18 February 2011

Book Review: Grave Descend by John Lange

Grave DescendGrave Descend by John Lange


Publisher
: Dorchester Publishing Company; November 2006
ISBN: 9780843955972
Original Publisher: Constant c Productions; 1970
Paperback: 203 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: GoodReads swap
Time to Read: 2 hours


| Enjoyability: 4 | Readability: E | Characterization: 4 | Overall: A- |
(Traditional Rating: 4 Stars)

Synopsis (from Amazon)
SOMETHING’S GOING DOWN OFF THE COAST OF JAMAICA
Diver James McGregor is used to being hired to explore sunken ships. But there’s something strange about the wreck of the luxury yacht Grave Descend. No one who was aboard tells quite the same story about what happened. Then there’s the matter of the mysterious cargo they were carrying…
In one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a sinister plot is about to unfold. And if McGregor’s not careful, he may find himself in over his head.
Background
My favorite author since adolescence is Michael Crichton ever since I watched Jurassic Park and read The Lost World.  By the time I graduated high school, I had read everything he had printed in his own name to that point.  However, I had only read one of his pseudonymous works and really did not know what else he had written.  Thanks to GoodReads, I was able to get a quick list of everything attributed to Crichton and even put them on a wish list so, when someone was ready to swap out their copy, I would have a chance to get it.

Grave Descend was the first book to become available to swap from another GoodReads reader, and I jumped at the chance.  This was a very quick read and pretty easy to follow.  Crichton had written this book while in medical school, and it was published in 1970.  That year it was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. The printing I read was the first reprint ever of the book (from my research), which was published for the Hard Case Crime series.

My Reaction
This was a very quick and enjoyable read. It reactivated that part of my brain that had enjoyed the Hardy Boys stories as I tried to figure out the mystery as it was unfolding. The main characters were easy to cheer on, rather reminiscent of the hero of an action movie.  The antagonists were complex enough to be believable, but still somewhat larger than life. I guess you get that from these stories where espionage and coverup are involved.

There were times when I got a bit confused by some of the action and which character was whom, a problem I think would be somewhat unavoidable in this specific story. I had to read the last chapter twice to figure out what did finally happen to the relationships of the main characters.  Overall, the book was a nice distraction from doing things not related to reading and is something I could easily pick up and read a couple more times.

Reading Challenges:

Want this book?  Care to help out LeviSamJuno, too?  Click to buy Grave Descend from my aStore.

17 January 2011

Monday Mind Maneuver 2

Today's MMM is another cryptogram, mainly because it's an easy fallback thing for me to come up with so quickly for this morning.

MMM Cryptogram #2
Clue: M = A

AMWEORCC JMOOZB AWUPR ZFB AMWEORCC;


ZOGX GUINB JMO AZ BNMB.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.


ANSWER
Highlight the space between the brackets below.
[Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.]

10 January 2011

Monday Mind Maneuver 1

Just for fun, I thought I'd do a fun, start-of-the-work-week brain booster, which I hereby officially name the Monday Mind Maneuver (and I cannot tell you how difficult it was to find a word beginning with M that actually worked there to complete the necessary three-fold alliteration).  I'll try a whole bunch of little things here to get your mind going, perhaps with riddles, cryptograms, logic questions, research dissertations, and the like.

Today's MMM is a cryptogram.  In case you're not familiar with cryptograms, this is a phrase wherein all of the letters have been substituted by a different letter.  For today's cryptogram, your clue is H = L.

MMM Cryptogram #1

UA FGW ZLB KSLI YJUD, YJSB FGW JLXS


DWZZSDDAWHHF DGHXSI YJS AUKDY


ZKFRYGMKLT AGK YJUD EHGM.  ES DWKS YG


YSHH GYJSKD LEGWY UY.


- An original quote by LeviSamJuno


ANSWER
Highlight the space between the brackets below.
[If you can read this, then you have successfully solved the first cryptogram for this blog. Be sure to tell others about it.]

05 January 2011

Book Review: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson



Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., 7th ed.; 1886.
e-Book: 141 pages
Genre: Gothic mystery, classic
Source: Google Books
Time to Read: 3 hours


| Enjoyability: 5 | Readability: H | Characterization: 4 | Overall: A+ |
(Traditional Rating: 5 Stars)

Summary

A classic mystery (categorized as a Gothic mystery), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story about Dr. Henry Jekyll, a well-known, upstanding and wealthy citizen.  While handling changes to his will, lawyer John Utterson, Jekyll's dear friend, is disturbed by the naming of the sole recipient of Jekyll's estate upon his death: one Edward Hyde.  Utterson's feeling gets even worse upon hearing about the beneficiary's character through another acquaintance who witnessed Hyde, whom he instantly and inexplicably disliked from the first sight. His friend saw Hyde trample over a child carelessly and then, once confronted, paid the parents off with a check signed by Jekyll himself.  The only explanation Utterson can arrive at is that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll.

