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 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. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

When I first picked this book up, I went on Good Reads to check out reviews and I saw one that really excited me, even though I was very excited already.  The review said that this book, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, is the adult Perks of Being a Wallflower.  And indeed, the reviewer was right!
I have to say that I came at this book a lover of the movie.  I am one of the people who adored this movie.  Although it took some liberties at being a bit of a chic-flick, it was an overall success as a film in my eyes and...well, Jennifer Lawrence.  The book is just as amazing.
Main character, Pat Peoples, is convinced that his life is a movie planned out by God.  He has been released from the bad place and is finding new ways to improve himself so that apart time will be over and he can be reunited with his wife, Nikki.  He is bettering himself by working out and running for hours a day as well as reading great literature and trying to be nice instead of right.  He believes that when Nikki sees how much he is improving she will take him back.  Along with Pat bettering himself, he also is spending a lot of time routing for his Philadelphia Eagles with his emotionally distant father and his younger brother, Jake, and his therapist he sees once a week who insists to remain on a first name basis.  Pat is also spending his time with his friend Ronnie and Ronnie's wife's sister, Tiffany, who is a bit obsessed with him.  Through all of this, Pat believes that there will always be a silver lining.  When things look bad, there has to be a silver lining because silver linings appear in every great movie and since Pat's life is a movie planned out by God, he is convinced that God will give him his happy ending and then his movie will conclude.
Like Perks of Being a Wallflower, the language in this novel is very honest, blunt, and personal. Pat's voice is very repetitious and child-like.  You can't help but feel hopeful when reading this novel and try to look for the silver linings in your life.  In Pat's journey of being nice instead of right, he makes new friends and learns character.  He learns that literature reflects reality when at first he can't understand why the books Nikki teaches in English are so depressing. 
I want to spend a paragraph talking about certain differences between book and film.  In my opinion, the film did a great job adapting this book.  I love both equally.  Yes there were changes made but it wasn't as if the movie took out huge plot points or something but rather moved things around and slightly changed how the plot played out without changing the actual plot.  For starters, Pat's friend Danny is not a huge character in the novel.  For 75% of the book he is only mentioned by Pat and never actual present as a character.  He becomes present in the final 25% of the book but even then, he doesn't talk much.  He provides comedy relief in the book when Pat refers to some of the things he said in the bad place but in the film comedy relief is all he is.  Tiffany is a bit different in the film.  In the book, Tiffany is much more of a stalker and much quieter.  In the film she is very loud and not quite as obsessive.  The major dance scene of the film acts as a climax but in the book, not only is the scene just a normal scene like any other but it isn't nearly as elaborate.  There is no Eagles bet or anything.  Which brings me to Pat's father.  Pat's father is very emotionally distant in the novel.  He
doesn't even welcome Pat home when he returns from the bad place.  His attitude is ultimately based on the Eagles winning or losing.  In the film, he at least speaks to Pat and isn't such a...well, he isn't such a jerk.  Finally, the film makes it very clear early on what happened between Pat and his wife and what sent him to the bad place.  It also makes it clear early on why Tiffany was sent to therapy.  In the book, we learn all of these things at the very end of the book.  In my opinion, both ways work for both mediums.  Films are very visual and it makes sense that they explained things right away for the audience while books are very internal and personal and therefore it makes sense for something like this to be revealed later on.
Okay, so let's now bring our focus back to the novel.  What else did I love about this novel other than what I mentioned above?  Well, for starters I loved the Eagles stuff.  This could be because I grew up near Philadelphia and know how passionate (and mean) the fans can be.  I also related a lot to the family aspect of the book.  My family closely resembles Pat's family in quite a few ways, positively and negatively.   The characters in this book were all unique and beautiful despite their faults.  But my favorite part of this book was the theme of silver linings.  Reading about Pat's optimistic attitude and his goal to better himself, you can't help but gain inspiration from him and want to improve your own character as well.
I should also address the theme of mental health.  It is very obvious to me that many people don't view people who have been in a mental health facility or who have gone to a therapist as worth society's time.  Pat often contemplates this idea when he notices how people react to him when meeting him or when he makes a rash decision.  I think something a novel like this can teach us is that we all go through pain, we all struggle, and we all deserve a happy ending.  No one is perfect but that doesn't mean we can't work hard to try to be better and even if we still struggle, we have to learn to accept that and gain closure in the promise that we will always be messed up and that is okay.
Is this novel quality?  Oh yeah!  Most definitely!  It is officially a favorite of mine.  I think I was able to decide this before I made it halfway through the book.  It was such a wonderful read.  What makes it quality for me is the raw honesty of Pat's voice. Even if you don't sympathize with the guy, you still are able to see what he is going through and understand his why he makes certain choices and acts the way he acts. Quality!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 3, 2014

