Book Review for Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life is my latest review book for the Catholic Company, and they are in luck once again, because it’s a great book!

I knew the gist of St. Gianna’s life, but this was the first detailed biography I’d read, and I think it’s an excellent introduction to the saint.  It’s a compact, readable biography that starts with the marriage of Gianna’s parents in 1908.  Through the lens of family life, we see St. Gianna working to discern her vocation and make the most of the struggles she faces throughout her life, as well as the tremendous joy she found in marriage, motherhood, and her work as a physician.

Reading Level:  Upper elementary and up.  My fourth grader (average reader, Catholic girl — which makes a difference, see below) read it in one afternoon.

Why this is a great book for Moms:  I know that technically it’s a children’s book.  But when you have small children, you really need something that can read in five-minute snatches (with interruptions every other paragraph) and still hope to reach the end of the book before you forget the beginning.  And this a book not only about a mom, but with some encouraging details for normal moms. Just look at these saintly facts:

  • St. Gianna, working mother?  Once her first baby was born, she had not just her own sister as a full-time nanny, but a housekeeper too.   Did you get that?  Not a super-person.
  • She takes her two pre-schoolers to Mass and the baby stays home.  She was a saint.  And she left her baby at home.
  • Her preschool boy lasted all of five minutes at Mass, per her account.

See?  You need to read this.  Saintly living for normal people.

Why this is a great book for pre-teens and teens:  There is a very strong emphasis on vocation.  Even though it was easy enough for my fourth grader to read, it would be perfect for about a twelve- or thirteen-year-old.  Super book-club or youth group discussion choice, if you have a group of teen girls who get together to talk about Catholic stuff.

Sanity via history through biography:  As a teenager, St. Gianna’s parents pulled her out of school for a year so she could rest and regain her health.  They felt the vigor with which St. Gianna was pursuing her studies was wearing her out, and she needed the break.  This is a teen who eventually went on to earn her M.D.   If an American parent did this today, in many cases there would be significant legal and financial penalties for both parent and child.   For this one anecdote alone, I’d recommend this book.   You can’t think clearly about public policy if you are utterly wrapped up in the quirks of your own time and place.


Cautions for the would-be reader:

1. It helps to have a general background in Catholic culture before starting the book.  There is a very helpful glossary at the back of the book, for those of us who never can remember what it is that makes a basilica a basilica.  But for teaching this book to a mixed group of students with varying amounts of Catholic up-bringing, I would plan to go over the vocabulary and cultural notes for the next week’s class session before students did the reading.

2. There is a clear and straightforward explanation of the moral choices St. Gianna faced when she was diagnosed with a tumor during her last pregnancy — another reason this is a great book for adults.  But it would be helpful for students to have a knowledgeable teacher to explain some of the basic moral principles that come into play.   St. Gianna’s death is also a good illustration of ways Catholics can choose to handle end-of-life situations.


Conclusion: This one isn’t leaving my shelf.  Recommended if you want an enjoyable, readable introduction to St. Gianna’s life, encouragement in your vocation and efforts at holiness, and a real-life example of moral choices in medical ethics and end-of-life issues.


Thanks again to the Catholic Company for their on-going efforts to keep bloggers from ever getting bored.  I received this book in exchange for an honest review, and it’s not my fault I picked a book I happened to like (okay it is — but I didn’t know it would be this good in these ways).  In addition to their work of mercy instructing the ignorant, The Catholic Company would like me to remind you they are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

7 Quick Takes: Catholic Family Fun

Land of the 700 Takes.


Today for my Quick Takes I’m reviewing Sarah Reinhard’s new book, Catholic Family Fun.  This is a stop on Sarah’s virtual book tour, so she should be lurking around the combox ready to answer any questions you have.

FYI, Sarah is not only a super-friendly person, she is also an extrovert, which means that her life as a writer is made tolerable by finding people to chat with.  So say “Hi Sarah!”.  She’ll be excited.


This is what the book looks like:

It’s about 140 pages, paperback, nice sturdy glossy cover.  It’s designed to float around your house and be abused.


What’s inside?

