Friday, June 28, 2013

July is Harry Potter month!

In honor of Harry Potter's birthday (July 31), I've decided to dedicate the month of July to Harry Potter posts.

I'll admit, I'm a huge fan. I have been ever since I read the first book. I know many Christians refuse to read the books because of their content, especially the magic, so I wanted to talk about the series and my perspectives. I'll start the month going into more detail about why I see no conflict between my faith and the Harry Potter books, and why I love them so much; then I'll review each of the seven books in the series, and finish the month with a final conclusion post.

I hope you enjoy, or at least prayerfully consider what I write!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Just a quick announcement: I am taking this week off from blogging.

I hope everyone has a blessed week!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Virus Hunters

Book: Virus Hunters by Greer Williams

Published: 1960

Description: Williams describes the work of hunting for viruses and their cures throughout history, as well as the people who were a part of that work. (My own description)

My Thoughts: I bought Virus Hunters at a library book sale, and am very happy with my choice. It was a really fun and fascinating read!

Virus Hunters is about both the science of learning more about viruses and the people who do that science. It is written for anyone, whether they have a science background or not, but Williams does not avoid the scientific details. He does not go into step-by-step instructions for how to do each relevant experiment, for instance, but he does explain the general science of it. As someone who loves learning about science, I appreciated his explanations, which I found to be helpful and easy to understand.

However, this book is much more a book about the people who hunt for viruses. This is especially true of the first few sections, where Williams goes into great detail about Dr. Edward Jenner, who created the first vaccine (for smallpox), and Louis Pasteur, who created a vaccine for rabies. He then goes into less detail about other virus pioneers, and almost none by the end of the book as he described current developments. These details about the people involved--their life stories, their personalities, their motivations--were by far the most fascinating aspects of Virus Hunters.

Williams has faith in the scientific method (perhaps too much), although he does not overly idolize most of the figures he mentions. He talks about their faults as well as their good work and traits.

The other interesting aspect of Virus Hunters was simply the fact that it was written over fifty years ago. It was fascinating to read about science as it was done then, as well as what Williams saw as important. Polio, for instance, was a huge topic that is hardly discussed no, as there is a working vaccine and polio has been eliminated from developed countries; HIV/AIDS were not discussed at all, because of course it wasn't discovered for another twenty years at least. The idea of vaccines against colds and cancer (which Willliams argued may be caused by viruses) made me laugh, simply because more than fifty years later, we are no closer to finding cure-alls for either colds or cancer (although, of course, some cancers can be cured now. Some are even caused by viruses, and vaccines exist--for instance human papillomavirus causing cervical cancer).

Virus Hunters was a fun, interesting read--Williams was an engaging writer and the subject matter was fascinating.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Dove in the Eagle's Nest

Book: The Dove in the Eagle's Nest by Charlotte Yonge

Published: 1866

Description: Christina was raised by her God-fearing and respectable aunt and uncle until her father returns and forces her to return with him to the den of thieves he calls home--for her father is a bandit, and now Christina must live among them. (My own quick summary)

My Thoughts: I ran across a mention of The Dove in the Eagle's Nest in a reading for class and thought it sounded just so interesting that I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg almost right away.

I was not disappointed. The Dove in the Eagle's Nest was a great read. It was written in the 1860s, and definitely was rather Victorian in its emphases, especially on the gentling, kindly effect of a virtuous woman. Christina is fantastically good at civilizing everyone around her. Christianity was a huge part of her influence, however, and I loved the Christian atmosphere of the book. There was an emphasis on doing what is right simply because it is right. Perhaps my one objection to the book was the fact that Christianity came across as useful and good only in that it helps to civilize and gentle those who would otherwise be cruel and violent. Of course God does that, but Christianity is so much more! It is never good to see Christianity as only a means to an end--God is so much bigger than that, and He will not be used. We must come to Him on His terms or not at all.

I also really enjoyed the setting of The Dove in the Eagle's Nest: late 15th and early 16th century Germany (although of course at the time it was just hundreds of independent principalities), just before the Reformation. Yonge obviously viewed the historical setting as important for the novel (the book has a preface and epilogue, both dealing with the historical context), and many political events did end up becoming important. It was a very pleasant way to learn about a specific period of German history.

