Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Robotech Battle Cry by Jack McKinney (Recommended)

I just finished Robotech Battle Cry by Jack McKinney. I read it in high school when I was a teenager and I loved it. I just finished it tonight and I loved it again, probably not as much as I did when I was in high school but it was good nonetheless. There were some parts of this book that were truly excellent. I loved the part when Max meets Miriya at the end of the book.

There are a lot of things that may be confusing about Robotech so let me clarify.

Robotech was originally a cartoon. I think it was called Macross when it came out in Japan and renamed Robotech when it came out in the United States.

The author, Jack McKinney, is a pen name for not one author but a writing duo, James Luceno and Brian Daley.

Jack McKinney wrote six books that are based off of the first generation TV series. They are as follows:

Book 1: Genesis
Book 2: Battle Cry
Book 3: Homecoming
Book 4: Battle Hymn
Book 5: Force Of Arms
Book 6: Doomsday

The book I just read is a compilation of the first three books: Genesis, Battle Cry and Homecoming. What makes this confusing is that the compilation of these three books is also called Battle Cry. Books 4 through 6 are published as a one book compilation also. This compilation is called Doomsday.

So what is this story about? In short, it is about planes that turn into robots.

A ship crash lands on earth, the SDF-1. Earth agrees to global peace to figure out this alien ship. They rebuild it. The Zentraedi, the war obsessed aliens that lost this ship, want it back. It is a very important ship to them. The story is about the people on the SDF-1 trying to survive as they are attacked by the Zentraedi.

The pacing of the book is very fast. I enjoyed the pacing.

The story is campy but I think in a good way.

The writing is actually pretty good and easy to read. The reading level is not difficult.

There are some parts of the story that are truly excellent. I believe that these excellent parts are the reason why this story/cartoon has survived and gained a loyal fan-base over the years.

Overall, I liked the book a lot. It is a fun book. Don't expect any deep philosophy. So, if you are looking for a good, fun action/adventure book, look no further. This is the book for you. I recommend this book. It is not a masterpiece but it is fun.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

FIFTEEN by Taylor Swift (my thoughts)

I was listening to this song and I had a few thoughts.

There are three people in this song, the SINGER, ABIGAIL and an unnamed person referred to as YOU.

VERSE 1 is about YOU as YOU walks through her first day of school in her freshman year. It describes YOU’s insecurities on that day. NOTE: Most freshman are 14 years old. I wonder why the characters in this song are fifteen. Did they fail a previous grade? Are they simply old for their year?

Chorus 1 is about some future event after the first day of school mentioned in VERSE 1 when a na├»ve girl believes the insincere words of a boy. This is where the song becomes confusing to me. Who is the SINGER talking to? Is ‘you’ a general reference to people (i.e. ‘Cause when a person in general is fifteen, they are going to naively believe when a boy tells her that he loves her) or is it to the YOU in the song (the person referenced in verse 1). At this point in the song we still don’t know.

Verse 2 communicates when YOU meets a girl named ABIGAIL and they become best friends. The second half of verse 2 is about YOU’s first date. She is swept away with the excitement of being infatuated with a boy. It is insinuated that the mom disapproves and doesn’t like the choices being made by the simple phrase “mamma’s waiting up”. This brings up a thought. It is insinuated that the fifteen-year-old girl in this song is a victim of a senior boy’s selfishness and lies. But isn’t there a mother that disapproved of the relationship? Assuming the mother was doing what mother’s are supposed to do, why didn’t the girl listen to the counsel of her mother? Is the fifteen-year-old girl in this story really a victim of the boy’s selfishness or is she merely reaping the consequences for poor decisions?

The second half of chorus 2 connects the chorus to the YOU character. YOU’s experience with the boy is further elaborated. There is a kiss, maybe during the first date mentioned in verse 2 or maybe subsequent to that date. And the boy is on the football team. It is also insinuated that dating a boy on a football team is a trite and meaningless thing.

Verse 3 is confusing. It introduces the SINGER, “I”, into the song. Who is SINGER and where was she for the first two verses and the first two choruses. Why does SINGER cry with ABIGAIL? I thought that YOU was bests friends with ABIGAIL?

I like this song. I really do, regardless of its perspective problems. Why didn’t a producer listen to these lyrics and think, “Hmm, the lyrics should be fixed. They don’t really make sense.”

This is my resolution to the perspective problems. The SINGER and YOU are the same person. Perhaps, the SINGER is singing in front of a mirror, singing to a reflection of herself. And when an emotionally powerful part of the song comes, SINGER is unable to continue singing about it in the second person and she is forced, by the swell of emotion, to include herself in the first person, therefore introducing the “I”. How do you like my resolution to the perspective problem? With my resolution, there are only two people, the SINGER/YOU is one person and ABIGAIL is the second.

Another assumption is that ABIGAIL’s story and SINGER/YOU’s story parallel each other with the exception that SINGER/YOU didn’t give everything she had to a boy; ABIGAIL did. So in the chorus, when it is stated, “Cause when your fifteen, somebody tells you they love you, your gonna believe them”, it, at least, refers to SINGER/YOU and ABIGAIL.

Below, I’ve included the lyrics and the guitar chords for easy reference.

Fifteen by Taylor Swift

(G C Em C)

(Verse 1)

You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors

It’s the morning of your very first day (G C Em C)

You say hi to your friends you ain’t seen in a while

Try and stay out of everybody’s way (G C Em C)

It’s your freshman year and you’re gonna be here

For the next four years in this town (G C Em C)

Hoping one of those senior boys will wink at you and say

You know I haven’t you seen you around before (G C Em C)

(Chorus 1)

‘Cause when you’re fifteen

Somebody tells you they love you

You’re gonna believe them (G Em D C)

And when you’re fifteen feeling like

There’s nothing to figure out but (G D Em C)

Count to ten, take it in

This is life before you know who you’re gonna be (Em D G D C D)


(Verse 2)

You sit in class next to a redhead named Abigail

And soon enough you’re best friends (G C Em C)

Laughing at the other girls who think they’re so cool

We’ll be out of here as soon as we can (G C Em C)

And then you’re on you’re on your very first date

And he’s got a car and you’re feeling like flying (G C Em C)

And you’re mamma’s waiting up and you’re thinking he’s the one

And you’re dancing ‘round your room when the night ends

When the night ends (G C Em C)

(Chorus 2)

‘Cause when you’re fifteen

Somebody tells you they love you

You’re gonna believe them (G Em D C)

And when you’re fifteen and your first kiss

Makes your head spin round but (G D Em C)

In your life you’ll do things greater than

Dating the boy on the football team

But I didn’t know it at fifteen (Em D G D C D)



When all you wanted was to be wanted

Wish you could go back

And tell yourself what you know now (C Em D G D C D)

(Verse 3)

Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday

But I realized some bigger dreams of mine (G C Em C)

And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind

And we both cried (G C Em C)

(Chorus 3)

‘Cause when you’re fifteen

Somebody tells you they love you

You’re gonna believe them (G Em D C)

