Star Wars meets Catholic apologetics in Heaven’s Hunter. In this literary debut from Marie Keiser, a young man comes of age in a futuristic world where interplanetary travel is the norm. Born to wealth and privilege, Randall Yung walks away from it all to pursue justice with the interplanetary fleet hunting down the worst criminals of all: the Catholics.
Catholic Apologetics meets Interplanetary Travel
If you have a teen who likes sci fi and the Catholic faith, Heaven’s Hunter will be a hit. Starting from the perspective of an atheist, Marie Keiser leads her protagonist on a rambling interplanetary quest for truth. Randall Yung is a seeker: he desires deeper meaning in life. At first he thinks he’s found it by infiltrating and betraying underground Catholic communities. But the more time he spends with the Catholics, the less certain he becomes that they are a threat to humanity.
Teens will enjoy this twisty tale. Seeing the Catholic faith from the outsider perspective is a valuable tool. It helps us rediscover our own love and appreciation for just how radically, beautifully unique our faith is.
Another important take-away that this book will give teens is that often the most important apologetics is simply our good example. What impacts atheist Randall is the kindness and mercy he experiences from the people he is hunting a la St. Paul.
Nope! This is a squeaky clean novel from a Catholic author. There’s a touch of mild romance, very clean. No language. There’s a little violence, but nothing too graphic. One major character gives his life for another.
A Commendable First Novel
Overall, Heaven’s Hunter is a worthwhile novel for lovers of space fiction. Like many first novels, there were places where the pacing stumbled. I’d like to see more world-development and detail added if future books are written to make this a series. But as it is, it’s a quick and enjoyable read with great theme about loving your enemy, forgiveness, persecution, and being a witness.
You can buy Heaven’s Hunter through my Amazon affiliate link: Heaven’s Hunter.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Heaven’s Hunter” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
Lovers of vintage comic books will enjoy this recently published reprinting of a series of classic comic strips. These comic strips retell over 20 famous Bible stories. The book starts with Adam and Eve and continues through to the Ascension and Pentecost. With vivid full color pictures and all the action, I think Classic Bible Comics will appeal to most kids in the 6-8 year old range.
What we liked
My 8 and 6 year olds snapped this book right up and spent a couple hours pouring over the vivid pictures and simple text. They gave it a thumbs up as an exciting and engaging way to learn basic Bible stories such as Joseph, David & Goliath, and Jonah. Their only complaint was that this book was too short!
Comparing to other Picture Bibles
If you’ve seen my list Good Graphic Novels and Comic Books for Catholic Kids, you know we enjoy exploring all the great religious-themed comic books out there. So to compare with some others I talk about on that list, Classic Bible Comics is easier to read than The Picture Bible or The Action Bible. It’s also much shorter: it hits the famous stories, but doesn’t attempt to provide a comprehensive picture of salvation history. Basically, this book is short and sweet, like your favorite comic strips from an old newspaper.
Like author Maura McKeegan, I discovered Biblical typology in college and was utterly fascinated. As a well-catechized, homeschooled cradle Catholic, I couldn’t believe I had never learned about all the amazing parallels between the Old and New Testament. Now, with the Old and New series of picture books, you can teach your 5-10 year olds about typology as they become familiar with Bible stories.
What is Biblical Typology?
Biblical typology is the study of seeing the prefiguring of people and events of the New Testament and covenant in the Old Testament and covenants. McKeegan quotes Augustine’s explanation:
In McKeegan’s Old and New Series, of which Saved by the Lamb is the fourth volume, you and your children can see how Old Testament figures like Jonah, Adam, and Moses are types of Christ.
Saved by the Lamb: how Moses foreshadows Jesus
In Saved by the Lamb, McKeegan traces Moses’ life and the events of Passover. On each page, you’ll read a paragraph about Moses, then a paragraph about Jesus. The parallel placement of the text with carefully selected similar meter and diction really brings home to children the parallels. You’ll be crying out in surprise with your kids as the amazing parallels unfold.
