Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

March 12th, 2011 Matt Jones No comments
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Last night I finished off Suzanne Collins’ second book in the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire (here is my review of Hunger Games). While this series is one for “young adult” readers, it is definitely one that can be enjoyed by all audiences. The plot is interesting and the characters are relatable. Catching Firedefinitely had an Empire Strikes Back or Two Towers feel to it; it is a middle book. That being said, it still carried its own weight in terms of plot development.

At the end of Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen has become victor in the arena but at the expense of making the Capitol look foolish. Because of her innocuous actions (at least to her), they have it in for her. Little do they know but she, and a surprising number of others, have it in for them. This book is definitely a build up to something larger.

My only actual complaint was that the resolve at the end seemed to happen all at once and a little to neatly (not that everything isgood, just neat). It was nice to have some closure on things that I had already figured out, I just didn’t think wrapping up everything would come in the last few pages of the book. But that wasn’t a big deal and it did come naturally as part of the plot.

One of the most brilliant scenes was when Katniss’ designer had her turn into a Mockingjay, a very powerful symbol that has been with Katniss through her first ordeal and that will remain with her throughout her life. I am actually quite looking forward to finishing the series in Mockingjay.

Here are Cori’s thoughts on Catching Fire. And my original review of Hunger Games. Hey, look at that, book number six done!

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

March 8th, 2011 Matt Jones No comments
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This was my second time through Douglas Adam’s classic Hitchhiker and it was just as fun reading it again. I’m not going to do an actual review here, but just recommend it to those who enjoy quirky sci-fi. This is a classic for a reason.

I would also like to point out that this is the 5th book I have read this year. Which, for me, is a big deal. Just sayin’.

Just remember that the “answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” is 42. Now, if only we knew the Ultimate Question.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe come next in the series!

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Space Saturday XXXVI: The Rosette Nebula

February 26th, 2011 Matt Jones No comments

The 36th edition of Space Saturday brings us the Rosette Nebula.

The Rosette Nebula

The Rosette Nebula (Click for larger version.)

This beautiful image of the Rosette Nebula comes to us from Brian Lula (source) and is found in theconstellation Monoceros. Nebula is about 5300 light years away and contains hot, young X-ray emitting stars at its center.

Inside the nebula lies an open cluster of bright young stars designated NGC 2244. These stars formed about four million years ago from the nebular material and their stellar winds are clearing a hole in the nebula’s center, insulated by a layer of dust and hot gas. Ultraviolet light from the hot cluster stars causes the surrounding nebula to glow.

For more astronomy pictures, check out my Space Saturday Archive.

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Storm Front: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

February 25th, 2011 Matt Jones No comments
Storm Front: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Storm Front: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

On another recommendation from Dan I picked up the first of The Dresden Files series: Storm Front. It was another enjoyable entrance into the realm of fantasy. Here we meet Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden a private detective trying to pay his rent and make it from day to day in our difficult world who also happens to be a Wizard.

What’s a guy to do when the White Council is out to get you, when the cops lose their faith in you, when people are being murdered by magic and some want to blame you? Well, I guess you take matters into your own hands and do your job, even if that means venturing into the dark.

Odds seemed really good that I was going to get killed, whether I tried to face him or not. To hell with it, then. If I was going to go out, it wasn’t going to be while I was lying around moaning and bitching about how useless it all was. If Victor Sells wanted to take out Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, he was going to have to shove his magic right down my throat.

He was having a rough day, but he sure kept on going! And without giving too much away, I had to quote this toward the end of the book:

And so, I walked through a spectral landscape littered with skulls, into the teeth of the coming story, to a house covered in malevolent power, throbbing with savage and feral mystic strength. I walked forward to face a murderous opponent who had all the advantages, and who stood prepared and willing to kill me from where he stood within the heart of his own destructive power, while I was armed with nothing more than my own skill and wit and experience.

Do I have a great job or what?

Doesn’t that just make you want to check this book out? Well, you should!