And when you’re fifteen

Don’t forget to look before you fall (G D Em C)

I’ve found time can heal most anything

And you just might find who you’re supposed to be (Em D G D C)

I didn’t know who I was supposed to be

At fifteen (Em D C D)

La la la la la la (G C Em C)

Your very first day

Take a deep breath girl

Take a deep breath as you walk through the doors

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Recommended)

I just finished A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

I had the following conversation with a student:

"Mr. Lee, what are you reading?"
I turned the book to its cover so the student can read the title.
"Mr. Lee, that's cool. I read that book when I was in elementary school?"
I thought, "Really? I'm reading it now and I don't understand a lot of what is written. How could you have possibly understood it when you were in elementary school?"
At that point, I felt stupid. But that's okay. I shouldn't compare myself to others anyway. My reading strength is what it is. AND, by reading Dickens, I am flexing my reading muscle so, maybe one day, I'll be a stronger reader. Maybe one day, I can say, "Yeah, Dickens is an easy read." But until that day, I will struggle with reading Dickens.

This brings me to my first point: the book is hard to read. The reading level, I thought, was high. Dickens is into word play and puns but these puns are dated and archaic. I didn't understand a lot of it.

The pacing a very different than a modern novel. There are little cliffhangers throughout the book in regular intervals. I think this was a product of it being a serial novel. The novel was released in parts on a weekly basis. The end of each installment ended on a cliffhanger to get the reader to eagerly anticipate the next installment.

The book was broken up into three smaller books. The third book's pacing was very different than the first two. The third book's pacing was much faster and much more exciting.

Dickens is a brilliant writer. He writes at so many different levels. Some of the imagery that he uses is powerful. Very powerful. There are few writers today that can rival Dickens imagery. One image is when peasants drink wine that has spilled cask from the cobblestones to show how poor and desperate peasants at that time were and another is how the marquis throws coins to placate a grieving father after he has run the peasant's son over with his horse and cart to show how the aristocracy thought the peasants were worthless. His themes are also intricately interconnected.

The writing style are usage is archaic making it difficult to read for me. But I'm sure that if I continued to read Dickens novels (which I plan to do), it will get easier to read.

One character to note is Sydney Carton. The book is full of two dimensional characters; most of the characters seem to feel only one emotion or seem to have only one motive. I think that this is common for books from this period in time. But Sydney Carton is different. He is initially introduced as a drunk but later on in the book, because of his love for a woman, he does some truly heroic things. His motives are complicated and his feelings are complicated. I enjoyed him as a character. His character seems anachronistic; he seems to be from a modern novel with mixed morally ambiguous motives stuck in an old book where this type of character is unheard of.

Overall, the book was brilliant.
I found it hard to read but, in the end, it was definitely worth reading.
The writing was archaic.
The pacing was archaic.
The images were brilliant.
The character of Sydney Carton was outstanding.
I recommend this book. It is not highly recommended because I of my own lack of reading skills; it was hard for me to read.

Good times.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dragons Of Spring Dawning by Weis And Hickman (highly recommended)

I just finished Dragons Of Spring Dawning by Weis and Hickman again. I think this is my third (maybe even fourth) reading of this trilogy. It's not a masterpiece but it has a special place in my heart. I really enjoyed reading it again. Especially reading the end of this book, i felt like a kid again; the things that I felt back then, the wonder and the naivety, I felt again.

This is the third and concluding book in the Dragonlance Chronicles series. The books in this trilogy are as follows:
1. Dragons of Autumn Twilight
2. Dragons of Winter Night
3. Dragons of Spring Dawning
These books follow the rules of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons; it follows them but not strictly.

The trilogy is about a groups of campaigners that set off to try to defeat the forces of evil, the armies of Takhsis, the Dark Queen. Dragons are introduced into this world; most people thought they were stuff of fairy tales. This is a story of how a group of motley adventurers make a difference in this dragon war where the stakes are the world itself. The campaigners themselves each represent a certain worldview and each character matures and grows by the end of the book with the exception of one.

It is hard to review just the third book in a series of books. I don't want to give anything away. All I can say is that I really liked this series. (NOTE: And I also like the next series, Dragonlance Legends.)

Overall, I thought the book (and the trilogy) was good. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy adventure books. The pacing was quick and good. The writing was well done (but some parts I now realize were a little corny but that's okay). The story, in my mind, is a classic. So if you can get over the fact that your are reading a book about dragons, which may seem a little childish if you are my age, I recommend that you pick these books up. Good times. :)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck (highly recommended)

I just finished The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has the patience to read it. The pacing was slow, which made it hard to read. Some authors may tell better stories BUT, I believe, no one tells a story better than Steinbeck! Paraphrasing a famous and well-known author, "When I read The Grapes of Wrath, it makes me want to stop writing; in comparison, my work is junk compared to Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is a book written by a brilliant author at the height of his powers."

The Grapes of Wrath follows the story of the Joad family during the Great Depression of America in the 1930s (NOTE: the Great Depression began in 1929). Every other chapter (although not strictly followed) describes vignettes of America in general during that time; these are usually the odd numbered chapters. The even numbered chapters follow Tom Joad and eventually the Joad family. Writing the novel in this way allowed Steinbeck to describe the general economic and social climate of America and, in the same novel, follow the story of one specific family, the Joads. In addition, the two writing styles between the odd and even chapters are juxtaposed; the general descriptions of America tend to be more poetically written.

This is the story with respect to the Joads. The Joads are poor. They are forced to leave their own land. They decided to move to California to make their fortune but California is not all that it is promised to be.

It is interesting to me that Steinbeck doesn't make the rich people the villians. The only villian described is the bank, a nameless and faceless institution whose only motive is to make more money.

There are a handful of interesting things about this book (including but not limited to the following):
1. Tom Joad has killed a man in his past BUT throughout the book, he is portrayed as a loyal and moral man.
2. Tom also seems not to be confused with his way in life. His life and his worldview is purposeful.
3. Jim Casy is a former preacher that has a strong sense of morality BUT he has rejected God because of his inability to stop fornicating with young women from his congregation.
4. Casy believes that staying together and supporting each other trumps any practical issues, i.e. everything will be alright as long as we stay together. This is juxtaposed to people in the Joad's story that simply abandon the family because it is too hard to stay.
5. The family seems to be led and held together by the mother.
6. Each character seems to represent a certain worldview or mentality.
7. Poor people seem to care for each other out of their poverty. This a very powerful image and theme that is littered throughout this book, especially in the final scene that brought tears to my eyes.
8. Hardships bring out strength (and weaknesses) in people that would not be shown otherwise, such as mama Joad staying with grandma knowing what she knew about grandmother's condition. (I know this is a vague description but you need to read the book to find out what this condition is.)
9. I found myself wondering if Steinbeck was a Christian or not. (I don't think he was.) His portrayal of Christianity was not favorable. Casy the preacher renounced God. The woman at the government camp was uber-self-righteous. The worldview that Tom Joad adopts, that our souls are only a piece of a very large soul, is essentially pantheism; I am god, you are god, everything is god.

