Monday, 29 August 2016

A Hole at the Pole - Chris d'Lacey

A Hole at the Pole
Chris d'Lacey
Joanna Carey (Illustrator)
A Banana Book
ISBN 9780434968015

Over the past year I have become a huge fan of Chris d'Lacey's, having read 13 books of his over the past 10 months. My children love his stories that we have shared, and I have loved some of the ones that they are a little young for. I tracked down this book even though it is out of print because it was the first book written by Chris. I am very glad I did. My three children and I read this book together the day it arrived. My children ages 10, 8 and 5 all loved the story. And the younger two were captivated by its message. 

This is the story of Billy Cockcroft, his father told him about the hole in the ozone at the North Pole, but also told him a tall tale about how he could fix it. When Billy is asked in class what he wants to do, his reply is simple, trek to the north pole and mend the hole. His is given a project to teach the class about:
The Arctic
Polar Bears
Global Warming
And what we can do about it. There is a very late snow storm and Billy makes a snow polar bear and that night he dreams and meets a polar bear who is the teller of stories. Soon Billy has his whole class excited and they decided to do something about Global warming.

This book was a wonderful read; and though I keep very few physical books these days, personally preferring eBooks. I have a feeling I will need to track down another copy of this so that both my youngest can have one on their shelves. 

The illustrations by Joanna Carey are wonderful. My children love going over them again and again. Bright beautiful pictures that really enhance the story.

Reading this book having read many of d'Lacey's other books was really fun. We see forerunners of other characters, and reoccurring themes and motifs. It is interesting to see where his writing has come to, and see this most excellent first offering. I highly recommend going through the effort to track this down, especially for fans of d'Lacey's other works or for anyone who loves great books to read with the kids in their lives. 

Books by Chris d'Lacey:
Dragons of Wayward Crescent
Gruffen (2009)
Gauge (2008)
Glade (2009)
Grabber (2010)

The Erth Dragons
The Wearle (2015)
2. Dark Wyng (2016)

The Last Dragon Chronicles with David Rain
The Fire Within (2001)
Icefire (2003)
3 Fire Star (2005)
4 The Fire Eternal (2007)
5 Dark Fire (2009)
6 Fire World (2011)
7 The Fire Ascending (2012)
Rain and Fire: A Guide to the Last Dragon Chronicles (2010)

The Unicorne Files
1 A Dark Inheritance (2014)
2 Alexander's Army (2015)
3 A Crown of Dragons (2016)

Fly, Cherokee Fly Series
Pawnee Warrior

Other Books
Henry Spaloosh! 
Shrinking Ralph Perfect
The Snail Patrol
The Table Football League
Riverside United
From E to You
Scupper Hargreaves, Football Genie
The Salt Pirates of Skegness
Falling for Mandy

Picture Books:
Juggling with Jeremy
A Break in the Chain
Read With Bubble and Float
Dexter's Journey

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Watson Chronicles - Ann Margaret Lewis

The Watson Chronicles:
A Sherlock Holmes Novel in Stories
Ann Margaret Lewis
Rikki Niehaus (Illustrator)
Gasogene Books
ISBN  9780938501428

I need to first start by stating I do not read a lot of mysteries these days. When I was younger I went through phases of reading mysteries mostly Robert B. Parker and Agatha Christie, but a smattering of others that came across my desk. But this wonderful book is more than just a mystery. This book is in part biography, part mystery but it is also the story of a relationship and a great friendship. The book is written as a private journal of Dr. John H. Watson, as in his own words he writes to understand, for in conversing with Holmes in the prologue ""I write here in my private journal for the same reason I write about
you," I said. "To understand."! And to be honest that is why I read, to understand others and understand myself better.

This book was a wonderful little read. I really enjoyed the way it was telling the chronology, of Watson's story but woven in and around memories of certain cases. There is also extensive involvement with Sherlock and his brother Mycroft. The is a wonderful young woman named Lucyna - Lucy Modjeska who plays a critical roll in the story and in a specific case. Lucy is a devote catholic and he faith has some influence on the three main men in this book, Watson, Holmes and Mycroft.

Ann Lewis has written a wonderful book, using characters we know, and staying true to their personalities. In many ways this book is like visiting old friends after a long absence. We pick up with Holmes and Watson and see them later in life. Holmes is preparing to retire, Watson has extended his practice and well Mycroft is Mycroft. This story was engrossing and entertaining. To be honest it left me wondering what happens next. I want volume 2 of the Watson Chronicles. And hope that someday Lewis will deliver it.

