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...