Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Phantom Menace

   New Star Wars is out. And, as any fan does, I watched a few of the earlier Star Wars films in preparation. As a child of the 90's, I have a particular fondness for the Prequels. So I started with The Phantom Menace. Sadly, it's not as good as I want it to be, or even as I remember it being. I've been mulling over it since, and I decided I need to get my thoughts out rather than allow them to stew in my head. So here I go.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Black Friday Book Sale

Smiley Like most other bookworms, great books make their way onto my "things I'm thankful for" list every year. It's hard to choose favorites, but I went ahead and picked five books I read in 2015 and am thankful for.

  1. The Writer's Art by James J. Kilpatrick. This is a great book for those who wish to learn how to write better, or even just those who want to appreciate writing more.
  2. A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke. This is a great introduction to theology, covering the reasons for studying theology as well as the pitfalls that theologians may fall into. Great book.
  3. Ancient Word, Changing Worlds by Stephen Nichols and Eric Brandt. This is a great book covering the history of views on Biblical Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Interpretation. 
  4. The Lost World of Genesis 1 by John Walton. This is a great book for showing that Genesis 1 can be interpreted literally and still not lead to a Young Earth Creationist view. Great book.
  5. The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. This is technically a compilation of Calvin and Hobbes comics, but this is still a great book. Philosophical, funny, insightful, this has it all. Great book.
I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to another great year of reading! Speaking of more reading, here's one more thing to be grateful for. Books on sale! In honor of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a group of independent Christian authors banded together to offer over seventy discounted books on Nov 27-30. There's literally something for everyone. Every single book listed on Indie Christian Books is on sale in one or more ways. Find discounted paperbacks, dozens of books offered with free shipping, $0.99 ebooks, package deals and more. Even if you have a budget of $0, new reading material awaits you. Don't know what to pick? The fearless Indie Christian Books team created a quiz that will generate a book list perfect for you! Check it out! Book Quiz
  What awesome reads of 2015 are you grateful for? What books are you looking forward to reading in 2016?
A note on the Ebooks Only page. All books are listed as "Sold Out." This only refers to paperback copies of these titles. Please click onto the product pages to find descriptions and links to discounted or free ebooks.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Leah E. Good for her work organizing this sale, Gloria Repp for completing the time consuming job of uploading book info to the sale website, and Hannah Mills for her fantastic design work on the website graphics. Hannah can be contacted at hmills(at)omorecollege(dot)edu for more information about her design services.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dear Christian Writers

 The other day, I watched Dear White People. I loved it. It had a good story, explored a theme, and had characters that I could invest in. After I watched it, I realized this film was quite similar to God's Not Dead. Except good. So, as I thought over the similarities and differences between the two, I picked out a few lessons that Christian writers can take from Dear White People to tell better stories.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

College Life

   College has started. I said last week it hadn't started yet. Now it has. It's a bit worse and not quite as bad as I thought it would be. However, there is a lot of work required. Lots of writing and reading and pulling out my hair. So, this blog post is late. And I really don't have a lot of time to write stuff, so I'm just going to give a link and hope that I have something more substantive to give for next week. (But that doesn't mean you should leave.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Writer's Kiss

   I've been reading recently. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise: a writer must always be reading in order to keep sharp. But most of the time I'm reading fiction, investigating how others tell stories that I might better tell my own. Though, I must admit, sometimes I read merely as a means of entertaining myself. The difference the current reading holds is that I am reading a book about writing: The Writer's Art by James J. Kilpatrick. It's a wonderful book; humorous and educational. I've learned a lot. One of the first points Kilpatrick makes is that writers need to be clear when they write. They should cut unneeded words and simplify any wordiness. This reminded me of the KISS acronym: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Interview with J. Grace Pennington

   Today I have an author interview! I haven't done one of these in a long time and I hope to do more of them in the future. Grace is having a blog tour for her upcoming book Implant and she graciously agreed to an interview to help promote the book.
   First, a bit of background: J. Grace Pennington has been reading stories as long as she can remember, and writing them almost as long. She is also a prolific medical transcriptionist, amateur musician, chocolate eater, daughter, sister, friend, and laundry folder. She lives in Texas, and if she was part of the Implant society, her role in the rebellion would probably be monitoring current events and correspondence in the computer center.
   Now, on to the interview!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Dune and Doing Difficult Deeds