This book is rich in themes. A PhD thesis could be written about this book alone.

I did think the pacing of the book was slow which made it hard to read.

Overall, I think the book was outstanding. The only reservation I had was the pacing. The storying telling was outstanding (of course, it's Steinbeck), the themes were brilliantly executed and, for me, it gave me a great appreciation for the thing that I have and a great appreciation for my job and income. I would highly recommend this to anyone. It is a hard book but it is a worthwhile read. Definitely.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Quest For More by Paul David Tripp (highly recommended)

I just finished A Quest For More by Paul David Tripp. In short, I think that everyone that I know should read this book. I highly recommend it.

The book is Paul Tripp's version of the question, "What is the chief end of man?" and the means to achieve this end. Nothing is really new in the book but it is presented in an incredibly clear and lucid way.

I was greatly affected by the content. I did not realize how much my worldview had drifted and this book helped to readjust my worldview. For example, I thought that I was a five out of ten with respect to my Christian walk; there were certainly Christian that were much more godly that me but I was more godly than others. As I read the diagnostic questions to identify selfish, worldly Christians, I realized that I was much lower than a five and that I had a lot of work in my pursuit of holiness and my practice of godliness than I was aware. Praise God for this book.

The book is written in a conversational/didactic style. Each chapter begins with a vignette which is followed by teaching. The book is easy to read but the content is weighty.

I would recommend that you read the entire book in one or two sittings. It takes about 5 to 6 hours to read the book from cover to cover. The reason why you should read the book in one or two sittings is because it takes time for a reader to become acclimated to think in terms of the gospel and to see the world through the lens of the gospel. Once you are acclimated to gospel thinking, the teachings in this book will affect you more powerfully. For example, if you only watch a movie in 5 minute chunks a day, after five days, you will no longer care about the movie. A big part of every story or teaching is momentum. The same is true of this book. Paul Tripp builds an outstanding Christian world-view and a large part of this book, I believe, is the book's momentum.

Overall, everyone I know should read this book. I write this so emphatically that I am going to write it again; everyone I know should read this book. It was a great blessing to me. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (recommended)

I just finished Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

Through the Looking Glass (TTLG) is the sequel to Alice in Wonderland (AIW).

Playing cards were a major motif in AIW. In the same way, chess was a major motif of TTLG.

Alice needs to move through the 'chessboard' of the countryside. Her goal is to reach the 8th square where she will be promoted from a pawn to a queen. Along the way, Alice meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Humpty Dumpty, The Lion and the Unicorn and many other characters.

The chess theme permeates throughout the book. Even at the end, Alice captures the Red Queen, thus checking the Red King. This is never explicitly said but it is implied. Also, the Red Knight threatens Alice and she is rescued by the White Knight.

Both AIW and TTLG were good but between the two, I liked AIW better.

Something that really caught my attention in TTLG was the idea of an alternate world where the rules are different from our own world. To move forward, Alice had to move backwards. To cut a cake, Alice had to distribute the pieces first.

The idea of alternate worlds are a major motif in many fantasy and horror novel. Many of Stephen King books play on the idea of alternate worlds: the Talisman, the Dark Tower series, and the Shining.

An interesting story told by Tweetledumb and Tweetledee is the story of The Walrus and The Carpenter. In this story, the Walrus and the Carpenter trick oysters to follow them. The Walrus and the Carpenter promise them a treat. But at the end of the journey, there is no treat; the Walrus and the Carpenter eats the oysters. I wonder if this Lewis Carroll's commentary on Christianity, especially with the character of the carpenter (Jesus is known as a carpenter.)

Something that I would have liked to hear more about was the Jabberwocky. I think that it would have been an interesting monster. Maybe the Jabberwocky could have chased Alice as she was going through the chessboard creating a lot of confusion with double talk and nonsense talk. But, alas, it was only mentioned in the poem.

Overall, I liked the book. There were lots of great ideas (although, I would have like this book to have been longer and the ideas expanded). I love chess and I loved the allusions this book made to the game that I love so much.
The pacing was quick.
The writing was good.
And the story is outstanding; a classic for a reason.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes Alice in Wonderland (I would recommend this, even if you didn't like Alice in Wonderland).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Deep Jungle by Fred Pearce (not recommended)

I just finished Deep Jungle by Fred Pearce.

Deep Jungle is a non-fiction book about the history and conservation of the rainforest.

I wish this book discussed the biology of rainforest flora and fauna more. Deep Jungle did not discuss flora and fauna very much.

The book wasn't completely linear. There were articles included in each chapter that were closely related to the chapter topics. I don't like it when books do this. Peripheral articles give me the impression that I am reading a coffee-table book. I hate coffee-table books. I like books that have a structure and an arc. This book felt very much like a coffee-table book.

I don't really have much to write about the context except that it did not keep my interest.

Overall, I found the book on the boring side. There were some interesting things that I learned about the history of rainforest but it was not interesting enough. I was relieved to be finally finished this book. (Why don't I just stop reading books that I don't like? That is a great question but I have no answer. I feel compelled to finish anything that I start. Fatal flaw or Virtue. I don't know. Maybe a little of both.) I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. I did not think it was well written, both with respect to its content and execution.

Well, until the next time...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell (finished)

I just finished Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell.

Winston Smith works and lives on Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain. Airstrip One is a province of Oceania. There are three nations left on earth after a global atomic war: Oceania, Eurasia and East Asia. All of the nations are ruled by totalitarian regimes, including Oceania. Winston hates Oceania and Big Brother, the face of the Party. The book is about how Winston rebels against the government. Winston meets a girl; relationships not sanctioned by the government are forbidden. Winston is introduced to a rebel group called the Brotherhood, which trying to overthrow the government. And Winston eventually finds himself face to face with the Party itself.

What can I say about this book?

I was supposed to read it when I was in high school. I did not. (I guess, in my own way, I wanted to rebel against Big Brother by not reading I was told to read.)

The book was provocative.

It introduces the concept of the telescreen. Winston watches the telescreen but the telescreen also watches him! Imagine watching TV but the people at the other end of the television are able to see what you do and where you go and what you are interested in and they are able to record all of your actions and keep it archived indefinitely. YIKES, right? I hope that that never happens, right? Too late. We live in a world where this a already a reality. Ladies and Gentlemen, this describes the Internet. The internet is able to keep track of where you go and what you are interested in and has all sorts of our private information. The scary part is that almost anyone can look at this information if they have the initiative. Scarier still, this information may be stolen or altered without our knowledge. Real life may be more frightening than fiction.

The most interesting part of the book for me was probably the part of the book that most people found boring. I liked Orwell's description of socialism as it appeared in Oceania. This was the part when Winston was reading the book to his lady friend in a room found in the Prole section. It was fascinating. This is why I like to read fiction. Sometimes, it provides a context for philosophical ideas to be introduced and explained. This book introduced socialism to me and gave me a context to think about its strengths and weakness. (Similarly, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky introduced me to Nietzsche and his ideas about the superman).