The book has some wonderful illustrations by Rikki Niehaus. There are not a lot of them but they are very well done and reminded me of illustrations in the Sherlock Holmes books that I read as a child.

This book won the Catholic Writer's Guild Seal of Approval in 2013. And Adding my own praise I can state it is a wonderful fiction read. It is a great fiction story and the Catholic faith elements while subtle add a religious element to the story. I greatly enjoyed this read and to be honest am looking forward to sharing it with my father and being able to discuss the story. Overall I can highly recommend this book and look forward to reading Murder in the Vatican and hopefully soon more books from Ann.

Books by Ann Margaret Lewis:
Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes
The Watson Chronicles: A Sherlock Holmes Novel in Stories

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Resisting Happiness - Matthew Kelly

Resisting Happiness
Matthew Kelly
Beacon Publishing a ministry of
Dynamic Catholic
ISBN 9781942611936

The subtitle of this book is "A True Story about Why We Sabotage Ourselves, Feel Overwhelmed, Set Aside Our Dreams, and Lack the Courage to Simply Be Ourselves... and How to Start Choosing Happiness Again" and that is quite a mouthful. But having read a number of Matthew Kelly's books over the last few years I was very excited to read this one. I must admit I read this book while rereading Rediscover Jesus, I read it through once and could not put it down, and am now reading it through a chapter a day. It was very interesting reading these two books in parallel. Matthew Kelly states in the introduction that this book is the most personal book that he has written to date. Having read a number of the others I completely agree. He has opened up and been transparent about his own faith journey, his successes, growth and failures. He is teaching by example, his example. And what a brave, courageous and motivating example it is. 

Matthew also shares a number of stories that he has shared before. But this is the most exhaustive collection of them, and some of them go into more details or extended versions of the stories. So this book is part autobiography, part spiritual history and part a guidebook for those of us who wish to grow in the Christian life. Matthew states in the introduction: "The hardest war to win is one you don't even realize you are fighting, and the hardest enemy to defeat is the one you don't even know exists. Every day you are at war with resistance." And he goes on from there to show us this pattern from his own life. And like many of Kelly's other writings the focus is not on him but on God, and our relationship with God, "When I did something that I knew was God's will, something that would clearly help me become a-better-version-of-myself, I was filled with joy. When I did something that I knew was wrong or was clearly not good for me, that joy began to evaporate." And is that not what Jesus promised in Matthew 5:6 'For the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.' How many of us would say we are truly living the abundant life? That we are living from a place of Joy? Kelly also declares "It is clear that God does not want us to be negative thinkers. But he also doesn't want our thinking to be neutral. He wants us to be positive thinkers on an epic scale." Would you say you are living that way? If not this book might open your eyes and your heart to following the Holy Spirit more. 

In speaking specifically about parenting and working with children Kelly says "I suppose we all need a chance to get outside ourselves and serve other people. It seems the earlier in life we get this chance in a real and tangible way- a chance to serve others, know that we have worth, discover our innate ability to make a difference in other people's lives- the better off we are." And I think about my own children and How I want them to learn to live to become the best version of themselves. We regularly read Kelly's Why Am I Here as a family, and my children often talk about decisions that help them or hinder them from being that best version of themselves. But by growing in it from the learning in this book, hopefully and prayerfully I can be a better example.  

One of the key takeaways I got from read this book was about self discipline, even self discipline in the little things. Matthew says "These realizations about denying ourselves, self-control, delayed gratification, and fasting are not new. They are wrapped up in two thousand years of Catholic genius. Saint Augustine wrote, "Conquer yourself and the world lies at your feet."" And learning from his examples we can start small and build to bigger disciplines. But on that same note Kelly says if we are striving to grow in discipline we will also experience greater resistance "Resistance hates discipline. It hates self-control. Resistance abhors delayed gratification and any type of self-denial that makes your heart, mind, and soul strong." He also advises us that if we want to see change we need to be part of making that change happen. "If you want to be part of an excellent parish, stop waiting for someone else to make it one. Get involved and make it an excellent parish. Resistance encourages us to take it easy and settle for mediocrity. But God created us for happiness, and he fills us with great joy as we strive for excellence, especially in the spiritual life." Matthew insists: 

"God wants you to live an excellent life. In that quest for excellence you will find a rare happiness."

