I’m moving….er…consolodating

I started Catholic Sense Media as a place to talk about books. To review books, really, from a Catholic perspective.

Along the way I’ve discovered that, like the books I review, I have a lot to say. Both about the books themselves, and how they pertain to our lives.  To that end, I’ve decided to move the book reviews over to Epiphanies Of Beauty.

Won’t you join me over there? We can chat about beauty wherever it might be found – books, life, pictures.

I hope to see you there!

In the meantime, pardon the dust.

Saint Magnus, The Last Viking by Susan Peek


How could Thorfinn the Mighty have known that with his deathbed decree he would condemn his grandsons to a violent and warring life? Could Thorfinn the Mighty even dared to have hoped that this same decree would bring sanctity to his grandsons?

Also, who is Saint Magnus, anyway?


Oh wow! This was a greatsaint magnus the last viking susan peek – GREAT – read. I’ll confess that I was skeptical at first. Another saint story? Sometimes my kids are tired of the saint stories. YaknowwhatImean? But this one, this one, my children will read and savor and my guess is that they will read it again.

To begin with, the story is very well written. Peek knows how to draw the reader into the plot and keep her (in this case, anyway) there.  The plot moves quickly, and the story doesn’t dwell too much on the inner sanctity of Magnus. Rather, Magnus shows us what he does. Let’s us hear what he is thinking. Let’s us see when he is struggling to do the right thing. That last point, I think, is especially noteworthy in the story of a saint. That heroic virture is just that: its heroic and isn’t necessarily “easy” to come by. In fact, its hard! The saints are people, too!

Also, this is a story of Saint Magnus! Who’s that? Well isn’t that the point? No offense to St. Anthony, or St. Patrick, or St. Joseph, or even to St. Pope John Paul II: but here is the invigorating tale of a man mostly unknown. Sometimes, its good to take a peek into one of “God’s forgotten friends” to reinvigorate the faith a little. Its a story that isn’t familiar to most of us and so its almost with fresh eyes that we see the struggle to forgive, and the power of forgiveness.

No, St. Magnus isn’t a saint that you will probably find on last year’s list of Confirmatti. But my guess is that it’s coming soon, to a parish near you.


  • Author: Susan Peek
  • Publisher: Catholic Vitality Publications
  • Paperback, 248 pages
  • Reading Age: Upper elementary (not for the more sensitive in that crowd) to middle school years.

What You Need to Know

  • Role Models/Authority Figures – Lots of ’em! It’s a saint story!
  • Violence – This is a viking story, right? So there’s war. And betrayal. And a house burning down with a maiden screaming in the woods. All of the violence is just graphic enough to grab a hold of you and make you turn the page to find out what’s next while at the same time stopping just short of the gruesome and gory details that would turn this into an R rated book. Sensitive readers, be wary.
  • Sexual ContentNone
  • ConsumerismNone.
  • Drinking/Smoking/DrugsNone
  • ReligionThis is the story of a saint. Lots of Catholicism in this book, but none of it too sweet.
  • Other
  • Awards

Catholic Churches Big and Small by Stefan Salinas

catholic churches big and smallSummary

A young girl, her brother, and her father tour the Archdiocese of San Franciso. Their tour guide, Sister Barbara, teaches them about Catholic churches while they all sketch out the details.



Catholic Churches Big and Small is a fantastic book. Fantastic! The author, Stefan Salinas, toured the Archdiocese of San Fransisco as a part of his conversion to Catholicism.  It is this intimacy that really shines through in every one of his drawings. Take, for example, this image from the author’s book blog, of St. Dominic Catholic Church in San Francisco.

St. Dominic

A simple storyline only adds to the stunning imagery. Simple words that roll off the tongue – perfect for a read aloud to curious toddlers and preschoolers – walk the reader through Catholicism in all its beauty.  There are sketches of multiple Catholic churches, close ups of common Catholic symbolism, reproductions of statues of saints and angels, and also items found inside our churches.  Toddlers will be mesmerized. Preschoolers will be fascinated. And young children will be genuinely interested.  I think that even the older elementary child would enjoy this book as a sort of dictionary of Catholic terms (homeschoolers I’m looking at you, here!) and, as Salinas suggests on his website “an introduction to the art and architecture of the Catholic Church.” In fact, my own seven year old boy has big plans to trace the church sketches onto Shrinky Dink plastic so that he can “make a collection.”

I’ll leave you with this, another from the author’s book blog.

catholic churches big and small stained glass windows

Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes. But my opinions are my own.


  • Author: Stefan Salinas
  • Publisher: Camelopardalis
  • Hardback, 50 pages
  • Reading Age:

What You Need to Know

  • Role Models/Authority Figures – A nun takes children on a city-wide church viewing field trip
  • Violence -None
  • Sexual ContentNone
  • ConsumerismNone.
  • Drinking/Smoking/DrugsNone
  • ReligionFaithful representation of Catholic churches; Editing quibble: Eucharist isn’t capitalized nor is First Communion.
  • Other
  • Awards

Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler

something other than godSummary

Popular blogger and atheist turned Catholic, Jennifer Fulwiler, relays her conversion story.


I love – I mean really really really love (for real) conversion stories.  I was even tempted to purchase this book because I LOVE conversion stories. Also, I read Jennifer’s blog and find her funny and engaging and witty.  Sadly, this didn’t translate well into the book.

Let’s start with the good. “Something Other than God” reads like a cross between a novel and a memoir.  This, I enjoyed very much. Also, at times Fulwiler’s voice comes through loud and clear and it’s enjoyable. In chapter 22, for example, while she relates a bit about her experiment with the Church’s moral code:

My experiment of living by the Church’s moral code was going amazingly well. An entire week had passed, and I had not murdered anyone or started a single unjust war. (146)

Funny! Endearing! This is the “Something Other than God” that I loved reading. There is quite a bit of this to read, too. Fulwiler shines when she is laughing about herself and it is in these moments she is the mantilla wearing rap fan we have come to know and like on her blog. She also shines when she is telling us the bits of her life that include her husband and her children.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the book doesn’t carry this same style of writing throughout. This is most evident in the first few chapters. Here the writing was often stiff and extraneous: filler. What’s more, some of it I didn’t find quite believable as it read more as an adult’s reflection on childhood experiences than as the actual recounting of these same experiences.  Later in the book this same thing happens: the narrator Jennifer reflects on what the character Jennifer is doing. Sometimes this winds up breaking down into a whiny, self-centered narrator who hasn’t quite convinced us that this is not “her” anymore. No doubt this is an editing issue (as is the consistent misplacement – throughout the entire book – of the comma after quotation marks!), but it is an issue.

Ultimately, the story ended well – and not just that Fulwiler converted to Catholicism.  The novel “conversion story” had a very sigh-when-I-close-the-book ending which I found to be fulfilling.

Taken as a whole, “Something Other than God” is…a conversion story.  I know there have been allusions made between this conversion story and that of C.S. Lewis or St. Augustine (to her credit, I haven’t seen Mrs. Fulwiler claim this). These allusions are illusions.  Think of your Catholic friend recounting to you the many and varied ways God reached down from heaven and touched her life. Each instance was an instant. Each moment fleeting until that one glorious Easter Vigil when the Truth culminated into Beauty and everything was made clear. Its a fabulous story, your friend’s conversion. Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story is fabulous in that same way. What conversion isn’t?

My final verdict: not quite a beach read.


  • Author: Jennifer Fulwiler
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (April 29, 2014)
  • Hardcover256 pages
  • My Recommended Reading Age: High School and older