Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Finding Winnie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Finding Winnie tells the true story of the bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh. The book begins with a little boy named Cole asking his mother to tell him a story. The story begins by telling of a veterinarian in Winnipeg named Harry Coleburn. One day, Harry had to give up being a local veterinarian and went to care for the soldiers' horses in World War I. When he disembarked from his train with the other soldiers, he saw a trapper with a bear cub. He knew he shouldn't, but Coleburn bought the bear from that man. His colonel was at first opposed to it for safety reasons, but warmed up fairly quickly to the bear. Coleburn named the bear Winnipeg. It was later shortened to Winnie. Eventually, Coleburn was going to be shipped to the front line of the war, so he had to give Winnie to the zoo. This was the end of Coleburn's story, but it let to another story. The story of A.A. Milne and his son, the real Christopher Robin.

This is very touching book that contains a very soft illustration style. Cole, the child in the book, interrupts his mom's story from time-to-time, and it reminds one a bit of A.A. Milne's writing style. At the end of the book are actual pictures of Coleburn, Winnie, and Christopher Robin. There is also a family tree, which reveals that Cole is the great great-grandson of Harry Coleburn. This ties the whole story together and puts a neat little bow on it. If you are a fan of Winnie the Pooh, and really who isn't, you'll want to check out this book.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Iliad: Heroes of Troy

The Iliad is one of the most famous works of ancient literature. It is an epic poem written by Homer, which is set during the Trojan War. The main characters in it are Hector, Paris, Agamemnon, Achilles, and of course Helen. It is also here that we see the Trojan Horse. Partnering with Escape Velocity Games, Angelo Nikolau has created a card game based on this epic poem and entitled it Iliad: Heroes of TroyIliad: Heroes of Troy is a 2-4 player card game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. It is designed for players aged 12+ and a pledge of $13 ($9 + $4 shipping) will get you the base game or a pledge of $20 ($14 + $6 shipping) will get you the deluxe version. Let's setup the game for three players.

1. Each player chooses their Faction at random - Greek, Trojan, or god
2. Shuffle the 32 cards (30 character cards and 2 special cards) to form a draw pile.
3. Deal each player 10 cards. Each player will keep 7 and discard 3.
4. Reshuffle all the discards to reform the draw pile.
5. Place the top card from the draw pile next to the deck face up. This is the starting card.
6. Greeks go first.
Game Play
1. Play a card - Choose a character card (not a special card) from your hand and place it on top of the play pile. This card becomes the active card and will be used for determining faction and scoring.
2. Check faction - See which faction is displayed on the active card. (Note: If you are Team Greek and play a Trojan card, the Trojan team will score points, not you.)
3. Score points - The player/team who faction is on the active card scores 1 point for each matching trait between the active card and the previous card on top. (Note: Traits that can be matched include Faction, King, Wise, Strong, Sneaky, Tough, Brave, Battle Expert, Charismatic, and Pious).
4. Use trait - Use one of the traits on the active cards to perform an action, i.e., stealing cards or playing another card. (Note: If you play another card, you can earn more points, but cannot use another trait.)
5. The round ends when a player has no more cards in their hand. That player receives one points. Points are then scored for the special cards.
6. The game ends when one player/team has won two rounds.

At first blush, you might think that this game is merely a filler, given that it's comprised of only 32 cards. You will be quite mistaken though. This game is a delicate balance of knowing when to play your cards, so that you score the maximum number of points, and your opponent scores the minimum. Add to that, the special traits on the cards, and each turn becomes an excruciating decision. "Do I steal a card or steal a point? And if I steal something, which of my opponents do I want to steal from?" Playing with three people, really makes this game a delicate balancing act of who to attack and who to ignore each turn. If you focus too heavily on one opponent, and they begin to retaliate against you, you will find that the third person skulked their way to victory. There are several things I like about this game, including the portability and ease of learning the game, but if I had to pick what I liked best, it would be the theme. There are too many games about zombies and Cthulhu, so to see a game that draws inspiration from classic literature is a thing of beauty. By choosing this theme, we have opened up more potential with this game's reach. We now have the ability to enter a Literature classroom or a homeschool setting. That's a step in the right direction for this hobby. So if you are like me, and have a love for board games and the Classics, you'll want to back Iliad: Heroes of Troy on Kickstarter.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Coup at Catholic University (Ignatius Press)

The Coup at Catholic University begins by telling the story of the dismissal of an associate professor named Fr. Charles Curran in 1967. The university said that instead of calling it a dismissal, that anyone asked should refer to it as choosing not to renew a contract of a non-tenured professor. This logic did not set well with Fr. Curran, and he did not take his dismissal lightly, calling it unfair and threatening to take it to the media. The media did get hold of the story and protests and strikes occurred. Eventually, after much deliberation and meetings, the bishops, not only reinstated Fr. Curran, but gave him a promotion that came with tenure.

On its surface, this seems like a David and Goliath story of a young priest battling a large university and winning. In reality, Fr. Curran was a liberal priest teaching sexual morality that conflicted with the Church's teachings during the sexual revolution. So what we have was a Catholic university trying to retain its orthodoxy, and instead caving in to pressure and losing any authority it had left. In 1968, Fr. Curran and 500 other theologians signed a "statement of dissent" saying that they did not have to follow Humanae Vitae and that artificial contraception is not morally wrong. It took until 1986 and Pope John Paul II to declare Fr. Curran ineligible to teach at Catholic University of America. The remainder of the book follows the negative consequences of these actions and the rippling effect it had not only on its campus, but on other Catholic campuses across the United States, because it dealt primarily with where control of the university rested.

