Thursday, January 29, 2009

Visions of Mars

Dissatisfied with the little pictures you see from the Mars Rovers? This book will solve that problem. J. had a report on Mars for school and we found this beautiful book to make a model from.
The pictures are beautiful. It is really cool to see pictures in such clarity from another planet. The book also discusses the environment there, what the landers have done to analyse things and little fact gems that I didn't know before. For instance, the soil of Mars has a high percentage of a magnetic iron ore, so the soil though completely dry, acts like wet sand.
Then there is this sentence, from the forward, "Today we know Mars harbors a vast reservoir of modern water as ice within its polar caps and within its high-latitude soil." Exactly what is "modern" water? None of this old-fashioned H20 for us, we have Modern Water for our astronauts!
I did feel, towards the end of the book, that all you need to do is add a couple of scrubby juniper trees and clumps of cheat grass and you could be looking at the area around Moab. Of course, with the odd atmosphere, you get some cool visual effects, like blue light halos around the sun. We don't get those here. The size of the formations is incredible too. The giant volcano Olympus Mons is 69,882 ft high. Everest is just a tiny fraction of that.
I just wonder about the tone of absolute knowledge that comes across in the text. While the pictures are amazing, I don't think we have the level of certainty that the author claims. But it is fun to speculate.
This book would be a good companion to the fiction book Red Mars I read a while back. You could almost track the actions of the characters across the pictures in Visions of Mars. I love these books, that let you see up close all the pictures NASA and other agencies are spending so much time and money to get.

Visions of Mars. Olivier de Goursac. Harry N. Abrams. 2005

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Lucifer Gospel

I admit it, I am a sucker for these puzzle thriller type books. They are especially good when you are sick and lack the mental capacity to read anything better. This book was enjoyable but it had some serious flaws.
It felt a lot like reading a video game. When you are playing a game, you go through all sorts of obstacles, achieve the goal, then you are suddenly on the next level. In this book, the heroes go through the obstacles, avoid the bad guys, find the cryptic puzzle, then say something like, "OK, where next? Oh yes, Jamaica!" Then magically they are there. No avoiding the bad guys, no messing around with money, tickets, passports or any of those annoying details.
To give this book credit, the bad guys were neither the Knights Templar, nor the Masons, so it gets an extra star just for that. There are a couple more books by this author at the library, but I am saving them for the next time I am sick/pregnant/severely drugged. Then I can enjoy the silly plot without wondering things like, "If all their luggage and papers were stolen and the guy helping them was killed, how did they get from Paris to Bermuda?" Like some rooms look better in candlelight, some books are better while mentally impaired.

The Lucifer Gospel. Paul Christopher. Onyx. 2006

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Total Money Makeover

I read this book because my husband made me promise I would. It is nothing against the book, or the wonderful people who gave it to us. I just hate self-help books. I doesn't matter what help they are offering, I just despise the whole genre. And because this one is a money book, it runs smack into two of my unreasonable personality quirks, not just one.
First, I have an anti-authority streak a mile wide. You might ask how can a devout LDS person be anti-authority? I take my authority from the scriptures, the prophets, and the apostles. Everyone else has to prove to me their opinion is worth listening to. This is the main source of my dislike for self-help things. I have a thing against Oprah for the same reason. A line from Sheri Dew sticks with me, before you takes someone's advice, ask yourself whose kingdom are they building? God's or their own? I'm sure some very lovely people write self-help books, like I said earlier, its my quirk, not theirs.
The second problem is a reluctance to see anything short of inability to pay needed utilities as a financial problem. Maybe this stems from my childhood, or my desire to be lazy as often as I can get away with it. My husband's desire to have a budget causes me much stress and anxiety, with no real reason behind it. I feel great just paying the bills every month and he wants more than that. I agree, we should plan for our future and that is why I agreed to read the book and even do the planning to make our budget work. But it will be hard for me and I'm not looking forward to it.
The book itself was fine. I almost stopped reading half-way through because the rah-rah tone was really getting on my nerves. But after I talked it over with David, who pointed out that just because I have different motivations about money, doesn't mean all the advice is bad. The continual pointing out of how much money he has and that his books were NYT bestsellers bugged me. It all goes back to the kingdom thing again. But if he is trying to convince people to take him seriously I guess it works.
Then again, everything he said you can find in a much cheaper form in the financial planning pamphlet the church has. It all depends on what you need to get yourself off the couch, financially speaking at least, and get rid of your debt and start saving. I was happy gradually working at this, my hubby wants to go faster. He makes the money, I guess I will go along.

