Friday, October 30, 2015

Tales from the Brothers Grimm and Frankenstein (Papercutz)

Today is Halloween, and though I am not a big fan of the holiday, there are some people who are, so I am going to recommend you two children's books/graphic novels - Tales from the Brothers Grimm and Frankenstein. Both are available from Papercutz, and both are part of the Classics Illustrated Deluxe series. For those unfamiliar with this series, it published over 70 years ago and took classic tales you read in school and put them in graphic novel format.

Tales from the Brothers Grimm is a 130 page hardcover graphic novel. It contains four stories from Grimm's Fairy Tales - Hansel and Gretel, Learning How to Shudder, The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs, and The Valiant Little Tailor. The first and last story are one that most readers know very well, but The Devil and Three Golden Hairs proved to be most interesting to me. In this story a poor family has a baby boy born with his caul on him. This is apparently very rare, and as part of the story, it was said that since he was born with his caul, he would marry the daughter of the king. The king heard of this and did not like it, so he bought the child from the parents under the premise of raising him in the castle. Instead he tossed the boy in the river. The boy was found by some millers, and years later the king discovered he was still alive, so he tried to get him killed again. Again, his plan is thwarted and the boy marries the princess. The king therefore sent him on an errand to Hell to return with three of the devil's golden hairs. I won't spoil the ending for you, but let's just say the king got what was coming to him. This is a nice introduction to Grimm's Fairy Tales, and one that might appeal to the teenage crowd or the comic book crowd. The illustrations were not as dark as I would have hoped, and I would have possibly picked some different tales than "Learning How to Shudder," but it's not a bad book.

I admit that I have never read the book Frankenstein. I have seen movies, cartoon adaptations of it, but never read the actual book. I know the premise all too well. I just never actually sat down to read it. I still have not read it, but I decided to ease my way into it with the Papercutz graphic novel version of it. Like all the books in this series, the original story is mostly intact. There were parts here in there (Paradise Lost in place of the doctor's research notes) where liberties were taken but the graphic novel adaptation rang mostly true. The illustrations are a bit cartoony in that the characters all have big eyes. It's not my favorite illustration style, but it's one I recognize. Thankfully, most of the panels are dark. I was disappointed with the Brothers Grimm book in this series, because it felt a little too light...not Frankenstein. The artist did a good job capturing and conveying the emotional despair of this work, and I think it's an overall great way to get teenagers (or younger) interested in the classics. That is after all what the series is about, because each story always encourages the reader to go read the actual work now. That is something I plan to do, and am now one step closer!

These books were provided to me for free by Papercutz in exchange for honest reviews!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Gospel of Happiness (Image Books)

The Gospel of Happiness is a book that I would normally glance at the title in a bookstore and then pass it over and keep looking at other books. Maybe it's the fact that it sounds too much like the prosperity gospel, or maybe it's that the book is bright yellow. I'm not really sure, but the author of the book Dr. Christopher Kaczor, is someone I have read before and someone I trust as an author, so I decided to give this book a chance. The book's main goal is to show how positive psychology and Christian practice overlap. Chapter One explains Martin Seligman's five elements of happiness - 1. Positive emotion, 2. Engagement, 3, Relationships, 4. Meaning, and 5. Achievement (PERMA). Dr. Kaczor elaborates on each of the five elements and explains how they relate to Christian practice. For example, "The Christian call to engagement is also seen in various personal vocations to different states in life. Through finding and living out a vocation [ . . . ] a person engages in an activity of service to others."

Chapter Two discusses tapping into this great joy which is God by way of faith, hope, and love - the three theological virtues. He explains this further by telling us the following three things. 1. People of faith believe that what they do matters both presently and eternally. 2. Hope is more than a wish that things turn out well, but the belief that despite how awful things are on earth, Heaven is a reality. 3. Love of God is the greatest love, because when we love God we unite our will with his and it opens us up to loving everyone, including our enemies. The remaining chapters in the book cover prayer, gratitude, forgiveness, virtue, and willpower.

This was an interesting book in which Dr. Kaczor does a fine job of showing how Christianity and positive psychology intersect. With that said, a lot of the book felt like preaching to the choir, as most Christians will tell you that the reason for their positive outlook and practices are because of their faith in God and practicing of his teachings. I believe this book would primarily appeal to those interested in the field of psychology and psychiatry. As someone with a BA in psychology, I was appreciative to read about the field of positive psychology, as much of what I encountered in pursuing my undergraduate degree turned me off of the subject entirely. Four stars.

This book was provided to me for free by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes! To read an interview with Dr. Kaczor, click here!