You know how women’s magazines have those little articles about fun things to do with your family?  This is like 10 years of those ideas all in one place.  Only you are spared those obnoxious photos of pristine toaster ovens and closets organized by that sect of hermits who take a vow to own nothing but three pieces of splashy, sassy, ready-for-spring ensembles to pair with their strappy heels.  Also, no perfume ads.

Instead you get page after page of practical, realistic ideas for unplugged family activities that you can customize to match your kids’ ages and interests.  The chapters are organized by types of activities (crafts, meals, outdoor adventures, etc.), and there are several easy-to-read indexes in the back to help you quickly find the ones that match your budget and energy level.  Most of the suggestions are either free, or involve money you were going to spend anyway.   (You are going to eat today, right?)

Other than the chapters on prayer and on the saints, the activities themselves can be purely fun family time, or they can be explicitly tied to the Catholic faith.   Every activity includes suggestions on how to make the faith connection.


What if you aren’t crafty? Don’t panic on the crafts, there aren’t that many and they are very low-key.  Indeed, I’d say this is the perfect book for people who don’t do glitter glue, foam art, or anything involving popsicle sticks, ever.  Did I mention Sarah R. is a real mom of young children, with a farm, and a writing job, and . . . you get the picture.  You may find yourself wanting an internet connection to pull off a few of these activities (I see you have access to one, very good), but no glue gun will ever be needed.

What if you are, in fact, the grumpy, curmudgeonly type? See the next section.  I advise letting your kids pick the activities.  That way you never need fear you’ve gotten all goofy and relaxed for nothing.  Also you could tell the kids you aren’t going to do Chapters 1 and 2 yourself, but you’ll give them five bucks if they’ll just be quiet while your finish reading the paper.  (Um, wait a minute.  No, that’s not how the book’s supposed to work.  Oops.)  Chapters 3-9 are Curmudgeon-Safe, though the one idea about a backyard circus makes me a little nervous . . .


Who could use this book?  Three groups of  people come to mind, and last was a surprise to me, but it’s true:

1.  Parents, grandparents, and other relatives.

  • If you’re trying to think up new ways to connect to the kids, and get out of the rut of doing the same old things.
  • If you have a long summer vacation ahead, with stir-crazy children and no money for expensive camps and activities.
  • Or if you didn’t have a satisfyingly Catholic childhood, and you want to find ways to share and practice your faith without being all stodgy and dour about it.

2.  Kids.  My daughter is fighting me for custody of our copy.  The book is eminently readable, so you really can hand it to a late-elementary or older child, and say, “Pick something out for us to do Saturday.”  I like that because then the onus is on the kids to decide which activity sounds fun — and I’m always surprised by what kids come up with when given the choice.

3.  Catechists, VBS volunteers, scout leaders, and anyone else charged with keeping a group of kids busy for an hour or two.  Some of the activities will only work in a family setting, but very many of them are well-suited to using in a classroom.  The suggestions for faith tie-ins make this an awesome resource for religious ed and VBS.  If your parish doesn’t have money for a high-priced pre-packaged program with talking pandas and cheesey chipmunk videos, you could seriously just go through this book and pick out activities to assemble a home-grown series of your own.


You know who loves a good VBS program?  Allie Hathaway.  It’s Friday, so we’re praying for her.  And hey, offer up a quick one for Sarah Reinhard’s intentions as well.  Thanks!


What else do you want to know?  I’ve wrestled the book out of my daughter’s hands, so I’m happy to look stuff up and answer questions.   Sarah’s around here somewhere, and if she doesn’t get to you today, she’s a very reliable combox-attender, so feel free to ask her questions as well.

You can also take a look at the Catholic Family Fun Facebook page, where people are sharing ideas, and the Catholic Family Fun website at Pauline Media, where if you click around there are a pile of useful resources in case maybe you don’t know any camp songs or g-rated knock-knock jokes.

Click the picture to find out where the book tour is going next.

PS:  This and a package of pre-cooked bacon would make a great Mother’s Day gift.


Updated to toss in three bits of full disclosure, which together give the most accurate picture:

7.1) Pauline Media sent me a review copy.