Within this book, the author, Fr. Peter Mitchell, draws on a great deal of primary sources to tell the real story of what happened, as not the liberally slanted version of the story that has been spread. This is always appreciated and makes you trust the author more than if he had just went to secondary or tertiary sources. A lot of people have said they found this book easy to read. I, however, struggled through it a bit as it is 300+ pages of history, and history was never my strongest subject in school. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating read and one you should pick up if you have an interest in Catholic education or Catholic American History.

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!

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Love that Made Mother Teresa (Sophia Institute Press)

The Love that Made Mother Teresa begins by speaking of Mother Teresa's beatification and the profound impact she had on each of the four popes she met. The next chapters then discuss what makes a saint, how she became a saint (the miracles she performed), and how some saints are different, i.e., saints with a global message, not just a local saint. The next section of the book focuses on her childhood, formative years, her entry into the convent, and it even compared her to St. Therese of Lisieux. The section after this deals primarily with the Mother Teresa we all knew and loved. We see her forming the Missionary Sisters of Charity and helping the poor. What was most interesting to me was the chapter that showed a start contrast between the war that was going on globally and Mother Teresa helping those with peace and love. The closing section deals with the darkness that Mother Teresa experienced at the end of her life. This is a very personal and hard to read section, but it is a truth worth reading.

This book is a mixture of biography and spiritual guidance. It not only tells of her life on earth, but also tells about the lasting impact she left on the lives of everyone she touched. What's even more impressive is the impact she had on people like me, who never had a chance to meet her, but were inspired by her life and work from afar. This is a book that all who love Mother Teresa should read. It is definitely worth picking up and reading before she becomes a saint on September 4th.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mother Teresa Children's Books (Ignatius Press)

Mother Teresa is scheduled to be canonized on September 4th, 2016. To commemorate that, many Catholic publishers are releasing books to sync up with this event. Ignatius Press, for example, has at least three such books. Works of Love Are Works of Peace is a photographic documentation of her mission and prayer life, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mother Teresa: The Smile of Calcutta are two children's books on our soon to be saint. Today, I will be telling you about the latter two books.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a hardcover, illustrated book for ages 9+. It begins by telling of her childhood in Albania. It tells of her First Communion at age five and the death of her father at age eight. We also learn about missionaries coming to her town to preach, and that was what led to her desire to be consecrated to God. The next chapter tells of her arrival in Calcutta to the convent of the Sisters of Loretto, her superiors sending her to teach at a local high school, and them choosing her to become the principal. In 1946, she was on a retreat and encountered the extreme poverty of the people in Darjeeling. Here she heard God's voice to help the poor, and in 1948, she took off the habit of the Sisters of Loretto and walked among the people of India to show love for the poor. We learn of trials and hardships she encountered while doing this, but we also learn about the difference she made in the children's lives by teaching them hygiene and the alphabet. The book continues with telling of her founding the Missionaries of Charity and the work she did. It concludes by telling of her Nobel Peace Prize, beatification, and upcoming canonization. This is a great book that teaches us about Mother Teresa and her mission. It is beautifully illustrated by Emmanuel Beaudesson, who has illustrated several great books that Ignatius Press has recently published. Highly recommended.

Mother Teresa: The Smile of Calcutta a hardcover, illustrated book for ages 7+. It's illustration style is a bit more cartoonish in nature than the book Mother Teresa of Calcutta, but that will probably make it more inviting for the younger audience. The book does not begin with her early childhood, but tells of her at 18 when she is joining the convent. This book however focuses heavily on her time in Calcutta and all the great works she did for the poor, neglected, and forgotten. What I really like about this book, compared with the book Mother Teresa of Calcutta is that it seems to have more personal experiences and stories in it. We learn that the first woman to join her Missionaries of Charity was a former student, named Subahini Das. We also learn that the first woman that Mother Teresa recruited to constantly prayer for the Missionaries of Charity was a Belgian nursed named Jacqueline. She wanted to become a Missionary of Charity but was too sick to become one. These little snippets add a very personal touch to the book and the life of Mother Teresa. This is another must read book for Catholic parents and teachers to read to their children.

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, August 24, 2016

Guildhall Fantasy (Alderac Entertainment Group)

