Thursday, March 30, 2006

Other Boredom Killers: Readin' and Gamin'

Besides running my Netflix membership into the ground, I've also been spending these few weeks reading and playing some new computer games... I thought I might as well write a few reviews of them as well!


1. I Love Everyone (And Other Atrocious Lies): True Tales of a Loudmouth Girl by Laurie Notaro. Not too long ago, I was book browsing and I picked up a copy of Laurie Notaro's book We Thought You'd Be Prettier. I found it fairly amusing, but my sister fell in love with Notaro. A girl in my book club had The Idiot Girl's Action Adventure Guide, which Judy read, and then Judy picked up this latest offering on one of her trips or something. There were 2 chapters that I found absolutely hysterical, out of a book 240 pages long. They are short essays on every day life, and I think my sister aspires to be Laurie Notaro when she grows up. I don't find her all that amusing--the stories are cute, I guess, in their way, but almost too over the top, in the way my sister can be a bit over the top. So with my own little Laurie Notaro running around, I guess I didn't really feel the need to read the real thing. The 2 chapters worth reading are the chapter about the Sims and the chapter about her trip to San Francisco, when her friend "swims with the fishes".

2. The Way They Were: Dealing With Your Parents' Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage by Brooke Lea Foster. Anyone who has known me for even a while knows that my parents' divorce in 1999 was the sole event in my life that had the biggest single impact upon me. It was the first major event Michael suffered through with me... It's how I met Lara... It changed how I saw my parents, my family, myself. It affected everyone on both sides of my family, and my relationships and trust with people. Back when it first started, Lara and I were contacted by Brooke and interviewed for the book, as were a zillion other "Adult Kids of Divorce." I had forgotten all about it, until Lara emailed me to say the book had finally been published this year. (Congratulations, Brooke!) I got a copy and decided to read it, and I must say, it is the most informative book on the topic. Every single chapter, I had to put the book down. I was like, "Yup, I did that" or "Yup, I felt that way" or "That's right, I shouldn't have done that." or "That's exactly how it happened!" This book is rather topical, but if you're experiencing your parents' divorce after a lengthy marriage (mine were married 25 years!), this is the book for you. Ignore all those idiots who tell you it shouldn't bother you.

3. American Girls About Town by various American Women Authors. A collection of short stories by 17 American women authors, including Jennifer Weiner, one of my personal favorites. The stories range, and my interest in the stories really varied. I am still working my way through this one, but I've read several of them now and some are really quite good. I was actually not a fan of Weiner's story about some British woman who is duped into falling for an actor and then she dumps him when she finds out his famous... But some of the other stories were quite good. This was lent to me by a friend, and I'm glad I didn't buy it, but I'm glad I get to read it as well!

4. Naked Pictures of Famous People by Jon Stewart. If you buy this for no other reason, buy it for the chapter on the Kennedys. It is uproarious. Some of the other ones fell a bit flat (although I was also fairly impressed by the chapter on Princess Diana), but for the most part, a rather quick and really fun read.

5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Again, I haven't finished it yet, as I typically have 3 or 4 books going at a time. HOWEVER! I'm enjoying it a lot. I LOVE mystery novels and this one was included in the computer game of the same name that I bought last week to pass the time. It's quite compelling. The computer game turns out differently in the end, apparently, than does the novel, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Nonetheless, what I've read so far matches up quite well with how they designed the game. I like that. The basic plot is that a strange madman has invited 10 strangers to his island home for a weekend. It turns out they are all responsible in some way, shape, or form for someone having died in their past (and in some cases, more than one someone). They are then rubbed out, one by one, according to a nursery rhyme, until there are none left.

6. The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson. This book was OK. It was compelling enough, and kept moving along, but for me, there were too many parts of it that I just didn't like. This was a book club selection, and like any chick lit book with a depressing ending, yes, it made me cry. It didn't help that I read it the week I got hurt (so when Heather came up to sit with me, I had to shamefully hide my tears, lest she read it and think I was a big geek--she later confessed to tearing up herself!)... Anyway, the basic plot is that Olivia Hunt, wannabe film producer, discovers her Martha-Stewart-esque sister has leukemia, and while Olivia is off jet setting with Robin Williams and John Cleese (not sure how they got away with using real people in this book!) and making and breaking up with the love of her life approximately 25 times during the course of the novel, she writes letters about herself and her sister's fight for life and her best friend's battle with infertility. It's practically a Lifetime Made for TV movie.

I've also been faithfully reading Readers Digest, Real Simple, People, and Martha Stewart Living.


1. Civilization IV: I am a longtime Civ fan. My dad bought it back when we were running Windows 3.X and Civilization was a brand new game and we thought it was the most compelling game ever. Not too long ago, I bought Civ 3 and Civ 3 Conquests (maybe 2 or 3 years ago) and I have been playing them ever since. Fantastic new options were introduced in Civ3, including the power of automation, so you didn't have to tell your workers to build roads and irrigation all the time, the ability to have your units automatically explore without you pushing the arrow keys till your fingers fell off, and the ability to delegate to the governor all city management tasks (and you could save it as a default setting so you didn't have to worry about any of the cities you were building, all of them would be run the same). The graphics and animation also kicked butt. The beauty of all this was that you then had time to strategize your world domination, and with 6 or 7 new ways to win, you really needed to get down to business.

