Friday, March 30, 2018

Lectures on the Christian Sacraments (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press)

One of my favorite series of books is called the Popular Patristics Series. It has been in publication for years and seeks to make influential writings of the Church Fathers more accessible and available. At present, there are 57 volumes today, and while I don't all of them (unfortunately), I have been blessed with each one I have read. Today, I would like to tell you about the latest volume in the series entitled Lectures on the Christian Sacraments by St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

The book begins with a lengthy (50 pages) introduction which discusses St. Cyril's Mystagogical Catecheses, the importance of Jerusalem in the history of Christianity, the Rites of Christian Initiation in Jerusalem, the authorship of St. Cyril's works, and the various manuscripts of this work. The rest of the book spans 70 pages with Greek on the left pages and an English translation on the right pages. The work is divided into two parts, The Protocatechesis and The Mystagogical Catecheses, with the latter being further divided into five sections - On the Prebaptismal Rites, On the Baptismal Rites, On the Chrismation, On the Body and Blood of Christ, and on the Eucharistic Liturgy.

Overall, I found this a very interesting and historical read. The works themselves are broken down point by point and step by step on what happens during each Sacrament and why it is happening. With a writing style like this, it makes St. Cyril's works very approachable and easy to read. Those who read Greek will appreciate having the original text on opposite pages, as even the best translations lack something. If you would like to learn more about the Sacraments of Initiation during a formative time in Church History, this is the book to buy!

This book was provided to me for free by. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Jesus Crucified (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press)

One of my favorite Church Fathers is St. John Chrysostom. He was such a brilliant man and excellent speaker, which is why he earned the title "golden-mouthed." Anytime you read something he wrote, you know you are in for a challenge and also a treat! Recently, there was a book released called Jesus Crucified: The Baroque Spirituality of St. Dimitri of Rostov. On the back cover of this book, it described St. Dimitri of Rostov as the "Russian Chrysostom," so I knew this book was going to be a must read for me!

The book is 170 pages long and is the first volume of the Treasures of Orthodox Spirituality series. The introduction begins by telling us about his life. He born in December 1651 near Kiev. His sisters entered the monastery and at age 17 he was tonsured at Kirillov Monastery. After a year, he was ordained a deacon and five years after that he was made a priest. From that time until 1701-2, he was made an abbot at five different monasteries and retired from the abbacy three times. It was at this time that he was finally made a bishop at Rostov where he would spend the rest of his life. His most important work was his Lives of the Saints. However, the works covered in this book are devotional in nature, including prayers and meditations for private use.

There are individual chapters in the book, but the contents are divided thematically too. The first two chapters focus on the Wounds of Christ. The next two chapters focus on communion with the following three on worship. There are also two chapters which focus on defeating blasphemous thoughts, something I know I struggle with. We finally get to the meat of this book with three longer devotions on the Passion, followed by three poems which also focus on the Passion. The book closes with prayers focusing on daily confession of sins. Overall, this was a very enriching book to read. It was hard at times and challenging, but it was a journey that was well worth the read. I highly recommend you check out this book and read it during Holy Week or anytime!

This book was provided to me for free by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Pictures That Tell Stories: Art for Children (Prestel Publishing)

Introducing children to art has shown to have many benefits for them. Making art teaches them motor skills. It also helps with language development, because children can point out shapes and colors. There are also the added benefits of creativity, cultural awareness, and visual learning. That is why, if possible, it is a great idea to take your children to museums. It might be overwhelming the first time or so, as kids and calmly observing don't go hand-in-hand, but it can also be very rewarding. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to go to a museum, so thankfully there are many rewarding resources that can accomplish the same thing. One of my favorite ones is the books that Prestel Publishing produces. Known for making books on art, architecture, design, and photography, Prestel Publishing has produced a series of children's books that make famous paintings more inviting and accessible for the younger ones. Three of those books are Where is the Frog?The Great Wave, and A Bird in the Winter.
Each book is a glorious hardcover measuring approximately 10" x 13" with the focus of a singular painting from a great artist. The three great works from the three above books are Claude Monet's The Water Lily Pond, Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and Pieter Bruegel's The Hunters in the Snow. Each book is narrative in nature, but focuses on telling a story from the painting itself. In Where is the Frog?, a little frog named Antoinette has heard that a famous artist (Monet) doesn't paint animals, so she is doing her best to end up in one of his paintings. The Great Wave tells the story of a newborn baby found in a boat, who even after seven years has not grown a bit. There are mythical and mysterious fish who might hold the answer to this enigma. A Bird in the Winter turns the painting on its head and instead of being about the hunters is instead about an injured bird that a little girl discovers. At the end of each book, we see a beautiful representation of the painting as well as some biographical information on the painter and what they painted. These are excellent books and I would highly recommend any and all of them!
The books were provided to me by Prestel Publishing for honest reviews.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Fire in the Library (Weird Giraffe Games)

