scripture, both factual and spiritual. This section has also contain numerous excerpts from Ephrem's hymns, which discuss Scripture and the self-revelation of God. The remaining three sections are where the poetry is found and there is a section on the Old Testament, New Testament, and Bible to Liturgy.

The book is well-organized, in that the poems start with Genesis and end with Revelation. You can choose to read them in the order they are presented or you can look for a subject that fancies you and hop around, which is what I chose to do. The first two poems I read were "The Two Thieves" and "The Cherub and the Thief." Both of them address the Good Thief, whom I chose as my Confirmation saint. In "The Two Thieves," which I enjoyed immensely we read a dialogue back and forth between the Good Thief and the Bad Thief. The Good Thief tries his hardest to get the Bad Thief to reconsider his position on Christ and accept the gift of salvation that Jesus gave the Good Thief, but he was too blind and stubborn to see that Jesus was the Messiah. In "The Cherub and the Thief," which I didn't enjoy as much was a conversation between the Good Thief and the angel defending the Garden of Eden. In it, the Good Thief explained to the angel that with the death of Jesus, Paradise has been re-opened, and it takes a good deal of convincing for the angel to believe. It was beautifully written, I just had a hard time making myself believe that the angel guarding Eden would not have known what happened until the Good Thief told him so.

Other interesting poems were "The Angel and Zechariah," and "The Angel and Mary." These two poems provide a nice contrast of the annunciation of John the Baptist and the annunciation of Jesus. You can really see the doubt of Zechariah and why he was punished, which is in start contrast to Mary's innocent questioning and trying to understand what was about to change not only her life, but the life of the world. Overall, this was a very rich book. It was both thought-provoking and spiritually edifying. What I really appreciated was the introduction before each poem, as it helped provide context, set the tone, and provide Scriptural passages for the poem. If you are interested in poetry or Syriac Christianity, this is a must-read for you! You will also want to check out Hymns on Paradise by St. Ephrem the Syrian.

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Pilgrim's Regress (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

The Pilgrim's Progress is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan that is considered one of the most popular works of all time and perhaps the most famous allegory of all time. In 1933, C.S. Lewis published a work called The Pilgrim's Regress. He billed it as an update version of Bunyan's work with a heavy dose of moral philosophy. In true Lewis fashion, he beats you over the head with his allegory. This is demonstrated by such characters as Mr. Enlightenment, Mr. Neo-Classical, and, Mr. Humanist. This complaint aside, it really is a well-written book that is inundated with references. You could spend hours and hours poring over the book trying to uncover all the references or you could buy the recently released an Annotated Edition of The Pilgrim's Regress.

The Annotated Edition of The Pilgrim's Regress starts with a nice introduction, which provides both biographical and cultural context for this work. Many people don't realize that this was the first book Lewis wrote after his conversion to Christianity, and it was also his first work of fiction. The references in this edition include language translations (like Latin); allusions to other authors and their works; and even references to some of Lewis' later works, like Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia. The part most interesting to me was the afterword which C.S. Lewis wrote ten years after the book's publication. In this afterword, Lewis points out what he thought were the flaws and shortcomings in the book. Why he didn't re-write it, I'm not sure, but you have to admire his honest criticism of his own work.

Overall, I would recommend this book to true C.S. Lewis fans. This book isn't exactly his most popular work, and it definitely isn't his most easily understood work. If you enjoy reading and owning Lewis' books though, this is the edition of The Pilgrim's Regress that you want on your shelf. In fact, I think it looks quite nice next to my Annotated Edition of The Screwtape Letters, by a different publisher. It is my hope more publishers continue to release nice, hardcover, annotated editions of his work. Until that time, be sure to check out Eerdmans' selection of recently published Lewis books, like God in the Dock and Letters to an American Lady. They are "just" plain editions, but the cover art matches up with this book, a small effort in detail for which I always applaud publishers for making.

