Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review - The Circle

Imagine a future where technology is heavily entrenched in almost every mundane detail of our daily lives. A future where people wake up and immediately reach for social media to connect with hundreds of friends and acquaintances all around the world. Where people wear and carry devices to monitor their heart rate, caloric intake, steps taken, time spent meditating, time spent sleeping, amount of water consumed, etc. A future where people share opinions, photos, thoughts and snippets of their life down to every trivial detail. A time when people live broadcast moments of their daily activities ranging from climbing mountains to shopping for groceries to staring idly at the clock.

It's probably not that difficult to imagine given the pervasive nature of technology and social media that's currently in our lives. Just imagine the current level of social media and our mobile and wearable technology and then ratchet it up a notch and you have the setting for The Circle.

The Circle is the name of the world's most powerful and influential technology company. Think of them as having the combined platforms and reach of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc combined and then add in all of the most successful and innovative products and platforms created by Apple/Google/Microsoft/etc and you have The Circle. They have products in services in nearly every aspect you can think of where digital interacts with reality.

As the book progresses, the products and services offered by The Circle grow more and more invasive. As an outsider watching the progress it's easier to see the darker side of the changes being made. To the characters living in the world and embracing the technology they are somewhat like the frog in the story about how to boil a frog. The water around them is slowly getting hotter but they won't really recognize any problems until it is too late.

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
  2. You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir
  3. A Scanner Darkly
  4. The Game of Lives (Mortality Doctrine Book #3)
  5. The Girl on the Train
  6. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One)
  7. At the Mountains of Madness
  8. Station Eleven
  9. The Wind in the Willows
  10. The Secret Keepers
  11. All the Light We Cannot See
  12. The Return of Tarzan
  13. The Gathering (Shadow House Book #1)
  14. The Circle

Monday, October 10, 2016

Family Summer Vacation 2016 - Redwood Forests and Pacific Coast

Leaves have changed colors and temperatures are dropping...I guess that means I should get on the ball and write that "how I spent my summer vacation" post. It's a little late, but who's really keeping track, right?

For our family vacation this year we took a trip to the Redwood National Forests and the Pacific Coast. We spent most of the trip in California but as a family we always said we were going to "Oregon". I think that's mainly because Oregon is new to the kids so the novelty of it made it a place to focus the trip.

The vacation started out with a full day of driving from our home near Salt Lake City halfway across Nevada and then North up to Klamath Falls Oregon where we stayed a night. The drive was long and pretty uneventful. Having driven across Utah and parts of Nevada before, the scenery most of the drive wasn't anything terribly exciting or engaging for the group so a lot of time was spent reading or sleeping. A couple of our gas/bathroom pit stops were in fun small little towns with quirky postcards and souvenirs on the shelves so that was fun. When we did get to the Oregon/Nevada border we snapped a few quick pictures before continuing on. We arrived at our hotel in Klamath Falls after dark and just settled in to stretch and sleep before another day in the van.

Our second day immediately started with more interesting scenery and growing excitement as we continued on the road. Driving around Klamath Lake and the Lake of the Woods was gorgeous. After a few hours we were at the California border and embedded in forest. Driving through the forest, the kids kept excitedly asking if these were the great Redwoods yet. My oldest teenager cynically pointed out that if these were THE redwoods they weren't really any better than trees back home and we could've saved our vacation time. I assured him that we weren't quite there and he'd be impressed once he saw them.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review - The Gathering (Shadow House book 1)

The Gathering is the first book in a new series called Shadow House. This is a horror/thriller series aimed at middle graders. I'm not a huge reader of horror but this felt like a nice stepping stone between the youthful Goosebumps series and more mature horror like the works of King, Hill, Koontz or others. The story would likely be too creepy for younger readers but I'm sure some die-hard horror readers would call it tame. To me, it felt like a good balance for younger readers and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody under age ~12. Unlike "mature" horror books, this book isn't filled with profanity, sex, gore or other overly graphic shock thrills. Frankly, I was relieved that the author didn't try to push the teenage envelope into those areas and rather presents a very spooky horror book that's suitable for a younger audience.

The book starts out with an interesting setup. We are introduced one at a time to 5 very different children/tweens. Each character is in a unique situation that gives them distinct motivations in their life. Mysteriously, each of them receives an invitation of some sort to visit a home/estate/school/etc. with promises that are suited to their unique characteristics. For example, the orphan girl Poppy is drawn in by the prospect of a distant relative wanting to bring her into the family. Music virtuoso Marcus thinks he is going to a special music school. Each character finds out about the "Shadow House" in different ways and they each make their way there.

Once they arrive, the house seems abandoned and the kids start looking around. Before long, evidence of some supernatural force is discovered and the kids not only find that they cannot leave the house but there are beings in the house that want to hunt them down, presumably to kill them. As a parent, I found it a little bit of a stretch that these 5 young kids traveled across the country to a mysterious place they barely knew anything about...but I think that's the wary parent in me. Aside from their impulsive journey to the house, I felt like the kids' actions, language and behaviors felt very believable and realistic for the situation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review - The Return of Tarzan

I read the first Tarzan novel 6 or 7 years ago and generally enjoyed it. It was a fun and interesting adventure novel with some dated "sexism" and "racism" but with some intriguing insights and contemplation about morality and the nature of what it means to be human. It was filled with wild adventures through the African jungles with exciting surprises and events.

(Minor plot Spoilers in the form of basic synopsis for the next 4 paragraphs)

This second novel, The Return of Tarzan, started out similar but also wildly different than its predecessor. We find that Jane is engaged but not yet married to William Clayton and that she seems to be continually postponing the marriage for 'some' reason. Dismayed at the loss of Jane, Tarzan travels to Europe. On the boat, he stumbles on a dangerous situation and helps both a Count and a Countess but earns the anger of a shady villain. Once in France, Tarzan entrenches himself into the life of a high class citizen. In spite of this new life being opened to him, he bored with wandering the streets, dining at clubs and visiting the theatre. He seeks opportunities to "stretch his legs" in the city and wanders again into troublesome situations where he finds himself torn between the vicious yet simple laws of the jungle and the rigid laws of man and justice.

Eventually, Tarzan's actions and connections earn him the job as an agent to the ministry of war. Essentially he has become a courier and a spy. He travels across the deserts of northern Africa, finding and helping people in various forms of trouble. He still has a very basic sense of right-and-wrong and tries to impose his will with the same impulsive tactics that worked back in the jungle. His strength and speed help him out of many situations but he continues finds himself conflicted between the laws of men and his own moral code. He also encounters villains who, although they are men, fight with sneaky underhanded means that make Tarzan despise them.