Friday, December 31, 2010

Angel, After The Fall, Volume 2 by Joss Whedon (Grade: C-)


I just finished Angel, After The Fall, Volume 2.

This volume is a collection of short stories by different writers and artists.  Each story is centered on what happened to each character between Angel Season 5's season finale and Angel, After The Fall, Volume 1.

This graphic novel was uneven, as is common with most short story collections.  None of the stories were developed enough to engage me as a reader.

None of them every horribly bad but none of the stories were particularly good either.  Nothing really happened in each of the shorts.

The art was uneven also.  Some of the stories had good artwork but some of the art was not very good at all.

Overall, I felt the stories were weak and the art was uneven.  It wasn't overtly bad but it was close.  I'm going to try one more volume of Angel to see if it redeems itself but I am not holding my breath.  I grade this a C-. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Triathlete Magazine's Guide To Finishing Your First Triathlon by T. J. Murphy (GRADE: B+)


I just finished Triathlete Magazine's Guide To Finishing Your First Triathlon by T. J. Murphy.

This book is for beginners, which is good because I am a beginner.

The book is essentially broken up into five parts:
(1) Introduction.  The gist of this section is this: YAY!  YOU CAN DO IT.  I liked reading this part.  It got me really excited about doing a TRI.
(2) The Equipment.  This section gives you a good overview of what you need to buy or have in order to do a SPRINT Triathlon.
(3) Nutrition.  I liked this section because it gave practical information as well as technical information.  Such as a guy should eat about 3000 Calories a day during training and this is an example of a typical meal, etc.
(4) Technique.  I really liked the section on swimming which is my weakest leg of the TRI.  The running and the cycling parts were fine but the information was basic.
(5) Thoughts and advice on the actual race itself.  I liked this section because it gave a good idea of race day and the common errors people make.  Hopefully, I won't make the same errors because I have the information in this book.

The book has thick glossy pages.  It is fully of great pictures.  It is written well.  This is the kind of book that a person will actually read cover to cover.  It has great information and it doesn't assume that a person knows anything about TRIATHLONS.

I have also bought some other technical books on TRIs.  I thought that this book was good to have because the writing is inspirational and the text doesn't assume that you know anything about the sport.  It was actually fun to read.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is trying out TRIs for the first time.  I thought it was a great book.  I grade this book a B+.  It would be an A if it had everything that I wanted in a TRI book but it did not.  I had to supplement the information in this book with other TRI books.  This book lacked a lot of the technical aspect of the sport but my guess is the author deliberately left that stuff out to make the book more accessible to beginners.  But overall, a great book.

Heir To The Empire by Timothy Zahn (GRADE: B)


I just finished Heir To The Empire by Timothy Zahn, a Hugo Award-Winner author.  This is the first book of a trilogy.  It was a fun read but I can't picture myself reading this book again.  I grade this book a B.  The story was good, the pacing was good and the writing was good.

Heir To The Empire is set about 5 years after return of the Jedi.  The Empire (the side the the Emperor and Darth Vader controlled) still exists and the Alliance (the side with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, etc) have gained much power and control of the galaxy after the Battle of Endor.

There were 12 Grand Admirals during the time of the Emperor in the Empire.  After the fall of the Emperor, all the Grand Admirals were thought to have been dealt with but one has escaped the notice of the Alliance, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a alien with blue skin and red eyes that is unusually intelligent.  With Thrawn leading, the Empire has started to gain victories over the Alliance.

In the midst of this, an insane Jedi is found, Master C'Baoth; a young lady, Mara Jade, who has joined the successor to Jabba the Hut, is determined to find and kill Luke Skywalker; and there is political strife in the newly established Alliance.

The writing is good (but on the simple side).  My guess is because the book's target demographic is high school aged boys.

The pacing is good.  Each scene is relatively short and no scene is over 20 pages long.  This is both a strength and a weakness.  It is a strength because it keeps the reader's attention but it is a weakness because it limits character development.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book.  It was only a part of a story--it is the first book in a trilogy (I am currently reading the second book in the series, Dark Force Rising)--so the actual judgment of the full story must wait until all three books are read.  The writing and the pacing were both good and the book definitely kept my interest.  So if you liked the Star Wars movies, I would highly recommend you check out this book (or the whole trilogy if they turn out to be good).  I would grade this book a B.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Pale Of Settlement by Margot Singer (GRADE: A)


I just finished The Pale Of Settlement by Margot Singer.  The Pale of Settlement was the 2006 winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, a very prestigious award.  I grade this collection of short stories an A.

The Pale of Settlement is a collection of 9 short stories about a family of Jewish people, some American Jews and some Israeli Jews.  The stories can be read independently but in another way, all the stories are like puzzle pieces that make up a whole picture of this family.  In this way, it reminded me of the Joy Luck Club (which I also liked very much, see previous entry).

The writing is probably some of the best I've ever read.  In fact, at times, I felt really stupid reading this book.  Frequently, as I read the book, I would get the feeling that I was reading something symbolic or that the story itself is a metaphor or that there are mirrors and juxtapositions but I couldn't wrap my non-literature mind around it.  The writing was a mix between poetry and prose; it was truly beautiful.

As a Korean-American, I could very much relate to the feeling of displacement that Susan, one of the characters in the family in the Pale of Settlement, felt; she neither felt fully American nor fully Jewish.  She was both and neither at the same time and in the same way.  A contradiction.  But a contradiction that every foreign born american feels (I'm guessing).

The stories were very much character driven.  At times, plot helps in driving the story but this collection of short stories was more about diving deep into the characters and not so much about defeating an enemy or overcoming an obstacle.  The resolutions were subtle as was pretty much everything in this book.

Overall, this book was great!  At times it was a little difficult to read--she doesn't stick with conventional prose writing but I assure you, that it is worth the time and effort.  I grade this an A.  It would have been an A+ if I were smarter but I felt like I missed a lot of the things the author tried to do.  At the end of this book, I was very tempted to flip the book around and begin reading it again.  Good times.

ANGEL, After the Fall, Volume 1 by Joss Whedon (GRADE: B+)


I just finished ANGEL, After the Fall, Volume 1 by Joss Whedon.  I would grade this a B+.

ANGEL, After the Fall is essentially season 6 (FOX had canceled Angel after 5 seasons).  After the Fall picks up where Season 5 leaves off, well, almost.  There are some things that are revealed during this graphic novel that communicate what happens in the interim between S5 and S6.

Overall, I thought the story was engaging.  I liked the faster pace of the graphic novel.  I thought the art was outstanding.  And the flavor of the comic was the same as the TV show which I liked.  I grade this a B+.  Fun to read but it was not profound or provocative, just fun.  Good times. 

ROBOTECH, Doomsday by Jack McKinney (GRADE: B+)


I just finished ROBOTECH Doomsday by Jack McKinney.  Doomsday is parts 4, 5, and 6 of a SIX part series based on the ROBOTECH animated series, which was aired in the United States in 1985.  OVERALL, I thought Doomsday was a fun read and I would grade it a B+.

There are SIX books that chronicle the MACROSS series, the first 36 episodes, describing the first ROBOTECH war.  The first three books were compiled in the book compilation called BATTLECRY (see previous entry), including the books (1) Genesis, (2) Battlecry, and (3) Homecoming.  DOOMSDAY is a compilation of (4) Battlehymn, (5) Force of Arms and (6) Doomsday.  DOOMSDAY picks up where BATTLECRY leaves off.  The SDF-1 has made it back to earth but earth does not want the SDF-1 to remain, the military wants the SDF-1 to leave earth in hopes that the Zentraedi will follow the SDF-1 and leave earth alone.

The tone of the books, all the books, is a little campy at times and very serious at other times.

The pacing of the book is good.  The writer doesn't stay in one particular scene for very long and things that don't translate well from the animated series to the book, the author quickly mentions it in the book and then moves on.