Two of my great loves in life are books and board games. Unfortunately for my wife, both of these take up a considerable amount of shelf space and would be kindling if we ever had a fire in our house. Recently, I was approached to review a game called Fire in the Library by Weird Giraffe Games. Now, I don't normally take unsolicited requests, but I thought this would be a fun way to confront my their mascot (the weird giraffe) is an okapi, one of my son's favorite animals! Seemed like a match made in heaven! Fire in the Library is a game for 1 to 6 librarians (or bibliophiles or just players), ages 8+. It takes approximately 15-30 minutes to play and can be yours for a pledge on Kickstarter of $ .
Setup and Game Play
Separate the Library Cards into four sequential stacks based on the color of their book icon on the card. (Note: Each of these stacks form a Section of the Library.) Then, arrange the four Sections orthogonal to each other to form a beautiful picture of the Library. Give each player a Librarian Figure (meeple) and a reference card matching the color of their figure. Place all the Book Tokens (white, yellow, black and purple cubes) and seven of the Fire Tokens (red cubes) into the Library Bag. This will leave you ten Fire Tokens to set aside. If playing with fewer than three, remove the Library Cart from the deck of Tools cards. Then, shuffle this deck and deal each player two cards. Form a deck with the remaining cards and flip three face-up to form the Tool Market. Lastly, take the Turn Order deck and only keep the cards corresponding to the number of players, except in a two-player game where you will keep cards 1, 2, and 3. Shuffle these cards and deal them randomly to each player. You're now ready to play!
 The game will take place over a series of rounds, until one Section of the Library has been completely burnt. At the beginning of a round (except the first), going in reverse score order, players will select the turn order card they want to play this round. Then, going in newly established turn order, one at a time, a player will reach into the Library Bag and pull cubes one at a time, placing them on their Turn Order card. The goal is to save as many high valued books as possible, but a player may optionally choose to stop drawing cubes at any time. A player will be forced to stop if he draws two Fire Tokens or one Fire Token on a risky space. Depending on the stage he stops at (Scoring Knowledge or Spreading Fire), will determine what Tool cards he can play. Once each player has taken a turn, you must burn a Section of the Library that has lowest Burn Index Number. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
Fire in the Library is a great little game of push-your-luck with a theme that I love! Now don't get me wrong, the premise of the game is actually one of my greatest fears, but playing this game was a good way to confront my nightmare! The first thing I liked about this game was the artwork. I really loved the way that the four library stacks joined together to form a serene and peaceful picture. It definitely looked like a library I would want to visit. The second thing I liked was the action of drawing cubes from a bag. Similar to Clank, the bag can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It's a very nerve-wracking feeling (in a good way) of deciding whether to reach back into the bag one more time to try and score more points or playing it safe and scoring what you have. The best part of this game, though, is the Tool cards. The cards vary in both when they can be played and what powers they provide. For example, you could play an Amulet that lets you place a cube on every Turn Order card before people choose them (baiting people into taking a riskier card) or you could play a Lockbox and save a cube until the end of the game for double scoring (and also changing the proportion of cubes in the bag).

I'm normally not a fan of push-your-luck games, because I'm a "play it safe" kind of guy. However, Fire in the Library has just the right blend of theme, luck mitigation, and tension in it to make me reconsider this type of game. With the ability to play up to six players and the short length it takes to play, this is a fun little gem that I have played with several different groups of people, and they have all asked to immediately play it again. It even has a solo mode, which I am going to have to test out, because I can't always convince the wife to play a game with me! I definitely recommend you back this game and see just how many books you can save before we have another Library of Alexandria on our hands.

A preview copy was provided to me by Weird Giraffe Games.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Crazy About Cats and Horses: Wild and Tame

My son has a very specific taste when it comes to books. He wants to read about all animals all the time. For that reason his favorite publisher has become Flying Eye Books. For those unfamiliar with this publisher, they produce deluxe hardcover books that are equal parts beautiful and educational. Today, I would like to tell you about two of those books - Crazy About Cats and Horses: Wild and Tame.

Crazy About Cats is a book written and illustrated by Owen Davey. You might recognize his name from Mad About Monkeys or Smart About Sharks. This hardcover book is approximately 40 pages long and begins by explaining what cats are. There are between 37 and 41 different species of cats, which belong to a group of mammals known as felids. They can live in a variety of habitats, are carnivores, and are generally shy of people. Felid-like animals have been around for about 50 million years and are divided into eight groups based on their history of evolution. Other chapters illustrate their basic anatomy, their territory, what they eat, how they hunt, and even cats in mythology. The sections my son and I found most interesting were when they highlighted specific cats and also the awards section which told who had the loudest roar or longest jump. I was surprised to learn that tigers are actually the largest cat and not the lion. This is a gorgeous book, and Owen Davey is a masterful illustrator. He makes the animals come alive and growl right off the page. Highly recommended for the cat-lover in your life!

Horses: Wild and Tame begins by telling us what a horse is and how it evolved from a small dog-like animal to the animal we know and love today. Its hoof evolved over 60 million years from a four-toed hoof to the one part there is now. Horses each have a different character and are described as cold, hot, and warmblooded. We then progress through the history of horses from prehistoric to war horses to royal steeds and lastly work horses. The most interesting sections focuses on famous horses and legendary horses - famous horses like Bucephalus who belonged to Alexander the Great and legendary horses like Pegasus or Black Beauty. This was an interesting book that gives a detailed history not just on horses, but the way humans have domesticated them and coexisted with them through the centuries. You never really think about all the functions and uses that horses served man, but this book makes you stop and appreciate how much better our lives are because of these majestic creatures.

These books were provided to me for free by Flying Eye Books in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Radiance of Her Face (Angelico Press)

Dom Xavier Perrin is the current Abbot of Quarr Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey on the Isle of Wight. He has a great devotion to the Virgin Mary and recently wrote a book about her entitled The Radiance of Her Face: A Triptych in Honor of Mary Immaculate. The first chapter asks us to focus on a triptych consisting of three panels of images of Mary. The first panel contains an image of Mary and an angel in the scene of the Annunciation. This is a picture of the angel seeing a resemblance of the face of God in the face of Mary. It is also a picture of humility in the face of Mary. The second panel is a picture at the Vatican with the pope and Mary. This pope is proclaiming the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The center panel is Mary Immaculate in Heaven with God. She is the Mother of God and the Mother of all Humanity.

The second chapter focuses on Mary's origin story. Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of Mary's birth, so pagans looked to discredit her birth, lineage, and virginity. To combat this, people wrote apocryphal texts to explain her life before Jesus. It is here that we learn about her parents Saints Anne and Joachim, that Mary's birth was miraculous in nature, and we also learn about the Feast Days that celebrate her conception and presentation. Other chapters in this book compare and contrast the Virgin Mary with Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene, show us small portraits dedicated to Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and explain to us the mystery and beauty of Mary's Immaculate Heart with Jesus' Sacred Heart.

The Radiance of Her Face is a small book that is not even 100 pages long. Within it, however, are words of beauty and wisdom that look to not only explain the mystery of Mary's Immaculate Conception, but help us reflect and meditate on it as well. This would be a perfect read during the month of December, but I recommend picking up a copy and reading it immediately, because it is in Mary's face that we see the face of God.

This book was provided to me for free by Angelico Press in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Léonie Martin: A Difficult Life (Ignatius Press)

With the exception of Jesus' mother Mary and St. John the Baptist, it is hard to say that any one saint is greater than any other saint. However, if you look at the Martin family, it's hard not to consider them sainthood celebrities. The two parents, Zélie and Louis, were canonized by Pope Francis. All five of their daughters that survived past early childhood went on to become nuns. Thérèse became a Saint and Doctor of the Church. Of the five daughters, Léonie has been unfairly described as a "lame duck," and the least impressive of the sisters. However, her cause for beatification was permitted in 2015 and she is currently granted the title "Servant of God." Ignatius Press recently published a book about her life called Léonie Martin: A Difficult Life. Let me tell you a little about it.

The book is divided into five chapters with the first four chapters arranged by different places important to her life. The first chapter begins with her place of birth Alencon. We see her parents worry over her, her learning difficulties, and the general unattractive nature of the girl. (Yes, this is covered extensively in the first chapter.) We also see how difficult her childhood was with the death of several siblings and death of her mother as well. The second chapter focuses on the family's time in Lisieux. This was a hard time for Léonie, because the two youngest daughters chose the two oldest daughters to be like mothers to them, and Léonie was left alone. However, Léonie was not the jealous type and bore this loneliness well. We also learn of the two setbacks Léonie had trying to enter the religious life and not finding an order she could stay in. The third chapter involves another failed attempt at the religious life for Léonie, her younger sister Celine being accepted into an order, and the death of Louis and Thérèse. The final chapters finally involve some joy for Léonie as her fourth attempt at religious life was successful. We also see what it was like for her to be the sister of a saint, and Léonie's ultimate health deterioration and death.

Reading through this book was hard at times, because it was hard to see someone suffer and go through so much hardship in their life. Léonie proved that despite there being trials and difficulties, if you live a life dedicated to God, you will be rewarded in this life or the next. Let her life of perseverance serve as an example for all of us, and pray for her sainthood.

This book was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Harvest (Tasty Minstrel Games)

One of my first forays into tiny box games was a game called Harbour from Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG). It is an interesting little economic worker placement game set in the fantasy world of Gullsbottom. I loved the game designer (Scott Almes) and the art of Rob Lundy made this fantasy realm come to life. In 2017, TMG released another game in the realm of Gullsbottom called Harvest. Trey Chambers is the game designer this time around, and Rob Lundy remained on as the artist. The game plays 1 - 4 players, ages 14+. It takes between 30 and 60 minutes to play and retails for $40. In this game, you are farmers living in the community of Fallowsend. It is your goal to have the best farm by use of careful planting, meticulous tending, and special abilities from buildings. Will you have the most successful harvest this season?
Setup and Game Play
Place the Town Board central to all players and organize the crop/seed tokens by type. You have Snap Peas, Scarrots, Phantom Peppers, Rockali, and Plumpkins. (This doesn't look like any farm I've ever been to!) Next, place Farm Boards and Expansions as well as Resource Tokens of Water, Elixir, and Fertilizer near the Town Board. (Yes, there are poop-shaped pieces in this game.) Then, give each play two Farmers in their color, a Farm Board, and two Character Boards, so that they may choose the character they will be this game. (Note: Each character has a generic Wil Plantsomdill side, and this is the recommended character for your first game.) All characters have different starting resources and have special powers, except Wil, whose "power" is that he gives you 15 points at the end of the game. Lastly, you will seed the area (Seed...see what I did there?) with Action Cards (a face-down deck composed of five per player), Building/Field Cards (six face-up for Buildings, and the rest are fields), and Initiative Cards (one to each player), which determine player order and also give a bonus in all rounds but the first. The game play is very simple with four phases each of the five rounds.
1. Action Cards - Reveal one Action Card per player. These cards and the Town Board are the places you can send your Farmers each round.
2. Initiative - Reveal three Initiative Cards. Going in order of current initiative, each player will choose a new Initiative Card and receive its bonus. After everyone has selected their new card, the three cards leftover are shuffled back into the deck. The new turn order has now been established.
3. Farmer Placement - Going in initiative order, you will place farmers one at a time onto a location on the Town Board or an Action Card. This is where the meat of the game occurs and where you will either Expand your Farm, Plow a Field, Build a Building, Plant Seeds, Tend Plants, or Harvest your Crops.
4. Resolution - Reclaim your Farmers. Return the Action Cards to the box. Refill Building supply to six.

The game ends after five rounds. Count up all the stars on your farm and add any bonuses your character gave you. Most stars is the winner!
This game is a lighter, fantasy-themed version of Agricola. The game play is very simple because you only get 10 actions per game (two per round), but because of these limited actions, you must make very good use of each action! Looking through all the moving parts of this game, I find myself very pleased with all the variability of this game and would like to highlight these aspects:

1. Variable Player Power - I love that everyone can have their own unique character with different starting resources and power. Im-Hoe-Tep was a favorite of mine, because I got a free building at the start of each game and my buildings counted as fields too! This encouraged me to go a building-heavy route.
2. Initiative Cards - Having people decide between more of something or being the first player is a constant struggle each turn.
3. Action Cards - Having these be different every game and only seeing one per player per round tightens up the board and makes your decisions meaningful.

Other things I liked about this game were the art and fantasy theme. For someone who owns a lot of board games, I am surprised at how few farming games I own since that seems to be a highly popular theme. I can't say this is my favorite farming game (That would be Fields of Green), but this one is a solid second place and one I would suggest to play or play when asked. There are two things I don't like about this game and both of them are very petty if I'm being honest. The first is I wish the field cards were cardboard and not just card stock. The second is that the box is bigger than its predecessor Harbour. However, I have read recently that there will be a third game in this universe called Embark that will be the same box size as Harvest, so I guess when that comes out, I can complain about Harbour being the wrong size. :) If you are looking for a fun worker placement game with a fantasy-farming theme, check it out!

This game was provided to me for free by Tasty Minstrel Games in exchange for an honest review.