As I was reading the book, I was glad that I did not live in Oceania. But I also began to think about how some things that are presented as shocking and scary are commonplace to us in reality (the telescreens for example). The idea of the government changing the past also struck me. In reality, the things that I was taught about the american revolution just aren't true (similar to how the Oceania changed historical facts to serve their own purpose). The more I read (later in life) about american history, the more I realize that my high school history education was akin to propaganda. If I was alive and a white colonial during the american revolution, I may have been a Tory. Just kidding. Or am I?

The book was academically very interesting.

The pacing was a little slow at times but really picked up at the end.

The story was a masterpiece.

It was a dark story, even the romance in the book was abrasive and stark.

Overall, I recommend this book. It's a book that I think that everyone should read. In a lot of ways, it is Orwell warning to us and I think that the warning is sound. Even though our world, especially the United States, is turning out more like the novel, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nineteen Eighty Four is still relevant to us today, especially in the light of more and more government control and less and less civil liberties.

Good times.

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (finished)

I just finished Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I liked it very much.

Alice sees a rabbit who exclaims that he is late. Alice follows the rabbit into a rabbit hole where she falls for what seems like a very long time. Alice wonders if she will fall clear through the center of the earth. Inside the rabbit hole is a fantasy world where some of the most memorable characters in literature are introduced: such as the white rabbit, the Cheshire cat, the mad hatter (who is never called the mad hatter) and the queen of hearts.

Most people are familiar with the story due to the popularity of the Disney Movie. But most people, I would guess, haven't read the book for themselves. I have not until this month. It was difficult for me to read the book without picturing the Disney movie in my head, which in this case wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I think Disney did a great job with their movie.

The book was very well written. The book's pacing was fast; considering the time that it was written, it must have seemed like the pacing of the book was ridiculously fast.

Something that surprised me was that the long scenes in the movie or cartoon were only a page long in the book. Something else that surprised me was that Tweetledum and Tweetledee, Humpty Dumpty and the Jabberwock were not in this book (they are in Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, which I am reading right now).

I thought it was interesting that Alice haphazardly eats and drinks anything that she comes across. I didn't think anything of this when I was a kid, but as an adult, this seems really strange to me. If I was walking through West Philadelphia and I came upon a table with a bottle labeled drink me. I don't think I would be tempted, not even just a little bit. It would probably be malted liquor.

I was affected by two things in this book.

(1) Alice finds a door at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Through the door is a beautiful garden. but she can't get to it because she is too big to fit through the door. Later on, after she shrinks to a size where she can fit through the door, she finds that the door is locked and the key is on the top of the table and she is unable to reach it because she is too short. Isn't this always the way? The idea of this garden that I can't get to; looking towards something longingly but unable to get to it. How many times in my life have I felt this way? How many times have I looked at other couples and thought way can't my relationships look like that? How many times have I looked at friends and thought, why can't I have friends like that?

And then I would spend a lot of time trying to shape myself into something that will fit into that mold only to find that the door is locked and the key to me fitting in is still out of reach. Sadness.

(2) Alice is trying to play croquet with the queen but there seems to be no rules. The mallet is a flamingo and the ball is a hedgehog that always seems to move. It is frustrating to pretend that you are playing a game in elite society to find that it is ridiculous, that no one is following the rules, everyone is only pretending to.

I've felt this way a lot. Sometimes in school, I feel like Alice trying to play croquet. The context, the game, i.e. high school seems ridiculous. I'm trying to do something good (teaching) but it seems like no one else is following the rules, people are just pretending to. At times, I feel frustrated, thinking, "Why bother? No one is following the rules anyway! Why should I be the only one to hold students to a standard? Why should I be the only one to take away cell phones? Why am I the only one to enforce the rules?" I know, I know. First of all, I know that I'm not the only one, but it does certainly feel that way. And I know that I can only do what I can do and I need to stick to my convictions. It is hard nonetheless.

Overall, the book was good. It is a classic for a reason. It was very enjoyable.
The pacing was good.
The writing was good.
The story was outstanding.
I highly recommend this book to anyone of any age.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson (finished)

I just finished Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson.

The book is basically his thoughts about the world and how the things of this world relate to God. The book is broken up into topical chapters.

I did not like this book.

I thought that it was written irresponsibly.

It is written in a post-modern conversational style, similar to Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, of which I am not a big fan.

There was a mocking tone in his writing throughout the book. He seems to mock philosophy and science the most.

There was misinformation in the book; he didn't get all his facts right.

He falls into logical fallacy, especially the straw-man fallacy. I do not agree with Fredrick Nietzsche. But Neitzsche is not portrayed fairly in this book. Neitzsche was portrayed as a senile old bitter man. And because he was an old bitter man, his arguments should not be taken seriously. This is another logical fallacy, argumentum ad hominem.

Considering the book after I had finished it, I still couldn't figure out, (1) why he wrote the book, (2) who he was writing to and (3) what exactly he was trying to communicate.

I think the entire book can be summarized by the title of the book. The "Notes from the..." part of the title was taken from Fyodor Dostoevsky's masterpiece Notes From The Underground. "...the Tilt-A-Whirl" part of the title is taken from the ridiculous rides from amusement parks. That, in short, is what this book is; it is a ridiculous and trite treatment of some very serious things. (Sorry, this paragraph sounds really harsh.)

Overall, I do not recommend this book.
The writing usage and execution was good in the post-modern style. It is clear that he is a good writer.
But I thought the treatment of the material was irresponsible.
The pacing of the book was random and haphazard.
In short, the book was bad.
I do not recommend.


Carrie By Stephen King (finished)

I just finished Carrie by Stephen King.

Carrie is Stephen King's first novel.

Carrie is about a high school girl who has telekinesis, the ability to move objects with her mind. Carrie is awkward and she is frequently the butt of everyone's jokes. She tries to fit in at school but she is unable to, particularly because of the malice of a certain mean girl. Carrie ends up going to the prom with Tommy, a boy that she has like for a long time. But at the prom, something goes horribly wrong and Carrie decides that she will not be laughed at ever again.

I think there is a moral to this story. The moral is "Don't mess with people. Don't bully people, even if they are awkward and weak. Because they could have telekinesis and they may decide to kill you." I think it is a good moral. Seriously though, this theme seems to be in many of King's novels. The weak people in the books are not really weak and those that seem strong are not really strong. Interesting.

Because Carrie was King's first novel, there is an almost palpable raw quality to the book. Everything doesn't "work" in the book but it doesn't matter. The parts that do "work", work really well. I would compare this to Metallica's Kill 'Em All (their first album). Kill 'Em All is not Master of Puppets (their third album), which is a masterpiece but it is still good in all it's garage band sensibilities. In comparison, Carrie is not The Stand, King's masterpiece, but it is still good with it's own raw sensibilities.

