Friday, January 29, 2016

Philemon Adventures (TOON Books)

Frédéric Othon Théodore Aristidès, but more commonly known as Fred, was a French cartoonist best known for his series called Philemon. Shortly before his death in 2013, Fred finished volume 16 of this popular series and effectively brought the series to a close. One year after his death, TOON Books started translating these titles to English. To date, there are three published - 1. Cast Away on the Letter A, The Wild Piano, and The Suspended Castle. Allow me to tell you a little bit about the series and each of the books individually.

Philemon is a French teenager whose best friend is a donkey named Anatole. He is also a bit lazy, a bit of a dreamer, and has a dad who gets easily aggravated at the "tall stories" that Philemon tells him. The first story Cast Away on the Letter A begins with Philemon falling down a well and landing on a beach. It is here where he met a well-digger named Bartholomew and finds out that he is on the island. The island is the letter A and part of the words on the map "ATLANTIC OCEAN." Who knew that those words on the map were actual places. :) He also encounters a centaur while on this particular adventure. Later in the adventure, Bartholomew and Philemon enter a ship in a bottle and sail to the other A in Atlantic where they enter into a labyrinth. Philemon loses Bartholomew and his wandering around, he escapes back to his home.

In The Wild Piano, Philemon's dad thinks he's crazy, but his Uncle Felix remembers Bartholomew and is stunned to learn that Philemon found him. However, Uncle Felix seems scared to talk about the letter A island. He also fancies himself a bit of a magician, and he decides to help Philemon return and try and save Bartholomew. While there, Philemon breaks a law and must perform a concert on a wild piano. This ends up looking like a mix of concert and bull fight. Because he was able to defeat the piano, he is rewarded with an elevator ride. On this ride, he finds Bartholomew and they try to escape. While trying to escape, they encounter a giant man (perhaps Gulliver of Gulliver's Travels). Eventually, they do escape through a wardrobe (C.S. Lewis anyone?), which leads them back to Uncle Felix's room.

In The Suspended Castle Bartholomew is sad to be back in his village. Having been gone 40 years, he feels completely out of place. He doesn't like the clothes he wears. He misses his castle and his centaur butler. Uncle Felix decides to help him return, but Bartholomew forgets his hat when leaving. This causes Philemon to chase after him. This time they end up on the letter I. They try to make it back to the letter A and Bartholomew's castle, but our captured by a captain with a boat shaped like a whale (thoughts of Melville come to mind). While Bartholomew and Philemon were rowing on the whale boat, pelican-shaped boats flying in the sky tried to capture the whale. They were only able to capture Bartholomew and Philemon though, which they took to a castle suspended by a rope. They were then mistaken as "cutters of the rope," whom the people had been awaiting for 2,000 years. Philemon and Bartholomew cut the rope (improperly) and the castle sank with everyone escaping except the captain who went down with his castle. Philemon and Bartholomew also make it back home.

The first three books in the Philemon series are absurdly delightful. The illustrations are crude, but the number of literary references are astounding. If you are looking for a trip through strange lands, then you'll enjoy this series. I think it's more geared toward teenagers, but adults might find some pleasure in it as well.

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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games)

Crowdfunding websites, like Kickstarter have revolutionized the way that some businesses operate. Where companies used to have to gamble with production and worry over whether or not, they had produced too much of a product, crowdfunding has taken some of the guess work out of that. Instead of solely investing the business' own money into a project, a business can now turn to Kickstarter, raise money from thousands of personal "investors," and produce a quality product. But what does the investor get? It depends on the company, but game companies reward these investors with a reduced game cost, higher quality game components, and/or exclusive content others won't have access to. Few game companies have utilized Kickstarter better than Gamelyn Games with their Tiny Epic game series. Today, I am reviewing Tiny Epic Galaxies.

Tiny Epic Galaxies is a space-themed game, where your galaxy is overpopulated, and you are looking to colonize more planets, acquire more spaceships, and expand your influence. It is designed for 1-5 players and billed for ages 13+. The age rating seems a little high for me, and I think children 10+ could easily play this game, perhaps even younger. The game is "micro" in size and playtime (approximately 30 minutes) and can be described as a dice-combo game, wherein you roll dice to determine your actions. The price point for this game is $25, and that will get you the base game. There is an expansion called Satellites and Super Weapons that costs $8 with $2 shipping, but this is not required to play the game. It just adds a new wrinkle to it. For the sake of this review, I'll focus on only the base game. Let's begin with the set-up.

The Control Mat, pictured above, is put in the middle for easy access by all. This is where your dice go after you roll them, and it also contains a reminder guide on what each die does. We will discuss this momentarily. Each player is then dealt a Galaxy Mat (seen below) in one of five colors (red, blue, yellow, green, and black) and the corresponding colored pieces which will be placed on your home galaxy. Your initial resources include 1 Culture and 2 Energy. Culture, which is tracked on the dial on your Galaxy Mat. The most you can ever have of these two resources is seven. You also begin the game with 2 Ships and the ability to roll four dice. As you increase the level of your Empire, you unlock more Ships (up to four), gain the ability to roll more dice (up to seven), and score Victory Points. The first one to 21 Victory Points is the winner. Everyone then gets two Mission Cards, looks at them, and keeps one. The last thing you do is deal out Planet Cards within reach of everyone. The number of Planet Cards dealt is equal to the number of players plus two with a maximum of six in a five player game.

