Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reading 2017

So every year (well, I've done it for the past couple of 'em) there's this "how many books are you going to try to read?" challenge on Goodreads, and in 2017 I pledged I would read 40. As I got toward December I had still only read, like, 31, but I ended up sneaking in a few short books in the end, and I made my goal with one day to spare.

So Goodreads does this thing where it gives you some stats on what you read. Here are my stats for 2017:

I read 8,903 pages across 40 books.

Longest book was Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, at 870 pages.

Shortest book was Fast Forward: The Wild West, 32 pages.

Average length of books: 223 pages

My average rating for 2017: 3.5 stars (out of 5). I guess I tend to like what I read, or else I simply don't finish bad books (in which case, I usually don't rate them, either.)

My first review of the year was for The Mystery Of The Caramel Cat, a book I got because I remembered reading/liking it when I was 8, and I was feeling nostalgic. After reading it, I gave it 2 stars and wrote, "I do like the illustrations." (Hey! There's a less-than-stellar review!)

Four books I read this year got five stars from me were:

Charlotte's Web (re-read)

We Found A Hat (new)

Roller Girl (new)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban (9th read or something)

A lot of the books I read this year were re-reads, including the Ramona series and most of the Harry Potter series (I'm halfway through #7). I read 2 new (to me) books by Dale Evans Rogers, and I plan to read more by her. I also finally read Beverly Cleary's Ramona - Behind The Scenes Of A Television Show in its entirety (rather than just the chapters that looked interesting, which I've done in the past.) Having just (re)watched all 10 vintage Ramona episodes via Youtube, reading the book was a great bonus.

I started using Audible this year, and am not ashamed to admit that most of my re-reads happened via audiobook. (If I listened to an abridged book, I didn't include it on my Goodreads list.) I actually love the service. If you need a break for a few months, Audible lets you pause the service without paying (but you can keep your books and accumulated credits); also, if you decide you don't like one of the books after all (for me, I just didn't care for the reader's pacing) you can return it and get your credit back. However, this may not be the best service if you like to listen to LOTS of audiobooks. For me, though, getting books that I'm sure I'll listen to again (ie the Anne books, Pride & Prejudice, and the Harry Potters) -- and being able to easily listen to them on my ipod or Echo (which will sync with each other) has been great.

Here's the link to my Goodreads 2017 Overview, and please join me on Goodreads if you're not already there!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sweet & Scary

I recently discovered this blog called Are You There, Youth? It's Me, Nikki, where this woman re-reads and discusses (mostly) middle grade books from her childhood. Reading through her entries got me thinking... maybe it's time for me to pick up another Baby-Sitters Club book. Re-reading those is always a pleasant pasttime. Well, re-reading the earlier books, at least. 

Thinking about the BSC then got my mind whirling about some of the other tweeny book series I used to read when I was in 4th-9th grade. Before I got into the BSC, I was all about Sleepover Friends -- Patti, Stephanie, Lauren, and Kate, and their weekly forays into cheesy movies and gallons of Dr. Pepper. Sadly, our local library didn't have many SF books in circulation, and as I crossed over to BSC (which had 34 books and three Super Specials when I discovered it), I was still at the mercy of the library, which might have only 3 or 4 of those books in at a time. I read the entire BSC series out of order, but it didn't matter, I still loved it. And yet, I longed for other, similar books, as well....

Somewhere along the line, I discovered Sweet Valley Twins. For those unaware, that was kind of a prequel/spinoff series of Sweet Valley High (which I never got into.) Sweet Valley Twins was all about twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield as sixth graders, as well as their friends and crushes. Unfortunately, Jessica and Elizabeth were about the only characters I cared about. Jessica's friends in the Unicorn Club were huge bitches, and Elizabeth's friends were mostly bores.

Even though I never got around to reading all the SVT books, and though I certainly didn't love that series as much as the BSC, there were a couple of stories that were memorable for me, and it's possible that I liked them because they went places the BSC dared not go.

Two in particular were:

#42, Jessica's Secret, which had Elizabeth getting her period, so Jessica lies and says she's gotten hers too! Then Jessica tries to act all badass to prove her "maturity". By the end of the book, she does get her period, so all is well.

Look at her all angry on the cover. Boo-hoo, why can't I have some PMS, too?

