Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sequel Spring

Well, since I've already broken down and taken the plunge into several challenges this month (which is totally against one of my New Years Resolutions), I'm going to go ahead and give up on that particular resolution. So I'm joining another challenge! Sequel Spring, hosted by Isa and Ren at Words in a Teacup. I found the challenge at A Novel Challenge

Rules are basically: read as many sequels as possible this Spring. All "next books" of a series count, unless you started reading the series after the beginning of the challenge. This is a good challenge for me, because I've already vowed to finish up some of my series this year. :)

My Progress

  1. Blood Ties (Book 3 of Spirit Animals), by Garth Nix and Sean Willams

Blood Ties, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Blood Ties, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy / Adventure Series

Reason for Reading: I'm already reading this series, of course, but I was happy that Scholastic provided an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Synopsis (May contain some light spoilers for earlier books in the series): Meilen has run away from the Greencloaks to search for her father in her homeland of Zhong. Conor, Abeke, and Rollan quickly follow - they hope to recover their friend and get the Slate Elephant talisman from Dinesh, the Great Elephant. But Zhong has been conquered, so the kids must fight through armies of enemies to find what they seek. The Devourer is gaining power, and he will stop at nothing to take over all of Erdas with his nature-defiling bile. 

My thoughts: Another great installment of the series. And they just keep getting better and better! (Not, of course, because the authors are changing, but because the plot and characters are developing as the series progresses.) Like in the earlier books, Blood Ties shows the power friendship - of working with your team rather than trying to fight evil alone. It encourages trust - of your partners, your friends, and the power of Good to conquer Evil. Most of all, the story is fun. It's a delight to watch as the kids' distinct characters develop, and how each character adds to the dynamics of the team. The world-building is also a lot of fun - it has both a familiar and a novel taste. For instance, Zhong is the Erdas-equivalent of Asia. The comparison is undeniable, and yet Zhong's culture and scenery are also delightfully unique. And, of course, this book is filled with adventures, intrigue, and battles - which any lover of middle grade fantasy / adventure books craves. I'm looking forward to the release of the next book in the series, Fire and Ice, in July.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Did Jesus believe the end of the world was nigh?

Week 2 of Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society was a lot of work for me, mostly because it was essay week. The assignment was to read and compare Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In these very similar passages, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, war, and many false prophets coming in his name. We were supposed to describe how these passages helped the early Christians make sense of the world around them, keeping in mind that the New Testament was written a half-century or more after Jesus' death (i.e. around the time of the Temple's destruction in 70CE). 

This was a difficult topic for me because I'm still struggling a lot with the difference between the spiritual Jesus that I was brought up to worship as God, and the historical Jesus who was most likely an apocalyptic preacher. (Though I have decided to keep these two versions of Jesus separate in my mind, for now.) I took the time to read The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison.

The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 1
Chapter 8: The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison
Allison's essay addresses the controversy of whether or not the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet - a phenomenon which was common at the time of Jesus. The reason this question is so controversial, despite the strong apocalyptic message of Jesus' speeches, is because it would suggest 1) that Jesus was just one among many apocalyptic prophets and 2) that Jesus was wrong, since the end of the world proved not to be so nigh, after all.

Allison surveys current arguments for and against Jesus' eschatology. He then demonstrates that the New Testament has undeniable eschatological imagery and phrasing. He points out that although it's possible that the authors of the New Testament had eschatological leanings when Jesus did notthere's no reason to believe that they mistakenly, or intentionally, changed Jesus' message; therefore, it is very likely that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.

As I thought about my assignment, however, I pondered the possibility that perhaps the authors wrote the passages about the destruction of the Temple after the fact, and then attributed the words to Jesus in order to help make sense of the tragic destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. Did Jesus really foresee the destruction of the Temple? Or were the authors of the Gospels trying to provide spiritual guidance to their people during a time of great turmoil?

In the end, I decided that, since this prophecy isn't the only eschatological speech Jesus made, he was very likely an apocalyptic preacher - regardless of whether he believed the end of the world was nigh. I plan to read some more on this subject before fully making up my mind, though. 