After all the setup, it's time to begin the game! It is recommended that the youngest player gets to go first, but you are welcome to come up with another way to decide who goes first. Player One grabs four dice and rolls them. The symbols on the dice allow you to Move a Ship, Acquire Energy or Culture, Advance Colonization of a Planet with either Diplomacy or Economy, or Upgrade Your Galaxy/Utilize a Colonized Planet you now own. Dice rolls play a big factor in whether or not you win this game. However, if you have bad luck with the dice, you are allowed one free re-roll of a die per turn and afterwards have to spend one Energy per die re-roll. Another way you can avoid bad luck with dice is to copy an opponents move or Follow them. For example, if you just can't seem to roll the symbol to Upgrade Your Galaxy, if someone chooses to upgrade theirs, you can spend one Culture and take the same action they take. The ability to Follow also helps keep all players engaged during everybody's turn, not just their own.

There are several methods you can take to get to 21 Victory Points and all are equally valid. The first time we played through the first thing I focused on was advancing my own galaxy, because you gained more ships and dice. However, this only gets you 8 Victory Points, so you'll have to Colonize some Planets too. The Planets can either be landed on or you can attempt to Colonize them. Landing on them gets you an immediate benefit, like acquiring a resource; dice manipulation; or ship manipulation. Colonizing earns you Victory Points, but you don't get any perks until you Colonize the planet and claim it. Then, you can land on it for the perks and no one else can.

Themes in game are very important, and I would go so far as to say as they are critical. You can have a game with great mechanics, but if the theme is lacking or clunky, you end up feeling like you are just rolling dice or playing cards for the sake of winning. Don't get me wrong. Winning is important in games, but the experience is just as, if not more important. With Tiny Epic Galaxies, you can pretend you are an alien race trying to take over the universe, one planet at a time! Another aspect I like about this game is the portable nature of it. The box itself is approximately 4.75 inches x 7 inches, so unlike other games, you don't need a whole table to spread out all the pieces and play the game. This means that you can take it with you and play it on the fly, i.e., in a restaurant while waiting on food. The quality of the game components are also top-notch. The cards are linen or linen embossed as opposed to cardboard. The game tokens are wooden, stamped, and laser cut to enhance the theme. Even the dice are beautiful with their black marble look that resembles staring at the night sky. Given the compact nature of the game, my wife wishes the pieces were magnetic instead of wooden, so you could play it in the car while on travel, but I imagine that would have increased costs exponentially. Overall, I'm HIGHLY impressed with this game. It may look tiny, but the amount of strategy, decision-making, and replay value make it a game that will come out on game nights many times over!

Tiny Epic Galaxies was provided to me for free by Gamelyn 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 the next Tiny Epic game on Kickstarter called Tiny Epic Western. It combines Poker, dice, and worker placement. And the funding level so far has already unlocked some amazing rewards and also made the game infinitely better.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Brother Francis: Following in His Footsteps, He is Risen, and JoyToons (Herald Entertainment)

It's been a while since I've had a chance to review some DVDs from my favorite Catholic cartoon Brother Francis. When we last left Brother Francis, he was at eight episodes, but three more have been added since then. They are as follows: 9. Following in His Footsteps, 10. He is Risen, and 11. JoyToons (The Brother Francis Song Collection Volume 1). Allow me to tell you about them.

Most children know the right answers when called on in Religious Education, but few children turn those words into actions. With Volume 9 of Brother Francis, Following in His Footsteps, your children will learn what it really means to be followers/disciples of Jesus by turning their words into actions. The first example they are given is "The Parable of the Sheep and Goats." In this Scripture passage, we see Jesus talking to a flock of sheep and goats and separating them. The sheep receive the eternal reward, because they helped their fellow man who was hungry or thirsty. The goats receive eternal punishment, because they did not help their fellow man. This really is one of the most haunting passages in the Gospels, because I always question whether I am doing enough to help others. The other story talks about the man who built his house on the sand and the one who built his on the rock, and teaches your children about living with faith in God as opposed to living without him. If you build your house on the rock (faith in God), then you will be able to withstand any storm, but if you do not and opt for sand (faith in yourself or possessions), then with the slightest storm, you'll get overwhelmed. This was a great episode and a perfect follow-up to Born into the Kingdom.

He is Risen is clearly an Easter episode of Brother Francis. The video begins by talking about Jesus' Resurrection. This leads Brother Francis to give us a brief summary of Jesus' life. If your children are well-versed in the life of Jesus, this will be a repeat of knowledge they already know, but it can also be a good crash course for those who new to the faith or young children. Brother Francis covers Jesus' birth, ministry, teachings, healings, etc. This leads us to Palm Sunday and Brother Francis' lesson on Holy Week. Using the events that occurred during Jesus' final week on earth, Brother Francis relates to us how and why the Church celebrates Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. He talks specifically about the importance of Palms, washing of the feet, institution of the Eucharist, and the Stations of the Cross. The episode concludes with a catchy song also called, "He is Risen," like the title of the episode. This episode is great to watch during Lent and pairs perfectly with the Christmas episode titled O Holy Night. Highly recommended.

