Friday, September 22, 2023

August 2022 Book Reports


River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile by Candace Millard - link to my post (purchased copy)

The Skeptic's Guide to American History by Mark A. Stoler (Great Courses) - This is one of the honors selections for high school history in the Mater Amabilis lesson plans. It's a good kind of myth-busters course, with plenty of context and background in each lecture. It's a 24 lecture course that is assigned over a couple of years (interspersed with lectures on British history and world history). I wouldn't use it instead of our textbook (Land of Hope), but it's a useful supplement if you have a student eager and willing for an honors course. (It's not really harder than the other resources we use. It's honors because it's more.) (published audiobook)

Nordic Gods and Heroes by Padraic Colum - This is one of the books of myths and legends added recently to Mater Amabilis's Level 3 lesson plans. This particular edition has the same style of illustrations by Willy Pogany as Colum's The Children's Homer, one of my favorites. In this book, Colum introduces children to the tales of Loki, Thor, and other Norse myths, names many might already find familiar from a series of recent movies. Thoroughly enjoyable. (purchased copy)

Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Father Jacques Philippe - link to my post (received as a gift from my son)

Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links. I have received nothing in exchange for this post.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

An Essential Book: Searching for and Maintaining Peace

Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart
by Father Jacques Philippe

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us. (p. 5)

Part One puts forth the reasons we should seek interior peace above all else. Part Two addresses the difficulties and experiences that steal our peace, providing page after page of encouragement and advice. Part Three includes excerpts from writings of saints regarding interior peace.

It's impossible to choose quotations to share, because so much of the book is worth quoting. I haven't mastered interior peace, but Father Jacques Philippe makes it seem attainable.

As soon as I finished this book, I wanted to start over again at the beginning. I've talked about this book with random people I don't know at events around town and hear the same thing from many of them. They have all read it multiple times. I plan to have all my kids read it. I may even gift them each their own copy.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. I received this book as a gift. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Nile in Context: River of the Gods

River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile 
by Candace Millard

I loved Millard's River of Doubt, so when I saw she was doing an event at our big city's main library for her new book (this would have been in May 2022), I knew I had to go. First Daughter went with me. We had a fabulous evening and bought a book each, both of which the author graciously signed for us.

River of the Gods fills in all the Nile River gaps a Mater Amabilis mother or student would have after reading A Book of Discovery. It's full of intrigue, disease, adventure, and death. The personalities and tragedies of the European explorers come to life, but Millard also supplies contextual information on the people of Africa who accompanied (or attacked) the adventurers. Millard's research seems excellent (to a non-historian such as myself) with extensive endnotes and bibliography.

I loved it. I'm becoming a bit of a geography and travel book addict, though. I think it would be a great book if you have a high schooler who was particularly fascinated by the search for the source of the Nile or the exploration of Africa by Europeans. It might be a tad slow-going for a casual reader.

I have received nothing in exchange for this review. I purchased the book. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

July 2022 Book Reports

Kristin Lavransdatter (The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross) by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunnally - link to my post (purchased copy)

The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory by Abigail Favale - link to my post (purchased copy)

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean - I wanted a substitute for a Robin Hood book in Level 3 of Mater Amabilis for Second Son, because he had read that one the year before. I found this one adaptation suggested on a number of websites and checked it out. I haven't read the original Arabian Nights, but this one is entertaining and suitable for children, if you can get past the slaughtering of so many wives before he gets to the storyteller. My son and I both enjoyed these stories. It was pretty easy for him to read and narrate a chapter at a time. (I read a library copy, but purchased one for my son.)

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Faith and Medical Ethics: Losing Our Dignity

Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine Is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality
by Charles C. Camosy

I'm considering a Faith and Modern Life class that would be a kind of intersection between government and policy and faith. My Catholic theologian husband said if I wanted to talk about medical ethics, this book should be on the list.

Dr. Camosy explains how the philosophy of secularized medicine developed, and how that philosophy is not neutral in making medical decisions.'s the bottom line: it is impossible to care for the health of a single human being (much less design and work within a health-care system with limited resources that must yet provide for millions) without incorporated such goods and values and purposes. (p. 39)

Then he presents studies around famous cases to show how that philosophy leads to poor decisions for vulnerable patients. There are chapters about Jahi McMath, Terri Schiavo, "Roe Baby," and Alfie Evans. There's also a chapter on patients with dementia.

New Jersey law requires insurance companies to continue medical care even if religious beliefs of the family conflict with medical professionals. The executive director of the group that wrote the law, Alan Weisbard, said:

[T]he people who have done the deep and conceptual thinking about brain death are people with high I.Q.s, who tremendously value their cognitive abilities--people who believe that the ability to think, to plan, and to act in the world are what make for meaningful lives. But there is a different tradition that looks much more to the body. (pp. 50-51)

He concludes with some ideas about what we can do to reverse the concerning trends as individuals, communities, and society in the short and long term. 

