Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review - The Ultimatum

I hadn't read anything by Karen Robards before but the premise of The Ultimatum sounded fun so I picked up a copy in exchange for a review. The summary introduces us to Bianca St. Ives, a woman who grew up being trained by her father in covert skills to help her in the family business of high profile grifting and theft. The summary continues to explain that their latest job "has a little hiccup" and she is set on a path to try and uncover the truth "behind what really happened."

I'll avoid spoilers in this review but I will say that this book plays an interesting balancing act between focusing on the present time and the history that lead Bianca and her father to the life they are currently involved in. The book begins in Bianca's childhood with an explosively traumatic event that goes largely unexplained for hundreds of pages while still hanging on the periphery as a suspicious influence on the action of the book. When the prologue of the book eventually connects to the main plot, the effect is surprising in a disconnected sort of way. It's an unpredictable twist which is normally fine except that it felt so disconnected from everything else that it left me confused as to what the book was trying to do beyond being 300+ pages of developing Bianca's character to be used in future books. As a side note on Bianca's character, the book summary (and the series subtitle of the book) says "She's known as the Guardian" but nowhere in the book did I notice any reference to her being called the Guardian or any reason why she would be called the Guardian (her role in the jobs she did with her father weren't really "guardian" roles).

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Books Read in 2017

For the past few years (20162015, 2014, 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal had been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them. For the past couple of years I've dropped well below my 50 and only ended up reviewing 9 books last year (though I did read more than that). I don't know if I'll get back to the ~50 range, but we'll see what I can do. Wish me luck.

  1. Ready Player One
  2. A Wrinkle In Time
  3. King Solomon's Mines
  4. The Ultimatum

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review - King Solomon's Mines

The 19th century had a boom of English adventure novels. By the end of the century it had really hit a great stride which also brought high expectations. As with any genre there were plenty of books that have faded from common reading while others still invoke imagery and seem familiar even to people who have never read them. To me, King Solomon's Mines is one of those novels that always felt like a stalwart example of English Adventure fiction so I was a little surprised when people saw me reading it and had little or no knowledge of this novel or the adventures of Allan Quartermain. Those who recognized Quartermain largely only did so thanks to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie that came out a few years ago. Now that I've finished reading King Solomon's Mines I must say that I'm a little sad that it's slipped under the radar. Maybe I'm just in the wrong reading circles. *grin*

The basic story (minor spoilers of the first chapters' setup) introduces us to adventurer and big game hunter Allan Quartermain. Allan isn't old by our modern sense but in terms of his career he is beyond his standard life expectancy and is expected to either die on safari or to retire somewhere. While thinking about this, he is approached by an English aristocrat (Sir Henry Curtis) and his friend (Captain Good) who want to hire him as a guide and protector to lead them north across the wilds of Africa in search of the lost brother of Sir Henry. Quartermain is wary especially when they tell him that Sir Henry's brother was lost searching for King Solomon's Mines...the mythical mines used by the Biblical king to fund his nation and build his famous Temple. It takes some discussion and a promise of significant wealth (not only for Allan but also for his son) to finally convince Quartermain to help. They gather supplies and natives to help them and they're on their way. As they get ready to depart, another native approaches them having overheard their general destination and he asks to accompany them as a servant. They agree and the small party sets off.

The novel is written in first person as a sort of journal or letter from Allan to anyone who may be interested in the story. The narrator Quartermain often apologizes for his lack of style and sophistication as well as for possible errors either in terms of form or in terms of scientific/geographic accuracy. The edition I read included annotations by the editor but I also found it interesting that there were included annotations that were supposed to have been written by Quartermain to further explain or clarify some point of interest. This added narrative element was a fun addition not just to add details to the story but also to provide more insight into the character of Quartermain. I especially enjoyed the side commentary that Quartermain-as-narrator added to the story with his thoughts about the situations he encounters.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review - A Wrinkle in Time

I first read A Wrinkle in Time in elementary school and had memories of enjoying it. Hearing that there are plans to turn it into a movie I pulled out my old copy for a re-read. My memories from childhood were very vague and some of my memories didn't turn up in the book at all (perhaps they were scenes from books 2 or 3 in the series which I also read as a kid). I did vaguely remember that this was a story of sci-fi/fantasy travel to strange worlds on a quest by kids to save their father. I also remembered there being some religious overtones which turned out to be even more overt than I remembered.

From a high level this is a fantasy adventure story for younger kids. The storyline is fairly simple and in spite of there being a number of strange characters and worlds, the details are pretty straightforward and easy to follow for kids. The book does introduce some heavier scientific and moralistic concepts but then explains them in ways that will be acceptable to young readers or those unfamiliar with the terms.

As an adult reader, I can see interesting nuances in the character and world building done by the author as she explores deeper concepts of good vs. evil and the true inner nature of a person. The characters aren't particularly deep or fleshed out but they serve to drive the story effectively and help build out the concepts presented. The children in the story each have their own strengths and flaws that they need to come to understand and work through. The mystical beings that help lead them on their journeys serve mostly as non-intrusive travel guides. They facilitate the journey without interfering...kind of like a parent helping a child learn to walk, they stand at the edges ready to try and catch the child as he/she stumbles but mostly they just explain what's going on and help ensure a safe environment as much as possible. Each of the different worlds visited by the travelers has its own unique bit of commentary on the state of the universe and the impact of the quest. Some worlds seem to serve as counterparts to one another to help the characters (and the reader) better understand the message the author is unfolding.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Weekend of Gaming Awesomeness at SaltCON 2017

This past weekend was my chance to escape away to my personal convention of choice...SaltCON. This multi-day event is held up in Layton, Utah and is filled with hours and hours of board games. It's a time to catch up with friends who I only see online or at this yearly convention.

It's a time to find out about brand new games, play prototypes of games still in development or play games that I otherwise won't get a chance to play at home (usually due to length or complexity). It's also a place to meet with vendors and exhibitors selling goodies that are specific to the board gaming hobby like player maps, game inserts/organizers, special dice or other fun items to show off your love for the hobby. It's one of my favorite weekends every year and I'm always excited for the first week in March to arrive. Here's a low down of my gaming experiences from the event.


I started out my Thursday with a game of Terraforming Mars (By the Way - wait for the price to drop a bit closer to $60...current high price is because it's sold out by retailers, but a new printing should arrive soon) by Stronghold Games in the Envoy room. Thanks to Scott from Envoy for teaching. I had a good time with this one although I diluted my strategy by trying to do too many different things (and made a bad name for myself by sending a big fat asteroid to destroy a ton of plant life, but hey, all's fair in gaming and terraforming). I look forward to trying this again to try out some different strategies and improve the ones I tried this time.

Next I learned and played Trickerion: Legends of Illusion by Ape Games. Thanks to Mark for teaching. This is a fun worker placement game with a great theme.
I enjoy the balance of trying to figure out which tricks to learn and prepare for and how to do all of that in a way to optimize your time to get on stage and perform the show. Quite a fun game that I'd enjoy playing again.