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...