JoyToons is the most recent Brother Francis DVD and a strictly musical "episode." The DVD begins with Brother Francis singing "The Bread of Life," and leads into him talking about the importance of music, a quote from St. Augustine, and different reasons we sing. He also makes reference to how much music is in the Bible, including the Psalms; Paul singing in prison; and music in the book of Revelation. The rest of the episode is composed of a dozen songs, previously featured in the first nine episodes of the Brother Francis series. Before each song is a quote from a saint, like St. Josemaria Escriva or St. John Vianney, that relates to the song. Unfortunately, this was my least favorite Brother Francis DVD, and I feel it would have been better just to be a CD. What could have improved this episode is having the words of each song at the bottom of the screen so kids could see and hear the words at the same time to reinforce memory. The DVD does have some merit though, as it could be used for very young children to fill time and reinforce the faith without stories.

I am always pleased with the quality of the Brother Francis DVDs, and these three were no different. The message is consistently orthodox, and the level of understanding is simple but profound. However, I am now left wondering where the series will go from here. Will we get episodes on Advent and Lent? Will the rest of the Sacraments be covered in more detail? Or will they just devote time to the papacy or specific saints? Only time will tell, and I look forward to seeing what they have in store next. Be sure to check out their other products like coloring books that correspond with the DVDs; kid-friendly Holy Cards; and a matching game that your young kids will both enjoy and learn a lot from!

These DVDs were provided to me for free by Herald Entertainment in exchange for an honest review! If you found any of the reviews helpful, please click here, here, and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Where Hope Grows (Lionsgate)

I don't watch a lot of movies honestly, especially in theaters. The price of tickets are too high, and the plots feel unoriginal and often run. Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to review Where Hope Grows, I was skeptical at best. I recognized some of the cast, like Billy Zabka, Danica McKellar, and Kerr Smith, but I was worried about the storyline. Allow me to tell you a little bit about the movie.

The main character in the movie is Calvin Campbell. He is a former player of Major League Baseball who had a great deal of promise and was supposed to be amazing. Unfortunately, he grossly under-performed and didn't last long. This led to him developing a major drinking problem, which is a recurring theme in the movie. Calvin has a teenage daughter named Katie, whom he had in high school. It either doesn't say anything about the mother or it was said in passing and I missed it, but the mother is not present. The daughter is dating a HUGE jerk and that is putting it nicely. He is the big shot in high school and always gets his way. He also fulfills the stereotype that teenage boys only want one thing and tries to get that from Katie, whether she wants it or not. (I'll go ahead and spoil it for you that he doesn't, but that is a big reason this movie is rated PG-13.)

Calvin also has a best friend named Milton (played by Billy Zabka), who has a rocky marriage and a failing business. He and Calvin seem to be friends mainly because of their past, because most of the time you wonder why they are even friends. Billy Zabka is good at playing the villain (see Karate Kid), so he plays his role well, but knowing the premise of movies like this you know deep down that he will find some redemption. The real star of the movie is a boy nicknamed Produce. He is mentally-challenged and works in the produce department of the grocery store, hence the nickname. His personality is pure positive, and can best be described as infectious. Calvin meets him one day while grocery shopping and the two become a mixture of friend and father-son. There are times it seems that Calvin is a better father to Produce than his own daughter, so I had mixed feelings about that. Produce also has a deep love for God and we all know that one way or the other he is going to save Calvin, we just don't know how. There is more I can tell you about the movie, but I don't want to give up too much.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable movie. It is rated PG-13, but it is one of the tamest PG-13 movies I have ever seen. It has a religious message, but it doesn't beat you over the head like other movies, i.e. Flywheel or Fireproof. The acting was also believable and even though there were some seasoned actors in the mix, but David DeSanctis (Produce) stole the show! Judging from the outtakes in the credits, he seems to be that infectiously happy/positive in real life as well. The only knock I have against the movie is that I felt Milton's character and his story with his family wasn't as well-developed as it could have been. I know their story wasn't the main focus, but the lack of details were noticeable and knocked the movie down a peg. That criticism aside, I would still highly recommend it.

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

Treasury of Norse Mythology (National Geographic)

Treasury of Norse Mythology is the third book in National Geographic's series of mythological anthologies, with the fist being Greek and the second being Egyptian. The book begins with an introduction, which stressed the importance of this mythological tales and also explained how they were preserved in the Old Norse, as opposed to Latin, which was the most widely used language at the time. The book then appropriately begins with the Norse creation story. It tells of there being three regions. The north, Niflheim, was frozen with snow and ice. The south, Muspell, was all flame. The middle, Ginnungagap, was empty and waiting. It then tells us about the first frost giant, Ymir, the first god, Buri, who had a son named Bor, and three grandchildren named Odin, Vili, and Ve. Bor's sons and the frost giants hated each other, and eventually Bor's sons killed Ymir. However, from that death came the creation of many other things.

