light city landscape sunset

Review of “Code Name Verity”

code name verity cover

Against all odds, I appreciated this book. I was so skeptical when I picked it up. The label #1 New York Times Bestseller doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence these days. And the cover design on the hardcover copy I borrowed from the library is just plain creepy (read to the end to see the said creepy cover). Also, I tend to dislike 90% of the contemporary titles labeled “Young Adult.” But somehow, I did find this one memorable, although I have some reservations about its suitability for the intended audience.

The Plot in a Nutshell

Two British women from vastly different backgrounds form a close friendship amid the turmoil of World War II. One ends up captured as a spy and interrogated in a Gestapo headquarters. Tortured and broken, she contemplates betraying her country. Meanwhile, her friend is on a mission to blow up the Gestapo headquarters.

This brief synopsis doesn’t capture the superb plotting and alternating voices that make this book memorable.

However

This book is brutal. The Gestapo were notorious for the horrors they inflicted on prisoners, so it’s accurate. But it’s tough reading. Even as an adult, it was upsetting to read about the torture scenes. Images like pins being stuck into a woman’s breasts stick with you. You understand why a prisoner might break and betray secrets.

There’s also a lot of violence. Again, this is realistic for the setting in occupied France. Pilots die in crashes. Resistance fighters die from gun shots. The Nazis kill and torture many prisoners. They guillotine a teenage girl and make another girl stand close enough to be soaked in her blood. In a finale gun battle, they shoot off two prisoners for every Nazi soldier shot. Later, they deliberately kill prisoners slowly, shooting one joint at a time until they black out from pain.

In terms of other content, there’s a good bit of sexual references, though no explicit sexual content. At one point, one of the main characters lets herself be groped in exchange for a stack of paper. At another point, the other main character complains about a resistance member who a “lech” and keeps trying to touch women inappropriately. There’s a mention of rape.

When it comes to language, there’s a decent amount, ranging from b__ch to f__k. I would say this book somewhat glorifies cursing. One of the main characters “curses like a sailor” and the other admires her boldness.

True to the time period, most characters smoke cigarettes constantly. There’s also some alcohol use.

The Big Problem Morally

The most morally problematic part of this book is the concluding crisis. The captured character is on her way to be tortured and killed painfully by the Nazis. She sees her friend and begs her in a private code phrase to shoot her now to avoid the slow and painful death the Nazis have planned for her. And the friend with the gun does kill her. To make it worse, all the authority figures in the book tell the shooter she did the right thing to “save” her friend from a painful death. Obviously this opens up a whole can of worms morally in terms of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and so forth.

Parents Be Forewarned

So there you have all the nitty gritty about why you might hesitate to hand Code Name Verity to your teen. For younger teens, sensitive teens, or if you just want to keep your kids innocent longer, skip this one. For older mature teens who are ready for a look at the sheer horror of life for a captured spy in World War II, this book paints a powerful picture. But be prepared to have a thorough discussion about the morality of killing someone to save them from suffering further.

Interested in other chapter books about World War II?

Check out my World War II list for younger teens: World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids

code name verity cover
high angle view of cityscape against cloudy sky

Review of “Mr. Blue”

mr. blue book cover

Mr. Blue

Who is Mr. Blue? A modern day saint? A communist? A lunatic? A practical businessman encounters the charismatic Blue and is confounded. Fascinated and repulsed all at once, the businessman compiles a book of his own impressions, interviews with others who have known Blue, and letters.

So who is Mr. Blue? At times, an affluent gentleman who buys houses and fills them with decrepit servants. Other times, a young man with a brilliant smile, dressed in burlap sacks and living in a packing crate. A daredevil flying a kite on the precipice of a 30 story building. A philosopher. A film writer.

In each incarnation of Blue, you glimpse some of the fierce joy that makes him special.

Joy and Wonder

I love Mr. Blue for the same reason I love G. K. Chesterton’s fiction and Gerald Manley Hopkin’s poetry. These modern day mystics had a sacramental view of creation, a childlike sense of wonder, and find a passionate joy in the simple process of everyday life. Although in some ways a book about a very different type of wonder- for the ingenuity and life of a city versus the beauty of nature- Mr. Blue firmly falls into the category of books which reawaken our appreciation for seeing the true, good, and beautiful in our daily life. As a deeply Catholic book, Mr. Blue also reminds us about the wonders of Catholicism.

