GUEST POST: Marian Book Review by Katie Hendrick

Today I am very grateful to have fellow blogger Katie Hendrick as a guest writer. She has reviewed many great titles about our Blessed Mother, which will make for perfect reading this Lent. You can visit Katie at her blog Stumbling Toward Sainthood.

Despite being a “cradle Catholic,” my relationship with Mary is pretty weak. Being the bookworm that I am, I decided to start reading more books about the Blessed Mother (as well as introducing some Marian prayers into my life). In doing this, I have found three books that can help anyone connect with Mary as Christ made clear we are to do.

Mary by Tim Staples

What It’s About: Staples provides “biblical evidence for Marian doctrine and devotion, answers common objections to Catholic teachings, and guidance on how to imitate Christ – which we should do in all things – by loving and honoring his mother.”

The Good: This book draws from a number of different resources (Scripture, Early Church, etc.) and covers a wide array of the common misconceptions about Mary. I also felt what made this book especially beneficial to readers was Tim Staples’ perspective as a Catholic convert. Because he came from a Fundamentalist background, he was able to address the concerns about Mary more effectively than someone who always felt close to Mary.

The Opportunities for Improvement: The only thing I didn’t like about this book was some of the Bible verses got repetitive. Though they were still relevant, I think a simple verse reference would have sufficed.

Why You should Read it: If you want to grow closer to Mary, I think you first need to get rid of all the misconceptions surrounding her. There is so much misinformation surrounding the practice of honoring to Mary, and this book provides clear responses to correct this. If you start turning to Mary with uncertainty or fear fueled by misconceptions, it will be a much more difficult road. Starting by learning will make the path smoother, so this book is a great place to start.

Link to my Full Review: https://stumblingtowardsainthood.com/book-review-mary/

 Mary: Help in Hard Times by Marianne Lorraine Trouve

What It’s About: “No matter what challenges we may face in life, Mary is always there to help us….Let the prayers and real-life stories of how others have experienced Mary’s intercession open your heart to the care she can provide for you.”

The Good: This is probably the second best book on Mary I have read (only overshadowed by the last book I will recommend). It starts by addressing who Mary is, moves into people’s experiences with the Blessed Mother, and concludes with different practices to connect with Mary. I thought the level of detail was fantastic, and this book was very encouraging.

The Opportunities for Improvement: This is such a small criticism, but I did not like the Bible translation they used for The Annunciation because the explanation of it referenced a different translation.

Why You should Read it: If you only want to read one book on Mary, this is the book to pick; it is a good blend of apologetics and devotions. This book was also very practical. For example, when discussing the personal experiences people had with Mary, it didn’t lean heavily on miracles; instead, it focused on how dedicated prayer brought about fruit. It’s also a great starting point for Marian prayer if you have no idea where to start.

Link to my Full Review: https://stumblingtowardsainthood.com/book-review-mary-help-hard-times/

Praying the Rosary Like Never Before by Edward Sri

What It’s About: “Do you struggle with praying the rosary: finding time, fighting distractions, worrying about your mind wandering? In Praying the Rosary Like Never Before, Edward Sri offers practical suggestions that come from the rosary’s tradition and, most especially, St. John Paul II. These helpful tips will make the rosary a constant companions through the different seasons, moments, and challenges we all face. These tips serve as easy on-ramps for those who don’t pray the rosary regularly motivate avid devotees of the rosary to go deeper with the Lord.” In the interest of transparency, I want to make it clear that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Good: This book was very intelligently written without being intimidating. Whether you and Mary are BFFs or you just got past the “Catholics worship Mary” falsity, you can find growth from this book. Though the beginning of the book was solid with its blend of apologetics and history, what really made this book special was the beautiful rosary meditations. If you think that the rosary is boring, these beautiful mediations will change your mind. If you fear that the rosary focuses too much on Mary, the explanations of the mystery in the context of Scripture and Christ’s salvific plan will also change your mind. This was my favorite book from 2017.

The Opportunities for Improvement: This is an even smaller criticism than before, but there was one graphic in the book that was blurry. I really had to dig to find something wrong with it.