There are seventeen tales in total in this treasury, including tales of Odin, Loki, Thor, and lastly the story of destruction, also known as Ragnarok. The final tale was definitely interesting as it involved a lot of battle, bloodshed, and the eventual destruction of virtually everything and everyone. However, this end was not really an end, but a new beginning instead. Two humans lived and would populate the new cosmos, and one dragon survived who would punish evil ones. At the very end of the book are maps, timelines, and key characters which provide a visual glossary of names. There's also a bibliography which is extremely helpful if you are looking to further read up on Norse mythology.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was first introduced to Norse mythology through the works of Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire, and I would compare this book to their books. I would say it is slightly more advanced, but not by a great deal. The artwork in the book is stunning, very colorful, and plentiful. This is a perfect resource for the homeschool parent or school teacher, as it serves as a nice bridge between the d'Aulaires and higher level mythology books. It's also a good way to get kids who like Thor and the Avengers to read and learn more. A fine book, which I'd recommend. Now will there be a fourth in the series or was this the last one?

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Godly Humanism (CUA Press)

A Godly Humanism is the last book written by by Francis Cardinal George before his death. In this book, Cardinal George calls on us to understand and appreciate the human relationships with God and each other. He begins his book by talking about the intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church, how it has grown, evolved, and taken shape. He also explains that this intellectual tradition is not just important for the Church, but for society as a whole. This leads us to the whole "faith and reason" argument that we have all heard and read countless times. The Church, unlike other Christian churches does not put these two things against each other, but embraces both.

Chapter Two talks about Catholics who become intellectuals and intellectuals who become Catholics. The chief example in this chapter is, of course, St. Augustine. So many of us in our formative years are like St. Augustine. We go to college. We listen to many different thoughts and ideas. We absorb so much knowledge. But then, we have to parse through it and decide where ultimate Truth lies, and that is with God and His Church. Chapter Three delves into what makes Catholics different than Protestants, namely Tradition. Because of this Tradition, we can be assured of access to God due to things such as apostolic succession and the fact that our Church was founded after Jesus' Resurrection. The rest of the book focuses on topics such as living in a post-Christian society (very useful); education to integrate culture and religion; how to integrate Vatican II; and what recent popes have done for the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Reading through this book, it's easy to be reminded how brilliant of a mind that Cardinal George had. He pulled from numerous teachers both ancient (St. Augustine) and recent (Pope Francis) to demonstrate his point that the Catholic Church is built upon a relationship with God and each other. God is continually reaching out to us and showing us His presence and love. He reached out to us with the Holy Spirit when, the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostles, and he continues to reach out to us through their successors as well. Cardinal George reminds us of this and and the untold graces that God continues to shower on us, if we only let him, This was truly a beautiful book and is a fitting final book for the brilliance that was his life. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Homilies on Numbers (InterVarsity Press)

If you have ever tried to read the Bible in a year, you know what a daunting task it can be. There are many different methods people recommend for doing so. Some say to just read ten minutes a day, and it will be super easy. Others tell you to read one Old Testament chapter, one New Testament chapter, and one book from Psalms. And still others say to read four or five chapters a day. No matter what route you go, as soon as you hit the books of Leviticus and Numbers, it's like hitting a brick wall. All those laws and all those numbers can really wear you down. Even now that I know their significance, they still cause dread in me when I approach them. Therefore, when I learned that Origen wrote a series of homilies on Numbers, I knew I had to give it a read.

Published by InterVarsity Press, Homilies on Numbers is part of the Ancient Christian Texts series. It contains 28 homilies by Origen, a man I believe has gotten a bum rap, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential and prolific writers before the Council of Nicaea. The book begins with an introduction by the translator, which gives a brief biography of Origen; speaks of Origen's exegetical method and surviving works; and tells us about Rufinus of Aquileia, the man responsible for translating Origen from Greek to Latin. The actual text then begins with an introduction by Rufinus and then dives into commentaries starting of course with Numbers 1.

The first few chapters of Numbers talk about the census that is taking place. In this book, we learn that only certain people are to be counted. Women aren't counted. Slaves aren't counted. The Levites aren't counted. The role of the Levites and their priestly office is then discussed at length. Some of the most interesting sections of Numbers to me dealt with the Israelites' time in the desert, Aaron and Miriam's jealousy of Moses, and the scouting of the Promised Land. Unfortunately in these homilies, Numbers 5 through 10 are missing. However, the most interesting story in Numbers and one of the most interesting in the whole Bible has to do with Balaam and his talking donkey. I believe Origen would agree wholeheartedly with this assessment as he devoted numerous pages and homilies to this very subject.

Overall, I found this book to be very edifying. It isn't really a book that you use for a Bible reading plan as I spoke of above. Instead, I recommend taking some time, reading a chapter of Numbers and then seeing what Origen said about that particular chapter. Remember,this is a book of homilies, not a verse by verse commentary. You will be provided with a broad, but enlightening view of what the chapter or passage means, but it won't be dissected word-by-word or even verse-by verse. So if you are looking for a better understanding of one of the toughest books to read in the Bible, don't look to modern authors, but turn instead to antiquity and see what one of the greatest minds of the Church had to say on the subject.

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, January 15, 2016

On the Apostolic Tradition (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press)

St. Hippolytus of Rome lived during the 2nd and 3rd Century and was regarded as some to be the most important 3rd Century theologian. He was a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John. His writings were extensive and the amount of them are said to have rivaled Origen. Much like Origen, his works presently are fragmented or missing. Some of his most important works include On Christ and the Antichrist, and On the Apostolic Tradition, which I am reviewing today. On the Apostolic Tradition is #54 in one of my favorite series in Orthodoxy called the Popular Patristics Series. I've read and reviewed several of these books, and they never disappoint.