The Movie Script

The author Myles Connolly was actually a screenwriter for many years. Inside the story of Mr. Blue, Connolly tucks in the plot for a movie Blue wants to make. It’s a dystopian film, a singularly hopeless flight of fancy for such a enthusiastic and joyful character as Blue. A one world government has decimated and subjugated the population. Christianity has been intentionally extinguished. In the end, the last Christian on earth, a priest, manages to grow a few grains of wheat and offer one last Mass as a the world ends and Christ comes in glory.

Does the secret to Blue’s intentional joy lie in this rather dark imagining? Perhaps. Connolly paints Blue as a young man with a dark past, perhaps a man who once lived in the depths of depression or pessimism. But now, Blue intentionally eschews worldly values and lives for poverty and the simple joys of life.

Great for Teens and Adults

This is a book that teens tend to connect with. Blue’s passion and idealism inspires and engages teenagers. I recommend reading Mr. Blue in the high school years, perhaps as part of an American literature year. Adults also find Mr. Blue rather fascinating. Like the first person narrator, we pause and wonder at this St. Francis like modern city man with a heart for the poor and a passion for Christ.

You can buy this book through my amazon affiliate link: Mr. Blue

To see more of my favorite books for Catholic high schoolers and adults, check out my book lists, especially:

Review of “Portrait of the Son”

portrait of the son book cover

A new book from Josephine Nobisso!

Is anyone else a huge fan of of Josephine Nobisso’s The Weight of a Mass and Take it to the Queen? These gorgeous books combine luminous illustrations with fantastic stories in a truly transcendent experience. I’ve been waiting for years for her to add to this series of allegories and it’s finally happening!

Portrait of the Son

In her new book Portrait of the Son, Josephine Nobisso tells a story about charity: love. It’s a variation on an allegory that’s been told many times over the centuries to help us understand a little about the love between the Father and the Son. In the story, an old father and his son live in a world of superlatives. Their great love for each other spills over into helping everyone around them. They create the most amazing art collection in the world, live in the most wonderful house, are kindest to their neighbors, and love each other dearly. When the son dies in the war, what will the father do? To whom will he bequeath his precious art collection?

A Fitting Third Book

The Weight of a Mass reminds us to have faith. Take it to the Queen gives us hope for our fallen world. Now, Portrait of the Son concludes the Theological Virtues Trilogy with an allegory about true charity. I was disappointed at first to see a new illustrator, but then was impressed how the continuity of the illustrations was maintained. Illustrator Ted Schluenderfritz really did a fantastic job keeping the style of the luminous watercolor illustrations in the first two books. Parents will appreciate the extensive symbolism used throughout Portrait of the Son. See how much symbolism you notice, then turn to the beginning and end of the book for a full explanation.

Portrait of the Son is being released November 2021! It would be a great Christmas present or addition to your family library.

You can buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link: Portrait of the Son: A Tale of Love

Or, buy it through my Bookshop Page: https://bookshop.org/lists/book-review-books

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Portrait of the Son” from Gingerbread House Books in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

See more of my favorite Catholic picture books on my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners 

two yellow labrador retriever puppies

Printable List: 25 Great Books for Kids Who Love Animals

My list 25 Great Books for Children Who Love Animals is one of my most viewed posts, so I whipped up a printable version of the list to take along to your library or track your child’s reading. I even threw in a few additional titles by the same authors on the original list to give you more options to pick from. This list is a great length for a summer reading project for a kid who loves animals!

Here’s what it looks like:

To download the FREE printable pdf version, just click here:

Want to help keep the book lists coming?

1. Go to my Book Lists and buy a few books for your family through my links! Your family gets new books, and I get a small affiliate fee at no additional cost to you. Win for us both!

2. Share my site and book lists with your friends, parish, homeschool group and school! Search engines judge sites on views and shares, so this really helps bring the site to more people!

3. Sign up on the sidebar to receive notifications of new posts. Only one a week, I promise! And don’t worry, I never sell or share email addresses.

