Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Les Misérables (Candlewick Press)

Marcia Williams is an author/illustrator known for her comic book style. Using this recognizable style and an approachable storytelling method, Ms. Williams has brought both classics and mythology to a young audience. One of her latest books is Les Misérables, the most famous work by Victor Hugo. I was first exposed to Les Misérables by my wife in the monumental movie that starred Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe. Having seeing that very lengthy movie, I questioned how Ms. Williams was going to make some of the stickier points in the story kid-friendly (primarily Fantine turning into a lady of the night and Javert's suicide). Thankfully, she chose to gloss over these details.

I have to admit that I am not a huge Les Misérables fan, and I only requested this book because I know my wife is a fan. However, this book made the story very approachable, and I enjoyed Ms. Williams illustration style. The text felt a little dry at times and felt more like summary than actual story. My wife also somewhat enjoyed the book, which is saying something, because she usually doesn't enjoy classics in the graphic novel format. She too has never read the original book, so she told me that reading through this version, she realized how much the musical/movie whitewashed some characters, particularly Marius. If you are a fan of Les Misérables and want to share that love with your 8 to 12 year old, then you might want to pick up a copy of this book.

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

C.S. Lewis and his Circle (Oxford University Press)

The Oxford University of C. S. Lewis Society is a group founded to discuss the works of C. S. Lewis, including his theology, fiction, and poetry. It is inspired by the Inklings and adopted a lot of their traditions, like retiring to the "Eagle and Child" after most meetings. Members include C. S. Lewis's friends, family, former students, and even his editor/biographer. To make a small sample of this meetings available to the public, Oxford University Press combed through the more than 200 talks given and published a book entitled C. S. Lewis and his Circle.

The book is divided into two parts - Essays and Memoirs. The essays focus on philosophy, theology, and literature with the memoirs focusing on memories of both C. S. Lewis and the Inklings. There are some pretty big name contributors in this book including Owen Barfield; Alister McGrath; Rowan Williams; and a personal hero of mine, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. However, not all the selections were of equal interest to me. Some I had to force myself to get through, but others kept me so engaged that I was sad when they were finished. This is all a matter of personal preference, though. What I find interesting you might find a bore and vice versa.

Anyone who has read my other reviews knows I am a sucker for anything Narnia, so of course I found Chapter Ten: "It All Began with a Picture: The Making of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia" to be the most fascinating. In this essay, Lewis's biographer Walter Hooper references a Lewis quote which goes, "At every tick of the clock, in every inhabited part of the world, an unimaginable richness and variety of 'history' falls off the world into total oblivion." This is the basis for Hooper's essay in which he talks about how so little of Lewis's work on Narnia survived because Lewis destroyed most of it. Thankfully, some of it did escape the trash bin, and Hooper shares with us how the stories came into being, grew, and evolved into the series we know and love.

Overall, this was a worthwhile read and one that will be of interest to C. S. Lewis fans and to a lesser degree, Inklings fans. I have read many books which offer opinions on Lewis and the Inklings, but few of them had contributions from people who actually knew the man. Therefore, it was refreshing to glean some first hand knowledge of the man. As I said earlier, not everything that captured or even kept my attention, but the essays and memories that did made the book worthwhile to me. If you are a serious fan of C. S. Lewis, like me, then you'll definitely want to check this book out.

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

Friday, March 25, 2016

Seven Last Words (HarperOne)

The seven last words of Jesus are some of the most well-known and well-reflected on phrases in Christianity. In them, both Jesus' divinity and humanity are on full display as we see a range of emotions, including pain, concern, and sympathy. Many sermons have been about these seven phrases and several books have been written as well. One of the most recent books on this topic is by Fr. James Martin, and is appropriately titled Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus.

Seven Last Words was preached by Fr. James Martin at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. The book is seven chapters long and focuses on Jesus' understanding of forgiveness, doubt about the afterlife, parental love, feelings of abandonment, physical pain, disappointment, and self-offering. The grand theme of these reflections is that "Jesus's sufferings help him to understand us." What Fr. Martin means by this is because Jesus lived a fully human life, he went through things that we do and experienced things that we experience and thus understands us. This is hardly a novel concept, as it is discussed in the Epistle to the Hebrews that Jesus is able to sympathize with us, because he was tested as we were with the only difference being that He did not sin.