King seems to intrinsically know what works. He has a sense for it. When he gets the sense that something is good with respect to building tension or for communicating human vulnerability, he just goes for it. And it works well.

There were some holes in the novel. For example, he explains that telekinesis is a recessive gene trait. But if telekinesis is a controversial phenomenon, then how can there be gene data for it. There has to be a significant number of known telekinetics and those people must have telekinetic offspring. Because telekinesis is rare (if any of those cases were acknowledged at all), gene studies could not have been done.

Overall, I like the book.
Pacing was uneven but good overall. (I didn't like reading about the same events through other people's perspectives.)
The writing was uneven but when it was good, it was very good.
The story was uneven but when it was good, it was very good.
I would recommend this book to those that like this genre.

If you read this review, please drop a like or a comment. It makes me happy.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (finished)

I just finished Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J. K. Rowling.

Harry meets a house elf named Dobby who tries to prevent Harry from attending Hogwarts because of some unnamed danger at the school. Harry, eventually, is able to get to Hogwarts. During the school year, kids are mysteriously petrified. There are rumors that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened and an unspeakably dangerous monster has been released into the school and this monster is responsible for the petrifications. Also, a mysterious diary that is able to write back to writer has been found. The diary belonged to Tom Riddle, a former student at Hogwarts. Riddle was a student at Hogwarts when the Chamber of Secrets was last opened. This book describes how Harry and his friends try to solve the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets, the petrifications and the diary.

There is very little that I can add to the discussions (or hubbub or brouhaha) about this book.

I liked it.

I thought it was well written.

I thought the pacing was good.

But something catch my interest as I read this again. (This reading was my second time through the book.) Harry doesn't follow the rules. He lies to his professors. He (and his friends) steal ingredients from Professor Snape for the polyjuice potion. Harry and Ron masquerade as Malfoy's friends to spy on him. And when Dumbledore addresses Harry's actions at the end of the book, Dumbledore congratulates Harry instead of chides him. The message of the book seems to be "Do what you think is right!" (although, this would be fine when it is coupled with wisdom) and "The ends justify the means."

I don't think that Harry is a good role model for young people. If young people felt that they were a Harry-Potter-like character in the story of their own lives, then chaos would insure in every family and school. I think that Harry may be a modern day version of Frederick Nietzsche's superman. In Dostoevsky's masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov thought that he was the superman but Dostoevsky clearly presents him as a person that is driven to madness by assuming the superman role. In Harry Potter, Harry takes on the role of the superman and he is congratulated and esteemed.

Also, why are the adults all naive? And why are the only savvy people the kids?


I think this series of books is more than just simply children's books. There is a reason why the masses have embraced Harry Potter so wholeheartedly. I think that Harry reflect the spirit of our age (zeitgeist). I think that we can learn a lot about society in general by examining the world views that are presented in this series.

Anyway, OVERALL, I liked the book. I would recommend it. I liked the writing, the pacing and the story. Good times.

If you read this review, please drop a like or a comment. It makes me happy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (finished)

I just finished Second Foundation by Isaac Asmiov. It was first published in 1953. This is the third book in the Foundation series that I've read. The order of the books are as follows:

Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation

These three books comprise the original Foundation trilogy.

Two stories are told in this book. (1) The conclusion of the Mule story and (2) The story of the search for the Second Foundation.

I had a hard time getting through this book. Both stories were good. So why did I have a hard time getting through this short book?

I don't like Asimov's writing style. Now, all you Asimov fans probably want to stone me but wait. Let me explain. His stories are wonderful. I really like his vision of the future and the tension that he creates with his characters. I don't like his execution as a writing. I think that his sentences are awkward. His characters don't have individual voices; they all sound the same. I think that Asimov is popular and respected because of his amazing stories (and I would agree with that) but I don't think that he was technically a very good writer. There, I said it.


Overall, I do recommend this book. In fact, I would recommend the entire trilogy. I thought the stories were outstanding. A huge weakness in his books is his execution. But if you can overlook that or if writing style isn't very important to you, I think that you will be very entertained by these wonderful stories.

PACING: uneven but overall good
STORY: outstanding

If you read this, please drop a like or a comment. It makes me happy. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just After Sunset by Stephen King (finished)

I just finished Just After Sunset by Stephen King.

Just After Sunset is a collection of thirteen short stories. Some of the stories were short (can be read in about half an hour) and some are fairly long (will take about two to three hours to read).

Usually, for the second paragraph, I describe what the book is about but for this collection of short stories, I can't really do that. So I will pick three stories and describe them.

The Gingerbread Girl is about a young lady, a runner, who is kidnapped by a serial killer. The story is about her trying to escape from this guy. I liked how the story hinged on some seemingly minor things such as her strong legs. Strong legs, of course; she's a runner.

N is about a psychologist who has a crazy patient who is convinced that his compulsive behaviors stops a terrible evil from entering this world through a portal. The psychologist becomes concerned when he starts to think and feel his patient's psychosis.

A Very Tight Place was, by far, the grossest story that I have ever read. I wanted to both stop reading and, at the same time, continue because I had to find out what happened. I can't tell you more. You'll just have to check it out for yourself.

I thought the stories were fairly strong. I did not think, "I wonder what's on TV" as I read these shorts. Some were, of course, better than other. But I thought most of the stories were pretty good. Stephen King's earlier shorts where more raw with less refined writing execution; these stories are more refined; King is definitely a better writer after all these years. Part of me liked the raw, young energy of his earlier works but I also very much appreciate and like the more refined writing of this collection.

Overall, I liked Just After Sunset by Stephen King.

The stories were (mostly) good.

The pacing was good.

The writing style was Stephen King, which I think is good (but some would vehemently disagree).

I recommend this collection to those who like suspence and horror. It is definitely more tame than his other collections but it still has a bit of content in it.

Good times.

Please drop a like or a comment if you read this. It makes me happy. :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dragons Of Winter Night by Weis and Hickman (finished)

I just finished Dragons Of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This is the second book in the Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy. The three books in the trilogy are Dragons of Autumn Twilight (great book, highly recommended), Dragons of Winter Night (the book that is being review here) and Dragons of Spring Dawning (I'll write about this book in a few weeks).

This story is about a motley group of campaigners including a magic user, some warriors, a thief, nations of elves and dwarves, etc. In the first book, they meet in a city called Solace. They are thrown into an adventure together when a strange old man in a tavern spur them on. The first book introduces chromatic dragons (evil dragons) into this world. Dragons had not been seen in this world, Krynn, in many many years. Many think that dragons are fairy tales. Autumn Twilight introduces Verminaard, an evil fighter/cleric as the main villan. This second book is about the discovery of the ancient dragon orbs and dragonlances. And how the old knights in the times of the Cataclysm defeated the ancient chromatic dragons and it also hints at the existance of good (metallic) dragons. This book introduces a second Dragon Highlord, a highlord that has close ties to the campaigners.

I read these books in high school and I loved them. Recently, I wanted to read them again because I loved the story so much. I expected to find them poorly written but I wanted to read them anyway because of nostalgia. I was surprised to find that they are actually very well written. I have been enjoying going through these gems from the past.