Why You should Read it: This book is just beautiful. It’s hard to articulate how much I loved it. The rosary seems like an outdated prayer, but this book shines the spotlight this amazing spiritual practice. It’s hard to read this book and not feel some kind of change.

Link to my Full Review: https://stumblingtowardsainthood.com/book-review-pray-rosary-like-never/ 

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Getting to know Mary can be intimidating, but these books lay some groundwork. Mary gives you the most basic information you need about our Blessed Mother. Mary: Help in Hard Times reassures you of her love for her children and gives some steps for growing closer to her. Praying the Rosary Like Never Before will lead you to fall in love with this incredible prayer. Though there are many great books about Mary out there, you can’t go wrong with starting with these three.

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Kate Hendrick lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two cats. She works as an engineer full-time. Kate writes on her blog, Stumbling Toward Sainthood, which discusses the challenges we face as we strive to live authentically Catholic lives. When Kate isn’t sharing her love for Christ and His Church online, you can find her reading, crocheting, or playing nerdy board games with her friends. You can also find Kate on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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Book Review: The Last Girl by Nadia Murad

 

Image result for the last girl nadia murad

virago.co.uk

With all of the news today, it can be difficult to sort out between reality and fiction. We hear so many stories about captivity and torture at the hands of ISIS, that it’s difficult to relate to what’s going on halfway across the world. How could we possible relate to something going on thousands of miles away and so foreign to our sensibilities? This is where The Last Girl steps in a fills in the gaps.

Nadia Murad lived a happy, simple life in the little village of Kocho, Iraq. Though she struggled with poverty and some family tensions, Nadia notes that she never thought of leaving her hometown. On top of everything else, she lived in a devout community with those who practiced the Yazidi religion. Everything seemed to fall into place year by year.

Unfortunately, in early 2014, ISIS overtook Nadia’s small village. Deeming those who practice the Yazidi religion to be infidels, ISIS militants destroyed Kocho, taking Nadia and her family. In an act against humanity, Nadia was eventually trafficked as a sex slave, suffering rape multiple times at the hands of many men. Without divulging the whole plot of Nadia’s heroic tale, there is a positive ending.

If you are interested in international relations and stories of courage, I recommend The Last Girl by Nadia Murad.

I received a free copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: To Light a Fire on the Earth by Bishop Robert Barron with John L. Allen Jr.

To Light a Fire

amazon.com

Ask almost any Catholic with Internet access who Bishop Robert Barron is, and you may receive a response like this: Oh! He does the Word on Fire YouTube videos! For the bookworm, his hit book Catholicism lingers in the back of a faithful mind. Walk into a Catholic book study, and odds are, you’ll see a supplemental resource written by Bishop Barron.

In To Light a Fire on the Earth, John L. Allen Jr. partners with Bishop Barron to bring the story of the Gospel to our secular world. For those who are looking for a sentimental reflection on the Catholic faith, they will be disappointed. Rather, Bishop Barron tackles the growing secularism in our society, and combats it with the hard truths and promises of Catholicism.

For example, Barron states that while the Catholic Church is “extreme in its demand…it’s also extreme in its mercy.” As a result, Barron argues that we should not succumb to what he labels “beige Catholicism” that is plain and watered-down. He recalls a story of a child who once recalled the story of the whole Star Wars saga, right down to names and details. The point? If a child can recall names like Obi Wan-Kenobi and Darth Vader, then he is capable of learning about Habakkuk, Nebuchadnezzar, and Aquinas. To combat secularism, Catholics must have high expectations for not only ourselves, but also for the next generation of the faithful.