Each chapter/reflection begins with the Scripture passage on where that particular "last word" took place. Thankfully, it provides the Scripture surrounding the passage, and not just the "last word," as this is useful for context. The reflection, which is about ten pages, then follows. 10 pages might sound like a lot, but this is a pocket-sized book, so it reads very quickly. The reflection that spoke to me the most was the first one, which touched on forgiveness. In this reflection, Fr. Martin discusses the concept of radical forgiveness. We are called on to forgive, and that in and of itself is hard, but it is all the harder when the person you are forgiving expresses no remorse. Fr. Martin then recounts personal stories of others and one of his own on forgiveness. He even shares some sage advice that he received. "The only thing to do is forgive. Because it's the only thing that can free both parties." This kind of wisdom is sprinkled throughout the book. Overall, I found the book to be a quick read, and while it's very appropriate to read on Good Friday, you can benefit from it anytime during the year.

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

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dead Men Tell No Tales (Minion Games)

Mentioning Kickstarter with board game reviews may start to become redundant, as the two entities are going hand-in-hand lately. There are mixed feelings on, which I won't bother getting into, as I'm not here to debate that subject. I for one am mostly in favor of it, as long as it is used primarily for upgrading the quality of the game, and not proving copious amounts of exclusive content that people will never be able to purchase again, unless they want to shell out obscene amounts of money. I provide this brief introductory note, because the game I am reviewing today was a Kickstarter success that used the money they raised to add to the beauty of the game. It did have one exclusive card, but you can still easily buy it from them for a few bucks if you want. It doesn't alter gameplay if you choose not to. The game is called Dead Men Tell No Tales, and it was published by Minion Games.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is a fully cooperative game for 2-5 pirates, ages 13 and up. It takes approximately 60-75 minutes to play and retails for $45. In this game, you and your fellow pirates will be raiding the most notorious ship on the high seas - Skelit's Revenge. Your aim is to collect all the treasure on the ship and return it to your captain!  It sounds simple enough, but the ship is quickly burning, and the ghost crew is also guarding the treasure and won't so easily surrender it. Can you manage the flames, overcome your fatigue, and fight your way to fatigue? Or will Skelit's Revenge claim another one for Davy Jones' Locker?
Each player picks a Pirate (Jade, Whitebeard, etc), their Pirate Meeple, five Action Coins, and an item (dagger, compass, etc.). You also take a Player Board, which will track your Fatigue and Battle Strength. To setup the game board, start by placing the Starting Tile on the table. Then, for each of the four starting rooms roll a Fire Die that matches the color of the square in the middle of the room. If you roll a six, re-roll until a number besides six appears. (These numbers tell you how hot the fire is in each room, and you can't start with a six because when a room hits a six, it explodes!) You then place one Deckhand (white skull) in the top room with the Trapdoor icon. Shuffle the Skelit's Revenge Cards and make a face down stack. Do the same for the Room Tiles. Place the 20 double-sided tokens in a bag and mix them around. (I recommend leaving out Captain Skelit your first time playing). Lastly, put your Pirate Meeple on the small boat by the entrance of the game board and decide how difficult you want the game to be by determining how much Treasure you want to claim to win. For beginners in a group of 2-3, four Treasure is the recommended number. After the ship is setup, a player's turn is divided into three steps.
1. Search the Ship - In this step you turn over the top Room Tile and place it where all the doors line up with other rooms' doors. (Side note; On every player's first turn, they turn over two Room Tiles.)  If you cannot place a room according to tile placement rules, you lose, so don't close off doors early on and leave yourself plenty of options. You then place a Fire Die in the room, which matches the color and pip count of the square in the middle. Next. draw out a double-sided token and place it in the room. If it's a Treasure token, place it guard side up. The number on the guard indicates the Battle Strength you need to defeat him. If it's an item (grog or cutlass), place it Skeleton Crew side up. You must have a Battle Strength of 3 to defeat them and claim the item. If it's a Trapdoor, place it in the room with one Deckhand.

2. Take Pirate Actions - In this step, you can walk, run, loot fight fire, eliminate a deckhand, pick up a token, rest, increase your battle strength, or swap an item card. Each of these choices costs an Action Token to accomplish and some even will fatigue you. You could also use the action on your item card for free. Beware when taking fatigue, the more you take the fewer rooms you will be able to enter. For example, if your fatigue reaches nine, you can't enter rooms with a dice count of 4 or higher. If your fatigue reaches twelve, you can't enter rooms with 3 or higher.