I don't really want to share more about the story because I think half the fun is discovering the surprises and twists.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It is fun to read and it is a great adventure story. It may seem to be a copy of the LORD of the RINGS but I assure you, it is not; it is a story in it's own right. I love these old gems from the past.
The writing is good.
The pacing is good.
The story is good.
And it has one of my favorite characters of all time, Raistlin.
I hope you choose this trilogy; it's outstanding.

As always, please drop a like or a comment if you read this. It blesses me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly (finished)

I just finished The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly.

The book is about a boy named David who lives in London during the time of World War II. After the death of his mother, David's father remarries Rose and has a child, Georgie. David misses his mom and has a hard time adjusting to this new life. Meanwhile, the books start to whisper to him and he is lured to another world, the world of fairy tales (kinda) when he falls into a crack in the garden of his new house.

In this new fairy tale world, he finds that all is not well. He meet many new people, some good and some not so good. He is also introduced to the crooked man, a truly evil person, in this new world. The fairy tales stories in this world are a little different than the ones that you are familiar with. The rest of the story is essentially David trying to find his way back home to London.

I thought the book was well written. The voice of the narrator was very much like the voice of Grimm's fairy tales. The story seems to be told in a 'far off' manner.

The pacing was good once you got to the fairy tale world. The first part, when David is in London, seemed to drag.

The retellings of the fairy tales were very interesting. I actually liked the twists.

The character in this story are very memorable and some were truly frightening as fairy tale monsters should be. Leroi, who is half man, half wolf is pretty frightening and a memorable character and so was the crooked man, the trickster.

I'm not quite sure who John Connolly wrote this for. It is essentially a fairy tale but this fairy tale is NOT for kids. It is violent and often a little disturbing. The book reminds me of the movie Pan's Labyrinth; it has the same flavor. I don't know if adults would really want to read this either because it is essentially a fairy tale. My guess is that most adults wouldn't really have a taste for it.

I thought the entire part about snow white and the 7 dwarves was a little out of place. There is a seriousness throughout the entire book except for this one part. It made the flavor of the book a little uneven.

I have no other conspicuous weaknesses that I can think of.

I liked the book once it got to the fairy tale world. The book had memorable characters, some brave and some disturbingly frightening. It is essentially a suspense/horror in the context of fairy tales. I thought it was well written. I would recommend this book keeping in mind that it is a little disturbing. Think, Stephen King meets Grimm's fairy tales. Well, I guess just Grimm's fairy tales in itself is pretty disturbing. Good times.

Drop a like or a comment if you read this. It blesses me. :)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saint Stephen's Green-A Restaurant Review

This is a review of Saint Stephen's Green, a restaurant in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia (which is a little north of the Art Museum). It is located on 1701 Green Street, Philadelphia PA, 19130. The closest intersection is Green and 17th street.

Saint Stephen's Green is an Irish pub restaurant.

The service was good. The waitress met our dining needs without being distracted. But we were there on a monday night so the place was pretty empty. I don't know how this place would have been if we were there on a weekend, when it is busy.

Both beers that were ordered were very good. I forget the names. Both were lighter beers, one was a wheat beer and the other was a lighter lager (the lager was the one on the beer page, 2nd from the bottom, listed right above the guiness).

The food was very, very good.

This is the Braised Open-Faced Chicken Cheese Steak. The fries were very good! And the Chicken Cheese Steak was OUTSTANDING. Probably the best I've had in the city.

This is the Grilled Curry Spiced Chicken Wrap. This was also very good. I'm a sucker for curry though so this may be biased.

1. The service was great
2. The food was great (chicken cheese steak was OUTSTANDING).
3. The atmosphere was good
4. The price was okay (about 10 to 15 bucks)
5. I highly recommend this place; I would definitely go back again.
6. I would rate this a 3.5. (1 is bad, 2 is okay, 3 is good, 4 is very good, 5 is best in the city)

Good times.

If you read this, drop a like or a comment. It blesses me. :)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Shark Handbook by Dr. Greg Skomal (finished)

I just finished The Shark Handbook, The Essential Guide For Understanding The Sharks Of The World, by Dr. Greg Skomal.

The book is about, can you guess, sharks.

Part One is about sharks in general, about their anatomy and conservation.

Part Two is about specific species of sharks. There are a couple of pages describing each major specie.

Overall, the book was very accessible and easy to read. This book is a great introduction and reference for sharks. It is jam packed with great pictures. The writing is both simple and engaging; very well done. If you are looking for a more technical book about sharks, you'll have to look somewhere else but if you are a novice, interested in learning more, this book is a great place to begin. I highly recommend this book. Good times.

Little known secret, one of my pastors at church is obsessed with sharks (in a good way). Can you guess who?

If you read this review, drop a 'like' or comment please. It blesses me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cuba Libre-A Restaurant Review

This is a restaurant review of Cuba Libre located in Old City Philadelphia near the intersection of 2nd Street and Market Street.

We went there on a Wednesday night. We drove around for a little while looking for street parking. We figured that i should be pretty easy to find street parking considering it was a wednesday night but not street parking was found. We had to park in a pay-parking lot for about $16 dollars (I think. And this reminds me, I still owe the drive money for parking. I feel like I am perpetually cursed with 20 dollar bills in my wallet--I guess that may be a blessing to some).

We were seated quickly; we had no reservations. I went to the restroom when the others were seated. Why do I mention this? Because I think one can tell a lot about a restaurant by the quality of the bathrooms. The verdict? The bathroom was roomy and clean. Good times.

The service was outstanding. The waitress was readily available without being intrusive--a rare combination. I was instructed by one of my friends to close my menu so that the waitress would know that we were ready to order. I closed by menu and said, "Does that really work?" Within 5 seconds, the waitress was at our table asking if we were ready to order. I laughed. :)

We were initially given flat bread and mango butter. It was okay. The bread was good (not too soft though; I like soft bread) but the mango butter was a little bland (not bad, but I was expecting something a little sweeter with a name like mango butter). This was complimentary.

I don't know the names of the appetizers that we ordered.

One was fried bananas that were sliced thin and, well, fried.

I felt that this was a little bland also. It was fun and novel but ultimately a little too bland for me.

I don't know the name of this appetizer either. It was a spicy patty. But again, this dish was a little too mild for me.

The mojitoes were outstanding (but on the expensive side, about 8 dollars if I remember correctly).

My friend ordered this sandwich. She said it was tasty. Don't know what it was called.

Another friend ordered this. Again I don't know what it was called. I did try some and it was pretty good. Tasted like cajan jambalaya.

I ordered this, plato cuba libre. It's essentially a sampler of all their most popular dishes. It had a small steak, a bisque and salmon. It was outstanding. Some of the best food I've had in a long time. I highly recommend this dish.

