Thursday, September 12, 2019

Board Game Review - Cabo (2nd Edition)

As a family we play a number of games with a standard deck of cards. In fact, my daughter often prefers the simplicity of these card games over a full board game. Cabo is a game that has the feel of some of those games, most notably a game called "Golf" (or as my family plays it "9 Holes").

Cabo is played with a deck of cards ranging in value from 0-13. Each player is dealt 4 cards face-down and allowed to look at and replace 2 of them. Then players take turn drawing cards and either discarding them or putting them in place of one of their cards. Turns continue until one player thinks they have the lowest card values in front of them and that player "calls Cabo." Every other player gets one more turn and then cards are revealed and players get the score of the cards in front of them. If the person who "called Cabo" has the lowest score, they get 0 points. If they didn't have the lowest score, then they score the points on their cards plus a 10 point penalty. The game continues with new rounds of the same gameplay until one player's score goes over 100 and the person with the lowest score wins.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Board Game Review - Just One

While I usually gravitate towards heavier, more strategic games, there are many people I play with who prefer lighter games or party games. Even though I prefer more in-depth games, there are times that I even turn first to a lightweight/party game. So when Just One crossed my path, I was intrigued.

The concept is simple. One player is designated the guesser for the round and draws a card with 5 words on it. That player doesn't look at the card but rather puts it on an easel facing away from them so the other players can see the words. The guesser specifies a number between 1 and 5 to identify the word to be guessed. The guesser then closes his or her eyes while the other players begin silently thinking of single word clues. Once the clues are determined and written down, the guesser opens his or her eyes and has a single chance to guess the word. Right or wrong they score a point (or don't) and then the next guesser gets to draw a card and start the next round.

Sounds simple, but the catch of the game is that any duplicated clues are removed and cannot be used to help the person make their guess.

For example, the guesser may draw a card and call for word #3 which is Pasta. The other players may then write their clues on their own dry-erase easels. Perhaps they write the words: food, sauce, Italian, Italy. So before the guesser opens his or her eyes, the other players compare their clues and eliminate any duplicates. As per the rules, even slight variations count as a duplicate so in the example above, the words Italian and Italy would have been eliminated. In this case, the guesser would have to make a guess with the only clues being Food and Sauce.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Review - The Old Man and the Sea

I've been having a hard time deciding what to say about The Old Man and the Sea. I had long heard it described as a masterpiece and a sweeping tale about human suffering and perseverance but I knew very little about the plot or the concept. I think part of me was expecting something like Moby Dick. Which may explain why when I finally picked it up, I was rather surprised to find myself holding a very slim paperback of just over 100 pages.

The plot is very simple. An old fisherman has been having a string of bad luck with no catches. He climbs into his boat and tries to improve his luck by venturing out farther than he has recently. Initially he's worried that his bad luck will continue but then he gets a bite. But it's so much more than a bit. He has hooked an immense fish that leads him around the ocean on a relentless struggle.

The writing is simple, fluid and beautiful in a way that seems to reflect the simple life of this poverty-stricken old fisherman. The book opens with a brief glimpse into his life and the life of the other people in his village. The characters are humanized and help to draw us in as readers. Even if we can't relate to his way of life or his work, we can relate to him as a human being with his own passions, pains, joys and struggles.

The story may not appeal to everyone. The majority of the book takes place in the boat and is a sort of stream-of-consciousness of the old man as he tries to work through the situation. While Hemingway supposedly claimed no metaphor or allegory, there is certainly a lot of depth and pondering that a reader can apply to their own life as they struggle in the boat with the old man. You don't have to have gone fishing in the ocean to be able to relate to struggling with challenges you don't know you can overcome. The grit and gumption of the old man may remind us of people we know or even times in our lives when we persevered in spite of howling adversity.

If you haven't read this book, I recommend giving it a try. Put aside whatever reason has kept you away. Whether you felt overwhelmed reading Hemingway or you don't want to read a "fish book" or whatever other excuse you may have, I feel that if you approach this with an open mind and a desire to relate, you will find yourself drawn into this book more than you expect.

4 out of 5 stars

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Monday, July 08, 2019

Books Reviewed in 2019

Each year I try to read and review a bunch of books. Some years I do better than others. Some years life gets too crazy and I either don't read as much as I'd like, or I don't write reviews on as much, or a combination of both.

