Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rick Santorum for President

Sarah Palin is not running.

Rick Perry has shown himself not up to the challenge (unfortunately).

Herman Cain got borked by the establishment media and could not take the heat (unfortunately).

Ron Paul, for every sensible position, has one that marks him as a kook.

Newt Gingrich is being attacked relentlessly, fairly or unfairly, and because of his very mixed record on many issues, the attacks are weakening him.

Michelle Bachmann's apparent role as Mitt Romney's attack dog has left her mired in single digits in the polls.

So the political class in this country (and I include the elites of both parties and the media in this group) have succeeded in systematically neutralizing any candidate whose name is not Mitt Romney.

Except one.

Rick Santorum

Here are the top 10 reasons conservatives should support Rick Santorum in 2012:

10. Santorum is a good family man, husband, and father. There are no skeletons in his closet and he has shown himself to be very admirable when it comes to caring for his own family. As a homeschooling father, Santorum does more than just talk about family values. He lives them.

9. He is a solid fiscal conservative. Santorum worked tirelessly to pass the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. He has been a steadfast proponent of entitlement reform, particularly advocating for the privatization of Social Security and Medicare. He has opposed the Wall Street bailouts. While in Congress, he sponsored the balanced budget amendment. He has adamantly called for ObamaCare to be repealed and replaced. Santorum has called for the Federal Reserve to be audited and its role pared back to managing inflation.

8. Santorum is a solid social conservative. His campaign has been one of uplifting social conservative values and pointing out that the breakdown of the American family is at the root of nearly all of our most intractable domestic problems.

7. Santorum is unflinchingly 100% pro-life. Santorum's stellar record as a champion for the unborn is well-known. His courage on the issue was demonstrated clearly when he fought for the partial-birth abortion ban and made Barbara Boxer look like a ghoul on the senate floor.

6. Santorum believes in a strong national defense. While not calling for war as some have insinuated, Santorum has been among the most vocal leaders when it comes to understanding and dealing with the threat posed radical Islam. As president, we can expect Santorum to help rebuild and re-arm America in the face of this threat. He is also the only Republican candidate who has said he will reinstate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

5. Santorum is pro-family and against homosexual marriage. While other Republicans cower in fear of the homosexual lobby, Santorum has stood strong. With great foresight, he fought for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, bringing the measure to the senate floor even though members of his own party opposed him. Santorum's efforts have earned him the undying enmity of homosexual advocacy groups, yet Santorum does not hate homosexuals. Indeed, he retained a known homosexual on his staff. He has shown himself to be fair-minded but utterly steadfast on this issue.

4. Santorum is very strong on Second Amendment issues. He's a life member of the NRA and has always been an ally of Second Amendment rights groups. While in Congress, he opposed gun bans and lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

3. Santorum understands that government interventions in the economy do more harm than good. He believes in sound economic policies including reduced taxation, reduced spending, reduced regulation. At the same time, he knows that the federal government does play an important role as defined by the Constitution to make sure that the border is secure and has called for federal tort reform to help prevent the legal profession from strangling trade.

2. Santorum has been consistent. He is not a flip-flopper on the issues. He has shown the spine to fight for conservative ideals and the ability to go against the grain when members of his own party want to cave in to the left.

1. Santorum is hated by the hard left. Those who support abortion, homosexuality, fiscal profligacy and a surrender-first foreign policy all despise Rick Santorum. He is so hated by these people that they have slandered his name across the internet, trashing him in the most vile language imaginable. If you can define a man by the depravity of his enemies, Rick Santorum must be a noble soul indeed.

For a more detailed breakdown on Rick Santorum's positions on the issues, I encourage you to visit:


How is this not better than any of the other candidates running? Is this not precisely the kind of platform conservatives want to get behind and support?

Santorum's conservative critics have hung their hat on a single fault that in retrospect (and compared to those of his opponents) looks quite minute indeed:

In 2004, Santorum supported Arlen Specter. I criticized Santorum for doing this at the time as well. He clearly had chosen to play the role of good soldier when G. W. Bush asked him for a favor. He shouldn't have done it, especially considering how exposed and vulnerable the Bush administration's botched policies would leave Santorum in 2006 when he ran for re-election himself. But in retrospect, Pat Toomey has not shown himself to be a stellar conservative. One of his first actions after getting elected was to support Obama's decision to homosexualize the military. It's really hard for a conservative to claim that Santorum's support of Specter makes him in any way unacceptable as a presidential candidate, particularly when compared to the flaws of the other Republicans in the race.

As the primaries rapidly approach, it is time for serious conservatives to coalesce around one candidate. If we can do so, we'll have our best chance at ensuring a political doppleganger like Mitt Romney (who, even if elected president, will be a disaster for conservatives) is not nominated to lead the Republican party in 2012.