To Light a Fire is highly recommended for those who are Catholic, Protestant, non-believers, and everyone in between. This book discusses everything from secularism to the use of the Bible in everyday Catholic living. For those who are not Catholic (or Christian), the book expertly describes Catholic teaching and doctrine. To those of us who are Catholic, the book is a reminder of why we believe what we believe. Additionally, as Catholics, Barron encourages us to be authentic with non-believers and to show them the beauty of our Faith.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Far Away Brothers by Lauren Markham

Image result for the faraway brothers

npr.org

From August 2014 to May 2015, I worked as an English as a Second Language teacher in Western Kentucky. During this time, the United States experienced a crisis: a massive influx of unaccompanied minors at the southern border. In my work, most of my students were from Mexico and a smattering of other Central American countries. I was well aware of the unique plight of these children: one student rode on horseback from Guatemala, up through Mexico, suffering a broken tailbone along the way. One student ran through the river that borders Texas, while another crossed the border with his parents while still a toddler. Many of these students knew little-to-no English, and often spoke indigenous languages as opposed to Spanish.

Though these students are often here unauthorized, their individual stories speak volumes about the resilience of survival.

Enter Lauren Markham’s The Far Away Brothers, the true story of two twins: Ernesto and Raul. The twins’ story begins in violence-ridden El Salvador, where the murder rates are at an all-time high and gang activity is the norm, not the exception. Both boys grow up in a loving family, but are often sneered by their classmates and teachers. As time progresses, Ernesto catches the ire of a gang-affiliated uncle. For their own safety, both boys must flee El Salvador, and become far away brothers (a name for the millions of Salvadorian migrants to the States).

For the boys, the road is tricky. Their father puts up his property for collateral in order to pay coyotes for the boys’ passage to the border, and for a while, communication is scarce. As Ernesto and Raul pass through Mexico, they face border stops, strange homes, and random drug raids in their vehicle. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Once in the United States, the boys must enroll in school, work to send money home to their family in El Salvador, find an immigration lawyer, and present their case to a California judge. All the while, the twins struggle with American social norms, academic expectations, the plight of love (Ernesto becomes a father), and the pull of a far away homeland that is too dangerous for a return.

Regardless of your views on immigration and the unaccompanied minors crisis, The Far Away Brothers is a wonderful overview of the life many immigrants. While often we are presented with snippets from our favorite news source, Brothers shows readers the peril of leaving one’s home in search of something better, safer. For this reason, I recommend Markham’s book for anyone interested in politics, social science, and true stories of perseverance.

Book Review: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

For a long time, I balked at personality tests and quizzes. Even in college, when we had to take the MBTI assessment during orientation (I’m an INTJ, by the way), I thought there was no way a simple test could tell me what I needed to know about my personality. I

Image result for the four tendencies

gretchenrubin.com

was far too complex, right? However, as the years progressed, I was introduced to more personality studies. I studied and thought, “Hey, maybe this isn’t total nonsense.”

Enter: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. From friends on social media, I had heard of Rubin’s book, but was generally unaware of her work as a whole. When given the opportunity to provide and honest review for a free copy of the book through Blogging for Books, I was so impressed with Rubin’s content and writing style.

Without the tense language of a psychology textbook, Tendencies examines four ways humans often express them selves as: Upholders, Obligers, Rebels, and Questioners. Rubin takes each tendency, and presents how each “style” operates and interacts with

Image result for the four tendencies

gretchenrubin.com

others in real life. For example, I took the quiz at Rubin’s website and to no surprise, I am a textbook case Obliger. I can meet outer expectations, but I fail to meet inner expectations. For example, I can finish a report for work ahead of a deadline, but to go to the gym for myself? No way. Promises to myself can be broken.

On the other end, you may be a Questioner. You can meet your own inner expectations, but an outward expectations? You’ve got a few questions first, and you’re not volunteering just because. Maybe you’re a rebel who resists ALL expectations because you can’t stand being told what to do. Or, perhaps you’re an upholder: You meet expectations, both inner and outer, and “discipline is your freedom” (1).

What makes Tendencies so successful and engaging is that it teachers you not to attribute every single personality quirk to your tendency, but to think about your behavior and how it shapes you. Rubin offers advice for Obligers who want to keep promises to themselves and to the Questioner who wants to avoid information acquisition burnout.

