Monday, August 31, 2015

A Prophetic Bishop Speaks to His People Volume 1 (Convivium Press)

Oscar Romero was born in 1917 and died in March of 1980 (three years before I was born). He was the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador and spoke bravely against social injustice, poverty, and other issues affecting people in his city. He died a martyr, being assassinated while offering Mass. Many people proclaim him a proponent of liberation theology (interpreting Scripture and the Christian faith through the experience of the poor), but according to Romero's biographer he was not interested in liberation theology. He was beatified on May 23, 2015 by Pope Francis.  Convivium Press has undertaken an ambitious project of publishing a six volume set of all his homilies, which are entitled A Prophetic Bishop Speaks to His People. Today, I am featuring Volume 1.

Archbishop Oscar Romero is credited with delivering 193 homilies while he was Archbishop. They were broadcast on the radio for everyone to hear and later transcribed and published. Due to the nature of radio broadcasts, there are times that not all the words were intelligible or caught on the tape recording. A Prophetic Bishop Speaks to His People Volume 1 contains 46 homilies, which span from March 14, 1977 to November 25, 1977. Many of the homilies in this book were given on Sunday, but sadly there are a couple of funeral Masses as well, which were given for assassinated priests.

Homily 28 was one of my favorite in this volume, as it discusses characteristics of the Church. Romero tells us that we must protect and defend the dignity of all human beings. He also tells us that our aim is not to turn our back on this world or worse, conform to this world, but instead we are called to transform the world and sanctify it. Romero also describes the Church using two words - missionary and pilgrim. We are called to be missionaries to the whole world by spreading the Gospel of Jesus, and we are on a pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. He also talks about the eschatological mission of the Church. Yes, we are called to help people and their physical needs down here, but it cannot stop there. We must point people to Heaven and instruct them that this world will one day pass, but there is an eternity one way or the other (Heaven or Hell), and that they will only find eternal happiness in Heaven.

Reading through these homilies, one can sense a great deal of wisdom in Romero's words. However, there is also great sadness in reading his words. It seems like every homily, he is discussing the assassinations and deaths of innocent priests and citizens. As indicated by the title of this series of books, one also sees a prophetic mission in his words. Romero was a lot like John the Baptist in that he had no fear in speaking out against what he knew in his heart was wrong. It ultimately cost them both their lives, and I believe they both knew that it would. The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church, and because of Romero's death, reform eventually came in El Salvador. Three of the six volumes of his homilies have been published so far, and I can't wait to read more of them.

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Choice of the Family (Image Books)

The World Meeting of Families and the Synod on the Family is quickly approaching and we as Catholics are woefully uninformed and misinformed on it. We are also in a constant state of fear about the outcome of this synod. We fear, without merit, that the Church is going to fall, and that same-sex unions will now be performed in Catholic Churches worldwide. Let me assure you that the Church has been the same for 2000 years and will not be doing any such thing! Instead of focusing on the absurd negative outcomes that could come from this synod, we need to focus on the positive of it and what it can teach us about family life. To prepare for these two monumental invents, I recommend a diet of prayer and reading. One such work that I am reading is The Choice of the Family by Bishop Jean Laffitte who is the Head of the Pontifical Council on the Family.

The Choice of the Family is a series of interviews Bishop Laffitte conducted with Pierre and VĂ©ronique Sanchez. Before diving into the subjects of marriage and family, the Sanchezes ask Bishop Laffitte to tell who he is. He begins by telling us that he is from a large family, and that he is the twelfth of twelve children. They were six boys and six girls and his father was a surgeon. He points this out because, there is a history of doctors in the family, which included his mother's father and his mother's brothers. His parents were a great example of love for him, and they were both practicing Catholics who went to Mass at least weekly and frequently more often. Their Christian education was more than just verbally taught. It was lived! He also learned humility from them, and the seriousness of not blindly accepting one's faith but questioning it and nurturing it to grow. He then goes on to talk about the challenges that he and others faced with the changes from Vatican II and the call to his priestly vocation. I thoroughly enjoyed this section of the book, and feel that brief biographies should be included in every Catholic book. It really puts their thoughts into proper context if you know their history.

The book then has five more chapters, which discuss engagement, covenants, marriage, parenthood, single people, divorced people, and many other topics. When discussing marriage as a covenant, he compares it to the covenant that God made with the people of Israel and still maintains with the Church. He also explains that a covenant and contract are not the same, and that love is a gift and not a loan. Laffitte then goes on to discuss the dangers of cohabitation and that divorce is higher among those who cohabitate together. Not focusing on the negative, he then discusses the benefits of marriage preparation and firmly believes that an engaged couple should meet with a priest and a mentoring couple before their marriage. My wife and I participated in both of these as well as a retreat, and we found them all helpful and edifying.