The character development is uneven: some of the characters are well developed while others are not.  Some of the changes in the characters are very sudden and a little jarring.

The love triangle between Minmei, Rick and Lisa is a major element of the drama in the series.  Some of it is very well done and some of the resolutions are jarring.

I thought that Jack McKinney's version of the ROBOTECH MACROSS series was better than the animated series itself.  McKinney attempts to explain in the text the things that were sudden (and some things that were silly).  I liked McKinney vision of Robotech.  I grade this book a B+.  It was a fun, light read.  It was a little too campy at time but the campy-ness was definitely redeemed by the cool dogfights and action in the book.  Plus, McKinney adds scenes in the book that are helpful in understanding the story and, in places where the animated series simply doesn't make much sense, McKinney changes it in the book to something that is more plausible and sometimes clever.

Overall, I thought it was a fun read.  I grade this book a B+.  It wasn't high literature but I don't think it was meant to be.  Good times.  :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Night Shift by Stephen King (GRADE: B)


I just finished Night Shift by Stephen King this morning.  Night Shift is an early collection of short stories, published in 1978.  NOTE: I'm kind of into short stories now.  This collection includes Children of the Corn which was made into a movie of the same name; Trucks which was also turned into a movie, directed by Stephen King, and titled Maximum Overdrive; and The Lawnmower Man, which was also made into a movie, which had almost nothing to do with the short story; some of these stories were made into short movies, the collection of short movies was released under the name Cat's Eye.

How does one review a collection of short stories?  Well, one way is to review each story one at a time but that seems a little tedious to write and, I'm imagining, tedious to read.  So I will choose three that I liked and write about them.  Why three?  WHY NOT!  Anyhoo.

BATTLEGROUND is about a hit-man named Renshaw who is hired to kill a toy maker.  A box is mailed to him and it is full of tiny army men and equipment.  The one inch army men are functional and so is the equipment.  Their bullets feel like bee stings and the propellers of the helicopters slices Renshaw's hands to the bone.  This story is about Renshaw and his encounter with the little army men.  I liked this story.  As a kid, I've imaged my toys coming to life but in my imagination, the toys were my friends.  What if the toys were not your friends?  Well, that is what this story is about.

THE LEDGE is about a tennis pro, Stan Norris, who is sleeping with a dangerous powerful crime lord's wife.  The crime lord, Cressner, says that he will let Norris go and give him money and let his wife go with Norris, if Norris is willing to do one thing, walk along a 6 inch ledge around the outside of his apartment building; Cressner is expecting Norris to fall and thus exact revenge on him.  This is Stan Norris's story about the walk around the building.  I liked this story also.  This is a great example of a simple story that is plot/suspense driven.  Well done, Mr. King

THE LAST RUNG ON THE LADDER.  All I'll say about this story is that it made me cry.  Good times.

Overall, most of the stories were very good.  King's stories are mostly plot driven instead of 'slice-of-life'.  I liked most of the stories but, as is common with most collections, even if all the stories are by the same author, some stories in Night Shift were strong while others are not as strong.  But an enjoyable read for the most part.  I rate this book a B.  Some stories were As and most were Bs and maybe one was a C.  Good times.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund (GRADE: B)


I just finished The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund a couple of days ago.  It is a Flannery O'Conner Award for Short Fiction, a very prestigious award for short story writers.  My feelings are mixed about this book.  Essentially, the writing is excellent; she is a master of writing short fiction.  But many of the short stories didn't resonate with me, partially because the stories are more character driven than plot driven and, in a lot of ways, her worldview is really different than my own.

It is hard to write a review of this book/collection of short stories in a coherent manner.  If I may, I would like to just give a few random thoughts:

1.  Ostlund is a brilliant writer.  She uses words like a painter uses a brush.
2.  Some of the characters were teachers.  Her insights about education and students were provocative and the education aspect of her stories did resonate with me.  I especially like her passing comment on how the main character did not know when teachers became the keepers of students' self-esteem.
3.  Some of the stories were just bizarre like The Children Beneath the Seat.  I just couldn't get over the image of vomit rolling on the floor of the bus as the children were positioned on the floor under the seat.
4.  Minnesota was mentioned often and many of the characters came from Minnesota, but the stories were seldom set there.
5.  The story, The Bigness of the World, was set apart from the others, both in flavor and writing.  I thought this story was outstanding and very accessible.  In my opinion, this story by itself is worth the cost of the book.  I have seldom read a character as rich as Ilsa Maria Lumpkin, the nanny in this story.
6.  I really liked the quirky idiosyncrasies that she gave each character.  And the idiosyncrasies are, not only well thought out, but memorable.  She was very good at character development.  

Overall, Ostlund is a brilliant writer.  Most of the stories didn't resonate with me as I was reading them; it was only in discussion with a friend, after I had finished the book, that I realized the writing was outstanding.  The stories are on the melancholic side (but, then again, most modern short stories are).  I grade this book a B, (an A for the writing but a C for the stories being engaging to me--but of course, that has more to do with me as a reader than her as a writer--averaging to a B).

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cell by Stephen King (GRADE: B)


I finished Cell by Stephen King a couple of weeks ago.  Before I even picked up this book, I heard all sorts of bad reviews for Cell.  After reading it, I can say that most of the bad reviews are greatly exaggerated.  I liked the book.  It wasn't his greatest masterpiece but it was an enjoyable read.  I grade Cell by Stephen King a 'B'.

Summary of Cell:
In Boston, Clayton Riddell, a graphic comic artist, observes people on cell phones simultaneously transform into violent, mindless 'zombies' that physically assault and try to kill each other.  Clay has an estranged wife and son and he wonders if they have been affected.  In the book, Clay, along with with Tom McCourt, a middle aged man, and Alice Maxwell, a teenage girl, travel to Kent Pond, Vermont, to find the status of his wife and son.  Along the way, the trio meet others: a professor and a boy at a school, some punks traveling fast in a car through ruined streets, and others.

I thought the writing was pretty good.  The action started immediately at the beginning of the book.  The only characters that were really developed were Clay, Tom and Alice.  I especially liked the character of Alice; her development was enjoyable (and at times really sad).

Stephen King's view of man as intrinsically bad is interesting.  It reminded me of John Calvin's view of total depravity, a man, deep down inside, is essentially evil and selfish; there are good parts of man but there are no parts of man that is untouched by sin.

I can see why people didn't like the story.  It doesn't answer the questions that similar novel will answer (usually tritely).  This book is novel length but it feels more like a short story, more of a slice of life story.  There can be much more to the novel, all the questions can be answered but the story essentially is complete where King ends it.  I didn't mind the ending. I thought that it was melancholically appropriate.

The pacing the book was faster in this book than most Stephen King books.  He got right to the action.

The writing I thought was good.

The characters that were developed where developed well but there were a lot of characters that came and went.

I love the personality pictures that King creates.  I especially liked the picture of the professor and the boy surviving on their own at the school surrounded by killer zombies.

Overall, I thought the book was good.  I enjoyed reading it.  It wasn't a masterpiece like the Stand but I don't think that it was meant to be.  I think that King wanted to write a medium to short length novel about zombies that was interesting to read and I think that he achieved his goal.

I grade this book a B.  :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 edited by Laura Furman (GRADE: B)


I just finished The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 edited by Laura Furman.  It is a collection of 20 short stories, the prize winners for the year 2009, written by a variety of writers of all ages and ethnicity.  This collection has both the strength and weakness of most short story collection, it is uneven; it has a few duds as well as a few gems.  I grade this collection a B.

Thousands of stories are entered in for every year for this prize and these are the 20 winners.  It is one of the most prestigious short story awards around today.  (The other one that I am familiar with is the Flannery O'Conner Award for Short Fiction but this award publishes, usually, 10 short stories by the same author, instead of a collection of authors.)