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Let's Not Forget Got (Image Books)

Let's Not Forget God is a book I have been sitting on for months. I keep looking at it on my shelf, wanting to make time for it, but other books win the battle instead. This week I finally decided to bite the bullet and read and review this book. The book is approximately 130 pages, but it is a very dense book. I felt like I needed a Latin-English dictionary when reading it, because Cardinal Scola so casually drops Latin in his writing that, I found myself googling as I was reading.

In this book, Cardinal Scola discusses the crisis of religious freedom in the 21st Century. He does this by providing us a lesson in history, dating all the way back to the persecution of Christians and the Edict of Milan. Scola doesn't glibly give state that the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal, but he dives deeper into it and focuses on the impact it had on other religions and the empire. He also briefly examines whether Constantine's motivation for taking up the banner of Christianity was purely personal or also political in nature. Chapter Two speeds us through the centuries to see the evolution of religious freedom, including the Middle Ages and present day times. Chapter Three is devoted to Dignitatis Humanae how it developed leading from papacies leading up to Vatican II and the interpretation of it in the papacies of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. The remainder of the book focuses on present day challenges and the Catholics role in this intersection of their faith and society.

This was a fascinating, but challenging read. There were times I had to put it down and look up a phrase and times I had to turn back several pages and re-read what I just read to let it sink in. Religious freedom is something that affects all Catholics, whether they are aware of it or not. This is not the first book I would recommend to those looking to learn about religious freedom. However, it is a book I would recommend to someone who has more than a general idea about the subject and wants to better understand the historical basis and how it affects us today. Four stars.

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The End of the Fiery Sword (Emmaus Road Publishing)

It's been a bit slow going for children's books in the Catholic publishing world. Therefore, when I see a new one released, I immediately jump on it to see how good it actually is. One of the latest books I've discovered is called The End of the Fiery Sword, available from Emmaus Road Publishing. What initially drew me to this book was that it presented Biblical typology to a young audience. For those unfamiliar with Biblical typology, it is a kind of symbolism where something in the Old Testament prefigures something in the New Testament. The two most well-known examples of this are Jesus being the new Adam and the Virgin Mary being the new Eve, and these are exactly the subjects of focus for this book.

In this book, Maura Roan McKeegan walks us through the Creation passages in Genesis and contrasts them with the life of Jesus and Mary. For example, Eve was created and made to be the mother of all the earth. Mary was created and chosen to be the Mother of God, and thus our Mother as well. A serpent visited Eve and tempted her to disobey God. An angel visited Mary and asked her to obey God. Through Adam's sin the gates of Paradise were closed. Through Jesus dying on the Cross, the gates of Paradise were opened again. There are several more examples in the book, but you get the idea.

Overall, I was impressed with the content in this book. It took a very difficult subject matter, and made it simple for kids and adults alike. The drawing style was not exactly my cup of tea. I think it was something about the faces, but I won't hold that against the book. Perhaps, the most exciting thing to me is the potential. I read on the website that this was part of "Old and New Series." I hope this means that there are more books coming, because there is so much more typology that can be discussed like the Burning Bush prefiguring Mary, Moses or Joseph prefiguring Jesus, and all the Baptism typology such as Noah's Ark and the crossing of the Red Sea.

This book was provided to me for free by Emmaus Road Publishing. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Saint Faustina (Ignatius Press)

Divine Mercy Sunday was yesterday. For those unfamiliar with what exactly we celebrate this day, allow me to provide the briefest of facts about it. St. Faustina Kowalska received many apparitions from Jesus, which she wrote about in her diary. In these apparitions, Jesus told her about His merciful love to all mankind, which flows from His Sacred Heart. He wants us ask for and obtain the mercy of God; trust in Christ's abundant mercy; and show mercy to others as if God were the one showing mercy to them. Pope John Paul II had a special place in his heart for this devotion, and placed Divine Mercy Sunday on the Roman Calendar on the Sunday immediately following Easter. Also associated with this devotion are the image of Divine Mercy, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the hour of mercy which occurs at 3 P.M. when Christ died on the Cross. Recently, Ignatius Press has released two products about St. Faustina, and it is my pleasure to share them with you today.