The Dove in the Eagle's Nest was a very pleasant, enjoyable read. Definitely recommended!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Story of Art

Book: The Story of Art by Sir E. H. Gombrich

Description: "The Story of Art", one of the best-known and best-loved books on art ever written, has been a world bestseller for over half a century. Professor Gombrich's clear and engaging text combines with hundreds of full-colour illustrations to trace the history of art in an unfolding narrative, from primitive cave paintings to controversial art works of the present day. (From

My Thoughts: The Story of Art was very informative and interesting without overwhelming the reader with artists or vocabulary or dates.  It was also extremely effective at showing how art evolved in a way that can be understood, how one style led to another led to another, and especially how all art can be understood if you think about what the artist was trying to achieve. Yes, it may not be 'realistic', but the artist may not have wanted to do that, it may have gotten in the way of what he wanted to do (for instance in the Middle Ages the goal of artists was to teach and be informative with their art, not to mimic nature). I really, really love how Sir Gombrich takes each movement individually and explains their aims without seeming to judge them. He made some really great points about how what we see and expect when we look at art today isn't what was seen and expected when the art was created--this book very much widened my perspective on why art was created the way it was. It was very thoughtfully written, almost like a philosophy of the study of art in some parts. Sir Gombrich clearly loves art. He knows how to 'read' it (something that very much has to be learned) and is good at explaining it.

Sir Gombrich is all about making people think about art and enjoy it--but not just enjoy it because it's beautiful or because it's skillfully done, but also to learn about the story behind a piece, to think about why it was created and how that influences how it was made--and definitely not to go see art and pretend to enjoy it because it's the 'cultured' thing to do. He wants to create people who really do enjoy and understand art.

My one objection to The Story of Art is its western perspective. Sir Gombrich admits this bias early on, and gives what I think are valid reasons for it--but his first chapter, on "primitive art," shows this bias again. His idea about why their art is so what I would call 'abstract' were compelling, logical, and understandable, but also condescending (hopefully unintentionally).

I would definitely recommend this book. especially to anyone who wants to learn about art history without being bombarded by terms and especially dates.  Very understandably written, and very interesting.  I would recommend the full-sized version, though, rather than the pocket version that I bought (flipping back and forth between the pictures and the text was annoying, even if the size really was great for traveling).  

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Host

Book: The Host by Stephanie Meyer

Description: Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, didn't expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

As Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she's never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.

Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel about the persistence of love and the essence of what it means to be human. (from
My Thoughts: I know, I know... Stephanie Meyer? I'm not a huge fan, but the premise of The Host is intriguing, and I wanted a mindless book to read after finishing up with school.

Perhaps because I approached the novel with such low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the characters were interesting, and the world Meyer created was fascinating. Wanderer knows a great deal about other alien species and the habits of her own species, and her descriptions of them were  very interesting and unique. Although Meyer did make many of the aliens a bit too earth-like for my tastes (but then, almost everyone does), they were also not at all human. Each species had a very different way of seeing and interacting with the world around them, and I enjoyed these descriptions.

I didn't know what to think of the invading alien species, the 'souls'. They were perfect in almost any way--they abhor violence, hunger, environmental degradation, lies, and so on. They have a society where no one goes hungry because everything is made available to anyone who wants it, and everyone cares enough to take up useful work. At the same time, however, this is a species that exists by stealing the bodies of others and destroying the true soul inside it, something they do simply for the experiences of the host. Every society has its problems and sins, even if no one at the time sees them as such. I was glad Meyer dealt with the paradox.

Wanderer was a really great character to read about. She was hard to care about at first, what with the fact that she's a body-stealing alien and the fact that she just really comes across as a wimp at the beginning due to her ridiculous fear of even the slightest hint of violence; however, both of these aspects of her were dealt with well, and in a way that makes her much more interesting and understandable. She was also highly principled, and truly lived by those principles. Perhaps my greatest disappointment with The Host was that she was *spoiler alert* cheated out of dying for her principles. Wanderer wanted to die rather than continue to live by stealing the body of a sentient being, but others kept her alive against her will. And then, completely out of character, she decided she was all right with that because at least she could be with her boy. Point: Perhaps this book would have been better if I'd skipped the last twenty or thirty pages. *end spoilers* Uncle Jeb and Ian are both awesome as well.

I will admit, the writing in The Host wasn't great. It got in the way of the story for a bit, but after a few hundred pages I was so absorbed by the story that I stopped noticing it.