Guildhall Fantasy is a re-theme of the game Guildhall. It currently comes in three versions - Fellowship, Alliance, and Coalition. The boxes themselves are tiny in nature, which a lot of gamers don't like, but you can buy a bigger box (Box of Holding to be specific) to put four of these games in. This had led to speculation that there is one more game in this series on the way. Each game is designed for 2-4 players, ages 14+. They take roughly 30 minutes to play and retail for $28. The three games play almost identical in nature. The biggest difference is the characters available in each set. Fellowship (Bard, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, and Sorcerer), Alliance (Assassin, Marshall, Psion, Shaman, Spellblade, and Wizard), and Coalition (Artificer, Barbarian, Cleric, Rogue, Paladin, and Warlock). Today, I will be focusing on Guildhall Fantasy: Fellowship. Let's talk about the setup.
1. Shuffle the 120 Profession cards (Bard, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, and Sorcerer) together to create a deck.
2. Shuffle all of the Victory Point (VP) cards and deal five face up in the middle of the table to form a line. Set the rest of the VP deck nearby.
3. Place the VP tokens in a pile in the middle of the table.
4. Deal each player nine Profession cards. Then, the first player discards as many cards as they want and draws back up to nine cards. After that, they play three of their cards to their right. This forms their Guildhall. (Notes: No cards can be duplicates, meaning same name and color, and groups of the same Profession are referred to as Chapters.) Each player then follows the same actions in this step, and the game is ready to begin.
Game Play - You may take any two of the actions below, including the same action twice.
1. Play one Profession card into your action area and resolve it. After you have resolved the action(s), move cards from your action area to your Guildhall. In this step, each Profession card gives you an action you can perform, based on the number of that type of Profession card you have in your Guildhall. For example, if you play a Druid card, and you already have one Druid in your Guildhall, you can draw three Profession cards from the deck and put them in your hand. If you had three Druid cards in your Guildhall, you could draw five Profession cards from the deck and put one in your Guildhall. (Notes: You cannot play a Profession card of the same name and color as on you already have in your Guildhall. Also, if you perform this action twice, you may not play the same name Profession card for both actions.)
2. Discard any number of Profession cards from your hand and draw back up to six.
3. Buy one VP card from the center row. VP cards are bought by cashing in completed chapters (one of all five colors of a Profession in your Guildhall, i.e., one red, one blue, one yellow, one green, and one purple Monk card. (Note: Some VP cards give you solely victory points. Other VP cards give you points and an extra move. For example, the 7 VP card gives you seven points and allows you to take two more actions.0
4. The game ends when someone reaches 20 victory points.
The characters in this game are beautifully illustrated and detailed and they are what make this game really stand out on a table. The mechanics of the game are simple, but the execution is a bit complex. By this I mean, it's a simple hand management game, but it takes several times of playing to get used to what all the characters can do. The real trick of this game is deciding when to play which card, and that is what makes this game easy to learn, but difficult to master. Of all three sets, I liked the characters in Coalition the best, because they felt the most traditional of fantasy characters. Fellowship was a close second and Alliance was a distant third. What most interests me about this game is that you can take characters from each of the three sets and create your own Guildhall Fantasy adventure. I have also heard talk of being able to combine the game and make a super Guildhall Fantasy, but I wouldn't recommend that unless you have mastered all three of the games first. This is a perfect introduction to hand management and set collection with just enough "take that" action to make the game exciting but not annoying.

These games were provided to me for free by Alderac Entertainment Group in exchange for honest reviews. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, August 22, 2016

These Are the Sacraments (Image Books)

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. His brilliance was something to marvel at. In addition to his magnificent mind, he was equally blessed with a great tongue. By that I mean, that he was an excellent speaker and teacher. He presented his brilliance in an accessible way that instructed thousands upon thousands of people. Other ways he shared his mind with others was through his books. There were scores of them written, and I would like to tell you about a brief one today.

These Are the Sacraments is a small 200 page book that provides the reader information on everything they ever wanted to know about the Sacraments. The book is divided into eight chapters - an introduction on the Sacraments and then one for each of the seven Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony). The book begins by talking about a divine sense of humor that Jesus must have had. This is because a sacrament combines two elements (visible and invisible) to make something holy. He then discusses the Bible as a sacramental, what the Sacraments bring to mankind, and the power of the Sacraments. To give you an example of how the chapters look, I will tell you some of the parts of the chapter on Baptism.

Water: The Material Sign of Baptism
Baptism and the Life of Christ
The Blessing of Baptismal Water
Baptism in the Early Church
Outside the Church
The Body in Baptism
The Baptism Itself
Effects of Baptism
The Infusion of Virtues

As you can see, literally everything about a Sacrament is covered, and it is very well thought out and organized. I read a different book that covered Sacraments when I went through the RCIA process, but I don't recall what it was now. I wish I had read this book instead, as it is quite possibly the best book on Sacraments one can read. The only negative I have about the book is the book itself. The words are too close to the margins and the book is very stiff and feels like if you open it, it will rip the spine in two. It's a shame that a five-star message is wrapped in a three-star presentation. Despite that, I still think this is a book that belongs in every Catholics library. Inquirers, Converts, and Cradle Catholics alike will find great merit in this book. I highly recommend it!

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hope for the World (Ignatius Press)

Raymond Leo Burke is an American Cardinal Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He is patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, is a canon lawyer, and is considered by many the voice of traditionalism and orthodoxy. Recently Ignatius Press published an interview with him entitled Hope for the World: To Unite All Things in Christ.

The interview begins with Cardinal Burke telling about his vocation and how his family helped shape it. To do this, he begins by speaking of his Irish grandparents. He then elaborates that his mother was raised Baptist, but owed her conversion and love of the Catholic Church to an Irish priest by the name of Fr. Bernard McKevitt. The interviewer, Guillaume d'Alancon, asks Cardinal Burke if he believes that his rural upbringing helped shape him differently than those children born in the city. Cardinal Burke affirms this and emphasizes how the hard work helped shape him into who he was. He then talks about how hearing God's call when he eight and entering the minor seminary when he was fourteen. He then talks about his ministry as both a priest and bishop and how it was tough for him leaving his diocese to become a Cardinal under Pope Benedict XVI.

Part Two of the book focuses on the crises in the Catholic Church. They discuss how the Church has experienced crises at different points throughout history. They discuss how the changing of the Liturgy in the 1960s negatively impacted Mass attendance and people's belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. They also discuss how the culture of death was already present at this time, and that the crisis has not passed but it is still present. There are then comparisons made between Europe's growing secularism and the United States'. Part Three focuses on spiritual renewal and what must be done at the church level. He also discusses the importance of liturgical formation and how receiving Communion in the hand has made people less respectful of Jesus and the power of Communion. The remaining three parts discuss the Gospel of Life, Protecting the Family, and Uniting All in Christ.

This book is classic Cardinal Burke. He is not afraid to speak his mind and tell the rest of the world what he believes is wrong and how to fix it. If you are looking for a voice of conservative reason in a growing secular and liberal world, then I recommend you pick up a copy of this book and here what one man of God has to say about it.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb (Emmaus Road Publishing)

Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb is the second book in the series of Biblical typology children's books from Emmaus Road Publishing. Both the author (Maura Roan McKeegan) and illustrator (Ted Schluenderfritz) remained the same. The first book in this series was entitled The End of the Fiery Sword. And for those who don't recall my last review, Biblical typology is a kind of symbolism where something in the Old Testament prefigures something in the New Testament. Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb focuses on the figures of Jonah and Jesus.

The book focuses mainly on the differences between Jonah and Jesus. Jonah and Jesus both had missions to save different cities, Nineveh and Jerusalem, respectively. Jonah ran from his mission and tried to avoid it, but Jesus willingly accepted his mission. Both were on a boat one day when a storm was raging. The people on Jonah's boat were in danger of dying, but the people on Jesus' boat were never in any danger. The main parallel, however, involves Jonah being "buried" at sea by having a whale swallow him and Jesus being buried in a tomb. Three days later, Jonah was out of the whale and preaching to Nineveh. Three days later Jesus was raised from the grave. Both spent 40 days leading people to repentance. However, Jonah still begrudged Nineveh their ability to repent, whereas Jesus was sad that more people did not repent.

Like the first book in this series, Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb is a friendly introduction to Biblical typology for children. The pictures are vibrant and just plain gorgeous. The lessons in the book are simple without being dumbed down for the audience. Parents, teachers, and catechists would benefit from these books, and I'd wager they could learn as much as their children when reading it to them. Pick up a copy for you and one for a friend too!

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!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Happy Pigs (IELLO Games)

There have been some interesting themed games come out in the past couple of years, games that if you had to do the task in real life, you'd be like, "That doesn't sound fun at all!" However, board game companies have done a fantastic job of making the games visually appealing and just fun to play, that no matter how preposterous the game might sound, you'll find yourself not only wanting to buy the game and play it, but NEEDING to. The game I am reviewing today is called Happy Pigs from IELLO Games. It is an economic game designed for 2-6 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately 40 minutes to play and retails for $35. In this game, you are a pig farmer trying to raise healthy pigs and selling them for the highest profit available.

1. Place the Market and Field boards in the middle of the table.
2. Give each player the four Action tiles of their color, one Field, and $45.
3. Sort the Pig tiles by size (Piglet, Small, Average, and Big), and place them where all can reach them.
4. Sort the Item tiles (Vaccine, Dietary Supplement, and Amulet of Life) by type, and place them where all can reach them.
5. Set the coins and bills next to the market.
6. Sort the Season cards by season. Shuffle each season separately and then randomly discard two cards per season. Then, organize the remaining in chronological order (four Spring, four Summer, four Fall, four Winter).
7. First player is given to the player who does the best pig snort.
8. Before the first round starts, each player can buy five items (Pigs, Items, or Fields).
Game Play - The game takes place over sixteen rounds (seasons), and consists of five phases per round.
1. Turn over the Season card - The Season card indicates how many times each action can take place during the round, i.e., eight feed actions or nine mating actions.. It also has an effect at the bottom of the card, i.e., a modified price.
2. Select an Action - Each player secretly chooses one of the four Actions and places that tile face down in front of themselves. The four Actions are as follows:
a. Feed - Increase the size of a Pig in your Field.
b. Buy - Visit the Market and buy a Pig, Item, or Field.
c. Mate - A Pig old enough to mate (Average or Big) gives birth to a Piglet that you must add to your Field. (Note: This can only happen once per Pig per round.)
d. Sell: Visit the Market and sell one of your Pigs at the market price
3. Reveal Actions - Players simultaneously reveal their Action tiles. (Note: If multiple players took the same action, the amount is shared starting with the First Player and continuing clockwise until no more actions remain. Eight actions among three people would be divided as follows - A, B, C, A, B, C, A, B)
4. Take Actions - Starting with the First Player, each player performs his action as many times as possible. (Note: After several rounds, familiarity will set in and these actions can be performed simultaneously among players.)
5. Apply the Seasonal Effect - Apply the effect on the Season card and the round ends.

Change of Season - When the last card of a Season is played, the season changes and any Pigs not vaccinated die. (Note: If you have vaccines in your personal reserve, you can use them to save some pigs.)

End of Game - The game ends when all Season cards have been played. Players suffer the effects of one last season change (losing any pigs not vaccinated). Player then sell all their vaccinated pigs at market price and the farmer with the most money at the end of the game wins.

The first thing I noticed about this game was the artwork. It is very vibrant and colorful in its presentation, which makes it very appealing to young and old. The piglets are adorable, but as the pigs get bigger, they start to look a little less cute and more bloated, which is what I expect when looking at big pigs. :) Even the money is nice in this game! Most games just give you cardboard coins for the currency. Happy Pigs comes with cardboard coins and bills, which is a very nice touch!

Speaking of cardboard, let's talk about the component quality. I have a lot of my games in collection that involved a bunch of cardboard tokens to punch out. Usually, there's some issues with the cardboard not being thick enough or worse being mis-printed and mis-cut. That was not the case with this game. All of the components were of the highest quality and the only "issue" they had was one pig not having the proper vaccine on one side. For all the components included in this game, this is a minor issue which I can forgive.

