Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday outing Needles Overlook Canyonlands

Kathy is out of town this weekend visiting old friends she hasn't seen in years, and spending some time without children hanging on her all of the time. So it fell to me to take the kids out on the Friday excursion and then post on the blog. (Honey, I hope I don't mess it up too bad.)



The crew surveying the scene.













Looking at the puddles














The little ones were more adventurous than the older kids











These pictures don't really do it justice. It is hard to show in a picture that you are really a few thousand feet up























This one is looking straight down

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Spellman Files


Have you ever read a book in which you just didn't connect with all the characters, but still found the book entertaining? I enjoyed reading this book, it was a light mystery, very funny, which I was in the mood for. But I just couldn't feel like I was reading about a real person. Perhaps there are people like the main characters, but her voice felt so different from my experience that it didn't seem realistic to me.
The main character, the first person narrative voice, is a 28-yr old woman who lives with her parents and has worked for them in their PI business since she was 12. Because she doesn't feel she can get away from her parents she does all sorts of destructive things instead. As a teenager she was every kind of trouble and as an adult she doesn't pass out on the lawn anymore, but she still acts like she is 13 in a lot of ways.
It is funny, as long as I just read the book, and didn't think about her much, it was an enjoyable read. But now as I sit here and think about the family and how they worked together it is sad. Rather than get out and work out whether she wants to be a part of the family business, the main character sneaks out of windows and lies. There are more books in this series and I don't think I could stand to read them unless she starts to grow up a bit.

The Spellman Files. Lisa Lutz. Pocket Books. 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Agent in Old Lace


Reading this book was a life changing experience for me. Not hugely, like having a kid or getting married, more like discovering a new good restaurant or discovering a new type of music you like. I admit, I have said some not very nice things about LDS genre fiction in the past; cliche is probably one of the more moderate words I have used. I was nervously looking forward to getting the review copy of this book because if it lived up (down) to my expectations, what would I write?
But it didn't. In fact, I will say this is one of the best thrillers (-ish) that I have read in a long time, because it so wasn't cliched. Having the girl not meekly go along with the threatening gunman made me give a shout of joy just in the first few pages. I've never understood why someone would go along with their own removal to a more easily disposed of location.
The heroine felt like a real person, not just a stick figure to get into trouble and then rescued. She jumps out of a car and actually hurts herself. How's that for a departure from regular fiction?
The writing was crisp and fresh. Though that sounds like more of a description of salad than prose, it truly was light and easy to read. Without getting bogged down in horrific descriptions of the evilness of the bad guy (we can figure it out) or of ballistics, or meandering, long passionate monologues about the tormented romance.
Tristi Pinkston has single-handledly convinced me to try more LDS fiction. I might actually start shopping Deseret Book instead of B&N. I'm sure your fellow authors will thank you, I certainly do.

Agent in Old Lace. Tristi Pinkston. Cedar Fort. 2009

Fun Friday - Park 'N Popsicles

I had two extras and one missing, so we just went down to the new park and looked around. It is a pocket park, but has some very cool things to entertain the kids for a while.

There is this cool bird/stucco thing.

Just perfect for eating popsicles in.


And a large wheel that turns which the boys found very interesting.


And a climbing wall that was too hot to use.


And a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Excuses

I sort of promised Jen that I would work on some relevant, polished, amazing kind of essay and post it Monday. I did this instead:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Speaks the Nightbird


The plot device of an innocent person in jail and the brave legal defendant comes to find the true villain has been used from Perry Mason and before. It is enough of a trope that when you see a book following this pattern, you assume that something new and different will happen, not the same old Perry Mason-esque plot. That is what I wanted from this book, a new twist on something very familiar.
The writer was working very hard to give the reader a good experience. There were some good lines, "He was the salt of the earth, yet you could tell he didn't have many spices to choose from." is one example that I chuckled at. But it felt too forced. Good descriptive writing feels effortless, this felt plodding and labored. Describing a person's clothing in detail is fine if it is important to set the tone and for a plot point, which it was the first time. The second and third and more it felt more like a box to be checked off. OK, they get up, I describe in detail the clothes they put on, they go about their day.
That was one thing that bothered me, but I finally had to quit writing when I realized that I didn't care about the characters, and I felt that they didn't either. The situation is a woman accused of witchcraft and a magistrate sent with his young clerk to try her case. Because of a convoluted plot sequence the young man ends up in jail next to the witch. The magistrate is supposed to be worried for the young man because of his proximity to evil. Perhaps he will be tempted and effected by her presence. That is a legitimate concern for 17th century minds. But the dialogue and internal monologue that went with this was so unconvincing I had to quit. If an author is going to write a book about people of faith, he should be able to convincingly portray them.
It was the reading equivalent of watching a Jr high production of The Crucible. I was going to just read the end to see if the ending was how I guessed it would be. When I came back to the book the next day I realized didn't even care enough to do that. Watch an episode of Perry Mason instead.

