Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (GRADE: C)

I just finished The Grand Design by Hawking and Mlodinow.  I grade this book a C.

The purpose of the book is to describe what some current physicists believe about the answers to the following questions:

1.  Why is there something rather than nothing?

2.  Why do we exist?

3.  Why this particular set of laws and not some other?

This book is broken up essentially in three parts: (1) what people in the past thought about these questions and their answers--this part essential gave a little history lesson about science from the ancient Greeks to Einstein (2) the current theory of physics such as supersymmetry and M-theory and (3) how the current theories of physics answers the questions postulated above.

This book was short.  I wish it were longer because I don't feel that it did a very good job in convincing me about the validity of the conclusions of modern physics.  There was a grand total of about one page of the proof that the universe can be created from nothing, that the universe essentially created itself.  I read that part several times.  I was un-convinced.

I didn't like the comedic tone that some of the sentences in the book had.  I think that those 'jokes' were meant to make the material more accessible to the reader but I just found them irritating.

I really liked A Brief History of Time.  I really like the Universe in a Nutshell.  But this book, not so much.

Overall, I would not recommend this book.  I liked Hawking's other books (the ones I mentioned about) and I really liked the Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.  I did not find the arguments in this book very convincing or convincing at all when it came to the questions that I really wanted an answer to and therefore I grade this book a C.  It wasn't horrible but it didn't fulfill the purpose of giving me a satisfying answer (with respect to giving a persuasive argument).  Until next time...

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (GRADE: B-)

I recently finished Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  Catching Fire is the 2nd book of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  I grade this book a B-.

This book spans the next year after BOOK 1: The Hunger Games leaves off.  (I don't know how to describe this book without ruining the first book and so I shall simply say...)  Catching Fire is about the 75th Hunger Games, the year after Katniss and Peeta were tributes.  There are uprising in the various districts and Katniss, the mockingjay is seen as a symbol of hope against the tyranny of the capitol.  The Hunger Games in this book is President Snow's attempt to squash the uprising and in turn their symbol, Katniss.

The writing is very much the same as in the previous book.  (See previous review for Hunger Games).

The pacing is great.  She is very strong in creating suspense and engaging the reader.

But I find that her weakness as a writer is more apparent in this book.  I don't like Katniss.  The more I read this book, the more I found her irritating.  And I really didn't like how the author used what Katniss believes as a mislead for the reader.  I like Peeta as a character but after a while, I began to ask myself, "Why is he so self-sacrificing?  What are his motives?  Is it because he has a high school crush on Katniss that he is willing to sacrifice his life for her?  (This seems to be a pretty thin reason.)  Is there something about Katniss that draws out the best in people?  (I don't think there is.)"  And so I found even, Peeta, who I like, and his motivations to be thin and lacking.  I know that this is not supposed to be a great piece of literature to be studied in universities in years to come.  But if I am to get excited about a book, the story and the characters, I feel that the characters should have more substance.  (I am sure that many many people would disagree with me.  Many people love Katniss's character and this series of books but this is just what I think.)

Overall, I would still recommend this book.  It is still a page turner and I was still entertained.  It has kept my interest enough for me to pick up the third book, Mockingjay, which I am going to start tomorrow.  I grade this book a B-.  (B+ for it's suspense and how it is able to engage the reader but a C in character development).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Last Command by Timothy Zahn (GRADE: B)

I just finished The Last Command by Timothy Zahn.  Overall, I thought it was a fun read.  I grade this book a B.

This is the third book in a trilogy that is commonly known as the Thrawn Trilogy.  The first two books are (1) Heir to the Empire and (2) Dark Force Rising.

I found this book to be the best of the three.  But I did find the ending a bit sudden.

I liked Thrawn as a character and well as Pellaeon.

The character I liked the most was Mara.  I liked her arc as a character and her transformation from being singled minded about killing skywalker to...well, you'll just have to read and see what becomes of her.

I don't know why, but I find myself drawn to young adult fiction.  Maybe because it is easier to read than, let's say, Dostoevsky.  But I still critique it like it is a masterpiece of literature.  So let me be a little be generous

The Last Command, as well as the entire trilogy, is a good fun book.  It kept the flavor of the Star Wars, Empire and Return of the Jedi.  I felt like these three books could very well have been episodes VII, VIII and IX.

If you are a fan of Star Wars or just want a fun read, I would recommend these books to you.  These books are not high literature; they are young adult beach reads.  But for what they are, I thought they were pretty good.  I grade this book and the entire series a B.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (GRADE: B)

I recently finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  My friend MM (soon to be MS) recommended this book to me.  Soon afterwards, another friend EA also recommended the book to me.  When two independent sources enthusiastically recommend the same book, I must take notice and so I did.  I grade the book a B- (but it was a B+ with respect to it being a page-turner).  It was a fun read.