3. Skelit's Revenge - Draw a Skelit's Revenge Card and resolve the action on the card. The action can be raising the fire level of certain dice (number and pip count), adding deckhands, or moving Skelit's Pirate Crew closer to the nearest Pirate Meeple. This is where the game gets interesting. Rooms get hotter here, and if you haven't been managing the fires, the rooms can start to explode. Seven explosions and you lose!

You and your fellow pirates will continue to take these three steps each turn, until you beat the game or the game beats you. Luckily, if you die in this game, as long as there are still other Pirates available, you can pick one of them and try again. Unfortunately, there is only one way to win (get the required amount of Treasure), but there are many ways to lose - including explosions, trapping yourself in a corner and being unable to play more Room Tiles, or dying and there not being another Pirate to play with.

This was my first experience in the world of cooperative gaming, and overall I found it quite enjoyable. For starters, the components of the game were high quality (Thank you, Kickstarter!), and not your typical cube and generic tokens. The only knock against the components is that the starting board is one block of four rooms and not four separate rooms. Since any room can explode, including the starting rooms, the ability to flip them over and not just cover them up would have been great. After the component quality, the next thing I would praise is the game mechanics. This is truly a fully cooperative game. You either all win, or you all lose. There is no, "Well, we all won, but I had more points so I technically win more." The decisions you make can help or hinder your fellow pirates, so you need to help each other or you will fail. The last thing I really enjoyed was the theme. This was not a board that they just slapped a pirate theme on, but it was well thought out and well-executed. With the number of different pirate characters, the number of treasures you can pursue, the random nature of dice, and the random order you will draw each room tile, no two games will ever be the same. I highly recommend this to families with teenagers (who think they are too cool to play games with their parents). I also recommend it to people who want to introduce board games to new time gamers (as cooperative games are easier to get people playing as opposed to competitive games, where new timers feel like they are already at a disadvantage.)

This game was provided to me for free by Minion Games in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes. Also, be sure to check out Minion Games' latest Kickstarter campaign for The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire and help another one of their games be the best it can be!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Story of the Treasure Seekers and The Wouldbegoods (Hesperus Press)

Edith Nesbit was an English author who wrote children's book using the name E. Nesbit. She published approximately forty books for children, and was dubbed "the first modern writer for children" by her biographer Julia Briggs. Other authors of children's literature focused on fantasy themes and mystical lands, but she focused on reality and the harsh nature that it sometimes exhibited. This was on display especially in the books The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequel The Wouldbegoods,

The Story of the Treasure Seekers was Nesbit's first published story. It tells the story of the six Bastable children - Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and Horace Octavius (H.O.). The story is told from the point of view of one of the six children, but the narrator refuses to reveal who he/she is until the end. If you're an astute reader, you can figure it out easily enough. The Bastable children live with their widowed father. The family used to be much wealthier, but they are very poor now. They're not really sure why they are, but they realize that things are not how they used to be. Due to their lack of finances, the children do not attend school and are left with a lot of free time to do what they wish. They decide to use this free time to restore their father's wealth. Will they succeed? You'll have to read to find out.

The Wouldbegoods follows the same six children, plus an additional two neighbor children (Denny and Daisy) who have been banished from their mansion after a disaster involving a water hose and expensive stuffed animals. Dora urges the children to mend their ways and form "The Society of the Wouldbegoods." In this group, they look to perform good deeds, but there are two problems with their plans - They never go the way they are intended, and they do these good deeds for praise and glory and not because they are the right thing to do. Will they eventually realize that good deeds are their own reward, or will they just keep leaving a path of destruction wherever they go? As I said above, you'll have to read to find out.

These are two unique, but solid books of children's literature. E. Nesbit writes with a timeless quality and presents the world as it is, which was a bold innovation for children's literature. Like most series, the sequel doesn't live up to the hype, but it is not without merit. I especially like the Hesperus Press versions of these two books, because they had forewords by respected children's authors Julia Donaldson and Lois Lowry, respectively. If you are looking to introduce your children to some of the classics in children's literature, then you need copies of these books. The only disappointment is that Hesperus Press hasn't printed the rest of the books about the Bastable children, but I can always hope.