Another book was...

#68: The Middle School Gets Married, in which kids at school are paired up and have to plan a household menu, budget, etc., and take care of an egg. I was always jealous of kids who got to do this project, since it sounded like fun, and yet my school never went down Egg Road.

Reading the synopsis snippets of the other SVT books on Wikipedia, I'm thinking I'm glad I outgrew the series when I did, because it looks like things got weird. 

These are actual SVT book descriptions:

  • Deadly Voyage: The twins and friends are on a field trip on a boat... but the adults get left behind and the boat is being navigated by two crooks who robbed a bank!
  • Too Scared to Sleep: When the twins and friends start babysitting a new family in town, supernatural things happen.
  • The Beast Is Watching You: The events of Too Scared To Sleep continue, as the kids the twins and friends sit for have very realistic dreams about a disfigured girl, and awake injured.
  • The Beast Must Die: The strange dreams and apparent supernatural events continue.
  • If I Die Before I Wake (Magna Ed. #4): The twins and friends battle Eva Sullivan, the horrible "dream monster."
  • Don't Go In the Basement: When the principal, Mr. Clark, has to go out of town, he asks the twins and their friends to house-sit. While there, they find unusual things that cause them to believe Mr. Clark has murdered his wife.
  • Jessica's Animal Instincts: Taking care of animals is easy! That's what Elizabeth and Jessica and their friends think when they volunteer at the Sweet Valley Zoo, until Elizabeth accidentally lets a mischievous monkey named Spanky out of his cage and he begins showing up in the strangest places.

I think it may be safe to say Sweet Valley Twins jumped a couple of sharks, there.

But what I want to talk about today isn't those wacky, later books, but rather two of the other SVT books that I remember. In fact, I even collected these two as an adult, so I could feed my nostalgia frenzy whenever it occurred. BUT, ya know, I really do have a crapload of books, and so I thought I might as well re-read these, see how they hold up, and if they don't? Give them away. 

And, okay, I needed to read a few more books in 2017 to make my Goodreads goal, but that's... entirely beside the point.

THE GHOST IN THE GRAVEYARD (Super Chiller), 1990

This book has so many layers. It's like a 7-layer ice cream cake that's been sitting out in the sun for a day and a half. Which is to say, its layers are mush and the book kind of sucks, but there's a cool "long-lost twins" element to it. And also ghosts.

Sam Sloane has just moved to Sweet Valley and Jessica and Elizabeth try to help him fit in. But Sam has a weird sense of deja vu about the town. He knows he was born in Sweet Valley, but he left the town at age 1 after being orphaned and adopted, so why does he remember so much about it?

Most of the kids in town watch a made-for-TV-movie about reincarnation one night, so that sets them off thinking about past lives. Bitchy rich girl Lila Fowler is convinced she's reincarnated from Cleopatra, which pisses of Jessica, who then tries to get revenge by pretending she is a reincarnated gold miner who may just know where a hidden treasure lies. (She does not.)

Meanwhile, Sam is being eerily drawn to an old, unoccupied house, and later to a graveyard, where his birth parents are buried. There he sees a ghostly figure who looks just like him. Only it turns out the ghost is a real kid named David, who turns out to be Sam's identical twin brother. (David goes to "the other middle school," which is why nobody knows him.) Just like Tia and Tamera of Sister Sister in later years, these boys were adopted out separately and had no idea of the others' existence before now. After Sam and David learn the truth, they begin to bond.

The kids still don't know why that old house has been drawing Sam in, though. One day, they meet an old caretaker at the house who looks like an old dude from a dream Sam and David have both been having for ages, involving a storm and a boat. Also, David has an old photo of the house (with the boys' bio parents in front of it) and the old dude's face is in the window? Maybe? What could it MEAN?

There's another mystery nagging Sam. (I told you there were layers galore!) He knows (from looking at gravestones) that one of his relatives died when he was about 12 years old. Sam goes to the library to dig up more information about this relative, and learns that this boy looked exactly like him (and David), and that he died the day before his 12th birthday. (Gasp! Today is the day before SAM AND DAVID'S 12th birthday!) Also that he drowned in a boating accident! 