Speaks the Nightbird. Robert McCammon. Pocket Books. 2007

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fun Friday, episode 2 - Hole in the Rock

Today we went to world famous Hole in the Rock. It is one of the roadside attractions with no real theme, other than lots of stuff we like all scattered around the property. It has a petting zoo, which is the real reason we come here every summer, but this may be our last one because they now charge admission and $3.75 is a bit steep when you have five kids to take in. But we had fun and I have lots of pictures of the back of my children.
The Fallow Deer were the favorite because you could feed them our of your hand.

The miniature donkeys were nice too. B. kept making horse noises at them.


Then there is all the other weird junk, like this jail cell, filled with potted plants.

And the kids posing on statuary.

There were rabbits running around all over the place, and lizards, but B. couldn't catch any.

One the other side of "the Rock" is a very nice rest area with trails up into the hills. This is really what J. wanted to do.


The little ones got pretty good at climbing up the rocks. And we didn't tear out the seat of anyone's pants! A successful outing for all.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Warbreaker


My sister Jen recently wrote a post in which she talked about how she tried to get into science-fiction but just couldn't do it, it was too weird for her. Being the older sister she mentions in her post, I felt compelled to write about why I do like it, and fantasy, so much. Then I had the chance to read Warbreaker and realized that this book is the epitome of all that I love about the speculative genres.
To begin with, there is an incredible amount of stuff going on. I have always had an inability to be content with only a portion of my brain engaged. I read while I listen to music. I used to do homework with music on ( it used to bug roommates and siblings alike). I sew or crochet or fold laundry while I watch movies. Unless the experience is completely immersive, like in the theater, I need something else to do. I also tend to bite my nails when I read so I've recently tried crocheting while reading, with mixed results.
The best books, the ones I can read and do nothing else; the ones that I read and really do nothing else and my house suffers, have so many different things to think about that various parts of my brain can all be kept busy, even while reading the same book. Fantasy and Science Fiction does this best. There is a new world to explore, new people to meet, a new magic system to learn about and (in the best ones) a great plot to follow.
Most great literary novels are great because of the characterisations. I have read many of them and though Jane Austen is nice, her plots fit in a teacup (nicely enameled with a gold rim). Mystery novels are supposed to be plot driven, but lately they have fallen into a more character driven style, unfortunately leaving behind the twists and turns of the classic puzzle detective story. I am a plot junkie. I want to find out what happens. It seems that the last truly plot based fiction genres are science fiction and fantasy.
That is not to say that I don't like a good character study. A plot is not interesting if you don't care if the people live or die or explosively decompress out the airlock. When you like the people you are reading about the plot takes on an extra urgency. The kind that makes you stay up until 3 am and count it worth it for a restful sleep. You think about the people later and talk about them as if they are real. If all human experience is ultimately what happens in our minds, perhaps they are as real to me as the people I only read about in cyberspace.
The best fiction has all of these elements, blended together in a nice package that you can get for only 27.95 at the nearest bookseller. Which brings me back to the pretty picture at the head of the post: Warbreaker has all of these things, blended together in a style that I am beginning to see as uniquely Brandon Sanderson's and no one else's. Not only did it have a plot that twisted and wound enough for any three mystery novels, it had an ending that had me pausing in amazement for hours after I finished it. Oscar Wilde's dialogue with the action of the Bourne Identity.
I read this book in one day. 592 pages. It is good that Sanderson only puts out a few books a year. I am still amazed by the complexity, intelligence, ending and general awesomeness (I don't use that word lightly) of this book. Warbreaker is why I love fantasy and science fiction.

Warbreaker. Brandon Sanderson. Tor. 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fun Friday, episode 1 Season 2 part 2

Ok, for some reason I couldn't get the rest of the pictures to show up, there might be a limit on # of pictures. I'd didn't feel like messing with it, so we have a sequel. But you didn't have to wait a whole year so its not that bad.
There were two fires through here last year, so a lot of the trees are dead. The blind I took this picture from was burned down and just replaced a few weeks ago. But the reeds and grasses are doing well.

Doesn't this tree look like some evil octopus thing rising from the depths?
I know people who live in wetter parts of the world might find this funny, but my kids were completely amazed by the amount of trees all squished together here. Their idea of a forest is either pine, with no undergrowth, or a band of tree and shrubs about ten feet wide next to a creek. This view is very unusual for us.

There was some exploring

But the wind started blowing hard and Bridget decided it was time to leave

A good morning's walk. We didn't see any wetlands-type wildlife. The weather was against us and I did have five noisy kids. But the trees and water were good enough.

Fun Friday, episode 1 Season 2

This is actually season two of our Fun Friday tradition, but I didn't have a digital camera last year, so all that fun has been lost to the dustbin of time. So the rules are that I make a list of child-friendly spots within an hour or so of town, and each week one kid chooses one. This week was Ellie's turn and she chose the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve.
Look, water!