Last week I went to the beach.While there, I did what any self-respecting person does: I read. One of my favorite reads of the week was Dune by Frank Herbert. It felt strangely appropriate. I'd heard lots of good things about it and decided to check it out. The buzz was true. It was like Tolkien in the way it so richly painted the world, yet unlike Tolkien in the way it took such little time to explain the world to the reader. Reading Lord of the Rings recently made me realize how much time Tolkien takes in explaining things to his reader. Herbert does the opposite: he gives the bare minimum for the reader's comprehension. And even then, comprehension doesn't dawn until halfway through the next chapter.
However, for all the beauties of the writing of the book or the plot of the book, that's not what I want to talk about. There's something very specific that Herbert presents in this book that caught my imagination and that is this: an easy life leads to poor people. Not necessarily poor in terms of wealth, but poor in terms of quality: intelligence, strength, and vision. It is those who are faced with all sorts of hardships that become the best, strongest, and most envied among humanity. This caught my attention specifically because I am entering college. How do the two relate? Well, college is hard.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ready Player One and Physicality

   Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a fascinating book. It tells the story of a kid inside of a virtual world attempting to win a scavenger hunt. Of course, the world was created by a lover of the 80's and pop culture, so there are references to Star Wars, Back to the Future, and anything else from that time period that you can think of. That stuff didn't draw me in that much (being a child of the late 90's, early 00's), but the story itself is pretty fun.
   That's not what I want to talk about. What I found particularly interesting was the idea of a virtual world (spoilers ahead) and the ramifications of such.
   See, the world in the 2040's (when the book takes place) is pretty crappy. And, unfortunately, racism, sexism, and homophobia are still present. However, in the virtual world of the OASIS anyone can look however they want. All it takes is creating an avatar and voila: I can look like a buff, white male; a thin, Venezuelan supermodel, or a tall, hairy Minotaur. This is incredibly helpful for the minorities of the world. No longer is someone looked down upon for the color of their skin, because they can change it to look however they wish. No longer will a woman be made fun of, for she can make herself look as manly as she wishes.
   That's an interesting concept (how the internet can help minorities), but the most interesting idea of all is what Cline says at the end. The man who created the OASIS comes to the main character and says, "It took me a long time to figure this out, but the OASIS is not all that there is to life. Only in the real world can one be truly happy." (paraphrased)
   Why? Why is physicality something that important? I can make friends online. I can have wonderful relationships online. However, is there something about physicality that is necessary? Maybe it's not even that. Maybe it comes down to the point that true vulnerability, true relationship can only happen face to face. Yeah, I can spill my guts on the internet, but I could be making it up. I can talk to people on the internet, but my tone or words can be twisted out of their meaning. There is something about physical, face-to-face relationships that are better than online ones. That's not to knock online relationships. I have cousins who are overseas and I can only talk to them through the internet. That's great. But that enhances our face-to-face relationship. Then there are relationships that I have with people on the internet that I've never met. That's not bad. But were it possible to meet with them face to face, wouldn't that be better?
   The problem is, as an introvert: I say, "No. I'd prefer to only talk to people on the internet. I'd prefer to never have to talk to someone face to face." But is that healthy? Aren't relationships necessary for healthy human life? Even if it is awkward, isn't awkward learning better than no learning at all? And, as great as internet relationships are, for me there is something about face-to-faceness that is so much better.
   So is all this stuff in the book? No. The book had little to say on this subject other than offering up the question. But ever since I've read that book it has been in my mind. So there: now it's out.

   What do you think? Is there something inherently better about face-to-face relationships, or is any relationship (whether over paper, screen, or in real life) equally good? Comment below and tell me what you think!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Writing Update: July 17 2015

   There's a particular feeling of despair that comes over one when it is Friday night and I have no ideas for a blog post. When I have no idea what to write about, I go for something simple. Which is why I aimed for a writing update.
   See, there's this thing I'm supposed to be: an author. I've even come out with two books (that's what that 'Books' tab at the top of the page means). The issue is this: the second book in my Kitten Mysteries series came out last July. And it's been a year (that's how time works, sadly) which means that the next book (The Kyge in the Mist) should come out soon if not now. The issue is that the book doesn't write itself and writing has been very slow recently. So I have almost nothing to say about the writing. So I'm not sure why I'm doing a writing update. Logic would dictate I would do something else, but, well, writing updates are easy and I haven't done one in a while. Maybe I should combine this with a reading update...

Reading Update: July 2015
I recently finished the audiobook of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Very interesting book. I should do a review of it soon.
I am currently rereading The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien. It's a fascinating book with amazing writing (as most people already know). I may even have a post coming soon about the scene where Gandalf, Theoden, and Saruman converse about Saruman's betrayal of all that is good. Look for that coming up, er, soon.

Back to Writing Update
Anyway, the writing is slow, but blog posts are continuous! Though, they may be a little late. So, I guess that's all I have to say for this week. If you want to encourage me to write more, comment below or yell at me on twitter @jesseorice.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Review of Iscariot by Tosca Lee

   The current culture is obsessed with antiheroes. Dexter, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, all have villains as the lead(s). They are the ones viewers are focused on and, possibly, rooting for. I watched the first two seasons of Breaking Bad and found that this obsession with villainy wasn't something I was interested in. I don't want to be watching a man's descent into evil. I am fine with flawed heroes or conflicted heroes. But there are some things which push a flawed hero into villain territory and that makes it very hard for me to want to continue with the story. Then I picked up Iscariot by Tosca Lee. In case it isn't obvious by the title, the story is about the life of Judas Iscariot: possibly one of the most famous traitors in history. This brought me to a tricky point. Why? Because I loved the book.
   This was a tricky thing for me. Because Judas certainly isn't a good person. He betrayed his best friend (though, in this version, the story isn't as cut and dried as all that). Yet I really connected with the character. From when the story starts with Judas as a child to when he betrays Jesus, I felt a connection with the character. I felt sympathy for him. I didn't agree with his actions: but I could actually feel like that was a choice I could make.
   Here's the difference: Judas starts out as a good person. He strives to do good. And even when he's doing ill, he is still trying to do good. I have not watched Dexter, I haven't watched or read Game of Thrones. But I did watch the first two seasons of Breaking Bad and I only once felt a connection with Walter White. Then, as the series went on, I was more and more disconnected with the man because I never felt like that could really happen. Sure, it makes compelling storytelling and it was brilliantly executed. But I didn't care about someone who was out there to destroy the world, because really what he was doing didn't seem like an option that people that I knew would make. Of course, I could be wrong. Other people love the show, and I say great.
   So if you're looking to encounter a tragedy and Breaking Bad isn't your cup of tea, may I suggest Star Wars Episodes I-III (though, the quality is lower than the other two I've mentioned). Or read Iscariot by Tosca Lee. It's well-written and well-told, a good read and a very thought-provoking book.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Best Part of a Book

   Ever thought about what a book smells like? I was in a Barnes and Nobles recently and, to my surprise, I smelled a book. It was as if something unconscious inside me was interested not just in the feel of the story but the scent of it as well.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Post 100

This is blog post 100,
An event that's quite big,
I sought to do something special,
Something the readers will dig.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inspiration for Cat

   Some of you readers may already know this, but I had one of my short stories published as an podiobook (podcast audiobook) through the Untold Podcast. (You can find the story, titled Cathere.) Because of this awesome occasion, I decided to talk about some of the inspiration for that story, what themes I was trying to convey, and how I tried to make the story the best it could be. So, if you haven't already, you may want to listen to the story (it's free, after all) and then come back here and read the inspiration behind it. Or, if you prefer to do things backwards, you can read about the story and then listen to the story itself. One warning, however: there will probably be spoilers ahead. Fair warning.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Submission in Art

   What is the point of art? To teach? To guide? To explore themes through story?
   Is it to take a reader to a far-off land? To show someone how the world looks through my eyes? Or is it a way of letting someone enter my mind?
   Is this what literature can do? Can it allow us to enter into the mind of another, to truly see the world through their eyes? To see the thoughts they have, to feel the emotions they feel?
   Yet, thoughts are not gleaned from a place of skepticism. Stories are not understood from a place of pride. Emotions are not felt from a place of judgement.
   Learning descends on the humble. Emotion visits the compassionate. Understanding visits those who listen.
   How can this be done? How can I learn to appreciate art? How can I understand what the artist wishes to say? Through submitting to what the artist creates.
   A Star Wars novel will not approached in the same way as a classic. A comic book should warrant a different approach than a Dostoevsky novel. Submit to what the author offers and accept what they give.
   How should I do this? By being unafraid of what the artist offers. I need not agree with what I am given. I merely listen to what the artist offers. Through this place of acceptance and humility, I am able to connect with the other. Able to learn from that which is not me.
   That will not happen if I am haughty. That will not happen if I am superior to the art I intake. It will only happen through submission.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Review: The Missing Kitten by Jesse Rice

