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Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

One of the coolest things about blogging is getting free books in exchange for sharing my honest opinion of them here.  As I might have mentioned, I love books.  I love them so much that I have big stacks of them and so sometimes I don’t review them as quickly as I am supposed to.

But not this one! Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby has such a compelling premise that I could hardly wait to read it.  And since William had to have a root canal this week, I had a perfect opportunity to do it all in one sitting.  In fact, I had just a few pages left and I read them while sitting in the Arby’s drive-thru on the way home because I just HAD to know what happened.

I read a lot of young adult novels because my daughter loves the genre and brings them to my attention. But this one is different for a couple of reasons–one, it’s a specifically Catholic novel, and two, it starts with a rape and ends with a baby.

That’s pretty heavy stuff for a teen novel, and let’s throw in a couple of deaths, an orphan, mean girls, a close call at the abortion clinic, and dysfunctional families aplenty.  But the lovable, quirky main characters and the fresh narrative voice (Calvin, whose British accent you can almost hear) add humor and humanity without ever glossing over the truly terrible events in the story.

Perhaps when you think of a Catholic novel you imagine characters who pray all the time, lots of priests and nuns, and plenty of preaching.  That’s not what you’ll find here.  The Catholicism is mostly background–the kids go to a Catholic school, the families are nominally Catholic in that they go to Mass on Sunday and not much else.  The only truly devout Catholic we see is Calvin, and the Catholic heart of the story is in its redemptive message.

I enjoyed this novel so much that I would love to read more about Sydney and Calvin.  I would especially recommend it for a Catholic youth discussion group.

Author:  Adrienne Thorne

Publisher:  Gracewatch Media


Use the above link, or the one in the first paragraph, to purchase this book, and I will receive a small commission.

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It is a secret to no one who knows me, whether on social media or in real life, that I love Pope Francis.  So when I was offered the opportunity to review a picture book about him, I jumped at it.  I didn’t jump on the reviewing part quite as quickly as I should, for which mea culpa.  Read on to see what I thought–and know that while my review copy was free, I was not otherwise compensated for this review, and my opinion is, as always, my own!

I was hooked immediately by the title–Pope Francis:  Builder of Bridges.  You may know that one of the Holy Father’s titles, Pontiff, comes from the Latin pontifex, literally bridge-builder, and I have always thought it described Pope Francis especially well.

I love that the story starts with young Jorge Bergoglio, walking through Buenos Aires at his grandmother’s side, dreaming of playing soccer.  Since this is a children’s book, it makes sense to start with a child, someone young readers will relate to.

pope book 1

The book showcases events from Jorge’s Bergoglio’s life that shaped his future path, from his relationship with his faithful grandmother, his father’s example of hard work, his encounters with the poor in his city, to his decision to join the Jesuits.  It offers humanizing anecdotes, such as the movie nights he hosted for neighborhood kids.  The story continues through his election as Pope and after to some of the events that have happened since, such as his decision to wash the feet of prisoners, Muslims, and women on Holy Thursday and his writing of Laudate Si.

pope book 2

Visually this book is very appealing, with colorful illustrations that support the text, and accurate portrayals of the Pope.  I especially love the inside covers, which depict stained glass windows.

There are many details here for adults to appreciate too, like the glossary, the many direct quotations from the Pope with their sources provided, a timeline, and a bibliography.

Pope Francis: Builder of Bridge would be the perfect gift for any Catholic family.  I loved it and I am delighted to have it in my library!

Author:  Emma Otheguy

Illustrator:  Oliver Dominguez

Publisher:  Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Use the above link, or any link in this post, to purchase this book, and I will receive a small commission.

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Eve.

The first woman.  The mother of all the living.  Adam’s companion.

What do you think of when I say her name?  How do you picture her?  Are your thoughts positive–or negative?

when we were eve

When I was offered a copy of this book by a representative of Franciscan Media in exchange for my honest review, I wondered what the title could mean, and my thoughts weren’t positive.  My gut reaction was to think of Eve as that weak and sinful woman who brought sin and death into the world through pride and disobedience, dragging Adam and all the rest of us down with her.

