Thursday, February 04, 2016

Blogging catch up - The year 2015 in review

Since I haven't done a very good job of posting regularly, I guess it's time for another "year in review" post...this time about the adventures of my family and I in 2015.

Similar to my previous catch-up post, we had a lot of family fun attending "geeky" conventions this past year. Winter (January) and Fall (September) we went to the Salt Lake Comic Con and had a ball meeting and greeting celebrities, checking out all sorts of fun art and geek/nerd memorabilia and just having a good time all around. I volunteered in the fall at the Board Game demo tables which was a fun and interesting experience. Sadly that meant I didn't get to go to as many panels or see as much of the convention, but it was still fun.

For the Winter "FanX" convention, they brought in 3 guests from the modern Doctor Who universe (something that the whole family has been enjoying). We went to a panel and listened to Billie Piper, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan as they all just sort of hung out and chatted on a couch on stage. Then later we stood in a very long line to get our picture taken with them. My dear sweet wifey and her aching joints were dying by the time we got to the front of the line so she was a little woozy and out of it and doesn't remember once. The photo experience was pretty funny. The five members of our family got situated (very quickly) and they prepped to take the picture...Matt Smith "struck a pose" with his fingers up in a sort of peace sign or something and in so doing he poked my oldest son in the a result, my son is sort of glaring a little confused at Matt Smith (who also sort of half squatted down so he's a little covered by my daughter). So, we have a fairly hilarious picture with a laughable memory. The kids also had a lot of fun dressing up in costumes as well as seeing the panels from Studio C (a sketch comedy group) who were just as funny and silly live as they are on TV.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Book Review - The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Over the years I've decided that I enjoy scary or creepy stories but I'm not a huge fan of the "horror" genre for books or movies because they often end up having too much gore, violence, sex, profanity or other "R rated" content that I'm not just a fan of. As such, I've stopped reading a handful of books that otherwise seemed to have a very cool premise. Sadly, one author who's been set down frequently has been Neil Gaiman...and yet, some of his books have been absolute favorites. I've come to the conclusion that I'm a fan of Gaiman's children or YA books or else his shorter stories (which seem to be less graphic). Anyway, I read a lot of great reviews about The Ocean at the End of the Lane and so I gave it a try...and I've very glad I did.

As I read the book, I tried to categorize the book in terms of audience or style and found that it teetered on the edge between categorizations. The book focuses on an adult male protagonist returning to his old hometown for a funeral and coming to terms with some strange occurrences of his youth. With the main story arc taking place in his youth, it seemed a good candidate for that "YA" categorization. But in terms of what's become the stereotypical themes and tone of contemporary YA, this book leaned more towards an adult novel. It had some darker, heavier themes beyond the simple "coming of age" teenage story or the standard teenage adventure novel. At the same time it did have some youthful elements that could almost appeal to older children. While a bit heavy for young children, the story does explore themes of children having to deal with the "bad" elements in the world such as death or unkind/hateful people in ways similar to Gaiman's popular children's novel Coraline. I felt like some of the scenes in Ocean are a bit scarier than those in Coraline so I'd bump it up to a Middle Grader or higher age rating but otherwise I feel like the book is good for all ages.

Books Read in 2016

For the past few years (2015, 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'm determined to pick up the pace for 2016. 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. The Ocean At the End of the Lane

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Books Read in 2015

For the past few years (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 I'm starting off 2015 already a couple of months behind. Still, I'm going to try and catch up and at least get some books read and reviewed in coming weeks/months.

  1. Dauntless
  2. The Darkling Child
  3. Trouble is a Friend of Mine
  4. Finn: A Novel
  5. The One and Only Ivan
  6. After Alice
  7. The Illustrated Man
  8. The Enchanted April

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review - The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April is a hundred-plus year old classic novel tells the tale of four English women who are looking for an escape from their lives and decide to take a month-long vacation in an Italian castle...with each other. The women are strangers to one another and come from different walks of life. Two are married and part of the escape is to get away from their husbands and clear their heads. Apart from the initial vacation preparations and character introductions, the entire book takes place in the castle that the four women rent out. They don't go on lavish adventures around the countryside. They don't find mysterious romance with locals. They just enjoy their surroundings and learn about themselves. In our fast-paced adrenaline driven 21st century, the concept may sound terribly boring...and if you go in with that expectation, you'll surely be let down. It is slow paced and lacking in adventure, but from an aesthetic and thoughtful point of view this is an elegant and beautiful piece of work well worth reading. (I understand that there is a movie version as well, but I haven't seen it so I don't know how well it compares)

The initial chapters of the book introduce us to Lotty Wilkins, the woman who has become dissatisfied with her life in London and the humdrum relationship with her husband. She reads and advertisement for an idyllic month among the wisteria at an Italian castle and she's decided that she absolutely must go. Unfortunately, she can't afford the entire rent on her own and she doesn't want to ask her husband for the money. She approaches an acquaintance (Mrs. Arbuthnot) who Lotty feels may be similarly dissatisfied and convinces her that they should rent the place together. They then decide to advertise for an interview two other women to join them and before long the entire plan is set. As an interesting twist by the author, as Lotty prepares to tell her husband about her vacation plans, he announces that he would like to take her on a Italy. This sudden invitation catches her off guard and she nearly changes her mind but then remembers all of the reasons she wants this "girl's month out" and announces that she's committed to this trip and she must go.

We get to know the other two women very briefly through the interview process and then meet them more vividly upon arrival in Italy. Mrs. Fisher is an elderly aristocrat and Lady Caroline is a young socialite and each initially seems somewhat stereotypical. As the four women interact, Lotty Wilkins strives to turn them all into close friends and to help each of them experience all of the wonderful possibilities she believes this trip will offer them. To Lotty's dismay, both Lady Caroline and Mrs. Fisher seem only to want to be left alone.