As for the game itself, this is a nice introduction to economic games. You only take one of four actions per round. There are only sixteen rounds, and each round is only five steps. This makes the game simple to learn/teach and quick to play, making it ideal for children, families, and first time gamers. What I like best about the game is the delicate strategy of reading your opponents and trying to figure out what action they are going to take. Are they going to go for the action that has the best reward this round, or are they sizing up other people as well and going to go for the second or third best action in hopes of getting it to themselves? Like poker though, sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong. That's what makes it fun though. You're not just playing your farm; you're playing your opponents' farms too.

So get your family and friends together and find out who the most successful swineherd will be. Then, be on the lookout later this year for a mini-expansion which adds sheep, chickens, and cows to the mix. They won't change the gameplay any, but they will add more aesthetics to an already beautiful game.

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

From Humdrum to Holy (Sophia Institute Press)

Why were we put on Earth? What is our purpose? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? Man has struggled with these and other questions since the beginning of time. In a nutshell, we were put on this Earth to love and serve God. Our ultimate purpose is grow closer to God. Our final destination is Heaven. We get to Heaven by being holy. So how can we be holy? Fr. Ed Broom recently wrote a book called From Humdrum to Holy, which provides a "step-by-step guide to living like a saint."

The book begins with some of the same questions asked above. Chapter Three then provides us with ten small ways to be holy. Some examples are Morning Prayer, grace before meals, Mass, and the Rosary. Chapter Five recommends a life plan. To do this, Fr. Broom recommends coming up with a yearlong theme, such as a Beatitude, Rosary mystery, or Station of the Cross. Other facets to consider with your life plan include confession, Mass frequency, and vocation consideration. Other chapters in this book focus on building good habits like daily holy hours and reading the Bible, and getting rid of vices such as envy and greed.

This book is a very practical book to start or kickstart your spiritual life. The advice in it is simple, but challenging. It provides steps that are so easy to accomplish, you will be asking yourself why you haven't been doing them all along. Conversely, when fall (and you will fall), you will be asking yourself why did I fail at such a simple thing? Try not to dwell on your failings, but let God help pick you up and learn from these mistakes. This book is appropriate and helpful for any Catholic, even if you are a super-Catholic, you still have room for improvement. I know I certainly do!

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

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Glory of the Crusades (Catholic Answers Press)

The Crusades is still a hotly contested subject worldwide, even centuries after it occurred. Depending on which side of history you are on, depends on who is most at fault. Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims all have different sides of this debate, and all of them involve pointing fingers and taking none of the blame. Today, I am reviewing The Glory of the Crusades from Catholic Answers Press. The aim of the book is to refute the following seven misconceptions:

1. The Crusades were wars of unprovoked aggression.
2. The Crusades were motivated primarily by greed and the prospect for plunder and riches.
3. When Jerusalem was liberated in 1099, the Crusaders killed all the inhabitants of the city - so much blood was spilled it ran ankle deep.
4. The Crusades were colonial enterprises.
5. The Crusades were also wars against the Jews and should be seen as the first Holocaust.
6. The Crusades were wars of conversion.
7. The Crusades are the source of modern tension between Islam and the West.

The book then begins by explaining how and why the Crusades began and where the term Crusades actually came from. The book then walks us through six centuries of this warfare. It starts with Jerusalem and moves to the Second Crusade and warrior-monks. We see Saladin and then are explained the failure which was the Fourth Crusade. The book then ends with a modern viewing of the Crusades. The book is chock full of history and contains numerous endnotes at the end of the book that are worth investigating and referencing. However, what makes this book special is the author's way of presenting this history to us. Instead, of giving us a dry telling of names, facts, and events, this book is told like a story, an epic even. This makes the history come alive and is more likely to be remembered.

Before reading this book, I had a lot of ideas and misconceptions about what the Crusades were, who was at fault, and what they were about. This book cleared up a lot of things and proved to be a real eye-opener. With all those positives though, I fear many will only see this book as Catholic-slanted and not give it a fair read. I say this, not as a criticism, but as an observation. I believe this is a book that all Catholics should read, if for nothing more than to understand the Crusades better and perhaps have some sort of defense if ever confronted with anti-Catholics who try to blame the Crusades on us. You and even sadly, this book, will probably not convince them of the truth, but at least you will know it.

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Our Lady's Garden and Windows into Christ (Pauline Books and Media)

Coloring has been a favorite activity for kids for what seems like forever. Many kids think they are just having fun, but it actual has numerous benefits. It promotes self-expression, teaches color recognition, hand coordination, motor skills, and it can just be considered relaxing. A recent trend has emerged in the book publishing world - adult coloring books. The main themes of these coloring books are either new age (yikes!) or popular literature (think Harry Potter). However, Pauline Books and Media has recently ventured into this space to bring us two new adult coloring books - Our Lady's Garden and Windows into Christ.

Our Lady's Garden is an adult coloring designed for prayer and meditation. The images in it are primarily flowers arranged in beautiful patterns or forming hearts. In addition to flowers though, there are images of birds, butterflies, fish, and the Blessed Mother. These images surround various prayers to Mary and different words Mary delivered at her apparitions. Some of the prayers included are the Hail Mary; Hail, Holy Queen; and Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And some of the apparitions are Fatima, Lourdes, and Guadalupe. Overall, it is a very beautiful coloring book, but I think it is one that my wife would be better at than I would be as some of these patterns are too complex for my poor coloring skills.