Sam calls David immediately, and learns from his mom that David and his dad have just set out... TO GO SAILING! Sam just knows (because... psychic twin thing? History repeating itself?) that David is going to get caught up in a surprise storm and possibly die. He contacts Jessica and Elizabeth and they rush to the marina just as a storm comes in. They can see David and his dad out in the boat, yelling for help. A wave crashes over the boat. Then Sam, on shore, passes out.

When he comes to, Sam learns that a Coast Guard boat picked up David's dad, but that David has not been found. But Sam has a dream that tells him where David is -- in a little boathouse about a mile away. They go to look for David, and there he is, just where the dream said he would be! He was pulled out of the water by none other than that caretaker from earlier, who (it turns out?) was the ghostly grandfather of that 12-year-old that died years ago! AND, when Sam and David look at that one photograph again, the old man's face is no longer in the window! But they see something else -- a door on the side of the house that wasn't there before...

So they go to the house and find some old papers and learn that the house (which was swindled away from the family some years before) really does belong to their family after all. So now Sam and David have a house of their own. Happy 12th birthday, kids!

Oh man, I'm exhausted. The book has so many things going on. Ghosts, graveyards, psychic long-lost twins, possible reincarnation, false memories, psychic dreams, hidden doorways, happy endings. WOW.

Time for something tamer...

THE BIG CAMP SECRET (Super Edition), 1989

OMG CAMP!!!1 For some reason, middle grade summer camp books = love. I'm not alone in this feeling. There was a time, actually, when I would read any book set at camp. Until I realized that just like every genre, the Summer Camp genre has its share of stinkers. (I'm looking at you, Camp Sunnyside Friends #1: No Boys Allowed).

So in this one, Jessica and Elizabeth and some of their friends head to Camp Loconda for two weeks. (Interesting camp name choice, BTW. "Loconda" is Italian for "inn." You know, cuz it IS a place to stay. And yet it also kind of sounds like it could almost be a word from a First Nations or Native American language, which is usually where fictional camps seem to get their names (Camp Mohawk in the Baby-Sitters Club, Camp Lakota on Full House.

One of the twins' friends, Grace, is supposed to go to camp, but her parents are always fighting and are thisclose to getting a divorce, so they decide to take separate vacations and send Grace to stay with her godmother instead of going to camp. But Grace wants none of that and sneaks aboard a bus to Camp Loconda anyway. She finds an abandoned cabin upon a hill and stays there for a couple days. The light in her cabin (an old kerosene lamp) attracts the attention of the Twins, who think the cabin must be haunted. Of course, they must investigate.

Once they discover Grace is there, Jessica and Elizabeth convince her to sneak into camp and integrate into the activities. There are many clever ways in which they "hide" Grace in plain sight for the next week or so. The counselors never catch on, but every girl in camp seems to know about the ruse. One of the other campers, Barbara, the obligatory Camp Bitch, uses this information to blackmail the other girls into doing her bidding.

So about Barbara. The Big Camp Secret was published nine years after Paula Danziger's Summer Camp Book There's A Bat In Bunk Five, but I remember reading both of these books around the same time and thinking it was strange/interesting that both feature a jerky character whose problems seems to stem from the fact that her parents are separated/divorced. In Bat, the little bitchlet is named Ginger. Here it's Barbara. And in both books, there's a subplot about said girl running away or disappearing. But in Bat, even though we find out why Ginger acts out, she never really changes, and the book just sort of ends with Ginger being taken away from camp, if I recall correctly. Here, Barbara has a transformation/epiphany and turns out OK in the end. Which I kind of like, and kind of don't. Barbara does certain things in this book that are kind of terrible. One time, when the girls in the cabin are supposed to come up with costumes for a luau, Barbara forces them all to dress like clowns. CLOWNS?! Of course, the rest of the camp is just like, WTF? Another time, she doesn't want there to be a camp dance (which Jessica is secretly trying to arrange) so she threatens to tell the camp director about Grace if Jessica goes through with her plans. 

In the end, though, Barbara saves Grace's life. Then she comes clean about the reasons she was such a bitch, and everybody accepts her. And I get it, and it's sweet, but still. Bite me, Barbara.