I'm glad to be able to report that the words "love triangle" should never actually be applied to this book. There are actually four persons/entities involved, and there was really no doubt, ever, as to who would end up with whom. There was the slightest possibility of a love triangle developing for perhaps three pages; thankfully, it didn't.

I was actually pretty impressed with the relationships in The Host. The love of family and friends was portrayed as just as important, and just as strong, as the love in a romantic relationship. All the relationships developed in a reasonable manner, rather than just magically springing into being, fully formed, because the plot required it.

Overall surprisingly good, although not great. A good read for those times when you don't want to think too much, although with some problems, so proceed carefully.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Summer Reading List

I'll admit, I don't have a post planned. It's been a bit crazy here this week.

Instead I suppose I'll just ramble a bit. :)

I'm excited about summer! I have a pretty impressive list of books I'd like to read (or finish reading, at least), including Anna Karenina as well as lots of other classics of various time periods, a few more books of science, some Star Wars, some theology, and a book on reading and libraries.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Journey to the West

Book: Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en

Written: 16th century

Country: China

Description: Journey to the West is a classic Chinese mythological novel. It was written during the Ming Dynasty based on traditional folktales. Consisting of 100 chapters, this fantasy relates the adventures of a Tang Dynasty (618-907) priest Sanzang and his three disciples, Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, as they travel west in search of Buddhist Sutra. The first seven chapters recount the birth of the Monkey King and his rebellion against Heaven. Then in chapters eight to twelve, we learn how Sanzang was born and why he is searching for the scriptures, as well as his preparations for the journey. The rest of the story describes how they vanquish demons and monsters, tramp over the Fiery Mountain, cross the Milky Way, and after overcoming many dangers, finally arrive at their destination - the Thunder Monastery in the Western Heaven - and find the Sutra. (from

My Thoughts: I really liked all the poems scattered throughout the book, especially the ones about the beauty of nature. There were some really beautiful poems. Having poems embedded in the story forced me to slow down as I read, if only because I've always felt that poems should be read slowly. I've read that Chinese books are meant to be read slowly and savored (although I have no idea if this is true; I was unable to confirm or deny with a quick Google search), but it wouldn't surprise me after reading Journey to the West. I also found that I enjoyed it more when I did read it slowly.

I'll admit that, at times, I had some difficulty finishing Journey to the West. My difficulty was mostly due to the length--I read a complete, unabridged translation, which means that there were one hundred chapters and four separate volumes--but also due to the sometimes-repetitive-seeming adventures. I think a lot of my boredom with some of the adventures has much more to do with my ignorance of Chinese culture and Buddhism, however, than it with the story and writing itself. The introduction said that it is a story full of metaphors, references, and symbolism. Some of it was explained in the notes of the book, but much of the symbolism, especially, was not. I would imagine that each adventure symbolized a worldly attitude or sin in the Buddhist tradition and understanding.

I'm sure you're wondering about the religious aspect of this epic. Yes, it was Buddhist, but I still found it enjoyable and incredibly interesting. I understand that Chinese Buddhism is different from Buddhism of almost anywhere else because of the mix of Taoism and traditional Chinese beliefs it also includes, and that definitely appeared in Journey to the West. The ultimate goal of both Buddhism and Taoism is for humans to achieve immortality through self-cultivation, and both religions were true in the story in that both were successful at creating immortals through their disciplines. At times the group met and were even helped by Tao immortals, but there was a sense that Buddhism was somehow "better." 

As for the characters, the Monkey King was absolutely my favorite. He was mischievous, the best fighter, and determined. (This may have been because I found most of the immortals thoroughly irritating and arrogant, and I enjoyed watching him wreak havoc among them. I'm not sure how much of that irritation was simply cultural differences, and I apologize if I'm being insensitive. Also, I know it's not very Christian of me.) 
Enjoyed, even with the Buddhism--honestly, it was fascinating to read a Buddhist anything, as it's not  a religion that I know much about, and it was a good, epic adventure story. I would, however, perhaps would recommend an abridged version...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Why Read?

Veronica Roth (author of Divergent and Insurgent) gave a speech yesterday at Book Expo America 2013. It's about why she enjoys reading, and I think it's a beautiful way to think about reading and life. Go check it out!