Monday, October 26, 2015

How Harry Cast His Spell (Tyndale House Publishers)

It has been over eight years since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book was released and only four years since Part 2 of the movie with the same name was released. Pottermania had been dwindling to some degree, despite Rowling's efforts to keep fans engaged through her frequently updated website Pottermore. A recent release of a fully illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the upcoming play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has whipped Potter-heads back into a frenzy, and it is for that reason that I am reviewing an older book called How Harry Cast His Spell.

How Harry Cast His Spell is the third edition of a book which was previously titled "Looking for God in Harry Potter." Personally, I preferred the original title, but to each their own. The author is John (no relation to Hermione) Granger. Granger is a professor with a degree in classical languages and literature. He is now considered a "Harry Potter expert." In his novel, Granger discusses a variety of topics including magic; good and evil; love and death. However, there are several deep literary concepts he covers which are extremely fascinating - 1. literary alchemy, 2. symbolism and name meaning, and 3. doppelgangers.

Alchemy is a truly fascinating subject that for the most part involved people trying to transform lead into gold. In the literary form of alchemy, it is the character (Harry Potter) who transforms from lead into gold, both in every book and as a character as a whole. Granger makes other alchemical connections with Hermione being mercury and Ron being sulfur, the two agents need to transform lead. I could go on and on about this, but buy the book! The Christian symbolism is abundant in the Harry Potter series, but it is subtle like in Lord of the Rings and not completely beat you over the head like the Chronicles of Narnia. Harry is a Christ-figure but he is not supposed to be Jesus Christ, because despite all of his good qualities, he is with sins and flaws. The doppelganger theory is one that is best illustrated in the case of Jekyll and Hyde, but is seen throughout the Harry Potter series, primarily in Harry and Voldemort, but also in certain wizards and their animagi or patronus forms. Peter Pettigrew as a rat is particularly on the nose.

In addition to these themes Granger talks about, there are also individual chapters devoted to the spiritual keys of each of the first six Harry Potter books and three chapters dedicated to Deathly Hallows. The reason for three with the last book is because there is much more to talk about, including Harry's struggle with faith and Harry's own Passion narrative and how it symbolizes Christ's Passion. At the end of the book is an FAQ, which includes brief rebuttals to some Christians who paint Harry Potter as occult. Reading through this 300 page book, I found myself going back through the stories in my head and seeing all the symbols and theme I missed when originally reading it. My wife, HUGE Harry Potter fan that she is, even pointed out some stuff that the author missed or could have included. That's not a knock against this book, in 300 pages, the author did a fine job covering as much as he could without bogging the reader down, Though, I could have kept reading if the book had been twice as long as it was truly fascinating. If you are a Harry Potter fan, who wants to understand the Christian meaning of Harry Potter, read this book. If you know someone who is anti-Harry because they think it's demonic, buy them this book. Granger does a masterful job of not only showing you why you and your children should read Harry Potter, but why you and your children need to read it!

This book 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!

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen (Servant Books)

When you talk about great Catholics in U.S. history, Archbishop Fulton Sheen is almost always one of the first names mentioned. He just had a way of teaching the faith that made it so simple to understand, which is quite remarkable because people with his level of brilliance usually have a hard time of relating their knowledge to everyone else. In addition to his intellect, I also appreciated his honesty. He was never afraid to mince words and tell people that they were sinning. In our modern culture, where it seems like there is no right or wrong, we could use a man like him again. He was also a big reason why I am Catholic today. I remember watching his television show, Life is Worth Living, and listening to talks of his both during my road to Catholicism and still to this day. His messages truly are timeless. Author Mark J. Zia thinks so as well and it is demonstrated in his book The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen.

Zia begins his introduction by telling us that there are five aspects of Sheen that are relevant today and make his life attractive to us. They are as follows:

1. He was a contemporary American.
2. His sense of humor was legendary.
3. He was exceedingly wise.
4. He was a Catholic bishop.
5. His cooperation's with God's grace was crucial to the success of his ministry.

Zia then uses life stories and massive amounts of quotations of Sheen to instruct us on matters of the faith, such as Mary, the priesthood, the pope, the Eucharist, Confession, etc. The most interesting chapter to me was Chapter Three: On Suffering and Death.The chapter begins by telling of a trying ten years in Sheen's life. Sheen's superior and once friend, Cardinal Spellman was grooming Sheen to one day take his spot as Cardinal. However, in 1957, Spellman demanded that Sheen hand over funds to him, which were allotted to the poor. Sheen refused and Spellman vowed and delivered revenge. It was during this period of revenge in which Sheen wrote The Life of Christ, an amazing book and one that changed my life reading it. Also in this chapter is a beautiful exposition on the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus. I'd recommend buying the book for this alone, but I am biased toward that Scriptural passage as I claim the Good Thief as my Confirmation saint.