I humbly submit to you that Rick Santorum is the best candidate for conservatives to support in 2012. He is a true-blue conservative who can be counted upon to articulate and advance conservative positions and ideals. He will really take the fight to Obama in the general election and to the Democrat party as president.

And did I mention that Santorum is a Catholic homsechooler, too?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: The Face of God: The Rediscovery of the True Face of Jesus

I am of two minds about this book. I originally received a galley copy and assumed it was yet another private revelation story with little to back it up. However, the fact that Ignatius Press published it made me give the book a second look. As I began to read it, incredulity immediately crept in. The first few pages failed to convince me or hold my attention, so I put the book aside and moved on to greener pastures. My biggest obstacle was simply that the Holy Face of Manoppello was too ugly, too irregular, too obviously painted to be a true image of Our Lord “not made by human hands.”

Then, about a year later, I got a note from a Carmelite friend who had read the finished book and loved it. She had even gone so far as to repeat the experiments Sr. Blandina had carried out, comparing the face on the cloth in Manoppello to that the Shroud of Turin. The book, she said, had convinced her of Badde's thesis--that the cloth in Manoppello was actually the Veronica. With this endorsement on board, I took up the book again and quickly read it from beginning to end. I am glad that I did. Once you get past the occasionally awkward translation from the German, The Face of God reads like a detective story. While not completely convincing, Badde's evidence is compelling enough to force the reader to contemplate the Holy Face anew. Indeed, it was apparently convincing enough for Pope Benedict XVI to make a pilgrimage to visit the Holy Face in 2006.

Having read the book, I now turned to the internet to find more photographs of the Holy Face. VoilĂ ! There is a website loaded with them: The Holy Face of Manoppello. The one thing I immediately discovered upon perusing these images is that the face on the cloth does actually change its appearance based on the angle and the lighting, as Badde claimed. Here is one such image:

And here is another from a different angle:

Having viewed the image in color from a variety of angles, another strange thing happened. Though the image still appears to me to have been drawn by a human hand, it no longer appears ugly. To paraphrase an astute observation on the Holy Face website, the image seems to contain within itself all the attributes of the mysteries of the Rosary. It is sorrowful, joyful, glorious and luminous all at the same time.

As I said, I am still not sold on the theory that this image is the original Veronica that was displayed in Old St. Peter's Basilica for hundreds of years. But at the very least, it is a very old and mysterious relic. The fact that it appears on byssus, or mussel-silk--an immensely costly material that will not hold a pigment and is nearly impossible to stain--adds to the mystery.

In short, this is an engrossing read. If you enjoyed books like Ian Wilson's The Blood and the Shroud, you will most assuredly find The Face of God to be equally intriguing.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Book Review: Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman

For those of you who know me, you know that Shadow of the Bear is not really my kind of book. First off, it is contemporary fiction which is not my favorite genre. Secondly, it is set in New York City which is one step above Baffin Island in terms of places I'd like to visit. (OK, maybe one step below.) Thirdly, on it's face, it's a story about the trials and tribulations of two teen-aged girls--Rose and Blanche Brier. There are no swords, chain mail, or 12 pounders anywhere to be seen.

But strangely enough, I enjoyed Shadow of the Bear. It is very well written--a real page-turner in the best sense of that phrase. The author, Regina Doman, uniquely crafted the book as a modern retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red. And it works. Though following the framework of the old tale, Doman expertly weaves in modern settings, themes and issues to create a story that's clever and enchanting. Her lead characters are multi-dimensional and completely sympathetic and the story celebrates a number of very positive virtues: steadfastness, courage, trust, and self-sacrifice primary among them.

Of course, I had tremendous appreciation for Doman's unabashed use of Catholic themes. These are central to the story but are used with a light enough touch that they do not come off as preachy. I suspect that most Catholic readers will appreciate her honest insider's view of the Faith as opposed to the lame caricatures of Catholicism that appear in most secular fiction today.

Yes, it's true--Shadow of the Bear is a favorite of young adult readers of the female persuasion and that will probably remain the case in the future. But I don't think it would be a bad thing for young gentlemen to read these books as well. If they can wade through some very female dialog and several passages about clothing, hairstyles and makeup, they might even gain some insight into the sort of behavior that a virtuous young woman expects out of a man. That alone should be worth the price of the book for most young fellows.

As for reading level, due to some rather intense scenes toward the end of the book, I would call Shadow of the Bear suitable for ages 14 and up.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Yi San - An enthralling Korean historical drama (with Catholics!)