You’ll understand the Gospel of Matthew better: why Matthew, the learned Jew, was so excited about Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. You’ll learn how the centuries of Passover sacrifice was conditioning the Jews to understand Jesus as the Paschal lamb that must be slain to save the people. And so much more!
An Important Catechesis
These simple picture books really provide an amazing opportunity for early catechesis. I believe they’ll awaken an interest in Biblical typology and scriptural exegesis in many children. The target age is 5-10, and I found this spot on for my own children: it went over my 4 year olds head mostly, but my 6 and 8 year olds loved it and kept interrupting to restate the connections. You can buy these books through my Amazon affiliate link: Saved by the Lamb: Moses and Jesus
Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Saved by the Lamb” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Check out my some of my other favorite books on My Book Lists page!
This year, I’ve been testing out Katherine Bogner’s new children’s Bible Study book: Through the Year with Jesus. And I have to say, it has just blown me away! Not only that, my kids love this book too and now look forward to our weekly Bible study time.
What I love about it!
First, I love the fact that this is a weekly book. Once a week is so much more doable with a busy family with littles than aiming for a daily reflection and feeling bad about how many days you end up skipping. In Through the Year with Jesus, you can just pick one time weekly to read and reflect with your children, whether it’s Sunday before Mass, as part of a morning basket rotation, or during a special family dinner night.
Also, I love that this book follows the Liturgical year. It begins with Advent, the beginning of the Liturgical year, and provides a reflection for each week of Advent, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter Season, and the second Ordinary Time. Is this book specific to a particular Gregorian Calendar year, you ask? No. The readings are chosen to be in the spirit of the season of the Liturgical year but are timeless and appropriate for any given Gregorian year.
Lectio Divina …
These Gospel Reflections are written in the time-tested Lectio Divina method of Bible study. Saints through the ages have practiced this simple but effective method of meditation on God’s Word. There are 4 steps to Lectio Divina: Lectio. Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. Katherine Bogner simplifies and translates the steps to: Read, Meditate, Pray, Listen. In Through the Year with Jesus, you’ll find a Bible story for each week, discussion prompts for meditation, journaling, or discussion, prayer prompts, and suggestions for practical application.
… and Visio Divina
I also love that Through the Year with Jesus uses a lot of Visio Divina. Similar to Lectio Divina, in Visio Divina, you gaze on religious art, meditate on the insights the art gives us into the scene, pray about it, and listen for what God is trying to teach you in this picture. Sound complicated? Really, it’s not, I promise! This is my kids favorite part of this book. We spend about 60 seconds silently looking at the religious painting, then talk about it, often using the prompts from the book. And if you’re wondering, the artwork is high-quality reproductions in full color! You’ll see art from Rubens, Fra Angelico, Barocci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and dozens of other great artists.
You can start at any time!
Since this book follows the Liturgical seasons, you can jump in at any point. It would make a great Easter basket gift, and you could begin the readings with the Easter season section and continue through all the way to the following Lent and beyond. This beautiful and inspiring devotional will be sure to help your family understand- and pray- the Bible like never before!
Mistborn: a person born with the ability to burn metals in their stomach to feed super powers. Flying over cities, ripping walls apart, controlling others’ emotions, and turning any metal object into a projectile are all possibilities in Brandon Sanderson’s iconic Mistborn Series. This high-adrenaline series is high on the list of fantasy I often hear recommended to Catholic teens so I’m chiming in with my review this week.
A Very Brief Series Synopsis
In Book 1, Mistborn, you’ll meet Vin, a teenage street Skaa (peasant) with a surprisingly talent: she’s Mistborn. A daring band of rebels led by Kelsier recruit Vin as part of their plan to overthrow the tyrannical Lord Ruler (who has seeming omniscience and omnipotence) and free the Skaa. During the course of the plotting, Vin falls for Elend Venture, a rich noble, who ends up assisting Kelsier’s crew to kill the Lord Ruler. To kill the Lord Ruler, Kelsier voluntarily sacrifices his life to become a hero to inspire the Skaa revolution.
