Monday, June 28, 2010

My new favorite toy

A limited-edition hexagonal Rubik's Cube with all the gorgeous Resistance artwork. I love this little thing. It was an indulgence, but I'm so glad I got it.

The monkeys like it, too. And they're excited to be in the targeted age group.

I have said repeatedly that the only thing that would make this better... if it somehow involved word games. But I'll take it as is. It's adorable, and lovely. And I wanted all the artwork, so it's perfect!

(I am glad I took pictures, because I made the mistake of mixing it up. It is now hopelessly tangled. Oh, and I'm terrible at solving these things...)

Nap with Holland

Holland came over and crashed at our place last week.

The kids cuddled up with her while she fell asleep...

...and Elizabeth fell asleep too.

Tea party breakfast

The girls wanted to have a tea party. First thing in the morning.

So, we broke out the tea set with our eggs and Cheerios.

A very proper start to the day.

"Incarceron" Review

Book 17 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

I loved this book.

Thoroughly imaginative, the mix of two very imperfect worlds that envy each other, the elements of magic and fantasy that pass by almost unnoticed because of how artfully they are worked into the book...

Incarceron is a vast prison, established some time prior to our entry into the story, and intended to be a paradise for its inhabitants. It is not so paradisaical anymore, but is a giant machinated savage environment. A group is attempting to escape the prison, an act which may be impossible.

In the meantime, the daughter of the Warden, in the other world, the outside, is trying to get in, for reasons that in anyone else's hands would risk being clumsy or melodramatic but I think works perfectly here. She is desperate, largely due to her situation at home, and to her, Incarceron represents a sort of escape. A gorgeously imagined world, entirely believable.

And the ending is fantastic. Don't worry, there's not a chance I'm giving anything away.

Many of the intricate mysteries are not cleared up in the riveting course of the book. I have no many unanswered questions. Thankfully there is a sequel due out next year, Sapphique -- by the end of Incarceron, the title of the sequel alone is positively thrilling.

"The Dead-Tossed Waves" Review

Book 16 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

Carrie Ryan's books have fantastic titles. This is a companion book to "The Forest of Hands and Teeth," the zombie apocalypse book reviewed here.

"Waves" takes place in a different community in the zombified world, where the oppressive order of the other book doesn't exist. A different society has been established, and whether it's better or not is debatable. There is a lot of sighing and declarations about feelings. After a few pages it bothered me, and after hundreds of pages it grew tiresome.

One character has a crush on another and it leads the first to do amazingly stupid things. It is worse than that vampire book for teenage obsession and recklessness.

The writing is weaker and the story lacks the tension of its companion book. It provides an interesting perspective on the other story, but the other is superior to it.

Still, great title.

"The Knife of Never Letting Go" Review

Book 15 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

A few pages into this book, I was ready to put it down. It is told from the perspective of a boy living in a society where everyone can hear one another's thoughts, and the style and slang were overwhelming. And a little obnoxious.

I am so glad I kept reading.

The title completely makes sense with the story. It hints at the kind of language used here. Once I adjusted to the narrator, I found him and his story entirely endearing. Two-dimensional characters became complex, and the truth about the world the boy, Todd, has been raised in, comes slowly to light, along with all the emotional turmoil he experiences because of the lies.

It seems to be getting more difficult to find truthful storytelling: characters are able to make difficult choices easily or pursue impossible ends with ease and with every random element working in their favor. This book is different. Nothing comes easily, and not everything is a success, not even close. The good parts are well earned, and the failures are both anticipated and surprising because they were not the easy way out. Most writers coddle their characters and plots too much. Not this one.

This is the first book of a series, and I am so glad for it.

"Child 44" Review

Book 14 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

"Child 44" is a break from nearly everything else on my list. It is not a young adult book. It takes place in communist Russia under Stalin, not a fictional dystopia.

It is about a serial killer who, while being hunted by police, cannot be publicly acknowledged under the Stalinist belief that their society would never produce such a criminal. The only criminals are capitalists, foreigners, and their like, not someone who has all their needs met by the State.

The tension between the good policeman, Leo, and the government is terrific. The story is told from multiple points of view, maintaining the sense that everyone is expendable and no one is safe from the oppressive, destructive, powerful State.

It is brutal and sobering. The storytelling is masterful, the world where all are aware and yet no one is admitting how precarious their situation is, is brilliantly realized. In the end I found these elements more compelling than the main storyline, though the plot turns in ways I could never have predicted.

Is it strange that it is nearly uplifting by the end? Perhaps no more strange than that it's the first of a trilogy...Or that it's being made into a movie by Ridley Scott.

"The Forever Formula" Review

Book 13 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

Robert and I read this out loud, on his recommendation. He had read it when he was younger. Since it fit so well with my dystopian challenge, I'm counting it as part of my list.

This book was a bright little drop of campy fantasy in my relentlessly dark journey through the dystopian genre. I laughed many times at the utter cheesiness and predictability.

This is a book that takes place in a future where all cities are in giant domes and everyone runs around in jumpsuits. One of the main characters is Captain Tuggey, which made me laugh almost every time it came up.

It was also oddly dated, for a futuristic novel. Written in the 1970s, it included quotes that reflected the era it was written in: "What is this, Romper Room?" asks one character, and several references to aspic.

Overall, I thought it was delightful fun. Not very much tension (the bad guys are after a formula embedded in this other guy's brain -- will they get it??), but I can't complain about the ending, which didn't entirely wrap everything up nicely and neatly.

Out of print, but available really cheap on Amazon and occasionally at your local DI.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pine Valley picnic

I got an assignment for yesterday: Take the kids on a picnic to one of my favorite places, and tour the 140-year-old chapel there that was built like an upside-down boat.

Um, ok. :)

I love Pine Valley.

It was 15 degrees cooler up there. 80 degrees and absolutely beautiful.

We set up our picnic

Eliz did not want to stop reading

Bananas were consumed

and a lovely Pink Lady apple (her favorite)

A large wasp chased us off from our table soon after, and so we packed up and walked around instead.

The water level was as high as I've ever seen it (there's usually quite a bit of space beneath that bridge)

Eliz found a fish (and yes, I was worried that she pointed at it with a library book--no harm came to it, though)

Angela on her favorite stump

Eliz on the stump

After the picnic, we visited the Pine Valley Chapel. We were the only ones on the tour, and it was fascinating. The man who built it only knew how to build boats, so he built it like a boat, upside down, with the curved bottom covered with a bit of triangular rooftop.

We got to go inside the very top and see the rafters, which was awesome...

...until a giant wasp landed on my hand. I shook it off and then it chased us. And so we left. Again.


Eliz wanted a picture by herself

and so Angela did too

Gifts masquerading as landscape

We had a birthday party for Than on Monday evening.

My job was to wrap the presents, only the largest was a very odd shape. I considered many possibilities, none of which really would have worked.

Then inspiration struck.

The gift is the trunk. The arms are just decoration. (It's a rifle, if you can't tell.)

Then the accessories fell into place:

As I was making this one (below), I said, "This is a pretty sorry-looking lizard," and Elizabeth drew a smiley face on it so it wouldn't be sorry anymore.

The birthday boy says he didn't guess that they were presents. That was part of the goal. :)

I'm quite proud of how they turned out.

Picnic with friends

Last week we had a lovely picnic with dear friends. The 100+ degree heat eventually drove us indoors, but it was great fun anyway.

Like true monkeys, the kids took to the trees.

This one's camouflaged:

Eliz and Anicka

Eliz in the tree

Eliz in another tree