Faustina: The Apostle of Divine Mercy is a twenty year old movie, but you wouldn't know that by watching it. It is considered the first feature film of its kind in Poland. Yes, you read that right...Poland. The entire movie is in Polish with English or Spanish subtitles, so this is not a movie you casually watch. I had to watch it twice, and I feel I could still watch it several more times, because I'm sure I missed some elements what with my mind wandering some and having to remember to read subtitles and try to absorb the scenes at the same time.

The movie begins dramatically in that we see a young Helen (later Faustina) dancing and then all of a sudden a tree is on fire, which only she can see. Fire plays a big role in this movie, as it did in St. Faustina's life. She did see Hell after all. We then fast forward many, many years into the future to another nun (Sister Felicia) who is lamenting the way she treated St. Faustina when they were both in the convent. It is here that we meet our narrator. The movie is a series of flashbacks to different parts of St. Faustina's life, both before she was a nun and afterwards. We not only learn of her simple pursuit to love others as God would but of her mystical experiences and her attempt to fulfill God's mission for her.

The entire story was based, at times loosely, on St. Faustina's Diary. Even though there was a language barrier, you could still feel the emotion that Dorota Segda portrayed. There was a genuine love in her eyes for both God and other people. There's also a short (30 minutes) bonus feature which discusses the making of this film. This film is a great addition to the Ignatius Press video library and is sure to be a bestseller. I'm very thankful that Ignatius Press continues to add great movies from other countries to their collection and can't wait to see what else is in store in the coming years. For other great foreign faith films, check out Life for Life: Maximilian Kolbe and Pope John Paul I: The Smile of God.

After you have watched the movie on St. Faustina, you need to read the book Trust: In Saint Faustina's Footsteps. The book begins by telling us about Poland and the nothingness that it was. In the late 1700s, Poland was partitioned by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. There were multiple uprising attempts over the next 100+ years, but they were unable to declare their independence until 1918. The author, Grzegorz Górny, tells us that Poland was considered nothing and it was from this nothing that Jesus chose to bring his message of Divine Mercy to the world. After the context of St. Faustina's life is set, we are then introduced to the girl before she became a saint. We learn of her family and home life, what they had planned for her life, and how she longed to join a convent.

We then trace her journey from postulancy to novitiate to juniorate. Then, she is confronted with the reality of a tuberculosis diagnosis and the realization of knowing death could come quickly and at any moment. This did not decrease her love for God or others, though. The last parts of the book chronicle the Divine Mercy Movement, St. Faustina's beatification and canonization, and Pope John Paul II entrusting the world to Divine Mercy. As in her life, in death her message was not easily understood or accepted.

This is a beautiful, detailed book on St. Faustina and Divine Mercy. It is done in the same manner as Górny's book Witnesses to Mystery and makes an excellent companion volume for it. The best part of this book is the sheer amount of images and illustrations in it. Every page is a treasure trove of history, both Polish and Catholic history. It takes a reporter/journalist to compile a book of this magnitude, because they have a nose for finding the pictures and stories that others cannot. Each flip of the page is like another step on a pilgrimage, which you can take from the comfort of your home or wherever you happen to be reading this book. If you have a love for St. Faustina and Divine Mercy, you'll want a copy of this book!

These products were provided to me for free by Ignatius Press. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Radical Discipleship and Consecrated Life (Ignatius Press and Pauline Books and Media)

In 2013, Pope Francis declared that there will be a Year of Consecrated Life. It will run from November 30, 2014 (First Sunday of Advent) and will close on the February 2, 2014 (World Day of Consecrated Life). Several books have been printed by multiple publishers to help us better understand the consecrated life. Two such books, which I will be reviewing today, are Radical Discipleship from Ignatius Press and Consecrated Life from Pauline Books and Media.