He also stresses the importance of being gentle with ourselves as part of the processs. "One of the most important reasons to be gentle with ourselves is because if we cannot forgive ourselves, we will struggle to forgive others. And if we cannot forgive ourselves or others, we will resist even God's forgiveness. When we are gentle with ourselves, when we are patient with ourselves, we develop awareness, and awareness breeds compassion. And every person who ever crosses your path needs a little compassion." And also 

"Be gentle with yourself, be gentle with others, and never stop striving to be all that God created you to be: the-very-best-version-of-yourself."

And again he always cycles back to being who God calls us to be. He says "God designed human beings for specific purposes. When we stray from them, things tend to go wrong and we start to feel dissatisfied at best and miserable at worst. You were made for mission. You will never have lasting happiness until you realize this and act on it.".

This book was an excellent read, and I know already that I will read it again soon. Matthew draws examples from his own life and a few examples from outside his life. Each chapter has a main teaching followed by a reminder of the Key Point and Action Step at the end of the chapter. This is a great read and it will inspire you.

On a side note I am still waiting in anticipation for The Narrow Path that Dynamic Catholic promoted for almost a year but keeps getting pushed back but books like this one and Rediscover Jesus. But both Rediscover Jesus and this book are excellent reads, that will have immediate impact on all areas of your life if you read them with an open hear. So give this book a read or a listen all you have to lose is your resistance. And you have a world of joy and happiness to gain, true joy found only in God. 

Books by Patrick Kelly:
Rediscover Jesus
I Know Jesus
The Long View
Decision Point: The Workbook
Decision Point: The Leader Guide
The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic
Rediscover Advent
The One Thing
Rediscover Lent
Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction
Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion
Why Am I Here?
Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness
Building Better Families: A Practical Guide to Raising Amazing Children
The Dream Manager
The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved
The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose
Building Better Families - 5 Practical Ways to Build Family Spirituality
The Book of Courage
The Shepherd: A Modern Parable about Our Search for Happiness
Mustard Is Persecution, Matthew Kelly Foundation
A Call to Joy - Living in the Presence of God
The Rhythm of Life: An Antidote For Our Busy Age
Words from God
Resisting Happiness
The Narrow Path
Our Father
Beautiful Mercy

Audio by Matthew Kelly from Lighthouse Media:
Becoming The Best Version Of Yourself
The Best Way To Live
Don't Just Try, Train
Faith At Work & The Holy Moment
The Four Signs Of A Dynamic Catholic - Excerpt
The Jesus Question
My Spiritual Journey
Our Lives Change When Our Habits Change
Raising Amazing Children
The Seven Levels Of Intimacy
The Seven Pillars Of Catholic Spirituality

(Note: this books is part of a series: A Year of Reading Intention - Catholic Reading!)

Monday, 22 August 2016

Extra Credit - Andrew Clements

Extra Credit
Andrew Clements
Mark Elliott (Illustrator)
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
A Division of Simon and Schuster

ISBN 9781416949299
ASIN B0070Y3268

This was the 10th book by Clements that I have read over the last few months. Most of his books have a lesson but this one dealing with hostilities between the US and Afghanistan as experienced by students in both countries pushes the boundary for Clements. It is an interesting read but not one of my favorites by Clements.

 This is primarily a story about pen pals, Abby Carson and Sadeed Bayat. Abby is in desperate need of a pen pal because she is about to repeat her grade and an Extra Credit project. The project she get's if to have a pen pal and share at least 5 letters and do a bulletin board in the classroom to share the information she learns with her classmates. Her teacher gives her the choice of a few locations where she has contacts in school. Abby decides to write Afghanistan because they have mountains and her favorite thing is the rock climbing wall in the gym at school, because Illinois. 

The story deals with some typical stereotypes, but also breaking down boundaries. At first Sadeed is reluctant to write to Abby because he is to work with his younger sister and do it. For a boy and girl writing is not appropriate. He feels writing a girl is below him. But as the letters exchange his feelings change. Both Abby and Sadeed encounter resistance, some parents at Abby's school complain about the Afghan flag on her display. And a stranger is furious when he sees American flag stamps on a letter Saeed has. Even accusing Saeed of being a traitor or spy.  

Both children learn to deal with their feelings. They both encounter feelings they did not expect. They also both learn to appreciate aspects about the others culture and day to day life.

In some ways this book was more intense than many of Clements other books. Because of the political nature and the content. But in other ways it was slower as letters were written and events going on in between the letters travelling back and forth. 

The book was an interesting read. It also does a fairly good job of trying to handle such political issues. It was also the first book by Clements that I have encountered that has some budding romance in it. It was a little slower read than many of his other books but still one with a good message. It helped me think about my biases or preconceived notions, and any book that makes us think is good in my books. 