This brief book is an excellent introduction to Fulton Sheen and his teachings. I was surprised by how much I learned about the man, as I considered myself well-versed in who he was. If you would like to better know this great man, what he taught, and what he believed I can think of no better book to start with than this one. May this book be used to inspire the next generation of American Catholics, and may Sheen's cause for canonization be re-opened and soon!

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!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Little Books for Little Readers

I like to dedicate one-third of my blog posts to books for children. Usually, these books are geared towards children, which are a bit older and can read on their own, but today I would like to focus on the littlest of readers, those who still chew books and get a thrill just from turning pages. Today, I have three series to introduce you to or update you on if you already own some of the books.

The first series of books I would like to tell you about is called BabyLitBabyLit are brightly colored board books, which takes classics from literature and reduce them down to about ten to twelve words which teach your children a specific concept. For example, The Jungle Book teaches your children about animals using the animals from the original story, i.e., Kaa the snake and Baloo the bear. Two of the latest titles include Don Quixote and All Aboard! New YorkDon Quixote is a Spanish language primer, which contains words in English and Spanish. The pages are opposite of each other in color, orientation, and language. For example, friend is el amigo and there is a picture of Sancho Panza and windmills are los molinos de viento. It's a clever book, but not a very useful one as most of the terms are too specific and advanced. All Aboard! New York is part of a new subset of BabyLit that takes you through different landmarks of major places including New York, California, and Paris. All Aboard! New York contains words and images for Central Park, Broadway, the Empire State Building, etc. Again, the book itself is too clever for its own good and more a show book than a useful book. Those in New York might find it useful. Here in Alabama, I can't really see the point. Once your children have outgrown the board books, there is an ongoing series of Edgar books, based on tales of Edgar Allan Poe. The third and latest in this series is titled Edgar and the Tree House of Usher. This book is based on "The Fall of the House of Usher" and in this book it is not figurative but a literal house that falls out of a tree. Edgar refuses to let his sister Lenore come into Roderick's tree house, because she is a girl, but the two boys eventually relent after the tree house falls, and they build a nest for all three to play in. It was a cute tale and one that teaches a not too subtle lesson of being nice to younger siblings.

Abrams Books has their own brightly colored book series titled Mini Myths. There are currently six in the series with two more coming out very soon. The current six include Aphrodite, Hercules, Icarus, Medusa, Midas, and Pandora. Each book takes an actual Greek myth, adapts it by having a little child play the title role, and teaches your children a lesson. For example, Be Careful, Icarus! is about a boy flying a kite with his dad, but is stubborn in thinking he can do it on his own, so he gets it stuck in a tree. His dad reassures him that he can fix the kite, and the boy learns a lesson to listen to his dad and not fly his kite so high next time. At the end of each book is a summary of the actual Greek myth. Make a Wish, Midas! was my favorite of the six as it involved little Midas wishing everything that he owned was the color yellow, that is until he paints his favorite stuffed dinosaur yellow. He, then decides that he didn't like his dinosaur being yellow. Luckily, his mom was able to throw it in the washing machine and restore it to its original green. He learned a valuable lesson that not everything has to be the same to be good or beautiful, but that everything is good the way it is. Mini Myths contain more words than BabyLit books are a step above them as well, as they not only give you classic literature for your kids, but life lessons as well. Highly recommended!

Lastly, I am going to tell you about a series of readers from author Olivier Dunrea and published by Houghton Mifflin. The series is called Gossie and Friends and features baby geese, also known as goslings, as the main characters of the series of books. The characters include Gossie, Gertie, Ollie, BooBoo, Gideon, Jasper, Joop, Gus, and Gemma. These are Level One readers and perfect for children just learning to read as they are cute stories and easy enough to keep your children engaged and encouraged at reading on their own. In addition to most of the characters having their own books, there are books that feature two of the goslings and seasonal books too, including one for Christmas, Easter, and an upcoming one for Halloween. The stories are also easy to relate to. In Gideon and Otto, we see Gideon going everywhere with his favorite toy Otto, until he loses him one day and has to find him. This is a horror that child and grown up alike can relate to. Jasper and Joop is an odd couple book with one clean gosling and one dirty gosling. Gemma and Gus is a book about siblings. However, my son's favorite of the series (at the moment, because I'm sure it will change more than once) is BooBooBooBoo is a lot like my son. He is blue. My son loves the color blue. BooBoo eats all the time. My son is eating me out of house and home. BooBoo ate bubbles. My son loves bubbles. BooBoo burped after eating the bubbles. My son thinks burping is hilarious and tries to imitate the sound, but thankfully hasn't mastered it yet. All the stories are charming and the watercolor illustrations are simple enough that they captivate the young eyes without overpowering them. This is a great beginner's series to read to your child and then have them read to you when they are able to.

These books were provided to me by Gibbs SmithAbrams Books, and Houghton Mifflin in exchange for honest reviews.

