Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Recommendation: “Unplanned”

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line
by Abby Johnson is a book currently getting a great deal of attention, and with good reason. I haven’t had the opportunity to read it, so I am sharing the official press release below along with links on where it can be purchased.

Abby Johnson was sitting at her desk when a co-worker in the health clinic asked for some help with a patient. “I could not have imagined,” Johnson writes in “UnPlanned,” “how the next ten minutes would shake the foundation of my values and change the course of my life.”

Johnson ran that clinic – a Planned Parenthood® facility in Bryan, Texas. She spent those ten minutes assisting with an ultrasound-guided abortion. “Oh, dear God,” she writes, “what had I done?”

In “UnPlanned,” Johnson tells the dramatic story of the journey that unfolded as a result of that fateful day in September 2009 – how she literally “crossed the fence” from Planned Parenthood® leader to an advocate fighting for women in crisis – and the lives of their unborn babies. Ignatius Press will release an edition of “UnPlanned” for the Catholic market on Jan. 11, 2011.

“Stories like (Abby’s) have a purpose,” says Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, and the Pastoral Director and Chairman of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries. “If we can better understand why someone has an abortion or how someone gets into the abortion industry and then how she comes out, we can come to understand the key to how our entire society can begin to emerge from the darkness of

“Abby is not the first; she will not be the last,” Fr. Pavone continues. “She is part of a great ‘cloud of witnesses.’ I thank her for her courage, as I do to all who share their painful stories.”

Johnson shares that story in detail that is intimate and, as a result, unnerving. “UnPlanned” is not an easy book to read; it’s also not an easy book to put down. She realizes both are true.

“Here’s my question for you,” she writes in “A Note from Abby Johnson,” which immediately precedes Chapter 1: “…are you ready to look through the (pro-life/pro-choice) fence and see goodness, compassion, generosity and self-sacrifice on the other side?

“Did you just feel yourself squirm? If so, welcome to my journey.”

Planned Parenthood® took Johnson to court in an attempt to keep a lid on her story. Johnson won. “UnPlanned” is the result.

Ignatius Press is currently offering 35% off on their special edition with added content.

The Mass Market Edition is available through Amazon: Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line

Book Review: The Rosary Workout

Friday, January 7th, 2011

The Rosary Workout
by Peggy Bowes
Bezalel Books, 2010

A former member of the Air Force, Peggy Bowes is a personal trainer, Spinning instructor and lifestyle and weight management consultant. In writing “The Rosary Workout,” she sought to create “a plan that would help a person improve both physically and spiritually . . . an integrated approach to taking care of the body and soul.” It is designed for people at all levels of physical and spiritual fitness and can be easily adapted to whatever stage one finds oneself.

Many people say the rosary while walking or jogging, but Bowes has truly developed a systematic workout plan incorporating both prayer and exercise. There are nine levels of progression in “The Rosary Workout,” each named after one of the nine choirs of angels. “Each level is four weeks long and presents a different set of goals for both physical and spiritual fitness.”

Bowes acknowledges that many people may never progress beyond the beginner levels in the fitness component (the first three levels), but we should all continue progressing on the spiritual level. She offers many helpful suggestions for maintaining discipline in both exercise and prayer. Perhaps the most important “helpful hint” is to ask for divine assistance in doing so. Another good suggestion is to keep a journal of both your physical and spiritual progress.

“The Rosary Workout” is easy to understand and offers much encouragement. If you are an Olympic-level athlete who prays three hours a day, you probably don’t need this book. Everyone else will find benefit in it.

Book Review: The Catholic Study Bible

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Catholic Study Bible Second Edition
New York: Oxford University Press, 2006

Perhaps you have “reading the Bible more” as one of your New Year’s Resolutions, or perhaps you are simply in the market (as I was) for a new volume of a much-loved worn-out Bible. “The Catholic Study Bible” is a perfect choice. It contains the full text of the New American Bible (the text used in the lectionary readings of the Roman Catholic Church).

It also offers extensive notes which are very helpful when one wants to know more about the history or interpretation of a given passage. Additional features include several articles including topics such as the origin of the Bible, Biblical history, the Catholic interpretation of the Bible, and the Bible in the Lectionary. There are also reading guides dedicated to the major sections of the Bible. Several maps, a glossary, a listing of lectionary readings for the liturgical year, and a concordance are also included.

This Bible is truly all I hoped for. I look forward to making good use of it for many years to come.

Book Review: “Women of Opus Dei in Their Own Words”

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words
Edited by M.T. Oates, Linda Ruf, and Jenny Driver MD
New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009

Opus Dei received a great deal of negative publicity a few years back when “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown was making headlines. In some ways, this book is a response to that publicity. The women of Opus Dei wanted to tell their stories and explain their lives.

I came to “Women of Opus Dei in their Own Words” not knowing anything about Opus Dei. I was pleasantly surprised. Founded by St. Josemaria Escriva in Spain in 1928. The name “Opus Dei” is Latin for “Work of God.” The organization “is dedicated to helping lay men and women throughout the world find and love God through their daily work and social interactions, and to spread the Christian message in and through their daily lives.”