Dr. Camosy doesn't always present the one and only answer for difficult situations. He emphasizes that each situation requires careful consideration of the individual, the family, and the resources available but always with the needs and dignity of the most vulnerable patients given the priority.

Medical science and tests can be used to determine whether death has taken place, but deciding what death is in the first place can be determined only by asking theological questions. (p. 47)

I think this book is essential reading for anyone in medicine or anyone considering a career in a medical field, especially for Catholics. It's actually a great book for any Catholic. Highly recommended.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. I purchased the book. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

June 2022 Book Reports

The Hearthstone of My Heart by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino - link to my post (purchased used copy)

Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome - This book is the source of the title, and much of the plot humor, of one of my absolute favorite books, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. When I found out, I had to listen to it and then follow it up with another re-listen of the Willis book. Jerome's original book was intended as a useful travel book, but was instead loved for its hilarity. It was a wonderful summer listen. (Audible audiobook)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly - These are the first two books about a clever young girl living in a time when her career options seem limited. The books are full of exploration of the natural world of Texas. In the second book, the family is touched by the effects of the hurricane that his Galveston in 1900. If you are reading aloud to young children, you may want to be prepared for chapter 24, in which two of the family's hunting dogs have to be shot after a rattlesnake attack. Calpurnia's hopes for a career and education are still out of reach. We must wait for another installment in the series. (library copy)

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome - The kids and I listened to this together. In this third book in the series, the Swallows and Amazons join their uncle for a cruise around the British isles, but instead end up following the trail of buried treasure when a wise old sailor joins the crew. This tale is meant to be an imaginary one, but it's full of summertime fun. Alison Larkin is the narrators of all the Swallows and Amazons books we have from Audible, and I could listen to her all day long. (Audible audiobook)

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon, Bookshop, and PaperBackSwap are affiliate links.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Financial Planning in a Catholic Way: How to Attack Debt, Build Savings, and Change the World through Generosity

[photo credit: WalletWin website]

How to Attack Debt, Build Savings, and Change the World through Generosity: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money

by Amanda and Jonathan Teixeira

The authors are the founders of WalletWin, an organization offering courses and support in learning to budget, pay off debt, and grow wealth.

This book was recommended in one of the Facebook discussions of the Mater Amabilis group when someone asked about personal finance. I've assigned You Need a Budget for my homeschool's personal finance study and was satisfied with the book. The recommendation was glowing, though, and since it seemed like it might appeal to other Mater Amabilis families, I decided I'd get a copy to see for myself.

I was pleased to learn the Teixerias actually use the YNAB system, which is my favorite way to budget and plan. They explain enough you don't need any prior knowledge of it to understand their book. 

As I was reading, I found the financial advice solid, but not much different that what I have read in financial columns, from Dave Ramsey, or from You Need a Budget. One benefit of this book over You Need a Budget is the assumption you are planning a financial future with a spouse, rather than a "partner," which most Catholic homeschoolers would probably prefer.

The two chapters of Part V, though, brought to the fore-front what it means to live your Catholic faith as a person whose economic needs (and those of his or her family) are met. 

A good, though fuzzy, rule of thumb is that you should give at a level that's noticeable, even a little uncomfortable. You should feel the difference that giving makes in your budget. (p. 257)

The Teixeiras challenge the reader to carefully and repeatedly consider what it means to give your excess away. They don't just encourage you to pray about your needs or to continuously examine your situation. They present what many would consider a counter-cultural example, even in the Christian world, of how to live generously. 

You could use wealth to smooth out all the problems in your life, but the Teixeiras encourage you to meet your needs, and allow some suffering in order to be more generous.

Avoiding suffering can be another appetite that is never satisfied. There will always be some suffering, however small, to avoid, to stamp out, some annoyance you don't want to deal with, and will try to find a way not to. And this neverending quest for a perfect life here on earth will never end, except in misery and disappointment. (p. 277)

They suggest asking yourself, "Does addressing this suffering allow me to freely focus on God and my vocation/enter more fully into life, or might I be running away from life by trying to escape?" (p. 277)

Your money might be able to make some things happen, but the power is not yours. Even if you worked harder or smarter than others to earn your living--it doesn't mean you are more worthy or have more dignity than anyone else.

Remember, the money isn't even yours. It's God's money, and he's asking you to manage it for him. (p. 279) 

I haven't used WalletWin; I've only read the book. If I heard a parish was considering offering Financial Peace University, though, I'd say, "Call WalletWin instead. Right now." No one asks me for financial advice, nor should they, but I will always recommend WalletWin over You Need a Budget or anything Dave Ramsey from now on.