Overall, for the armchair personality enthusiast to seasoned professionals, I would highly recommend The Four Tendencies. You will learn something about the ones you work with and love. Most importantly, you’ll recognize a familiar trait or discover something brand new about yourself.

Lessons From a Ragpicker

Though I am well-acquainted with the geography and history of East Asia, I never encountered the word ragpicker in my studies or travels. This changed when I read Fr. Paul Glynn’s The Smile of a Ragpicker: The Life of Satoko Kitahara, Convert and Servant of the Slums of Tokyo

At the heart of this biography, Satoko Kitahara is born and raised by her well-to-do Japanese family. She enjoys an education, and cultivates a love of poetry and fine art. However, the Second World War decimates the Japanese landscape and morale. Satoko, who once believed that Japan was the crown of the world, now sees her fellow countrymen defeated and in despair. After the war, day-by-day she drops her sister off at a local foreign, convent school. There, Satoko meets the Mercedarian sisters and develops an interest in Christianity. Sataoko, convinced of the truth of Christ (and to her parent’s dismay), converts to Catholicism.

Because of her new-found faith, Satoko  becomes interested in the people living in the local slums (called Ants Town because the people who lived there “worked like ants”).

Ven. Satoko Kitahara // catholicherald.co.uk

She visits Ants Town to volunteer a few hours per week, but soon, she realizes this is not enough. Satoko wants to mirror Christ who took on our humanity and also became poor. Because of her strong conviction, she eventually becomes a “ragpicker,” someone who sifts through garbage for scraps to sell. Leaving behind a life of wealth, comfort, and security, Satoko plunges into Tokyo’s most destitute neighborhood, only to die penniless and of tuberculosis at the young age of 28. Today, the young woman known as the “Dorothy Day of Tokyo” is on her way to sainthood, currently bearing the title Venerable Satoko Kitahara.

After reading Smile, I was left with many convictions churning in my heart. I thought for many days about God’s mercy and the mercy I offer to others. Often, as Christians, we are quick to say that “Yes, I show mercy to those who need it the most.” After all, it’s so easy to say we are merciful. We throw some coins in the can of a homeless person, we serve an hour a month at a soup kitchen, or we go to Mass regularly. We’ve gone on mission trips to other continents, painted walls, held children for a few hours, and then headed across the ocean to our own comforts.

I say this not to disparage volunteering in soup kitchens or participating in foreign missions, but rather to cast a light on how we think about mercy. In my personal experience, I’ve found that it’s much easier to show mercy to those with whom I don’t have a close relationship. For example, when I was in college, I went on a mission trip to Texas to conduct vacation Bible schools in low-income housing communities. It was easy for me to show mercy and “love on” those kids during that week because I didn’t have the baggage associated with them and their lives. In a similar vein, it’s easy to love kids in a slum living 5,000 miles away because, whether we want to admit it or not, we will eventually go back home to our normalcy.

But, it’s hard to love those who are closest to us. Simply put: We know too much about them. When you’re spouse is insufferable, it’s hard to love and show mercy to him or her. Perhaps there’s a co-worker who grinds your last gear, and you’d rather be sick than share an office space with him. Or maybe it’s your parents, who you think don’t listen to you enough or are maybe too overbearing. It looks like a brother or sister who takes advantage of you, or the family next door that has three kids who are just too loud. In these cases, mercy is very, very difficult.

When reading about Satoko’s life in Japan, I thought about how she served as a conduit of Jesus’ mercy to Tokyo’s most destitute. It would have been easy, effortless even, for her to ignore the plight of Ants Town. After all, she was educated and lived in a comfortable home. If she wanted to do good, Satoko could have easily went to a “proper” mission and sacrificed an hour or two a week.

But, she didn’t.

Rather, Satoko was wholly invested and merciful to those in her own backyard. While others in her elite neighborhood looked down on both her work and the citizens of Ants Town, Satoko gave her physical and spiritual life up for the most poor of Tokyo. But, though she was materially poor at the end of her life, Satoko experienced the richness of the many conversions to Catholic Christianity as a result of her witness. Ultimately, she was known as a “Japanese for the Japanese.”