I've been reading a lot of short stories lately.  I like that I can read one in its entirety in one sitting, over one cup of coffee or hot chocolate or whatever specialty drink is available at Starbucks (I think I read one over a pumpkin latte.  Hmmmm, pumpkin latte.)

This collection, like most collection, is uneven.  Some stories don't resonate with me and I have a hard time getting through them.  Some stories are really really good.  I guess that is why I read collections so I can find these gems that I would not be able to find otherwise.  Overall, most of the stories were pretty good.

Three that caught my attention are the following:

I really really liked Twenty-two Stoires by Paul Theroux.  It is his version of a long story, short.  Each story is about a page long.  I was amazed as how much I got into one of these short stories in such a short amount of time.  It was also a great study for me on the essential elements of story.

I really liked Kind by L. E. Miller.  It is a story about forgiveness and regret and tying up loose ends.  The architecture of this story was great and I like how there was great mirroring via specific words in this story.

I also liked The House Behind a Weeping Cherry by Ha Jin.  I guess it is what the movie Pretty Woman would have been like if it wasn't far-fetched.  This is a pulpable and gritty love story about a prostitute and a man that discovers that he's in love and tries to save her.

Overall, I liked this collection.  There were more good stories than bad.  I grade this a B.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (GRADE: C)


I just finished Anathem by Neal Stephenson.  It was recommended to me by my esteemed colleague AB.  I wanted to like this book but at the end of it, there were too many weaknesses in the narrative.  This book gets a grade of C.

I found the following review:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/04/AR2008090402460.html

It pretty much sums up the way I feel about the book.  Check it out if you want a more thorough review of the book (and a better written review).

The story is essentially this:  This earth-like world is divided in two ways: saeculars and the avout (or monks).  The monks in this world don't worship God but worship mathematics and science.  The main character is a young avout named Erasmus.  A space ship is seen in the sky with telescopes and is seen to be a possible threat to the world.  The book is about the discovery of the space ship, elucidating information about the space ship and eventually confronting the spaceship.

The main weakness of this book was the exposition.  There was simply too much of it.

The writing was good but the pacing was very poor.  At times, the story was engaging but frequently, the story or plot would be halted by philosophical talk about multiple universes or philosophy.

The book could have been about 300 pages and very good but instead it was 900 pages and relatively boring.

Don't get me wrong.  Stephenson's book is very intelligent and even clever at time and I can imagine that it was very hard to write but he forgot the first rule of storytelling.  You always have to serve the plot!  You always have to serve the story!  I feel he got enamored by the world that he created and spent too much time on things that didn't serve the plot.

Overall, I do not recommend the book.  At times it was engaging but the pace for most of the book was slow and it dragged, a lot!  I grade this book a C.  I really wanted to like it but I just couldn't get past the poor pacing.  Sorry Mr. Stephenson.  And sorry AB, my recommender.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Plot by Ansen Dibell (4 stars of 5)


I just finished Plot by Ansen Dibell.

Plot is a non-fiction book for aspiring writers who want to learn the basics of the mechanics of plot.  The book was good; I learned a lot.  It didn't have any secrets about writing that I couldn't figure out myself by reading a lot of books.  But what the book did do was help me put a name and organize the concepts that I subconsciously recognized in reading other people's book.  There were a lot of A-HA or YES I RECOGNIZE THAT IN BOOKS THAT I'VE READ moments as I read.

I was a little confused about some of her choices for examples of good plot but then I realized that she wasn't picking the choices for creative genius but rather for accessibility to the reader.  She talked about EMPIRE STRIKES BACK a lot and I mean a lot.  I thought initially that she did this because she thought it was a work of profound PLOT genius but then, after further thought, she probably picked this story because most people are familiar with the story.  Another story she mentions a lot was LORD OF THE FLIES and REBECCA.

As I'm reading about learning how to be a better writer, I'm actually becoming a better reader.  As I read through short stories, novels and even movies and tv shows, I'm realizing all the mirror and patterns and juxtapositions that are commonly used that I never noticed before.

Overall, this book was good.  It definitely delivered on what it promised.  I learned about plot, the beginning, the middle and the end.  There was less HOW TO and more DESCRIPTION of ELEMENTS OF PLOT but I appreciated the writing and the few tips that she gave.  She also describes common pitfalls which was helpful.  I liked how she gave a lot of examples from books/stories/movies that I was familiar with.  I rate this a 4 out of 5, minus one star because I was hoping for some secrets or things that I would not have noticed on my own but didn't get.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Green Mile by Stephen King (5 stars of 5)


I just finished The Green Mile by Stephen King a couple of days ago.  I thought it was a really good book.  It was well written and the story was engaging and satisfying.  I give it 5 stars out of 5.

The Green Mile is told as a first person narrative from the perspective of Paul Edgecomb about his time as a prison guard in the Green Mile, where they execute prisoners by electricity until dead.  It is set in the 1930s during the great depression in the United States.  John Coffey, a gentle but very large, black man is brought into the prison for killing two girls and he is to stay at the Green Mile until his date of execution.  This story how John Coffey changed Paul Edgecomb's life.

Stephen King wrote this as a serial.  In other words, he wrote this in monthly installments.  The first 90 pages came out in March 1996 and about 30 days later, the next installment came out.  Stephen King wants to keep his writing fresh and he keeps on trying new things to achieve that goal.  In this case, he tried to write a serial novel to keep his writing fresh.  King says that it was a good experience but he would not do it again.  He liked and didn't like the pressure of having 90 pages complete in one month; he liked the excitement of keeping the story going but he said that it was hard to write that much in such a short time.  Also, he said that he does like that the critics get a chance to lambaste him 6 times (one for each installment) instead of just once.

I think this is a great story for character study.  John Coffey = J. C. = Jesus Christ, perhaps.  Percy Wetmore, a bad man out of incarceration compared to Wild Bill Wharton, a bad man that is incarcerated.  Eduard "Del" Delacroix is portrayed as a person who is a victim of Percy's malice; I found it interesting that I frequently forgot that he murdered six people.  This book is full of character gems.

The story, as with all of King's novels, has it's own pace, some slow (in a good way) and some really fast.  I really like the pacing of Mr. King's books.  This one was on the quicker side because the book was about 400 pages, slim for a King novel.

The story itself was very engaging, brilliant at times.

I really liked the character of John Coffey.  You'll have to read the book or watch the movie to find out what is so interesting about him.

Wild Bill Wharton was a bad, bad man.  King writes the best bad guys, I think.

NOTE about the movie.  The movie, which I saw tonight, was very good.  At one point, I found myself tearing.  I thought the movie was true to the book, flavor and all.  The casting was particularly impressive.

Overall, I thought The Green Mile was a well written and engaging story with very interesting characters.  I would highly recommend this book.  I rate it 5 out of 5 stars.  :)  Until the next time...

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter (5 stars of 5)



I just finished reading The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter a few days ago.  This book won the Flannery O'Conner award for short fiction in 2007.  I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.  If I could, I would rate this 6 stars!  But that would be silly, like a coach yelling to his players, "Give me one hundred and ten percent!"  We all know that all we can give is one hundred percent; that is all we have.  Anyhoo...

The Theory of Light and Matter is a collection of ten short stories.  Each story is about relationship in suburbia.  None of the main characters are super rich or super poor.  Porter is writing about the middle class and the struggle they have with relationship and dissatisfaction with life.

What struck me the most about Porter was his writing.  He is an OUTSTANDING and BRILLIANT writer.  The writing is fluid and effortless.  If I may say, Porter is to short stories and Federer is to tennis or Beethoven is to music.  I was so impressed with Porter's writing.