Due to the dearth of anything even close to good on American TV, my wife and I just finished watching yet another Korean historical drama--Yi San (also here). In 77 episodes, this series tells the story of a boy, Yi San, who grows up in the palace as the royal grandson, son of the crown prince. Unfortunately, his father is executed as a traitor and Yi San is thrust into the role of crown prince at the age of 11. However, the same court faction that demanded the death of his father is similarly hostile to Yi San, and the king, his grandfather, is an angry unforgiving taskmaster who is deeply suspicious of him. But the young crown prince finds unexpected help in the form of two orphan commoners--Park Dae Su, a boy about to become a eunuch, and Seong Song Yeong, a palace maid in training and budding artist. These two become secret companions of the crown prince and assist him as he navigates palace intrigues and deadly threats.

This was the forth Korean historical drama we've watched, and as good as the previous ones were, this one beat them hands down. It had more memorable music than Jumong, better acting than Dae Jo Yeong, and a more engaging plot-line than The Great King Sejong. The opening scene of Yi San is one of the most enticing pieces of film-making I've ever seen. Having now watched all the episodes and viewed the opening again, I realize that it contains all of the major themes and plot elements that are played out over entire series: art, military prowess, the majesty of the royal court, treachery, lust for power, and assassination. Watch it, and see if you can resist being drawn into the series:

I did a quick scan of the history after we finished and was happy to see that the series followed the facts pretty well. For me, this is one of the great bonuses of watching these dramas--learning about a civilization that is almost completely neglected in western education.

Yi San reigned as King Jeongjo from 1776 to 1800 which made this the most modern of the historical dramas that we've watched so far. This also meant that the subject of Christianity appeared in the series, and we were gladdened to see a positive portrayal of Catholicism. Upon reading the history, I was amazed to discover that Queen Dowager Jeongsun (portrayed as Yi San's main antagonist in the series), was responsible for the Catholic Persecution of 1801. (Here's a link to the "Beheading Mountain" Martyrs Museum and shrine in Seoul.) There was also an overtly pro-life theme that showed up toward the end of the series. Given this, I can recommend Yi San almost without reservation. I say "almost" because there are three parts of the series that may irk some Catholics:

1. There are several very frank and earthy scenes about how one is made into a eunuch, including a little boy who tries to do the job on himself. These scenes are mostly comic relief, though, and nothing gets shown. They also don't persist past the early episodes.

2. A couple of the artist characters are into creating and collecting illegal obscene art. Again, this is included as comic relief and these characters are treated as harmless buffoons. Glimpses of the obscene art are seen on occasion, and it is slightly amusing to see that "obscene" has a fairly Victorian interpretation in the show.

3. The marriage customs in Korea allowed for polygamy and that makes for some very un-Western relationships, particularly within the royal family where the marriages were nearly all arranged for the sole purpose of producing an heir to the throne.

These items aside, Yi San has a very high moral tone in the best Confucian sense, with an emphasis on benevolence in rule, filial piety, loyalty to family and patron, and equality of opportunity for all classes of society. I found it to be an enthralling and thoroughly enjoyable series. It certainly beats the heck out watching the latest unfunny, double-entendre-laden sitcom or cheesy, teachable-moment drama produced for American TV.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review: Peter Treegate's War

The second book of the Treegate series, Peter Treegate's War, picks up the tale at the Battle of Bunker Hill, with Peter, his father John Treegate, and his foster father the Maclaren of Spey, among the Americans facing down the advancing Red Coats. John Treegate is there to fight against British tyranny. The Maclaren is there to avenge the Battle of Drummossie Muir where his entire clan was wiped out 30 years before in Scotland. Caught between them is sixteen year-old Peter. After the battle, all three are captured by the British and thrown into a floating prison. There, they meet a character who will loom large in the rest of the series--Peace of God Manly--a fisherman from Salem with a fire-and-brimstone flair.

Similar to its predecessor, Peter Treegate's War is an exceptionally entertaining tale of the American Revolution. Stylistically, it varies a bit from the first book in that it is told from Peter's point of view. I'm not sure why author Leonard Wibberley chose first-person narration for this book, but I felt it took something away from the story. (Admittedly, though, that could be nothing more than a personal bias on my part in favor of the third person narrative.) As literature, the book is an uncomplicated but enjoyable read. As history, it makes for a great introduction to the early years of the Revolutionary War for a reader who has little background. As in the first book, several historical figures are worked into the story, most prominently General Washington with whom Peter has a frank discussion prior to the Battle of Trenton.

What sets Wibberley's books apart, however, are the unforgettable characters and Peter Treegate's War supplies another one. Peace of God Manly is one of those redoubtable types who occasionally appeared in literature 100 years ago but who shows up only rarely today and generally as an object of derision. Peace of God wears his religious faith on his sleeve, shirt, coat and hat. He is vocal about it, constantly introducing himself as "one of John Wesley's poor sinners." And he speaks about Christ in season and out of season, even when it's obvious he's causing consternation or discomfort. At the same time, Peace of God is no pacifist. He doesn't hesitate to discharge a musket, fire a cannon, or even fling a Bible at his foe if the cause is righteous. As distasteful as many moderns may find all this religious zeal, it is impossible not to like Peace of God. Wibberley has done a masterful job creating this character who will play the key role in the next book in the series, Sea Captain from Salem.