4. Most important, pray for my mission to continue. I love connecting Catholic families with great books in this easy, free way and hope to be able to continue to do so for many years!

planet earth

Review of “Saints Around the World”

saints around the world cover by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

Saints Around the World

If you haven’t heard the hype yet, the internet is buzzing about this amazing new book by Meg Hunter-Kilmer! And with good reason! This is hands down the most thorough look at saints from all around the world I’ve ever seen. From Africa to South America to Asia to the Caribbeans, there really are saints from all corners of the world featured in Saints Around the World!

Around the World and Down to Earth

Although this book features Saints from all sorts of cultures and walks of life, the emphasis is on their common humanity. You’ll hear how saints changed diapers, saints gave their grandchildren pony rides, saints did laundry. This is so important for our kids (and us) to understand: the saints were not just great preachers and theologians, they were moms and dads and kids like us!

Broken and Beautiful: The Body of Christ

This book is a celebration of the diversity of the Body of Christ. You’ll read the stories of Saints from Papua New Guineau to Iceland. You’ll learn about Saints in wheel chairs and Saints with birth defects and Saints who were blind. You’ll read about Saints with learning disabilities and speech impediments. You’ll learn about saints with big personalities and saints who were desperately shy. You’ll see Saints from various ethnicities with a great variety of skin tones.

Beautiful Watercolors

To match the beautiful souls described in Saints Around the World, Lindsey Sanders illustrated this book with beautiful watercolor pictures. Many pictures feature everyday items as symbols. This emphasizes the theme that these saints lived seemingly ordinary lives. You may spot a soccer ball, some musical instruments, horses, and more in the background of these illustrations.

You can get a preview of the gorgeous illustrations and read excerpts from the book on the launch site: https://saintsaroundtheworld.com/excerpts/

You can buy Saints Around the World through my Amazon affiliate link: Saints Around the World

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Saints Around the World” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Interested in more of my favorite Catholic books for Catholic Kids? Check out this list: Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners 

ancient arch architecture art

Review of “The Haunted Cathedral

haunted cathedral cover by kolenc

The Haunted Cathedral

The second installment in Antony Barone Kolenc’s The Hardwood Mysteries, The Haunted Cathedral picks up right where we left Xan at the end of The Shadow in the Dark. This fast-paced historical fiction trilogy set in Middle Age England follows the adventures and misadventures of young Xan, an orphaned boy trying to find his family- and God’s will. In Shadows in the Dark, Xan tries to recover his memory after a group of bandits leaves him wounded and burns his home. In this second book, The Haunted Cathedral, Xan struggles to learn how to forgive and move on. A little mystery might be just what he needs to help distract him from his hatred.

Meticulous Historical Fiction

I really appreciate the care Kolenc takes to accurately represent Middle Age England. From monasteries to towns to castles to cathedrals, Kolenc takes the reader on a tour of what life was like for an orphaned serf boy in the Middle Ages. Speaking of serfs, these books subtly explore the relationships between serfs and lords, monasteries and patrons, merchants and monks. The intricate castes of the Middle Ages get attention in this book as Xan realizes that as a serf he doesn’t have the freedom to choose a vocation or even where to live.

In keeping with the setting, there are some fundamental lifestyle differences. For example, 12 and 14 year old children are already considering courtship, which is of course strange to our modern sensibilities. Xan’s interest in the girls is handled very gently and discreetly though. Kolenc includes a section at the back of the book which outlines many of the unique traditions of the Middle Ages for readers.

An Intriguing Mystery

What are ghosts? Xan and his friends Lucy, Simon, and Christina are fascinated by tales of a ghost in the Cathedral. A wise monk and priest give the different Catholic perspectives on ghosts. In the end, Xan realizes that trying to reconnect with his parents through a ghost isn’t the wisest idea. Instead, he and his friends help solve the Cathedral mystery and restore another orphan to his parents.

A Fresh Catholic Series

It’s fun to see new Catholic historical fiction getting published. Parents will appreciate the discussion questions in the beginning and historical enrichment at the end. Best of all, this series takes on a slippery topic- the Church in the Middle Ages- with an honest and unapologetic tone. There are very good monks, and troubled monks. There are pros and cons to the power the Church and its ministers held in that time period. These are good reflections for the intended tween and teen audience to begin to consider.

You can buy The Hardwood Mysteries: The Haunted Cathedral through my Amazon affiliate link: The Haunted Cathedral

Or through my BookShop page: The Haunted Cathedral

I received a copy of The Haunted Cathedral from Loyola Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Around Europe in 20 Chapter Books: Printable List

You all enjoyed touring Europe in Chapter Books so much I got requests for a printable version of this list!