I've tried to read short stories in the past and, for me, they have been very difficult.  The hardest part about reading short stories was the conclusion; I would get to the conclusion or resolution and I just wouldn't 'get it'.  Porter's stories are different.  As I got to the end of his stories, I would get lost in his word's and descriptions; I would get caught up in his characters; and when I got to the end, it would feel like a real resolution (unlike the confusing shorts that I've read in the past).  The interesting part for me was I didn't know why the endings were so satisfying.  This gave me a lot to think about and I think fiction that provokes thought is a very good thing.

At the beginning of some of the shorts, I felt a little tentative because I thought that it would become corny and cliche because of the subject matter.  Porter never went to the cliche.  He always wrote to develop character and story.


So, overall, the writing was brilliant and the pacing was perfect.  His characters, his stories...outstanding.  I couldn't recommend this book highly enough.  I rate this book a 5 stars out of 5.  Until the next time, keep reading Constant Reader...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (5 stars of 5)


I just finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.  This is my second time through this series of books and Goblet of Fire is still good on its second reading.  I rate this 5 stars out of 5.

In Goblet of Fire, Harry is mysteriously chosen to be a school champion, representing Hogwarts, in a Tri-wizard tournament.  Each trial in the tournament is dangerous, even life-threatening.  Harry must uncover the mystery of who and why his name was submitted for the tournament as well as successfully complete each of the trials without losing his life.

Out of the seven books in this series, all of which are good, I think this one may be my favorite.

I think the writing is good (except I think that she uses too many adverbs).  I liked how she tried to break out of her plot formula that she developed and used and reused in her previous three installments.  I also liked that she expanded the Wizarding world internationally.  I enjoyed the german and french wizarding students in this school.

I thought the pace of the book was very good, which is significant because this is the largest of the first four books; usually longer books are vulnerable to pacing issues.  But this book definitely kept my interest; I did not find myself wondering, "hey, I wonder what is on tv." as I was reading.

I thought this book was pivotal in the series; she seems to be writing for an older audience at this point.  I would not consider this a children's book; there are elements of action/suspence and violence that I would have have reservations about for young kids.  But because of the more-adult nature of this book, she is able to delve deeper into Harry's character (which is a good thing).

I really like Victor Crumb's character, a superstar but vulnerable (as seen when talking to Harry about a particular young lady).

I think J K Rowling hates the press as shown by her depiction of Rita Skeeter.  She was a character that I loved to dislike.

Overall, I thought this was a great book.  I really enjoyed reading it.  I rate it 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Anthem by Ayn Rand (4 stars of 5)


I just finished Anthem by Ayn Rand.  This work by Rand is a smart and thought provoking novella.  If you are interested in exploring Ayn Rand's philosophy but feel intimidated by the massive size of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, this may be the book for you.  I give Anthem by Ayn Rand 4 stars out of 5.

Anthem is about a future socialist, collectivist society.  This society is similar to the idea of government that the Soviet Union tried to implement during mid to late 20th century.  Equality 7-2521 is the main character of the story and the book is written through the perspective of Equality 7-2521 via his journal.  In this society, it is unknown to use the word "I".  Because all men are equal and community is the end-all, everyone refers to themselves as "we".  Equality 7-2521 is restless and starts to find the collectivist society lacking, though he cannot put words or even thoughts to his feelings.  He notices a girl (but falling in love is forbidden in this society because it is selfish).  He discovers something that may help society very much but the leaders of this society may not see things in the same way.

I find Ayn Rand's writing very appealing.  I think that she is a very good writer.  She is clear and coherent.  The book and its story is easy to read and very accessible (even though her philosophy may be a little more difficult to understand).

I find her philosophy strangely appealing and romantic in my heart but I know in my head that it is fundamentally wrong.  I think that she puts her hope too much in man and if one has total faith in man, they are bound to be disappointed.

The pacing of the story was very fast.

I may be wrong for calling this novella a story.  To me, it actually wasn't a story because it has no real resolution.  When you read it, you'll see what I mean.  It seems to me just a context set to communicate her philosophy of the virtue of selfishness and humanism.

The only negative I can think of is this.  I find her characters a little flat.  I didn't like that the Golden One blindly followed Equality 7-2521; she didn't seem to be her own person with her own desires; she seemed to be just an extension of Equality 7-2521.  And I don't like how Ayn Rand makes the heroes really strong and good looking and smart and all the bad people sniveling and weak.  (She does the same thing in The Fountainhead).

Overall, I thought the book was provacative and well worth the time to read, especially because it is so short.  I give Anthem by Ayn Rand 4 stars of 5, minus one for flatness of character and lack of resolution in the story.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (5 stars of 5)


I just finished Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I thought this was an outstanding book.  It was both very entertaining to read and thought provoking.  I rate this 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Fahrenheit 451 is about an alternate future where firemen create fires to burn books (instead of putting fires out).  In this alternate future, people are addicted to mindless television and most books, such as the Bible or books of poetry, are banned.  If one owns an illegal book, the firemen are called to pour kerosine onto the books and light them on fire.  One fireman, Guy Montag, meets a teenage girl who is different than anyone that Montag has ever met.  He finds the girl irritating because of her questions and because of her incredible power of identification (Montag feels like she can read the heart of a person).  He is both repulsed and attracted to her.  Meeting this girl begins to open Montags eyes about the world, everything is not as it should be.  He starts to feel like his life is meaningless and he suspects that the answers to his questions are found in books, the very books that he is burning.

I'm really glad that I read this after Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Because if I read it before, I don't think that I would have enjoyed Something Wicked as much.  The two books are written similarly but I feel like Bradbury's emotive writing style really worked for Fahrenheit but didn't work as well for Something Wicked.

I was really affected by this book.  Bradbury's writing was very good.  I don't want to give anything away but at one point Montag finds himself alone and I very much sympathized with him, resonated with him, imported feelings from my own life into his situation and vice versa.  Outstanding Bradbury, outstanding.  And in this book, I felt like Bradbury's emotive writing was effective.

The pacing of the book was slightly slow in the beginning but when it picks up, it's a non-stop rollercoaster until the end.

There are robot dogs in this book.  Robot dogs!  Awesome!

Even though she is only in part of the book, I really really really liked the character of Clarisse.  I wanted her more in the story but I guess this is evidence of Bradbury's success.  He created a character that I wanted to get to know more.  :)

Overall, I thought this book was a masterpiece.  I give it 5 stars out of 5 stars.  Great book!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (4 stars of 5)


I just finished Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.  I liked the story but I found the writing difficult to understand at times.  I would rate this 4 stars out of 5.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is about two thirteen year old boys, Jim and Will, who discover a secret about a carnival that comes to town.  The Carnival, run by Mr. Cooger and Mr. Dark (the Illustrated Man), is not what it seems to be.  Jim and Will need to stop Mr. Dark from carrying out his plans concerning the people in this small town.  But Mr. Dark is also after the boys because he knows that they, the boys, know the carnival's secret.

I did not like Bradbury's emotive, poetic writing in this book.  I know, I know.  Bradbury is a genius.  But I, for me, I found his writing in this book confusing.  I got to the end of some chapters and I had no idea what had just happened in the story.  I know that a lot of people like Bradbury's style of writing in this book but I was not one of them.  It wasn't all bad for me.  There were several parts where Bradbury sustained great suspense and I thoroughly enjoyed these parts.  But all in all, I had to read this book very slowly (which affected the pace of the story for me) because I found myself confused.

The story is classic.  Young boys.  Evil Carnival.  Evil Mastermind covered in tattoos.  Help in places unlooked.  I liked the story very much (even though parts of it were a little campy).

Mr. Dark, the illustrated man was particularly creepy.  I'm guessing that this character was the inspiration for a lot of future storytellers, such as Steven King or Clive Barker.  I was especially creeped out when Mr. Dark showed his palms and on his palms were tattoos of the boys, one in each hand.

In a literary sense, this book was brilliant.  The themes of 'bad things happening to good people' and 'how should a person deal with suffering and unhappiness?' and 'are people really happy when they get what they want?' were treated very well.  It comes as no surprise to me that this book is studied by young people in high schools and some colleges.