Windows into Christ is an adult coloring book that contains images of the stained glass windows found in the Cathedral of Chartres, France. The images begin with the four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel) carrying the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). It then walks us through the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, starting with the Annunciation and ending with Pentecost. Each image then contains a prayer or Scripture passage to meditate on while coloring. The images in this book are more simplistic in nature, but they do not lack in beauty. If I were one who wanted to color in a religious coloring book, this is the one I would pick as it looks to be more my skill level.

Adult coloring books are not my cup of tea. In all honesty, I didn't like coloring when I was a child, and I still don't as an adult. However, if one is into coloring, then these books are a welcome Catholic alternative to the new age ones that are out there in the market. I am curious to see how long this trend of adult coloring books will stay hot, but while it does I hope the Catholic publishers use their resources to continue to publish these books and combat the secular society.

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Get Bit! Deluxe Edition (Mayday Games)

Get Bit! Deluxe Edition is a game for 3-6 players ages 7+. It takes approximately 20 minutes to play and retails for $26. In this game, you are competing against other swimmers, trying to stay alive, and not be eaten by the shark. Let's get to the setup.

1. Give each player a swimmer and a hand of seven cards that match their swimmer's color. (Note: In a five player game, remove the number 7 card, and in a four player game, remove the number 6 and 7 cards.
2. Place the swimmers randomly in a line, with one behind the other. Initial order is not important.
3. Place the shark at the end of the line and at the feet of the last swimmer.
Game Play - The game is played in rounds following these three steps:
1. Play cards - Each player picks a card from their hand and places it face down. When all players have done this, flip the cards face up and examine the results.
2. Move swimmers - If players reveal tied cards, their figures remain stationary. Non-tied players move their figures to the front of the line starting with the lowest number played. (Example: Red = 1, Brown = 1, Blue = 2, Green = 3. Red and Brown do not move. Blue moves to the front. Then, Green moves in front of Blue.)
3. Get Bit - Remove a limb from the swimmer at the end of the line. If that swimmer has no remaining limbs, remove it from the table. Otherwise, that swimmer goes to the front of the line and picks up his cards and returns them to his hand. (Note: This step is skipped in the first round.) If a player ever has fewer than two cards in his hand, he must also pick up his cards and return them to his hand.
5. Repeat these three steps until there are only two swimmers left. The swimmer at the front of the line is declared the winner.

The game is super-easy to setup and learn, which makes it perfect for children or people new to gaming. It also plays quickly, so if you get eliminated from the game, you don't feel too bad and can re-join a new game fairly quickly. The Get Bit! Deluxe Edition is nicer than the standard version because it comes in a metal tin as opposed to a paper tuck box. It also comes with stickers to decorate your figures and make them a bit more lifelike. The figures are my favorite part of the game, after the shark of course! They are about the size of LEGO men, and you can just pop their head and limbs on and off with ease. Very cool!

What is also great about this game is that it can scale up or down, as necessary. If it is just you and your wife playing, instead of playing with one figure, you each get two. But what if you have a family larger than six (a common Catholic situation) or a child who doesn't like any of the included figure colors of Red. White, Brown, Green, Blue, or Black? Luckily, there are several inexpensive "expansions," which can increase the number of players. For $5 each, you can buy figures in Pink, Orange, and Green. What if you want to play as the Shark? There's a $4 expansion for that. There are also Dolphin and Squid dice that can add to the craziness if you so feel inclined!

Overall, I found this to be a quick and enjoyable game that didn't overstay its welcome. It is a game that belongs on every family's game shelf and one that your kids will be reaching for time and time again.

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Guardian of the Redeemer (Pauline Books and Media)

On August 15th, 1889 (the Feast of the Assumption), Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical entitled on Devotion to St. Joseph. You wouldn't think the Church would need to be reminded of such an important saint, but for centuries, this third member of the Holy Family was largely ignored/forgotten. One could feel bad for him because of this, but I'm sure he prefers it that way. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of this encyclical, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled Guardian of the RedeemerPauline Books and Media released a special 25th anniversary edition with commentary by Dr. Joseph C. Atkinson. The Apostolic Exhortation is divided into the following six parts:

1. The Gospel Portrait
2. The Guardian of the Mystery of God
3. A Just Man - A Husband
4. Work As an Expression of Love
5. The Primacy of the Interior Life
6. Patron of the Church in Our Day

The first section is very brief, which is not surprising. since Joseph doesn't appear in Sacred Scripture much. However, the section focuses primarily on Joseph's interaction with Mary and finding out that she is pregnant. It is presented in contrast with the Annunciation and provides a fascinating parallel. Part Two focuses on Joseph's fatherhood. We see the nativity, Jesus' circumcision and naming, his presentation in the Temple, the flight from Egypt, and other key events in which Joseph's fatherhood and protection of Jesus was demonstrated. The other sections focus on Joseph as a husband, a carpenter, and his interior life, which was reflected by his outward silence. The last part focuses on the importance of St. Joseph for the Church today. Just like he was the defender and protector of the Holy Family, so too is he the Church's defender and protector.

Like other anniversary editions from Pauline Books and Media, the text is presented in its entirety with each portion concluding with three sections - Ponder, Pray, and Act. In the Ponder section Dr. Atkinson presents us with three key points to focus on, a tried and true number often used by effective presenters. He also relies heavily on the Catechism in this section, which shows a good grounding in the Church's beliefs and teachings. The Pray sections contain original prayers that are brief but poignant, and the Act sections invite us to both rely on St. Joseph more and imitate the way he lived his life. This book is the perfect complement to Mother of the Redeemer and I recommend you pick up copies of both to read, especially if you are a parent. After all, these are the two best earthly examples of parents that there ever were.

