Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mini Book Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should state right away that I never saw the movie that was loosely based on this short story. I may once have been interested to see it but have since cared much more about reading this fairly unknown book by the author of the great gatsby. It took me under an hour to read this story. At first I found it to be a bit much but I really enjoyed the turns this book took the reader on. It really seems to comment on what it means to be a child and what it means to be an old man and what it means to be in between the two. The story comments on stigmas of society, showing Benjamin's father and son both almost afraid of him and embarrassed by him. No one seems to be aware of how wonderful and scary his predicament is. Watching Benjamin de-age was heartbreaking because even though he is an old man and has experienced much, he is not taken seriously and told he can't do anything. One thing I wondered while reading is, where is his mother? She is hardly ever mentioned. And can I just comment on the fact that it isn't explained how she gave birth to an old man? I know this is a short story and it shouldn't be taken all too seriously when it comes to nitty gritty facts but come on!  Can't think of much else to say about this story. It was a nice quick quick quick read but I don't think I have gotten much out of it

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Mini Book Review: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The MoviegoerThe Moviegoer by Walker Percy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't quite know what to make of this book...
I've never read Percy before so this was an entirely new experience for me.  I knew beforehand that he was a Christian writing of sorts, having studied him in a Christian literature class but not having enough time to read his book The Second Coming. 
I found the author's use of language to be very sophisticated to the point of over saturation.  There was rarely a time that I knew what was going on and when I did finally get a grip of the story, it went right back to confusing narration.  I could tell while reading that Percy was trying to make unknown realities known to the reader but the use of obscure references didn't make these unknown things any more known and in fact made the read even more confusing. 
I'm not saying the writing was particularly bad but it wasn't very readable either.  It was very inconsistent.
As for the characters, I grew attached to none.  Of course, that is not what should be the mark of a good book.  Fair enough.  But apart from not growing close to the characters, I didn't come close to understanding them either.  I mean, you would think our main character would at least be understood but I found it hard to follow his train of thought.  Possibly his train of thought was beautiful but it's hard to tell past the obscure writing style.  Plus, he is said to be a moviegoer but I would have liked to see more scenes of him actually at the movies.  We only see him go, what...three times at most?  Maybe four?  It seemed like he was looking to have a picturesque movie/Hollywood story life which was beautiful but again, I can't tell if I am right on that account or not.
Kate was the strangest character yet.  Sort of like a Daisy Buchanan to me except mentally unstable. 
And then there are all of the other hundred characters that I could hardly keep up with.  The only I can recall is Binx's aunt, Sharon, and Lonnie.  That was another thing, suddenly about halfway through the book Lonnie is randomly introduced and I really wonder what the purpose of him was?  What was the purpose of that side of the family anyway?  Sure, to develop Binx's character a bit more but still, I wasn't convinced of anything.
I am aware this was Percy's first book so I guess he can be cut some slack but when I read on the front cover that this book was awarded the National Book award and is considered to be one of the greatest books of the 20th century, I have to scratch my head in confusion or apparent ignorance.
Overall, the story fell short for me, the characters were too many and too confusing to grasp and the execution was overdone.  I want to like this book but can't bring myself to it's level of apparent sophistication.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mini Book Review: Washed & Waiting by Wesley Hill

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and HomosexualityWashed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this book at a bargain store randomly and had not heard anything of it previously. I didn't read it right away though. The book I got to first was similar in topic, Torn by Justin Lee. I read that and found the entire subject of gay marriage and the gay vs Christian debate to be utterly fascinating and misconceived in today's culture...well, it has been misconceived in practically every culture but today's culture especially has a sugar coated and ignorant view on the issue. Anyway, I finally came to this book a few months after reading Torn and I made a point to see how this book compared not in the ultimate message of what it means to be gay in the church or why this is an important issue or what the author's stance on the issue was but rather how it compared in writing style. I found Hill's writing style to be an utter drag. Please don't misinterpret what I am saying. His story was relatable and heart wrenching and blunt. But relatability and sympathy in a narrative don't make it good. What makes it good is how well written it is and this book was not particularly well written. I found it is be utterly dull and dragging. It took so much effort just to get through one chapter which was usually super long and just another turn off to the book. The middle of the book seemed to go uphill in quality but quickly went back down toward the end. I don't plan on keeping the book. Yes I feel it was an important read and I am really glad someone is adding to the conversation in a unique way but this book really didn't hook me or make me passionate about it's topic quite like Justin Lee did with Torn, which was written much better than this book but had a bit of a different angle and overall message. So I give this book 3 out of 5 stars because yes the topic is interesting and it is awesome to see some more literature on the issue but the writing was not nearly as good as I would have hoped. I should also add that there were some sections in the book that were well written but glimpses of good writing isn't enough to make a book written well overall.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Kit; An American Girl Book Series by Valerie Tripp