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings is a 650 page behemoth of the book, written by Philip and Carol Zaleski. There were many members of the Inklings, but this book chooses to focus only on four members of the Inklings - J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. The prologue then explains the reasons for choosing these four. For starters, they were the most well-known and most original of authors. However, the authors also viewed them as compass points. Tolkien was a Catholic; Lewis was a "mere Christian;" Williams was an Anglican; and Barfield was an esotericist.

There are nineteen chapters in the book, and the first few chapters provide brief biographies of the above four men.  book begins with Tolkien. In addition to personal information on each author, we learn about their literary lives as well - what interested them, what influenced them, and their thought process. We also get a glimpse into how their lives intersected before and during the Inklings. What is most interesting is when the authors of this book took their works of the four men and examined them in greater detail. But this book doesn't just focus on the men and their works, it also focuses on their lives outside of this circle. We see mention of Edith Tolkien and their children and the joy Tolkien felt. We learn of C.S. Lewis finally finding happiness in marriage with Joy Davidman. This glimpses helped humanize these legends and show us that they are more than just brilliant minds, but loving hearts as well.

I find myself having a hard time writing a review for this book, and I believe it is due to the size of this book. I would compare it to trying to read the encyclopedia. There are many fascinating articles, but you will quickly feel overwhelmed with information. It also feels like it bounces around on topics as well. Instead of one massive book on the four authors, I would have preferred four smaller books for each individual. However, doing that, you run the risk of the book on Williams or Barfield never being published due to them being less popular than Lewis and Tolkien. Luckily, there is an index if you are looking for something specific. There are also copious amounts of footnotes and a very impressive bibliography, which I will re-visit to see if I want to read any other books on this subject. This is not the definitive book on the Inklings, but it is a very good starting point and one that you perhaps can use to guide you on what area of Inklings history you'd like to narrow in on.

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

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Lost Mandate of Heaven (Ignatius Press)

The Vietnam War was a dark point in world history. The U.S. lost the lives of many soldiers, and those that returned fell through the cracks of our medical system, suffering physically, mentally, and emotionally. There were also countless lives lost by both North and South Vietnam, but ultimately North Vietnam and the communists "won." There was apparently more to this dark war that went on than we knew about until very recently. Primarily, former President John F. Kennedy and the United States were responsible for the death of South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem. The book The Lost Mandate of Heaven, by Geoffrey Shaw, explains this betrayal.

The book begins reflecting on the assassination of Diem and how even years later, Vietnamese people were trying to keep his memory alive. It then explains how he believed family was one of the most important responsibilities of society. It also details how he tried to restore traditional Vietnamese society. The book then is essentially a history lesson on relations between the U.S. and South Vietnam. You will read about diplomacy in  South Vietnam in the 1950s-1960s, U.S. ambassador Dubrow's condescension towards South Vietnam and Diem, the new ambassador Nolting, isolation and doubt in Diem's ability to lead South Vietnam, and the coup that eventually led to Diem's death.

This book was very difficult to read for many reasons, but I will just focus on two. For starters, the history aspect of it is very specialized. It is a mix of U.S., Vietnam, and military history and the level of detail, while impressive, can weigh the casual reader down. The other reason the book is tough to read is you know how it is going to end. The book does a good job of painting Diem in a good light, but you ultimately know he is going to be assassinated, so it's tough to read, because it feels like you are just waiting for it to happen. Those complaints aside, I think it was important that this book was written. Too often, history is written by the winners. It was nice to expose light on a dark moment in U.S. and Vietnam history and was pleasing that the truth came out, even if it is a poor reflection of our nation. All that said, I am not the audience for this book, but if you think you might be the audience for this book, I recommend it. If not, perhaps just borrow it from a friend, as it might not be your cup of tea.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Arabian Nights (Thunder Bay Press)

When Westerners think of monumental and well-read Islamic books, only two ever come to mind - the Koran and One Thousand and One Nights. Most have never cracked the spine of the former book (myself included), but the latter book has had portions of it read almost universally. In fact One Thousand and One Nights has been adapted by popular culture many times over, with the most famous example being Walt Disney's Aladdin. Today, I am going to discuss The Arabian Nights, which contains tales from One Thousand and One Nights.