The section on divorce and remarriage particularly caught my interest. I have very strong views on the subject, so I wanted to see what Bishop Laffitte's views were and if our two views aligned. I admit I was surprised at the way he chose to approach the topic. He said, "The question s not first of all a moral one but rather is a matter of taking into account the very nature of the Eucharist, what it is, and what Eucharistic Communion implies." What that means in basic terms is that Christ was present and played a part in the covenant you made with your first marriage, assuming it was a valid marriage. Therefore, it is impossible for him to "uncommit" from the first marriage and commit to a new marriage. He also explains the history of why divorced and re-married people feel slighted in not being allowed to receive Communion. Until the past twenty years, people were more aware of their sin and abstained from receiving Communion, so divorced and re-married people were not the only people who abstained from Communion. Now, it seems that they are the only ones who do not receive Communion. This is not a shift in Church teaching, but a shift in members of the Church who choose to ignore or justify their sins, instead of going to Confession.

This published interview is not your typical yes/no interview. The questions are thought-provoking and open-ended, and the answers are elaborately explained without being overly academic. As I was reading through this book, I found myself nodding my head constantly with what Bishop Laffitte was saying. He didn't speak against or undermine Church teachings, but he explained the truth of the Church's teachings in a voice of authority and a voice of love. He also demonstrated that he has applied the Church's teachings through many years of service as a priest, and that his arguments for the family and traditional marriage are not merely scholarly views of an academic. If you are looking for an approachable book to the subject of marriage and family, then I highly recommend this book. And if you act now, it's a steal on Amazon at less than $10 for a hardcover!

This book was provided to me for free by Image Books in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up (Hesperus Press)

For the past couple of years, Hesperus Press has been releasing Andrew Lang's Fairy Books in beautiful hardcover editions. I only recently discovered their paperback editions of children's books from the past that should never have went out of print. Some of these titles include Tanglewood Tales, The Wouldbegoods, The Lost Prince, and many other wonderful titles. Today, I am reviewing Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter.

I first learned of the character Pollyanna in my childhood thanks to Walt Disney and the child actress Hayley Mills. It wouldn't be until years later that I realized they were actually books. For those unfamiliar with the character and first book, Pollyanna Whittier is an orphan who goes to live with her Aunt Polly. Aunt Polly can best be described as a spinster (negative a term as that may be), and Pollyanna is an eternal optimist, a trait/philosophical outlook that her father instilled in her. This outlook is also referred to as "The Glad Game," where you find something to be glad about in every situation. The book focuses on this game and Pollyanna sharing her outlook with others and transforming them from negative people to more positive people...even her Aunt Polly. However, it wouldn't be much of a book without a conflict or setback, and it comes in the form of Pollyanna losing the use of her legs. This puts Pollyanna's outlook to the ultimate test, as it is hard to be glad about losing the use of one's legs. It is the people whose lives that she touched and changed who help her get through this temporary hardship. Yes, temporary, because she does eventually learn to walk again.

Pollyanna Grows Up is one of many sequels to Pollyanna, but it is the only one written by the original author, Eleanor H. Porter. For that reason, it is the only official sequel in my book. The book essentially starts off where the original left off. Pollyanna's legs are cured and she has traveled to Boston. Her "Glad Game" is still going strong as she meets an ex-convict and helps save a young woman. She also meets several boys/young men here and winds up with three potential suitors. We flash forward to her at the age of 20 years old and having returned from Europe. Like the first book, she faces difficulties, but these seem a bit more dire and put her "Glad Game" to real tests. There is death and financial hardships and the consequences of friendship and romance and how they intermingle or fail to and create hard feelings. The book ends happy, but I won't tell you who she ends up with. You'll have to read that to find out.

These two books are primarily aimed at girls, but are charming and good wholesome reads which are suitable for the whole family. We are living in a dystopian world of literature at the moment, so it is nice to read something with natural optimism and just general cheer. We could use more books like this being published presently, so I am thankful that Hesperus Press has done just that. If you are a fan of the Little House series, you will like these two books. May we all try and look on the bright side of things like Pollyanna, and we might end up making the world a better place.

If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fulfilled in Christ (Emmaus Road Publishing)

My three year blogging anniversary is quickly approaching (September 1st), and in that time I have reviewed A LOT of books. Some of them I couldn't express how wonderful they were, and others I wonder why I wasted my time reading them. I'd like to think in those three years that I've grown in my level of understanding of all things Catholic. I am by no means an expert in any field, but just a bit more educated now. With that level of understanding though, I believe (at least I like to tell myself) that I have grown more discriminating in what I read and review. As of late, I have had a particular affinity toward academic titles. I'm not sure how long it has been in existence, but I recently discovered Emmaus Road Publishing's academic imprint. Today, I am reviewing their latest release Fulfilled in Christ: The Sacraments.