Radical Discipleship is the latest release from one of my favorite Cardinals, Francis Arinze. It begins with a brief glimpse at consecrated life in Scripture and the early Church. There are two examples from Scripture, which we should all know too well. The first is Jesus calling one man and telling him to leave the dead to bury their dead, and the other is about the rich, young man whom he tells to sell all he has and give it to the poor. These two passages in Scripture always cause people to pause in shock, but it just goes to show you that the consecrated life isn't for everyone, and it also requires great sacrifice. After these Scriptural examples, we get to read what the Early Church Fathers have to say about the consecrated life and are given examples of some of the first monastics, like St. Anthony of Egypt.

After this introduction, there are chapters which discuss the different types of consecrated life; the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; the community aspect of consecrated life; and consecrated life's impact both on society and the Church. Chapter Three: The Consecrated Life in Numbers was a bit of a wake up call to me. It was only six pages long, but it also provided a stark reality on the dwindling numbers of those devoted to the consecrated life. All these numbers are from 2011, but let's look at some of them. There are 7 billion people in the world with 1.2 billion (17.5%) being Catholics. Of the 1.2 billion Catholics, there are 400,000 priests. That is 1 priest for every 3000 Catholics. It is encouraging to see that there are 3 million Catechists out there, but that number should be hire as well, as it is .25% of all Catholics. The book then closes with blessings and challenges of consecrated life and the responsibility of the Church in promoting the consecrated life.

There is a lot of information packed in this brief book, but in true Cardinal Arinze fashion he makes his message simple and meaningful. If you are looking for a good introduction to the consecrated life, this is the book for you. I highly recommend this for seminarians and those discerning other vocations. I also recommend it for those who have already accepted their vocations or families of those with a member or potential member of the consecrated life. You will walk away from this book with a better understanding and deeper appreciation for the consecrated life and those who accept this vocation.

Consecrated Life was an apostolic exhortation given by Pope John Paul II on March 25, 1996. This was issued after a synod in October 1994, and like many elements of his papacy was leading up to The Great Jubilee of 2000. The documentary is divided into three chapters:

1. The Origins of the Consecrated Life in the Mystery of Christ and of the Trinity
2. Consecrated Life as a Sign of Communion in the Church
3. Consecrated Life: Manifestation of God's Love in the World

The most interesting section to me was entitled "New possibilities of presence and action." In this section, Pope John Paul II addresses women and their role in the Church. He nowhere states that women should be allowed to become priests, but he does stress that women's gifts, though different than men's, are equally important. He then goes on to stress the importance of two female saints, Teresa of Jesus and Catherine of Siena, who were the first two women to be named Doctors of the Church. He closes this section by saying "Women occupy a place in thought and action which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a 'new feminism' which rejects the temptation of imitating models of 'male domination' in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation."

This was a beautiful, but theologically deep work penned by John Paul II. Like other works of his, Pauline Books and Media anniversary editions are uniform in size and contain commentary. This makes it perfect for individual or small group study. The only thing I would change about it is making it hardcover, but that is a small quibble. Be sure to check out other works of Pope John Paul II, such as Mother of the Redeemer and Guardian of the Redeemer.

These books were provided to me for free by Ignatius Press and Pauline Books and Media, respectively, in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Karol: The Boy Who Became Pope (Neumann Press)

There have been a handful of children's books written about Pope John Paul II. Some focus on his papacy, and others focus on his life as a child. Neumann Press has recently released one entitled Karol: The Boy Who Became Pope. Unlike other John Paul II children's books, this book takes a different focus in the life of Karol Wotyla - his spirit of adventure. This characteristic of his was something that those around him knew all too well. It was also a trait which he didn't suddenly lose when he became Pope, as evidenced by the cover of the book, which shows him skiing even late in life.