   Over the last few weeks, I've been getting ready to dive back into Kitten Mysteries book 3. I've taken a bit of time off with school and general procrastination, but to get myself back into the tone of the series I decided to re-read the first two books. Thus far I've read the first one and decided to do a book review and talk about what I thought of the first book I published. This is the first time I've read the book since publishing it, so it will hopefully be interesting to see what I think of it.
   The first thing I noticed is that it's kind of slow. There's a lot of running around without really getting anywhere until the climax. Though, maybe that's because I kept finding the terribleness and feeling generally anxious about how 'bad' the book was. The prologue, at least, felt well written to me (though some descriptions were a bit unnecessary). However, with its darker tone, the abrupt shift into the first chapter's goofy feel made the read a bit awkward. A reader told me that this book is a strange combination of a children's mystery with a dark thriller. So, take that as you will.
   While speaking of unnecessary descriptions: the pasture numbers and the directions and the general running around is way too confusing. Even me, the one who knows the landscape that I wrote about, kept wondering what in the world was going on. That kind of stuff should be left up to the imagination or, at least, described in a much more complete sense rather than just randomly mentioning things. I've heard from my readers that the map in the back of the book helped, but that's still something I have to work on. I hope I did better with that in the second book, but that's a different book review.
   Another thing that struck me is that my writing is pretty unpolished. It's like an excited kid telling a story, lots of jumping around and talking and stuff, and then a brief bit of description to help (or confuse) the reader. I need to work on making my exposition either more interesting or more relevant (maybe I'll do a post on that later).
   Normally, in a book review I would talk about the theme here. With this book there's not a whole lot of a theme, though there is one section which I'm proud of (I'm not sure if that's in a cheesy sense or in a good sense, though). One character talks about how perfection is not innocence or naivete; rather, perfection is an encounter with and a rejection of evil. I guess other readers will have to make up their own mind whether that's a theme actual presented enough in the book to be worth talking about.
   The last thing about this book is this: even with all those previous quibbles, I still feel it's one of the best books I've written. It's fun, it's not shoving a moral down my throat (though there is still one there), and it sets up stuff for the rest of the series without making it seem like a set up novel. Though, there are definitely some spots that push it away from being an entirely standalone story. Still, I think it's par for the course for a kid's book (not sure if that's a good thing, though...). I'd give it 3.5 to 4 stars, though I must admit I'm probably somewhat biased.

   Anyway, enough of my rambling: what did you think? Have you read The Missing Kitten? If you have, comment below! Or tweet me @Jesseorice. Did you think my review was fair? Or has this review shown that you'll never read The Missing Kitten? Comment about that! Basically I'm just asking for interaction because I get bored just typing on a screen all day. With that said, I guess I'll type at you next week! Bye.

Friday, May 29, 2015

How To Better Appreciate Stories

   A few months ago, I reviewed a book on Into the Book. I liked it, but I thought it was not very well written, or a well told story. I still think that to some extent, but when I listened to a podcast about the book, my mind was changed.

Friday, May 22, 2015

How do I Review a Story?

   The pain of writing a weekly blog is forcing oneself to put out content week after week. There are weeks I just don't feel it. And then there are weeks that I want to write something, but I don't really know what to write. So I'm just going to write what's on my mind. Today, that is reviewing things.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Thoughts: Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

   Confession: I have only just recently read a book by Asimov. Yes, I know he's a master of science fiction. I just haven't had a chance or the time to read his works until recently. Therefore, when I found a copy of Foundation and Earth (being a part of his well-known Foundation series) I promised myself I would read it. And I have. Even after finding out it is the final book in the series. However, Asimov himself wrote that it more or less stands alone, so I read it. What did I learn?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Comprehending Narrative Art

   "Question: What is Art?
   "Answer: Art is exploring questions about life through narrative."
   "How does that work with paintings or sculptures?"
   "Point taken. Therefore 'Answer: Art is exploring questions about life through narrative or emotion.'"
   "Very good, answer accepted. Continue."

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bad Book Review Prerequisite

   "Um, excuse me?"
   "Yeah? How can I help you?"
   "I'm here to learn how to review a bad book."
   "Ah, yes. You. Well?"
   "Right. Um, I guess my question is this: if I call a book bad, does that reflect on the author negatively?"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Writing in Community

   Writing. It's nasty. It's annoying. It's hard.
   Why did I want to be a writer?

Friday, April 10, 2015

5 Tips for Editing a Story

   I have discovered that I learn more about writing by reading bad books than I do by reading good ones. This kind of makes sense, because when I read a good book I'm so drawn into the story that I don't care much about how it was composed. However, when reading a bad book I'm wondering why it is bad and once I've figured out why it is bad I can understand how to fix it. So that's what this blog post is about: a few tips that I've discovered on how to edit a story.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Thor and Self-Sacrifice

   Since this post goes out on Good Friday, I was wondering how to make it topical. As I was thinking this, I thought over some of the ideas I had in my head for posts I would like to do in the future. One of them was a post on the film Thor. As I thought more about it, I actually realized that Thor has a lot to do with Good Friday and Easter. Why is that? Because Thor is about self sacrifice.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Song Review: I Need You, I Love You, I Want You by Tenth Avenue North