Fulfilled in Christ is arranged like a compact encyclopedia on the sacraments. Because of this presentation, there is a brief guide on how to use this book before reading it. Each sacrament receives its own section, and each section contains types and symbols. Each type/symbol contains introductory material composed of Scriptural references, Catechism references, and cross-references to other types/symbols within the book. After the introductory material for each type/symbol are summaries of all the references to the specific type/symbol. For an example, both the sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist were prefigured by animal sacrifices, We then are treated to numerous Scriptural references of animal sacrifices, both sufficient ones and insufficient ones. At the end of the book are appendices which contain readings from the Liturgy for each sacrament and a list of readings from the Liturgy of the Hours that the author, Dr. Devin Roza used in this book.

It's hard to say one has a favorite section in a book of this nature, but the Introduction in this book was very enlightening. For starters, it covered how many different Church Fathers made use of typology with their study and interpretation of types and symbols in the Bible. Dr. Roza also discusses the unity of the Old and New Testament and how God's plan was fulfilled in Jesus. And like any good scholar, he finally presents the other side of the argument, and explains why typology has fallen out of grace and how one must not accept all typology as good typology. His chief example is St. Cyprian of Carthage suggesting that Noah getting drunk on wine prefigured the Eucharist. That's absurd to even think about, and proof that even saints aren't perfect.

When I received this book, I thought I was getting a scholarly tome that broke down each sacrament in essay form or chapter form. The book is scholarly, but it does not read like an essay or typical book. It is instead more systematic and reads like a reference book, where if you had a specific type or symbol you wanted to know more about, you would flip to that specific section and read the notes and reference the specific Scripture and Catechism passages. This is not a bad thing. It is just not what I was expecting. If you want to have a comprehensive guide to Sacramental typology this book is first class. If you want to understand Scripture better, are a seminarian, or studying theology, then this book belongs on your reference shelf. It has earned a coveted place on my Bible study desk alongside some Bible dictionaries, concordances, and atlases, and is a volume I will reference for years to come.

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

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Child's First Book of American History (Beautiful Feet Books)

Beautiful Feet Books is a publisher that has been around since 1984. It's almost as old as me! They provide quality books for private schools and the growing homeschool movement, and they do this by combining quality literature in all aspects of a curriculum. Authors that they publish come mainly from the "golden era of children's historical literature," which spans from the 1930s to 1960s. A few of their many are Genevieve Foster, Scott O'Dell, James Daugherty, and my personal favorites Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. Today, I am reviewing their title A Child's First Book of American History.

A Child's First Book of American History is a book that has long been out of print, under its old title "The Rainbow Book of American History." It is a little over 300 pages in length and spans from 1000 A.D. to 1945 A.D. Each chapter ranges from five to ten pages and is chock full of illustrations, both black and white and color. The illustrations have a charcoal look to them, and feel very Americana. Before the author (Earl Schenck Miers) dives into the history though, he tells us about his childhood and reading Mark Twain. One can see Twain's influence in this book, as the book is not dry history but fascinating tales. Mr. Miers tends approaches history by focusing on influential figures for a specific time period. Such figures included are Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Davy Crockett, Thomas Edison, and even Mark Twain.

The book reads like a storybook, because it engages the reader and draws them in, especially when read aloud. There were times I felt like I was transported back in history sailing with Vikings, fighting the British, and travelling with Lewis and Clark. What I liked best about this book was that there was no whitewashing of history. Europeans were portrayed warts and all in their greed to colonize the New World and exploit the Native Americans for their riches. What I wish was included was a chapter on the soon to be Saint Junipero Serra. He was a Catholic friar who founded a mission in California in 1769. Think about that for a second. While we were still under the rule of the British, this great man was doing God's work and so few people know about the impact he had in our country.

With fifty chapters, there is enough for you and your children to read one a week with a one week break in both the winter and the summer. This book is not perfect, but it is a strong introduction to American history. There were times I was reading through the book and I felt I had to re-read some paragraphs because it felt like some punctuation was missing or that they were run-on sentences, but perhaps that was just the way Miers wrote. I also found myself wishing that this book was hardcover. With a paperback version, even one as sturdy as this one, I know it is only a matter of time before I need a new one because this one has fallen apart from reading and re-reading it. Those quibbles aside, I highly recommend this book for the classroom, and that includes public, private, or homeschool. Children won't learn history from dry facts and dates. They need it to come alive, and this book does just that!