Peter Treegate's War is another outstanding selection for readers young and old who are interested in the American Revolution. It's a fast and fun read that will have you hankering for the next book in the series. Highly recommended for kids 12 and up.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The real "third way"

Here's an excellent article by Armstrong Williams that explores the two alien extremes that are battling for supremacy over Western civilization: extreme hedonism and extreme puritanism in the form of institutional Islam.

America's deepening immorality

Next time you wonder "why do the Muslims hate us?" don't buy the convenient lie that it's because we're rich and they're poor or because we're Christians and support Israel. The real reason they hate us is because they view us, quite literally, as the Great Satan--a civilization completely without principles or morals. And the negative portrayal of Americans by our own entertainment media only amplifies and confirms that that view.

I would just like to remind everyone that we don't have to choose between hedonism and Islam. There is a "third way" -- it's called Catholicism. You remember: that religion that calls for modesty but doesn't stone you to death if you refuse to comply. Perhaps it's time to revisit that particular philosophy before one of the extremes takes complete control.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: John Treegate's Musket

My generation may have been the last one that was trained to honor and respect the Founding Fathers of the American republic without the filmy taint of political correctness. The generation after mine had to suffer through weak pablum of the Liberty Kids variety. For more recent generations, the Founders are often portrayed as amalgams of all of their flaws with none of their virtues highlighted--that is, when they are discussed at all. Yes, the Founders were men of their times. Many of them were slave holders. More than a few were fairly vicious anti-Papists. But that doesn't change the fact that they accomplished an amazing thing: they risked their necks rebelling against the most powerful nation on earth and won the righteous fight for self-rule against impossible odds, all under the idea that men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It's no mean feat to be able to write a story about a period of history that's been done to death and make it fresh. In John Treegate's Musket, author Leonard Wibberley (better known for his best-seller The Mouse that Roared) recreates the heady days prior to the American Revolution, telling the tale through the eyes of a boy named Peter Treegate. Peter is the son of an important Boston merchant, John Treegate, who fought for the Crown at the climactic battle of the Plains of Abraham. Apprenticed to a cooper, Peter sees the hardships of Boston's merchants and manufacturers first hand. He is also exposed to the hazing and beatings of the older boys. Framed for a murder, Peter flees Boston on a smuggler's brig and embarks on an adventure that will eventually find him at the top of Breeds Hill near Boston a few years later.

Originally written in 1959, John Treegate's Musket is an engaging tale packed with colorful, memorable characters. I particularly liked the Maclaren of Spey--a tough dispossessed Scottish lord living on the Carolina frontier. This conflicted character is occasionally heroic, but is also presented as a relic to a time of brutal wars of succession and endless blood-feuds. Wibberley also incorporates several of the Founding Fathers into the tale, Sam Adams and Paul Revere among them, and puts Peter at the center of the Boston Massacre. I appreciated Wibberley's frank and honest portrayal of the times. He is not overly critical of the Loyalists, and his description of reciprocal raids by Indians and frontiersmen shows the harsh reality of frontier life without assigning victim status to either side.

John Treegate's Musket it the first in a four-book series, the other three being Peter Treegate's War, Sea Captain from Salem, and Treegate's Raiders (newly released). The series makes a great companion to a study of the Revolutionary War era and could also serve as an introduction to this period. The books are marked for ages 14 and up, but I think a 12 year old could easily handle them in terms of reading level and content.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Cross Among the Tomahawks

Click here for more info.
Saint Jean de Brebeuf--also known as Echon--is one of my all-time favorite saints. A towering, masculine figure, he was also a world-class linguist of his time as well as a man of incredible courage and sanctity. So when I received this little book, I was psyched. I was also a little nervous--would a fictional account for younger readers do justice to this amazing model of Christian manhood?

I needn’t have feared. Cross Among the Tomahawks is a well-written and engrossing tale of the period of first contact between the pagan Indian tribes of the Saint Lawrence valley and the Christian French missionaries. Centering on the life of a young Huron named Tsiko, the tale is fast-moving and engaging. Having studied the Jesuit Relations of the Canadian missions in great detail, I can confirm that the history is accurate, making this a great introduction for young readers to the era of exploration and the early missions. The lives and deaths of many of the Jesuit martyrs are described, and the author does not shy away from an account of the awful, though triumphant martyrdom of Brebeuf, sparing little detail.

