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.

Saturday, May 12, 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

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.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Book Review - The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the first two books in "The Kingkiller Chronicle," I found myself in the same predicament as other fans. I now must patiently wait for the conclusion to be finalized. And with no specified release date, there's no telling how long we have to wait. I found my way into the author's picture books about The Princess and Mr. Whiffle and I started following his blog. A friend of mine talked with me about this book (The Slow Regard of Silent Things) and pointed out that he didn't really like it much but that it was interesting. With that intro, I sought out Slow Regard and began to read.

From the very beginning, Rothfuss lets you know that "You may not want...this book...This is a bit of a strange story. It doesn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do." Starting out with a strong apology is an interesting tactic. Often such an apology can be viewed as a non-apology and more of a challenge. Rothfuss does set up some distinct warnings (such as "this is NOT book three" or rather this does not continue Kvothe's storyline. Also, if you haven't read his other books, "don't…start here.") The rest of the warning felt more like a challenge to me to figure out what this book is about and/or why it was written/published.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review - Anthem

On a whim, I decided to read Anthem by Ayn Rand. I'd noticed it popping up on Middle School and High School reading lists in recent years. Since this book wasn't part of the reading curriculum in my school years I was curious to read it and see why it was being revisited now.

As I started reading I made a couple of early observations. First was the odd usage of point of view and pronouns. If you've read the synopsis or any brief outlines of the book you are aware that this book is set in a dystopia where individualism has been eradicated to the sense that the idea of "I" or "me" has been eliminated. Thus, while the book is written in "first person", it is written in first person "plural." That is, the narrator speaks and writes using "we" to narrate rather than "I." Even as he speaks of actions he did alone, he writes "we" rather than "I."

The other observation I made was that of simplicity. The sentence structure and the delivery of ideas and concepts was very blunt and matter of fact. While there were certainly a lot of nuances and details still left to be learned about this world and the people inhabiting it, the sentences and observations were very to the point. As such, Rand's messages quickly became very clear and often felt a little heavy handed and over the top.

As you might expect in a world without individualism, I found the characters and the world to lack in terms of depth. Our narrator (whose name was "Equality-7###") was the only character with any depth to him at all and that was presented as an abomination and subversive to society. Indeed, everyone and everything was expected to be precisely the same and completely equal.

The story of the book progresses as you might expect with the primary tension being because of the narrator's break from same-ness and the consequences of that break if, and when, it is discovered. With more than a century of dystopic fiction (and a recent resurgence in the past decade), it was fairly easy to predict how things might play out. As a result, the story and the plot obviously aren't the most compelling things about this book.

Rather, this book is more a book of philosophy. As the title suggests, this could be seen as a sort of celebration or eulogy. This book is meant as a way for readers to forge their own personal "anthem" in celebration of their individualism and rights to be their own person.