They offer a combination of resources to help members live out this mission. Among them are “a daily, flexible plan of prayer . . . weekly, monthly, and annual Catholic spiritual and theological development programs . . . personal guidance sessions . . . Centers and conference centers . . . managed as settings where Opus Dei and many others can find a Christian home environment to inspire and encourage them.”

St. Josemaria was very supportive of women and encouraged them to be the best they could be in “whatever professional sphere they chose.” He was always adamant that “work in the home is a professional job as well.” The women who share their stories in this book come from all walks of life. Some have families. Others have chosen to remain celibate in order to serve God exclusively. Some work solely in their homes. Others have high-profile professions. All are united in their desire to live their lives for God. They share their conversion stories, their call to become part of Opus Dei, and their struggles and successes. I think most women reading this will find that these women are very much like women we know.

The “Women of Opus Dei” is an inspiring, informative book. Even if one has no call to join Opus Dei, it is interesting to learn about their lifestyle. There are also wonderful suggestions about ways to integrate one’s service of God with all aspects of life.

Book Review: “Where Do Sisters Come From?”

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Where Do Sisters Come From?
by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Illustrations by Shannon Wirrenga
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” by Elizabeth Ficocelli is the perfect introduction to women’s consecrated religious life for children. In an era where Catholic children may be exposed to relatively few sisters, their way of life may seem very mysterious indeed. Who are these sisters and what is their life like? “Where Do Sisters Come From?” answers these questions with honesty and beauty. While this book is written for girls to encourage them to consider the possibility that they might be called by God to this way of life, it is important to note that it is equally informative for boys.

Ficocelli begins by describing the process of discernment. What does it mean to hear God’s call and to respond to it? She discusses the importance of prayer and finding the right religious community. The three vows a sister takes are defined, as is the habit many sisters wear.

Ficocelli then explores the many ways sisters can live out their vocational call, working in many different professions, serving as a missionary, or living within their own religious community as a nun. She emphasizes that they have lives outside of their work as well. They have their families of origin that they are still a part of, as well as friends and hobbies. As she states, “Sisters come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. But one thing they all have in common is a love for their faith, and a desire to be like Jesus, leading people to God.”

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” is a wonderful book to share with your children or grandchildren. It would also make a great addition to a parish religious education program or library. It is a magnificent vocations tool.

Book Review: “Holding on to Hope”

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness
by Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP
with Healing Exercises by Helene Cote, PM
Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 2010

As someone who has suffered from depression for many years, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of “Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness” by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes. It is a follow-up to her best-selling book “Surviving Depression” which resonated with so many. “Holding on to Hope” is the next step in the journey. Rather than merely making our way through the darkness, it “is about learning to be receptive to God connecting with us do that God can indeed heal us – heal us, I repeat, not cure us – of depression or erase the sorrows of failure or restore lost loves.”

Each chapter in the book includes several elements designed to provide healing for mind, body, soul, and spirit. These include Images, which are stories of interactions with God; Scripture References, “the divine element of the healing plan;” reflection questions for personal or small group use; Contemplative Exercises; Resting, which invites us to “rest” in God’s word and allow God to do His healing work in us; and Inner Healing Exercises (written by Sr. Helene Cote) which “offers truly helpful and powerful ways to integrate the topic of the chapter into your everyday life. Those who enjoy meditation will love this book. There are many beautiful guided imagery exercises designed to engage the reader with God’s Word.

“Holding on to Hope” is meant to be used over a long period of time, perhaps in conjunction with a spiritual director. Despite how much we might want it to be the case, very few people are healed of long-standing pain in a short period of time. It is a process. One particular poignant reflection is on the words of Jesus, “Do you want to get well?” (Jn 5:6). Sometimes we are so stuck in our pain we can’t even hear Jesus asking us that question or allow Him to come into our hearts to do the work that needs to be done. What is wonderful about Hermes’ reflections is that she, too, has been in that darkness. One can relate deeply to her experience and learn from it.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Holding on to Hope. They are also a great source for first communion gifts and Baptism Gifts.

Book Review: “Shepherd’s Abiding”

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Shepherds Abiding
by Jan Karon
New York: Penguin Group, 2003

I recently returned to the world of Mitford and indulged in Jan Karon’s “Shepherd’s Abiding,” a touching Christmas story featuring Episcopal priest Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh. I am a fan of the Mitford series and have read many of the books, however one could pick this one up without any prior knowledge and still enjoy it immensely. Fr. Tim bravely takes on the project of fixing up an old battered nativity scene to present as a Christmas gift for his wife, despite the fact that he has no idea how to do this. Meanwhile, other Mitford residents are facing change and upheaval in their own lives. One can’t help but love this motley crew of characters and care about their lives.

This is a quick, enjoyable read, perfect for getting you into the holiday spirit.