My criticisms of this book are both very minor: I thought the dialog could have been more artfully executed. One of the most delightful things about the Jesuit Relations are the conversations the Jesuits record between themselves and the Indians. Lomask seems to have missed some of this. Also, I found Lomask’s portrayal of Charles Huault de Montmagny to be unnecessarily critical. “Great Mountain” was a much more impressive historical figure than Lomask presents. For a brief record of his life and acts while governor of New France, see this article in Catholic Men's Quarterly:

Behold the Militant Catholic Man...Charles Huault de Montmagny: Onontio
But these faults aside, this book is fantastic introduction to early colonial history and a fine account of the exemplary life and death of Jean de Brebeuf--a saint for all the ages.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard

Click for more info.
When I first saw this book, I thought, “Wait, when did Saint Augustine go to Kent? I thought he had lived his whole life in Africa and Italy.” Well, more fool me! Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard is a fictional account of the mission of that other historical Saint Augustine to re-convert Britain to Christianity in the late 6th century.

The story follows the life of Wolfstan, who arrives in Rome a captive from England. Sold on the slave market, he is spotted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who when told Wolfstan and his companion are Angles, remarks famously, “Not Angles, but Angels!” Wolfstan becomes a ward of Saint Gregory, marries, and has a son—Wolf. But he always feels a call to return to his homeland. When Saint Gregory calls for a mission to England to be led by the abbot Augustine, Wolfstan and Wolf are eager to brave the perils of the long journey and bring a new birth of Christianity to pagan England.

I found this book to be a good mix of history and fiction where momentous events are related through the eyes of a minor player—Wolfstan’s son, Wolf. The characters are likable and sympathetic. The story flows well and is easily approachable for young readers ages 9 and up. As such, it is a good introduction to a period of the dark ages of which many (your reviewer included) are ignorant. My only quibble is that I wish the story had more narrative drive. There is action, but it always seems to happen “off camera” to be related later. That aside, there is enough happening to hold young readers’ attention, particularly girls who may be more in tune with the developing relationships between the characters.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Dave Barry of Catholic Homeschooling Moms

Writing humor is difficult. Because humor is so subjective, one of two things usually happen when people try to write it: 1.) It falls flat because only the writer thinks it's funny, or 2.) It falls flat because it is so full of inside jokes that only the writer and the writer's best friend think it's funny.

Rarely does an author come along who is just innately funny--who has that God-given spark of humor in their writing that catches the reader off-guard and causes him to spit a corn flake across the breakfast table. Dave Barry is one I can think of off the top of my head. Susie Lloyd is another. Her book, Bless Me Father for I Have Kids, is a jovial jaunt through the life of a busy Catholic homeschooling mom. Her observations, anecdotes, and mildly cranky tirades make for a quick and delightful read, perfect fodder for anyone living a Catholic lifestyle and enjoying it.

While Mrs. Lloyd's book is clearly aimed at Catholic moms, I enjoyed it just fine as a Catholic dad. I felt a certain affinity for Mr. Lloyd, and though he plays an integral part in this book, he is never ridiculed. This was so refreshing, particularly considering that ridicule of spouse, often in quite nasty terms, is an old mainstay of comedy. In fact, most of the humor contained in this book is amusingly humble and self-deprecating.

While all the chapters in this book made me laugh, the one that had me quoting sections out-loud to whoever happened to be in the room was entitled "Salvation by Scales" which is about the joys and agonies of piano recitals. This was not so much because my own kids are learning piano--they're not at this point--but because it reminded me of my own childhood experiences. Here's a passage:
When the performance begins, these parents [first-timers] pay careful attention to the program, ticking off the songs as each child goes up to play: Moonlight Sonata for the Right Hand, Brandenberg Boogie No. 3 in G Major. And if this is a Christmas concert, expect such classics as Walking in a Boogie Wonderland. You see, before you get to Beethoven's Pathetique, it is first necessary to master the student arrangements in the Snoozboogie series by U. R. Yawning. No problem. There are only about 12 books in the series. With diligent practice, this should take only six years.
As a victim of nine years of the "Snoozboogie" series, I can relate. Nothing bugged me more as a kid than having to learn jazzed-up version of the classics. I think U.R. Yawning may have been a St. Louis Jesuit.

I would definitely recommend this book to Catholic moms. And Catholic dads won't have to turn in their Knights of Columbus cards just for reading it, either. Bless Me Father for I Have Kids is good, lighthearted fun with a core of truth and honest observation underneath the humor. It should help all Catholics--not just homeschoolers--feel a certain comfort in knowing that others experience the same trials and are able to face them with a positive attitude and a good laugh.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rapture Church Sign

A few days late, but I'm posting my rapture church sign here for future reference.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Though she has lived as a slave in Egypt for as long as she can remember, young Mara was not always so. She has no recollection of her parents, but she can speak Babylonian--a gift that serves her well. She is also quick-tempered, quick-witted, and has an independent streak that frequently brings trouble from her exasperated master. She longs to be free--and rich--so she can do as she pleases.