Below are the books reviewed during this year.

Here are links to the past few years (2018, 2017, 20162015, 2014, 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009)

  1. The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away
  2. The Old Man and the Sea

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Book Review - The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away

Reading the summary and the praise for The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, I was excited to check it out with the hopes of finding another great option to hand to reluctant younger readers. It was compared to Louis Sachar who I absolutely enjoy and have recommended to many kids. The premise also sounded like something that would have a great appeal. The story of a young boy obsessed with aliens who is then abducted. The imagery of the creepy owls mimicking (or perhaps being/becoming) the referenced aliens made me feel like this had potential.

I dove into the story, working through the introductory pages and chapters, eagerly awaiting the moments of sci-fi tension or creepy foreboding from the owls. I was a little puzzled at the direction the story took. It meandered around with some exploration of the familial and social world of our protagonist Simon. While this was fine, I found these relations taking on the heart of the story in a way I didn't expect.

The story is told in Simon's voice both through his own narrative and through him sharing with us a fantasy story he's writing. He lives on an Air Force base, the latest in many. Simon's parents are biracial which he makes a point of letting us know (a few times). He has a bad relationship with his father in that he feels like a bit of a disappointment to his father or at least that he's not what his father hoped. His father is a little verbally abusive even in the times he tries to show compassion. It felt a little like a stereotype from an old TV sitcom. Simon has asthma and is on meds for that as well as other meds later in the book. His mother tries to be supportive but she feels a bit flat and disconnected. Simon is distanced from others but has one core friend he can turn to even if there are issues in that friendship.

Throughout the first few chapters, we learn that Simon read a book about aliens and is a bit obsessed with them. He's studied up and is very knowledgeable about all sorts of trivia around alien sightings, abductions and the like. So much so that it's a point of contention with his parents.

**** minor plot spoilers in next 2 paragraphs *****

Based on the title and the synopsis, I kept expecting "the owls" or the aliens to make an appearance early on and/or repeatedly. Instead, I kept getting to know more and more about Simon and his family and his life. The whole plot felt rather mundane as we read along with the ways he tries to deal with his personal issues.

Finally, Simon and his family are going camping and I thought "Yes, here come the owls." There was a minor moment of excitement and then we're back home. Convinced that he was abducted while camping, Simon tries to work through this with his parents. His parents take him to therapists and get him on medications and the whole incident makes relations with both his parents even worse. Simon seeks out someone who will believe him and finally makes a connection with some other "believers."

****** End main spoilers **********

At this point, I realize that this slim book is running out of pages and I'm concerned as to how they're going to resolve things. I still felt like there hadn't been any real good climax and I had essentially decided to change my expectations from this being an alien abduction kid's horror novel to being a psychological book about emotional issues and parent-child relations.

As the pages of the book quickly ran out, I suspected the way the author was going to end it. I have to admit I was a little surprised as to the way the book concluded. In some ways I was glad for the surprise because my "predicted" ending would have been a little heartless and depressive (even if realistic and thus able to act as a harsh fable).

Instead the ending felt very forced. The quick turn of events and sudden nuances were a bit 'deus ex machina' and the overall conclusion was rather unsatisfying. We are rushed through the wrap up and given a multi-paragraph discourse on the moral of the story. It's obvious that this moral is intended to be coupled with all of the unresolved emotional baggage from the other story threads. Throughout the book Simon also shares with us some chapters from the fantasy book he's writing. These chapters give more insights into some of the intentional messages and conversations this book is obviously trying to induce. Unfortunately I felt like this "messaging" was a bit too heavy handed and became the crux of the story rather than a message to be learned from a good story. Add to that the fact that no realistic resolutions are given and I wonder at the author's motivation in framing the story in this way.

Overall the premise sounded intriguing. The writing is adequate and can easily be digested by a reader in the 8-10 year old age group. The pacing of the story is fine, once you realize what kind of a story you're reading. An overly excited young kid looking for a high adrenaline thriller would quickly lose interest. The messages of the story could be nice talking points between adults and kids, either in a classroom or a therapeutic setting, but I doubt kids will care about them otherwise. Young readers may be more forgiving of the hasty wrap up and messy conclusion, but only if they make it that far in the book.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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