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Rediscover Jesus (Dynamic Catholic)

Hello my loyal readers and new readers stopping by on the #RediscoverJesus blog tour hosted by Dynamic Catholic! Today, I am reviewing the latest book from dynamic (pun intended) speaker Matthew Kelly. It is entitled Rediscover Jesus, and is a follow-up work to his life-changing book Rediscover Catholicism. I just know that this book is going to be the next big thing in Catholic publishing! Here's my brief review.

Rediscover Jesus is an approximately 200 page hardcover with a purple dust jacket and deckle-edged pages. I'm not sure what it is about deckle-edged pages, but they seem to be heavily favored by publishers lately. The book itself is 40 chapters long, with no chapter spanning more than five pages. The choice of 40 chapters seems deliberate by the author as 40 is a very important Biblical number, i.e., the Flood, the Israelites wandering in the desert, and Jesus' time in the desert. With the purple dust jacket and 40 chapters, I wonder if Matthew Kelly intended this book to be a daily Lenten read. If he didn't, I would highly recommend doing so! At the end of every chapter are four things to help the chapter crystallize in your brain - 1. Point to Ponder, 2. Verse to Live, 3. Question to Consider, 4. Prayer. I would recommend writing each verse down on a notecard and trying to memorize them, but that may just be the former Protestant in me.

The book is short, but powerful. Each chapter, which can be read in ten minutes or less, provides a jolt to start your day and also make you a good way. Kelly points out how little we actually know about Jesus, going so far as to say, "The thing that unsettles me is that sometimes I think I know people on the periphery of my life better than I know Jesus." This was a slap in the face, and it was one that I desperately needed to read. Chapter 40 "The Hour of Power" addressed two things I struggle with - silence and adoration. There's something about sitting there alone with God in silence that is intimidating to me. I have a hard time keeping my mind from wandering; keeping my mouth shut and letting God talk; and just sitting still in the awesome presence of God. This is definitely something for me to work on, but I believe I will have to incrementally build up to an hour, because I am weak.

This level of conciseness that Matthew Kelly achieves in this book makes this book very approachable. He didn't use flowery language or overly complicated language. He just laid it out for you plain and simple. I have a habit of saying that some books are a challenging read, but this book was instead a read that challenged you. As Catholics, we don't really think about a personal relationship with Jesus like our Protestant brethren do, but we need to! This book shows us not only that we need that personal relationship, but helps us to achieve it as well. I read through this book quickly, because the book lent itself to that style of reading. However, I have placed this book on my shelf to read again during Lent. Then, I will take my time and read through each chapter a day to let the message fully sink in and take hold. I strongly recommend this book to all Catholics.

You can now order your copy of Rediscover Jesus on or
Thank you for participating in the #RediscoverJesus blog tour! To read tomorrow’s final stop, please visit Lisa Hendey at

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Four Gospels (Holy Trinity Publications)

Recently, I received the book The Four Gospels in the mail to review. I knew the author's name, Archbishop Averky (Tasushev) by name, but I didn't know much about him. However, I have a great love for Scriptural commentaries, so I knew I wanted to read this work. Before I tell you about it though, let me tell you about Archbishop Averky (Taushev). He was born in 1906 to a noble family, and had a deep desire for monasticism at an early age. In 1931, he was tonsured a monk and ordained a deacon. The following year he was ordained a hieromonk. In 1951, he began teaching at Holy Trinity Seminary, and in 1960 he was elected the fourth abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery.

The Four Gospels is a beautiful, purple hardcover book that is billed as Volume I of the series "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament." For some foolish reason, I thought this volume meant that there were individual volumes for each of the four Gospels, and that Volume I just covered Matthew. However, it instead encompasses all four Gospels in one and weaves them together to arrange the sections chronologically. The volume begins with an impressive 40 page introduction, which covers the New Testament canon, language of the New Testament, when the New Testament was written, why there are four Gospels, and the characteristics of each Gospel. This is one of the best introductions I have read to the New Testament and worth the price of the book alone. At the end of the introduction, Archbishop Averky (Tasushev) tells us about others who have attempted to synthesize the Gospels and the three part natural division of the Gospels - 1. The coming into the world of Jesus, 2. the preaching of Jesus, and the last days of the earthly life of Jesus. The book itself is divided (fittingly) into seven sections:

1. The Coming into the World of the Lord Jesus Christ
2. The Public Ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ: Events of His Life Before the First Passover
3. The First Passover of the Public Ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ
4. The Second Passover of the Public Ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ
5. The Third Passover of the Public Ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ
6. The Last Days of the Earthly Life of the Lord Jesus Christ
7. The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ

At the end of this work are sources, notes, a subject index, and a Scripture index. The two indices prove to be exceedingly helpful. Reading through this volume, you can see the immense knowledge of Scripture that Archbishop Averky (Taushev). For example, we all know that Jesus' ministry was three years, but more light was shed on Jesus' ministry by dividing it into Passovers and proved a useful framework. Some sections are found in all four Gospels, and where this happens Archbishop Averky (Taushev) points out little details that a certain Evangelist noted that the others didn't. Though this book was written by an archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, I find it suitable for Catholics and Protestants as well. So whether you have never read the Gospels or read them hundreds of times, you will be spiritually enriched with your reading of this commentary. I cannot wait for Volume II on The Epistles to be released.