Overall, I thought the service was great, the atmosphere was cozy (a little dark though), and the food was hit or miss. My main reservation about this place was that the food seemed overpriced to me for what you were getting. If money is not an issue for you, I would recommend but if you are on a budget or fugal, I would look elsewhere. I moderately recommend the restaurant but I highly recommend the plato cuba libre. Good times, good times.

If you read this review, drop a like or a comment; it blesses me. Thanks.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Sibley Guide To Bird Life & Behavior (finished)

I just finished the National Audubon Society's The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, illustrated by David Allen Sibley, edited by Chris Elphick, John B. Dunning, Jr., and David Allen Sibley. Well, I kind of finished it. I read this for a grad class. I finished part I and selected chapters from part II.

The book was essentially divided into two parts. PART I, the World of Birds, discussed birds in general. The topics were (1) Flight, Form and Function, (2) Origins, Evolution, and Classification, (3) Behavior, (4) Habitats and Distributions and (5) Populations and Conservation. PART II, Bird Families of North America, described Bird Families of North America, e.g. ducks, hawks, hummingbirds, etc.

Each chapter was written by different authors, experts in each respective bird discipline and species.

Within each chapter, the book was broken down into smaller sections. The chapters may be read in pieces to facilitate the interest of the reader.

The book was written in an academic and accessible style. You don't need to any any prior expertise in ornithology to be able to learn from this book.

Overall, if you have an interest in learning more about birds, I would highly recommend this book. It cultivated my interest. I even went bird watching one day...and liked it! I used to make fun of bird-watchers (because of my own ignorance) but I think that I am beginning to understand people's fascination with these beautiful creatures. This book is a great introduction to the world of ornithology. Good times.

And again, if you read this review, drop a comment or a 'like'. It encourages me. :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bellini's Grill-A Restaurant Review

This is a review of the Bellini Grill, an Italian Restaurant in Center City. It is located on 220 S. 16th Street, walking distance from city hall and the Kimmel Center. Street parking is pretty hard to come by in this area so it is probably best to park at a garage. The price is about 15 to 20 dollars a dish.

Bellini is a BYO (and I love BYO's). But I came unprepared for this part of the meal. I know, I know. Shame on me. But I'll know better for the future.

The place was pretty quiet when we first got there. But as the evening continued and more people filled the restaurant, the conversation volume of the room was temperate for the whole evening.

The place is more on the fancy side. Unfortunately, I was wearing shorts and a polo shirt so only half of me was properly dressed. The atmosphere was nice, a semi-casual/fancy.

The service was great. Our dining needs were readily attended. But the waitress didn't smile so much, which was okay; I personally like smiling waitresses. In fact, if there was a category for non-smiling waitresses, she would have gotten the highest marks in that class.

Before any of our ordered food came, we were served bread and a semi-spicy dip. The bread was fresh Italian bread and the dip was very good.

We started with Caesar salad. Apparently, Caesar salads are pseudo-salads; they are not as healthy as regular salads. But they sure are delicious if you're into that sort of thing. Note: if you are a fan of protein foods like I am, you may want to skip the salad and head right into your main course.

The two dishes that were ordered were:
(1) Linguine Bolongese. If you look on the menu, there is no description of this dish. I suppose that this is because the name of the dish tells you everything you need to know. For example:
KYUNG: Excuse me, waitress. What kind of pasta is used in Linguine Bolongese?
WAITRESS: Linguine, sir.
KYUNG: Outstanding. Thank you.
The pasta was fresh and the dish was good. The pasta tended to be on the al dente side. The portions were very generous.
(2) Chicken Parmesana. This dish came with two cut generous cuts of Chicken Parmesana and a side of al dente linguine. It was good also.

We did not get any dessert. :(

Overall, the atmosphere was good (a little on the fancy side; don't wear shorts), the food was good (but not the best italian food i've ever had). The service was very good. I would eat here again. Maybe before an orchestra performance at the Kimmel or before a jazz show at Chris's. The location is great in facilitating a lot of center city activities. I moderately recommend Bellini's Grill. Nothing in the place was bad but nothing really caught my attention as outstanding either. Good times.

NOTE: If you read this, drop a comment or a "like". It encourages me. :) Spanks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The New Testament Documents by F. F. Bruce (finished)

I just finished The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable by F. F. Bruce.

Mark Dever recommended this book, along with Fundamentalism And The Word Of God by J. I. Packer and Christ And The Bible by John Wenham (Wenham's book is out of print but can be easily purchased second hand through amazon), in a message that he gave at New Attitude 2008. (Note: this message was outstanding and if you can find it on the Internet, I would highly recommend it.) Most books I read are due to recommendations and who better to take recommendations from than Mark Dever. I took a chance, bought these books, and began to read.

The New Testament Documents is an introduction to the historical study of the New Testament. The writing is easily accessible but academic; you do not need a linguistic or historic training to benefit from this book.

The following are the chapter names:
1. Does It Matter?--By the way, the answer to this question is 'yes'.
2. The New Testament Documents: Their Date And Attestations--i.e. what year was each book of the New Testament written? Who wrote each book? How close is the original text compared to our modern New Testament?
3. The Cannon Of The New Testament--i.e. how was inclusion of the cannon decided?
4. The Gospel--i.e. how were the books written? Who wrote what first? Why is the gospel according to John different from the other three gospels?
5. The Gospel Miracles--i.e. did the miracles happen? How did people during the time of Jesus interpret the miracles?
6. The Importance of Paul's Evidence--i.e. does Paul's writing agree with the gospels?
7. The Writings of Luke--This chapter elucidates Acts and describes Luke as a historian of exceptional ability and of the highest caliber.
8. More Archeological Evidence--This chapter describes the corresponding archeological evidence with the New Testament.
9. The Evidence Of Early Jewish Writing--i.e. What early Jewish writings mention Christ and the early church? How did the writings view Christ and the early church?
10. The Evidence Of Early Gentile Writing--i.e What early gentile writings mention Christ and the early church? How did the writings view Christ and the early church?

The book is short, about 125 pages.

It is written academically and Bruce writes eloquently. I was stirred by the serious scholarship of the material and its evenhanded and concise presentation.

Personally, I forget that writings exist about Christ and the early church outside of the Bible. I especially loved the last two chapters, which describe how the Jews and gentiles viewed Christ and the church. I was also affected by how early writings all attest Christ as a historical person. No writing denies the miracles.

This review is too long already--many apologies--so I am going to cut it off here.

Overall, I think that every person who wants to study the Bible, even in a cursory way, should read this book. It wasn't a fast read--you should read it slowly--but it was relatively easy. I highly recommend this book. F. F. Bruce, and those that precede him, has done all the work for us. In exchange for a few hours of our time, we can gain many, many hours (maybe years or even lifetimes) of research and scholarship of absolutely invaluable information. That's a bargain if I've ever heard of one.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling (finished)

I just finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling.  Actually, I listened to it this time around.  I have it on audio book read by Jim Dale.