The American Girl books at a glance seem very much a marketing ploy.  The company makes a hundred dollar doll and then gets parents to pay even more on silly books with matching outfits and accessories.   Okay, so that may be partially true.  But after reading all six of the Kit books, I have found that these stories are not marketing ploys but genuinely good little books for young girls.
The Kit books take place during the Great Depression.  Kit's family is struggling.  Her father lost his job and there is a constant worry that they may lose their house or may not be able to put food on the table. Since each American Girl book takes place during a prominent time in history, there are always a few pages in the back of the book explaining what relevance Kit's (or any of the American Girls) story has on the time period.  It is really fascinating and not only did I love it as a kid but even more as an adult.  It is a great attribute to each book.
On the back of every American Girl book reads this message: "What was it like to be a girl long ago?  The American Girls Collection takes you inside the worlds of girls who lived during exciting times in the past.  As you read their stories, you can imagine how different life was back then.  But you'll also discover that their feelings, ideas, and dreams are just like yours."  The books do exactly
what they intend to do.  They create young girls that are could exist in any time period and give them personalities that correlate with the girls reading the book.  The young girls can therefore feel empowered by these girls who have great ideas and use them to do good during important times in history.
Kit is an amazing character and great for young girls to read about.  She loves journalism and learns to use her talents outside of the box and to her advantage.  It is truly a pleasure to read.
Out of all the Kit books, my favorite was the Christmas story (Kit's Surprise).  I feel no shame in saying that it moved me to tears.  The story of friendship and Kit earning money to help her parents pay for house debts and writing a fantasy story for her best friend even though she hates fantasy was just wonderful.  Each book has a unique story line and an equally unique way for Kit to help out.
These books are great in terms of characters and story.  The writing is not impeccable and yes there is that sense that the books are purely written to teach a lesson and for that reason I give the Kit series a 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