   I've been listening to some music lately. Mostly the Les Miserables soundtrack, but also some Tenth Avenue North. One song in particular has been stuck in my head. Which one? (Hint: it's the title of this music review.)
   The lyrics themselves are pretty simple: it's mostly 'I need you, I love you, I want you' over and over again, with a few others thrown in for good measure. The other words help add to the idea of the song, but those three base phrases are really interesting. I think they show an interesting progression of how people react to God.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Idea Protectors

   Recently, I've been working around some loud machinery. Around that loud machinery, I wear ear protectors. This is a necessary thing, so I'm not deafened, but it made me think of an allegory to how I am and should live my life. Allow me to elaborate.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Reading in Community

   Two things have been on my mind lately. One of them is that I just recently listened to The Bible as Literature podcast episode Broken Records. In this episode, Father Marc Boulos stated that if the reading the entire Bible is too daunting, read one book over, over, and over again in order to really understand it. Then, once that is done, find someone else who has done the same with a different book and learn from each other. If this is done with enough people, then one can learn the entire Bible through the experience of community.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: Ida

Recently, I've been trying to read more 'good' literature. I don't want to settle for only reading average works, but I want to read stuff that is widely considered great. This drive to read better has drifted over into my watching patterns as well. Therefore, when I saw that the winner of Best Foreign Film was on Netflix, I decided to watch it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pop the Bubble

   Well, I'm back. On the 5th of February, I left on a missions trip to Costa Rica. I remained there until the 15th; praying, working, playing, and fellowshipping with people from Costa Rica and with people from the States.
   The interesting thing about this trip was that everyone in the group which traveled down there was from my area. And we had been having meetings for months beforehand, so I vaguely knew them (or, at least, recognized them) by the time we arrived in Costa Rica. Funnily, what struck me the most about all of them was that even though we lived in such close proximity, our ideologies were so different. This wasn't a small bit of theology like baptizing forward or backward, this was vast differences in theology. This was differences in how we looked at the world. Sure, the basis was same, we were all Christians, but when we got to the finer points of theology our views differed.
   For me, a homeschooler that's used to only interacting with different people over the internet, this was quite disorienting. And I was having a difficult enough time as it was (I don't like traveling to begin with) but when I had to face having my bubble broken, it was near terrifying.
   Yet, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.
   See, it is easy to be theologically and emotionally firm when there are no conflicts that I must face. As long as everyone agrees with me, I have no inner conflict of whether I am right or not. Yet, without conflict there is no growth. My comfort zone must be breached, my bubble must be popped in order for me to truly develop as a person. I hate it (oh, I hate it), but it is a necessary part of growing up.
   How does this relate to writing (as a writer, everything eventually comes back to writing)? A writer should be a traveler. Why? In order to understand how the world works. A good writer should not just create escapist fantasy, but should reveal truths about the world to the reader. In order to reveal those truths, I must learn them myself. In order to reveal them to a reader, I must write a compelling story in which to encapsulate the truths. And in order to write a compelling story, I must understand other people in order to create proper characters, settings, and plots.
   So travel is important. Whether it is leaving the continent, the country, or just walking out my front door: meeting other people is important. Experiencing other places is important. Forming relationships is important. But none of that can be done, if my personal bubble pushes them away. In order to experience life, I must pop the bubble.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review: King's Warrior by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

   A few years ago, (sometimes in 2013, I think) I downloaded a free kindle book. It was my first kindle book, because I only had a kindle because it came free on my new computer. As such, the only time I actually read the book was when I had my computer and there was no internet. Basically, it took me a really long time to read. Read it I did, however, and now I'm going to write a review of it! (I'd put in a plot synopsis, but it is really long. Go here if you want to know what it's about.)
   A reviewer of this book likened it to Tolkien in its scope and plot. I agree. The world is grand with lots of history and characters and creatures. The world is also big, which means there's lots of walking time. It's not as bad as Tolkien, where he spends pages getting them from one place to another, but there is still a good deal of walking. However, walking allows time for characters and that's a good thing about this book. The characters are fairly well mapped out. None of the characters seem wooden or just thrown in as plot devices. They are fully fledged characters, full of pain and stupidity and moments of brilliance.
   What about the plot? The plot is pretty simple, yet complex. There's a lot of stuff going and from multiple points of view. We have the main characters off on their quest (and then they get separated a few times) as well as having the King keeping lookout for attack and the villains attacking. This isn't really spoilery, this is epic fantasy. There's always going to be a group being attacked and a group on a quest and a group of villains attacking. There are certain things about Epic Fantasy that don't change, and this book has all those things.
   And that's part of my problem with this book. There's nothing overly wrong with the book in itself (save for a little bad dialogue and some blatant exposition). As far as books go, I've definitely read (and written) worse. The thing is that this book just feels like it has been done before. There's so much stuff so very similar that it almost feels like a rehash. Maybe as the series goes on it will feel a little bit fresher, but I finished this one and just felt like, "Okay, that was an epic fantasy novel". I don't think that's a good thing.
   So: would I recommend this book? If you like the genre, go for it. If your a bit tired of the same old, same old... there's not much new here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