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Commentaries on Genesis 1-3 (IVP Academic)

Genesis is one of the books of the Bible that I have read many times over. I'd like to say it's because I am a scholar of Genesis and wanted to understand all its intricacies and nuances. The reality is that I have read it so many times, because I have tried to read the Bible from start to finish, and Genesis is the first book in the Bible. I did succeed once in making it from Genesis to Revelation, but it was tough! Let's get back to Genesis. I think all those times reading Genesis has made it one of my favorite Biblical books, and if I was to get even more specific, I love the first three chapters most of all. Today, I'd like to tell you about a book that explains those three chapters.

Commentaries on Genesis 1-3 is a collection of commentaries by Severian of Gabala and Bede the Venerable. Most every Catholic recognizes the name Bede, but Severian is not one many would. He has a very mixed history associated with him. He was a bishop of Gabala and known as a great preacher. However, he was an opponent of St. John Chrysostom and had him banished. It seems to be a case of jealousy and pride on his part, and it was clearly a foolish error on his part. Knowing that, I read his section of the book with caution. Before each author's section, there are ample introductory notes, which tell who the authors are, the historical setting for their lives and their writings, and information on their writing styles.

Severian's writings were homily format, and they come across as very technical. He walks his audience/congregation through the Scripture phrase by phrase, and stops on certain words and expounds on them. There are times when this comes off as fascinating, and other times, it comes off as tedious. One of the fascinating parts was when he compared the beginning of Genesis with the beginning of the Gospel of John. Moses (Genesis' author) tells us that "God made," whereas John tells us that God was. Moses focused on God the Creator, and John focused on God the Eternal Being.

Bede's writings are actual commentary format, and verse-by-verse format at that. This is my preferred way to read commentaries, so it was a welcome text to read. Instead of focusing on the parts of the commentary that dealt with the days of Creation, I found the explanation of the flowing rivers from Eden to be very fascinating. I was wondering if Bede would have had better insight that modern scholars on Eden's location, but instead he defers to scholars and their accepted understanding of the modern names for the four rivers. This particular section has always fascinated me, and while he provided no answers/speculations of where Eden was, it was still an interesting read.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this volume. On the one hand, it was interesting to read the writings of Severian, because he is not one I have had the ability to read before. On the other hand, he was an opponent of Chrysostom, so I have to ask, why they didn't pick someone else to fill this volume. I personally would have picked Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, or my personal favorite, Ambrose's Hexameron. If they were insistent of Severian, then they could have also published Chrysostom. They were opponents after all, so a side-by-side comparison of their writings, would have made perfect sense. I think I would give this book between 3 and 3.5 stars. It was interesting, but when you have the ability to publish the words of the saints, why would you print the words of someone who opposed a saint?

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

Thursday, August 4, 2016

D'Aulaires' Book of Norwegian Folktales (University of Minnesota Press)

Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire are, in my opinion, the most underrated children's authors/illustrators of all time. They are best known for their books of mythology, both Greek and Norse, but they also brought us their Book of Trolls, Leif the Lucky, Children of the Northlights, and Ola, which doesn't even cover their American Folktales. Today, I am lucky enough to present to you their Book of Norwegian Folktales.

D'Aulaires' Book of Norwegian Folktales was originally published in 1938 with the title East of the Sun and West of the Moon. It begins with an introduction on Norway, and the couple's decision to translate a selection of the 100+ tales. They quickly realized that there were already near perfect translations available so they relied on an old Norwegian edition, Dasent's translation, and their own translation to perfect the stories. That was they "easy" part. The hard part was narrowing it down their selection and only including 21 tales in this book.

The most recognizable story in this book is "The Three Bushy-Billy Goats." This tells the tale of the troll bridge and the three goats crossing his bridge. I think nearly every child knows that story, but I wager that 99.9% of them didn't know it was Norwegian in origin. One of the shorter, cuter tales told why the bear had a short tail. In short, it was because, he tried to go ice-fishing with his tail, but he kept it in there too long and it was frozen off. The tale I most enjoyed was the one that shared the original name of this collection, "East of the Sun and West of the Moon." It told of a prince who had been cursed and was turned into a bear. He found a poor girl to be his bride, but she messed things up, so he had to leave her and marry someone else. This devastated the girl, so she vowed to come find him, and where she had to look for him was east of the sun and west of the moon.

This book was classic d'Aulaires and had that familiar Norwegian feel, like other books they have authored/translated. This was most visible in the ending of some tales, "Snip, snap, snout, and now this tale is out!" The stories were easy to read and very fascinating, because it exposes the reader to a culture they might not understand, but also might not get a chance to experience otherwise. The only thing that was lacking in this book was a lot of illustrations, like you are used to with their other books. They explain this in the introduction, but it doesn't make it any less disappointing. That complain aside, I would still highly recommend this book and even further recommend pairing it with some of the titles I listed above.

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bears! and Here, Kitty, Kitty! (Fireside Games)

This week Indianapolis, Indiana is hosting the biggest gaming convention in the United States - Gen Con! Tens of thousands of people will flock to Lucas Oil Stadium to play and buy games. I, unfortunately, will not be going and will be instead a member of GenCant. But just because, I can't go, doesn't mean I can't play games with friends and tell you about some fun games for the whole family. Today, I am featuring two games from Fireside Games (makers of Castle Panic and located at Gen Con Booth #743). The games are entitled Bears! and Here, Kitty, Kitty! Let's start with Bears!