Monday, October 19, 2015

17 Cardinals and Counting (Ignatius Press and Carmel Communications)

"Seventeen prominent Cardinals from around the world address problems concerning marriage and the family in a series of new books prepared in advance of the October Synod on the Family." This is how the three books Ignatius Press has recently released are being billed. We have a lot of ground to cover today, but I believe these three books should be read together. So without further ado, let's dive right into the reviews!

God or Nothing is an interview of Robert Cardinal Sarah conducted by Nicholas Diat. Cardinal Sarah is a Guinean Cardinal Prelate and Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. He was previously Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (Human and Christian Development). He was born in 1945 and entered seminary in 1957. Yes, you read that right. He entered the seminary at age 12. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1969 (age 24), consecrated a bishop in 1079 (age 34), and created a cardinal in 2010 (age 65) by Pope Benedict XVI. Not that I had any doubts in Pope Benedict, but he made a wise choice picking Robert Sarah to become a cardinal.

In the beginning of this book Cardinal Sarah, discusses his childhood and village, how his ancestors were all animists, and the missionary priests of the order of the Holy Ghost Fathers and the impact they had on his village and him particularly. He also discusses the nurturing of his vocation and what put him on the path to priesthood. After background on his early life and ordination in the priesthood, we learn about his further studies in Rome, which included Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. By studying these languages he felt, he was able to read and better appreciate Scripture and commentary texts in their original languages. I agree wholeheartedly with him, and it makes me wish I had more of an ability to picking up foreign languages. The really interesting chapter to me was his opinion on all the popes during his lifetime, which so far spans Pius XII to Francis. He was honest in the distress he felt when Pope Benedict XVI resigned, but after a few days, he came to acceptance of the decision, because he knew it was a decision the former pope did not make on his own, but with the guidance of Jesus.

The above paragraph only covers the first three chapters of the book. The rest of the book is where you will find the wisdom of a pastor. He discusses issues facing the world, issues facing the Church, how Christianity and morality align, etc. I found myself nodding along with everything that Cardinal Sarah said, and I am truly grateful that he is one of the leaders of the Church, and I am pleased that he has so strong a voice at the ongoing Synod. May more Cardinals be as bold and honest as him, when they speak the truth in love on who the Church is and what she believes.

After reading God or Nothing, I turned my attention to Christ's New Homeland - Africa. This book contains a series of articles written by African cardinals and bishops, which include Robert Cardinal Sarah, Francis Cardinal Arinze, Christian Cardinal Tumi, Theodore Cardinal Sarr, Archbishop Samuel Kleda, and several others. The book itself is divided into the following three parts and epilogue:

1. The Synod on the Family: From One Assembly to Another
2. The Gospel of the Family
3. Pastoral Care of Families that are Hurting
Epilogue: An Appeal from the Church in Africa to the State

Part One rehashes the Extraordinary Synod that took place in 2014; defined the purpose of the synod that is occurring now (2015); and also explained specific paragraphs of the 62 paragraphs, which are guiding the Synod. There is also an African take on Instrumentum laboris, the document which will serve as the basis for discussion at the Synod. Part Two talks about magisterial teaching on marriage and family; the indissolubility of marriage; what makes a marriage; and how to promote good marriages. It was especially interesting to read some of the unique struggles faced in Africa, such as Islamo-Christian marriages and indissolubility. Part Three's aim is pastoral care for people dealing with separation, divorce, and remarriage. It also discusses ways to try and spread monogamy in Africa and ways pastors can care for those in interfaith marriages, as were outlined in Part One.

There were six key points on marriage outlined in this book that I found central to the core message of this book:

1. Marriage exists to bring a man and woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces.
2. Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary.
3. Marriage is society's least restrictive means of ensuring the well-being of children.
4. Government recognizes marriage because it benefits society in a way that no other relationship does.
5. Government can treat people equally and respect their liberty without redefining marriage.
6. Redefining marriage would further distance marriage from the needs of children; deny the importance of mothers and fathers; and weaken monogamy exclusivity, and permanency. It would also threaten religious liberty.

I applaud the African Cardinals and Bishops for standing up so firmly for what the Church teaches, and I wish other Cardinals and Bishops would follow suit. They may refer to themselves as the Young Church, but I think they are showing more maturity and wisdom than the Old Church in Europe. It does give me hope though. If this is the present and future of our Church, we are in good hands!

Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family is a 150 page book of essays written by eleven different cardinals, including Robert Cardinal Sarah, who has been featured in two other recently released Ignatius Press titles. The essays present topics such as "Mercy and Conversion," "Marriage and Family." and "Pastoral Challenge for the Church to Set Out on the Journey of the Third Millennium." It is really tough to review essays, so I am just going to provide you with excerpts from some of the essays.