So here it is: a short and sweet 20 book list perfect for a summer reading challenge. Travel around Europe from the comfort of your living room with these classic chapter books!

printable list europe chapter books
printable europe chapter books list

Here is a FREE printable PDF download link of the color version:

Or, if you’re like me and chronically out of color ink in your printer, here’s a tamer black and white printable version:

Want to help keep the book lists coming?

1. Go to my Book Lists and buy a few books for your family through my links! Your family gets new books, and I get a small affiliate fee at no additional cost to you. Win for us both!

2. Share my site and book lists with your friends, parish, homeschool group and school! Search engines judge sites on views and shares, so this really helps bring the site to more people!

3. Sign up below to receive notifications of new posts. Only one a week, I promise! (And don’t worry, I never sell or share email addresses.)

4. Most important, pray for my mission to continue. I love connecting Catholic families with great books in this easy, free way and hope to be able to continue to do so for many years!

time lapse photo of stars on night

Review of “Black Bottle Man”

A Deal with the Devil

In this sweeping journey story that spans nearly a century, Craig Russell writes an intriguing new riff on the classic cautionary tales about making a deal with the devil.

Rembrandt was only a kid in 1927 when his two aunts made a deal with the devil. In order to redeem their souls, Rembrandt and his father set out on a quest to find a champion. The catch: they can’t stay in any one place for more than 12 days.

Black Bottle Man spans three quarters of a century. Rembrandt journeys across much of America searching for redemption for his family- and himself.

What’s to like in Black Bottle Man

Russell’s style is very readable and flows well. I liked his choice to focus on the consequences of curses and devil-dealing across generations. Fundamentally, what he’s saying about deals with the devil applies to all sin. Our sins impact others outside ourselves, far more than we can imagine. Only after death will we know how our sins affected our children, relatives, even grandchildren and beyond.

Black Bottle Man also explores self-sacrifice and what true freedom and happiness looks like. Rembrandt and his father choose to seek redemption for their family. They live in a certain peace and interior freedom, knowing they are trying to seek heaven even if the journey seems long and even hopeless. In contrast, Rembrandt’s aunts are tortured by their sin: unhappy even though they got the children they desperately wanted.

C. S. Lewis tells us in The Screwtape Letters that one of the devils’ tricks is to make us believe they don’t actually exist or take an active part in earthly drama. I like that Black Bottle Man portrays the devil as a real being you can fight. The message that demons are real and bent on dragging us to Hell is really brought home in this book.

Cautions

Here’s the picky mom in me’s thoughts on why I wouldn’t hand my younger teen this book. The plot includes a situation where Rembrandt’s two married aunts both sleep with one of the aunt’s intoxicated husband to get pregnant. There is not a graphic description, but Rembrandt remembers seeing them from a distance.

Second, parts of the book are a coming of age story as Rembrandt remembers being a drifting teenager. His recalling of his first crush is too overtly focused on physical desire in my opinion. Lots of descriptions of him obsessing over trying not to stare at a girl’s breasts, which is nice on the one hand, but on the other did we really need that detail repeatedly?

Any other content? No language and no drug or alcohol glorification. There’s a decent amount of offscreen violence, but nothing too graphically described and no glorification of violence.

Conclusions

Black Bottle Man is filled with solid themes about self-sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness, and what love really looks like. But there’s also a bit of sexual content that might make you want to think twice before offering it to your younger teens. This is one of those case by case judgment calls depending on you and your child’s sensitivity levels.

Looking for other ideas for your teens? Check out My Book Lists for lots of ideas!

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Black Bottle Man

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Black Bottle Man” in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

man sitting under a tree reading a book during night time

Printable Book List: 14-16 Year Old Catholic High Schoolers

Have a voracious reader in the high school years? Need a summer reading challenge for your 14-16 year old high schooler?

Challenge them with this FREE printable list! Lots of classic great books, some Catholic classics, and a few modern for fun titles! Over 85 titles on this printable book list for 14 year old and older teens. The list has checkboxes and space for date completed.

The books on this list will also be enjoyed by teens older than 16 and even adults!

Download this list for free!