Despite Barbara's best meddling, the dance (between this camp and the boyyyys' camp across the lake) actually does end up happening, and the book leaves off on that night/note. Speaking of which, I love how Summer Camp Books always seem to have a camp of the Opposite Sex right across the lake. There has never, in the history of fictional camps, ever been a lake big enough to stop those crazy kids from mingling with The Boys (or The Girls). There will always be a secret pathway around the lake, a canoe, a strong swimmer, or a kid who's clever enough to sneak a ride in the back of a laundry truck.

(Meanwhile, I went to a Christian summer camp which was totally co-ed, although girls weren't allowed down the path to the boys' cabins and vice versa. Still, we played and swam together and everything. Oh well.)

So anyway, yeah, this book actually holds up pretty well. Camp Loconda sounds like fun -- swimming, boating, horseback riding, volleyball, and a treasure hunt that was either very poorly described or ridiculously rigged, I can't decide. Reading this as a kid, I was totally jealous of the cabins in this book, which each had an attached bathroom. No trekking into the woods in the middle of the night to find a loo for these kids, no ma'am! 

Camp Tropes Present Here:

*Overnighter Where Something Surprising Happens
*Sprained Ankle
*Boys Across The Lake!
*Possibly Haunted/Abandoned Cabin
*Bitchy Camper Who Has Her Reasons (Barbara)
*Mean Counselor Who Everyone Hates (Tina)
*Cliche Ghost Stories
*Arts & Crafts Cabin Where Someone Is Making Something Out Of Popsicle Sticks (hey, at least it wasn't lanyards!)
*Co-Ed Dance!
*Movie Night Where The Movie Is Something Pathetically G-Rated (Old Yeller, here)


In the end, I think The Ghost In The Graveyard will go to GoodWill, and The Big Camp Secret will stay on my bookshelf for the time being.

And no, I'm NEVER going to read THAT one!

Sunday, December 10, 2017


I'm in Powell's and I'm trapped. I can't seem to reach the exits, no matter how hard I try. Every time I get near the checkout counters, an invisible force turns me around and pulls me toward a different section of the store.

This is not a dream. This is reality.

And the reality is: I want the books. I want ALL THE BOOKS.

Two halves of my brain wrestle for control.

Brain Half A:  NO! You have too many books already! You literally have no more shelves on which to put them. And you haven't even cracked half the books you own. GO HOME.


Twenty minutes later, my brain halves reach a compromise:  You may buy one book, but it has to be a gift for someone else.

That's just fine.

I'll do just that. This time.

Oh, but I'll be back.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

BrickCon 2017!

BrickCon 2017

So the annual Seattle LEGO Convention, BrickCon, happened last month, and I attended for the second year in a row (and fourth year total.) This year, the con began on Thursday. Unfortunately, I couldn't really take both Thursday and Friday off work, so I had to miss the first full day.

I left Portland at about 4am on Friday morning, arrived in Seattle around 8:30am, and after briefly stopping by my cousins' house (where I'd be staying the nights) I headed to the convention hall. I got my nametag, picked up my swag bag (chock full of "free" LEGO!) and set up my MOCs.

Here's what I brought this year:

My "Fisher-Price" buildings, which were also at Bricks Cascade this spring: School House, Merry-Go-Round, and the little blue and yellow house....

Below you can see Scrooge McDuck... he came to BrickCon in 2013 as well.

"You Have Chosen..." is my next MOC. The scene in the middle came to the con last year, but the two grails (false and true) are new this year. Cookie Monster there on the right was also mine, though I didn't get a good picture.

And finally... my Kitchens. The 70's one on the lower left was new to this con, and several of the others received upgrades since their last con appearance.

After I set up my MOCs, it was about time for the one game in which I was planning to participate, Round 1 of the Master Build. (Master Build is my favorite game, and the only one that doesn't make me want to throw bricks.)

This year, we were given a bag of pieces that appeared to include 4 sets, those $4.99 Classic sets that come in red, green, yellow, and blue. I do see some orange in there, too, so I dunno...

We were told we had to build at least 2 of the following 3 things: a living thing, a building, and/or a vehicle. We had approximately an hour to build.

This was mine final creation... castle, waterfall, ship sailing away, and sea monster.

Here are some of the other builds...

I was super impressed by all these (and more). I had no expectation of making it to the semifinals (top 20).. but, surprise!, I did, actually!