Mara's life takes a dramatic turn one day when she is purchased from her master by a mysterious nobleman who has seen her antics in the marketplace of Memphis. Placed on a boat to Thebes by her new master, she is to become part of a palace intrigue to discover the identity of the traitors plotting against Hatshepsut, queen and Pharaoh of Egypt. But her trip up the Nile will lead her in yet another direction as she meets Sheftu, a dashing and handsome nobleman who has plans of his own.

Having read The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Mara, Daughter of the Nile is the perfect follow-up. Written on a more sophisticated level with more mature themes and characters, Mara is a quick and absorbing read. The book is well suited for younger readers age 14 and up, though it will probably appeal more to the young ladies than the gents. There is a romantic element to the book that I suspect many boys will find off-putting, though McGraw handles it tactfully and tastefully--nothing like a modern romance novel.

As with The Golden Goblet, the history was well presented and the reader feels instantly immersed in the life of ancient Egypt. The writing flows well and the plot is well conceived, particularly the various conspiracies and the development of Mara from her starting point as a self-centered, petulant teen. My only criticism of the book concerned the ending which seemed a bit ill-conceived. [Warning: Spoiler!] Having been beaten within an inch of her life, Mara nonetheless manages to make charming banter with Sheftu and there is the equivalent of a "happily-ever-after" love scene. It reminded me of similarly unsatisfactory endings from some Hollywood dramas of the 1950s.

That aside, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for older kids who have an interest in ancient Egypt.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Young Ranofer is the son of Thutra, master goldsmith. When Thutra died, poor Ranofer was left to the not-so-tender mercies of his half-brother, Gebu, a hulking brute who deals out insults and beatings with little provocation. Ranofer's life is barely tolerable working in Rekh's goldsmith shop, but until he can be apprenticed, his job is a dead-end and he must turn over all his earnings to Gebu. Worse, he has noticed that his brother has been growing rich and suspects he may be stealing. But even if Ranofer manages to get proof, who will believe a boy like him against the word of a man like Gebu? He'll need help of his quick-witted friend Heqet and the kindly one-eyed Ancient if he ever hopes to escape from Gebu's tyranny.

The Golden Goblet is a splendidly written tale meant for young readers age 10 and up. It does exactly what all good historical fiction is supposed to do--effortlessly transport the reader to another time and place. McGraw expertly paints a portrait of everyday life in ancient Egypt, focusing on the nitty-gritty of existence among the common artisans and laborers rather than the opulence of the Pharoah's court. I particularly enjoyed her use of humor and thought that the good-natured, wise-cracking character of Heqet was very well drawn. I certainly could do no better, as the monkey with a stylus said to the scribe.

So this book is a winner and should be widely read. It's a good introduction to ancient Egypt for kids who are learning about it. McGraw certainly knows her history and she presents it in a way that is easily accessible for young readers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jumong -- or why I have given up on American TV

Recently, our cable company sent us warning letters that our service could be disrupted if our TV wasn't fitted with a special digital converter box. As football season is over, I took little notice of this, figuring that our TV was new enough that it probably didn't need the box anyway.

Well, I was wrong. Our TV did need the box and we lost our service. That was two weeks ago. Yes, we've taken steps to address the problem, but with absolutely no urgency. Why? Because American TV stinks and aside from EWTN, I don't miss it even a little bit.

Just how bad American TV stinks was brought home to me within the past couple years. During that time, my wife and I have gotten semi-addicted to the grand historical dramas produced for Korean television. We recently finished watching our most recent one, Jumong--the story of a ne'er-do-well prince who matures into the founder of the Koguryeo kingdom. It was tremendous. The writing was excellent and constantly kept us guessing. The music was lovely and evocative. The costumes were outstanding (though maybe a little over-the-top in places). The acting was generally brilliant. Jumong was loaded with tragedy, suspense, and romance, with just a touch of comic relief. One also gets a sense of the grand sweep of history and there are moments when the writers seem to use the story to address the contemporary political situation on the Korean peninsula--calls for national unity, resistance to the Chinese hegemon and the like.

Oh, and there was action--did I mention the action? From beautifully choreographed sword-fights between a pair of combatants to great battles involving hundreds or thousands, the battle scenes were convincing and very well done.

As the setting of Jumong is the far east around the time of Jesus, there is no trace of Christianity. The morality is strictly of the virtuous pagan variety. There are semi-political/semi-magical sorceresses, frequent mention of the gods, references to ancestor worship, concubinage among the rulers, and one strange relationship between two men. But the over-arching ethical tone is comfortable for most Catholics, celebrating filial piety, condemning revenge, and exalting courage, humility, and forgiveness.