The introduction to On the Apostolic Tradition is approximately 60 pages long and includes information on the discovery of this text, the contents and arrangement, the authorship, and a summary of conclusions. The text itself is divided into 43 chapters and discusses topics such as ordination of priests and deacons, the catechumenate, Baptism, and general rules of the community. Some of these rules include distribution of Communion, fasting, and burial practices. The rules on fasting were interesting. It is highly recommended for widows and virgins to fast often, but says laypersons and priests can fast if they want. At the end of the main text is a five page homily on the Psalms, which the translator believes is appropriate to include because it helps to better understand the main text.

On the Apostolic Tradition belongs to a genre called "Church Orders," and while you could find this text for free online, it's not the same. The reason for this is because Fr. Alistair Stewart's second edition of this text incorporated a newly discovered Ethiopic manuscript, and also provides commentary alongside the text to provide explanations for why things in this book are the way they are. I found that to be extremely helpful, because like my comment above, I was scratching my head to the rule of fasting, among other things in the text. Also of interest in this text is all the roles for people. There is a lot to process in this book, and it is not one that you read lightly or casually. This is for the serious student who is interesting in reading a book that has had a great influence on different liturgies today, including some parts of the Roman Catholic liturgy and the United Methodist Church as well.

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

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Chrononauts and Early American Chrononauts (Looney Labs)

Welcome to the first review of a new feature called "Favorite Games for Family Game Nights." This is an ongoing project that will also be featured on CatholicMom, so let's get to the first few games, we're going to play. The two games are called Chrononauts and Early American Chrononauts, available from Looney Labs. The price for each deck is approximately $20 and recommended age is 11 and up, but I think you could play it a little younger than that. Since, the gameplay and premise of these games is the same, so this will be a dual review. In the game, you are a Time Traveler with a Secret Identity and a Secret Mission.  Your job is to collect priceless artifacts, repair enough paradoxes, or change time enough to arrive back safely at your alternate timeline. For this example, we will be, Betty and our mission will be "The Scientists' Wish List." We can see on our card, that we want the year 1945 to be black and 1968 and 1969 to be red. (We'll get to how to make that happen.) For the artifacts, we need to collect any Live Dinosaur, the Crown of Thorns, and a Cure for Cancer.
This card game, plays a bit like a board game. Initially you arrange the 32 time cards chronologically in four rows of eight as seen below with all the dates black and the card colors visible being purple and blue. The Purple cards are Linchpins and can be flipped by cards in the deck, and the Blue cards are Ripplepoints and flip when corresponding purple cards flip. For example, If you flipped 1865 from black text to red text, Lincoln Assassinated to Lincoln Wounded, that would trigger you to flip 1868 Johnson Impeached, because Johnson couldn't be impeached if Lincoln never died. Thus, a paradox is created. Before I get to paradoxes, let me tell you about cards you will draw during your gameplay.
The main types of cards you will see are 1. Action, which is something you must do immediately; 2. Artifact, which is something you can collect to help you win; 3. Timewarp, which lets you bend time momentarily for your benefit, and 4. Inverter, which lets you flip Purple cards on the Timeline above.
Once you use an Inverter on a Purple card, you create a Paradox (the back of a Blue card on the timeline). Here is what 1945 looks like as a Paradox. In our example, Betty does not want 1945 to be red, but back to its original black. However, if someone does need 1945 to be red, they could play this orange card called a Patch, and thus make an alternate history for that year. Play continues until one Time Traveler has ten cards in his hand, the three Artifacts on his mission, or the correct years on the timeline in black and red (red cards must no longer be paradoxes, but be patched).
That in a nutshell is how you play the game. Now, for my thoughts and review of the game. For starters, I love that this is a card game. It is portable and fits in your pocket, so you can take it with you wherever you go. Secondly, the rules aren't overly complicated. I know I wrote a lot about it, but after you play through it once, it makes sense what you can and can't do, and the learn curve is very shallow. Third, I LOVE the theme for this game. In the gaming world, there are a lot of themes that are overused including general fantasy, zombies, and H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu for some reason. There aren't a great deal of time travel games, so this is a gem. So I recommend when you're playing the game, take your time. Read the characters. Read the different cards. There was a lot of thought and effort that went into each of these cards, the backstories of the characters, and the alternate histories. It's not only creative, but it's a very clever game of hypotheticals. How would the world be different if Lincoln hadn't of been assassinated or if the Titanic wouldn't have sunk? The results aren't always good in the game. In fact, you might end up triggering World War III.

Other things, I love about this game are the unique gameplay options you can experience. If you can't find a friend or family member to play with you, there is a solo option. If the regular way of playing isn't challenging anymore, you can combine Chrononauts and Early American Chrononauts to make Uber Chrononauts! There are also very affordable expansions! A lot of games make you buy a whole new game with more cards (or pieces) to get new content, but for a few bucks, you can get 13 new characters with the Lost Identities expansion, and what's neat is they used fan submissions to craft these cards. Crazy Joe is my favorite in this pack, as he wants you to have 13 un-patched Paradoxes on the board. 13 paradoxes normally means everyone loses, but in this case he wins! It's a nice way to add a little chaos among friends. If you don't need more identities, there's also an option called The Gore Years, which expands the timeline from 2000-to 2008 and helps us imagine what could have happened if Gore instead of Bush had become President. I'm personally hoping we get another expansion after the next election called The Trump Years (or something similar to that).