7.2) You might have caught on, Sarah & I are friends, and perhaps you’ve noticed we work together at the CWG blog.  Which means that if she wrote a lousy book, I just wouldn’t review it.  I’m very grateful she doesn’t write lousy books, because that saves us a lot of awkward moments.

7.3) See “free book” above.  I gave a copy of this book to my DRE, who is a mom and grandma of 10 bazillion children, and always griping observing that all the grandkids do is play Angry Birds.  I knew she’d love to pass it around her family, and I was thrilled to see she could use it for religious ed ideas too.  But you know what?  I did not give her my free copy.  See, that’s what I would have done if this was a so-so book.  Instead, I paid cash to buy her a brand new copy of her own.

Hey and a gratuitous 7.4: Let’s just clarify: If you want a collection of pom-pom art ideas, this is not your book.

7 Quick Takes: People, Places, Things

Click to see more takes at Betty's place.


Until yesterday, I had no idea — zero — about the history of shipping orphaned British children to the colonies to work as indentured servants.  I did know about the American orphan trains, thanks to the picture book on the subject.

You can read about the British Home Children at Rose McCormick-Brandon’s site, The Promise of Home.


This week we met the governor’s dog, Simba.  I can’t find an image for you, but if you book a (free) tour of the SC Governor’s Mansion, the odds are in your favor.  (We also caught sight of the first gentleman, but he saw the tour group through the window and slipped around to a back entrance.) 

This is my new favorite historic building tour for kids, because it is a real live occupied home.  Which means nothing is roped off, and you are allowed to touch things.  Mostly the kids did not touch things, because they have sense and know better than to put their fingers on somebody’s dishes or plop down on the living room couch.  The downstairs area that you tour looks exactly like your grandmother’s formal living room that even your mom isn’t allowed to go into without permission.  So you put on living room manners. 

But the tour guide did have us all pull out dining room chairs to inspect the deer-hoof carving on the feet of the chairs.  If you poured out a bottle of SC Concentrate, that building is what you’d get.


After a jumbled first-round of Sacrament of Confession last week, I re-booted and had a much better second half.  Helped that we had laid the groundwork the week before; also that I revised the study guide so that the students didn’t have to copy so much off the board.

My trusty teenage assistant was out sick last week.  Lucky for him, we didn’t do 10,000 Gun Questions  until this week.  He agreed, it is a very fun class.


I’m still only halfway through writing report cards for Q2.  Quarter break is almost over.  Need to crank the rest out and mail off a couple quarters worth of grades and work samples to Kolbe.  Not something that Kolbe requires (unless you want a transcript from them), nor that is a legal requirement for us.  But I am finding that it helps me teach better, if I have that extra grown-up looking over my shoulder.


My daughter (the Bun – #3 child) loves beanie-snaps.  She’s having some for breakfast-dessert.  These:

#4 would eat sour cream exclusively if we let her.


Pray for Allie Hathaway.  Also for the repose of the soul of Fr. Robert Fix.


Curmudgeon Gets Comeuppance, Enjoys Cute-Jesus Book

Here’s my weird day:

1) Dropped kids off at Grandma’s house.

2) Stopped in at local Catholic bookstore to say hello to owner, give update on catechist booklet progress, pretend I was there to buy books.

2a) Of course I knew I’d find books to buy, so I wasn’t dissembling.

3) My friend Sarah Reinhard’s lenten booklet, Welcome Risen Jesus, was smack in the center of the Books-for-Lent display.  Yay for Sarah!

4) Well it isn’t expensive, and my DRE will like it, so I pick up a copy.

5) I read it.

See, here’s the situation.  Look at this cover:

Do you not see the problem?   I’ll give you a second to observe.





I am a curmudgeon.  I’ve been grumpy and old at least since the age of reason, and I expect much, much earlier than that.  My favorite people in the world are 80-something and crotchety.  [They keep dying.  I have to make new friends pretty often.  Luckily other people get promoted.  There seems to be something magic about the big 8-0 that really brings out the critical thinking skills in a new way.  It gets even better at 90, but not everyone makes it that far.  The world can only bear so much common sense, I guess.]

My favorite weather is foggy.  Silent.  Nobody around.  My religious art runs to icons and creepy gothic statuary.  This is a book cover: Gargoyles.