Bears! is a push your luck dice rolling game for 2-4 people ages 7+ and retails for about $20.

Setup - Setup is super-easy.
1. Place five Camp Dice (white dice) per person in the middle of the table, also known as the Campsite.
2. Give each player five Player Dice (black dice).

Game Play
1. Now, you simply roll the Camp Dice and then have each player roll their Player Dice. Then, the mad scramble begins.
2. You try and make one of three possible combinations with your Player Dice and the pool of Camp Dice. - Gun and Bear, Runner and Bear, or Tent and Sleeping Bag. (Note: You can only claim one Camp Die at a time, but you can re-roll you Player Dice as many times as necessary until paired.)
3. The round ends and is scored when the last tent or bear dice is removed and someone yells, "Bears!"
3. Scoring is as follows: Gun and Bear = 1 point. Runner and Tent = 2 points. Sleeping Bag and Tent = Five points if there were only tents dice left at the Campsite or -2 points in there were only bears left at the Campsite. Unpaired Player Dice = 0 points. Improperly paired Player Dice and Camp Dice = -1 point. (As you can see, your best reward is Sleeping Bag and Tent, but it could come back and bite you if you're wrong, and by it I mean the bears.)
4. First person to 100 points wins the game.

There a few games out there, which are similar to Bears!, but this one is better (in my opinion). For starters, all players are acting simultaneously. Other press your luck dice rolling games, involve one player rolling and then another. That creates a lot of down time and gets more boring the more players you add. You don't have to worry about down time here, if you are going to slow, you'll find others are safe in their tents, but your campers got eaten. I also like the fact that you can accumulate points safely, but occasionally gamble. In other games, your greed will completely hinder you and get you no points. With this one, there are ways to for sure score points, and there is only one way that will give you a big reward or a big loss. Lastly, the game is infinitely scale-able. (Okay maybe not infinitely, that'd be a lot of dice), but for every game you own, you can play four players. So if you want to play with eight players, just get two copies of the game. Easy! If the game ever gets too easy for you, pick up the expansion die Bears! Trail Mix'd and it will change the way each round is scored to give you an ever-changing game.

Here, Kitty, Kitty! is a cat-collecting game for 3-6 players age 10+ and retails for about $25.

1. Give each player a Property card.
2. Place all 40 Cats in the center of the table. This represents the Neighborhood colony of cats.
3. Remove all Instant cards (red border) from the deck and shuffle the remaining cards. Deal three to each player, except in a 6-player game, where players are dealt two cards.
4. Shuffle the Instant cards back into the deck and place the deck in the center of the table next to the Neighborhood.

Game Play - First player is given to the player who owns the most cats.
1. Perform two of the following actions (knowing that you can perform the same action twice:
a. Move one cat - Cats can be moved one space for one action
b. Play one card - Instant cards must be played instantly when drawn, but the player gets to draw a replacement card once the action is resolved. Standard cards require using an action to gain the card's effect. Defensive cards offer protection against the other two types of cards.
c. Discard one to three cards from your hand.
2. After you have performed your two actions, draw back up to three cards (two in a 6-player game).
3. The end game triggers when the last card is drawn. Everyone then gets one final turn.
4. Scoring is based on who has the most cats in the different locations, who has the most of each color, etc. Highest score wins.

We all know someone in our life who would be classified as a crazy cat person, be it neighbor, friend, or family. In Here, Kitty, Kitty!, you are that crazy cat person, and that's a pretty fun theme. What really makes this game is the miniature cats. There are 40 cats in four different colors and three different poses, and they really make the game pop. At first blush, this game looks like a silly little filler, but there's some area majority, set collection, and "Take that!" elements to it. So if you are looking for a fun, quick game where you can hoard cats without that awful smell, check out Here, Kitty, Kitty! It's good fun for adults and kids.

These games were provided to me for free by Fireside Games in exchange for honest reviews.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mother of the Redeemer (Pauline Books and Media)

On March 25, 1987, Pope John Paul II, released one of his greatest encyclicals - Redemptoris Mater or Mother of the Redeemer. This marked the 2000 anniversary of the birth of Jesus and helped prepare for the coming millennium. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of this encyclical, Pauline Books and Media released a special anniversary edition with commentary by Sr. Jean Frisk.

The text is presented in its entirety with each portion concluding with three sections - Ponder, Pray, and Act. in the Ponder section Sr. Frisk presents the reader with reflections on Jesus, Mary, the Church, and Pope John Paul II. She also provides questions for reflection. The Pray section contains an original prayer that is both personal for Sr. Frisk and appropriate for all. The final section, Act, provides a very brief directive. For example, "When you have no will to get up, remember love's first glow, rest in it, examine God's personal call to you in your vocation, renew it, and be the first to love again."

As someone who grew up Southern Baptist and converted to Catholicism, Mary was always my biggest stumbling block. I've read many books on her and I don't doubt her importance in salvation history, but I am still working on developing a more personal relationship with her. I believe it will come in time, and I believe I am making progress, but it is slow going, but the best things in life usually are. The words of Pope John Paul II on Mary show a great devotion and love for her and have helped me inch closer in my relationship with her. If you would like to read the words of a great saint on an even greater saint, then I recommend you pick up a copy of Mother of the Redeemer.

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