If you can tolerate the subtitles and the typos that occasionally appear therein, you will be well rewarded by this series. The 80 episodes will fly by, and you will find that you actually know a little Korean afterwards--although I'm not sure the phrase: "Your favors are immeasurable, your highness" will be of much use to you if you travel to Korea these days.

And the best part is, Jumong is available for free (with commercials) on the internet at: http://www.crunchyroll.com/jumong

I compare this to anything that appears on American TV and I am left shaking my head. I am forced to admit that places like South Korea are making infinitely better entertainment products than we are in America.

Let's just face it--our entertainment industry is creatively drained, sapped, atrophied. While Jumong and similar Korean historical dramas are grand and glorious, nearly all of American network television is tawdry and crude.

What accounts for this disparity?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Real Saint Patrick

When most people think of Saint Patrick, visions of shamrocks, green beer, and yummy Irish "potatoes" spring immediately to mind. But if you want to know what sort of man the real Saint Patrick was, you should read his Confessio written by his own hand, circa AD 450. The circumstances behind the writing of the Confessio are obscure, but it certainly does give a glimpse into how Patrick's mind and spirituality worked.

Here's how it starts [as taken from the Catholic Information Network website]:
I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our desserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.
To read the rest, click this link, or the one above.

If this snippet has whet your appetite for a good, short biography of St. Patrick, try Saint Patrick from the Christian Encounters series.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review: St. Francis (Christian Encounters series)

The Christian Encounters series is a well-produced collection of short biographies of individuals who in some way impacted (or were impacted themselves by) Christianity. According to the Thomas Nelson website, the series:
highlights important lives from all ages and areas of the Church. Some are familiar faces. Others are unexpected guests. But all, through their relationships, struggles, prayers, and desires, uniquely illuminate our shared experience.
Of course, they mean "Church" in the broadest possible sense, not specifically the Catholic Church. The list of individuals chosen for treatment is an eclectic one. Some of the subjects are obvious choices; others are curious; a few are simply out there. They include literary icons like Jane Austen and J. R. R. Tolkien, figures from science such as Isaac Newton and Galileo, contemporary political figures like Churchill and William Buckley, and great saints like Patrick and Nicholas.

I read the volume on Saint Patrick previously and enjoyed it. As a result, when I saw this volume on Saint Francis of Assisi appear on Amazon Vine, I grabbed it straight away. I admit in advance that my knowledge of the life of Saint Francis is rather spare, limited to a general outline and a few pious anecdotes. So I am unable to gauge the accuracy of this book. That said, I found Robert West's treatment of Francis to be thorough without being heavy, fascinating without seeming fabulous. Making use of primary sources as well as a long list of later works, he manages to convey a sense of the true man, divorced from the holy card caricature that most of us are familiar with. At the same time, he refrains from making ridiculous assumptions which desanctify the man. He does not discard the many miracles associated with Francis and does not dismiss the stigmata which Francis suffered late in life, but gives a balanced view drawn from the primary sources.

West does an excellent job placing Francis in his historical context. He clarifies the often complex religious, social, and political situation in Assisi and Italy more generally, helping the reader to understand how radical Francis actually was. He emphasizes Francis's embrace of Lady Poverty and describes his unusual ascetic practices--such as an extreme aversion to money to the point where he wouldn't even touch it, as well as his insistence that the friars beg for everything and own nothing. He quotes Francis's writing: "Any brother found with money or coin is to be regarded as a false brother, a thief, a robber, and one having a purse, unless he should become truly penitent." To further emphasize this point, he offers the following anecdote:
One time a secular person...left money as an offering. One of the brothers touched the money and threw it on the window sill. When Francis heard about it, the brother threw himself on the ground in front of him and was willing to suffer stripes. Francis upbraided him severely and finally told him to take the money in his mouth and to place it on the dung of a donkey outside.
West also includes an interesting chapter on St. Francis's great friend, St. Clare, which examines their relationship in detail. I read this chapter with some trepidation, fearing that the author might try to insinuate something beyond the great spiritual friendship that existed between these two amazing saints. Fortunately, West's account of their relationship was fair, cautious, and only slightly speculative.

St. Francis's legendary love of nature is also covered, though in proper proportion to the larger story and as a function of his belief that nature was merely a reflection of God's infinite love. This is important to keep in mind because Francis is treated by many moderns as some kind of secular environmentalist when in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Francis's primary concern was always preaching the Gospel and leading men and women to Christ. This fact comes across clearly in West's book.

In his conclusion, West writes: "Once the word saint is attached to a name, that person's connection with humanity is severed. A saint is beyond human—existing somewhere between angelic realms and the heights of divinity." This book does an excellent job of putting Saint Francis back into his earthly milieu and helping the reader understand how such a rakish and worldly young man became one of the most venerated saints of history.