The Arabian Nights is a beautiful hardcover with gilded edges and a ribbon bookmark. It is approximately 700 pages long and is the translation of Sir Richard Burton. The book begins with an introduction that explains the significance of this text, how the translation became Westernized and evolved over time, and how popular it has become in the media. We then are treated to the tales. This edition rightly begins and ends with The Tale of Scheherazade. For those unfamiliar with the tale, the sultan was cheated on by his wife. In order to never be cheated on again, he took up the practice of marrying a woman and killing her the next day, so she wouldn't have the opportunity to cheat. Scheherazade, however, kept herself alive by telling the sultan half a story a night, so that he would have to let her live so she could finish the story. This idea is the framework of One Thousand and One Nights. There are twenty-one tales total in this edition, ranging from about a dozen pages to forty pages. A lot of them were unrecognized by me, but there are some familiar ones. such as Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Overall, I found this book to be an adequate introduction to the classic which is One Thousand and One Nights. If you would like to read the whole work, you can find a three-volume paperback set from Penguin Classics. There are two things that could have made this book better. The first is illustrations. I don't need a picture on every page, but I feel some scattered throughout the pages could have eliminated the walls of texts your eyes stared at. The other thing that could have made this better were footnotes. Sadly, none of Sire Richard Burton's footnotes were included in this edition. I, like others, believe these would have greatly enhanced understanding and thus made the stories more enjoyable.

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bedeviled: Lewis, Tolkien, and the Shadow of Evil (InterVarsity Press)

Colin Duriez is a well-renowned expert on the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their friendship. Therefore, when I saw he had a recent book out (Bedeviled: Lewis, Tolkien, and the Shadow of Evil) about the two of them and their writing, I knew I had to make time to read this book. The book begins by discussing World War I and World War II; how it affected C.S. Lewis, his family, and his friends. We learn about his time in service, the injuries he suffered, and the people close to him that died in war. This leads us to Chapter Two, which focuses solely on The Screwtape Letters. This work of Lewis was obviously the one that tackled the problem of devils most directly. It was also the book that troubled him the most when he was writing it. If you have ever read it, this is understandable, because he had to think like a demon which has to be one of the most unpleasant experiences ever.

Chapter Three of this book shifts the focus away from just C.S. Lewis to all of the Inklings. It begins with a list of all the publications and broadcasts of Inklings members who attended meetings during World War II. This list shows us how preoccupied they were with the war and the problem of evil. An interesting tidbit one reads in this chapter is that it actual refers to this time as the "golden age" for the Inklings. The reason for this was two-fold - Charles Williams joined the group and the war provided a type of "magic" that inspired their literary genius. Chapter Four speaks mainly about The Lord of the Rings, but it also touches briefly on horcruxes in the Harry Potter series. The rest of the book focuses primarily on C.S. Lewis works, with a brief reference to Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle. We see The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Cosmic Trilogy.

This was an interesting book for me, because it dealt with two of my favorite authors. I was hoping for a more even distribution between the two authors, but the book favors Lewis at a ratio of about 4:1. That complaint aside, it was a good read because it gave background and perspective on the two authors and and many of their works. Reading through this book, you can also tell that the author not only has a great knowledge of the two authors, but a great love for them as well. If you are a fan of either or both of these authors, this is a book that would be worth checking out.

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

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (Emmaus Road Publishing)

The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church is a 200 page treatise written by Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller. The book begins with a foreword by Dr. Scott Hahn, who explains that gender is the topic of our generation. He then lends support to Dr. Miller and explains that this book will contain nothing novel, but instead, be rooted in the tradition of St. Paul and the Early Church Fathers. Dr. Miller then begins her first chapter with a personal story of how she was arrested protesting a National Organization for Women (NOW) rally in 1987. While she was briefly in prison, she met many women who were victims of domestic violence, and found it ironic that the NOW women were nowhere to be found to help these battered women. This leads to the beginning of her discussion on the role of women in the Catholic Church, the meaning of authority, and how authority can properly be understood within the context of the Trinity.

The book continues with a chapter devoted to how radical feminism is in direct conflict with Jesus and the Catholic Church. In fact, in this radical feminist worldview, there is no place for Jesus or the priesthood of Christ. Dr. Miller then transitions into male authority in the Catholic Church. The prime example is of course Jesus. However, Jesus' authority is not the type of authority we see from a superior, but as one who sacrificed His life for us. She then uses the scriptural passage of Ephesians, about husbands and wives, to further crystallize her point. This leads to the authority of male priests in the Catholic Church and how Christ's sacrifice is the ultimate example of a nuptial mystery. This is shown in the Church every time a priest says Mass and consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. The remaining chapters discuss the authority of Mary, how the Church Fathers viewed the authority of women, the authority of women in the Church, and examples (both Biblical and saints) of mothers of the Church.

Overall, this was book was exactly what I thought it was going to be. If you are looking for a book that is going to re-write history or bang the drum for women priests, then look elsewhere. If instead you are looking for an intelligent explanation of women's authority in the Church, with Scripture; the Church Fathers; and two millennia of Tradition as your guide, then this is the book for you. This book is not an attack on feminists, but an invitation to see what role women already have in the Church. It is also an excellent source when it comes to the discussion of gender. Dr. Miller doesn't seek to equate man and woman, but she instead shows that the two are different and complementary. Sadly, this book probably won't convince the staunchest of feminists, but hopefully, it will be eye-opening for the genuine seeker of what the Church teaches on women and their role in the Church.

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!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tsuro of the Seas (Calliope Games)


Tsuro of the Seas, from Calliope Games, is a stand-alone sequel to the very popular game Tsuro. Tsuro of the Seas is a game for 2-8 players ages 8 and up. It takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes to play, largely dependent on how many people are playing. It retails for $40, but as always, you can find it for less with retailers like Amazon. In this game, you are the captain of a ship, navigating turbulent seas inhabited by sea monsters (daikaiju). You move your ship around by placing wake tiles with different paths on them that you must follow. The object of this game is to avoid bothj the daikaiju and the other ships and be the last captain left on the board. Normally, I provide step-by-step instructions that show how to set up a game, but Rodney Smith of Watch It Played, graciously allowed me to share his set-up video which makes things clearer. See below for the video:

This game is a mixture of strategy, tile placement, and a fair bit of luck. The luck element in this game (from the dice rolled, which triggers movement of the daikaiju) is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, it evens the playing field for ages and those of different levels of strategic thought. What this means is that an eight year old would not be outmatched against their parent or older sibling, because one roll of the dice, could wipe out the older player and leave the other played unharmed. On the other hand, it adds a very random element to the game, which can completely wipe out any strategy that you had plotted out early on. This is why many people prefer the original game of Tsuro, but to each their own. Another downside of the daikaiju is they can come off a little fiddly at times. Before you can place your wake tile and move your ship, you have to roll two dice to see if the daikaiju move. Then, you have to roll a dice to see how they move. Lastly, you have to move them in the proper order, which early on you're moving six of them (in a two-player game). You can combat this by doing a bit of a variant on the game and using less of the daikaiju at set-up or using the expansion tiles, which I will talk about momentarily.

When the game was originally funded on Kickstarter, there were four different tile types that were exclusive for Kickstarter backers as a thank you reward for helping the game get funded. To everyone's delight, these tiles were released to the general public in a mini-expansion called Veterans of the Seas. The tiles include a cannon (five in total, which can destroy daikaiju), a tsunami (2 in total, which move when the daikaiju do not move), a whirlpool (1 in total, which move when the daikaiju do not move), and a mystic portal (1 in total, which can help you survive being knocked out). Since these tiles are optional, you can use as many or as few as you want to. I feel this expansion is a must-have, as the cannons add a way to fight randomness, and the mystic portal allows you a one time way to prevent losing. You could also choose to just play with the tsunamis and whirlpool, removing the daikaiju from the game and create a game with a little bit less of the random element, but enough to balance out the gameplay between advanced and beginner strategists.