Then in Book 2, The Well of Ascension, Vin, Elend, and the surviving crew struggle to set up a fair government, fight antagonistic nobles, and figure out why the environment is spiraling into chaos around them. Vin eventually releases a great power from the Well of Ascension, thinking she is releasing a power which will save the world. Unfortunately, turns out she unleashed the power of Ruin: one of the two forces on this Dualistic planet.
Finally, in Book 3, The Hero of the Ages, Vin and Elend rush around trying to find a way to defeat Ruin before it destroys the world with earthquakes and volcanic ash. Eventually, they find a way past seemingly insurmountable obstacles to destroy Ruin’s body and mind, allowing Sazed, one of the crew, to balance the power of Ruin with the power of Preservation and remake the world.
A Thrilling Journey
Mistborn is an addictive roller coaster ride of a series. You see plenty of epic battles, duals between powerful Mistborns, truly disturbing villainous monsters, and inspiring heroes. What really makes you like Mistborn is the solid cast of characters who believe in trying to save their world from Ruin no matter what, superhero style. The main characters, Vin and Elend, are actually a likeable, sweet couple who are surprisingly chaste. They even have a subplot of learning to love in a very unselfish and self-giving way. The minor characters are well-developed and memorable also.
Plenty of good themes to point to in this series. One repeated thread is that fighting a losing battle is preferable to sitting by and letting evil conquer. The protagonists in Mistborn understand that dying is not the worst thing; dying is preferable to disloyalty, cowardice, or shirking responsibility. Others includes that self-sacrifice for a greater good is a noble choice, and trusting your friends and being hurt is preferable to never trusting at all.
Grappling with Tough Topics
Book 2, The Well of Ascension tackles some tough topics. Many fantasy novels center around a plot to topple a corrupt government. In The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson takes this one step further to the aftermath. You’re a group of reckless rebels who vanquished an oppressive ruler against impossible odds: but what now? What kind of government do you form? How do you bring democracy to people who have lived under a tyrant for a millennia?
This book was the most interesting to me because it actually forces the reader to think critically about different forms of government. Elend, always the white knight (or now, king) is a well-educated idealist who thinks he has the theory for an ideal government structure. But how does his ideal government hold up to the reality of a war-torn country? Is it better to back down or seize the power by force? There are no easy answers to these and other political questions in The Well of Ascension.
There’s almost no language in Mistborn. Alcohol use is common, but not glorified. Sexual content is fairly low, but there are several mentions in Mistborn about nobles taking Skaa women as their mistresses then killing them to avoid diluting the noble bloodlines. Elend admits to being forced by his father to bed a Skaa woman at the age of 13, but is very guilty about this part of his past. In The Well of Acsension, there is mention that some people assume Vin is Elend’s mistress since they are dating, but that she is actually not.
However, the violence score for this series would very high. Vin, Kelsier, and others engage in frequent and bloody hand to hand combat involving details such as heads being ripped off. There’s also a cast of truly disturbing enemies including Inquisitors with bloody spokes for eyes and Kollosses, which are mutated humans with bloody ripping skin. These villains go around violently slaughtering entire villages of Skaa peasants. They also engage in a really unsettling method of stealing power from Mistborn by pounding spikes through their living bodies.
One downside of Mistborn is the confusing spirituality and theology of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere.
First, you have what I consider a somewhat anti-religious agenda. In Book 1, Mistborn, you have a paralleling of a Redeemer figure dying for his people, and appearing subsequently to inspire his followers. But (Spoiler), the appearances are a hoax. Kelsier studies other religions and decides he must die heroically to start a revolution. Before dying, he hires a Kandra, a shape changing being who eats someone then mimics their mannerisms. After Kelesier’s heroic death, this Kandra will eat him and appear to his followers for maximum psychological impact in starting the revolution.