I don’t do Cute-Jesus.

Happy?  Okay sure.  Friendly?  Yes.  I like people.  Even cute people.  Jesus loves cute people as much as He loves anyone else.  But I would not see Cute-Jesus and think, “Look at that cover!  There’s a book I need to read.”

And that’s awkward, because it turns out?  It’s a book I need to read.

I should not have been surprised by this.  I know Sarah R.  Yes,  she is undeniably cuter and perkier than me. But she’s on the mark.  Head on straight, clear-thinking, no-holds-barred normal Catholic lady.  Of course she’d write a great book.  And if it takes Cute-Jesus to get her message into the hands of people who need it, bless those Liguori artists who make it happen.

I have commissioned my children to make a Curmudgeon-Approved stamp to put on the front of these types of things, to assist any of my readers who might have been likewise thrown off by the artwork.  In the meantime, here’s what you need to know:

  • There’s a meditation for each day of Lent and the octave of Easter.  Practical, no-nonsense Catholic spirituality.
  • Each day comes with a different suggested prayer, personal sacrifice, and act of charity.
  • I’d say it’s best suited to maybe ages 5-and-up.

The suggested sacrifices are very Thérèse.  Don’t complain one day.  Drink only water one day. Sleep without your pillow, and offer up your discomfort.  I really really like the changing up of the sacrifices, because it gives some realistic focus for those of us who want to do everything, but actually we’d completely stink at even doing a couple things all Lent long.

It’s a Lent for normal people.  I love it.  I repent of ever thinking grumpy thoughts about cartoon-y Bible-story pictures.

Okay never mind I did not really repent I am not that holy.  But seriously.  Good book. 100% buy-recommend for readers who want some good solid achieveable Lenten goals, no saccharine, no goofiness, just reliable practical advice grounded in every thing that one particularly sensible parish priest you had* was trying to tell you all those years.   You could cover it with some nice gargoyle stickers if that would help you.

UPDATE: The boy has applied the stamp of curmudgeon-approval:


*He’s 80 now.  Or was for a while.  Or looks younger but actually, yes, he’s fully grown-up on the inside, don’t let the smooth skin fool you.

7 Quick Takes: Nday Ithway Ouryay Iritspay

Look! The Post-It Notes! I Finally Remembered! Click to see 7 x 77 Quick Takes


Resisted the urge to flee to 3.5 Time Outs, which would have been more realistic, except that Tuesdays aren’t any better than Fridays.  Due to the plague, I didn’t see it until Thursday anyway.


Dear Son Whom I Love,

Please do not make fake retching noises while you do your homework.


The Person Who Assigns Grades.


An Advent novel!  Back before we had kids, SuperHusband observed that among his colleagues, the parents of young children were constantly getting sick.  Now we have young children.  So I use these special parenthood moments to catch up on my homeschooling reading.  Which is why I read The Bronze Bow this week while other responsible adults were doing things like going around upright, and speaking without coughing.  It’s Mr. Boy’s new literature selection.

Ignore the goofy cover art. This is a super book.

And wow, a good book!  If you haven’t read it, it is awesome, and I mean that with all the italics of a crazy person, awesome Advent reading.  Highly recommended.


I went ahead and bought the Kolbe literature questions.  Pretty useful, and not a bad deal for what will be about a collective decade worth of literature for my kids. And I thought, “Hey, how cool, reproducibles!”  So I made copies.  And then just to be sure before I posted on the blog something like, “Hey, how cool, reproducibles!” I double-checked.  Oooh.  Noooo.  Red all-caps on the back cover: IT IS ILLEGAL TO PHOTOCOPY THIS BOOK.

So I guess I’ll chain it to a desk and bookmark the pages select children (who cannot be trusted with a book — see “retching noises” above) need to view.

Grumble grumble.  Publishers trying to make a living. What, they need to eat or something??


Here’s what happens when you foolishly invite an SCA friend (who said, “I was thinking of coming to your church”) to come to your church:  The choir director chooses a 9th Century hymn for communion.  Ours didn’t sound as impressive as the link (whose does?), plus it was in English (full disclosure: English is one of my favorite languages), but that did not stop me from pointing to the note at the bottom of the hymnal and whispering, “Look!  9th Century!”