January Reading Recap

   Earlier this month I talked about some of the highlights from the books I read last year. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of books because I had read so many throughout the year. In order to avoid that this year I'm going to try and do a reading recap every month or so and talk about a few of my favorite reads (or listens, if they were audiobooks). Without that preface, here goes:
   1. Marvels by Kurt Busiek
   This is a graphic novel. At the beginning of the year, I read a bunch of graphic novels. I gave this one four stars. It's interesting because I gave Superman: Birthright 5 stars, and yet I'm talking about this one. Busiek writes a story of what it would be like for humans to live in the Marvel universe. He shows how humans react to those different than them and wonders how they should react. All in all it was a great read. Now that I talk about it, I'm wondering why I didn't give it five stars... Oh well, no time to think of the past!
   2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
   Some call this the greatest book ever written. I wouldn't call it the best, but its definitely up there. Karamazov is a long book and it reads like it. There's lots of plot, character development, and philosophy jammed into those many pages. It can sometimes be slow, but this book is such a fascinating read. There's so much to think about in this book. Most prominently is the issue of evil and suffering which plagues every Christian. This book smacked me in the face, and then made me wonder if maybe what I had seen as a problem was the solution in itself. I'll let you decide, which means you have to read this book!
   3. The Bacchae by Euripides
   Euripides is an author (playwright, rather) I've just started reading and he is great! I started with Alcestis and Hippolytus (both great), then tried The Bacchae. Let me tell you, this is a fascinating read. It is the story of Dionysus (the wine god) who gets mad at a King for being unkind to him, then Dionysus kills him. It makes absolute sense from a logical standpoint. The Greek gods, or Roman for that matter, were not known for being nice. However, what I found amazing was that Jesus, who was hurt twice as badly by humanity, was gracious and not spiteful. I thought this was a great read and I should probably read it again.
   4. The Nameless City by Michael Scott
   A few months ago I bought a Doctor Who collection of short stories and just now got around to listening to them. Of the five I've listened to so far, this was the best. Scott does a great job of getting into the Second Doctor's head (the narration by Frazer Hines helps a lot) and generally makes it feel like a Second Doctor story. The story itself, while not super deep, is fun and intelligent in its own right. Actually, it did make me think a little about justice and revisionist history. And there's bagpipes! How can you go wrong?
   5. King's Warrior by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt
   I got this book when it was free on Kindle around two years ago. I've been slowly reading it ever since. It is a fairly good book, if a little slow. I won't say too much about it now, since I'm probably going to do a review of it in the near future. Still, I'd recommend it if one is interested in large scale epic fantasy stories.

   Those were some of my favorite, or most interesting, reads of January. What books did you read this month? What did you think of them? Comment below and tell me about it!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

   I have never been much of a horror fan. I was one of those kids with an overactive imagination, which caused me to imagine enough horrors lurking in the shadows so I didn't have to have others imagine them for me. Maybe that's part of the curse of being a writer. Whatever the reason, I avoided the horror genre like a plague. Now, as I get older, I've dipped my toes in the water, so to speak.
   A few years ago, I read Frankenstein in a British Literature class, so when I saw it at a book sale my family picked it up so my siblings could read it when they take the class. The version that I saw of Frankenstein had a pairing with Dracula, which gave me the excuse to read it. Interestingly, I had listened to a podcast on monsters around the same time and heard various reviews of the book. From the glowing reviews and the not so entertaining reviews, I was dreading and looking forward to Dracula. Afterwards, I feel somewhat the same, though far more skewed to one side than the other.
   The story itself is fairly simple: a solicitor from England travels to Transylvania to help a Count with a property he bought. Upon arrival there, he discovers the Count is more than he appears and finds himself in a race against time to stop the Count from spreading his nefarious ways to England.
   If you've heard the name Dracula at all, you probably know he is a vampire. As such, this book presents several fascinating ideas about the correlations between blood and life. A theme I found fascinating was the correlation between Dracula's bringing life through the offering of blood and the Eucharist. Dracula's blood brings earthly life, but results in spiritual death. Christ blood, on the other hand, usually causes Christians to risk their lives because they know that spiritual life, or eternal life, awaits them.
   What did I think of this book overall? I found it a bit slow in the middle, but it grabbed my attention at the beginning and end. The end itself, once the final showdown is revealed, is a page-turning read. However, the ideas the book presents, and the storytelling, (along with the fact that the book is a classic) are good enough reasons to read it.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Prequels are Not Dumb