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. Dave Ramsey. Thomas Nelson. 2007

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I have a lot of thoughts about today, so I figured, its my blog, I should write a few of them down.
Two things that summarize a lot of what I feel, my sister's blog and an article from Meridian Magazine. Plus some good pictures.
I don't know that I can write as eloquently as they did, but two things I heard today made me take notice of what an exceptional day it is.
The first was an interview with one of the Tuskegee Airmen. This gentleman fought in WWII then lived in the South. After the Civil Rights Act was passed in the late 60s, he and his wife went to Washington, as a sort of celebratory visit. When they tried to get a hotel room, they were told that they could not have a room, and that their sort would never be welcome in this city. He said he has never felt like an American until this day.
No matter your politics, that hope has come to people who lived in this country all their lives, yet never felt a part of it is a good thing. If seeing their possibilities lifts even a few of the poor, the inner-city children who were taught that they could not succeed, those who felt a good life was never even a possibility, we have gained as a nation. It has given them the hope that so many of us take for granted, how can we, the privileged, look down on them for their joy?
Then accidentally listening to Pres. Obama's inauguration speech, as he called for the people to help and work to solve today's problems I was relieved that the paternalistic cycle of government might be ended. Democrats are not known for their ability to rely on the people instead of the arm of government. Yet that is what is needed and what was lacking in the last presidency. As crisis after crisis came, he never called on the people to unite and sacrifice to face them. He told us to not worry and keep shopping while the government, in the form of the Army, Homeland Security and Treasury Department did their jobs. This didn't work, and reliance on a government solution won't work. It is the people and their ability to not be frightened by rumor-mongering press, to resist the banks and credit cards and merchandisers, and to help one another that will overcome any given calamity. Obama made reference to this strength of the people, I hope he truly believes in it.
Read his speech, see for yourself what he has to say and what his goals are, don't let rumor and fear close your mind before you decide. Some quotes I thought were relevant and important from his speech:
Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

p.s. Thanks to my friend Cheryl who attended the event and let me boorow one of her pictures.

Monday, January 19, 2009

JSH 1:1-24

In the October Conf. of 2007, Elder Holland gave a talk about the differences between the standard Christian idea of God and Christ and how the LDS church's ideas differed. When I began this week's lesson, I read the following quote from Elder Holland.
In the year A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address—among other things—the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity.” What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known (after another 125 years and three more major councils)4 as the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. These various evolutions and iterations of creeds—and others to come over the centuries—declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.

Ask yourself, if you were confused about God, earnestly seeking Him, and to follow his will, yet the preachers you went to told you the above, how would you feel? In Joseph's account he uses the term "darkness and confusion" to describe how he felt. This was no momentary bout of confusion, he studied and prayed for months. He went to different churches, he talked to the learned men of his area, he wanted to know and he worked to find an answer. This answer changed the world.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I submit that in the few minutes that Joseph Smith was with the Father and the Son, he learned more of the nature of God the Eternal Father and the risen Lord than all the learned minds in all their discussions through all centuries of time” (Church News, 24 Oct. 1998, 6).
These truths about God, that God the Father is separate from Jesus Christ, that they have bodies, that they answer prayers, that they know each of their children are so important that they color every moment of my life. Think about these ideas, what is the impact of Joseph's vision on your life? Many of these ideas are so central to how I think that it is truly difficult to understand others don't have this knowledge. And how is this knowledge of benefit to you? It informs the way we pray, the hope of resurrection, the trust and faith in a Christ that is not "unknowable" but personal and real and who has suffered, in a body, so that our sufferings could be relieved.
Think about what we learn from the First Vision:

a. God the Father and Jesus Christ live.
b. The Father and the Son are real, separate beings with glorified bodies of flesh and bones.
c. We are created in the image of God.
d. Satan and his power are real, but God’s power is infinitely greater.
e. God hears and answers prayers and cares for us.
f. None of the churches on earth had the fulness of Christ’s gospel.
g. Revelation has not ceased.