So if I get fired, that’s why.

(PS: It isn’t just me. My friend says she kept noticing the Byzantine scrollwork on the Catholic Update pew cards with all the translation changes.  I believe good art may be a near occasion of sin for us.)


Out on the playground after mass, discussing the new translation with a different friend, a realization: To be Catholic is to complain.

–> If we were Protestant, we’d take our protesting seriously and go start our own church.  Instead we stick around.  And that, I think, is why Catholics have such a well-developed Theology of Suffering.  We live with each other.

(Ever notice the heavy emphasis on Not Complaining in the lives of saints?  It is as if the writers of these things wish to inspire us to heroic silence. Apparently one could be canonized, even declared a Doctor of the Church, if only the art of Not Complaining were practiced wholeheartedly.)


Don’t forget to pray for Allie Hathaway.


Dear Son Whom I Love,

There is no approved translation of the Roman Missal into Pig Latin.  Nor will there ever be.  Stop.  Now.


The Person Upon Whom You Depend For Room And Board.


So what if I gave up complaining?

Wipe that smirk off your mouth.

Seriously.  Do you know someone who isn’t a Doctor of the Church, but pulled it off anyway?  Even half the time?  What do you do when someone asks your opinion of, oh, you know, something?  Do you say, “I’d tell you except that I gave up complaining for Advent?”  Or maybe you just pinch the baby or drop a vase or do something to change the subject?

Smirk.  Off.

Thanksgiving, Franciscans, and All Things In Moderation

Last night we took the kids to burgers then Target to quick buy our Giving Tree gift items before the shopping season began.  Stopped at the liquor store on the way; SuperHusband dashed inside, and then sloowed down . . . they were giving out free samples. [I had no idea that was legal.]  Fortunately most of it was weird trendy froofy stuff he doesn’t drink.

Kids and I sat in the car rehearsing Christmas Carols, though eventually I had to make the boy stand out in the cold next to the car, because he was being so, er, impatient, about our singing.  Then had to pre-emptively save him from injury or death, when I saw he got the bright idea to ambush his father coming out of the store.  That’s a lovely practical joke in the front hallway, dear, but not in a parking lot after dark.  He understood as soon as I explained.

Thanksgiving Eve with the Catholic Family.  Yes.  (And Target was so peaceful.  Amen.)


My favorite Thanksgiving book is Squanto’s Journey.  Goodness you can now get in paperback for $7.  I might have to add it to my wish list.

Something cool I didn’t mention in my first review, and that the Amazon Preview doesn’t snow you: The Friars get their credit.


We went to Mass this morning, chatted on the playground, then came home and the young cooks put together a batch of shortbread (per the Joy but with whole wheat flour) to bring to dinner later today. Meanwhile, SuperHusband kept showing me ads from the Sobieski website.  I can’t spell it or pronounce it, but if you google “inexpensive Polish Vodka” the ad pops up on top.  If you have utterly failed in your uber-franciscan aspirations, and have resolved just to drink affordably, it’s the one.   Tito’s is a smidge better, and is therefore my second-choice recommendation, but costs a lot more.


And all this to tell you a true story, which might be of help to about six people on the internet: You know they say that if you have an irregular heartbeat you should give up alcohol and caffeine?

One Lent the SuperHusband and I, who drink laughably moderately if you were wondering, gave up alcohol as a penance.  I gave it no thought. (Other than: Gosh I like beer.)  Looking back, hey, wait a minute, that was the year I developed a weird skipped-beat heart thing.  Previously had only had it during pregnancy.  (When — get this — I don’t drink.)

So the first thing to do is keep not drinking, and plus give up coffee as well.  Skipping only gets worse. Long drawn out medical investigation confirms it is a benign condition (PVC’s), hurray, go home and don’t worry about it.  Yay!

No sense living the penitential life purely for spiritual reasons, if there’s not gonna be a health kickback, right?  (Bad catechist!  No biscuit.)  Resume life of all-vices-in-moderation, decide to see what happens.

Heart goes back to the ol’ normal, all-beats-per-minute self.

Try not to feel too sorry for me.