"Mercy without (any requirement for) conversion is not divine mercy. It is the mistaken pity of an incompetent and/or weak physician who contents himself with bandaging wounds without treating them." - Carlo Cardinal Caffara

"The sense that the family, properly understood, is disappearing is therefore to a large extent the result of the distance between the real world and the virtual world constructed by the media, although it must not be forgotten that this virtual world has a powerful influence on real behavior." - Camillo Cardinal Ruini

"If Christ alone reveals the truth about man, then in rejecting him we lose the meaning of human nature. Sin mars the face of man. Now Christ came not only to save us, but also to repair what sin has broken, to snatch man away from all that disfigures hum, so as to restore to human destiny all its breadth and fullness." - Robert Cardinal Sarah

The book is concise but dense. However, the Cardinals do a masterful job of demonstrating that doctrine and pastoral care are not opposed to each other, but instead operate hand-in-hand. This was easily the most challenging of the three books, but it was also the most rewarding.

There is less than a week left with the Synod. Let us pray our leaders listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit, and stand true to the teachings of the Church.

These books were provided to me for free by Ignatius Press and Carmel Communications. If you found them helpful, please click here, here, and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Two Hundred Chapters on Theology (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press)

The Popular Patristics Series from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press is one of the most readable and accurate series of early Christian literature available to this day. It contains works from Sts. Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ignatius of Antioch, and John Chrysostom just to name a few. Today, I am going to tell you about one of the latest volumes entitled Two Hundred Chapters on Theology by St. Maximus the Confessor. It is Volume 53 in the series.

The book begins with a biography of St Maximus, but states that accurate biographical information is hard to come by. What we do know is that he was born around 580 A.D. and he was probably part of Constantinople's aristocracy. The Two Hundred Chapters were written between 628 and 630 with themes that include limitations of Creation; mystical contemplations of Scripture; and asceticism. The Chapters in this book contain Greek on one side and an English translation on the opposite page, which is especially handy for those who want to read the original text. The Chapters are also not we would think of as chapters, but short paragraphs whose messages have varying degrees of depth. I would now like to provide a few brief quotes to show you St. Maximus' wisdom.

"The wise man, when teaching and being taught, wills only to be taught and to teach profitable things; but he who would appear wise, hen asking and being asked, propounds only rather pretentious statements."

"A 'heart' is 'pure' that represents its recollections as altogether formless and shapeless before God and stands ready to be imprinted with his characteristics alone, through which he naturally becomes manifest."

These are two of the shorter and more straightforward Chapters. There are other, which are both longer and deeper in content. If you would like to read the words of a great saint, in little paragraph bites, I recommend this book. With 200 Chapters, you will have enough to get you through a little over half of the year with enough time to go back to some of the meatier ones and chew on them a little longer and extract all the spiritual nutrients they contain.

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!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Iliad and The Odyssey (Candlewick Press)

Anyone who has ever taken a literature course knows Homer's two epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. There have been countless translations of them and ways to make them more accessible to current generations and younger audiences. Candlewick Press has recently published these works of Homer aimed at children ages 8-12. They are both written by Gillian Cross and illustrated by Neil Packer, and I am going to tell you about them.

The Iliad begins with the story of Paris and the golden apple. Three goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) presented him with a golden apple and told him to give it to the most beautiful. Paris was not bright enough to realize that no matter who he picked, two others would be upset with him. They all offered him bribes to try and be picked, but Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world (Helen) as his wife if he gave Aphrodite the golden apple. This was the most appealing bribe to him, and from this small apple the Trojan War soon followed.

Within this story is a lot of bloodshed and capturing of women. Paris took Helen from King Menelaus. Agamemnon took a woman named Chryseis who was the daughter of a priest. Briseis was taken from Achilles by Agamemnon, because Agamemnon had to give back Chryseis. For a while Achilles refused to help Agamemnon and the Greeks, until his cousin Patroclus was killed by Hector. This led to Achilles finally going to war with the Trojans, killing Hector, and Paris killing Achilles. This did not end the war, though. Odysseus created what became known as the Trojan Horse, and was able to sneak all the Greek soldiers into Troy to destroy the city and everyone in it. With the war over, Odysseus was ready to go home.

This leads us to the story The Odyssey. The Odyssey takes place after the Trojan War and Odysseus' journey back home takes ten years itself. That means that in total, he was gone from his home for twenty years. On this long trek, he is held captive for seven years on Calypso's island. They were captured by a Cyclops and had to blind him to escape. They narrowly avoided the Sirens who tried to steer their boats into the rocks and drown them. There are many marvelous tales in this epic, but I always like the end and the cleverness of Odysseus' wife Penelope. She was clever and stalled her many suitors for years in the hopes that her husband would return. She also arranges an archery contest that she knows only her husband could win and when he does win, she tests him one time further just so she can be 100% sure. This is truly a marvelous tale.