The story follows Utterson's attempt at helping Dr. Jekyll get out of the blackmail, investigating Hyde's background only to find that he has no history.  Utterson finally gets a breakthrough when a nobleman is beaten to death in the street and all the evidence points to Hyde.  Now Dr. Jekyll is secluded in his laboratory, isolating himself from his servants and friends, but the staff of Jekyll's estate are certain that Hyde has murdered Jekyll and is hiding out in the lab.  Utterson finds out the truth through sealed letters, which end the last two chapters of the book, only then revealing the mystery that most readers already know.

My Reaction

I have seen many variations of plays, movies, TV shows, and cartoons based on and inspired by Jekyll and Hyde, but this was this first time I had ever read it.  This was also the second book I have read by Stevenson (the first being Treasure Island).  Although it took me a while to get into Treasure Island, I was instantly gripped by J & H, and I think that is mostly because of my familiarity with the subject versus the former book.  When I read the first few pages, it almost felt like an episode of Law & Order, where you see the seemingly unrelated characters who just happened to stumble into the dead body of interest to that particular episode.  Unlike the show, however, I discovered that Utterson was really the central character and point of view for the book.

With that unexpected way of telling the story, I was very curious in how Utterson was involved in the whole reaction to relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Knowing the outcome of the story, the most fun for me was discovering the mystery with Utterson (more like a Columbo episode than Law & Order).  However, the way Stevenson wrote the story, I think it would have been a far more enjoyable read had I not known the twist to the story so well.  Fresh readers in the late 19th century were fortunate in this respect.

An element I was struck by that I must mention is the fluidity with which Stevenson interlaces scriptural references throughout the story.  Using a simple phrase from the Bible, the author instantly paints the picture that may have otherwise taken a paragraph to describe.  This was probably second nature to Stevenson, being the son of a minister (even though by the point of writing this book he was openly rejecting his religious upbringing).  Additionally, the common theme of the duality of the nature of Dr. Jekyll (torn between good and evil and seeking a way to separate them) is a striking allegory to the moral battle everyone faces.

Just as many people have said about Stevenson's other books, the author did not waste a word in the telling of this story.  I was engaged the whole way through and encourage anyone seeking a good classic read to choose Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Reading Challenges:

Want this book?  Care to help out LeviSamJuno, too?  Click to buy Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from my aStoreNote the link goes to a newer publication of the book from a different publisher.

03 January 2011

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Pictures by W.W. Denslow


Publisher
: George M. Hill Company; 1900
e-Book: 264 pages
Genre: Children's/Fairy Tale/Classic
Source: Google Books
Time to Read: 1-1/2 hours


| Enjoyability: 5 | Readability: E | Characterization: 4 | Overall: A- |
(Traditional Rating: 5 Stars)

Summary
The original published version of this classic fairy tale from L. Frank Baum is available as an e-book for free, complete with original illustrations by W.W. Denslow.  Though most famous for its 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland, the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz began in this book form as a modern fairy tale for the children of Baum's time.  In his introduction to the book, Baum claims that the old fairy tales could be filed away since moral lessons were now taught in modern schools and that this new tale exists solely for the enjoyment of its intended audience.

The story is familiar, but in its book form there are more adventures that failed to make it to the screen.  Dorothy, complete with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's one-room house and her dog Toto, are swept away by a tornado from gray, rural Kansas to the colorful and strange Land of Oz.  She is met by the Munchkins (here all dressed in blue) and the Good Witch of the North, celebrating the demise of the Wicked Witch of the East, who was smashed flat by Dorothy's house.  The Good Witch gives the little girl the dead witch's silver shoes and asks how she got there.  Dorothy only wants to get back to her aunt and uncle in Kansas, so the Witch of the East helps.

Dorothy is sent to the City of Emeralds on the road paved with yellow brick (I think the aforementioned imagery as it is worded as such in the book brings a fresh picture in mind, avoiding the movie cliché).  There she is to meet the Wizard of Oz, who should be able to help her get home.  Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion (all three about whose origins we find more backstory).  Her three comrades all have a need they would like to request from the Wizard. From there, they continue their journey along the road which passes through the several other adventures both before and after visiting the Wizard, who sends them on a quest to kill the Wicked Witch of the West before he honors their requests.

In the end, the three Oz residents in Dorothy's party are granted leadership by the peoples of three different lands within Oz (the Scarecrow becomes ruler of Emerald City, the Tin Woodman over the former Wicked Witch of the West's domain, and the Lion over the animals in the forest).  Glinda the Good Witch of the South (who only just appears near the end of the book) reveals the way for Dorothy to get back home.