UPDATE - February 23rd 2014

I'm not a famous blogger.  I know there are people who read this blog on a consistent basis though there aren't many.  My book reviews receive a few likes on tumblr, a reblog if I am lucky.  The only thing I have to show is the number of views my blog receives which lately has been a lot.  But I don't blog for the amount of views...obviously if I did I would have stopped blogging a long time ago.  It seems I just like to hear myself type and see words I have written officially posted somewhere for the world to hopefully notice and recognize.  For a long time, this blog was my creative outlet and my most important project.  But just as the seasons change, so do people and I have come to a conclusion that I feel I should post to my blog...to whom it may concern.
When I started this blog, it was the very beginning of 2012.  I was still in college and taking a course where we were required to keep up a blog on a regular basis.  It was also in early 2012 that I decided I wanted to participate in the 50 books of 2012 challenge, where you read at least 50 books in 2012.  I did this because in 2011 I realized I had only read 11 books, 7 of them being Harry Potter!  I knew it wasn't good that a person who loved to read and write as much as myself had only read 4 new books in a year.  In 2012 I had a lot more time on my hands to blog and spend time brainstorming about my blog.  A lot of that free time is no longer available to me and I have been forced to rethink my hobbies and tasks that seem important to me. 
I was nervous to start this blog.  I had never been a fan of writing book reviews but the task came natural to me.  I genuinely enjoyed working on this blog and felt that it was helping me grow as a reader, a writer, and a person.  I enjoyed the experience so much that when 2013 rolled around, I didn't want to stop.  I wanted to keep blogging!  But halfway through 2013, the blog slowly began to become more of a burden than a fun outlet.
Now in 2014, there are at least five books I read in 2013 that I have not yet reviewed.  Some I read as far back as September!  Talk about putting off a chore.  Sure I could very well give a brief summary of the books I read but could I write an educated and unique book review like I have come to expect of myself?  No.
There is another issue of the original thought I put into my reviews.  I don't always have a bunch of thoughts after I finish reading a book.  Sometimes, I enjoy a book but really can't put my foot on as to why nor can I add anything original to the conversation.  I then proceed to read other reviews that cloud my thoughts a bit because I no longer know if what I am writing is my own personal thoughts about the book or just agreeing with other reviews I have read.  And then there are other times when I have so much to say about a book that I write the review right away and am usually very proud of myself.  You can see the lack of quality in my reviews when they are very very short.  The reviews I have come to expect from myself are usually longer and well thought out. 
As I said, the blog has become a burden more than a fun outlet. 
I posted a blog earlier this year stating the changes that I planned on making to this blog.  I made the changes for a number of reasons.  The main reason was that I now find that I have a lot on my plate and knew I needed a change.  But now I am making more changes.  I will no longer be writing book reviews for every single book I read...only the ones I feel compelled to talk about.  Be my friend on GoodReads so we can recommend books to each other and see what the other is reading and rating!
I say I have a lot on my plate and so I figured I would share with you what is going on.  First, my writing.  I love reading but my goal has always been, ever since I was 9 years old, to write and publish a novel of my own and I have not had the time or discipline to come close to completely that goal.  I need time to work on that.  I am now apart of a book group with a few friends.  We are just finishing up with Harry Potter and I really want to put my all into outlining the books and make book group fun while also informative and it takes a good chunk of time to accomplish this.  Another project of mine is a podcast called Talk Magic to Me.  Some friends and I just started the podcast which will be a critical discussion podcast about the entertainment Disney puts out which I am super excited for but again, it takes up a huge amount of my time.  Between editing, getting our website together, watching the content we are talking about in the next episode, hours and hours will go by and to make this podcast professional, I am truly giving it my all.  And there is more!  I just got a new job!  At my previous job, I worked half days on Fridays which meant that I had four extra hours a week to get stuff done but now I don't have that luxury.  On the plus side, my new job is closer to home so I will save maybe an hour a week of free time that I didn't have before but other than that, the prospect of free time is grim.  Therefore I need to use my free time wisely.  Another thing, I'm trying to take things out of my life that I don't need so that I can focus more on my faith.  I've been trying to read my Bible more often and sit in silence and try not to think about all the things on my to do list (book reviews from months ago are always on the list and never get crossed off).  And finally, I can't go without spending time with my friends and family.  I won't go into details but these past few months have been really hard for me.  I've been going through a lot of personal struggle and loneliness.  Human connection is now more important than ever and I really need that at the end of the day.  Needless to say, blogging can no longer be a priority in my life.  It is something I want and have to let go of...not entirely but I need to quit acting like this blog is as fun as it used to be. 
I don't plan to stop reading, writing some book reviews, and posting Wasted Wednesday blogs.  If I have something to talk about that I am passionate about, I will post it on here. 
I have to do what is best for me at the end of the day and I know that this blog will not be around forever no matter how much I want it to be.  I need to move on and I am taking the first step in doing so.  I hope you will still stick with my blog and check out my new podcast, Talk Magic to Me!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

I am back with another audio book review!  I still can't believe how many books I have listened to these past few months.  I feel like I am cheating on reading itself.  Then again, I think that whole MIT invention is far worse than audio books so I digress (if you don't know what I am talking about, go to google and search MIT novel vest). 
Once again, I have come across a book that was extremely enjoyable to listen to!  I didn't expect to ever pick up David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.  I have never heard of Gladwell before reading this book (except for the fact that he was in a magazine I read called Relevant a few weeks before I bought this audio book) so I came into it with a fresh pair of eyes.  I was a bit nervous to listen because I have my own opinions on the David and Goliath story and feared that Gladwell would try and force his own opinions on mine and quite frankly, I didn't want to think that hard about it.  However, Gladwell didn't force his opinions but rather gave an excellent argument to why the biblical tale is still relevant and always has been relevant in the world.
The very first chapter sort of blew my mind when Gladwell began to really pick at the David and Goliath story and ended up coming to many conclusions - one being that Goliath probably had some sort of disease which was a disadvantage to him fighting little David.  I won't go into the details and spoil it but it was some really interesting and hard hitting material.
Gladwell's main purpose with this book is to flip how we view the underdogs journey.  He argues that the answers to our questions aren't always black and white and we have to think outside the box.  I know it sounds cliche but it is the truth.  Gladwell uses examples from the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. to a teenage basketball team.  He draws from many different aspects of life and somehow ties everything together in one beautiful portrait that really changes the way we view the underdog.
There are times when Gladwell seems to go on tangents and by the end I am not sure how his points support his argument but there were very few of these moments.  Not much else to say about the book.
Is this book quality?  YES.  It is quality because it gives the reader a new perspective on something we thought we already had figured out!  Great book!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wasted Wednesday: Cancerous Christianity