So what do I think of this game? For starters, the game components are top notch and the presentation when opening the box is artfully done. Both the board and tiles are nice and sturdy, and the ships are also intricate works of plastic art. I also like the overall theme of the game, as it feels appropriate and natural, unlike some games where it is all mechanics and the theme feels like it was just pasted on like sticker to dress up the game. I also like that this game can play anywhere from 2 to 8 players. There are so many games that have a limit of 4, and if you are part of a big family, that ends up leaving a lot of family members as spectators, which is never any fun. As for the gameplay itself, I am of two minds. The strategist and gamer in me doesn't like the fiddly and random nature of the daikaiju. However, the parent in me appreciates the random nature of the game, because it gives my son a fair shot at winning this game, without me feeling like I have to dumb down the way I play, or make such moves that it is obvious I am trying to keep him from losing. I also don't like that it feels like you need the expansion to fix the few negatives in the game. Perhaps, in the future, if this game is re-printed, the expansion tiles will just come as part of the base game itself. With all those things in mind, I would say if you are looking for a straight strategy game go for Tsuro. If you are looking for strategy, mixed with a bit of dice luck, go for Tsuro of the Seas.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time (New York Review Books)

Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time is a book that was published in 1937. It also received the title of Newberry Honor Book. 70 years later, New York Review Books brought this classic back into print, much to my delight. The book begins with an introduction by the author that explains that these book is folklore. That means that while there may be bits of truth in these stories, they are tall tales for the most part, which were a big part of American literature.

The book begins with young Bill being four years old. His family was migrating westward and travelling by a covered wagon. To his family's knowledge, he was asleep in the back of the wagon. He actually fell out of the wagon; was found by a coyote, who raised him; and taught him everything about the outdoors. Bill, therefore, grew up believing that he was a full-blooded coyote. In Chapter Two, Bill met a human nicknamed Chuck. The two conversed as best they could, and it was here that Bill re-learned the English language. He also finally learned that he was indeed a human and not a coyote. He wasn't happy to learn this, and it took a great deal of convincing, but the bit of evidence that finally won him over was when Chuck realized that Bill was his long-lost brother. Other chapters include Pecos Bill becoming a cowpuncher (a cowboy); Pecos Bill busting a cyclone; and Pecos Bill meeting his love, Slue-Foot Sue.

Reading tall tales about characters such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill should be required reading for all children in the United States. This book is recommended for children ages 9 to 12, and it does have some illustrations in it. That being said, it still is a 250 page book, so if your children are on the younger end of that range, you might want to make it a read-aloud book, which isn't a big deal, because this is a book that the whole family will enjoy. I know mine did. I highly recommend this book for all the cowboys and cowgirls out there.

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

Monday, March 7, 2016

Bandersnatch (Kent State University Press)

Any fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and/or C.S. Lewis knows about the Inklings, but for those who don't, the Inklings was a literary discussion group at the University of Oxford that was composed of such men as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charlies Williams (to name a few). They encouraged and inspired each other, and there was also some collaboration among the members when writing their fiction and fantasy tales. The book Bandersnatch offers an insider look at this exclusive group, the authors' collaborative efforts, and how their works were shaped and improved with these efforts.

The book begins with the author, Diana Pavlac Glyer, telling us about the love for Tolkien's writings she developed when she was in high school. It was then she also learned of C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, and her curiosity was at an all-time high. She wanted to know what these men talked about in their meetings, and so she embarked on this adventure, which turned more into a daily grind. It wasn't until years later that she learned that Tolkien had no intentions of writing anything else related to Middle Earth after he wrote The Hobbit. He eventually relented and wrote three chapters of a new Middle Earth story. C.S. Lewis read the chapters and enjoyed them, but he also provided critiques for them, which Tolkien took to heart. We are then provided with a comparison of the original text and the revised text. Frodo's name in the original text was actually Bingo. I don't think Bingo would have been as endearing a character name, so thankfully it was changed.

After this, we get brief glimpses at the members of the Inklings, Tolkien and Lewis in a debate on the English curriculum, their shared love of Norse mythology. However, the heart and soul of this book deals with the collaborations of these men and the numerous examples of original and revised texts. Using all these examples, the author drives home her point that great works are not created in a vacuum. Instead, it takes a joint effort of people reading your drafts, your works, and providing useful feedback. The burden is then on you to swallow your pride and realize that you don't know everything and you might be too close to your work to see some of its flaws. Reading through this book, I discovered lots of interesting revisions in the works of my favorite authors. It was like going back in time to read their notebooks. You get to see how genius develops, not on its own but with the help of others. This is a great book not just for Inklings fans, but for aspiring authors. It will open your eyes to the fact that if these great authors need help writing, so do you. Highly recommended!

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

Friday, March 4, 2016

Let's Pray the Rosary and Junípero Serra (Ignatius Press)

Let's Pray the Rosary is a 12" x 9" dust-jacketed hardcover for children from Ignatius Press. The book begins with a section on praying the Rosary a family and provides us with an example of a loving family with four children who pray at least one decade of the Rosary a day. We then move on to a section, which talks about the Virgin Mary as our Mother and Queen in Heaven. It also talks about the origin of the Rosary from rose garlands that were referred to as chaplets. Next, we read a little history about the Rosary and St. Dominic. The subsequent chapters then tell us about saints and their devotion to Mary and the Rosary. We see the obvious examples of Lourdes and Fatima, but there are also lesser known ones like Pompeii and "The Living Rosary: of Pauline Jaricot. The book ends with instructions on how to pray the Rosary and all the prayers of the Rosary, except for the Hail Holy Queen, which I found odd. That lapse aside, this a great book with beautiful illustrations. The Rosary miracles you find in this book will inspire both your children and you, and be a good impetus for you to take up the habit of praying the Rosary.

Junípero Serra is also a 12" x 9" hardcover for children from Ignatius Press. In fact, it shares the same illustrator (Emmanuel Beaudesson) as Let's Pray the Rosary, so you know right off the bat that the book is going to have lovely artwork inside. The book begins with a homily by Pope Francis on Junípero Serra in May 2015 preparation for his canonization in September 2015. Then, we start with Serra's early life, his tiny stature, and the fear that he would not live long after birth. However, he grew up and was a hard worker. He was also a quick learner and impressed his Franciscan teachers. He later became a priest and a teacher, but he dreamed of being a missionary. He eventually realizes that dream and he travels to the Americas. The book traces out his history and mission success in Upper California, San Diego, and San Carlos. The book concludes by speaking of Serra's statue being in Washington D.C., John Paul II making him Blessed, and Pope Francis making him a saint. This is a fascinating book about a saint who had an impact on the United States, so it is definitely worth checking out. However, due to the sheer volume of words in this book, I'd recommend it for ages 8 to 9 and up!

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Case for Jesus (Image Books)

Some of my favorite books in recent years are Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist and Jesus the Bridegroom. Both were written by Dr. Brant Pitre and both are available from Image Books. Luckily for me, he has now released a third book called The Case for Jesus, so sit back and let me tell you about it.

The Case for Jesus begins with Dr. Pitre telling us about his time in undergraduate classes at LSU and how he was blown away and confused when his professor told him that the Gospels were all anonymously written and that it wasn't until centuries later that the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were added to them. He then tells us about how he graduated from Vanderbilt being a bit lost and confused with his faith. Thankfully for the Catholic Church, he did not, or else we would not have his great mind and book. Instead, he entered a PhD program in New Testament studies. Through those studies, he learned three things. 1. The Gospels were not anonymous. 2. Jesus did claim to be God. 3. The confusion about Jesus and who He claimed to be is everywhere! Years later, he decided to write this book for anyone who has ever wondered, "Who did Jesus claim to be?"

The book then takes us through early Christianity and the Gospels. Dr. Pitre tells us that the Gospels were not anonymous, who the authors actually were, what the Early Church Fathers had to say about the Gospels, the dating of the Gospels, and apocryphal gospels. The chapter "Jesus and the Jewish Messiah" was the most fascinating to me, In this chapter, Dr. Pitre walks us through the Old Testament book of Daniel and how these prophecies related to Jesus. There are sections on the Kingdom of God, the Son of God, and even the Death of the Messiah. Truly a fascinating chapter and one I had to read again and will have to visit again the next time I read through the book of Daniel. The book then concludes with chapters on who Jesus thought He was, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

This book is a solid read for those looking for who Jesus was. It is straight-forward, but intelligent, and you can read it at two different levels. The first level is just reading the book. The second level is turning to the notes at the end and diving deeper by reading some of the sources that Dr. Pitre used in writing this book. I personally loved the book, and it is a great book for Catholics. At the same time, this book is a bit like preaching to the choir. Catholics will have a great book to bolster their faith and be more informed on a subject they didn't know a lot about before. Conversely, atheists and skeptics will see the title for this book, and dismiss it without even giving it a chance, which is a shame, but reality.

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