Some nice signs that only Ryan wanted to read

Cool cottonwood tree

The informational sign, an important part of any visit

It is a real wetlands, boggy water in evidence everywhere

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brainiac


This seemed like a fitting accompaniment to the earlier book I read about trivia. Trivia can be a life changing subject, just ask Ken Jennings. Of course, being LDS, I am always interested in a fellow church member who has had his fifteen minutes of fame and lived to tell the tale. And this was an interesting tale as well. Not only does he talk about his personal experience with trivia, but he travels around, with the purpose of expanding the subject of the book to all sorts of people whose lives are ruled by small, seemingly insignificant bits of information.
This ended up being one of those books that you read and then think, "People are crazy and weirder than I ever imagine." There is a small town that goes completely nuts over trivia once a year, a man who wrote trivia books, had to get a job as a civil servant, and now still collects bits of information for an omnibus book he will write "someday." There are people who have tried out for Jeopardy! six times and never made it to the show, not to mention the poor guys that were offered a spot, but couldn't play Mr. Jennings because they already knew him previously, so they had to wait six months or more for their chance because he kept winning.
In all this light hearted, but slightly scary story, I ran across a paragraph that I REALLY identified with. It was in the chapter where he is talking about the difference between a trivia master, and a very intelligent person. The conclusion reached is that they are not the same, but they live on the same block, to misquote something from the book.
He also mentions the social misfit nature of intelligent people, as well as the huge social misfit character of people who love trivia so much. Here is the quote:
Hacker-turned-essayist Paul Graham has also wondered why brains are the high school equivalent of leprosy. "Why don't smart kids make themselves popular?" he asks. "If they are so smart, why don't they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just like they do for standardized tests?"
His answer is that nerds don't want popularity. The rules of the popularity contest are a constant burden, and the smart kids just don't have the time or the inclination. Even given the choice, they'd stay in the chess club. What's more, it doesn't matter, since the smart kids are the ones who will come out on top when everyone graduates and realizes that real life is nothing like high school. . . .
I'd like to believe Graham's theory, but I know from experience that if there's one variety of nerd who sometimes unwittingly brings his isolation upon himself, it's the trivia know-it-all. Most of the contestants I meet on Jeopardy! are successful, interesting people, but from time to time there's an unbearable show-off, not happy to be in a room of smart people unless he can establish that he's the smartest.

I remember getting good grades so that people, especially my teacher, would leave me alone. As long as I got A's I could pretty much do as I wished. Striving and working hard to impress others was not nearly as much a part of my high school experience as others I've heard talk about it. Not to say I didn't worry about my peers, I wasn't that abnormal, but I didn't let it active change my behaviour to suit their ideas.
Ryan has all the marks of someone who will suffer the same fate, though he longs for friends in a way that I never did. Perhaps I don't take his frustration on this point seriously enough because I got along fine and figure he will to. David makes up for my apathy though. We probably balance out. Another good reason for a two-parent household.

Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Ken Jennings. Villard. 2006

Monday, June 1, 2009

Armchair Reader


I was tempted to tile this post, Proof of How Geeky I am, or Big Book of Silly Useless Information, or even, Instead of Being Useful, I Read This. I am a trivia nerd. Not as big of one as in the next book I will write about, but I still love these compendiums of odd facts. Since there isn't really a way to review a book like this, other than to say, yes, this was 73% new information, or not, here are a bunch of facts at random that I rather liked:

Many competitors in the 1900 Olympics didn't know the competition they were in was actually THE OLYMPICS. Margaret Ives Abbott, a student from Chicago who won the nine-hole women's golf tournament, dies in 1955 without realizing she was America's first female Olympic champion.

Henry VIII was at least six foot three, as his armor, still on display can attest to.

Nathan Evan (Confederate Army)- As drunkards went, Evans had a decent generaling career, except for one incredible blunder at Kinston (North Carolina, 1862). Ordering a fighting withdrawal across a river under heavy Federal assault, Evans burned a bridge behind him. That would have worked well had he not accidentally left half his force on the far bank. Observing the scene from a safe distance, he mistook his forsaken troops' gunsmoke for Union fire and ordered his artillery to shell his own men.

Peep dueling is a popular "sport" that involves placing two Peep marshmallow confections in a microwave oven, facing each other. The duelists each insert a toothpick into their Peep and start the microwave, causing the Peeps to expand. The first Peep to deflate the other with its toothpick wins!

"Things are more like they are now than they ever were before." Pres. Dwight Eisenhower

"I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." Thomas Carlyle

OK, that's enough random things for today. I also made the list of activities for the summer. If I am really good I will even post pictures of all our Friday activities. But don't hold your breath or anything.

Armchair Reader: The Book of Incredible Information, a World of Not-So-Common Knowledge. J K Kelly. Publications Intl. 2008