When I was a missionary I loved to teach about the First Vision because the spirit was always so strong. The Holy Ghost testifies that this really happened. To have a testimony of the appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ is of paramount importance to a member of the church and anyone interested in it. Study it, ponder it, compare it to the Nicean Creed. What feels right? I feel joy and hope and happiness, to know that our Heavenly Father loves us, and cares for us enough to reveal himself to the prophet, so we can have the hope of salvation.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Repairman Jack

I've been reading theses books on and off since winter started. They've been a good wintertime read. Something I can finish in an hour or two and not demanding anything of me other than to just read them. They were slightly addicting, rather like CSI combined with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A mystery with strange happenings and a very interesting hero.
This author has a converging series as well, though my library doesn't have those. I think I would be interested to read them as a counterpoint to the ones I have read.
The second one, Conspiracies, is the one that made me keep going. It was an entertaining look at a conspiracy-theorist convention. It also proposes what if all the conspiracies are linked, UFOs, CIA, devil-worshippers, etc. I thought that was an interesting idea that he developed well.
My library has all 12, but I can't bring myself to read the last one. I'm a bit burned out and also they are starting to get self-indulgent. Many authors do this, especially toward the end of a very popular series, or as the got older. The two best examples of this is Heinlein and Asimov combining their most popular books years after they were written. Anne McCafferey is also guilty of this to the point I haven't read a Dragon novel in years, because the later ones got ridiculous.
In this case the plot was short and too drawn out for the book, and he put himself in the novel, by having the protagonist find books written about his adventures. While it is fun to speculate how a person would react if they found the book they were a part of, it didn't advance the plot, didn't give you new insights on his characters, and felt like an indulgence.

Repairman Jack novels. F. Paul Wilson. Tor. 1993-2008

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Accidental Sorcerer

This was a perfect book, sort of. If I were to write a how-to-write-light-fantasy book, I could use this one as a template. It was the proper comic dialogue, possible romantic interests, impossible situation for the protagonist and slowly developing menace that only the main character, with some help from his friends, can conquer. It even did all that without feeling cliche. How can you not like a book that has the main character say, "Somebody save me. I'm thinking like a civil servant. . ."
It was not, alas, a great book. I didn't weep like in Doomsday, think about the characters like they were real people as with any given Robert Jordan, or hunt down people to tell the jokes to like any given Terry Pratchett. I didn't even feel the wonderful sense of a completely right ending like Hero of Ages. But it was enjoyable, I'll read the next one.

The Accidental Sorcerer. K.E. Mills. Orbit. 2008

Monday, January 12, 2009

How I do it -NB

I ran across this article which describes a woman who read 462 books last year. She explains her reading ability and how she feels about the books she reads. She is a bit faster than me, but very similar in everything else. If I got paid to read and review I have no doubt I could match that.
LA Times articles here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poison Study

There are three books in this series and I was very happy to see that my library had all three. Sometimes we only get one or two of a trilogy for unexplained reasons. I had see this series around and thought I would try it.
At first I liked it. The writing is a bit lurid, purple prose is a fun phrase that describes it pretty well. The first person was annoying and I couldn't really pinpoint why, until I read a bit more into the next book and started the third. In a series, or even a stand-alone novel, you expect the protagonist to change, to grow and learn. Or at least I do. I don't particularly like the anti-hero who only gets worse as the plot thickens. The heroine in this book is scarred and damaged physically and emotionally, and though she seems to get past this by the end of the first book, she is still emotionally crippled and has grown stupid by the third book. Not trusting people and rushing into ambushes is OK in the beginning, but when you have been warned repeatedly and keep doing the same thing, there is no other cure than to burn the book and start over with a new hero.
The author developed the characters very well, to a certain extent. But then she would have those characters who she described so well, do something completely out of character. I could even see exactly why it was done. The heroine's boyfriend lives in a another country and she needed to get him to her, because we can't have the heroine acting responsibly and saving herself, now can we?
It was at this point I stopped reading Fire Study. They were OK books, until the third, and a good premise, good world but when you start playing games with your characters and making them be stupid because you can't think of another way to advance the plot, I'm done.

Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study. Maria V. Snyder. Mira, 2005-2008

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dead Man's Chest

No, this isn't a book about Pirates of the Caribbean, though Robert Louis Stevenson, the subject of this book, would probably have enjoyed the movies. The subtitle is Travels After Robert Louis Stevenson. Though he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he travelled the world and died and was buried in Western Samoa.
I've only read a few of Stevenson's works; Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I know a bit about his life but this was a beautiful way to write about the man and his work. It made me want to look up the more obscure writings of Stevenson, especially his Fables and a lot of his non-fiction. He was ill for most of his life and longed to live an adventurous life, be a soldier, fight the Indians and his books reflect the action that his body couldn't provide. His mind raced to topics more lofty that crossed swords in the moonlight. I found this poem touching, particularly in view of Stevenson's atheism, which, it seems, he struggled with:

God, if this were enough,
That I see things bare to the buff
And up to the buttocks in mire;
That I ask not hope nor hire,
Nut in the husk,
Nor dawn beyond the dusk,
Nor life beyond death:
God, if this were faith?. . .

To go on for ever and fail and go on again,
And be mauled to the earth and arise,
And contend for the shade of a word and a thing not seen with the eyes:
With the half of a broken hope for a pillow at night
That somehow the right is the right
And the smooth shall bloom from the rough:
Lord, if that were enough?

He travelled to find the place where his weak lungs could be healthy, he travelled to escape his father, he was happiest away from his native Scotland, yet the silver thistle given to him by the Highlands Society of Honolulu was one of his proudest possessions. This was no gloss and hero worship memoir, the complexities of RLS as well as the contrasts of the many places he lived and travelled were were described in short passages and scenes as Mr. Rankin travelled the world, following a man dead 90 years.
Although they are only seven miles apart, St Helena and Calistoga are very different: St Helena is genteel while Calistoga is vulgar, with its mud baths and massage parlors and signposted "sights" like the Petrified Forest and Old Faithful Geyser. America has a deep love of shows. If you dug a hole in the ground and put a fence around it with a gate and a sign, people would pay a dollar to peer into it. Stevenson was never attracted to this kind of tourism for its own sake. "Sightseeing is the art of disappointment," he wrote of Calistoga.

In the last years of his life Stevenson settled in the South Pacific. He grew to love the people and gained their respect. He often wrote about them and to them, concerned about the missionary societies which we very common at the end of the 19th century:
. . .develop that which is good. . .in the inherent ideas of the race. . .Because we are, one and all. . .the children of our fathers. . .We make a great blunder when we expect people to give up in a moment the whole belief of ages, the whole morals of the family, sanctified by the traditions of the heart, and not to lose something essential.

At the end he died at 44 and was buried on a mountaintop in Samoa, the place he loved and stayed the longest since childhood. He wrote his own epitaph, a verse that brings tears to my eyes every time I read it.
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will

This be the verse that you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Dead Man's Chest: Travels After Robert Louis Stevenson. Faber & Faber. 1987

Monday, January 5, 2009

From Alexander to Cleopatra

This book was a good example of why I don't read more scholarly-type historical texts. Despite my curiosity, it was deadly boring and it made a lot of assumptions that I wanted to argue with.
I have a reasonable knowledge of ancient Greece and I thought that since this one started where a lot of the others left off, I could learn something. I guess I did. I learned that much of Greek culture actually happened during this time, so there wasn't as much new materiel as I thought there would be. I learned that if you have 80 lines of an ancient author you can make grand sweeping generalizations about his/her life's work, importance when alive and history and motives in writing. Bring me 5 or 6 Shakespeare sonnets and let me do the same thing.
The beginning of the book was very confusing. It felt like reading a series of picture and map captions, without the description needed to connect things more clearly. When I got to the second part of the book I realized why the author had raced through the political and military history. Since this was Ancient Greece, he didn't really care about those details, he wanted to talk about the culture of this age. Which is understandable and all, I just wish he had skipped those first few chapters and wrote the book on what he was really interested in.
That being said, I must admit that I am not really interested in the philosophy and culture of ancient Greece. Sorry, sometimes I'm a bit of a philistine. When you make grand pronouncements about culture, and then say things like we only have a few of this person's epigrams and then talk about their work for several pages or admit that when a certain style was being written only a few read it, then talk about its cultural significance, I get a bit impatient. It seems that Greek history is important because we have been told it is important, and it is a self-perpetuating cycle.
Maybe I need to look for a better book on the subject.

From Alexander to Cleopatra: The Hellenistic World. Michael Grant. Scribner. 1982