So what makes Gillian Cross and Neil Packer's versions great for kids? It's the way they are told. The story is simplified, but not dumbed down. All the elements, plot lines, gods, goddesses, etc. are present and accounted for. And the pictures are absolutely perfect in form and style. There are some images that are a bit off-putting and grotesque, which I appreciate, because not all characters in these stories are meant to be beautiful. At the end of the books is the Greek alphabet and context on both Homer and the Trojan War. These serve to further educate young minds and adds to the beauty of these books. These books are proof that you don't need to be an adult to enjoy the Classics and that if you start your children early, they too will love good literature. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Story of a Family (TAN Books)

We are less than a week away from having two new saints in the Church - Louis and Zélie Martin! I have a family of friends who are so excited for their canonization, you'd think they were distant relatives of theirs. For those of you unfamiliar with these two future saints, they are the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux as well as many other children including four nuns! They were truly a holy family and a model for us all, and I believe we should read more about them, so that we can emulate them. TAN Books is one of the best sources for books about the Martin family, and I'd like to tell you about a few of them today.

The Story of a Family was published in the 1940s, reprinted in 1994 by TAN Books, and now has been reprinted again in 2015 in time for the canonization of Louis and Zélie Martin. The book is only fifteen chapters in length, but it is full of detail as it spans 400+ pages. The book begins by giving us a backstory of the two parents and their early years. We learn that Louis was a watchmaker and Zélie was a lacemaker. It was these two professions that led to their chance meeting. Both felt a call to the religious life, but chose to marry. Interestingly enough, after marriage, Louis Martin wanted to live a celibate married life, like Mary and Joseph, but Zélie had strong maternal instincts. We also learn about the children they had, the children they lost, and a great deal about Thérèse.

Chapter 13 - 'The Offering of the Children" was my favorite chapter. In this chapter, we learn of the Martins deep desire to give birth a future priest. They lost two boys, and therefore their hope was lost after this. However, with each girl, they had dreams, which came true, of populating the cloister. "They were not of the number of those pusillanimous parents who dread sacrificing to God what they have no hesitation in handing over to a creature." It was surprising to me to read these words, not because they were so accepting and encouraging of religious vocations, but because even that far in the past, parents were still hesitant to embrace the idea of religious vocations for their children. May the Martins serve as an example for all of us with children!

I have two final observations to leave you with regarding this book. First, the true treasure of this book is found in the images. We as Catholics have a lot of older saints who we see depicted in ancient artwork, but no real actual photographic evidence. Being able to see actual pictures of these recent saints, help demonstrate to us that they were humans just like us, and that we too can be saints if we follow their examples and say Yes to Jesus! Second, the age of the book is reflected in the writing style and language, but that doesn't mean that it is impossible to read. As a fan of classic literature, I personally enjoy that style, but it isn't for everyone. I for one am grateful that this book is back in print, and think it is a very good introduction to the Martin family. After reading this, I plan to read some more books about the Martin family, mainly The Father of the Little Flower, The Mother of the Little Flower, and My Sister Saint Thérèse. All of these were written by Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face (Celine Martin), the sister of St. Thérèse and should provide a more personal and intimate look at the Martins.

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Other Tales (Race Point Publishing)

It's been 150 years since Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was first published. Let that sink in for a moment...150 years... In the time since it was first published, there have been numerous adaptations of it both in book and on the screen. The most famous of these is probably Disney's animated version, which itself is 61 years old. The movie, like all adaptations, fell short, and reminded us that if you want to experience the true glory of a work, you have to read the original. Due to the books age, there are a lot of editions from which you can choose. I have positive experiences with Race Point Publishing in the past, so I went for their deluxe, but very affordable Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Other Tales. In this 1000+ page tome you can find the following writings:

1. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
2. Through the Looking Glass
3. Sylvie and Bruno
4. Sylvie and Bruno Concluded
5. The Hunting of the Snark and other poems
6. Phantasmagoria and other plays

I have never read Through the Looking Glass before, but I have read excerpts, primarily Jabberwocky. Therefore, I was most excited to read this tale and see how it compared to its predecessor. The book begins with Alice playing with two kittens - one white and the other black. While playing with her kittens, she wonders what life would be like on the other side of a mirror. She soon learns as she enters into a mirror where everything is different. In this world, Alice meets a Red Queen who is NOT to be confused with the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Red Queen reveals to Alice that the entire land is laid out like a chessboard, and she offers to make Alice a queen as well if she can make it to the other end of the board. The entire story revolves around Alice advancing through the land (on the board), the people she encounters (like Humpty Dumpty, the Red King, the White Knight, etc.), and the adventures and troubles she encounters. She does finally become a queen. For a fan of chess, I found this tale to be an equal blend of riveting and comical!

In addition to the Alice tales, I also enjoyed reading the poetry, riddles, plays, and other miscellaneous works of Carroll. They really showed his twisted genius, and I mean that as an utmost compliment. In addition to the brilliant works, there are illustrations that add to the story and introductions and prefaces that help explain the works and provide context as well. The only flaw in this book is the thinness of the pages. Due to their thinness, text and images show through on the page you are reading, which can be a bit distracting sometimes. This is still a gorgeous and affordable book and perfect for any fan of Lewis Carroll and children's literature. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Adventures in Assisi and Jonah's Whale (Franciscan Media and Eerdmans Books for Younger Readers)

Welcome back to this special week on my blog where I am only reviewing children's books. Monday I featured two Orthodox books, and today I am featuring one Catholic book and one Christian book. They are titled Adventures in Assisi and Jonah's Whale and can be found at Franciscan Media and Eerdmans Books for Younger Readers, respectively. Let's not waste time and get to the heart of the matter!

Adventures in Assisi is a story about a brother, Lorenzo, and sister, Gianna, who are spending the day in Assisi with their uncle, Brother Antonio. Like most siblings, they tend to bicker and fight a lot. To make matters worse, they find Assisi to be completely boring with nothing for them to do. And while Assisi is a lot slower-paced than Rome or Florence, it has beauty all around it if you know where to look. Luckily for the two children, their uncle does know these places. To stop the petty bickering, he invites them to play a game with him with the winner getting a special treasure. The game involves showing the children various places throughout Assisi and having them guess what St. Francis did at each particular location. In this game, they are cleverly taught history, geography, and the life of a great saint. They also learn the meaning of love and sacrifice. Books by Amy Welborn have yet to disappoint me, and this one is no different. In addition to a great story and beautiful illustrations, there are also sayings of St. Francis on every other page. Truly a masterful story!

Jonah's Whale is a richly illustrated retelling of the Biblical story of Jonah. It's a pretty well-known Biblical section, but it involves a reluctant/disobedient prophet named Jonah who is trying to escape God's plan for his life and the city of Nineveh. This children's book takes a twist on the Biblical passage by telling it from the whale's point of view. In it we learn that the whale has a family, likes to play, and loves to sing. One day he was swimming by a boat during a great story and heard Jonah say to throw him overboard. God spoke to the whale and told the whale to swallow Jonah and save him, so the whale was obedient and did so. He swam around with Jonah for three days and kept listening and hoping to hear God tell him what to do with Jonah, because he did not like having him riding around inside of him. Finally, God told the whale to spit him on dry land, and the whale and Jonah were both relieved. This was a cute take on a classic story, but it was the illustrations that made this book. I am a huge fan of Giuliano Ferri, and it is the illustrations that bring this book from a 3 out of 5 to a 4 out of 5.

These books were provided to me for free by Franciscan Media and Eerdmans Books for Younger Readers, respectively. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, October 5, 2015

H is for Holy and A Gift for Matthew (Ancient Faith Publishing)

One of the greatest joys about being a book reviewer is the children's books that I receive to review. For one, it is nice to have a short book to read amidst all the long ones, but more importantly it is nice to share something I love with my son. If you want your children to love reading, you have to start with them early and place an emphasis on it is important. You not only have to read to them, but they should see you reading as well. So this week, I am going to be reviewing only children's books. Today. I am going to share two selections from my favorite Orthodox publisher, Ancient Faith Publishing.

H is for Holy is a hardcover book that teaches children their alphabet by relating letters to facets of Orthodox Christianity. It isn't a new concept, as I have reviewed a Catholic/Christian one before, but I was intrigued to read through it and see how it compared. The book starts out familiar enough with A for Altar, B for Bread, and C for Cross, but the true test of books like this is what they do with the tough letters. Rightfully so, I is Icon and O is Oil. Catholics don't really think about those two things much, as they receive greater attention in the East, so I liked that! Q is Quiet; X is ICXC; and Z is good ole Zacchaeus (as if there was any doubt). On each page is a further description of each letter's representation, and at the end is the numbers one through ten with Orthodox ways to learn your numbers. The illustrations were done in a watercolor format and helped drive home the alphabet concept. Solid book.

A Gift for Matthew tells the story of a boy who goes to visit Brother Justin in a monastery. Brother Justin had a special gift. He was an iconographer. Brother Justin is going to teach Matthew how icons are made. They begin with a prayer before starting. Then, he showed him how a sketch on paper gets transferred to an icon board. The board was slowly engraved with Brother Justin praying the Jesus Prayer continuously. In addition to learning this, Matthew learned where the colors (pigment) came from and what egg tempera is used for. At the end of the book is a the complete text of the Iconographer's Prayer, which I found very beautiful to read. I found this book a joy to read and I feel like adults can learn as much as children when reading this book. The book did a nice job emphasizing that iconography is more than just art. It is prayer. If you are looking for an approachable way to teach your children about icons and how they are made, I highly recommend this book!