What does everyone else think? Was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher? Did he believe the end of the world was coming in the near future? Were certain passages of the Gospels written by people who retroactively attributed a prophecy of the Temple's destruction to Jesus?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Once Upon a Time VIII - Short Quest Week 1

Once Upon a Time VIII - Short Story quest 

Day 1

The Magician's Horse: A lost prince stumbled upon the home of a magician, who told the prince that he could stay there, as long as he kept the fire going at all times. This turned out to be a difficult task, however, so the prince stole the magician's talking horse. The horse helped the prince escape the magician (who I'm sure was quite evil) and brought him to a palace. There, the prince found work as a gardener. One day, the magician's horse suggested that the gardener-prince pick up a diamond apple thrown by a princess - and thus win a contest for her hand. He did so, and the princess happily married the gardener-prince, for he had lovely golden hair. But the king didn't get a chance to see the gardener-prince's golden hair (it was under a kerchief), so he was displeased with his new son-in-law. When the king went into battle with all his sons-in-law, he gave the gardener-prince an old nag and no armor, probably hoping the obnoxious kerchief-covered boy would die. But the gardener-prince donned some armor that his trusty talking steed provided, and was the glory of three battles. At the end of the third battle, his leg was injured, so the king tied his embossed kerchief around the leg of the unknown golden-haired hero, and the gardener-prince went home to sleep. His wife, the princess, saw the kerchief of the king, and pointed it out to her father. Everyone lived happily ever after.

Day 2

The Little Gray Man: A nun, a countryman, and a blacksmith walk in to a cottage. The nun stays to make dinner while the countryman and blacksmith go out to the forest. A little gray man enters the cottage without knocking. The nun tells him to warm himself by the fire and have some food. The dwarf eats all the food, and then beats the nun when she objects. When the countryman and the blacksmith return, they're angry because there's no food. On the next day, the countryman stays home, and the other two go out to the forest. The little gray man, now with two heads, repeats his naughtiness with the countryman. The blacksmith is pretty upset at going to bed hungry, so he stays home the third day. The little gray man, now with three heads, repeats his naughtiness, except that the blacksmith is totally awesome with a hammer, and knocks off two of the three heads. Then, the three companions follow the now-one-headed gray dwarf to a castle, where they rescue two princes and discover that the dwarf is actually a prince. They all get married and live happily ever after. 

Day 3

Herr Lazarus and the Draken: There was a cobbler named Lazarus who once killed 40 flies with one fell blow of his hammer. He had a sword made that said "With one blow I have slain forty." Some Draken met him, and were impressed by his claim. They allowed him to join their group, but soon learned that Lazarus refused to do his share of the work. So they decided to kill Lazarus. The man placed a log in his bed, covered by a blanket, and hid that night. After the Draken had stabbed and beaten the log and gone back to sleep, Lazarus removed the log and got in his bed. When they all awoke, Lazarus claimed that he'd been bothered by gnats the night before. So the Draken desperately wanted to rid themselves of this guy who was so tough, but refused to do any of the work. Lazarus managed to fool them into thinking that his entire family was as vicious and strong as he, himself, claimed to be, and so Lazarus lived happily ever after with his family and a bag of Draken gold. 

Once Upon a Time VIII

The time has come once again for Carl V. 's Once Upon a Time challenge. This year, I vow to complete my quests. :)

This year, I'm going on Quest the Second - for which I must read one book for each of the four categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy, Mythology. Though, as always, I'm not quite sure what the difference between Fairy Tale and Folklore is. :)


  1. Blood Ties, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

For the Short Story Quest, I'm going to start out by reading one fairy tale a day from Andrew Lang's The Grey Fairy Book, which I've been plugging through for a while now. It would be fun to finish up the book. I'll post my reviews of the tales on Sunday or Monday of each week during the challenge. 

The Grey Fairy Book
Week 1 

I don't watch a lot of movies or TV, but I probably should do more of this. (Yeah, I know that's a really weird thing to say, but it's true.) I'm going to try to complete Season 2 of Once Upon a Time, as well as a few movies.

  1. Muppets Most Wanted

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, by Gary M. Burge

Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, by Gary M. Burge

Genre: Ancient History / Bible Studies

Reason for reading: This year, I'm studying Jesus and the New Testament. This book was loaned to me by Elizabeth, a friend from work. It was given to her by a friend because the author was her professor.