I ask you: Today, to whom will you show mercy? Think about where you’re from and where you live. Will you be a Californian for Californians? Maybe you’ll be a brother to your sister, or a wife to your husband. A Canadian to Canadians. One does not need to venture very far to show mercy, or even to make an impact. Like Satoko, your ministry of mercy may be next door or down the street. Our Lord does not require a journey of thousands of miles to show His mercy  to others. Today, I pray that we may take the love that Christ has given us, and pass it along to those who are closest to our hearts.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  // Luke 6:36

O Font of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself upon us. //  The Chaplet of Divine Mercy

 

Books: A Love Story

In third grade, many of us wanted to read chapter books.I mean really wanted to read chapter books. Picture books and simple children’s books weren’t cutting it. We had to have it. I had read the same book for weeks about how to braid hair. I needed heavier material, something with substance. I wanted something to soothe my busy 9-year-old brain, a book with a challenge.

So those of us who were serious readers sat and waited. During library class, we’d stare at the top shelf at the fat, worn chapter books. I wondered what it was like to finish fourteen whole chapters – to be literary. It didn’t help matters that our librarian at the time didn’t want us to read chapter books, but instead to stick with what we knew. I thought I knew absolutely everything in the world, and I was sure I could handle a chapter book.

I was certain.

On a sunny afternoon, time of year and day unknown, the librarian finally allowed us sweet freedom. After the words of sacred permission were spoken, I remember lunging from my seat and climbing over a gaggle of girls also reaching for chapter books. I stepped up on the stool, and grabbed the most appealing book. I was nine years old and book-hungry, but I still judged a book by its cover. I grabbed a worn, cotton-candy pink chapter book, one of many in The Babysitters Club series.

I marched to the check-out desk, filled out the library card, and went back to my table. Quickly, I dove into the book, aligning my bookmark to the line of text. I was rapid. I was in awe. I was enlightened.

It took me exactly a week to finish the book, and completed my story as soon as we were dismissed to the library. I remember little of what I read after that first book, but I do remember that reading was frequent and furious. One time, I was asked not to read and walk down the hallway at the same time. When I didn’t succumb to motion sickness, I would read on the bus ride home. I’ve read on planes and in cars, on benches and under trees.

During my college years, I was an English major. Naturally, I read. I checked out books from the library that weren’t assigned for class and read those, too. Sometimes, after working enough shifts at my campus’s safety office, I would go to a local bookstore and buy a volume of poetry or books from the “Buy 2, Get 1” table. Typically, I don’t throw money around, but for books, it was different.

In Korea, I often ventured into the Kyobo Bookstore in Seoul. The bookstore teemed with Koreans and foreigners alike, checking out the latest English-language books. Sometimes I stood in the rows, quietly thumbing through books. Other times, I spent hard-earned won on three or four books at a time. (I spent most of my money in Korea on books, domestic airfare to-and-from Seoul, smoothies, and a trip to Japan). During the rare times I experienced homesickness, books reminded me of the familiar.

Stateside, my relationship with books has remained as strong as ever. I review free books in exchange for honest reviews. When I visit my boyfriend in New England, we will sit for hours in a bookstore with coffee and stacks of literature. I scout Amazon for new releases and to reward myself, I’ll sometimes buy another book. Just because. At home, I have an Amish-made bookshelf with about 60 books on it, lined up by size. Those are but a few of my books.

Now that I’m finished with my master’s degree and other assorted graduate classes, I read on the porch after school. This is especially enjoyable on Sundays, when the world has slowed to a near halt. I find great joy in having books around, and working through boxes of older books that used to grace my college bookshelf. It’s hard to explain the phenomenon to someone who doesn’t like books, or doesn’t enjoy reading. Something I don’t understand.

In the end, I knew I loved books and reading from that one defining moment in my third grade library. Words were beautiful, and they were even more beautiful on the pages of a story. I don’t think that books will ever die, even in light of e-readers and e-books. I believe they’ll be around a while. As long as there’s third grade girls wanting to read chapter books, books will always have a place.