And my reaction is kind of the whole point of the book.  Our feelings about Eve mirror our feelings about ourselves–women who are no longer able to walk before God naked and unashamed.

But Colleen Mitchell encourages us to go back to Eden, to think about how Eve must have been before the Fall, to empathize with the weakness that led her to sin, and to discover our own “Eden instinct” that draws us to seek God’s original desires for us.

She encourages us to remember how good it was when God first made the world, and especially the unique place woman held as His final creation:  “As the culmination of God’s creative love, we arrive at the shaping of woman . . . in all the world, nothing exists that can fulfill the need for woman.”

This is a book that begs to be read carefully and prayerfully, and probably several times.  It would be ideal for a women’s book and/or prayer group.  Each chapter includes quotations from Scripture, reflections by the author, a story from an individual woman about her journey back to Eden, and questions for further study.  It concludes with a section of benedictions for your body that are incredibly moving.

This book made me cry more than once.   The personal stories shared in each chapter brought to mind some of my own struggles with body image issues.  As most women know, this is an incredibly painful topic that many would rather avoid than confront as this book encourages its readers to do.

But this is a joyful book, too, because it offers us hope that we CAN make our way back to Eden, and I recommend it to any woman who would like to reclaim some of that original joy.

franciscan media

 

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As a somewhat sheepish occasional reader of Christian romance novels, I have been wishing for years that there was a Catholic equivalent.  So when Catholic author Amanda Hamm asked if I would like to read her latest novel (for free, in exchange for my honest review) I was super excited.

That said, being used to the Protestant take on the genre, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot–a light read, something to wile away an afternoon with a hint of Catholicism thrown in.  I am delighted to tell you that They See a Family is so much more than that.

TheySeeaFamily

This is a sweet story that starts tragically, when the main character, Kay Donovan, learns that her sister and brother-in-law have died in a car crash while out for a rare evening alone, leaving Kay to care for two babies under the age of two.  Trapped in her apartment with her nephews and without their car seats, Kay immediately calls her friend William to help.

William is adorably awkward and has had a crush on Kay for awhile.  He instantly steps in and becomes an intrinsic part of Kay’s life as she leans on him for help with her new role.  Their friendship deepens and Kay starts to think of William as father/husband material.  But neither knows the other’s true feelings and misunderstandings abound.  Can they solve these problems to become a real family?

Well, of course they can because this is a romance and has to have a happy ending! But that doesn’t render the emotional resonance along the way any less real and rewarding.  I especially appreciate the many little homely details that are included starting with the problem of the car seats at the very beginning.  I also love the glimpses into William’s and Kay’s minds.  With their confusion and insecurities they seem very realistic, as well as likable.

As for the faith aspect, it’s more understated than in the Protestant romances I have read.  William and Kay are Catholic and talk about attending Mass together.  Eventually they seek the advice of a priest about their relationship.  They have a chaste courtship and their attempts to discuss sex are embarrassing for both of them.  I loved the subtle pro-life touch of William having a mentally disabled brother who is included in the story without making a big point about it.

They See a Family is available for pre-order on Amazon.   I’m so happy to have been introduced to Amanda Hamm’s work and am looking forward to reading more.

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There’s something about a new year. isn’t there?  So fresh and clean with none of the last year’s mistakes . . . yet.  It’s natural to want to apply the newness to our lives, to make them fresh and clean as well.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who resolves to tackle household clutter at this time of year.  When it’s cold out, we naturally spend more time indoors enjoying cozy pursuits, and I have a hard time relaxing when my house is making me feel unhappy and anxious.

I wrote a super popular post a few years ago, about our American problem with too much stuff, and last year I acquired the popular minimalism guide by Marie Kondo.  And I made some progress, but this is going to be my year.