Overall, I give this 4 out of 5 stars.  Minus one star because, for me, I found his poetic prose confusing.  (sorry, mr. bradbury...)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis (recommended)


I just finished The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.  I liked this book but because of one thing towards the end of the book, I will give this a 'recommended' instead of 'highly recommended'.

I am listening to Dream Theater and sitting at Starbucks as I recall this book to review.  NOTE: I am glad that Starbucks is now offering free Wi-Fi so I can write at a Starbucks using my Apple Macbook, listening to my Ipod.  I wish I had an iphone to complete the picture.

In the Last Battle, a false Aslan is abroad.  The Narnian obey this false Aslan who speaks via a talking ape, Shift, but are confused because his orders don't seem to be in accord with Aslan of old.   King Tirian, along with his good friend, Jewel the Unicorn, discover the deception of the false Aslan and calling upon the children that helped the previous kings and queens in the history of Narnia, try to make right the wrong caused by this false Aslan and the ape.

The writing is good as is all of C. S. Lewis's writings.

The pacing is good also.

Two things caught my attention in reading this book:

(1) Why isn't Susan included in the friends of Narnia?  As she got older, she didn't believe in Narnia anymore and was only interested in girly things.  What does this mean in terms of the metaphor of the Christian life with respect to salvation?  Would she be considered a nominal Christian?

(2) Why was a Calormene, who clearly worship Tash and not Aslan, included in the new Narnia (aka Heavean)?  Is sincerity enough to get to new Narnia?  Is this Lewis's commentary about sincere people in other religions and their standing before God?  Is this something that Lewis believed or did he just want to make a happy ending in a great series of books for children?

Overall, the book was outstandingly written and paced.  It was a pleasure to read this book as well as the whole series.  Good times.  :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis (highly recommended)


I just finished The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis.

The Magician's Nephew is about two children, Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer.  They are sent to another world by Digory's evil uncle.  Digory and Polly, as they were searching other worlds, mistakenly awakens the witch Jadis.  This is the story of the beginning of Narnia and how Jadis is introduced into that world.

The Magician's Nephew is essentially, C. S. Lewis's creation story for Narnia.  A lot of it parallels the Genesis account.

"All get what they want; they do not always like it."  This was said by Aslan about Jadis.  I found this interesting.  I wonder if this is a commentary about hell by Lewis.  Anyhoo...

Overall, I thought that this book was great.  It was well paced, generous with action and, as always, well written.  I especially found it satisfying how Lewis connected the dots between this book and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I highly recommend this book.  :)

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis (recommended)


I just finished The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis.  I would recommend this book.

The Silver Chair is about Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb is instructed by Aslan to find the lost prince Rilian.  Jill and Eustace are given 4 instructions from Aslan but Jill and Eustace, for one reason or another, begin to fail in following them.  Jill and Eustace find a guide in a Marsh-wiggle, Puddleglum, and the three of them travel to the land of the giants to try to find Rilian.  Within the story, there is an evil witch, a green serpent, earthdwelling gnomes, giants, a mysterious man in black armor and, of course, a silver chair.

In my humble opinion, the whole series, the Chronicles of Narnia, is outstanding.  Every book is very good.  In light of this, I thought that The Silver Chair was the weakest of the series for two reasons: (1) it was painful to read about Jill Pole forgetting Aslan's instructions and (2) I found the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum's negative disposition tiresome.  Even so, this book was still well written and the story's pace was good.

Something in the story that resonated with me was Aslan's instructions; it must be memorized daily or else it will be forgotten.  Jill did not memorize them as she was instructed.  And so, when the important moments came, she failed.  Similarly, we must memorize Scripture daily; it is not enough to have known it once, a long time ago.  We must memorize it daily so that when the important moments come, we hope that we may not fail.  :)

Overall, I thought the writing was good and the pacing was good also.  I would recommend this book for everyone.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (highly recommended)


I just finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis.  It was a good adventure story.  I would highly recommend this to readers of any age.

This is essentially the Lewis's version of the odyssey.  King Caspian, joined by Edmund and Lucy and their annoying cousin Eustace, travel from island to island trying to find the seven lost Lords that left Narnia when the evil Miraz ruled.  Caspian and company travel through the seas and find different trials with every island that they find.  And eventually, they travel to the world's end.

I especially like Reepicheep's character in this story; I was affected by his bravery and desire to always seek adventure.

Eustace's transformation both figuratively, little by little, throughout the book and literally, was a favorite part of book for me.  :)

As always, C. S. Lewis's writing is outstanding and the story is well paced and engaging.  I would highly recommend this for all readers.  :)

Bag of Bones by Stephen King (highly recommended)


I just finished Bag of Bones by Stephen King.  This is the most 'literary' book that I've read by him.  It won the British Fantasy Award in 1999.  If you like suspense novels, I recommend Bag of Bones by Stephen King.

Bag of Bones is about a writer, Michael Noonan in Maine who loses his wife to an aneurysm.  The death of his wife brings about a long season of writer's block.  Four years later, Michael Noonan begins to experience nightmare set at his summer house in TR-90 in Maine.  The house is named Sara Laughs after an old blues singer.  Micheal meets Kyra and her mom Mattie, a widow, who is about 20 years younger than Michael who is around 40 years old at this point in the story.  He becomes fond of Mattie and Kyra.  Mattie's father-in-law, Max Devore, is a powerful and evil man who wants to take Kyra away from Mattie, to take legal custody of Kyra.  Max Devore is described as mad (crazy) and obsessive about the things that he wants.  Michael decides to help Mattie keep Kyra.

This book seems to be divided into several sections: (1) a man grieving his dead wife, (2) a legal battle between Michael Noonan and Max Devore and (3) a ghost story.

I liked that this book kept on surprising me.  I couldn't anticipate where the story would lead me and I liked that.  I really, really liked the introduction of Kyra and Mattie.  I thought this entire chapter was the bee's knees.  :)

I really like the way Stephen King writes.  I especially liked the little insights that he gives the reader about the life and idiosyncrasies of what it is like to be a writer.

The pacing of the book is...well...Stephen King.  He has his own rhythm which I like.  Overall, the story unfolds at a leisurely pace but when it does pick up, I couldn't get through the pages fast enough.

The book does has profanity and violence.  There is a significant scene of violence in the end of the book (you should be able to figure out when it is coming up).  You can skip or skim this whole scene without losing any part of the story.

Overall, I really liked this book.  This book is less horror and more suspense and a lot of the times, it's just character development.  The story is outstanding at times.  And the ending was a big surprise for me.  During the middle of the book, the main conflict seemed to have been resolved but there was a significant amount of the book left; I couldn't figure out what he could possibly write about in those pages.  Stephen King is an organic writer; he does not plan out the entire book before he starts writing and I really like that.  I think that he excels at organic writing (i.e. the stories seems not to follow a formula but seems to go where ever it may--in a good way...most of the time).  (NOTE: a problem with organic writing is bag endings which Stephen King has been known to have but Bag of Bones had a satisfying ending for me.)  Bag of Bones is a great example of his organic writing style.  I would highly recommend this to those that like suspense novels.  Until the next time...  

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis (highly recommended)


I just finished Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis.  This is book four in the Chronicles of Narnia series.  The writing and the story are both good.  I would highly recommend this.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are called back to Narnia.  Possibly, hundreds of years have passed in Narnia since the last time they were there.  Time travels differently in Narnia than it does in the real world.  A bad man, King Miraz rules the land but his step son, Prince Caspian, is the true king of Narnia.  The story is about how Caspian, helped by Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, (and Aslan, of course) tries to defeat Miraz.

Reepicheep really caught my attention in this story.  I liked that a mouse of such small stature has such a large heart of courage.  Reepicheep takes honor very seriously and that kinda inspired me.  Good times.  (I also had a hard time pronouncing his name.  I had to say his name out loud every time I read it to practice getting his name right.  Even now, I tried to say it fast and what came out was Reechipeach; I guess I need more practice.)