The book begins with a bit of information on when Karol was born, who his parents were, and who his brother was. The bulk of the story deals with Karol at age seven, though. He will be making his First Communion when he turns eight, so his father decides that the family should go on a pilgrimage to prepare Karol for his First Communion, and because he believes it would be good for the whole family. Interspersed in the story of the pilgrimage, we find out a few other details of Karol's life, such as sports he played, friends he had, and what his family life was like. After the conclusion of the story, we have an excerpt from his Letter to Children that he wrote in 1994 during the Year of the Family.

I'm still trying to decide how I feel about this book, as I'm conflicted. For starters, the book said that it was going to talk about a few of Karol's adventures, but really only focused on one. Had they just said, this is a story about his pilgrimage before his First Holy Communion, that would be fine. But since they didn't, I can see children feeling mislead. For another thing, there are A LOT of words in this book. The illustrations (cartoonish line drawings that are in color) seem like the book would be geared toward younger children, but the sheer amount of words would say that it would be more suited for 4th graders at a minimum, which is a shame since it mainly talks about him when he is a seven year old. The story was good, but it did jump around a bit. The insertion of bits of his childhood in the story felt unnecessary, especially when there are already books that tell some of the facts this book did. It would have been better suited to just tell the pilgrimage story and nothing else. The pilgrimage story is at least interesting and that's what raises my rating to 4 stars.

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Letter to Families and Catechesi Tradendae (Sophia Institute Press)

When I look back at Pope John Paul's papacy and think of the legacy he left, it is a bit overwhelming. The man was pope for 26 years. He visited many countries, touched the lives of many, and inspired a generation of Catholics. We think of his smiling face, the way he suffered at the end of his life, but we tend to forget about his legacy of words. Perhaps, that is because Pope Benedict XVI succeeded him and left us a legacy of books. However, Pope John Paul II, in addition to giving us Theology of the Body, he also delivered countless homilies, wrote fourteen encyclicals, and was also responsible for numerous exhortations and letters. Sophia Institute Press has recently published two of his works - Letter to Families and Catechesi Tradendae.

Letter to Families was a letter Pope John Paul II penned in 1994 addressed to families in the Year of the Family. He also considered it great preparation for the Great Jubilee of 2000. After an introduction, in which he explained how the family is a domestic church, he launches into Part One: The Civilization of Love. Here he discusses the role of man and woman, the covenant of marriage, parenthood, and family. Part Two: The Bridegroom is With You talks about the wedding at Cana, the mystery of marriage, and the Annunciation being the beginning of the "fairest love" of all.

The book is short, but powerful. There is an foreword by Archbishop Charles Chaput and study questions at the end to aid you if you are reading this on your own or with a small group. It is also a very affordable price, so what's not to love? If you are looking for a book to give to a newly married couple or a couple who has been married for twenty years, they would both benefit from reading this saint's words. Highly recommended!

The other work of Pope John Paul II, which Sophia Institute Press is responsible for publishing is Catechesi Tradendae or On Catechesis in Our Time. This Apostolic Exhortation was issued exactly one year after his papacy started on October 16, 1979. Part One focuses on Jesus, who is the one, true Teacher. Part Two talks about the history of catechesis, how it started with the Apostles and is still the Church's mission today. Part Three gets down to the more nitty-gritty of catechesis like the aim of it and the need for it to be systematic. Part Four discusses Scripture and Tradition and also focuses on the Creed as an important source of doctrine and tool for catechesis. Part Five emphasizes the need for everyone to be catechized, which is very important to remember, as we tend to only focus on children generally. Part Six and Seven focus on ways to catechize. Part Eight reminds us to be joyful with this task, and Part Nine addresses each group of the Church (from bishops to parents) reminding each one that they too have a part in catechizing the world. This seems like a thick text to read, but it is only about 120 pages.

As a parent and a catechist, this book definitely spoke to me. A lot of people don't realize it, but it can be very discouraging to be a catechist. You see the children you teach once a week, if you're lucky. Most of their parents do little to no catechesis in the home, and you just pray the children walk away at the end of the year remembering some parts of the faith they didn't know before. This book helped remind me of why I became a catechist and re-energized me in a way. With a foreword by Bishop Kevin Vonn and study questions at the end, this is a book for everyone, because everyone is called to be a catechist, either in the home or the world.

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

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bulfinch's Mythology (Canterbury Classics)

I've read a lot of mythology and legends in my 30+ years on Earth. I've read D'aulaire's illustrated classics and Edith Hamilton. It doesn't matter if it's Greek, Roman, or even Norse. I find all of it interesting and fascinating. In fact, my wife is the same way. We hope to pass on this love of mythology to our son, so we are buying him mythology books at an early age, so that when he is old enough to appreciate them, they'll be ready and waiting for him. One book we recently added to our collection was Bulfinch's Mythology.

Bulfinch's Mythology is a gorgeous leather edition, with the face of Medusa on the cover. The pages have gilded edges and there is a ribbon bookmark to mark your place. The book contains all three of the original titles, "The Age of Fable," "The Age of Chivalry," and "The Legends of Charlemagne." "The Age of Fable" not only includes Greek and Roman mythology, but brief mentions of Eastern mythology, Norse mythology, and the Druids. "The Age of Chivalry" begins with the legend of King Arthur and his knights, leads into Mabinogen (early British prose), and concludes with the likes of Beowulf and Robin Hood. Lastly, "The Legends of Charlemagne" discusses the paladins of Charlemagne.

I skimmed through the parts on mythology and Arthur, as I am very well-versed in those subjects, so for me, the parts on Charlemagne were the best. The legends surrounding him and his paladins were a refreshing read. Were they chock full of history? No, but I didn't expect them to be. They were legends that made for fanciful tales and were a delightful read. The edition of this book was a delight to read and would make a good textbook for the high school classroom or homeschooling parent. So far, I have reviewed two books from the Canterbury Classics and each have been impressive in their quality. Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hans Christian Andersen's Complete Fairy Tales (Canterbury Classics)

When it comes to fairy tales, there are three big names that come to mind - the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Andrew Lang. Depending on what you are looking for and the age range of your child, you could read any or all of these and have enough tales to last you for days. Today, I will be reviewing the Canterbury Classics version of Hans Christian Andersen's Complete Fairy Tales. The book is a pretty edition in that it is hardcover, leather, gold-edged pages, and comes with a ribbon bookmark. The pages are a little thinner than I expected, so there is a little bleed through of text when reading. Also, there are sadly no illustrations, literally zero. This gives me the feel that the book is more geared toward teens or adults, and not younger children.

What leads more to the idea that this book is geared for an older audience is the introduction. In addition to basic information about his life, there are comparisons between the tales of the Brothers Grimm and those of Andersen. "Andersen's stories were also much more Christian in orientation that Grimms'." The introduction goes on to state that "Andersen also uses religion to give his most tragic stories a "happy ending." After these brief introduction, we dive into the fairy tales. The fairy tales themselves are arranged chronologically and start with a recently discovered one entitled "The Tallow Candle." This one was written sometime in the 1820s with the others being written from the mid 1830s to the early 1870s. Within these tales, there are a lot of stories I don't recognize but also a bunch of my favorites like "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Ugly Duckling." There are also a bit depressing versions of stories you thought you new, like "The Little Mermaid." Way different than Disney spun it to be!

Overall, this is an impressive volume that's only negative is that it is lacking in illustrations. Aside from that, it is a worthy edition to the Canterbury Classics line of books. If you are looking for classics in an attractive format that will look good on your shelf and will hold the test of time, this is a great selection of books that include other tomes like Bulfinch's Mythology and The Arabian Nights.

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