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Mystical Body of Christ (Ave Maria Press)

The Mystical Body of Christ is a reprint of a Fulton Sheen classic from 80 years ago! Let that sink in for a minute. In 1935, Pius XI was Pope. Vatican II was still roughly thirty years away, and World War II was on the horizon. Can a book this old still be relevant to the Church and culture today? Or is this merely a book that must be read in the context which it was written? Keep reading and find out.

Before one reads the text of The Mystical Body of Christ, we are treated to a Foreword by Bishop Robert Barron and an Introduction by Brandon Vogt. Both men work at Word of Fire Catholic Ministries and do great work for the Catholic Church. Immediately, after these two sections we dive into the words of the beloved Bishop Fulton Sheen. He explains in his introduction that there hasn't been a definitive study on the Church since the Reformation. He attributes this to a lack of persecution. You have no need to define yourself; defend yourself when someone isn't questioning, doubting, or persecuting you. It makes sense.

The book begins with an explanation of the Church through the lens of Jesus Christ. There is no better place to start than this, because the two cannot be separated. Sheen begins by explaining the three phases of the Life of Christ - the earthly life, the glorified life, and the mystical life. He then devotes an entire chapter to the Mystical Body of Christ. This is a long chapter with a lot of spiritual meat to chew on. I found myself reading and re-reading passages to try and digest the topic more fully, and I truly believe I could go back and re-read that chapter and still gain more and more from it. For example, Sheen instructs us that, "Christ and His Mystical Body make but one Mystical Person. A Mystical Person has a double existence: one in Himself as Head of the Mystical Body, and the other in the Body of the faithful who receive his Life." Read that several times and let it sink in. The following chapters then more fully discuss Christ as Head of the Body and the Holy Spirit as the Soul of the Church. Other chapters talk about infallibility, authority of the Church, priesthood, and Mary, just to name a few of the 28 chapters.

The chapter entitled "The Sacrifice of the Mystical Body" was a very beautiful chapter on Christ's Crucifixion. Sheen begins by explaining that before most men die, they prepare a last will or testament. Jesus instituted a memorial of His sacrifice in the form of the Eucharist. He goes on to explain that the Mass is more than a memorial service of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, but is instead the sacrifice on the Cross. Sheen also explains that the offertory of the Mass is a co-offering of Christ and us and the consecration is also a co-consecration of Jesus and us. Sheen goes on to say, "Calvary, then, is the source of Divine Life; the altar is the canal. Calvary is the Treasury of merit; the Mass is its application; Calvary is the reservoir of Grace; the Mass is the open flood-gates pouring it into our souls."

When I received this book, I was expecting some practical theology from the original television evangelist. However, this book was written well before his time on the airwaves, and when he was still a professor at Catholic University of America (CUA). Thus, this book provides an astonishing glimpse at his theological genius. Those who studied under him at CUA were blessed indeed, and all of us are blessed that he eventually shared his genius with the whole world. This book will take you some time to work your way through, but if you can persevere to the end of it, you will be all the richer. Five stars.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

TOB for Kids and Catholic Manga (Pauline Books and Media)

I have to admit that I have a lot of books in my queue to read currently. I once reached a point where my review stack was dwindling, and I was worried I wasn't going to be able to continue this blog so I reached out to secular publishers for kids books. That opened up my blog to a whole new demographic, which I hope brings in regular non-Catholic readers, who might see the beauty in the Catholic books I review and it can be a tool for evangelization. Because of this influx of secular kids books, I have neglected a company that holds a dear place in my heart, Pauline Books and MediaPauline Books and Media gave me a chance as a fledgling blogger and sent me several kids books to review. They are still my go-to store for great Catholic kids books, so today I would like to tell you about several of their new books.

You may recall that earlier this year I reviewed three board books from the TOB for Tots series. (For people not hip to the acronym, the TOB stands for Theology of the Body.) This Fall the author, Monica Ashour, is back with three more books in a series called TOB for Kids! The books are entitled Every Body Has Something to Say, Everybody Has Something to Give, and God Has a Plan for Boys and Girls. If your children previously read the TOB for Tots series, then they will recognize that their new series is paperback, because no "big kid" wants to read a board book for babies. At the beginning of each book is a note to the parents that tells you what the book will be teaching your children and can help foster discussion between you and your children. Every Body Has Something to Say tells us that our bodies communicate with us; how to listen to what our body is telling us, and most importantly how to appropriately respond to what our body is telling us. Everybody Has Something to Give talks about giving and receiving the gift of one's self, in the form of kind deeds, God Has a Plan for Boys and Girls addresses gender, how boys and girls are alike, and how they are different. It is easily my favorite book, as it explains that even though men and women are different, they each have unique gifts and callings in life that only they can answer as a man or woman. This was a 5 star series of books, which I am proud for my son to have in his library. He isn't quite old enough for them yet, but I know he will love them as much as he loves the TOB for Tots series, which we have read at least 100 times! Hopefully Ms. Ashour will continue this progression and do one for teens next.

I used to be a big fan of manga (Japanese comic books). They were so unlike traditional American comic books in the stories seemed to be a bit deeper and wasn't just the same old superhero beats supervillain each and every issue. Now, there were negative elements in these comics as well, including some sexual humor that is apparently more acceptable/prevalent in Japanese culture. Therefore, when I found out that Pauline Books and Media was releasing two children's books in manga-style, I was cautiously optimistic. The two titles are based on two well-known Catholic saints - St. Philip Neri and St. Teresa of Avila.

Philip Neri: The Laughing Saint is a children's book in the Shounen-style. This means that it is aimed at boys, high-action, and lots of humor. Some of the most popular mangas in Japan are Shounen and include series such as Dragon Ball, Naruto, and InuYasha. Unlike traditional Japanese manga, this title reads from left to right. My guess is that this was done to avoid confusion among those unfamiliar with this comic style. The artwork is spot on in the characters having over-exaggerated eyes and the sound effects where necessary.

The book begins with a classmate asking Philip for help with their Latin work. Philip is too distracted to help, because he is focusing on his hunger and all the bananas being gone. There are plenty of comical pieces like this littered throughout the book. However, behind the immaturity, the love for people is seen on almost every page, in Philip's words and deeds. All he wants to do is help take care of the poor and those less fortunate than him. He is able to do this both physically (curing illnesses) and spiritually (in the sacrament of Confession where he helped a young man who had a problem with stealing). This great saint never gave up on people, and that caused the people to never enter ultimate despair by turning away entirely from God. The book closes with information on his canonization and a list of his sayings and maxims. This was an exciting read and one that will greatly appeal to boys ages 10 and up. I even know some 30+ men who will enjoy this book as well.

Saint Teresa of Avila: God's Troublemaker is a children's book in the Shoujo-style. This means that is is aimed at girls and focuses more on emotions and relationships. Some popular Japanese series from this genre include Boys Over Flowers, Fruits Basket, and Sailor Moon. As a male, I have no familiarity with the titles, I just obtained them from research, so someone more familiar with them can tell me if the artwork is similar. Like the book Philip Neri: The Laughing Saint, this one is read left to right and not right to left in traditional Japanese manga. The art seems very flowery and places a great focus on light.

The story is divided into five chapters and begins with Teresa at an early age dealing with the reality of her mother dying. Her father and sister believe she is acting out, looking to be the center of attention, so they come to the conclusion that they should send her to study at a convent. Through the rest of the chapters, we see Teresa's struggle to mature and focus on others and not herself. We also see glimpses of the visions she received while in the convent, and the impact that she had on everyone around her. The book closes with information on her canonization and personal words found in her notebook. This manga is unique, which is good and bad. It will definitely appeal to fans of St. Teresa, but I wonder how successful this style will be among girls, because there are very few girls I know that read manga. Hopefully, I'm wrong and it's wildly successful!

These book were provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media in exchange for honest reviews.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ready-To-Go Game Shows (St. Mary's Press)

Summer is coming to an end again, and that means that Catholic Religious Education is about to start less than a week in fact. I've been a catechist for five years, and I have taught from 3rd Grade to 7th Grade. Each of them have their challenges, but they also have their rewards as well. Even teaching the same grade in consecutive years, I've learned that no two classes are alike. For that reason, I am always trying to find ways to improve my lessons. I am not that creative, but my wonderful co-teacher (my lovely wife), has enough creativity for three people. I, instead, turn to books for ideas. Today, I would like to introduce you to a series of books called Ready-To-Go Game Shows.

There are three volumes in the Ready-To-Go Game Show series - Essential Catholic Beliefs, Bible, and Catholic Teachings and Practices. Each volumes is spiral-bound and is 125 to 200+ pages long. The games are geared toward the teen crowd, but they provide enough games and material that you can play them with children a little younger, like 8 to 9 years old. Each book is divided into the specific game show with multiple options for each one. Some examples of the game shows are as follows:

1. Who Wants to be a Catholic Millionaire
2. Faithful Feud (Family Feud)
3. Catholic Jeopardy
4. Holy, Holy, Holy Squares (Hollywood Squares)
5. The Church is Right (The Price is Right)
6. The Real Fortune (Wheel of Fortune)
7. Catholic Pictionary
8. 10,000 Shekel Pyramid ($10,000 Pyramid)
9. Holy Pursuit (Trivial Pursuit)

I was intrigued with how you could play The Price is Right with the Catholic Church, so I immediately went to this section. Apparently, you ask the children number related questions, like "How many books are in the Bible?" or "What year did Christianity become a universal religion?" I'm sure you can also think of some others on your own. The child who gets closest to the answer then moves on to the next round where they are given 60 seconds to put the parts of the Mass in order or Feast Days and Holy Days of Obligation in order. There is no final round, but there are enough questions in the first two rounds that it should give every child a chance to participate, even if you have to have students team up.

The books are a little pricey at about $22 each, but when you think about the amount of games in each book and the permissions granted to reproduce the pages in these books, they easily pay for themselves after one year's use...if not sooner. It does take a bit of effort to prepare to play each of these games, but the amount of money required to play these games is zero to very minimal depending on how nicely you want the games to look. I highly recommend these books and think that they should be in every religious education program. Be sure to check out other titles from the Ready-To-Go series that include skits, because not every kid is going to love game shows.

These books were provided to me for free by St. Mary's Press in exchange for honest reviews.

Friday, August 7, 2015

C.S. Lewis At War (Tyndale House Publishers)

Wrapping up C.S. Lewis week at my blog, I am reviewing an audiobook entitled C.S. Lewis At War. This is another title in the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre. You may recall that I previously reviewed "The Chronicles of Narnia" in this post here. The package contains eight discs, with six discs being a dramatic reading of Lewis' work "Mere Christianity," and the other two being a dramatic story about C.S. Lewis and the inspiration for "Mere Christianity." "Mere Christianity is dramatically read by Philip Bird, but C.S. Lewis At War contains a cast of about 20-25 characters. Lewis is played by Jeremy Northam (from the films The Net and Emma), but the biggest name they landed was John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings). Other people play minor roles such as evacuees, BBC employees, and even some of the Inklings, like J.R.R Tolkien. Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson, even lends his voice as the host to set the stage for the book.

The dramatic reading of "Mere Christianity" is masterfully done. I have listened to another recording of this book, and it didn't hold my attention like this version. In Focus on the Family's version, Philip Bird adds a bit of wit and wisdom in his tone that it feels like Lewis himself is reading the work. However, where this product really shines is in the radio drama. In this story we are transported back to the year 1939. Germany has just invaded Poland and World War II is officially underway. We hear a minister on a radio make the announcement to all of his listeners. Elsewhere, C.S. Lewis is giving a lecture to what sounds like a small to modest sized crowd, and his lecture is interrupted by that news as well. This war shapes not only the book, but the rest of Lewis' life and work.

England and the entire world was experiencing what I can best describe is a loss of faith. War and rumors of war made people afraid and I believe question the existence of God. In England, children are shipped off to keep them out of harm's way. Those who have read The Chronicles of Narnia might remember this. C.S. Lewis At War captures not only the turmoil that Lewis was facing, but England as well. However, like a piece of coal when pressure is applied, a diamond was formed both in the man and his works. It was because of this awful period that Lewis was able to write one of the best defenses of Christianity that stood the test of time 70+ years later. Also, in this work one gets little hints of Lewis' inspiration for works like Narnia and Inklings fans are treated to some interaction between the two giants of Lewis and Tolkien.

Overall, I found this whole CD set to be quite enjoyable and very well done in terms of the sound and narration quality. I could have listened to it for hours upon hours, so when it ended I was disappointed there was not more. My only complaint is with the packaging of these CDs. The part that holds the CDs slid out of its sleeve on more than one occasion and thus some of the plastic that holds the CDs in place broke off. I was able to fix it with a little tape, but perhaps I should have been more careful with how I held it. If you or someone you know would like a first rate reading of "Mere Christianity" and a glimpse into a different part of his life than the one you might have seen in the movie Through the Shadowlands, then you will want this CD set in your collection. Five stars!

This CD set was provided to me for free by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

George MacDonald and A Grief Observed (HarperOne)

Continuing my theme for this week, I will be reviewing two C.S. Lewis titles today. Recently, HarperOne has re-released nine of C.S. Lewis' classic works with all new covers, deckle-edged pages, and french flaps! The titles include The Abolition of Man, A Grief Observed, The Great Divorce, Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, George MacDonald, The Weight of Glory. I will be reviewing two of these works today and feature others throughout the coming months on my blog. Without further ado, let's get to the reviews!

I have been reading a lot of George MacDonald's works lately, due to his influence on Lewis, Tolkien, and other members of the Inklings. Therefore, when I found out about Lewis' work George MacDonald, I knew I had to read it. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I was expecting a biography of sorts. Instead, it is a selection of 365 "pearls of wisdom" from MacDonald himself. In a way you could view it as a George MacDonald daily devotional. The book is well under 200 pages, so each quote is only a few lines to half a page at most. Thankfully there is an index which lists all the sources for each quote, so if you are so inclined to read the full work, you know exactly where to find it. This is a major plus. Here is one of the pearls, entitled "Spiritual Murder."

"It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a passion; the latter is the heart's choice. It is a spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excludes, that, in our microcosm, kills the image, the idea of the hated."

C.S. Lewis' preface provided a nice glimpse from an outsider and provided a biography recommendation on George MacDonald. Overall, this book is the perfect book to provide a glimpse of MacDonald and whet your appetite and encourage you to read more of his works. I read through this book very quickly, which you can do too, but with 365 readings, you can take about one minute a day and read through it in a year.

A Grief Observed was published in 1961, and I believe was the last book he published while he was alive, as he died in 1963. It is a collection of thoughts and reflections taken from his private notebooks, which were written during his grieving process over the death of his wife (Joy Davidman) in 1960. The Foreword was written by Madeline L'Engle, and the introduction was written by Joy's son and Lewis' step-son - Douglas Gresham. Gresham does a beautiful job of explaining the relationship between Lewis and Davidman and specifically recounting how they first met. This puts the relationship and the book in proper context. Gresham also points out that the key word in the title of this book is "A." He makes it well-known that this is Lewis' grief and not meant to be a universal experience of grief.

We see a wide range of emotions in this work. There is sadness, anger, confusion, There are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. At times, it feels very raw, which is not unexpected. He directs most of his anger at God, and you can tell that this loss was a real test of his faith. This was easily the most difficult Lewis work I have read, not for its depth of knowledge, but for its depth of emotion. If you know someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, then I would recommend this work to them. Their grief won't be exactly the same as Lewis', as no two people's grief ever is, but it will give them a sense of knowing that others went through it and probably asked some of the same questions they did.

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis (Kent State University Press)

This week on my blog I am turning my attention to one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis is a fascinating man in Christian history. I can't think of one author that so many people from so many different denominations read. On top of that, every denomination tries to claim C.S. Lewis as one of their own. Despite him being Anglican, I have heard loads of Catholic and Orthodox Christians state that if C.S. Lewis were alive today he would be Catholic or Orthodox. That's a very bold claim to make and one that I do not necessarily agree with, but that is a discussion for a different time. Today, I am reviewing something of C.S. Lewis' that many people are not aware he wrote - poetry.

When I think back on my childhood, there are few authors that I remember and even fewer that I still read. C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia had a great impact on both my life and taste in literature and is an author I still find myself reading. As I grew older, I tackled his more adult works, both fiction (The Screwtape Letters) and nonfiction (Mere Christianity). It is only recently that I discovered that Mr. Lewis was also a poet. Don W. King compiled almost all of Lewis' poetry in the nearly 500 page volume entitled The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis. The poems are arranged chronologically from 1907 to 1963 with a section devoted to undated poetry, and include war poetry; spiritual poetry; and even epic poetry of Norse persuasion. There are even some very short poems in this collection, like the following:

She was delicately, beautifully made,
So small, so unafraid,
     Till the bomb came
     (Bombs are the same,
Delicately, beautifully made.)

This short, but sad poem was written in 1942, which was when World War II had just begun. One of his longer works is entitled Dymer. It is composed of eight cantos and is clearly modeled on some of the greats likes Homer or Milton. It was interesting, but one can see this lacked the Christian themes we are used to see in his work, because it was written long before his conversion. I admit that I did not read all of this poetry, because some of it just bogged me down. The introduction by the editor, Don W. King, does a great service of placing proper perspective on the poetry of C.S. Lewis and why it is important. I believe this work would best be read with another of King's work, C.S. Lewis, Poet. What I did take away from this work was that our plans don't always align with God's plans. By all accounts, C.S. Lewis dreamed of being remembered as one of the greatest poets ever, and it is clear that he poured his heart and soul into his poetry. However, no one today remembers C.S. Lewis for his poetry but instead for his prose, and there is no shame in that at all. If you are interested in poetry and want to understand the context of C.S. Lewis, then I'd recommend this book if you can get it at a reasonable price.

This book was provided to me for free by Kent State University Press in exchange for an honest review. If you would like to hear an interview with the editor conducted by someone else, please click here.