Overall, I found this to be a highly detailed and enjoyable game with great replay value. The only strike against it were the Gadgets, which I didn't really discuss. These Gadgets are mostly Time Machines and can be overly powerful in my opinion. So you can choose to leave them out if you want to, or maybe the people you play with won't abuse their power too much. So if you like card games and time-travel Chrononauts and/or Early American Chrononauts. I recommend both for the Uber experience, but if you can only get one, then pick the era you like best. The wife enjoyed this game as well, but she said she would have liked it better if it was European history, which is fair, because American history can be a bit boring at time. Looney Labs did a nice job of spicing it up, and I think this game could be used as a fun teaching aid for the homeschool crowd as well! Highly recommended!

Chrononauts and Early American Chrononauts were provided to me for free by Looney Labs in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Chime Travelers (Servant Books)

Lisa Hendey is a very talented woman, and someone I am honored to call a friend. In addition to running the amazing site CatholicMom, of which I am fortunate enough to be a contributor, she is also a prolific author. Her audience in these books is generally geared toward women and moms, but having read a few myself, even men can benefit from her words of wisdom. Recently, Lisa tried her hand at children's literature in a new series called Chime Travelers, available from Servant Books, and I am finally getting a chance to sit down and review them.

The Secret of the Shamrock is the first book in the Chime Travelers series. The protagonists in this story are the Brady twins - Patrick and Katie. Like any set of twins, they are unique in their own ways, but in spite of those differences, they have a special bond. While at the Baptism for their new adopted sibling, Patrick's frog jumps into the baptismal font. Not entirely because of this incident, but also because the parents feel their kids could stand to learn more about the Church, the mom volunteers the family for church cleaning duty on Saturdays, to the dismay of Patrick. One Saturday while cleaning, the church bells ring and Patrick is whisked off to another time and place, Ireland to be exact. During that time, he spends time with a shepherd who becomes a bishop (Spoiler Alert: It's St. Patrick), learns the importance of the shamrock, and gains a new appreciation for his faith.

The Sign of the Carved Cross is the second book in the Chime Travelers series. In this book, there is a new girl at school named Lily. Out of jealousy, the girls at school are mean to her, and this unfortunately includes Katie as well. This surprised me actually as it seems completely out of character from what we learned of Katie in the first book, but peer pressure and the struggle to fit in can affect us all. Like her brother Patrick, when she is in church and the bells ring, she is transported to a different time and place. On her journey, she meets the future St. Kateri Tekawitha. Kateri was a Native American who like Lily was persecuted by her peers. Spending time with her Katie learns about treating people as you would want to be treated, and is soon transported back to her own time. Her brother Patrick is the only one to realize what has happened to her, and for the time being it is their secret.

Overall, this was a fun and easy to read series for kids. The illustrations are cute and help add to the story instead of distract from it, and the story itself reminded me of the Gospel Time Trekkers, which is a huge plus. I am awaiting the next two books (The Whisper in the Ruins and The Mystery at Midnight) to come out in April. It will be interesting to see what other saints the children meet; if they finally have an adventure together; and if others (i.e., Lily or their family members) ever join them on an adventure. At under $6 a piece, these books are an affordable and captivating way to introduce your children to the saints!

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Saint Giuseppe Moscati (Ignatius Press)

When we think of saints in the Catholic Church, we tend to think of the popular ones, Peter, Paul, Therese, and Teresa just to name four. Due to the sheer number of saints in our Tradition, it is easy to overlook some of the lesser known ones. For example, have you ever heard of Saint Giuseppe Moscati? Me neither! Ignatius Press has graced us with a book, bearing his name, to tell us more about his life.

The book begins with a backstory on the life of Giuseppe's father and mother. His father was a judge, so Giuseppe came from a noble family. There were nine children in all, and Giuseppe was number seven! His parents were devout Catholics, and they placed great importance on the Sacraments. Giuseppe was a brilliant boy, who used his smarts to become a professor and a doctor. During his time teaching, his life was just as much an example as his words were. He was apparently gifted at autopsies, and he used them as a way to teach medicine and exhibit his faith in a very sad and desolate place. With his brilliance in medicine, good looks, and pleasant personality, he could have had a high paying job, lived a very comfortable life, and done good works by merely giving a tithe and calling it a day. He instead became a doctor for the poor; often helped people, receiving little to no payment; and almost put other doctors out of business due to his practice. Truly, a great man!

In addition to receiving a biography of his life, this book also contains numerous primary sources to better paint the picture of Giuseppe's life and the influence he had on others. After his death in 1927, he was beatified in 1975 by Pope Paul VI and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987. Often thought of as a miracle-worker in life, his canonization miracle involved curing a man of leukemia. He was the first "modern doctor" to be canonized and his feast day is November 16th. This book is a great read during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, because St. Giuseppe Moscati is an amazing example of mercy. Anyone could benefit from reading this book, but if you have a family member or friend in or considering entering the medical field, then I'd consider this a must-read for them. Great book on a great man! Be sure to check out the movie with the same name!