The first page looks like this:

printable reading list 14-16 year olds

Want to help keep Good Books for Catholic Kids ad-free and all our downloads free?

  1. Buy books through my affiliate links on the Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 1 list or any of My Book Lists! You get new books and I get a small affiliate fee at no additional cost to you! Win-win.

2. Sign up for my email list. Only one email each week with my latest list or review, and I never sell or share my email list!

3. Share Good Books for Catholic Kids’ lists with your friends!

4. Pray for my mission to continue!

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Around Europe in 20 Chapter Books

Europe map with chapter book covers

Tour Europe Through Living Books!

These 20 Classic Chapter books set in Europe capture the culture and flavor of life in a variety of European countries. Since most of us can’t travel the world right now in person, entering these countries through our imagination may be the next best option. Here’s my picks for a literary tour of Europe this summer!

Ireland

Visit the Emerald Isle and experience everyday life in The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda Van Stockum.

Amazon affiliate link: The Cottage at Bantry Bay

England

In The Secret Garden, experience England for the first time through the eyes of Mary Lennox, a sickly child from India. Discover the magic of an English country garden and the moors.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Garden

England (Lake Country)

Join the Swallows and Amazons on their summer holidays in England’s beautiful lake country. Capture the flag, camp on a deserted island, and find some treasure in this classic.

Amazon afflink: Swallows and Amazons

Scotland

From the shores of Scotland to early America and back, this sweeping story of the Catholic persecution in Scotland includes realistic Scotch dialect and plenty of castles.

Amazon afflink: Outlaws of Ravenhurst

Sweden

Come join The Children of Noisy Village in life in a tiny Swedish village. Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame brings Sweden to life in this charming chapter book.

Amazon affiliate link: The Children of Noisy Village

Norway

Our part-Norwegian family love Snow Treasure: a true story of brave Norwegian children who smuggled their country’s treasure away from the Nazis on sleds.

Amazon affiliate link: Snow Treasure

Netherlands

In this sadly hard to find Newberry Medal winner, a group of Dutch schoolchildren bring their community together as they work to bring back the storks.

Amazon affiliate link: The Wheel on the School

Netherlands

Learn about windmills and the Dutch resistance in The Winged Watchman.

Amazon Affiliate link: The Winged Watchman

Denmark

In Number the Stars, a young Danish girl and her family embody the heroism of the Danish people who helped save almost all the Jewish citizens of their country during World War II.

Amazon affiliate link: Number the Stars

Poland

Enter the adventures and intrigues of medieval Poland with Josef in The Trumpeter of Krakow.

Amazon affiliate link: The Trumpeter of Krakow

Germany

The Grimm Brothers traveled through the Black Forest collecting the tales that are at the essence of the German soul.

Amazon affiliate link: Fairy Tales

France (Paris)

A homeless man meets three homeless children who take shelter under “his” bridge. An unlikely family emerges.

Amazon affiliate link: The Family Under the Bridge

France (Rural)

Twenty Catholic children living in the French mountains help save ten Jewish refugee children.

Amazon affiliate link: Twenty and Ten

Hungary

The Good Master takes you right into the heart of Hungary with a fantastic description of farm life, the countryside, the celebrations, and folk tale retellings.

Amazon Affiliate link: The Good Master

Switzerland

Everyone has to read Heidi, of course!

Amazon affiliate link: Heidi

Switzerland/Alps

This fantastic book about a boy determined to scale a mountain to fulfill his father’s dream brings the Alps to life in all their majesty and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: Banner in the Sky

Austria

Come visit the White Stallion of Lipizza at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Amazon affiliate link: White Stallion of Lipizza

Italy (Northern)

A boy and his donkey work to save the local monastery and an American soldier during World War II.

Amazon affiliate link: The Small War of Sergeant Donkey

Italy (Southern)

Everyone is terrified of a cursed grotto; everyone but the mysterious strangers who are determined to uncover its secrets. A story of the discovery of the famed blue grotto of Capri.

Amazon affiliate link: Red Sails to Capri

Greece

Travel back to the days of Greek heroes with Padraic Colum in the iconic Golden Fleece.

Amazon affiliate link: The Golden Fleece: And the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles

Enjoyed this visit to Europe in chapter books? Check out more great books for Catholic kids on My Book lists!