   Here is a non-controversial admittance (not a confession): I like Star Wars. I find the Original Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) a fun, intelligent, poignant collection of sci-fi  films. Here's a controversial admittance: I like the Star Wars prequels. I find the Prequel Trilogy (Episodes I-III) an enjoyable, intelligent, and tragic collection of sci-fi films (and I don't mean tragic in the sense that some might). I understand that the writing has faults, the dialogue delivery is cringe-worthy at times, and the action tends to crowd out the story. However, having recently watched Episode III, I must say that it is a decent, dare I say it, good tragedy. However, I'm not here to defend the acting or any of that, I'm here to propose that the prequels are not mindless and dumb. They make a very important point, specifically one that the Christian Church should keep in mind.
   What do I mean by that? The prequels start with Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi, rescuing a young slave boy from a life of misery. This boy, Anakin Skywalker, having lived his life as a slave in an uncivilized desert planet, suddenly is brought to the center of the universe. He goes from having only a relationship with his mother to having a mentor and a friend in Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan Kenobi. First, Qui-Gon must receive the Jedi Council's permission to receive the boy as his apprentice. The council denies this request, for it would break their rules of only accepting young children as apprentices, and Anakin's age (10-12) was too old. Qui-Gon leaves, upset, and soon dies in a battle with the Sith.
   This introduces the main point of the Star Wars Prequels: when a religion becomes legalism, it dies. The Jedi, after years and years of existing comfortably in the Republic, have changed from being dependent on the force to being dependent on the Republic. The religion of the Jedi is reduced from a 'relationship' with the force to a focus on keeping the rules. And, as things tend to go, as the Jedi focus on the rules, they get bound with the rule makers: the Republic. Thus, the Republic becomes the important thing, and the Jedi promise to keep it running.
   The legalism of the Jedi is best seen in they're continuous admonition to resist relationships. Why? For attachment causes loss, loss leads to fear and fear leads to the dark side. Of course, without relationships people can also become lonely, lost, and depressed. The Jedi are seeking to avoid the negative sides of relationships and, in doing so, lose the positive as well. Emotions are not to be avoided, but being controlled by emotions are to be. However, due to this lack of being able to have relationships with others (and the continual distrust of the Jedi Council), Anakin eventually seeks a friendship with the only person who will listen to him: Palpatine. And that doesn't end so well.  
   Thus this legalism and dependence on the Republic leads, eventually, to the Jedi doing whatever it takes to keep the Republic in power. They never question the orders of the Republic, because they are no longer focused on what is right, but what keeps the peace. From that point on, it is only a slow slide from Republic to Dictatorship, from Democracy to Empire.
   Why is this useful to the Christian Church? Because it embodies how a religion can turn from a focus on God (or the force) to a focus on the a Kingdom. There is nothing wrong with partnering with an Earthly Kingdom to do good deeds, as long as the Church always recognizes that there is a distinction between the Earthly Kingdom and the Heavenly Kingdom. However, if the Church starts to become a part of the state, as the Jedi became the Republic's peacekeepers, then it is the Heavenly Kingdom that ends. In history we can see this happening. When the Church becomes too involved with the State, the Church is the one that suffers or spreads suffering to others.
   So why are the prequels not dumb? They show us how a religion should not behave. It should not turn away from Deity to rules, not turn away from Heavenly Kingdoms to becoming a part of Earthly Kingdoms. Instead, it should keep a separation between Church and State, for if they do not it ends in Empire. And then it will take forty years in the wilderness (or 23) before the Church can get on its feet once again.

   What do you think? Are the Star Wars Prequels a little bit better now? Or are you still disgusted with them? Comment below and tell me what you think!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Not What but How

   What we say is important. Having a point behind my words or a point behind my stories is important. That means that I am not just blowing steam, but actually spending my time for a purpose. However, just because I have a good point, does not mean that I should sacrifice storytelling. How I tell a story or how I make a point is sometimes as important as the point itself.
   Take, for example, the Star Wars prequels. I think they have a fabulous point to make about a pitfall of institutional religion (more on that in a different post). The problem is that the way the story was told is not that great. The acting is poor in spots, the dialogue is not that strong, and some characters can be annoying. Also, the point itself can sometimes be lost in frivolous battles.
    Why is it important in how a point is conveyed? How a point is conveyed can say a lot about how people think of the point itself. For example, a teacher can have wonderful grammatical principles to give to his students, but if he cannot give teach them well then the students will not learn them. If the teacher does not properly teach the principles, then what importance will those principles hold in the students' minds?
   Here's another analogy: a Jacksonville Jaguars fan is really excited that their football team had a winning season. This is a legitimate reason to celebrate and to tell to others. However, if the fan tells all her friends that her team is way better than theirs and, ergo, their teams suck, that message will be soured by the means. If, however, the football fan excitedly mentions to her friends that her team has a winning record after however-many-seasons, then she gives her friends a chance to celebrate with her, rather than be defensive about their teams.
   This also applies to giving movie reviews. Last year, I reviewed God's Not Dead and had a few critical things to say about it. I opened with the critical remarks, and then the rest of the review was nitpicked by fans thinking I was criticizing the entire thing. The way I worded my review and how I presented it caused people to make assumptions about my thoughts. It was not just what I said about the film which represented my views, but how I said them.
   I also listened to a podcast recently which reviewed The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. They opened negatively, waxed on eloquently about the pitfalls of the film, and then squeezed in a few things they liked about it. Of course, most of what they said was with good reason. The film has many shortcomings, I acknowledge that. However, the way the statements were made (stating that this was obviously bad or nobody could keep from laughing at this part) discredits those people, belittles even, those who may have liked the film. Perhaps this is just me being thin-skinned, but I think that even when criticizing, there must be some measure of tact.
   Of course, most of humor nowadays entails belittling and making fun of stuff. Some stuff well deserves it, some doesn't, but it gets funnies made about it all the same. Maybe this is me just being ridiculous, but I think, to some extent, respect should be the first thought. Then, in relationship, loving jokes can be made. I don't know how that really works in an age were media can be thrown up on the internet where anybody can see it, but I'd like to challenge myself to be more respectful, even with things, or people, I dislike.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reading Highlights from 2014

   I know, I know, I'm a little late in doing this. I've been toying with a reading post for about a month now. I thought it would be interesting to sit down every once in a while and just talk about stuff I've been reading. Yet, whenever I had a chance to sit down, I never really knew what to talk about. Then I figured the end of the year would be the optimal time to test such a post. That came and went. Now I'm a week late, and I'm going to force myself to do it. Therefore, here are some of my reading highlights: books that I either really enjoyed, thought were powerful, or just have something to say about.

   1. Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler
   I got the idea to read this book on a whim. I was looking for another book in the library, and having a bit of difficulty in finding it, when I stumbled upon this. I hadn't read Hitler's magnum opus before, though I had not heard good things (it's Hitler, what do you expect?). I decided, after finding my other book, to give Hitler a chance. This is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. It is racist, sexist, crazy, and yet thoughtful. Hitler definitely had his philosophy well worked out, as disturbing as it was. This is an important historical work of literature, even though its not very well written and it is full of bad, bad ideas. I'm not sure why this is first on my list, other than that it is the most recent book I've read so it is fresh on my mind.

   2. On Writing by Stephen King
   This is a great book. It's a fun read, it's full of good material, and King is a great writer. He entertains even when talking about grammar, and he makes you think about how to better the writing craft. If you are a writer, you should probably read this book.

   3. A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd
   This is a great book. It's the story of a Pastor's Journey toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace. With that said, this is a non-fiction book, but it is still gripping. Zahnd challenged me to look at my life and look at the way I view the Bible to see if they match up with Jesus. A great book.

   4. Unwritten by Charles Martin
   My mom read this book first, then gave it to me saying I would enjoy it. It's the story of a celebrity who gets so messed up she tries to kill herself, but is rescued by a hermit. The hermit, who used to be something of a celebrity himself, offers to help her disappear of the radar. She accepts. The rest of the book involves the story of how she tries to sort her life out (with the reluctant help of the hermit, of course). This book tells a great story and contains some powerful philosophy. I would advise this one to writers as well.

   5. The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
   I really did not like this book. It is the ninth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events and the rest of the books, as expected, are quite sad. The ending of this one, I felt, was just unnecessarily bleak. However, I know wonder if that was the point. Snicket seems to be pointing at our entertainment and our view of others. We quibble over mindless differences, then turn to entertainment full of violence and messy eating. Disgusting.

   6. The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
   I read/listened-to a lot of classics through the year, but I think this was one of the best. Its the story of Pinocchio, the little wooden marionette who wants to be a real boy. Interestingly, the story is comprised of short stories, with each chapter forming a story all on its own, more or less. The chapters fit together to tell an overall story as well, making it fascinating experience for the reader. After finishing this story, I think I had stumbled upon a essential-read among the children's literature genre.

There, those are some of my reading highlights from last year. What about yours? What books did you read last year? Any good ones? Any bad ones? Comment below and tell me about it!