This Thanksgiving, may you be blessed with problems that can only be solved by doing something you wanted to do anyway.




7 Quick Takes: Reading List

Sign of the Apocalypse: I’m organized enough to come up with 7 things to say on a Friday.


A reader sends in a link to Diary of a Gold-Digger.  I liked the Morocco stories especially.  Look forward to reading more.


I keep forgetting to pass on that Dan Castell’s second installment in the Marx Brothers series is out.  Excerpted from The Marx Brothers Meet the Doctors of Death:

“I do have this.” Groucho pulls up his shirt and exposes a fine swath of swarthy tummy.
“Und what is that supposed to be?”
“It’s a rub that itches when I scratches.”
“Ach,” says Dr. Mangler, “a rub that itches when you scratches is simple schtuff. You haff the acute dermatitis.”
“Acute dermatitis!” Groucho cries. “And me…so young…so much undone…so many dames still to fun. Acute dermatitis—and I thought it was just an itch.”
“Ja,” says Dr. Mangler, “that is what I haff said. Acute dermatitis—you haff an itch.” He pulls out a prescription pad, scribbles a scrawl, and hands it to Groucho. “Here, that should help.”
“My prescription!?”
“Nein, mein bill. Fifty dollars, please.”
“I thought you said this would help.”
“Of course fifty dollars helps. You don’t think scalpels grow on trees, do you?”

My boy loves this guy.  Also available at Barnes & Noble.


Speaking of the boy, do you know why I have an inordinate fondness for the Young Chesterton series?  Because the other night I go check on the progress of homework.  Recall the child is supposed to be writing a review of Emperor of North America for his composition assignment, so he isn’t being a total slacker when I catch him with both novels open.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“I’m looking something up.  I thought the ‘Oliver’ character might be the Oliver from Oliver Twist.  I had to check and see.”

That’s why.  Basically if it makes you think about Dickens, in a good way, I’m okay with that.


Grammar Girl is my new favorite grammar book.


I put new blogs into my feed reader all the time, and sometimes I forget where they came from.  I clicked on Servant of Truth, which had something or another about a history curriculum the author was putting together, or, oh, gosh, where did I hear about this blog from?  Who is this person?  I click through for a clue.

Oh yeah.  Kolbe.  Idiot.

Have I mentioned I would have been sunk this fall without their ready-made course plans?  You begin to see why.


Okay I am not that organized.  No apocalypse.


And anyway, my five counts as seven if you give Castell and McNichol each credit for two.

Think eternally, shop locally

Sarah R. on Reasons to Support Your Local Catholic Bookstore.

Yes.  Yes.

If there is not a local store you are able to shop at, mail order is the next best thing. For that reason, I’m 100% behind all catholic retailers.  But you’ve got to support your local shop, because they do a work the mail-order folks can’t do.  Mine:

  • Provides real live friendly clerks to answer questions about the faith from passersby.
  • Opens a whole world of catholic thought to people who just stopped in a for a first-communion card.
  • Lets you look at the books!  It’s way easier to size up a book in person than on the pc.
  • Supports local catholic events with a bookshop presence.
  • Turns out for parish sales, allowing Catholics who would never even know great Catholic books exist to browse at their leisure.
  • Provides a venue for authors to sell books and meet readers.
  • Offers free book study courses — authentic, faithfully Catholic religious ed that reaches an audience your parish may not be equipped to teach.

This is not a profit-making venture.  No one is getting rich stocking GKC and nun-of-the-month calendars. Book stores have miserable margins, small dealers face higher costs than the big guys, and the Catholic niche is tiny.  These shops are run as a ministry.

If you knew your parish religious education program was evangelizing hundreds of non-Catholics and fallen-away Catholics, wouldn’t you put a few bucks into the special collection for that ministry?

If your parish had a full-time staff person whose only job was to answer questions about the faith from people too shy to darken the door of a church, don’t you think a little contribution towards that person’s puny salary would be in order?

Support your local Catholic bookstore.


Here are the ones I know about in my corner of the universe:

St. Anthony’s in Greenville and Spartanburg

St. Francis Shop in Columbia

Pauline Books and Media in Charleston

UPDATED to add:

Queen of Peace Bookstore in Vancouver, WA

If you know of others, please add them in the combox.  Or write a post with your own links.