Books by Andrew Clements:
Bird Adalbert
Noah and the Ark and the Animals
Santa's Secret Helper
Temple Cat
Mother Earth's Counting Book
Billy and the Bad Teacher
Who Owns the Cow
Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers
(Adapter)Philipp's Birthday Book
Riff's BeBop Book
Real Monsters Go for the Mold
Things That Go EEK on Halloween
Real Monsters Stage Fright
Music Time, Any Time
Double Trouble in Walla Walla
Gromble's Haunted Halloween
Hey Dad, Could I Borrow Your Hammer
The Landry News
Look Who's in the Thanksgiving Play
The Mouse Family
The Janitor's Boy
Circus Family Dog
The Christmas Kitten
The School Story
Things Not Seen 
The Jacket 
A Week in the Woods
Slippers at Home
Naptime for Slippers
The Report Card
The Last Holiday Concert
Slippers at School
Slippers Loves to Run
A Million Is a Lot of Dots
Lunch Money
Things Hoped For
Room One: A Mystery or Two
No Talking
Things That Are
Lost and Found
Extra Credit
About Average
The Map Trap

Pets to the Rescue Series
Ringo Saves the Day!
Brave Norman
Tara and Tiree, Fearless Friends
Delores and the Big Fire

Jake Drake Series
Jake Drake Know-It-All
Jake Drake, Bully Buster
Jake Drake, Teacher's Pet
Jake Drake, Class Clown

Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School Series
We the Children
Fear Itself
The Whites of Their Eyes
In Harm's Way
We Hold These Truths

Reading program Books
Karen's Island
Three Wishes for Buster
Bill Picket: An American Original, Texas Style
Hurricane Andrew
Ham and Eggs for Jack
Life in the Desert
Desert Treasure
Inventors: Making Things Better, Steck-Vaughn
Milo's Great Invention

Friday, 19 August 2016

Sword and Serpent by Taylor R. Marshall

Sword and Serpent
Taylor R. Marshall
Saint John Press

ISBN 9780988442559

Epic story; that is the best way to sum up this book! I have become a fan of Dr. Marshall's blog and podcasts. I have even read a few of this theological works, but this narrative as historical fiction was an amazing read. For a number of years in university I wore a Saint George medal that my grandmother had given me. This retelling of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon brings it to live in a new way.

The writing in this tale is masterful, set in A.D. 299, in the Roman empire it weaves tales and stories of a number of saints, into a very addictive read. In many ways it reads like Jack Whyte's historical fiction but with a stronger Christian message. In some ways it reads like Tolkien in its epic proportions and alternating story lines that eventually weave together. This was a thoroughly addictive read. Once I got into it, it was very hard to put down. The characters are wonderfully written, Lucius Aurelius Georgius known as Jurian, Menas the giant, Sabra the daughter of the Governor of Cyrene and priestess of the old god, and her servant Hanno. The story's main arcs focus around these four. But we also have the bishop Saint Nikolaos, Blasios or Saint Blaise, Saint Cyricius to name but a few.

The elements of myth, fantasy and history blend so well in this novel that at times as you are transported into the story you forget it is historical fiction and enter the world Taylor Marshall has created. But as Jurial struggles with understanding the faith of his mother and sister, he is growing in that faith; that same faith can be an example for us, teaching us to trust more, step out in faith more to grow. Madelein L'Engle stated ""We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes. In literature the longing for home is found in the many stories of paradise, of the forgotten place where we once belonged."  This story does that it gives us glimpses of greater truths, it reveals saints and in part the path to becoming saints in our own lives.

I believe that this would have been a book that both Tolkien and Lewis would have loved. I can picture the Inklings sitting with a pint discussing the story and speculating where it would go next. And according to Taylor's website that sequel will be out in 2016.

This was an incredible read. I average well over 100 books read each year. And this was one of the best that I have read in a long, long time. If you have an interest in ancient Rome, early Christianity, dragons or even just love a good read you need to give this book a try. 

And if I haven't convinced you yet, check out the book trailer.

Books by Taylor R. Marshall:
Sword and the Serpent
Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages: The Layman's Quick Guide to Thomism
Saint Augustine in 50 Pages: The Layman's Quick Guide to Augustinianism
God's Birthday: Why Christ Was Born on December 25 and Why it Matters

The Origins of Catholic Christianity Series:
The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity
The Catholic Perspective on Paul: Paul and the Origins of Catholic Christianity
The Eternal City: Rome & the Origins of Catholic Christianity

(Note: this books is part of a series: A Year of Reading Intention - Catholic Reading!)