A young man, Harry Potter, who has struggled with feeling unremarkable his whole life, wakes up one day to discover that he has been invited to Hogwarts school of Wizardry.  There, he discovers that he is no ordinary boy, that he is the boy who lived, the boy who survived an attack from the most powerful dark wizard that the world has ever known.  And what is more remarkable is that he survived the attack and he survived when he was only an infant.  Nobody, including Harry, knows how this happened.  The book is about Harry's 1st year--of 6 total years--at Hogwarts school of magic and this book marks the beginning of his magic education and battles with Voldemort.

The book was well written.  I think that J. K. Rowling is a very talented writer.

The story was well paced.

Harry was very likable and you ended up rooting for him right from the start.

The cast of characters that Rowling created were outstanding: Ron, Hermione, Snape, Dumbledore, and McGonnagal to name a few.  Each character had their own personality and worldview.

I liked the mystery that she incorporates and the revelation (the a-ha moments) at the end of the book, when everything was explained.

The book seemed to have a little bit of everything; it was a mystery book, fantasy book and boarding school novel (in the Dickens tradition) all at the same time.  I felt like it was a balanced meal with respect to all the things that she incorporated and tried to balance.  I think she balanced these elements very well.

A note on Jim Dale's performance.  Jim Dale has to be the most talented audio book reader that I've ever heard.  He brought these characters to life, much better than the first Harry Potter movie.   Jim Dale's performance was truly outstanding!

I felt that the only weakness was that the beginning of the book was a little too silly.  I know that it is supposed to be a book for children but the manner in which the Dursley's tried to stop the letters from getting to Harry was too much for me.  But once he got to Diagon Alley, all was well.

Young people should read this with their parents (or rather, parents should read this with their children).  Harry ends up doing some questionable things--he always seems to be breaking rules to defeat Voldemort.  Parents should discuss Harry's choices with their kids and I think that this book provides a great discussion on the value of rules and why we have them.  I have a Harry Potter-Nietzchean Superman theory.  If you are curious about this, ask me about it the next time you see me (most likely, I already shared this with you).

Overall, I highly recommend the book.  It was very entertaining, even the second time around.  The book was well written (only the beginning was a little too silly).  The book was a great combination of a number of genres and I think that it was balanced well.  Good times.

ESV Holy Bible by God (finished)

I do not judge the Holy Bible, the Holy Bible judges me.  :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince-A Movie Review

I just saw Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in the theater tonight.  (I also can't sleep so this is a 2:30 am review).

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the 6th movie in a series of 8 movies (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the 7th book, will be split into two movies).  This movie is about Harry's junior year at Hogwarts.  Dumbledore takes a lot of initiative to hire a new potions teacher, Horace Slughorn.  Slughorn has some invaluable information about Voldemort that he is unwilling to share.  In the meantime, Harry finds a potions book filled with hand written notes in the margins by the Half-Blood Prince, a mysterious unknown person from Hogwart's past.  The book has valuable information that helps make better potions and it also hold spells that are very dangerous.  Harry must help Dumbledore obtain the secret from Slughorn.  In the meantime, Draco is chosen by Voldemort to carry out a task that may mean ruin for Dumbledore.

The pacing of the movie was very good; much of the tedium of the book was corrected in this movie.

The entire movie had a bluish-green tint to it that gave me a cold, uneasy feeling.  I think that the director did this to try to create a darker mood for the film.  I felt that he was successful in creating an appropriate mood for this story.

The actors, especially the ones who play Harry, Ron and Hermione, were very good.  They have grown up to be very fine actors.  Their charisma really caught and held my attention.

There was a good amount of comedy/jokes in the film.  It gave a good juxtaposition for the darkness and seriousness in this movie.

There was a lot of teen romance.  This may be the only weakness in the film for me.  The romance itself wasn't bad but there was just a little too much of it--but this is a minor point.

The special effects were outstanding.

I really liked Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Bellatrix Lestrange in this movie (she was in Fight Club and Hamlet with Mel Gibson).  She just seemed like an especially evil villain.

Snape was my favorite character in this story and in a lot of ways, throughout the entire series.  I think that Snape is a complex character.  It is not always clear why he does what he does and I like that aspect of him.  Alan Rickman did a great job portraying Snape.  NOTE: is it only me but every time I see Alan Rickman, I still see the villain from the first Die Hard movie in my head.

Unlike the other films (so I've been told) where you can watch the movie without having seen any of the previous installments, this movie assumes that you are familiar with all the previous movies/books.  There was very little introduction of character or story explanation.  I liked this aspect because I felt like the director respected me as a viewer and it helped with the pacing of the movie.  So one thing you may want to do before you see this film is watch the others (or read the books).

With respect to content, there was no overt sexuality (except an occasional snog) or profanity.  There were a few suspenseful scenes which may scare elementary age children.

Overall, a very good film.  I highly recommend it.  In my highly unqualified personal opinion, I think that film is good for anyone in junior high school or older.  The pacing of the movie and the quality of the directing, acting and effects were all very good.

Oh, make sure you turn off your cell phone at the beginning of the movie and if it rings, please don't answer and have a conversation on the phone as the movie is going on.  :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I just read Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult with my esteemed colleague, MB.  

Nineteen Minutes was about a Columbine-like high school shooting and the aftermath.  The book was written non-chronologically; the book goes back and forth (alternating chapters) between present day and flash-back.

In the book, a 17 year old high school student, Peter Houghton, was bullied by "popular" students ever since he started school.  Josie Cormier used to his best friend as a kid but as she got older, she chose popularity over Peter.  After another bullying incident (one in which we don't find out about until the end of the book), Peter is driven over the edge and resorts to violence to resolve his bullying problem.

(1)  Jodi Picoult is a competent writer with respect to usage.

(2)  The beginning was compelling.

(1) The book was corny.  All the characters were caricatures.  I felt like I was seeing this world through the eyes of someone who has no idea how real people act or think.  Her picture of high school is horribly skewed; high school does not look like this. 

(2)  None of the characters were likable.  All the characters were selfish and flippant towards everyone.  I was confused about who I should root for.  Peter, the high school shooter?  Josie, the suicidal, selfish and self-righteous girl who kept her emotionally unstable mother at bay?  Alex, the insecure judge who was more concerned about other people liking her?  Patrick, the cop who gave egregiously inappropriate responses to people from the shooting?  

(3)  All the characters were essentially the same.  They struggled with the same insecurities and they viewed the world in essentially the same way.  The only characters that were different were the bullies and they were so two-dimensional that I could slice bread with them.

(4)  The pacing of the book was horrible.  It was good for the first 100 pages and then it dragged for the rest of the book.


(6)  There were loose ended plot points that she never picked up again.

(7)  There were too many teen issues addressed at the same time.

(8)  The list could go on but I don't want to think about this book anymore.

I do not recommend this book--not even just a little bit.  I think that the topic of school shootings is a pretty serious thing and the story seemed to say that the shooter was a victim and we should feel sorry for them.  And that makes me want to puke.  The writing usage was competent but almost every facet of the the story was horrible.

...and then I found two bucks.