Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book Review - The Secret Adversary

Considering she is THE bestselling author (only surpassed in copies sold by William Shakespeare and the Bible), it shouldn't be surprising that I have only scratched the surface in reading the work of Agatha Christie. And yet, I found myself a little surprised to stumble upon the adventures of Tommy and Tuppence in her second novel, The Secret Adversary. The pair of adventurers were featured in four novels and a bunch of short stories but they are overshadowed by Christie's mainstays Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Perhaps it was because they felt so different from Christie's other works, but I found myself really drawn into the story and had a lot of fun with this novel.

The Secret Adversary is set (mostly) in London shortly after the conclusion of World War One. It begins with a conversation between two friends, Tommy and Prudence (who goes by Tuppence) as they bemoan their lack of fortunes and try to come up with ways to secure themselves financially. On a whim, they decide to take out an advertisement in the paper and hire themselves out as Young Adventurers "willing to do anything, go anywhere." Before the ad has even run, Tuppence is surprised to find herself approached by a strange man who overheard the pair and wants to hire them but who then inexplicably gets angry and fleas when she gives him a false name, Jane Finn. The next day they take out another advertisement regarding Jane Finn and they are quickly flung into a mystery adventure that threatens to topple the British government.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Books Read in 2018

For the past few years (2017, 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 14 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. Cloud Atlas
  2. Artemis
  3. Anthem
  4. The Slow Regard of Silent Things
  5. The Pearl
  6. The Secret Adversary

Board Game Review - Lost Cities: Rivals

More than a decade ago, my wife and I picked up a copy of the card game Lost Cities. This simple game of card management and trying to outguess your opponent (and the deck) has been a mainstay in our collection ever since and one we still play on a regular basis. This past summer, Dr. Reiner Knizia released Lost Cities: Rivals. As you may suspect from the name, this game is a sequel of sorts to the original Lost Cities but it has a few differences as well.

A number of years ago, a full "Board Game" version of Lost Cities was released. That version borrowed on the general theme and some of the mechanical ideas of the original Lost Cities but made some significant departures in order to create a compelling board game experience. With Lost Cities: Rivals we are closer to the original version of Lost Cities but we still have enough changes that this should be considered its own distinct game.

Lost Cities: Rivals is a straightforward card game in which each player takes on the role of an adventurer setting off on expeditions with the goal of achieving the most fame. Prior to each expedition, the player may set a "wager" to potentially double, triple or quadruple the amount of fame they receive. The deck consists of 5 different suits/colors with each suit containing 3 wager cards along with numerical cards ranging from 2-10. Cards must be placed in numeric order with the player not being allowed to backtrack. So if the player places a red 7 and later finds a red 6, they are not allowed to play the 6 and instead must pass up on those juicy points. Wager cards must be placed before any numbers are played. Thus a player is required to wager that they will do well in a color before having full confidence of getting the cards they need. So far this should sound VERY similar to the original game and indeed it is, with a few significant differences.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Codenames - Boardgame review and game night report

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the game Codenames. When it first came out it was all the rage and was getting a ton of buzz. When I heard the initial descriptions of the game, I was a little skeptical and wondered how it would catch on with my normal gaming friends, family and other groups of gamers since we don't often go in for party-style guessing games. Once I finally tried it, I decided it was worthwhile and wanted to introduce it to my family. It was a quick hit. Everybody really enjoyed it and was excited to play both as a guesser and as clue givers.

That winter I was going to a family holiday gathering with extended familiy and was asked to bring games. I packed Codenames. Knowing that there would be younger kids there, I went out and bought a copy of the Disney version to bring along. Once again, I was a little skeptical as to whether or not it would go over well and work with younger kids and once again I was pleasantly surprised. Just this past month, I was selected by #Tryazon to be a participant in a Codenames party night showcasing Codenames Disney and Codenames Marvel. I got a copy of the Marvel version and sent out invites.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Book Review - The Pearl

It's been many years since I'd read anything by Steinbeck. I read Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men back in High School. I've re-read Mice and Men once since then. In my ongoing effort to read through more works by the "classic" and "modern classic" authors, I picked up The Pearl. I didn't have any real preconceived notions going in and I definitely don't remember anything of Steinbeck's style so I can't really compare this to his other work or comment on it in terms of other fiction of his day.

My initial reaction to the writing were mixed. It had a strange balance of being both simple/rough and also containing well-crafted writing. I wasn't sure if the moments/scenes of stumbling words were perhaps intentional to let the structure of the work comment on the poverty and lack of education or status of the characters or if maybe Steinbeck's overall style is less of a refined, polished work and more a raw compilation of language. Whatever the case, even though some segments felt a bit oddly structured, I found the reading to be very easy and fluid and I was quickly drawn into the tale.

The story felt VERY familiar. So much so that I wondered many times if, perhaps, I actually had read this book before. Commentary says that it's based on a Mexican folk tale, so I suspect I've either read this book before or else some other story based on the folk tale. The plot of the story is one of those tales that felt to me to be something that could have influenced countless other stories either directly or indirectly. In spite of the setting this is an almost timeless tale of greed, aspirations and jealousy that could be set in any location or time and follow the same arc.

Even though (or perhaps because) the story felt so familiar and flowed so naturally, I was able to find additional depth in it as I thought on the possible moral trajectories the story would take. The initial pages introduce us to a very poor family living in a poor fishing village. The baby boy is stung by a scorpion before the father can stop it and they are unsure if they will be able to save their son. Their poverty leaves them in a very tight place as they interact with the affluent doctor and townsfolk. While the mother applies natural remedies, father goes fishing and discovers an immense pearl. Both mother and father are certain the pearl will bring amazing changes into their lives. The mother fears it is a sign of evil while the father is sure it will provide wonderful opportunities.