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The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

February 12th, 2011 Matt Jones No comments
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

I started reading The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller right when I got my Kindle, blazed through most of this amazing book, and then promptly got distracted by a few other books… Well, I finally finished! Keller’s thesis is summarized neatly:

Jesus’ great Parable of the Prodigal Son retells the story of the entire Bible and the story of the human race. Within the story, Jesus teaches that the two most common ways to live [the younger son's estrangement from the father and the elder son's self-righteousness before the father] are both spiritual dead ends. He shows how the plotlines of our lives can only find a resolution, a happy ending, in him, in his person and work.

This is a very quotable and profound book, I hope you will read on (Sorry, it’s going to be a long one!)!

Keller does a wonderful job of exegeting the parable from Luke; while there were similarities with Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son, Keller’s take is more theological to Nouwen’s more reflective spiritual journey. That being said, don’t let “more theological” dissuade you from delving into this book; it is a worthy read for a long time Christian (even necessary I would say, we tend to be Elder Brothers), a new Christian trying to find a home in the faith, or someone who is seeking the faith but been put off by the Church. We all, and I do mean all, find ourselves, at different points in our lives, as either the estranged younger brother or the strictly moral older brother, both of which we find unsatisfactory.

Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery. Each act as a lens coloring how you see all of life, or as a paradigm shaping your understanding of everything. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of the world, and of determining right from wrong.

But, as I’m sure you are fully aware, they both fall short. What we need is the Father. Here is the crux of the situation:

Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently.

Bummer! Fortunately the Father invites both sons back into his home and the feast that awaits.

The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches: In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.

Amen and amen. After being asked what is wrong with the world, G. K. Chesterton replied, “I am.” Keller notes, “That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”

We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price – someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself. Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place.

The elder brother in the parable was self-righteous and angry that his father could allow the younger brother to return, it had a literal cost to the elder brother. Thankfully our true elder brother in Jesus was willing to pay for our return to the Family. John Newton is quoted from one of his hymns:

Our pleasure and our duty,
though opposite before,
since we have seen his beauty
are joined to part no more.

A wonderful summary of the work of Christ I would say. This is the Gospel. We are broken and redeemed freely by grace. We were (are?) the estranged younger brother but that doesn’t mean we have to become the self-righteous elder brother. Our Father is inviting us in to the party, his eternal feast. We should accept.

Hearing the word “prodigal” applied to God seems odd to us because we usually think of the “prodigal son” which usually has the connotation of someone who has screwed up. This is a misunderstanding of the word “prodigal”. Prodigal means to spend money or resources freely and recklessly; to be wastefully extravagant. As Cori puts it in her review, “the reader learns that God is recklessly extravagant with us. He’s spent everything on us. He is truly a prodigal God. I found this concept to be achingly beautiful.” Indeed.

Keller leaves us with this passage out of Isaiah and so will I:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;

And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

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The Color of Magic: Discworld by Terry Pratchett

February 10th, 2011 Matt Jones No comments
The Color of Magic

The Color of Magic – A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett

I have never been much of a fiction reader, but I am always willing to take suggestions from people. Especially when I generally appreciate their taste in literature. Dan likes to read good sci-fi and/or fantasy so when he suggested I read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld I thought I would check it out. The first in the series (why is it I always get myself into a series with more books to buy!?), The Color of Magic, was quite an enjoyable entrance into the Discworld universe.

It was whimsical and fun with endearing characters. While Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower went on their adventures, I quite enjoyed his luggage popping up from time to time to add to the levity and excitement.

If you are looking for a well written fantasy book or series, The Color of Magic: A Discworld Novel would be a good place to start.

Discworld with Great A'Tuin

Discworld with Great A’Tuin

And since Pratchett has written quite a few Discworld novels, someones has even created a very helpful chart: The Discworld Reading Order Guide.

Also, since the geography is somewhat confusing, which is bound to happen when your planet is a flat disc on the back for four elephants which are, in turn, standing on the back of Great A’Tuin, a giant tortoise, there are a number of maps available.

Recommended? Absolutely.

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