My Reaction
I really enjoyed reading this book.  Having seen the movie more times than I can even recollect to count, I at first had the images of the movie in mind.  However, with the assistance of Baum's literary imagery and Denslow's original illustrations present in the e-book, I was able to completely reimagine the story, which turned out to be somewhat different from the movie.  As far as those differences, the characters in the book seemed more well-rounded, especially with the backstory that each of Dorothy's companions gave.

The fantastical land of Oz that Baum laid out was certainly one that children (and even well-imagining adult) readers could visualize and even almost believe while reading.  The way he had the different communities in Oz so markedly unique revealed the imagination the author had.  This is certainly a fairy tale with a good deal of adventure and fantasy that I believe any child would love to hear read over and over and which adults can read and enjoy.


Reading Challenges:
2011 e-Book Challenge

Want this book?  Care to help out LeviSamJuno, too?  Click to buy The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from my aStoreNote the link goes to a newer publication of the book from a different publisher.

2011 E-Book Challenge



The 2011 E-Book Challenge is being hosted by The Ladybug Reads. I don't have an e-reader except for an app I downloaded to my computer from Google called "Reader Library" that allows me to download and read books from the Sony ReaderStore, including access to the free public domain books from Google Books.

Click the image above to go to the site of the challenge host for more information and to sign up for the challenge.  I am going to start small and try for the "Curious" Level (read 3 e-books), but I may surprise myself and reach one of the higher levels: Fascinated (6), Addicted (12), or Obsessed (20).


Books I've Read for the
2011 E-Book Challenge

1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
2. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
3.

01 January 2011

Bible in a Year 2011


Bible in a Year



With a fresh year ahead of me, I pray that this will be the year I read the Bible all the way through and hope to grow closer to God and learn more about Him and my role in His kingdom in the process.  Using the plan from the Bible Reading website, I am once again going to attempt to read the Bible in a year (BiaY). 

Last year I started out really well until I started missing a day here and there and trying to catch myself up before missing a few days.  Before long I had missed whole books and then abandoned the effort entirely, going right back to where I started.

At the top of my sidebar on top of the rest of my reading challenges this year is my tracker for the BiaY.  I am tracking it by number of chapters read (out of a total of 1189 chapters in the King James Version).  Fortunately the ubiquity of the Bible in many places makes missing a reading difficult to accomplish: I have used my pocket Bible, BibleGateway, and the Bible reading plan website to catch up on my reading in the past.  So, admittedly, I have no excuse to not do this.

Feel free to join in with me, too.  I need the extra accountability and support.

Greetings, 2011!

What a year was 2010!  I started out the year with the 2-week-old news that I was going to be a father, something made all the more real by my wife's constant morning (and afternoon, and evening) sickness.  Silly me, I thought I could handle a 100 book reading challenge, regular book reviews, Bible reading updates, and other normal blog updates while finding a house, trying to rent out a house, preparing for a baby, and taking care of Rebecka.  A quick look at my updates from 2010 shows how well that went.

With the year beginning with plans for a baby in the late summer, we worked busily to get everything in order so he would have a place to stay.  At the time we lived in a two-bedroom apartment where the second bedroom was my wife's work-at-home office, leaving maybe a drawer for our coming son to have as a bed were we to stay there.  So, we upgraded our house search to level orange.

Meanwhile, Rebecka has a home near Cleveland where she lived before we got married and she moved down here to southern Ohio.  It was at the time occupied by some of her family members and her mortgage was taken care of and everything went well.  However they found themselves a house, which then required us to prepare that house for rental.  We had tried selling it before, but the market for houses was historically dismal, so we took a week in the spring to fix up little things here and there and put it up for rent.  Renters finally in place, we no longer had to worry about that house (except for, of course, the problems arising from being a landlord), and we pressed on to find our new house.

Through what can only be a divine intervention, we found a house that had been on the market for only a week and that was only being sold by the owner instead of through a realtor.  The owners, however, had found that house through the realtor we were using to buy a house, and things just fit together just right for us to get the house: a 3-bedroom with 2 garages and a nice, fenced-in backyard with a swing set already in place. 

The main obstacle then was the fact that we had two months before our son was due and had to move from our apartment to the house and (the nesting urge so great in Rebecka by now) prepare his room.  Of course, new obstacles arose (getting rid of a pest problem, having to replace the carpets, moving in and out of the garage several times), until we finally had everything in place nearly a week before Samuel arrived.

Ah, yes: Samuel, our new son.  First-time parents never expect that first month, and I was not at all prepared.  It (the whole parenting thing) has gotten much better since then, and he's so fun now with his smiles and learning to laugh.

So, forgive my absence this past year.  This year promises to be bigger.