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales (Abrams Books)

History was always one of my least favorite subjects in school. It never felt like I was taught anything interesting. It was just a large collection of important people, places, and dates. Anytime, there was something that remotely piqued my interest, it was glossed over or ignored. I believe a lot of people my age felt this way, and that if you asked someone what they most remembered from history they could tell you one of two things - "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue," or some variation of "If you don't learn history, you're doomed to repeat it." Since I have become a parent, I have thought a lot about the future education of my children. and making sure they get a better education than I did. That's not to say that mine was bad, but I can look back on it now and see how it could have been better. One way I would do that is to make history fun, and I have found the best way to do that is with a Living History curriculum and texts that capture the reader's attention. A book series I have found that accomplished that is called Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales is a five (soon to be six) volume set. The books in the set are as follows:

One Dead Spy - A Revolutionary War Tale
Big Bad Ironclad! - A Civil War Tale
Donner Dinner Party - A Pioneer Tale
Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood - A World War I Tale
The Underground Abductor - An Abolitionist Tale
Alamo All-Stars - A Texas Tale

For those unfamiliar with who Nathan Hale was, he was a soldier for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Nathan Hale is also the name of the author of this series of books. In Book 1 - One Dead Spy, Nathan Hale, the historical figure, is scheduled to be executed for being a spy. A British soldier is looking for the execution papers, and a hangman (the comic relief) is trying to help Hale come up with famous last words to say. Hale finally says, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." His memorable words caused a "Big Huge Book of American History" to appear and absorb Hale into it. Then, Hale instantly reappeared with all knowledge of American history including future history. This turns into the whole premise/running gag of the series. At the beginning of every book, the Brit and the hangman are planning to hang Hale, but he regales them with a tale of American history or what would in reality be the future to them.

The books themselves are told in graphic novel/comic book format. That means it visually draws you and feels more like reading a story than listening to a history lesson. The historical figures interact with one another, and it is not reading something in the third person. Throughout the Hazardous Tales, there are lots of interruptions by the three members mentioned above, which provides the reader with context and depth when needed. It also serves to lighten the mood at times, so the reader forgets that they are not only reading for fun, but learning something too! Of the current five books, the one I enjoyed the best was Donner Dinner Party, because who doesn't love a tale about cannibalism? :)

Now, I would like to address what I like and dislike about the series. I will start with what I dislike, because there isn't much I dislike. At times, there is some disrespectful language. It's not vulgar, but I guess sassy would be the right word. The children in Donner Dinner Party are at times disrespectful towards their parents and wish their older sister would shut up about her pony. Your kids are going to be exposed to that kind of sass, but you can let them know that is a trait that will not be tolerated in your house, so that's my biggest gripe.

What I liked about this book is the level of detail, which I will explain as best I can. For starters, the inside covers of the book have a map of the United States and what it looked like for the year the book takes place. One Dead Spy's map is 1775; Donner Dinner Party's map is 1846; and so on. The front of each book has differing flags, depending on the era for the book. One Dead Spy has an American flag with 13 stars on one side and a British flag on the other side. Big Bad Ironclad! has an American flag on one side and a Confederate flag on the other side. On the back of the book is a "Hazard Level," which is basically a warning of what your children will encounter. For example, Big Bad Ironclad! has a Hazard Level Red for Explosive. This level includes "blockade-runners, privateers, burning shipyards, underwater toilets, Swedish swearing, ironclad battleships, and a bomb on a stick." I also love that at the end of the book there is actual factual history, questions about why some parts were included and other parts excluded, and a bibliography for the book. Even all these facets are done in an engaging way to not break character and keep history light and fun, but also accurate.

I honestly was not sure what to expect from these books when I received them. I thought they would either be dry stories that the author attempted to make interesting or so far off the wall that there would be no literary value to them. However, I was pleasantly surprised by them, and they more than exceeded my expectations. Hale (the author, not the historical figure) carefully picked his subjects for each book to ensure he started with a compelling historical account. He then even more carefully researched the history to make the story as close to factual as the records were able to verify. What he ended up producing is a series that I hope has no end in sight. So who are these books for? I would say a child in 3rd grade, perhaps 2nd if an advanced reader would be a good starting age for these books. I hate to put an age cap on them because tastes vary and some middle schoolers might feel they are too grown up for them, but conversely, some high schoolers might love them. Each child is different. I do think that these are more boy books than girl books, because of the comic format and tendency for the comics to skew a bit gruesome at times. But don't rule them out if you only have girls, check one out at a library and if they love them, buy them! These belong in the classroom and on the home bookshelf, as your child will want to read them multiple times. Highly recommended!

These books were provided to me for free by Abrams Books in exchange for honest reviews!