Friday, July 31, 2009

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

This is an okay book co-written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. A group of friends reunite and discover that the village they meet in has been taken over by a religious order, called the Seekers who are looking for a Blue Crystal Staff. The group of heroes is attacked by reptilian creatures and later in the woods by the undead. They are given a task to retrieve the Disks of Mishakal, containing the teaching of the True Gods.

The story is based on the Dungeons and Dragons board game. An animated film based on the novel was released directly to video in 2008.

RV (2006)

This is a solid movie. Overworked Bob Munro (Robin Williams) has promised his wife Jaime, their 15-year-old daughter Cassie (Joanna Levesque), and 12-year-old son Carl that they will be vacationing in Hawaii this summer, before the kids are sent off to their respective camps. After a mishap at a wedding party, his boss says the business trip to Hawaii has been cancelled. Bob convinces his reluctant family to go to the mountains in Colorado instead. Almost everything goes wrong during their road trip.

I didn’t expect to like this film, but it is quite good. There are some simple-minded clichés about economics and the environment, but they fit right into a comedic setting. Given some of the views the daughter has, I thought it was funny when she said she thinks the moon landing was a hoax. I also liked when the dad said he named his son after Karl Marx, because he was the founder of socialist and communist ideas.

Night Prey

I liked this book written by John Sandford. A torn body turns up in the snow at a game reserve, another in a dumpster. The case lands in the lap of Minneapolis deputy police Chief Lucas Davenport, who’s not happy to have received it. He is still recovering from near-fatal wounds and wants to settle down with the woman he is dating, but he must protect more women from being attacked.

There is a disturbing scene at the beginning of the book, but the remaining story isn’t too graphic. The author is a great mystery writer. This is the sixth novel in the Davenport series.


I did not like this book written by J.T. Edson. A few hunters kill a white buffalo and take the body. Cuchilo, the son of a white man and a Comanche woman, sees them and decides to track them down because of the white buffalo's spiritual significance to the natives. A young Sioux boy, who is the son of a chief is accused of theft due to a misunderstanding and is imprisoned. Cuchilo befriends the boy and protects him from the white men and rival Indians.

The Spanish word for “knife” actually has two “L’s”, cuchillo.

Short and Tall Tales

I did not like this book written by Lilian J. Braun. This is a collection of 27 short stories about the history of the fictional Moose County in the northern area of the Midwest. Jim Qwilleran from the “Cat Who” series appears as a journalist. A few of the stories are peculiar, but most of them are rather dull.

Children of the Storm

I liked this book written by Elizabeth Peters. In 1919, World War I is finally over and Amelia and her husband no longer have to fear for their son Ramses' life due to his military service. The theft of valuable antiquities from the home of a friend causes great concern for the family. Ramses encounters a strange veiled woman who adds more to the mystery. Amelia tries to piece together the evidence to discover who is responsible.

This is the 15th novel in the series.

The Golden One

I loved this book written by Elizabeth Peters. In 1917, Amelia Peabody, her husband, and son, arrive at their home in Luxor. They learn of a new tomb that is being ransacked by thieves. Ramses is called back to military service and he is sent to investigate whether an English spy is helping the Turks. He is captured by a Turkish agent who says he will let him go if he converts to Islam and marries his daughter. After the adventure, Nefret announces that she has something to tell.

This is the 14th novel in the series. The title refers to Hathor, an Ancient Egyptian goddess known for feminine love, motherhood, and joy.

Lord of the Silent

I liked this book written by Elizabeth Peters. With son Ramses and his new wife Nefret, Amelia Peabody and her husband Radcliffe Emerson embark on a sea voyage in 1915 to Alexandria and ultimately arrive in Cairo for their annual excavations. But on this trip, the exotic, alluring city is not what it used to be. Cairo has been transformed into an armed camp teeming with enemy agents, and bold tomb robbers are desecrating ancient sites.

This is the 13th novel in the series. The title refers to Amon-Re, the ancient Egyptian sun god.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Secondhand Serenade

I won two tickets through radio station My 99.5’s website to see Secondhand Serenade at the Thanksgiving Point fairgrounds in Lehi. The area is very beautiful and there are a variety of shops and a nice garden. There were a lot of people there, probably several thousand. Many of them looked younger than me and there seemed to be a lot of teenagers. There were a lot of couples. The concert lasted four hours and I went with a friend from church. The first two groups were small bands and I didn’t really like their music. They were Single File and We Shot the Moon (who gave out a free cd).

The second half of the show was much better. The next group was Parachute and I really enjoyed their music. I’m considering whether to buy their album. They are best known for their song, She is Love. They said they will put a picture of the audience up on their Myspace page.

The final group was a solo project by John Vesely called Secondhand Serenade. The title originated because he considered his songs serenades to his wife (now divorced) and everyone else is hearing them second hand. For his second album he hired a band and an orchestra to get the proper sound. He seems like a cool guy based on his interactions with the audience and comments he made about Salt Lake City. He is great on the acoustic guitar and also has a good voice. He is best known for the song Fall for You.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

This is a noteworthy movie. Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) is trying desperately to find someone who will promote his motivational success program. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) is a poor cook who encourages frank conversations without regard to the suitability of the topic. Their 7-year-old daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) has been accepted into a beauty competition and the family takes a road trip from New Mexico to California so she can participate.

The character Dwayne is Sheryl's son from a previous marriage. This was the directorial film debut of the husband-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The screenplay was written by first-time writer Michael Arndt. Filming took place in Arizona and southern California. During filming Abigail was not able to hear the excessive swearing because she was wearing headphones. All the girls, except Abigail Breslin, were veterans of real beauty pageants.

Debt of Honor

I did not like this book written by Tom Clancy. After an accident involving two Japanese cars, Congress passes a law putting more restrictions on imports. A group of Japanese businessmen take control of Japan's military in order to seek revenge against the United States. They launch torpedoes and destroy two American submarines and damage two aircraft carriers. A group of investors forge a plot to upset the stock market. National Security Advisor Jack Ryan encourages the President to launch a counter-attack in order to disrupt the Japanese military.

The book gained popularity after the September 11th terrorist attacks, because of an airliner that crashes into the Capitol building.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

This is an okay movie. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) had two sons and an adopted daughter who were all very intelligent. Chas (Ben Stiller) started buying real estate in his early teens, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a playwright, and Richie (Luke Wilson) was a junior champion tennis player. Virtually all evidence of their brilliance was subsequently erased by two decades of betrayal and failure, blamed on their father.

The story gives a bizarre account of a dysfunctional family. Alec Baldwin is the narrator. The characters are based on the Glass family in four of J.D. Salinger's novels. It was also influenced by the 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons. Wes Anderson's mother also took up archaeology after her divorce. Henry Sherman is the name of Wes Anderson's former landlord. The subplot in which Margot and Richie hide in a museum is a homage to the 1967 book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg.

The Cabinet of Curiosities

This is an okay book co-written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. In the 19th century, the wealthy residents of New York kept cabinets full of strange items from around the world and some of them were eventually turned into museums. In the present day, an apartment complex is being erected in lower Manhattan when the excavators discover several human skeletons. A southern enigmatic gentleman who works for the FBI contacts museum archaeologist Nora Kelly to determine what happened to these people and to investigate a recent killer who seems to have been inspired by the original.

I enjoyed the history and suspense, but some aspects were disturbing and bizarre. The book was published in 2002. This is the third novel in the Pendergast series.

The Word for World is Forest

I liked this book written by Ursula K. Le Guin. A few hundreds years into the future, humans have established a logging colony and military base on a planet with small green-furred intelligent animals. The creatures have a common ancestor with humans several million years ago and were planted by the Hain alien race. The native inhabitants are enslaved by the humans to perform labor in mines and the forest. When a native female is assaulted, her male partner starts having visions of war and convinces his tribe to fight back.

The story reminded me of Speaker for the Dead by Orson S. Card, but I liked this book better. It was published in 1976 and was originally printed as a novella in 1972. It is the sixth book in the Hainish Cycle. The author said her book takes some influences from the Vietnam War. In the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, the character Joker has this book by his bed. Stephen King also referenced the title in chapter 43 of his 1978 novel The Stand.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Igby Goes Down (2002)

This is an okay movie. 17-year-old rich kid Igby Slocumb (Kieran Culkin) is a rebel who hopes to break free from his pill-popping mother (Susan Sarandon) and schizophrenic father (Bill Pullman). His older brother (Ryan Phillippe) is a young Republican who seeks out wealth and prestige in the business world. Igby flees a military academy and uses the credit card he stole from his mother. He stays in an apartment that his godfather (Jeff Goldblum) is fixing up and is seduced by two older women (Claire Danes and Amanda Peet).

There is a lot of disturbing content in this film about a dysfunctional family. Medea is an enchantress from Greek mythology. Neo-fascism refers to a political movement that arose after World War II and exalts the ideas of Mussolini. It is an authoritarian ideology that opposes the parliamentary system and liberal democracy. It is also used as an epithet against people with differing political views and is generally used by those on the far left to describe anyone on the right.


This is an okay book written by Robin Cook. After his practice is run out of business due to competition from a medical giant and the death of his family in an airplane crash, Dr. John Stapleton leaves the Midwest and relocates to Harlem in New York. He starts to become suspicious about a rare flu outbreak and discovers a connection to the medical company that he despises. As he uncovers more clues his own life is threatened.

Just reading about medical procedures makes me feel uncomfortable.

High Fidelity (2000)

This is a solid movie. Rob Gordon (John Cusack) is the owner of a low revenue record store in Chicago where he mainly sells vinyl records. He's a self-professed music junkie who spends his days at the store with his two employees, Dick and Barry (Jack Black). Although they have an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music, it's of no help to Rob who feels depressed after his long-time girlfriend Laura walks out on him. He reflects on his past relationships to determine how to move forward.

It is adapted from the 1995 novel by English author Nick Hornby.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Waco’s Debt

This is an okay book written by J.T. Edson. In the Southwest during the late 1800s a ranch owner and several of her male friends are alerted to the murder of the local minister's son. By using clues left at the scene and information about the young victim, they head to Chicago to try and find the suspect. They follow him back to their hometown and end up in a shootout.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Birds of Prey

This is an okay book written by Wilbur Smith. In 1667, Sir Francis Courteney and his son Hal are on patrol in a caravel ship off of Cape Agulhas on the coast of southern Africa. They are lying in wait to capture the treasure from the more advanced galleon ship of the Dutch East India Company. Francis is betrayed and his crew is captured by the Dutch. After escaping, Hal seeks revenge and winds up joining forces with the Christians in Ethiopia against Muslim invaders.

This is the first book in the Third Sequence of the Courtney series and was published in 1997. The author was born in 1933 in Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia), but he currently lives in England. He has been married four times.

The legends of Prester John began during the 12th century when Europeans were anxious for a powerful Christian leader. There does not appear to be a real individual that he was based on and many fanciful abilities were attributed to him. The legend seemed to fade out in the 17th century, when historians were unable to confirm any ruler by that name. The Anglo-Dutch wars involved conflicts between the English and Dutch over control of the seas and trade routes during the mid to late 1600s.

Atlas Shrugged

I loved this book written by Ayn Rand. In a fictional, dystopian America, three important entrepreneurs in railroads, steel, and copper, are trying to expand their businesses while the government continues to add more severe restrictions to their production. As time goes by several business leaders decide to go on strike and abandon their business, because they are tired of their creative works being destroyed. Society slowly collapses as the workers become dissatisfied and lazy and rebel against the repressive policies.

The novel makes some good points about liberty and economics, but I think the political significance is overrated. If you understand basic economics and the history of philosophy and what systems have actually been successful, her ideas are obvious. However, the fictional story is very enjoyable and well written. The main complaints I have are the length of the book and the multitude of minor characters and there were a few parts about John Galt’s speech that I didn’t agree with. Depending on the criteria used, this is either in the top 10 or 15 of the longest novels ever written. In high school I read her short novel Anthem, which is also about a repressive government.

The time setting is never mentioned, but there are references to both the 19th and 20th centuries. Upon release, most Americans were shifting to driving cars instead of using railroads. The book is divided into three sections with the parts titled based on Aristotle's laws of logic. The book was published in 1957 and initially received negative reviews, but later went on to gain wider support. On January 13, 2009 (one week before President Obama was inaugurated), the book was ranked 33rd on

Ayn Rand was born in Russia in 1905 and died at the age of 77 in 1982. In 1926 she came to America to visit relatives and vowed to never return to the Soviet Union. In 1929 she married actor and painter Frank O'Connor and they remained together for 50 years until his death in 1979. They did not have any children. She also had an affair with Nathaniel Branden, who was 25 years younger than her. This story is a philosophical novel and it was her fourth and final book. She considered it her magnum opus.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lake Powell trip

I went on a weeklong trip to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border. The last time I went was in 2006 and I think this is the fifth trip I have been on. We met at my grandparents’ house and were on the road at 5:20 am on July 11th. We made three stops and arrived to check in at 1:00 pm. My grandparents are partial owners of a houseboat. The maintenance crew said it would take a little while to get the boat ready, but it was a few hours before they started working on it and then they decided the water was too rough, so they had us move to the beach next to the loading docks. A little while later we saw 5 police vehicles and an ambulance and then a helicopter landed. A boat sped to the shore and apparently a father and son were both badly burned.

Before moving the houseboat, we transferred all of our belongings from the small boats into the houseboat. At one point my grandma’s boat was loosely tied to the houseboat and I was told to make sure the ropes didn’t stretch out too far, because they might snap. I was close enough to touch the houseboat and had to keep pulling the two boats together. It was very tiring and I stayed there for about 45 minutes. I told my uncle I was getting worn out and he had his sons take over. He said I lasted longer than they did and I didn’t whine about it. It’s rare for him to compliment me over his kids. Before night came, we went over to another shore and hiked to some caves. I only went into one of them that was open on both sides. The rock formation had thousands of names carved into it and I actually thought it was really cool. The battery in my uncle’s boat went out and his friend gave him a jump start.

On July 12th, my uncle went into town to buy a new battery and while he was gone the maintenance crew arrived at about 8:30 am to fix the propeller on the houseboat. Afterwards we were ready to take it out on the lake. We parked it in Rock Creek Canyon. I didn’t like the beach because it was steep and full of weeds and loose sand that was hard to walk in without slipping. At one point I tried walking barefoot to reach someone and I got a lot of stickers in my feet. We took the smaller boats out in search of slot canyons to hike. We tried a few and the water was murky and full of debris, but we finally found one to hike. It had a lot of rocks and some of the others were complaining, but it wasn’t too bad for me and I enjoy hiking. We weren’t able to stay for long because it was around 6 pm and we had to go to Dangling Rope Marina to fill up with gas.

On July 13, I helped my grandma with breakfast by cracking about 2 dozen eggs and making the orange juice. We went to Rainbow Bridge and I was on the boat with my uncle’s friend and he didn’t want to hike to it, so he just dropped me off. I waited for the other 2 boats to arrive and walked with them. Rainbow Bridge has not been named to any Wonders of the World lists, however it is considered the largest bridge in the world. Bridges and arches are defined differently and some arches are larger. When we came back to camp, most of us started swimming. There was a ledge a few hundred yards out and I wanted to swim passed it to see what was around the corner. After I was out of sight, the others started calling me back. A little while later I swam about the same distance with three others. I played Checkers with my grandma, but she had to leave early to fix dinner when I had 6 pieces and she had 5 remaining. My grandpa finished the game and I beat him by 3 pieces. My uncle’s friend and his daughter decided to leave because he wasn’t sleeping much due to the heat, his stomach hurt and he was having some problems with the steering fluid in his boat. He decided to head over to Saint George, about a 2 hour drive, to visit his brother. Originally we were expecting 21 people on the trip, but three of them cancelled and then these two left, leaving us with 16.

On July 14, I went with my grandma and aunt to Wetherill Canyon. We brought the boat in as far into a slot canyon as it would go and the water depth was still around 15 feet. I put on a life jacket and swam for about 15 minutes, but I couldn’t see an end and so I decided to turn around and come back. As we were coming out of the slot canyon with our boat, we noticed that the others had moved the houseboat into Wetherill. My uncle went back later to the same slot canyon with a large group and they managed to reach dry land and went hiking. I liked the new beach better, and I left the campsite and went hiking for about 70 minutes. I took a water bottle and a snack, but it was very hot. I had a little trouble finding my way back, because I couldn’t remember the exact path, but I managed to find it. At night I played my uncle in chess and he beat me. I only killed three of his pieces and he killed about 6 or 7 of mine. It had been a long time since I played and I made two poor beginner mistakes, but he said he hadn’t thought so hard for a while. Another of my uncles seems to be an expert at the game and apparently he taught me the basic moves when I was only 4, but I have never played very much. I took over one of the rooms in the houseboat that was now empty; previously I was sleeping on the couch.

On July 15 I went with my grandma and most of my aunt’s family to Face Canyon. At first grandma had trouble finding it, but eventually she did. The slot canyon is short and only takes about 20 minutes to reach the end, but it is beautiful. Near the end is a steep rock form about 20 feet long that you have to climb over, but it’s fairly easy. The slot canyon ends with a round room at the end and there is a large enough slit to see the sky. I didn’t go into the room, because it looked like it would be hard to get out of it. Afterwards me, and both of my grandparents went over to Dangling Rope Marina to meet my grandpa’s brother, whose family has a different houseboat. My grandma bought me a 21 ounce root beer float for $3.60.

On July 16, a small group of us went over to Forbidding Canyon. This is the same canyon where Rainbow Bridge is located, but we went to a nearby slot canyon. We took the boat into it and it was a very beautiful area with several small beach-like formations of sand and vegetation. I think the canyon has an odd name, because it is actually a very pleasant area. When we came back to camp we had lunch and then, me and three of my cousins decided we were going to try to get into the same Wetherill slot canyon that I tried two days earlier, but we wanted to find out if we could do it without a boat. We hiked for a while and then got into the water and swam, but it was too far and so we turned around. We were gone for about 4 hours and I estimate that we went about 6 miles on land and 2 miles in the water. When one of my cousins found out I was going along, he apparently told another cousin that he was glad a smart person was coming on the journey.

July 17th was our last full day on the water and we moved the houseboat into Warm Creek Bay, so it would be closer to the dock when it was time to leave. The beach was nice and had a lot of vegetation, but I was too worn out to explore it. My uncle borrowed my grandma’s boat and a group of us went over to look at the Dam. Then we went into Antelope Canyon, but stayed in the boat. It has beautiful and narrow rock walls. This is actually the most famous canyon on the lake. There is another arm you can get to only by land and there is a tour for it. Anybody can go there, but you must pass through a Navajo reservation and pay a fee. Britney Spears filmed a music video in the canyon. Afterwards we went over to the Marina Store and it was the first time I had been in there. On July 18th we headed home. In Beaver, about 200 miles away from home my uncle had problems with the cylinders in the engine of his vehicle. We found a place to store his boat and then he was able to drive home. He plans to go back and get it today.