One quibble, and one I have with essentially every Christian pay-down-your-debt-and-build-wealth book or program, is the idea that investments (e.g. for retirement) should be judged solely based on the rate of return. I would like to see more Christian and Catholic financial organizations address concerns about what companies are included in various mutual funds or investment portfolios and how those companies make their money, treat their employees, and act in the world. If you choose to avoid using products from a company because they allow child labor in their overseas practices, then you probably don't want to own stock in that company, but it's really difficult to find that message or to know what to do about it if you come to that decision on your own. If more companies like WalletWin spoke out about these kinds of issues, it could be the beginning of a movement. 

I have updated our previous lesson plans to use this book instead of You Need a Budget. I am also going to encourage my older daughter, who already finished the old plans, to read the last couple of chapters.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. I purchased the book. Links to are affiliate links.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Catholic Feminist: The Genesis of Gender

by Abigail Favale

Abigail Favale was making the rounds on a number of Catholic podcasts last year to promote this book. I bought the book and read it last summer, but it's taken me months to get it on the blog.

Dr. Favale's personal story from Christian upbringing through feminist college and graduate student to Catholic convert provides a backdrop for clear descriptions of some of the most prominent schools of thought and modern American culture regarding gender and orientation. 

One of the aspects of this book I appreciated the most is how Dr. Favale doesn't let the rhetoric of any one group define who she is and what she believes. She has carefully and thoughtfully considered arguments from many different philosophers and theologians and sifted them down to what she believes is the truth.

There is a danger in embracing feminism unthinkingly and letting it become a totalizing worldview, as I did. There is also a danger in dismissing feminism too hastily, because that leaves important concerns unaddressed...The questions that feminism seeks to address are still vital and relevant, even if the answers feminism provides are too often self-defeating. (p. 30) 

She treats her antagonists with great compassion, which I find sorely lacking in most treatises on these subjects. She finds the good in the desires of all, including those who have left the truth of the Catholic faith, without failing to maintain that truth herself.

This book says everything I want my daughters and sons to hear and consider before they go off to college. (It was published too late for my oldest, but I'm adding it to his recommended book list even though he's not my student anymore.) It presents a clear-headed and calm discussions of the dangers and tragic consequences of modern feminist and trans ideologies. Dr. Favale is seeking truth wherever she can find it, including in feminist thought.

I do have to warn you: being a Christian feminist means being a heretic, one way or another. You have to make a choice. Embracing Christian orthodoxy means rejecting certain feminist dogmas. (p. 29)

I intend to schedule this book for my high school students in their senior year. I'm still thinking about what that will look like, but probably something along the lines of Faith and Society - all the things I want you to hear from us before you hear a twisted version of it from college friends or professors.

I have received nothing in exchange for this review. I purchased the book. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A Memoir of Place and People: The Hearthstone of My Heart

by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

Elizabeth Borton de Trevino is such a delight. This book is like sitting down to tea with her and listening as she shares memories of her family and her incredible life. Her thoughts on the deepest aspects of what it is to be human rise up naturally from her stories.

Borton de Trevino is the author of children's books like Nacar: The White Deer and I, Juan de Pareja. She actually wrote many books, but most of them are now sadly out of print. 

In this book, she commented on children's literature in a way that reminded me of Charlotte Mason's ideals. 

Shouldn't the imagination of what could be a beautiful world, be kept, in their stories, in their entertainment? If not, how will they envision it? Man has always dreamed of improvements before he was able to effect them. (p. 195)

A little later, she writes:

I do feel, strongly, that some of the special gifts of childhood must somehow be preserved, and chief among those is the vaulting imagination, and the child's capacity for love and empathy. (p. 195) 

This author led a remarkable life, interviewing and befriending (or befriended by) many of the greatest artists and musicians of her life in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Mexico. She writes often with generosity and warmth of her relationships with them.

Her Epilogue provides a good reflection on the book as a whole.

I think, as I look back over what I have told in this volume, that the important thing I want to emphasize is that there is still much goodness, generosity, and kindness  all around us, that friendship is still the greatest treasure God has offered us for the taking, during our lives, and that, as they say in Spanish, "Amor con amor se paga." Love is repaid by love. (p. 223) 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I also recommend My Heart Lies South

I have received nothing in exchange for this review. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links. I purchased this book.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Immigrants Today: Out of Many, One

by George W. Bush

Former President George W. Bush has taken up a paintbrush in his retirement. He creates colorful and vibrant portraits reproduced in this book, featuring immigrants from all over the world.

There are a few pages at the end of the book that discuss the kind of immigration advocacy work former President Bush supports, which I found interesting and encouraging.

My only quibble with the book was the wish that there were a few more immigrants who were just ordinary people, even decades after they immigrating. Most of the people in the book are celebrities, wealthy and successful business owners, or important political figures. I suppose those are the sorts of immigrants most likely to be introduced to a former president, and they make excellent stories to highlight the great contributions immigrants continue to make to life in the United States, but immigrants who struggle to make ends meet, working a couple of jobs and raising children, are also worthy of respect and dignity. (Not that I think the former President disagrees, of course; they just aren't in the book.)

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links. I borrowed this book from my dad.