As a footnote, I read this book as my wife and I were discussing a name for our soon-to-arrive boy-child. We have decided on Francis.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Book Review: Pegeen

The Bantry Bay series by Hilda van Stockum wraps up with Pegeen, the story of an orphan girl who is taken in temporarily by the O'Sullivan family while awaiting word from her uncle in the United States. Full of spunk and mischief, Pegeen was introduced in the previous book in the series, Francie on the Run, when she met Francie O'Sullivan while chasing her run-away pig. In this book, her character is developed more fully. She is not an all together good girl at first. She has a tendency to cover her faults with outlandish fibs and to atone for her miscues by making them a thousand times worse. That said, she is presented as having a heart of gold and soon learns from her mistakes thanks to the kind guidance and understanding of the O'Sullivans.

My children absolutely loved this book--perhaps better than the first two books in the series, which is saying something. Several of Pegeen's misadventures had them laughing hysterically, particularly the incident with Patricia, the elder O'Sullivan girl's prized doll. The charming line art illustrations by the author were a great enhancement to the text and particularly helped bring to life the more humorous episodes. The book has a lovely though completely expected ending.

Having read all three books in the Bantry Bay series now, I can heartily recommend it. Van Stockum's books are especially well-suited for kids 7 through 10. My younger ones also enjoyed the series, and lurked around whenever we read out-loud. The writing flows well and is not overly simplified which made the series enjoyable reading for dad, too. A charming window into life in 1930s Ireland, the series is educational as well as entertaining. We will be moving on to Van Stockum's Mitchell series next, the first one of which is Five for Victory.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Book Review: Francie on the Run

Having finished The Cottage at Bantry Bay, my children immediately began agitating to read the next book in Hilda van Stockum's series about the O'Sullivan family, Francie on the Run. Like the previous book, this one tells a story that is clever, funny, and utterly charming from beginning to end.

Francie, one of the O'Sullivan children, was born with a club foot. At the end of The Cottage at Bantry Bay, the O'Sullivans come into enough money to send Francie to a hospital in far off Dublin to get an operation on his foot. Away from his family, seven year-old Francie is kept in the hospital several months as he recuperates. Eventually, he tires of waiting for the doctors to release him and decides to escape. This sets off a sequence of adventures that sends poor Francie the length and breadth of Ireland where he meets all sorts of interesting characters. Francie has an undeniable Little Lord Fauntleroy quality to him and successfully endears himself to most of those he meets--in particular, a girl his own age named Pegeen.

If possible, I think my children enjoyed this book more than the first one. They laughed again and again at Francie's adventures and enjoyed trying to figure out what would happen next. What I particularly liked about this book, as well as the previous one, is that the characters are good role models of childhood behavior. Francie is a noble little fellow and though he occasionally makes childishly foolish decisions or loses control of his tongue, his intentions are always good. I enjoyed listening to my kids laugh when Francie did something clever and groan when he did something that they knew would lead to trouble.

So Francie on the Run is another book we all recommend. Now, on to the final book in the O'Sullivan family series, which is about the girl Francie met on his journey--Pegeen.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Book Review: The Cottage at Bantry Bay

This book came highly recommended along with several others by Hilda van Stockum. When I mentioned that I had never heard of them or that particular author, I received a look (not unjustly, I might add) as if I were the most benighted creature on the planet. Apparently van Stockum's books are a staple of homeschool reading lists, and in my still appalling ignorance, I had somehow managed to miss them completely.

So starting with The Cottage at Bantry Bay, I began reading the van Stockum books to my children. I must admit, I had some trepidation at the beginning that there might not be enough action in this book to hold my kids' attention. But my worry in this regard was completely unwarranted. The story is about a simple family just scraping by in 1930s Ireland. The events that happen to them are not the stuff of epic adventure. Instead, they are charming little anecdotes that tie together and lead to a satisfying happy ending.

The story focuses on the O'Sullivan children: Michael (about 11), Brigid (about 10) and the twins Liam and Francie (6). The characters themselves drive the story and the reader can't help but get attached to them. Van Stockum does a wonderful job bringing them to life and is so successful that the reader is left a little bit disappointed that they are not real people.

My own children loved the book. They bothered me each night to read another chapter and sat there in rapt attention as I read. My oldest son's (age 8) favorite part was a scene where the two older children had to sleep in the fields and almost sank into the bog. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter (age 7) appreciated a scene where the two twins recklessly ventured out in a row-boat and got themselves stranded (I had better keep an eye on that girl...)

All in all, this is a terrific book which promotes good Catholic values and a sense of nobility even amidst material poverty. We all highly recommend it.