Something that really affected me about the story is Edmund.  In the Lion, the witch and the wardrobe, especially in the beginning, Edmund is nasty to Lucy but in this book, Edmund supports Lucy.  Lucy sees Aslan when the others cannot.  Edmund doesn't see Aslan either but he supports Lucy.  I love it.  I love how Edmund grows from book to book.

Overall, I thought this book had a fantastic story and was very well written.  I would highly recommend this.  :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Horse And His Boy by C. S. Lewis (highly recommended)


I just finished The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis.  I thought it was a great story.  I would highly recommend it to kids and adults alike.

The title of the book is interesting.  Why isn't it The Boy and His Horse?  Doesn't the horse belong to the boy?  In this story, the answer is no.  The Horse, Bree, is a free Narnian Horse that has the ability to talk.  The title shows that it would be just as appropriate to assume that the boy belongs to the horse as the horse to the boy.  Interesting?  I think so.

The Horse and His Boy is a story about a young man named Shasta.  He runs away from his guardian (who is not such a nice man) with a talking Horse, Bree.  They are trying to get to Narnia, the nation located north of Shasta's home.  During his journey, they meet a young lady, Avaris and another Narnian, Hwin.  They discover a plan to attack Archenland (the lands neighboring Narnia) and Narnia itself.  The companions must hurry to Archenland to warn them of the coming attack.

A theme in the story that edified me was the theme of providence.  Aslan directs and protects each characters in the story.  The powerful part of this theme is the characters are frequently unaware of Aslan's direction and protection.  It reminds me of God's providence in my own life and it reminds me to trust in God's plans.  God is directing and God is protecting each and every one of us.  Our lives may seem like it's spinning on its own merit but it is being carefully directed by God.  Amen.

Overall, the story was outstanding, the writing was fantastic and the pace was perfect.  I would highly recommend this book to any kid or adult.

It has come to my attention that there is some criticism about Lewis being a sexist.  Quite frankly, I don't really sense that.  Lewis did not have our modern 'enlightened' values (for those that didn't catch it, I put ENLIGHTENED in sarcastic quotes).  I think that Lewis' view of gender roles were fine for the time that he lived.

Well, until the next time...  :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (highly recommended)


I just finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  This is the 2nd book in the Chronicles of Narnia series.  I've read this book many times before; I can't remember how many times.  It is always a joy to read.  I would highly recommend this book.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is about four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.  They enter new world, Narnia, via a wardrobe in the old professor's house.  Something is wrong in Narnia.  The White Witch has caused it to be winter for many years.  The four children entering Narnia may fulfill a prophecy bringing the end of the White Witch's rule.  And it brings about the return of Aslan, a mighty lion.

The story is an allegory for the story of Christ and his sacrifice for those that have sinned.

The thing that struck me the most reading it this time was this: C. S. Lewis is a very good writer.  Every sentence is important and communicates much information.  I was struck by Lewis's storytelling ability.  Outstanding.

Overall, I think the writing and pacing is great.  I think the story is fantastic.  I highly recommend this book to everyone.  :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley (highly recommended)


I just finished Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley.  The title, Church History in Plain Language (CHPL), is a great way to describe the book.  It is about church history from the time of Jesus to the end of the 20th century AND it is easy to read (i.e. in plain language).  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in history and to any and all Christians.

The writing is the most appealing part of this book.  Church History can frequently seem daunting because of all the names and events; and many books are written so academically that the information is not readily accessible to beginners (such as myself) to Church History.  This book is a remedy to that ailment.  The book is easy to read and, at the same time, I didn't feel like the material was diluted.

The book is written from a Protestant perspective but that was okay with me; I just happen to be a Protestant.  :)

Each chapter is about 10 to 15 pages long.  The chapters are organized loosely by chronology.  They are organized more by topic within a time period within church history.  Where Shelley could, he writes an anecdote about person and then describes the context of that person within that time.  This method was great because it drew me into the story of each time period and it personalized the period allowing me to see it through the eyes of an individual.

There were a lot of things (especially between the time of ACTS up to the REFORMATION) that I just never learned.  For example, I did not know that Atilla the Hun came from Mongolia right up to the walls of Rome.  I did not know why the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split or even what the difference between the two were.  Etc.

A perspective that CHPL helped me gain was this: the problems that are plaguing the church today, the heresies that Christians have to deal with today, none of it is new.  Looking through CHPL, the problems we have today are just theme-and-variations of problems that we've had in the past.  So for anyone who needs to problem solve, a study of church history may be invaluable.

Overall, this book was outstanding.  The information is essential (I believe) for all Christians.  The book is written well and the written in such a way that the information is easily accessible.  The book is engaging and the drama and stories of each age are highlighted.  It is not too long (for a history book that covers 2000 years); it is about 500 pages long.  I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in history or any Christian.  :)  Well, until the next time...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (highly recommended)


I just finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  It is my second reading.  I still liked it the second time.  I would recommend this book, as well as the entire series, to anyone who likes a good story.

At this point, I think everyone knows about Harry Potter and this series of books.  So instead of a review, I've decided to ask five trivia questions:

1.  What are the nicknames of James Potter, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin?

2.  How many points do you get for catching the Snitch?

3.  Who is the seeker for Ravenclaw?

4.  Who created the patronus that saved Harry from the dementors?

5.  What food helps temper the effects of a dementor?

Overall, the writing was good, the story was well paced and the story was engaging.  I highly recommend this book and this series to all muggles.  :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Why don't protestant Christians include the Apocrypha as Scripture?

I remember having a conversation sitting around a chiminea about the inclusion of the Apocrypha in Scripture?  At the time, I only vaguely remembered the answer to the question, "Why don't protestants Christians include the Apocrypha as Scripture?"

To edify those that have this question, I have found a short excerpt from Church History in Plain Language, 2nd edition by Bruce Shelley, page 60, that addresses this question:

"The question is extremely complicated, but the debate centers around the fact the Jews in Palestine in the early years of Christianity had a canon corresponding to the thirty-nine books of the Protestant Old Testament.  Jesus referred to this list when he spoke of the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms (Luke 24:44).  The evidence seems to indicate that neither Jesus nor his apostles ever quoted from the Apocrypha as Scripture.

Beyond Palestine, however, Jews were more inclined to consider as Scripture writings not included in this list of books.  The Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint was especially influential in making known certain books of the Apocrypha because it included these books along with the Old Testament books accepted in Palestine.

Early Christians also differed, then, over the question of the Apocrypha.  Believers in the eastern portion of the Roman Empire, nearest Palestine, tended to agree with the Jews in that area.  In the West, however, Christians under the influence of Augustine, the well-known bishop of Hippo, usually received the Apocrypha as part of the canon of Scripture.  During the sixteenth-century Reformation most Protestants accepted the view of early eastern Christians and rejected the Apocrypha as canonical.  The Roman Catholic church, following Augustine, accepted the books.  And that is how the churches differ to this day."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Geisler and Turek (highly recommended)


I just finished I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek.  This book was lent to me by my esteemed colleague LM.  Thanks for lending and recommending this book to me.  This book is 1) a proof for the existence of God and his character and 2) a proof that Jesus is God and 3) the reliability of Scripture.  I thought the book was good.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Christian apologetic.

The book is organized as follows: 1) truth,  2) creation vs naturalism, 3) debunking macro-evolution, 4) morality, 5) miracles, 6) the historical Jesus, 7) the reliability of Scripture, 8) Jesus' claims to be God and 9) the gospel presentation.  There are three Appendix articles (I didn't really like the Appendix articles.  Even, though I agree with the Christian perspective, I felt like they were straw-man presentations).