Synopsis: In this short book, Burge guides the reader to interpret Jesus as a storyteller - a teacher who uses allegory and hyperbole to make important points within his own social context. The book is filled with beautiful pictures and several examples of Jesus' use of hyperbole to teach an important point. Burge provides historical and cultural insight into what Jesus may have been talking about when telling his parables. 

My thoughts: I was surprised at how fun this book was. Although it's quite short, and half of it was pictures, it made me look at Jesus from a interesting new perspective. Of course, I already knew that Jesus used parables and hyperbole to make points, but it was really interesting to read Burge's cultural analysis of those parables. 

The story I found most enlightening was Burge's interpretation of the fig tree incident. For those of you who don't recall, the story is related in Mark 11:12-14, 11:20-25; and in Matthew 21:18-22. In my unromantic version, Jesus is hungry, and he sees a fig tree by the road. It's not fig season, so the tree isn't bearing any fruit. Jesus curses the poor tree and it withers. I've always disliked that story. Despite my cousin Steve's insistence that fig trees don't have feelings, and I shouldn't take the story so literally, I always felt sorry for the tree. Why'd Jesus curse a tree just because it wasn't bearing fruit in the off-season? (And, yes, Mark clearly states that it wasn't the season for figs.) 

Burge pointed out that the fig tree represented the Jewish state and religion. Throughout the New Testament Jesus repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who made a public spectacle of themselves fasting, praying, and giving alms; but who did not keep the spirit of religion in their hearts. They prayed for the approval of the people, not for the approval of God. Thus, they were not "bearing fruit." 

Of course, I realize that this insight about the fig tree and the Pharisees is not uniquely Burge's - in fact I found some interesting articles on the subject after reading Burge's book (here's a good one). What's important is that Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller introduced me to some interesting interpretations that I could look into in more detail later. In that way, this book was a valuable resource for me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen

Genre: Classic / Regency Romance

Reason for Reading: I'm rereading all of Austen's novels. I've seen these Annotated versions and been tempted to try them out for a while, and this is the one I ended up picking up. 

Synopsis: Emma is young, rich, beautiful, and the most important gentleman's daughter in her neighborhood. When her governess marries and moves away, Emma must find another friend to entertain herself. She chooses Harriet Smith, the love-child of nobody-knows-whom, and boarder at a local country school for girls. Emma, well-meaning but naively self-important, makes a mess by foisting potential suitors upon poor Harriet, while Emma's old friend Mr. Knightly tries in vain to check Emma's eager naivete. 

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of Jane Austen. This is the third time I've read this novel, and I've seen all the movie renditions multiple times. I love watching Emma grow in wisdom throughout the story. And her romance is, in my opinion, the sweetest of those written by Austen. But I recognize that this is a difficult book for many people to get into because of Emma's painful flaws and poor choices. Another reason that Emma is less appealing to some readers is because the narrator's perspective is so unique. The POV focuses almost entirely on Emma's perception of the world, to the point where it is easy to be mislead about what is really occurring since we are only seeing what Emma sees. Emma, especially at the beginning of the novel, tends to be very self-centered and aloof, and so is the narration of the novel. However, even though this POV makes the story harder to get into than the other Austen novels, this is Austen's most appealing work for character study.  

The annotations of this book are lengthy and detailed. Many interesting images and comments are included so that we can visualize antique customs, fashions, and furniture that Austen's readers would take for granted. That aspect of the annotations was fantastic. The annotations also included a lot of character analysis commentary, such as "Emma thinks such-and-such is happening, which shows you how much she lacks self-awareness at this stage." These annotations included a lot of spoilers (the reader is warned which annotations include spoilers, but sometimes these warnings were dropped out of the ebook version - so caution should  be practiced if you're reading the book for the first time and you have ebook format). These character analysis annotations were sometimes interesting, but mostly they told me things I'd already knew - either because I was familiar with the story or because I am sensitive to Austen's nuances. Therefore, I think this annotated version is for you if 1)You are interested in having some historical perspective, 2)You are reading the book for the first time and don't mind spoilers, 3)You're re-reading the book, but don't remember the details and nuances, and/or 4)You just love reading annotations. In other words, I am glad that I read this one book from The Annotated Austen series, because I enjoyed the historical perspective notes, but I probably will not pick up any of the others because I think I got the main idea now.