EDITED TO ADD: A “Mistborn” fan has informed me that Kelsier’s character arc continues in other Sanderson books in a way that shows Kelsier is an anti-Christ figure of sorts, so that context makes me less concerned about this agenda in “Mistborn.” I plan to read more of the series to verify this.
Dualism is the belief that the world is the result of two opposing forces such as dark and light, good and evil, or some other pair of conflicting powers. This belief is primarily seen in Eastern religions, though has also appeared as the basis for early Christian heresies such as Manichaeism. Dualism is utterly incompatible with the Christian monotheistic worldview, which labels evil as an absence or privation of goodness (God).
Taken by itself, the MistbornTrilogy seems to be pushing a dualistic worldview. The plots in the second and third books are primarily focused around the conflict between the two opposing forces of Ruin and Preservation. One of the protagonists, Sazed, spends most of The Hero of the Ages going through a crisis of faith rejecting all religions that have ever existed as illogical and false. He eventually finds peace by deciding the true “religion” is a balancing of the two forces. In fact, (SPOILER) the series concludes with Vin sacrificing her life to destroy the mind of Ruin, then Sazed taking over the task of balancing the forces of Ruin and Preservation to shape a better world.
In the end, there is no God in the Christian sense in Mistborn. Sanderson’s Creator has been shattered into 16 forces, which men have assumed, making them demigods of sorts. Sanderson is still working on the series, so only time will tell how he concludes the theological side of his Cosmere.
Conclusions with a little help from C. S. Lewis
Master fantasy writers George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis believed that the purpose of fantasy was to enter another world, learn truths in that world, then bring them back to your own world to help live a good life. Applying this to Mistborn, what truths might your children bring back through the wardrobe, or perhaps in this case through the mists? Well, all the postives I mentioned above: self sacrifice, loyalty, choosing the good even against seemingly insurmountable odds. But on the other hand, they will also have spent quite a lot of time in a rather confusing theological headspace. It’s definitely a tradeoff, and not one I’d recommend except for older, mature teens.
So if you have older, mature teens who really love fantasy and want to read Mistborn, here’s what I’d recommend doing first: make sure your teens are solidly grounded in Catholic theology. Be sure they have the maturity to not be seduced by the mists into applying any of the false theology of the Sanderson universe to our world.
For other great books for Catholic teens, check out my Book Lists!
Following up his bestselling The Spider Who Saved Christmas, Raymond Arroyo and illustrator Randy Gallegos offer another gorgeous and inspiring picture book for Catholic kids. Just in time for Lent, The Thief Who Stole Heaven tells the unforgettable story of St. Dismas
In the Spirit of Lent
The spirit of Lent can be summed up in the brief words the priest offers to each of us on Ash Wednesday: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The legend of St. Dismas fits perfectly with this Lenten message. As you’ll read in The Thief Who Stole Heaven, Dismas lived a life of sin and violence. Nevertheless, he achieved perfect repentance and believed in Jesus as they died side by side. We’re all sinners, and we all need to repent. St. Dismas teaches us how to do this with humility and faith.
The Journey to Egypt
In addition to telling the story of St. Dismas, The Thief Who Stole Heaven tells us what might have happened after the Holy Family fled the cave and soldiers. We don’t know what adventures the Holy Family encountered as they journeyed to Egypt, bags full of treasure from the Magi. Raymond Arroyo fills in the blanks of what might have happened, weaving a meeting with a young Dismas into their journey.
What I love most about The Thief Whole Stole Heaven is the detailed art. A clever use of light draws your attention to the infant and Mary each time they appear, mirroring the book’s message about the mesmerizing gaze of Christ.
Who Should Read It?
St. Dismas’ life was violent and sad. Smaller children may be distubed to hear about his miserable childhood and violent deeds, though Arroyo does a good job of wording the story to go over the littlest listeners’ heads. I think 6-8 year olds will enjoy this story, while less sensitive younger children could also handle the vague descriptions of violence.
Where to buy it?
If you would like to purchase this wonderful new book for your family, you can buy it at: