Book Review | Roger is Reading a Book by Koen Van Biesen

Shh! Quiet. Roger is reading. Roger is reading a book.

9780802854421If you have ever lived in an apartment or tried to read a book or attempted any task in the presence of small children, then you can relate to Roger is Reading a Book by Koen Van Biesen.

Published in English by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Van Biesen’s illustrated delight features the eponymous Roger trying to read while his neighbor, Emily, enjoys hobbies of her own–loud hobbies. The illustrations are simple and sumptuous, a combination of intricate line drawings and digital photography. The lines are repetitive but enjoyable and leave much of the action in the mind of the reader.

The message of the book is clear–in order to have a good neighbor, one must be a good neighbor. And that is a lesson that we can all stand to hear again, especially when it is expertly executed by a skillful wordsmith and illustrator.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Josh is reading a book.

Nanoblock Review | The Micro Machines of the Lego World

Back in the days of my youth, I collected and played with Micro Machines. They are some of the few toys (aside from my Lego collection) that I retained into adulthood. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Micro Machines are miniaturized versions of popular vehicles about as big as your thumbnail, much smaller than Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars which are scale models about as big as your thumb.

But I’m not here to talk about Micro Machines. I’m going to talk about Nanoblocks. I was just setting up the comparison to say that Nanoblocks are to Micro Machines what Nanoblocks are to Lego.nanoblock_space_shuttle

Super teeny tiny.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago my dad called me up to ask for my opinion. He runs a hobby shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he was curious whether he should stock Nanoblocks or not. So he handed me this set and asked me to put it together.

On a side note, ever since seeing the film “Big” with Tom Hanks, I have harbored a dream of being a toy tester. I jumped at the opportunity. (Not literally; I’m not an attractive jumper.)

Here are my thoughts:

In comparing it to Lego sets of comparable box size and price, Nanoblock sets have about 10 times more pieces. That is both a blessing and a curse. It is awesome because the more pieces you have, the more options for customization you have. So once you’ve built the set once, you can take it apart and build a bunch of other stuff from your imagination from the same set of pieces.

The downside is that if you drop a piece, you may not find it. Never attempt to build a set on a thick carpet. You might as well just open the package and dump the little pieces into your vacuum cleaner.

The sets take a bit more desk space while building, but less when the set is finished. When you set out to build, it is a good idea to clear about two square feet for sorting little pieces. When you open the box, the pieces are contained within several bags. Sadly, the bags are not split in a logical way between steps or sections (e.g. the space shuttle, the booster rockets, the launch pad), so you end up opening all of the bags and then you have to keep track of 500 little pieces.

They take time to assemble, especially if you have fat, sausage fingers like me. To give you an idea of how long it can take to build one of these sets, I spent about an hour or so in building the shuttle, tank, and booster rockets over the course of three lunch hours. I haven’t even started on the launch pad yet. People with more nimble fingers than mine would probably have an easier time of it, however. If you aren’t able to finish a set in one sitting, be sure to invest in a resealable bag to store the pieces.

The instructions are less of a step-by-step guide and more of an exploded view of the different layers of each model part. This took me a while to figure out because I am used to the Lego instruction books that dedicate a page each to adding one or two pieces at a time. The Nanoblock instructions take up less room, and though it was an adjustment, it didn’t take long to figure out.

They make good desk art. Where Lego sets are primarily aimed at a younger audience (I recognize that in spite of my love for them, I am not their target), Nanoblocks seem to be aiming at an older crowd. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of these sets will end up on some professional’s desk instead of in a youngster’s toy box, that is, if they don’t end up in the vacuum cleaner first.

The overall score:

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is stepping a Lego and 10 is completing the coolest Lego set ever, I’d rate the Nanoblock experience as a 7. It was a challenge and rewarding to build. I’m happy to have the completed set on my desk. And if I ever want to break down my set, I know that I could build a number of other things with the 500+ pieces (instead of limited number of things that you can build from a single Lego set).

This is part of the set I built in comparison to a penny.

This is part of the set I built in comparison to a penny.

Book Review | The Maze Runner by James Dashner

9780385737951Some people might think that The Maze Runner is a Hunger Games wannabe, but since it was published only one month after Hunger Games, the people who think that obviously don’t know how long it takes to write a book. That said, it’s definitely going to appeal to the same audience.

If you are thinking about reading this book, here’s what you need to know:

The plot is compelling. The main character, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator without any memory of his life before now. He gets off the elevator to discover a society made up of teenage guys who also can’t remember their former lives. Hemmed in by a gargantuan maze, Thomas and the others must find their way through in order to figure out why they are there in the first place. However, no one’s ever made it through the maze alive. And then, just one day after Thomas shows up, something happens that has never happened before. A girl arrives on the elevator with a warning. Everything is going to change.

The characters are less compelling. In fact, at times, they are downright tiresome. If I had more time, I would go back and count how many times Thomas says something like, “I can’t understand why, but I know that I want to be a Maze Runner.” Anyway, if I had a nickel for every instance, I’d be a dollar or so richer. Also, none of the characters undergo any dynamic shifts, but since this is only the first book in a series, perhaps I need to keep reading in order to see some change.

This book will soon be a film. So if you are the type of person who likes reading a book before seeing the film, you’ll want to pick it up. Here’s the film’s trailer:

Basically, if you like young adult post-apocalyptic thrillers where teens have to battle monsters (without and within) and the elements in order to fight the oppressive regime that controls their lives, you’ll probably like The Maze Runner. I’d give it a 7/10. It was worth reading, but I don’t know if I’d read it twice. Who knows? Maybe when I finish the series, my tune will change (yeah, I plan on finishing the series).

I am into good ideas, not poor executions.

IntimefairuseMy wife and I made the mistake of getting the movie “In Time” from the library recently. Why? Because as I was telling one of my friends about an idea I had for a short story, he informed me that it sounded a lot like that movie.

“Darn,” I said then.

“Double darn,” I say now that I’ve seen it. Well, now that I’ve seen forty minutes of it, anyway.

For those who haven’t seen heard of “In Time,” it stars Justin Timberlake and is set in the not-too-distant future. All currency has been replaced with time. People are genetically engineered to stop aging at twenty-five, at which time their clock starts ticking down one year. If you wish to survive for longer than one year, you must work in order to earn more time. Timberlake plays a poor working man with dreams of bringing down the system. He gets the chance when a rich man who tires of life (he’s been alive for over a century) gives Timberlake his time and tells him to use it wisely.

That’s the premise. My idea, the one that I shared with my friend who told me about the film, was similar in so far as lifespan was used as a form of currency. In my story, I got into the science of what makes people age (current science posits that it has something to do with the length and degradations of part of a person’s chromosomes called “telomeres“) and the people were able to trade their youth for money in the same way that people can currently trade their blood and plasma for money (which I have done and of which I am a fan).

After hearing my friend’s description of “In Time”, I changed the premise of my story substantially (and since I’m trying to sell it to publishers, I’m not going to divulge any of the plot here). But I still hadn’t seen the film. So I borrowed it from my local library.

At least I didn’t pay for it. No matter how good the idea of the film was, and I really liked the possibilities of using lifespan as a form of currency, the execution was quite poor. And since one of the primary messages of the film was a warning against people wasting time, my wife and I clicked it off after forty minutes.

Hoping that the film was based on some book that may have been written better, I just looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently, there are a number of books that boast similar themes and one that threatened a lawsuit against the filmmakers for copyright infringement (the suit was dropped after the author saw the film). Anyway, I may now read some of those books, but I won’t be recommending the film. After all, books are almost always better than their movies.

In summary, don’t waste your time on “In Time”.