Because last year I read a book that didn’t only talk about minimalism and explain it.  This book anchored it in Catholicism, and that’s an unbeatable combination.

not of this world

Sterling Jaquith, the author of Not of This World  (which I was given by the author in exchange for my honest opinion in this post) hit the nail on the head when she wrote this: “Nothing in this world will ever really satisfy us.  Our ultimate desire will always be for God, and that is why I believe all Catholics should embrace a lifestyle of minimalism.”  This makes so much sense to me.  Our consumeristic culture encourages us to fill our emptiness with more and more stuff, but it never ends, does it?  We are always looking toward the next “must-have” item.

As my readers know, I was forced into minimalism a few years ago when my house burned down.  I was involuntarily relieved of the burden of too much stuff.  My relationship to the things of this world was changed instantly, and the result is that clutter I might have once not given a second glance now makes me anxious.  I have intentionally chosen to acquire very few extraneous personal possessions, and I ruthlessly get rid of things regularly, but the stuff seems to pile up anyway.

I find this overwhelming, and the problem is hard to tackle.  I need help, and this book provides it.  The opening chapters explain minimalism, and offer personal examples of what can happen to people who live their lives piling up possessions.  I recently traveled to Baltimore to help my mother-in-law go through some of the stuff in her home of more than 60 years prior to her moving into a small apartment.  She is very happy in her new place, but getting rid of her possessions has been very hard–not just logistically, but emotionally.  How much easier not to buy things and become attached to them in the first place!

Sterling goes on to remind us of the minimalist beginnings of Christianity–Jesus was born in a stable, after all!  His followers were poor, and throughout the ages those in religious lives have continued to vow poverty.  Following their example will bring us peace and space: “We’re going to create more space in our lives to connect with the Lord . . . The more we follow His will, the more peace we have and deep down, this is what we all desire.”

For me, this focus on Christianity is what sets the book apart from other minimalism guides and makes it uniquely motivating for me.  But that doesn’t mean the other stuff is neglected!  Much of the book involves detailed week-by-week and room-by-room instructions for decluttering, along with access to printable worksheets to help you do it.  There are also special sections for larger families, homeschooling families, and people who live in small spaces.

I am starting on Monday to follow Sterling’s program.  Buy the book right here and you can do it too!  Even better, you can join in online and get explanatory and motivations videos from Sterling and feedback from other people going through the program!

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It’s Christmas Eve!

In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.

The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!

Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.

Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.

As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.

It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.

We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.

the clown of god

This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.

jonathan toomey

The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.

The Other WIse Man

An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.

silver packages

The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.

small miracle

I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

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Catholic blogger fail confession time–we are not That Catholic Family that does a  morning blessing, says grace before every meal, and prays a nightly rosary.   Not even close.

It’s not that we haven’t had good intentions.  We’ve tried off and on over the many, many years (26 and counting, y’all) of having kids to come up with a family prayer routine that stuck.  But to everything there is a season, and some of our seasons have been more fruitful in this area than others.

Every morning, John prays with William in the car on the way to school.  And he did this with the big kids from the time they were little kids.  I love that he does this.  And right now we are rocking the family evening prayer because Advent.  But we need to do better and I found something that might help.

CFBP-cover-1

 

Gracewatch Media has just published a lovely book by Jerry Windley-Daoust of Peanut Butter and GraceThe Catholic Family Book of Prayers is available for preview and/or purchase in a variety of formats right here.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review, and I am going to cherish it always because it is a beautiful book that every Catholic family should have it their library.

Seriously, before I go any further I suggest you buy this book right now if you need a wedding gift, a new baby or baptism gift, or an RCIA gift (or of course a Christmas gift for the Catholic families you know!).

The book is aptly subtitled A Treasury of Prayers and Meditations for Families to Pray Together because it really is a treasure.  The content alone–basically every important Catholic prayer–would be enough to give it this status but this little volume packs in so much more:  illustrations varying in style but all beautiful, explanations of prayers and traditions along with support from the Catechism, suggestions of different ways to pray, and inspirational quotations on prayer from the saints are just some of what you will find within.

I hope this book will help me to continue our family’s evening prayer routine once Advent comes to a close.  Please do your family a favor and buy a copy!

the catholic family book of prayers

“The best form of prayer is one that . . . makes space for the presence of God within us.”

~ Saint Basil the Great

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