Last Christmas, I found out about Civ4, but really wasn't all that interested, since I loved Civ3 so much. The major attraction of Civ4 seems to be that they have added the aspect of religion into the game. You now discover all the world religions, eastern and western, and can establish state religions. You also can establish a whole slew of new governing options. The automation is still there, the graphics and animation have been taken to the next level, but unfortunately they seem to have removed the ability to contact the governor. I also have not successfully figured out how to handle the religion question, so now I tend to have 5 or 6 different religions spread throughout my cities, which doesn't bother me per se, but it does seem to alarm my enemies (who, believe you me, don't need ANOTHER reason to hate my guts).

I have yet to complete an entire game, mainly because I'm trying to learn the ropes. But I did see in Best Buy they are selling Civ 3 complete in one set (I can't re-install my old game due to a crack in the CD), and I am seriously considering downgrading on this one. It's really not doing anything for me.

2. The Age of Mythology: Microsoft's answer to Civilization, the Age of Empires, has a Mythological counterpart, which Joe INSISTED I would love and must try out. So we downloaded the nearly 400 MB trial version (you gotta love high speed internet) and installed it. Joe swore he was going to teach me to play, but his teaching me seemed to involve him playing and not really explaining what he was doing and me sitting there staring at the screen. I tried playing a couple of times, and it does have some things about it that I liked (for instance, making the villagers perform specific tasks on the environment like cutting trees, gathering food, finding gold) and some things that annoyed the snot out of me (how the hell do you take over a settlement and build a new city?!). It was nice to try, but glad not to buy!

3. And Then There Were None: My favorite computer games are the mystery-strategy games. Back when I was running Windows 95, I had the most kick-ass collection of mystery/strategy/adventure games you can imagine (my personal favorites being Loom and Zork Grand Inquisitor. I played the oringinal Myst, but that damned water world with the elevators just about killed me, and so I bought Pyst isntead! I only managed to complete Myst with the help of an adventure guide.). So I am usually perusing shelves to find new things to tease my brain with. Unfortunately, I find that there is a real scarcity of good, meaty games with interesting puzzles and not a lot of blood and guts. Which is why I absolutely LOVED this game. Yes, OK, granted, it only took me 2 days to conclude it. And in the span of that game were 10 murders. But mainly you heard, "Oh, no! SO AND SO IS DEAD!" and that was the extent of it. The puzzles were not all that difficult, to be honest, but they did take a little bit of figuring out. The most annoying aspect of the game was that if you didn't perform one small step, you were genuinely stuck until you retraced all your steps and completed whatever you had to do. While you were in the house, that wasn't too bad, but once you were able to explore the island, it got to be quite time consuming. This game was a lot of fun and very interesting, and of course, as mentioned above, persuaded me to read my first Agatha Christie novel.

3. Restaurant Empire: While I gather the Restaurant Empire Empire is on its 3rd version, Target was selling the first one for 10 dollars, and since it sounded interesting enough, I picked it up. This game is pure strategy. You can either play the pick up version where you are given $500,000 and get to pick the city and build from the ground up or you can play the full blown tutorial version. I have been playing the tutorial, even though after the first round, the tutorial pretty well stops. In it, you are Armand, a young upstart chef out to start your own restauranting empire. Your uncle has recently retired from the business and has given you permission to take over his Parisian restaurant in hopes of seriously competing against evil conglomerate OmniFoods, which is hell bent on peppering Paris with low rent restaurants. You get to enter cooking competitions, decorate your restaurant your own way, and while I have only gotten into the 3rd or 4th round of play, I've gotten to feed the Godfather. The game can get a little bit boring at times. While the restaurant runs on automatic pilot, you're left to sit there and watch. You can intervene or change things at any time, which is handy since you do have customer complaints you need to address. And Uncle Michel is available if you get truly stuck. I'm enjoying, but I feel like I ought to be enjoying it more.

4. The Mystery of the Mummy: This is a Sherlock Holmes mystery game, and as the daughter of a Holmes devotee, I figured I would give this a whirl (plus, it was also on the Target $10 rack). The premise is simple enough: you are Sherlock Holmes, called to investigate the death of a famous Egyptologist whose daughter is either your cousin or is marrying your cousin (the details are escaping me right now). Joe and I played this one together, and while the puzzles are extremely simple, they are also extremely frustrating. I don't know if it was user-itis or if it was the game or the computer or what... (For instance, in the first puzzle, you have to enter the end dates into a wall safe in a specific order. Joe and I did so, but it wouldn't let us in. So we restarted the game and re-entered the dates and it worked fine.) Eventually we gave in and just got the walkthrough on line... We got to a certain point and got tired of it, and shut it down. The next morning, I opened it and played for a while, but eventually screwed up and blew up Sherlock Holmes. Losing never felt so good. There are 5 levels of play, and the main intent of the animators and artists seems to have been that they just wanted to make it as difficult as possible to find the little scraps of things you need to advance. For instance, they hide a dirty gray rag under a wine rack in the shadows and you have to find it... You can hunt and hunt for it, but eventually you wind up just moving your mouse all over until the arrow changes to a hand. Then you know you're onto something... I probably will finish it out of sheer tenacity...

So, there you go... more fun things to do inside on your butt when you have 6 weeks to kill. Enjoy!

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