After the Master Build, I headed out to get some lunch. There's a food court at the Seattle Center, and one of my go-tos there is Mod Pizza.

Evidently I'm not the only fan of the Mod. Hey, Bird!

Games were happening all day Friday, and that afternoon they held the Team Speed Build. Even though I wasn't registered for this game, I got in line for the lottery picks for a chance to participate. I was lucky enough to squeak in.

Our team didn't win, but I got to take home several handfuls of maroon and light grey pieces, so yay for that.

Also that day, I attended two workshops/seminars, one on collaborative building and one on Technic creations. The first was inspiring and the second was very informative! (I am such a dunce when it comes to Technic, though I do like my MOCs to have moving parts if I can. I really did learn a lot from this seminar... especially what not to do (anymore.))

That evening, my fellow AFOLs and I gathered in this nearby theater/auditorium to listen to the keynote speech. I was so tired (I'd been up since 4am after all) that I'm afraid I didn't get much out of it... it took a lot of effort just to not fall asleep. I headed straight to my cousins' house afterward and crashed.

At some point between Friday and Saturday I laid out the bricks I'd gotten just on Friday, and oh my..

So... many... shiny... LEGO....

The next morning, I was as ready as I could be for the influx of people... Public Day #1...

I did spend a bit of time behind my MOCs this year... specifically, by my Kitchens. But after a few hours, I needed a break from the mayhem, and headed to the nearby Museum Of Pop Culture, mainly to see the Jim Henson exhibit.

The JH exhibit was great. I love those Muppets.

Elsewhere in the museum, they had this room full of indie computer games/apps you could play. One was called Mini Metro. I liked it so much, I bought it for my iPod and I play it regularly, now. Check it out if you like puzzle games!

I returned to the convention hall around 3; that's when they were going to close to the public... but they then extended the hours till 4. 4:00 was also the time for the Master Build semi-finals, so I headed to the place where that would be taking place.

We (me and the other 19 semi-finalists) were given this set...

...and were told that this time, we had to build all three things (building, vehicle, living thing.) And, if we could, we should follow the con's theme, which was "Old School."

Naturally, I took that literally...

Get it? Cuz it's an old-fashioned school?? Hey, I'm a teacher. What.

As soon as they called "time," I looked at the guy to my right, saw what he built, and gasped...

The other builds were insane, too. Besides the one above, these were my favorites...

^I think this one ended up winning.

That evening, they had the Awards Ceremony and gave away door prizes, as they do at each of the whole-group gatherings. 

At BrickCon, they draw people in groups of 5 (for smaller prizes) or 1 (for larger sets.) 

I was drawn in a group of 5, and got the Prince Of Persia set "Quest Against Time." I was actually really happy about that. It's an older set, circa 2010, from my early AFOL days. (Ahhh....) I'm happy to have an opportunity to re-build the set. (And, of course, that's another Jake Gyllenhaal minifig to add to my rather impressive Jake Gyllenhaal Army.)

After the awards ceremony, I joined in a game of Dirty Brickster (think: white elephant or a yankee gift exchange, but with LEGO). Due to the number of participants, they broke it into two groups. I had items stolen from me a few times before I managed to steal, and go home with, a LEGO City: Fun In The Park set. Yay!

Before I knew it, it was Sunday....

Like I had on the previous day, I sat near my Kitchen MOCs and spent some time talking with fellow AFOLS who were sitting nearby. When the noise from the public got to be too much, I escaped to the nearby theater lobby, where fellow AFOLs were doing a Mega Draft, and I helped sort pieces. They were drafting the Brick Bank. 2382 pieces per set!!

That afternoon, after Public Hours ended, we gathered for Closing Ceremonies. This is where they announce Best In Show, People's Choice awards, etc. They also have been doing Honorable Mentions the past few years. I was absolutely floored to hear my name get called for a special brick for "Details in a Small MOC." Yes, I put a lot of detail into those Kitchens! I was even adding things to them during the convention. :) I got a 1x8 engraved brick as well as a LEGO City set.

 After the final ceremony, I packed up my MOCs, hopped in the car, and headed home, exhausted but happy after a fun weekend.

Before you go, check out some photos of my favorite MOCs from the convention. And if you want to see even more, check out my Flickr Album.

^Winner of Best In Show!

Okay, now I'm finished. Until next year...!