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

In the final installment of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling puts our favorite hero face to face with death and he must learn to truly make the choice that Albus Dumbledore taught him so many years ago - to do what is right or do what is easy.  Harry is now seventeen and supposed to be attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his final year of magical education but the situation at hand forces him (and his best friends Ron and Hermione) to let go of his childhood school days and finish the mission Dumbledore assigned to him at the end of his sixth school year - to find and destroy all of Voldemort's horcruxes.  With Dumbledore's untimely death, Harry is now lost and confused.  Not only did Dumbledore not give him all of the information about finding and destroying horcruxes but Dumbledore also did not confide in Harry about his own personal life and with all of the gossip going around about Dumbledore's dark past, Harry feels betrayed and mislead by one of the greatest wizards he ever knew - or thought he knew.  When the ministry is taken over by Voldemort and his Death Eaters, the trio are forced to go into hiding, moving from one forest to the next everyday in hopes that they can use their brains and figure out where the remaining horcruxes could be.
I want to state right away that I love this book!  It is by far my favorite in the series.  The complexities of the plot and Rowling's writing are superb.  Harry's journey is an intensely spiritual one as he tries to unravel his feelings about Dumbledore and the past he was never told about, sits in utter agony as he and his friends are constantly running into brick walls about where to find and how to destroy horcruxes, and fights to decide what is more important - hallows or horcruxes?  The story is a coming of age tale as well as a redemptive tale, showing the reader that even the characters we believed to never be redeemable have light sides.
I have to be honest when I say that this sixth time around reading these books, I felt a bit weighed
down by them rather than excited by them like I did reading them the second, third or fourth times.  That being said, every time I read these books I discover something new about the plot or the characters.  This sixth read gave me a much better perspective and understanding of Albus Dumbledore, especially with this book.  With all of this talk about the Fantastic Beasts movie and the play about Harry before he discovered he was a wizard, I really wish J.K. Rowling would write a novel about the Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore!  I would read that book in a heartbeat, that is how much I love Albus Dumbledore's back-story. 
While many people complain about the dragging camping scenes in the first half of the book, I personally love them.  The restlessness and sense of hopelessness really gives for nice character development and poetic stillness.  So often in fantasy literature we expect for the final book to be this violent smash where the drama never ends and Rowling totally defies that when she leaves Harry alone in his thoughts, partially alienated by his friends who expected him to have more information and to be a better leader.  The poetic stillness continues when Harry and Hermione go to Godric's Hollow and see the statue of Harry's parents and their grave stones, the chapter following when Harry's wand breaks and he reads some of the Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore and feels angry and hurt thinking about the Dumbledore he never knew, and then continues when Dobby dies and Harry must come to terms with his mission rather than gaining power and he must be okay with that.  Then, Harry sees into Snape's memory and learns that he is the final horcrux and that he must give himself over to death rather than defy death, just like the young Dumbledore and Voldemort tried to do.  Finally, Harry walks to his death and visits Albus Dumbledore in the in-between where he can choose to take a train, the same train that connects him to the Wizarding World every September and brings him back to the dull muggle world every summer, back to life or to ultimate death.  Harry chooses life and to continue fighting.
Harry's self sacrifice so obviously makes him a Christ figure that I fail to see why Christians hate these books now that all seven are published.  I understand that witchcraft is wrong and that the fact that Harry, along with the bad guy, is a wizard means he isn't supposed to be a hero but a bad guy as well however, this is a work of fiction.  If anything, Harry's position as a wizard should not be feared but viewed as a metaphor - that magic cannot solve all our problems and that love is the most important virtue.  Not only are love and self sacrifice two key themes in this novel and both outright Christian themes, but this novel also includes the theme of redemption (Dudley, Kreacher, Snape - to name a few) and the idea that no one is perfect or ultimately good.  As Sirius Black said - we all have both light and dark inside of us.
I guess I should also comment on Snape since he is such a huge character in this book.  I love Snape.  I don't love him in the sense that I believe he is perfect in every single way.  In fact, my opinion is quite the opposite.  Snape's bravery clashing with his distinct hatred for James Potter and love for Lily Potter makes him the ultimate complex character.  He isn't 100% good (he can be a huge jerk in the earlier books) but three dimensional and real.  What I love about these books are the small hints Rowling drops throughout them, hinting the truth to certain mysteries.  Rowling is a particular artist at this - she did it with Barty Crouch Jr. in Goblet of Fire, Sirius Black in Prisoner of Azkaban, Gildery Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets...the list goes on and on.  She doesn't make things obvious but leaves hints so that when you return to the books for another read, you see things clearer and yet you still don't know the entire tale unless you read again, again, and again.  In my opinion, that is what makes a book great - that when you return to it, you always learn and discover something new.  Harry Potter is the idle read for something of that nature.
Finally, I want to quickly comment on the story of the Three Brothers, or the Deathly Hallows.  I have read the Tales of Beedle the Bard and none of the stories quite compared to this one.  Perhaps I feel this way because the Three Brothers is a tale I am familiar with but regardless, I still feel that this is Rowling at her best.  Not only was she able to write a credible short children's morality tale but did so incorporating in the wizarding culture she created while also keeping it solid enough that adults can read the story to their children even if they aren't unfamiliar with Potter.  The story encompasses this book's lesson in just a few pages, teaching the reader that death is not the worst thing in life and that we should not fear it but embrace it when the time comes.  It reminds me very much of Death, the narrator, from the Book Thief.
I feel like this book review was a bit unstructured but that is okay.  I have been wanting to write this review for the longest time and just never knew exactly how to write it.  I have so much more to say but that may just mean I will have to write a novel about Harry Potter!  Time will tell.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a must read!  It is truly a literary and fantasy classic!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars