Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Dear Readers,
I've written a short (~1300 words) story that I'm considering submitting for publication.  It's a bit of dark fiction called "Black Sand."  That said, if anyone has a few extra minutes on their hands and would like to do some editing/criticizing of my work, I'd gladly take you up on your offer.  Let me know and I'll send you the doc for your perusal and/or red pens.  My big worry is that it utilizes a common trope I've came across in a few different stories, but nevertheless, this was how I envisioned the work from the get-go.  Some more eyes on it wouldn't be unappreciated...

Dear Music Lovers,
I've harped adoration and love for the Milk Carton Kids for several weeks now, and it thrills me to finally have some new music to listen to.  Both of their albums are available for FREE on their website (here), or you can purchase them on itunes if you like.  Truly if you appreciate excellent harmonies and "simple" music, then there's really no reason why you wouldn't like the MCKs.  Heck, since the albums are free, there's really no reason why you shouldn't try them out.  I prefer Retrospect to Prologue, but to each his own.

Dear Amazon,
I just bought a Kindle from you and I am ready for it to arrive at Stewartland.  I debated long and hard before I decided to purchase your ubiquitous device, because I am such a lover of a traditional book's feel.  Nevertheless, when I received a large gift card to use on your site I decided to get an e-reader, since the price was drastically reduced.  And now, even though you're not yet in my possession, I'm giddy with the possibilities.  I didn't know that I could check out e-books from the library until I started researching the Kindle.  (Sure, the Kindle isn't technically supported yet, but it will be soon enough.)

Dear Health Insurance Company and Hospital Billing,
Could you please get on the same page?  It's rather frustrating when you mess up an insurance claim filed months ago, which in turn affects every claim filed after it, and you've still not got it corrected.  I don't mind, truly, but it's just aggravating explaining it to people that want their bills paid.  Thanks!

Dear Monday Night Tennis,
I had a blast Monday night.  The match I played in was probably the most fun I've had in tennis is a long time.  Despite their age (I know one guy was 67 and another 69), they were loads better than many younger players on the courts that night.  Indeed, playing with folks much more skilled than I is humbling, but I yearn for this, because that is the best way to improve my game.  I hope the rest of the summer league proves as much fun as Monday did.

Dear Project,
When our relationship began I was but a fledgling engineer fresh out of academia.  You were intimidating at first.  Baffling, even.  So I approached you hesitantly, like a young lover does his beloved.  I worked on you, polishing you, converting you, making you presentable.  And then I sent you off and the Commonwealth of Kentucky decided that they wanted to do things differently and so I returned to you.  Intimidation wore down, and now all I feel for you is loathing and boredom.  I long to be rid of you and onto brighter pastures, but I know that deep down, finishing you puts me without an imminent project to work on and I'll have to resume reading through Illinois Highway Drainage Design Manuals, for I have another young love blossoming over in the Land of Lincoln that will require my unwavering devotion for a time.  But I am not through with you yet, sweet, wretched Project.  Soon, yes, but not today.

Dear Garden,
You started o so prosperously, but this lack of rain has ruined you, I fear.  The jalapenos and bells are doing great, but that's it, unless I count the weeds that have overtaken the onions.  The green tomatoes have yet to turn red, and the squash is small and fickle.  The herbs are managing, but I nourish them more than I do you, though it isn't your fault.  I don't blame you that it's been so hot these last few weeks and that there's been little rain.  Don't go thinking that.  It's my fault that I don't treat you like you deserve, but let's face it.  You're castes below my family.  Sorry.

Dear Unnamed Independent Author,
I appreciate you contacting me to review your book, even though I declined it.  Still, it gave my heart a great and heavy chuckle to see the letter addressed to Claudio, though I confess, it somewhat worries me, too.  Thanks for the effort, though.  (Note: Read the "Contact" tab to understand why this is funny.)

Sincerely all,

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Desiring God, a Review

John Piper's Desiring God is one of the most influential books in Christian non-fiction.  First released in 1986, Piper burst into the scene with his radical idea of Christian Hedonism, a term specifically chosen.  Now, twenty-five years later, Piper's fourth edition of Desiring God has found its way into my hands for review.  I already owned the 3rd edition, though I had not progressed past Chapter One of the book.  This time around, I made my way through Piper's elegant writing and beautiful theology.

Desiring God is a collection of ten essays, dealing with a different element in Christian lifestyle.  Piper devotes a chapter each to happiness, conversion, worship, love, scripture, prayer, money, marriage, missions, and suffering.  He also includes a thorough appendix and study guide in the back of the book to assist the reader.

As Piper says in the Introduction, the purpose of Desiring God is to help the reader understand how Christian Hedonism should not only be pursued, but that its pursuit is biblical and ultimately satisfying to God.  Piper turns the Westminster Shorter Catechism on its head by substituting the word by in place of and, yielding the thesis for Desiring God:

The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

Much of Desiring God deconstructs modern thinking with clear biblical examples.  Truly, Piper's desire to share his joy is not exhaustive, though it is rather thorough.  There were times when I was scratching my head after re-reading a paragraph three times and still confused.  Other times I was shaking my head and silently amen-ing.  And more, the evidence as proposed by Piper does in fact seem biblical and liberating. 

This book has not redefined my views as much as Kevin DeYoung's powerful Just Do Something did, but still, there is wisdom to be found in the pages.  I can imagine a world filled with Christian Hedonists, running around and acting like Christians ought.  I daresay that if more Christians acted like they ought--like the bible prescribes--and if more Christians had joy in their lives then we would have more people coming to God.  To that end, Desiring God teaches a vital message.

A time or two it felt like Piper's firm belief in TULIP* (and his being a 5-point Calvinist, as much as I hate to use labels) was shining through his writing.  It wasn't a pounding over the head as some are wont to do, and I do not fault Piper for letting his belief's influence his writing, though some surely do.  As such, I care not one jot for Calvinism and Arminianism and I find this endless debate tiring and detrimental to the gospel Jesus preached.  Thankfully this has very little to do with Piper's book.

In the end, Desiring God is an excellent book that has affected many, myself included.  It would be a great book for a Sunday School class to discuss, or a discipleship group to meditate on.  It's not an easy read, and it definitely requires a critical mind (and possibly a dictionary), but its teachings are worth the effort.  Anything that pursues glorifying God is worth the effort, and if you're looking for some savvy non-fiction Christian thought, this book is perfect for you.  Or, conversely, if you're curious about Christian Hedonism and its tenets, I can easily recommend John Piper's Desiring God.


Piper explains at the end of the book how he receives no royalties from Desiring God and that any money made from it goes to a fund to further the gospel by providing various resources for free.  A number is listed to contact Desiring God Ministries for free resources, including this book, as well as many others.  Also, Desiring God can be read for free on the DGM website, or also downloaded as a pdf and/or ebook.  Finally, as with other great books, if anyone would like my copy of Desiring God, shoot me an email or leave me a comment and I'll get the book to you.

Like Piper, anything I can do to help spread the good news of Jesus (and further glorify the Father) I will do, and I would love to give you this book to that end.


*If you are not aware of this centuries old debate, then I don't recommend you educate yourself about it.  It's ultimately disheartening and has caused way too much conflict within the world of Christianity.

FTC Thingy:  The 25th Anniversary Edition of Desiring God was provided to me for free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I am not required to endorse the book, and my doing so was of my own volition.  There was no hypnosis.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wise Man's Fear Re-Read: Thoughts, Theories, Things

This post is filled with spoilers, from both The Wise Man's Fear and The Name of the Wind.  If you've not read both, then please, don't read this post.

I've read Name of the Wind twice, and now I've read its sequel twice (and some parts thrice).  The story is definitely better the second time.  I've been thinking on some of the threads of the tale that Pat Rothfuss is weaving, as well as the implications for the Four Corners' future.  Below are my thoughts.  I would love to discuss any thoughts/theories you might have, either here on the blog, Facebook, or via email.

1.  The pacing is improved this time around, though it's still tedious at times (Ademre, Faen).  Still yet, I marveled over the cultures Rothfuss created, at how intricate and well developed they are.
  • Faen is beautifully described and at the same time mysterious and dark.  I love how magicked the Fey are, even though we've only met Bast and Felurian.  This causes them to be highly superstitious (not much different than those in Severen and Vintas), but their superstitions are probably based on fact as opposed to legend. 

  • The Adem, on the other hand, are a simple people, yet highly philosophical.  I am once again fascinated by their double-talk, at how important hand language is. This is still my least favorite part of the book, if only because there is very little going on.  I feel like Caesura is vital to the overall story, especially given its bloody pedigree.  Also, the Adem story of the Chandrian and their old names is definitely important, but I just wish it hadn't taken so long to get there.
2.  Kvothe's parentage was particularly enthralling as I read.  Having been turned on to the idea that Kvothe's mother was Natalia Lockless, sister to Meluan Lockless, I payed close attention to the parts when Kvothe spoke of his family.  Now, I am fully convinced that Rothfuss is a cunning devil and that Tally is definitely Meluan's sister, thus making Kvothe part noble (and possibly a Lockless heir).  Plus, he says that when he first met Meluan that she looked vaguely familiar (possibly like his mother, who's been deceased now for a few years).  Meluan's resentment of the Ruh could be similar to Petunia's resentment of the magical world in Harry Potter; both sisters were jealous of their sibling for going off and enjoying life.
  • Consider the song Kvothe tells Sim and Will....

    Dark Laurian, Arliden's wife,
    Has a face like a blade of a knife
    Has a voice like a prickledown burr
    But can tally a sum like a moneylender.
    My sweet Tally cannot cook.
    But she keeps a tidy ledger-book
    For all her faults I do confess
    It's worth my life
    To make my wife
    Not tally a lot less

    It doesn't seem like much, but given how cunning Pat is, read the last two lines aloud and it sounds similar to "To make my wife Natalia lot less", ergo, Natalia Lockless.  That's why she shushes Arliden for his song, to keep her line a secret.  See here for more on this fascinating theory.
  • The Loeclos box surely is made of Faen-magic/wood.  It's smell is evocative to Kvothe and he vaguely remembers something, and I suppose it's reminiscent of the smell from his time with Felurian.  He mentions time and again how his memory is muddled from his time there, so his recollection of the smell is muddled, too.  Alveron, Meluan, and Kvothe discuss whether or not the contents of the box are precious.  I find this word choice interesting, as it thematically relates to Denna (and her fear of being "boxed in").  What if the box opens simply with "Edro," the word for open Taborlin used, and Kvothe, too, when he jokingly opened the Maer's chest in the Eld.  Kvothe didn't try it, I noticed.
  • Could Arliden also be more than meets the eye?  Perhaps somehow Fey related/descended?  He's a skilled musician/rhymer, something we know the Fey are.  Or, possibly the Ruh are somehow related to the Fey?  Not really sure about Arliden.  But we do know that the Lockless family is very old, and so are the Ruh, and Kvothe being from both bloodlines could explain some of his peculiarities. 
3.  I also wondered about Denna's patron throughout this read.  Where once I didn't care much about her patron (or her, for that matter), now I'm more than a bit curious.  I suspect it to be Bredon, based in part on certain descriptions and certain actions.  Both are apt dancers.  Both enjoy games.  Both enjoy their privacy.  Plus, the Ctheah said Kvothe had met him, and this twist seems like the right twist (though it could also be the obvious choice and therefore not a likely possibility).  Bredon seems kind, but he has a temper, too (like when Kvothe's distracted and not playing well), which would likely yield to him beating Denna whenever he's angry.
  • The first read Kvothe & Denna's relationship was annoying.  Now, it's still annoying, but less so.  Both are young and stupid.  Neither come out and express themselves, explain their broken histories, or tell their life story.  What a shame, too.  If only they'd communicate then things could be so much better.  (I'm thinking of Lost here.)
  • Bredon must be more than meets the eye.  When Kvothe is going through the papers with rumors and whatnot on them, there are some rumors that Bredon does pagan rituals and has evil relations.  Then, when Kvothe is preparing to leave Severen, he gives the papers over to Bredon, mentioning that the man may find them entertaining.  This nonchalance seems too forced (perhaps I'm reading into it), but why else would Pat bring it up again?  This could be a plot device for Bredon.
  • A final possibility is that Denna's patron could be none other than Cinder himself.  There are some theories to this, and possibly even Bredon being Cinder (or related), but I'm not entirely convinced this is so.  Still, this line from one of the last chapters caught my attention (while in Bast's POV):  "Nothing but ash and cinder lay inside."  With the two words juxtaposed, Rothfuss could be cleverly dropping hints.  There's some weight to this, I think, but again, I'm not sold on this idea.
4.  Pat overuses the word "speculative."  This is nitpicking, but it's also grating, though I suspect unnoticed by Pat and/or his editor.  I'm talking about "so-and-so gave you-know-who a speculative look" type sentences.  These pop up all over the place.  All over the place.

5.  Another very interesting thing throughout this book is the role the moon plays.  People swear by the ever-changing moon.  They tell stories about the moon.  Auri's appearance (and Denna's, too) seems related to whether or not the moon is out.  Even the Fey regard it as something important.  I didn't notice how often the word "moon" appears, but it's presence is overwhelming.  This gives even more weight to the story about Jax and his stealing the moon.
  • Think of Elodin's question for Kvothe as he's going through the admissions process for the first time in Wise Man's Fear.  Elodin asks, "Where does the moon go when it is no longer in our sky?"  Elodin obviously knows much (Kvothe recalls Master Namer's eyes when he's in Faen and that they are similar to Felurian's), and his inane babbling turned out rather purposeful in the end.  So is this question important?  Maybe.  Is it a subtle hint?  Possibly.
6.  We know the frame story, the story in the present, is a tragedy.  Kvothe remarks to Bast that "we all know what kind of story this is."  Something so catastrophic has happened to Kvothe that he no longer is himself, it's as if he's locked away a part of his name and has been rechristened as Kote.  This tragedy is likely the death(s) of Denna and/or many other friends due to some rash action made by a foolish Kvothe.  As such, this has me thinking about the conclusion of the book, of the trilogy.  Will there be resolution?  Yes, Rothfuss is too much a storyteller to not leave things unresolved, as stories must have endings.  But will the ending be satisfying?
  • Remember when Kvothe tells the story of the old man and his search for food & fire?  (Chapter 38, "Kernels of Truth")  Sim (or Will, I cannot recall, but it sounds like Sim) is upset at the ending, claiming the story wasn't really a story at all.  Sim asks Kvothe, "Why tell a story that's not entertaining?"  Kvothe answers, "To help us remember.  To teach us... things."  I speculate that this is Pat foreshadowing the conclusion to The Kingkiller Chronicles.  The ending may seem disappointing (or inconclusive), but that's not really the point.  The point in Kvothe's story (to Chronicler and Bast, and the reader) is to teach us things, but it's also to help Kvothe remember who he was and who he still is.

  • Perhaps these books will end with Kote becoming Kvothe again and there will be more books where he puts to right his wrongs or something.  This, I hope, will be the case.  Pat has already said he's got more stories to tell in Kvothe's world.  (As an aside, I wonder if Pat skipped over the ship wreck chapter to leave it open for a possible novella or short story some time down the road.)
  • On Kote becoming Kvothe, recall when Kvothe asks Elodin about what he thinks about a woman that keeps changing her name.  Elodin reacts as if that's something terrible to do, and his reaction implies that it's entirely possible.  Perhaps Kvothe changed his name to Kote for a time, though I think Kvothe is wanting to get out (such as when the hired soldiers fight the innkeeper and Kote remarks that he nearly forgot himself there for a moment).
  • Finally, could Kvothe have become an Amyr and made some choices that were for the greater good?  We see his guilt over killing (bandits, false troupers), though they were for the greater good and justified.  What if Kvothe became an Amyr and then found out the group was as sinister as the Chandrian and then abandoned his old self to become Kote?  (Ironic that Kvothe changes his name to Kote, similar to Denna constantly changing her name to D-----.)
 A lot of great discussion (and fodder for this post) can be found on the Rothfussians group on GoodReads, and also Jo Walton's exhaustive re-read of NOTW and WMF at 

Again, I'd love any thoughts on Kvothe and his story if you've a ha'penny to spare.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Heroes, a Review

What is a hero? This is the central question driving Joe Abercrombie's latest novel, The Heroes, and coming from such a dark & gritty writer, where convolution and betrayal are paramount, it's a darned good question. The North, "united" under Black Dow's banner, and the Union forces, under the direction of Marshall Kroy, have convened on a small plot of land to wage war. The focus point is a large hill spotted with ancient stones appropriately called The Heroes, named after long dead legends of the North. War is the opportune time to discover heroics, but the question is from whom will they come?

The Heroes is filled with various POV characters. We have Crunden Craw, an aged Named Man who's spent his life as a straight-edge and is known for doing the "right" thing, whatever that's supposed to mean. Prince Calder, the youngest son of the recently murdered King of the North, is a notorious coward and an even more notorious schemer, and it's only a matter of time before he tries to take Skarling's Chair from Black Dow. There's also Beck, a young lad just old enough to take a weapon and enlist, with visions of glory and earning a name for himself. As for the Union soldiers, we have the disgraced Bremer dan Gorst, dispatched to observe the war for the King, though the brute of a man wants nothing more than to earn back his former rank and glory. There's Corporal Tunny, famed for his lackluster life as a soldier and his uncanny ability to turn profit, and who has little desire to rise above his self-interests. Finally there's Finree dan Brock, the only female POV, and the daughter of Marshall Kroy. Finree is manipulative and ambitious, but her marriage to a treacherous noble's son currently stands in her way.

Abercrombie is known for presenting flawed characters with a few good traits in them, and he keeps this up with The Heroes. I personally found the Northmen much more interesting, especially Craw and Calder. It's as hard for the reader to pick a side as it is for those involved in the affair, and I'm not sure which side I wanted to win the battle. This, again, is a very Abercrombian thing to do. Present the sides and muddy them all grey. Ambiguity runs amok here.
The Heroes is Abercrombie's fifth novel, and while it's not necessary to have read the previous works, I think you'd be missing out on some behind-the-scenes things that are likely important to the world of The First Law. Still yet, one could easily enjoy this book for what it is, and that's a fierce battle waged over the course of three days. This condensed timeline works great for Abercrombie, I think, because the sprawling tale that was Best Served Cold seemed to struggle under too much time.

This book was hilarious and dark, violent and oddly beautiful, thought-provoking and entertaining. It's Abercrombie at his finest, and yet I didn't enjoy it as much as The First Law. Part of the problem was that I just didn't care that much about the Union troops. Gorst was annoying, Finree disappointing, and Tunny just didn't have enough time for him. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the North parts, especially whenever the Bloody Nine's name popped up. Even Shivers, who I grew to dislike over the course of Best Served Cold, was fascinating here. Really the only time I enjoyed the Union pieces were when Bayaz was involved, and this only because it left me wanting to know more about what was going on between the First of the Magi and Ishri.

Abercrombie is at the top of his game with The Heroes. The book is fluid and well written. The action scenes are exciting. The implications of the book's thesis question are questionable throughout. It's a standalone novel that leaves me curious to see what's going to happen in Abercrombie's next book. (I believe he mentioned something with a "Western" flair on his blog. Interesting.) If you've never read Joe Abercrombie, I'd recommend starting with The Blade Itself, but you could just as easily pick this one up. It's a bloody book, but you wouldn't read a book about war and not expect otherwise. Especially not from someone as twisted and dark as Abercrombie. Highly enjoyable.

Supplemental Thoughts (CONTAINS SPOILERS)
1.  I genuinely wonder if Logen Ninefingers is still alive.  It's been 8 years since The First Law.  Part of me thinks the man has just settled down in some remote location in the North and has been living a life of ease ever since.  Or maybe he's chasing Ferro, though I'd find that hard to imagine.  Still, I suspect he's living.
2.  What is going on between Bayaz and the Gurkish?  Will we ever get to see this conflict played out?  I do not trust Bayaz, but I also don't trust the Gurkish, either.  Is there a good side here?  Considering Abercrombie, I'd say "it's complicated," or, possibly just "no."
3.  Shivers' killing blow to Dow in the circle was unexpected.  I expected Calder to win, but not like that.
4.  Wonder what the Snake of the Talins has been up to, and what's gonna happen in Styria come next book?  Recalling Bayaz' "cannon" thing, I expect we may see firearms/artillery, though not many.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Pt 2), a Review

I'm shrugging off routine here and throwing caution to the wind.  SPOILERS imminent.  
Call me old and crotchety, but there seemed to be a lot of rambunctious tweens at the cinema last night, eager to watch the Boy Who Lived face down He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and let victory triumph over evil.  Costumed characters ran amok and I couldn't help but question why it is I find these midnight shows appealing.  Nevertheless, apart from the expected sudden applause and the preternatural (and completely uncalled for) sobbing*, I had a good enough time watching the final Potter film.

The words that immediately come to mind are ruthless and expeditious.  Where Part 1 served as exposition, Part 2 gives the viewer mere minutes of set-up before one is thrown into the action.  We're reminded of Voldy baby stealing dead ole' Dumbledore's wand (a grave robber!  my word, someone ought to teach that Riddle boy some manners) and Harry & the Gang are trying to seek and destroy those cursed horcruxes.  The filmmakers give the audience little breathing room, and I daresay 90% of the film was action-filled and intense.  

Acting is genuinely sublime all around, though I particularly enjoyed Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Alan Rickman (Snape), and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry).  Truly I'm struggling to think of a bad performance.  Throughout all eight of the movies these actors have grown with each other, and their synergy is a large part of why these films are so successful.

I can also attest that this was definitely the most visually stunning of the films.  It is the only one with a 3-d counterpart, and although I chose not to watch it this way, it was nevertheless quite beautiful.  Spells and enchantments of all colors.  Gringotts' vaults and the dragon within.  I didn't realize just how dark and bleak everything was until Harry used the pensieve, and then again when he went to King's Cross.  Other than these two scenes, everything has a grim feel to it, and rightly it should.

As I mentioned earlier, there was entirely too much crying for my liking.  I'm not joking when I say that the girl behind me started sobbing and sniffling when the WB logo came up at the very beginning of the movie, and she pretty much continued the rest of the way.  Sure, when Sev died, that was sad, yes, but would I call it Sad-Enough-To-Cry-In-Public sad?  No.  And then seeing Fred & George for the first time, when they're both still alive, she cried again....  Grumble.  Anyway, death, evil, and violence rule the screen here, and because of this there is a lot of sad & terrible things that happen.  I admit, Severus's death was one of the more horrible death scenes I can remember, but I watched it wincing and stoic.

The final showdown between Harry & Voldemort was breathtaking.  I rather enjoyed their in-flight fight.  Heck, the battle for Hogwarts was pretty awesome all around.  The school's grounds make for an excellent battlefield, and its spaces were utilized brilliantly.

If there's any wrong in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) it's that it doesn't capture all of the subtlety and character development Rowling does in her books, but this is a flaw any book-turned-movie will have.  There's only so much one can transpose.  

There is so much that I could talk about when it comes to Harry Potter, and particularly when it comes to The Deathly Hallows.  How each character is so rich and detailed.  How Rowling deals with life lessons and serious themes.  How I always stood by Severus and puzzled out the events 'ere they were told.  How heartbreaking it is that Hedwig died so innocently and randomly (the same as many victims of the Battle).  How truly loathsome Voldemort is, and yet pitiable, too.  So much that I must cut myself off now or I may wax gibbous and never shut up.

On the whole, I wholeheartedly enjoyed this movie.  It was the perfect conclusion to the epic series, and I think it captured the heart and spirit of what makes the books so darned good, and that's that friendship and love are far superior to immortality and prejudice.  If you've somehow made it through your life without reading these books, then I'm sure my pleading won't get you over the hump, but you are robbing yourself of a wonderful journey.  And, if you've not watched any of the film adaptations**, again, you cheat yourself, but especially more so now that Part 2 is out.  It was a legendary film series capped with a satisfying and beautiful ending.  I will miss these movies, but I don't see them going away for a long, long time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a Review

Flavia de Luce is a complex little girl. Uncannily bright for an eleven year old, I daresay to the point where one must suspend disbelief, even, Flavia spends her days "playing" in her laboratory, creating terrible concoctions for her terrorizing older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. The young chemist has a particular fondness for poisons, and when a dead body turns up in the cucumber patch of Buckshaw, Flavia decides to get to the bottom of the mystery.

What follows is a delightful adventure with a protagonist that's hard to forget. Flavia is both endearing for her strong will and pitiable for her too-advanced mind. She's sweet (usually when it's to her advantage), witty, well-read, far too clever, and hilarious. Her environs--1950s England--are masterfully detailed and the reader cannot help but feel whisked away.

Alan Bradley's Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is well outside my normal genres. A mystery novel with various mysteries throughout, I heartily enjoyed puzzling through the book with Flavia. The tale wasn't too complex, and everything clearly made sense by the end. There were twists and turns a-plenty, and I can imagine nearly every reader would enjoy the plot & pacing.

A large part of the joy from this read is the fact that Bradley's prose is beautiful. The voice of the narrator is spot-on (as much as I can imagine the mind of an eleven year old girl), and from the start I easily slipped inside Flavia's head. Bradley's cast of characters is well suited to the story (if not a touch cliched), and I really enjoyed Flavia's sisters. Their antagonism of poor Flavia (and vice versa) was a highlight of the read.

I listened to the audio version of this book, as read by Jayne Entwistle, and this was possibly one of the best audio books I've ever read. The voice acting was vastly superior to many audio books, and Entwistle sounds exactly like a bratty little 11 year old would. Of course, the British-ness also makes this a fun listen-to, but it's definitely the narrator that shines. In fact, I enjoyed her reading so much that I played a bit of it for my wife, just so she could hear how great it was.

Two final notes, just in case you're not convinced of reading the book yet. One, it's quite funny. Flavia has a way with words that had me cracking up regularly. Two, Carl's review at Stainless Steel Droppings' and L's at Omphaloskepsis paint a much better review than I do, and just read their praise to see what I'm talking about.

If you're looking for a good mystery (I say good, but alas, with little experience with the genre I guess), Alan Bradley's Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie will definitely satisfy your appetite. It's one of those books that puts a smile on your face and keeps it there after you're finished. I easily recommend to anyone, but especially people with a fondness for old Britain, young & clever heroines, stamp collectors, and mystery enthusiasts.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Life is...

Life is green poop, milky-white spit-up, and faint blue lines on a diaper indicating clear urine.  It's a splotchy, ruddy face that changes from peach to red as it smiles and cries.  It's the silver-brown eyes of Avonlea as she soaks in everything.  It's staring at a black screen filled with fuchsia, lime, aqua, and lemon lines that represent delineated water sheds and their drainage areas.  It's the mind-numbing snow white of an Excel background and the faint grey lines that separate individual shells.  It's the red-hot temperatures in the haze of summer.  It's the deep greens of a jalapeno plant and the dirty oranges of uprooted carrots, the daffodil yellows of squash and the crisp violets of petunias.  It's the off-white paper and straight-edged text of The Heroes.  It's the impossibly dark crimson of blood as it's freely given away routinely for no reason other than it's a good thing to do.  It's the pale streetlights shining through midnight window blinds and the sunrise turning the sky into a melting pot of colors.

Life is a wonderful adventure and every person I encounter is a character in a book.  I am blessed beyond reason, loved undeservedly, and filled with joy.  I am blown away by a God of impossibilities and reminded with every color I see how great a Creator He is.  Life is amazing and I would change nothing if I could.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Mini-Reviews: Edition, the First

Crazy Heart:  Highly acclaimed and brilliantly cast, the story of an old and nigh-forgotten country music star.  Bad Blake once spent his days performing for thousands, and now he's lucky to get fifty at a bowling alley show.  Jeff Bridges does amazing work in this film, singing many of the songs himself (and I suspect playing the guitar, too, though this is unverified).  Bad is an alcoholic, and much of Crazy Heart deals with his problem.  This was a stirring movie that I rather enjoyed.

Lord of the Rings Extended Trilogy Blu-Ray:  With only a few extra features compared to the DVD trilogy, the blu-rays nevertheless look stunning in their high definition.  Probably not worth it to the casual viewer, but definitely for the fans.  Oh, and the box is shiny...

Alpocalypse:  I've been a Weird Al fan since I was a wee lad.  His were the first albums I e'er bought, if I remember correctly.  His creativity always is great, and the fun, crisp music he produces is more often a hit than a miss.  He's got some flops, but he's also got some gems, too, in his latest record.  His take on Gaga is funny.  His tribute to Charles Nelson Riley is sheer genius.  And his soulful "Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me" had me giggling.  So yeah, if you like Weird Al, you'll enjoy this, provided you can tolerate contemporary pop music.

Wise Man's Fear (Spoiler Free):  I've been reading this aloud to Keisha for a while now, but I recently picked up the audio at the library and have been listening to it at work, too.  I've been following along Jo Watson's Rothfuss Re-Read on and I admit, I missed a lot the first time through.  I've read NOTW twice, and keeping that in mind with things from WMF, it's like, wowzers.  How did I miss this?  It's so... obvious.  I suppose I missed it cause Pat's just too darned clever. 

Harry Potter:  With the much anticipated conclusion to the epic HP film franchise on the outside edge of a span away, I've decided to re-watch the films.  Keisha and I spent much of the long weekend nestled together on the couch watching the first six films (okay, we skipped PoA and GoF, but it's only cause we've seen them a bajillion times) and gearing up for TDH:Pt2.  I confess, I cannot fathom why or how there are people that dislike the Boy Who Lived.  These books have done so much for the reading world.  So many people have been turned on to reading because of the books, and in my opinion, the films are beautiful to behold and fun to experience.  Aye, they have their faults, but overall, each movie is wonderful.

ESV Study Bible:  I got this bible when I thought I was going to become a deacon.  I'd been putting it off until something else happened, cause frankly, I've got plenty of bibles.  Even so, the ESV Study Bible is an excellent reference bible that has easily become my daily reading bible.  It's thick and teeming with so much stuff that I don't often know where to look.  In addition to the holy Word of God, there's a ton of footnotes, helpful maps, charts, and many other tools for deeper learning.  There's also a couple hundred pages of essays and reference text spread throughout the bible and after Revelation.  I'm really liking it.

Avonlea Brynn:  My babe is growing growing growing quite well.  She spends most of her days eating and pooping and sleeping and, lately, crying.  I'm still amazed at her, honestly, and I'm sure I always will be.

Google+:  Hmmm.  Can't decide, really.  It seems quite cool, actually.  It's nowhere near as cluttered as Facebook, plus it's Google.  It's basically like Facebook, but has no ads (yet) and only people that I care about (so far).  Only thing I dislike is that I can't use "logankstewart" as my name, but I must use "Logan Stewart."  Perchance that'll change.  I can't make up my mind about this type of social media anyway.

Lunch:  Ah yes, what a delicious meal.  I had leftover bbq hamburgers and hotdogs and corn-on-the-cob from last night's 3rd Annual Stewartland Extravaganza.  Oh, and sour cream & onion chips, too, with a mug o' Mello Yello to quench my thirst.  Good stuff.