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Maiden of Nazareth (Scepter Publishers)

I don't normally read fiction, with the exception of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Every now and then, I will dive into some classics, historical fiction, or religious fiction, and today I want to tell you about a new religious fiction book I have recently read called The Maiden of Nazareth. Written by Javier Suarez-Guanes, an Opus Dei priest, this book combines elements of Scripture, tradition, and the author's imagination to weave a narrative of Mary's life.

The book begins with Joachim and Ana. We learn that Ana is aged and barren, like other notable women before her, i.e., Sarah and Hannah. However, it isn't long in the book before she experiences feelings of nauseousness and other pregnancy symptoms. She waits a few months to share the news, which is understandable given her age and probably high risk the pregnancy would be, but when she does inform others, they are all extremely happy for her. She eventually gives birth to a girl, whom they name Mary (Miriam), like Moses' sister.

The rest of the book takes us through the rest of her life all the way to her death and Assumption. I know the thought of Mary dying will upset some people who believe she was assumed into Heaven without experiencing death, but that is not what the ancient tradition teaches. In her life, we see her parents teaching her Scripture, her assisting in the Temple, and the role she in Jesus' ministry, both during Jesus' time on Earth and after. There is also a heavy focus on Joseph in this book, which is nice, because he surely was responsible in shaping the man Jesus became. In addition to Joseph, we see other Biblical figures, like Elizabeth, Cleophas, the Apostles, etc. Many are introduced before Jesus' ministry again, so it is like getting a glimpse of their lives before Jesus changed their lives forever.

The book has a nice pace and flow to it. You get a fair glimpse at what Mary's childhood could have been like, but it doesn't overly dwell on it. You can also see clear foreshadowing or references to Scripture in some of the things the author says. Two examples that most stand out in my mind are when she is memorizing Scripture, it says she remember them while other kids forgot them. This reminds of the passage where it talks about Mary treasuring all things and letting them dwell in her heart. The other most obvious one was her seeing a man about to be crucified. However, the author does a nice job of not glamorizing Mary's life. There are a few moments where it just spells out the mundane tasks of daily life and how it can be boring. Overall, I found this book to be an interesting read, and even if it was fictional it gave flesh to people in the Bible and made them feel more real.

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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Tabletop Game Reviews

Hello my loyal readers. You've stuck with me through the past years and seen my blog grow in number of posts and variety of items I've reviewed. While this blog is and will continue to be mainly about books, I like to continue to add the types of products I review to this blog as well. Starting this year I am adding tabletop games to my mix. For the moment, these posts will not replace my current posting schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but will instead be an additional post once a month or twice a month, depending on the number of games I have to review. This post is designed to introduce you to the world of tabletop gaming and provide you with some key information.

Tabletop games have been around for centuries. We see them in games such as Chess, Checkers, Mahjong, etc. They can come in many categories, including but not limited to board games, card games, and dice games and within these three broad categories, are further subcategories like word games, party games, worker placement games, card collecting games, etc. There are also genres of games, which are so wide and varied they have something for everyone. You have fantasy, horror, war, vampires, zombies, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. There's also various levels of strategy involved in games, which range from casual to the hardcore gamer. The casual games are simple to pick up, but the more complex games have rule books so thick that it might make you faint. I hope to slowly ease you into the world of tabletop gaming by introducing you to casual games first, but sometimes a game is just so awesome I might have to share it with you, even if you're not quite ready for it.

I am very excited about this future endeavor, because I have been in a technology war with myself for almost a decade. I like and hate technology; embrace and reject it all at the same time. This is a big reason I love physical books so much and generally avoid e-books. What does this have to do with games? Well, I used to play an equal mix of video games and tabletop games, but for a while it seemed like video games were winning the war and killing tabletop games. My household was thankfully the opposite, but there's only so many times you can play Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. And then, I discovered what I am referring to as the Tabletop Game Renaissance. It has been going on quietly for a few years, but 2015 exploded with so many amazing games. Many of these games came from smaller game companies, and they are giving Hasbro and Parker Brothers a run for their money. It's an exciting time, and I can't wait to share some of these games that I love with you! Tune in for my next post, which is a review of the game Chrononauts from Looney Labs!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Stories (NorthSouth Books)

Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865. That was a little over 150 years ago. To celebrate the birth of this amazing writer, NorthSouth Books has published a beautiful edition of The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Stories. Many of us know the bare minimum of The Jungle Book story thanks to Walt Disney's popular movie, but there is so much more to the story than Disney showed us. Allow me to tell you about it. The book is divided into sixteen chapters and contains the familiar characters, we've all come to know. There is Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Akela the wolf, Bagheera the panther, Hathi the elephant, Kaa the python, and Shere Khan tiger.

In the first chapter, we see are introduced to Mother Wolf and Father Wolf. They are part of Akela's pack and have just had a litter of pups. While they are tending to their young, a young boy (Mowgli) wandered to them. At first they didn't know what to make of him and were worried, but they decided to adopt him as their own. Shere Khan did not like this and wanted Mowgli for his own, so he could eat him. The wolves protected him and after Shere Khan fled, they took him to Akela. Listening to Mother and Father Wolf vouch for the young boy, Mowgli was accepted into the pack. His mentors became Akela, Baloo, and Bagheera. The stories in this book take us all through Mowgli's childhood. We see him abducted by monkeys, fight Shere Khan, and actually attempt to rejoin a human village. After each chapter, there is a poem that relates to the story we just heard. Thus, this book is both prose and poetry and a beautiful mix at that.

So why would you want to purchase a book that is in public domain? For starters, you are getting a fine hardcover, which to some might not sound like a lot, but to me is worth its weight in gold. With so many books, now being ebooks or paperbacks, it's getting harder and harder to find quality publishing. The other big selling point of this book is the illustrations. They are not on every page, but they are still abundant. The illustrator, Aljoscha Blau, shows a level of detail in them that draw you in and keep you coming back to look at them. They not only complement the stories, but elevate them to another level. NorthSouth Books is a publisher I don't have a great deal of familiarity with, but if these are the kind of books they produce, they have a new fan and supporter. Be sure to check out some of their other beautiful hardcovers, including Heidi and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.

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

Monday, January 4, 2016

Meditations on Mary (Sophia Institute Press)

If it feels like you went to Mass a lot these past two weeks, you're not alone. Christmas was on a Friday and then Sunday Mass. January 1 was a holy day of obligation (Mary, Mother of God), and then Sunday Mass again. Four times in two weeks may seem like a lot to non-daily Mass goers like myself, but it was a good way to end and start the new year. Ash Wednesday and Lent are a little over a month away, so what are you going to be reading until it gets here? Allow me to recommend to you Meditations on Mary.

Meditations on Mary is a 150 page book by Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, author of Meditations for Advent and Meditations for Lent. The first meditation in this book is appropriately entitled "The True Eve." I say appropriately, because the Bible begins with Adam and Eve. In this opening meditation, Bossuet quotes several Church Fathers who compare Eve and Mary. "St. Irenaeus: 'Condemned to death by a virgin, the human race was saved by a Virgin.' Tertullian: ' What was led astray into perdition by this sex was restored to salvation by this sex.' And the incomparable Augustine: 'By a woman, death; by a woman, life. By Eve, ruin; By Mary, salvation.' " Bossuet is quick to point out that Mary's honor does not put her on equal ground with God, but instead she played an important role in salvation history.

In other meditations, we get different glimpses of Mary. For example, in one meditation we see that Jesus created Mary for Himself. Jesus is responsible for all of Creation, and He created other people to teach us and instruct us, but Mary was made for Him and she was made pure and innocent because of His love for her. In the meditation "Pierced by a Sword," we learn of Mary's deep sorrow she experienced at Jesus' death. Bossuet poetically explains that, "Only one Cross was required for both her beloved son and herself." This is not to diminish what Christ experienced on the Cross, but to explain the depth of love that a mother feels for her son, that Mary felt for Jesus. As a father, I know what it is to love a child, but I believe there is a special love between mothers and their children.

There are twenty-four meditations in all, each around five pages or less. This makes this book the perfect companion for that short span of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent. The meditations are poignant and beautiful and serve as a good introduction to the many facets of Mary's life. After reading through this work, you might want to read other great books on Mary, including Behold Your Mother, Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Meet Mary. All are great books that will surely not disappoint!

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, January 1, 2016

Prayer Ropes (

It's a brand new year and a lot of us are going to make every effort to grow closer to God in this coming year. However, we cannot do this on our own and will need the help of both people and spiritual tools to do so. The people you will find in your family and parish. The spiritual tools can come from different sources. In addition to a good translation of the Bible and other spiritually edifying books, I have found a Rosary, a prayer rope, and icons to be of immense help as well. My wife makes rosaries, so I have that covered. However, she is not versed in the art of tying Orthodox prayer ropes, so my source for those is Theophania also known as makes high quality wool prayer ropes in 50, 100, 150, and 300 knot formats! They also make prayer rope bracelets in 33 knot formats (pictured above). I love my 100 knot prayer rope, but it has to stay home most days, because I haven't found a good way to carry it around without it getting lost in my key-filled pockets. That's why I love the bracelet. Some people have FitBits that they wear to track and remind them that they should be working out. I have my prayer rope bracelet, which every time I look at my wrist reminds me I should be praying at all times. The prayer that you pray on these prayer ropes is simple but powerful. You simply say slowly, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." There is not set number of times per day that you can or should say this prayer, but even going at a slow pace, you can say it 33 times (length of the bracelet) in no time at all.

In addition to making prayer ropes, they also make prayer bracelets from a seed called Panagia's Tears (pictured below). The tradition goes that the plant sprouted miraculously at the spot where Jesus' Mother Mary wept at the Crucifixion. The monks living in Skete were then tasked with using the seeds from this plant to make prayer ropes from. They are truly beautiful to be behold, and in addition to praying the prayer of the heart with them, you can also reflect on the sorrow that Mary went through and unite your suffering to hers. makes truly beautiful products because everything they make is handmade, not mass produced. If you would like to frequent their store, you can click on the link in this article or on the permanent on the right side of my blog. Make you all have a blessed and prayer-filled New Year.