I enjoyed reading this book for the most part.  The writing was very simple and easy to follow.  There is a bit of philosophy and science in the book but it has been presented in a very accessible way.  Anyone who can read at a middle school reading level (or greater) should be able to read this book. 

I thought the arguments were pretty sound.  I did feel that a few parts were weak and I would have liked it if more was written about that topic in this book.  I really liked the progressive presentation of the arguments; it was like an elegant math proof.  At times, I would read something and think of an atheist's rebuttal and then sudden remember that rebuttal was already covered in a previous chapter.

The purpose of the book was NOT to present an ironclad argument for Christianity but rather, to argue that the atheistic view is NOT ironclad, that the atheistic view is much weaker than the Christian view.  I believe that this book was successful in winning that argument.  At the very least, this book should communicate that Christians have not committed intellectual suicide by becoming Christians but rather, that Christianity is a plausible and sound thing (and may I dare to say, the most logical thing) to believe.

The only complaint is that, at times, the writer comes off as a little snide.  For example, there are times when the author will say that the atheist view is ridiculous.  I would have preferred when the atheist perspective was presented and that I had had the opportunity to decide for myself if it was ridiculous without being told by the author.

In the end, I still have some questions.  I still have to think about some of the stuff that I've read.  There were some things that didn't sit well with me and I'm going to have to work them out.

Overall, I think this is a great book.  I think that every Christian and non-Christian should read it.  The question, "Does God exist and if he does, what would he have me do?" should be incessantly on our minds.  The only SURE thing in our lives is our end; one day we will all be food for worms.  The answer to what happens when we die is very important.  I think that this book should help people who genuinely have questions about God and apologetic for both Christians and non-Christians alike.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has eyes to read.

Well, until the next time...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Essential Calvin And Hobbes by Bill Watterson (highly recommended)


I just finished the Essential Calvin And Hobbes by Bill Watterson.  This is a collection of Calvin And Hobbes comics.  There are both whole page Sunday color stories and 4-panel shorts (from weekday newspaper comics).  I would highly recommend this to anyone.  It was a joy to read.

Calvin is a 6 year old boy.  Hobbes is a stuffed tiger.  From Calvin's perspective, the tiger is a real tiger who can walk and talk but from any non-calvin perspective, Hobbes is just a stuff animal.  We never really know if Hobbes is real or not but I guess that just adds to the mystery.

Calvin is interesting.  He is both rude and selfish and a nightmare to his parents but at the same time, he is charismatic, charming and naive.  But somehow, he always comes across to the reader as cordial and our hearts are endeared towards him.

Calvin doesn't understanding the world that he lives in.  (OR he understands it very plainly and it is us who are blinded by the culture that we live in.)  My times, Calvin asks candid question about his observations of the world that are quite provocative.  Watterson never gives an answer though but the questions themselves, especially since Calvin asks encourages us to consider the question again, maybe through the eyes of a 6 year old.

Calvin is named after the theologian John Calvin and Hobbes is named after the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.  The characters really have nothing to do with the people that they are named after.

Something that I really like about Calvin and Hobbes is their friendship.  Regardless of what Hobbes or Calvin says to each other, they are loyal.  They are friends through thick and thin.  Many times in my life, I wish I had a Hobbes.  A more serious example of this kind of friendship is Jonathan and King David from the Bible.  Their friendship is truly beautiful.  I think that Calvin and Hobbes, in its own way reflects strong friendships like Jonathan and David and I think, especially in our culture, that loyal and devoted friends are few and far between and innately, internally, we long for those kinds of friendships.

...or maybe I am reading too much into Calvin and Hobbes.

Anyways, some of the comics were okay, some were tender, and show were laugh out loud funny.

Overall, this comic collection was excellent, I laughed and smiled a lot throughout the book.  I would highly recommend this to anyone and at age at anytime during any season.  Outstanding.  I may put another Calvin and Hobbes Collection in my summer reading queue this very night.  Until the next time...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mythology by Edith Hamilton (recommended)


I just finished Mythology by Edith Hamilton. The book gives a reader's digest version of each story from Greek/Roman mythology. It also has a few pages on Norse Mythology. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in these classic stories.

This is one of those books that a lot of high school students have read. I have not read it. One of the reasons is that I didn't read much of anything that was assigned to me in high school. I didn't even bother reading the Cliff's Notes; that is how lazy I was.

Anyway, Mythology by Edith Hamilton was good. I liked it. It was a bit dry but aside from that, I thought that old stories were engaging and interesting.

I think that everyone should know these stories to some extent because the stories are reference frequently in modern literature and even in everyday conversation (at times). This book is a great way to get familiar with the stories without having to spend too much time reading the old classics like the Iliad (which I remember to be a pretty difficult read). Even the plays of Sophocles are summarized in this book.

The writing was dry but I think that was her goal, to write an academic version of these stories. I feel like she achieved her goal. The stories are academic and also accessible.

Overall, I think that we should all know these stories to some extent, stories about Hercules (was he really a hero?), Theseus, Odysessus, etc., mostly because the stories are frequently referenced in many contexts and perhaps, make up a great deal of western culture and the western psyche. This book is a great place to become familiar with the stories without having to spend too much time reading the difficult original versions of these stories. So I recommend this to...everyone. The only reason I don't highly recommend it was the stories were written a little too dryly for my tastes. But with a little bit of patience, the dryness of the text can be easily overcome.

Until the next time...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey (highly recommended)


I just finished Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey. Rescuing Ambition is about godly ambition (and what godly ambition is not). This book has greatly served and edified me. I highly recommend this book to...everyone. :)

Most christian books can be placed on a gradient: conversational books on one end and purely academic theology books on the other end. I would place this book somewhere in between, with a slight lean towards conversational. Rescuing Ambition is essentially a book on the theology of ambition with anecdotes. I've heard Dave Harvey speak many times and the writing is consistent with his preaching. The conversational style is very accessible and easy to read.

This book is essentially a book about the gospel of Jesus Christ through the lens of ambition. It provides a clear view of ambition and provides real-life examples of godly ambition.

This book is special to me because, during the time that I was reading this book, I was struggling with a particular thing in my life. This book has made me realize that my paradigm of Christian living has drifted and it helped get me back on the right course. It has also renewed my zeal for the Church. I still struggle (with the thing mentioned beforehand) but at least now, I know that I am facing the right direction.

If I may be so bold, I believe that ambition in general and especially godly ambition is sadly lacking in our culture. People are more concerned about their own comfort than for greatness. Even Christians. (This is just a gross generalization of course but it seems that way to me in my limited experience). I thank God for Dave Harvey and his book. Hopefully, this book with inspire people to have ambition for the glory of God so that the church will not miss any good thing that God has for us, for his Church.

Overall, Rescuing Ambition is about the gospel through the lens of ambition. It is a book that is needed to help people understand godly ambition, something that has been poorly understood in recent times. It is an easy read and very accessible. I would highly recommend this book to any Christian; I believe ambition is important for all Christians to understand and study (even if it is not through Dave Harvey's book) if we are going to avoid insipidness and homogeneous Christian living. Good times. :) Well, until the next time...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King (Uneven, some good/some not-so-good)


I recently finished Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King. It is a collection of twenty four short stories and novellas. Some are horror. Some are suspense/pulp. One is an essay on little league baseball. And one is a poem. As is common in most collections, the book as a whole was uneven. Some of the stories were very good and some were not so good. I would actually skip this one if you want to read a book cover to cover.