Book Review: “Unlocked”

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

by Karen Kingsbury
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010

New York Times Bestselling writer Karen Kingsbury has weaved another compelling, inspirational story in “Unlocked.” Holden Harris is an eighteen-year old locked inside himself. When he was three, he withdrew into his own autistic world, a world his mother Tracy has been trying desperately to release him from. Autistic children like routine. Part of Holden’s routine is to watch the same movie every day after school – a home movie that shows him playing with his best friend from childhood – a beautiful little girl named Ella.

When Ella meets him again in their senior year of high school, she doesn’t remember him but something about those blue eyes seems so familiar. One thing she does know is that he loves music and she advocates for him to be able to listen in on her music/drama class. That act of kindness will open the door to an eventual miracle.

Kingsbury has also included a secondary plot about bullying including a teen suicide. This is a topic that has had a great deal of media attention lately and she handles it well and with compassion.

As I read this book, I felt somewhat disheartened. It is a wonderful story and I do believe in miracles, but so many children today have autism and the vast majority of them won’t ever get a miracle. It really seemed like a great deal of wishful thinking (although that is certainly allowed in fiction.) It wasn’t until I read the “Reader Letter” at the conclusion of the book that I discovered that it was loosely based on a real-life autistic miracle. Music had brought this young man out of his inner world and given him back to his family. That “Reader Letter” made me cry more than the book!

“Unlocked” is a quick read, great when you just want to lose yourself in a story. It will keep you turning pages, eager to find out what happens. It is, in turns, both extremely painful and incredibly heartwarming. In the end, God conquers and triumphs over all.

Book Review: “A Time to Plant”

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt
by Kyle Kramer
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

I admit it. When I received a review copy of “A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt,” I cringed. A book about back-to-basics living? No, thank you.

In my defense, I do try to be a reasonably responsible steward of the earth. I recycle almost everything, try to limit consumption, give things away rather than put them in the trash, etc, but no one would ever accuse me of being earthy-crunchy. I live in a city. If my family was dependent on my gardening abilities for survival, we would have died a long time ago. Being forced to go camping is my idea of a nightmare. Yet, even with all that working against it, “A Time to Plant” was still well-worth reading.

In 1999, Kyle Kramer, who is the director of lay degree programs at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, “bought a rough patch of neglected ground in a rural corner of southwestern Indiana. . . and committed [himself] to its healing and care.” In the past decade, amid myriad ups and downs, he has honored that commitment. In “A Time to Plant,” he shares the tale of his call to live off the land as well as his more personal story of his spiritual wanderings which finally led him to the Catholic Church and finding the extremely understanding woman who is now his wife and the mother of their three children.

Kramer is an honest man. He tells of his failures as well as of his successes. He shares his darkest hour which came while he was attempting to build a house for his wife and new twin daughters, who were at that time living in a pole-barn apartment. “It was five degrees in the unheated shell of the house as I worked by battery-powered headlamp down in the dark basement, my feet blocks of ice; my ungloved, unfeeling fingers fumbling to measure, cut, and solder copper pipe . . .I sat down on an overturned five-gallon bucket, rocking back and forth in a near catatonic struggle to remember even one good reason why I had taken on this gargantuan, impossible project. . . My prayer was a simple and desperate cry for divine help.” God heard his prayer and slowly, things did begin to improve. His marriage survived and the house was eventually completed.

Those who dream of living a life close to the earth will love this book, although Kramer is the first one to acknowledge that there is nothing simple about living a simple life. His idealistic dreams didn’t get fulfilled quite the way he thought they would be. At times, he grows restless and questions this commitment to one place. Yet, overall, he lives with hope and has the connection to the land he always wanted. He and his family are an inspiration.

For those less agriculturally inclined, “A Time to Plant” offers a great deal of wisdom on vocations and their evolution, as well as what it means to develop a true home. It is a very well-written and thought-provoking book.

Book Review: “The Sacraments We Celebrate”

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The Sacraments We Celebrate: A Catholic Guide to the Seven Mysteries of Faith
by Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

In the introduction to “The Sacraments We Celebrate: A Catholic Guide to the Seven Mysteries of Faith,” Archbishop Timothy Dolan writes that Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi “has baptized hundreds of babies, heard thousands of confessions, celebrated Mass daily, married countless couples, and anointed thousands of infirm and elderly. In other words, he’s been on the front lines of the battle for souls, armed with water, bread, wine, oil stock, purple stole, words, and gesture.” The sacraments are “the front lines of the battle for souls,” yet we Catholics often take them for granted. Msgr. Vaghi’s book is designed both to educate readers about the mysteries of the sacraments and their role in our spiritual lives, as well as to encourage Catholics to make greater use of them.

The book is the second of a four part series examining the four pillars of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” As such, Msgr. Vaghi quotes heavily from the recently published “United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.” This is designed as a companion volume to that Catechism, but it functions equally well as a stand-alone study.

“In the sacraments, each of us encounters God.” Msgr. Vaghi explores in great detail how we encounter God in Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Each chapter includes questions for personal or group reflection as well as a prayer. There is so much to learn about the mystery and gift that is the seven sacraments. Readers of “The Sacraments We Celebrate” will come away with a much greater appreciation for the sacraments and will hopefully seek to integrate them more fully in their lives.