The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic America called Panem.  There is a capitol and 12 surrounding poorer districts.  Every year, two children (or tributes) between the ages of 12 to 18 years old are chosen by lottery from each of the 12 districts, 24 children in all.  They are taken to an arena where each tribute must fight the others to the death until there is only one remaining.

Katniss Everdeen from District 12, the coal mining district, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, Primrose, who is chosen to be a tribute.  The story is about Katniss's fight for survival in the Hunger Games and her uncertain relationship with Peeta, the other tribute from District 12.  More than who lives and dies, the result of this year's games may have great consequences for all of Panem.

The writing is interesting.  It is written in the first person present, probably so the reader gets the sense of immediacy as the action happens to Katniss.  In addition, the reader doesn't know if the narrator survives because of the way it is written.  I had a hard time adjusting to this style.  Some people loved it; I did not at first but I eventually got used to it.  At times, Collins falls into using too many words, especially adverbs.  Her writing is strong enough, her scenes are written well enough that the reader doesn't need the adverbs to help complete the picture.  In fact, some of her additional descriptions were, at times, distracting.

The real strength of this book was its neck-breaking pace once Katniss entered the arena.  The story was engaging and suspenseful.

I enjoyed the world that Collins built especially the personality of each district.

There were a few things that I didn't like.  Katniss was fickle and pessimistic.  Her flavor as a character was more like a suburban school girl than a hardened hunter from District 12.  I felt like her POV was meant to distract the reader.  What she believes will happen or her thinks is a person's motivation usually turns out to be wrong.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  I don't think that I was the primary audience that Collins had in mind when she wrote the book; I think that the audience was probably a 14 year old girl.  But the book can be enjoyed by anyone at any age as long as they keep in mind that the primary audience is young adult.  Character development was a weakness in the book.  At times, I found Katniss's character annoying (and not in a good way as some caustic characters in other books are).  But the book was very engaging.  So overall, I would give the book a B-.  It was a fun read and I would recommend this book especially if you want a book that you can read on the beach.  :)  It was a cold and snowy winter this year; I look forward to the days of sand and surf.  Soon...soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (GRADE: A-)

I've just recently finished a surprising good book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (pronounced Chew-uh).  I grade this book an A- (at the end of this book, I was tempted to read it again).

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a memoir about a Chinese-American woman's thoughts and experiences as she attempts to raise her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, the 'Chinese Way'.  Raising Sophia the 'Chinese Way' is easy; Sophia is compliant to her mother's wishes.  But Lulu, the younger of the two, has an independant and, later on, rebellious side to her.

I thought Amy Chua captured the voice of many Asian parents as she shared her thoughts, desires and vision for her children.  I found myself laughing out loud as I read this book because of how much her voice sounded like my own mother and even my own views.

If I were to describe this book in one word, I would say that it was 'honest'.  She does not describe herself as the perfect mother.  She has a desire to rasie her kids a certain way, what she calls the 'Chinese Way', and she describes when it works and when it doesn't and the struggles that she undergoes as she tries to follow her vision for her kids.

The writing was good.  It flowed and it was not distracting.  And the pacing was very good.  I found her story very engaging.

Tiger Mother is a coming-of-age story.  Amy Chua begins the story confident that the Chinese way is the correct way, not only to raise her kids but perhaps all kids.  She has some brief critisisms of Western parenting thoughout the book.  But as she raises her kids, she describes how her kids, in a way, humble her.  The end of the memoir was satisfying; there was a change in the moterh with respect to how she relates to her daughters, confident of the Chinese way at first but eventually reaching an equilibrium with her daughter's desires.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially if you are an asian reader.  For the Western reader, I think that this book will give you an honest picture of how some asian parents think.  The operative word is HONEST.  She describes plainly her convictions and vision and, in some cases, the contradictions in her thinking.  I grade this book an A-; I did want to re-read this book as soon as I finished it and I may in the near future.  Good times.

NOTE: I especially liked the accounts at the end of teh book about how she wrote this book with her husband and daughters together.  Each account had to have the blessing of the people in the account to keep the integrity of the scene.

There has been a lot of talk about this book in the parenting community.  I don't think that it reads like a parenting manual but rather, the thoughts and emotions of a mother as she tries to fulfill a vision for her kids.  Not commenting on the vision itself but I admire that she HAS a vision for her kids.

At times I felt that she was courageous and at other times, crazy.  But doesn't that describe us all...