These are the stories that I liked (there were a lot of them and I read this book over several months so my memory is shaky):

  • Dolan's Cadillac is about an ordinary man seeking to avenge his murdered wife against a powerful mob boss. I really liked this one. It was probably the best in the lot.
  • The End of the Whole Mess is about a drug that people create to enhance humans but in the end, it ends up destroying them. This one was pretty good.
  • Suffer the Little Children is about a school teacher that is convinced her students are aliens.
  • Popsy is about a child-kidnapper that takes the wrong kid.
  • Chattery Teeth is about a toy set of metal teeth that saves the main character's life.
  • The Moving Finger is about a finger that comes out of the toilet.
  • You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band is about a couple that find a town with a surprise.
  • Rainy Season is about a couple that arrives at a small town during the rainy season to find that water is not what falls from the sky.
  • The Ten O'Clock People is about a group of people that are trying to quit smoking. But the specific amount of nicotine in their bodies allow them to see what others cannot, people in powerful positions are actually monsters.
  • The House on Maple Street is about an abusive step-dad and the transformation of a house.
  • Umney's Last Case is about an author entering the book world trying to take over one of his character's lives.
  • Head Down is an essay on little league baseball. This essay was fantastic!

If I were only to read three, it would probably be Dolan's Cadillac (Suspense), Umney's Last Case (Fantasy/Pulp) and Head Down (Essay).

There is a lot of content in Stephen King's writing so if content affects you, please skip this book.

Overall, the writing is pretty good but King tends to be a wordy (but I kind of like that about him). About half of the stories were good, the other half were okay. The pacing is different with each story; some are fast paced and other took their time. I would recommend with reservation Nightmares and Dreamscapes, mostly because of the unevenness of the collection of stories. Until next time...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (recommended)


I just finished And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It is a murder mystery/suspense book. I enjoyed reading the book, especially the end; I thought the end was very satisfying. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a short, fun and enjoyable read.

In the book, ten people are invited to come to an island. Each person has a hidden past, a wrong unaccounted for. One by one, each person is murdered in the manner described by an old nursery poem. The murderer is one of the ten. The remaining people try to figure out which one of them is the murderer as they try to protect themselves.

The book is short (only about 275 pages). It read very quickly. The writing is simple and easy to read. The pace was good. The only weakness that I noticed was the predictability of the murders but this weakness didn't detract from the enjoyment of the book.

NOTE: If read carefully (and if you are smart enough), you can figure out which one of the ten is the murderer before the crime is explained at the end of the book. I was not smart enough but esta bien. :)

I would recommend And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I thought it was a short, fun and enjoyable book. Good times.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (highly recommended)


I just finished The Joy Luck Club written by Amy Tan. In comparison to the last book I finished, The Godfather written by Mario Puzo, The Joy Luck Club felt like a breath of fresh air. The Godfather was written like a supermarket novel and The Joy Luck Club is, if I may be so bold, literature. I really enjoyed reading this book. I would highly recommend it.

SUMMARY:
The Joy Luck Club is something in between a novel or a collection of short stories. It is a collection sixteen short stories or vignettes each told from the perspective of one of the eight main characters: four Chinese mothers and their respective daughters. The shorts stories are loosely connected together; the characters are reoccurring in each others stories and sometimes, the same event is described in separate stories. This gives the book a pseudo feeling of a novel.

CONTENT:
The book is clean. I can't remember anything in this book that would be inappropriate for a junior high school student.

PACING:
Amy Tan's writing is superb! She has an incredible economy of words. The pacing of the book was very fast especially for the subject matter, relationships.

WRITING:
Amy Tan's is an outstanding writer. Some of her stories brought me to tears. Most of the stories has a melancholic feeling but in a good way. Some of the stories were written beautifully. I would classify her writing as literature, worthy to be studied. (NOTE: But I might more affected than normal because the last book I finished was The Godfather which was written poorly. It was essentially a supermarket novel on par with Nicholas Sparks or Stephanie Meyer.)

OVERALL:
This book affected me. The Chinese-mother/American-daughter dynamics described resonated strongly with me. It reminded me that my mother is indeed a real person with real feelings and at one point in time, she was a real young lady with her own hopes and dreams. It is good to be reminded of this from time to time. The book is written well. The stories are endearing and engaging. I very much enjoyed reading this book and I plan to read this again. I would highly recommend this book. Good times.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (not recommended)


I just finished the Godfather by Mario Puzo. The story itself was good but the writing was poor. It read like a supermarket novel.

It took me over a month to finish this book, mostly because every time I picked up the book to read, I wanted to put it back down again. Also, it didn't help that the weather was beautiful over the last few weeks and I wanted to be outside enjoying the spring weather.

I love the movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola. I must have watched it dozens of times already and as I am typing this review, I have a desire to watch it again.

The story of the movie and the book are very similar to each other. The book includes the back story of Vito Corleone; this was told in Godfather II. And the story of Johnny Fontiane, how he lost his voice and got it back; this story was cut from the film. The story itself was good but Puzo's writing is not-so-good. I really can't put my finger on why I didn't like the writing; I think it is because he told me instead of showed me through context and dialogue. Puzo would frequently write stuff like, "He was angry". There is nothing wrong with the sentence itself but shouldn't I get how the person feels from the context or dialogue. Also, the dialogue was flat. The richness of the dialogue in the movie was brought about by the actors and director of the movie; in the book, even though the lines were similar, everyone in the book essentially had the same voice, they all sounded alike and not in a good way.

Overall, I don't recommend this book--just stick to the movie. The story was good but the writing was not good (or at least it was that way for me). Not recommended. :(

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell (highly recommended)


I just finished What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. I thought that it was excellent. I would highly recommend it.

It is a collection of 19 essays by Gladwell. The essays were organized into three categories: Part 1-Obsessives, Pioneers and Other Varieties of Minor Genius (I really liked the Ketchup Conundrum, True Colors and What the Dog Saw from this section), Part 2-Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses (I liked Million-Dollar Murray--this article in particular was fascinating--, Something Borrowed and The Art Of Failure), and Part 3-Personality, Character and Intelligence (I liked How Do We Hire When We Can't Tell Who's Right For The Job and What Pit Bulls Can Teach Us About Crime).

Collections have both strengths and weakness. A strength is the bite-sized length of the articles. Because of each article's brevity, it kept my interest and didn't try my patience. A weakness is the unevenness. Some articles are great and I wanted them to go on but others were not so great. A good thing about Gladwell's book is most of the articles are very interesting. I think I only thought 2 or 3 of the 19 articles were not-so-good.

Gladwell's writing style is great. I like how he starts with specific case studies to catch our attention and then he moves on to generalizations afterward. I find similar books to be abrasive but Gladwell's tone is respectful and even and I feel that he respects the reader.

Overall, I thought this book/collection was great. It was very provocative. I had a discussion about this book with a friend and it provided context and fuel for a very lively and dynamic discussion. The book was well written, well paced and very interesting. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes nonfiction/current events. Fantastic. :)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (highly recommended)


I just finished Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I loved this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy action-adventure. It is not as serious as the Lord of The Rings or Dune but it is not as campy as most fantasy novels. It is a great mix of fun and gravity.

Summary:
Mistborn is about a girl named Vin. She is a special girl with unusual abilities. She is only vaguely aware of her powers at the beginning of the book. She meets a man named Kelsier who mentors hers and teaches her how to use her powers. Kelsier, along with his band of brothers, plans to defeat the Lord Ruler, an evil lord, who has ruled the Empire for a millennium. Mistborn is set in a faux-18th century context, during a time of nobles and aristocrats and plebians (called skaa).

Content:
If this book was a movie, it would have been rated PG. There were a number of action-violence scenes. There were a few short scenes of graphic violence. But overall, it was pretty clean.

Pacing:
The pacing was great. Once the book's momentum started to pick-up speed, it never looked back. The pacing was fast and great from beginning to end. It kept my interest for the entirety of the book.

Writing:
The writing was first rate. The writing was fantastic. The writing was simple and straightforward. I enjoyed read Sanderson's writing style.

Overall:
It has been a long time since I've read a new fantasy book that I've like a lot and I do like this book a lot. I would put it up there with Lord of the Rings and Dune. I thought thought the pacing and writing and action were top notch. It was a very enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes action-adventures. Good times.