Welcome to the first Wasted Wednesday of 2014!  It feels good to be back and writing!  The topic I am writing about today is one I have been thinking about for quite some time.  For the past few months, a lot of things have been happening to me that have me questioning my mortality (let me also state that the things that have been happening are extremely minor so that statement doesn't mean I am suffering in any major way).  The event that really had me questioning all of this took place in November of last year.  Through a bunch of circumstances, I was in a situation where I inhaled a large amount of acidic content that basically equated to concentrated vinegar.  The incident seemed bad at first.  I couldn't get the smell of vinegar out of my nose nor the taste out of my mouth all day and my head was swimming.  That night, I spent a good amount of time trying to get the taste out of my system by blowing my nose and spitting until my throat felt raw.  Disgusting, I know.  I ended up going to the CVS minute clinic the next day and was told that inhaling a large amount of vinegar is virtually harmless.  I just had to give it time.  My biggest concern was that every time I took a deep breath, I could feel something constraining my lungs.  I started freaking out inside of my head.  Would this damage my lungs for life?  When I grew old, would I have issues?  Could something like this be the cause of cancer?  The freaking out continued over the next few days though I didn't really show it all that much.  I now can say that I am fine.  My lungs are back to normal and I no longer can taste vinegar in the back of my throat...though every time I catch the scent I am immediately brought back to that horrible day when I breathed it all in in the first place.
When the thought of cancer crossed my mind, I began to think about everything that we avoid to prevent ourselves from getting the dreaded disease.  We don't stand in front of microwaves, don't put our cell phones in our pockets or by our beds at night, don't drink diet sodas...the list could go on and on. 
So, how does this relate to Christianity?  Well, it actually presents a very relevant example to how most Americans practice their Christian faith (and this includes me as well).  American Christianity takes on the same approach as Americans trying to avoid cancer, except we are trying to avoid hell.  Christians do everything in their power to make it seem like they are perfect and to make sure that their good works will make them okay with the big guy upstairs.  We donate money to special causes and the church (but not to a liberal cause, of course), make sure to go to church every Sunday (but don't really pay attention), listen to Christian music (that often holds as much truth as a Justin Bieber CD) and read Christian books (because that literature has too many swear words for my self-righteous taste).  I get it.  I can be just like those people sometimes and I resent when I act this way.  Because, this is not what the church, Christianity, or Jesus is about.  Christianity is about one thing - Jesus and the love he has for us.  Too often we do things that we believe will prevent us from going to hell over the next person.  If we go to church every single Sunday, we will go to heaven.  Not true.  Listening to Christian music over secular will get us into heaven.  Not true. 
Remember the song, Jesus Loves the Little Children?  The lyrics say, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world."  It doesn't say some of the children or the children who go to church every Sunday.  It says ALL!  We are all Gods children and he loves us all equally because he created us all!  Good works isn't how Jesus preached it and I am still trying to learn this simple truth. 
The purpose of the cross is to show that Jesus put on flesh and humbled himself as a man and then took the blame for all of our sins and then died because of them so that we wouldn't have to!  We are all sinners seeking redemption and he is our redeemer because of his unfailing love!  Gosh, just writing that makes me feel elated. 
We must learn, myself included, that this cancerous Christianity can't continue.  It must end.  The key to Christianity is Jesus Christ himself and Jesus equals love.  As Jeff Bethke says, "Religion says do, Jesus says done."  Your sins have been paid for so don't try to better yourself and make yourself seem more worthy than the next person.  We are all equally sinners and all equally unworthy and yet God loves us still and that is the amazing thing about real Christianity.