Booklet Review: The Mass Explained for Kids

The Mass Explained for Kids is my latest Catholic Company review item, and as usual it is a good one.  I’ll cut to the chase: This is an excellent tool for anyone who wants to make sense of the Mass.

What it is: A short, affordable booklet from Pauline Press that walks through the new translation of the Mass.  Even-numbered pages contain the text of the Mass and all the necessary instructions (sit, stand, kneel, rise, bow, beat chest, shut up priest says . . ., etc.).  On the facing page are notes explaining what is happening, what difficult vocabulary words mean,  and all kinds of other useful information.

Why I like it:

  1. I’m always looking for a good Missal to give to non-Catholic grown-ups who come to Mass, that makes it easy to follow along.  This one wouldn’t stand out as a kid’s book, if you put a sticker over the “for kids” on the cover.  At $1.95 retail, you can afford to send them home with your guests as souvenirs.  It would be pretty easy to put post-it notes at key places when your guest needs to pick up the hymnal.
  2. The explanations are great.  Tons of good info.  But the format makes it easy to read as much as your brain can take, and leave the rest for another day.
  3. There are definitions or explanations for all the new words showing up with the new translation (“consubstantial”, “incarnate”, etc.).  In addition, all the changes are in bold face.

Who is it for?  People who can read pretty well.   Other than the cover art, there are no pictures.  All the explanations are written clearly, and my very average-reading 4th grader says she had no difficulty understanding them.  But you do need to be ready to tackle big words and gather useful information from your reading.    Words like “epiclesis” and “anamnesis” have pronunciations (“ep-ih-CLEE-sis” and “an-am-NEE-sis”).

Useful for catechists?  Absolutely.  The format makes it super easy to find the info you need for class, and the explanations are already translated into plain English.  Much easier than tearing through a pile of Scott Hahn books trying to remember where you found that quote that one time, and/or trying to translate The Catechism into something ordinary mortals can understand.  Plus I learned some things I didn’t know.

Other important info:  It’s 5.5″ x 8.5″, with a flexible heavy-paper cover, very trim, so designed to be stuffed into your purse in doled out during Mass.  But note the cover is not paperboard, so don’t let the baby put it in her mouth. Also there’s some info about the Daughters of St. Paul in the back, who have got to have the coolest charism in the universe.  Nuns that run bookstores and a publishing company.  How awesome is that?


Thanks to the Catholic Company for filling the mailboxes of bloggers with excellent products; this one is coming to Mass with us this Advent, no question about it.   In addition to asking for an honest review (check), our sponsor would like me to also tell you that if you need a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible, they sell those too.

Book Review – Emporer of North America

John McNichol kindly sent me a review copy of his new  Young GKC book, and I keep forgetting that I still have not posted a full review.  I also keep forgetting to get Mr. Boy to write his review.  Mine is here for you now.

What it is: Emperor of North America is the second in the series, following Tripods Attack.  It’s an alternative history in which Young GK Chesterton is an American trying to make it as a journalist in steampunk England.  In book one, Martians invade.  In book two, Martians are back to Mars (for now?), but there is big trouble from a certain earthling who’s gotten hold of martian technology.  If I were to give it a sub-genre, I’d vote “fast-paced epic catholic action-adventure alternate history”.

Who reads it:  Mr. Boy was, my goodness, eight? really?, when he read the first book.  Thereabouts.  He’s not a normal reader.  I’d vote 10-11 is the earliest normal boy age, or whenever your child picks up Lord of the Rings and won’t put it down.  Target audience is middle school and up.  [Young GKC doesn’t require nearly the endurance you’d need for epic Tolkien.  You do need to be able to read big words and keep track of a complex plot, but the writing is very action-packed, doesn’t bog down at all.]  Grown-ups who enjoy a good story will find plenty of fodder for the intellect — GKC quotes, literary references, and of course trying to figure out the intrigue.

Mature Content Rating: Mild PG for the violence.  Language is clean (expletives like “blast!”, and all sorts of genuinely colorful but never off-color insults).  The romance and discussions of romance are clean as you could manage and still get close enough to kiss; my 11-year-old tells me he just skips those parts anyway, which are written for young men who think girls are no longer gross.  The evil violence is chilling, but there’s no lingering on graphic descriptions, and despite the intensity of the opening pages, the overall proportion of such scenes throughout the book is modest.  (FYI, the alien scenes in Tripods are super gross.  Not for squeamish middle-aged ladies.  But no trouble for boys.)  There’s a couple of bar scenes, including a cautionary tale about drunkenness.

What if  steampunk and/or sci-fi are not my genre?  The GKC is awesome.  McNichol recreates young GKC superbly.  The other historical and literary references are just as good, and fun to figure out.  Some have, like GKC, an alternate past, and I was especially impressed with how McNichol nailed the “What if _________ hadn’t _________?” with one of the main characters.  Just perfect.  Loved it.

[FYI: All my friends love sci-fi, but I think it is kind of boring.  I do not find this series boring, not for a second. More like, “fighting with my son over who gets to read it first,” and “I know I should go to bed, but . . . .”  My taste in fiction runs to Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Jane Austen, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, etc.  And Wodehouse, of course.  If you sort of mash those together, the young GKC series fits right in.]

What if GK Chesterton and literary puzzlers are not my genre?  There’s spaceships.  Giant robots.  Chase scenes.  Intrigue.  Mysterious pasts.  John McNichol is really good at writing action.  And bad guys.  I’m going to see if I can’t beg him to teach a class on writing bad guys at the next CWG online conference.

Who shouldn’t read this book?  People who have to be so serious about everything. Also if you can’t stand genre fiction.

I heard it is ‘preachy’. Um, no.  Catholic? Yes.  I suppose it’s one of the troubles with a book written by a guy who teaches middle school — normal teens talk about love, God, angels, apparitions, all that stuff.  It’s only adults who think these things are taboo. I *think* non-Catholics who are comfortable with Catholic characters being noticeably Catholic should be okay; someone correct me if you disagree, I haven’t read it with a protestant lens on.   [I’ll post an update on that if need be.] Most of the could-be-preachy stuff is things like “what’s the difference between love and infatuation?” or “is religion merely a crutch for the despicable weak?” — topics of general interest, not strictly Catholic.

Final Recommendation?  I give it a ‘buy’ recommend if there’s room in your book budget and the genre sounds at all interesting.  It’s very readable, and McNichol has the keep-the-plot-moving thing down pat.  I do strongly recommend you buy both in the series if you haven’t already read Tripods.

Where to get your copy: Barnes and Noble has Emperor of North America in stock in paperback and Nook version, and Tripods Attack in paperback.  Amazon has Emperor in paperback and Kindle version, take a look at the Kindle preview to get started on the story and see if you want to buy.  Amazon has Tripods in the Kindle version, and again the Kindle preview is your reality-check.

Sophia originally published Tripods, and I see they have it back in stock in paperback.  This has brought back down used prices, which had briefly gone silly-high — shop around on B&N and Amazon if your budget is tight, ignore the weird artifacts floating in the cybermall.   Bezalel is the publisher for Emperor, and you can buy the print version direct on their site.  (As I write, Bezalel is offering free shipping on McNichol’s book — nice!)

Aquinas & More has copies of Tripods in stock (paperback — and you can add it to your wedding or ordination registry, I love that), and so does The Catholic Company (no registry, write Santa I guess).  But if you love all that is good and true, of course you will first ask if it can’t be stocked via your local Catholic bookstore.  They can order these things, you know.


Things you  need to know re: the famous ‘full disclosure’: I’m a total Tripods/Emperor groupie.  The kind of person who gathers up godchildren and treks across town to get a book signed, and totally thinks that is the highlight of a trip to the Pacific Northwest.  The whole “my niece is being confirmed” was just a pretext — I mean, yes, sacraments were administered, relatives visited, every good thing.  But wow!  A signed copy! Yes! Pizza with Author & Family! Woohoo!  Also John writes for the Catholic Writers Guild blog, and generally gives evidence of being a Pretty Nice Guy.  But you may recall from ancient blog history that I liked the first book long before I had any reason to like the author.