Driving to Victory

automobiles

Azriel, Rosalynn, Peleg, and Sheer joined me for the last pre-Pesach playing session, and a good one it was.

We started with Automobiles, a game that combines deck-building with a racing boardgame. This was new to Azriel and Rosalynn, but they were quickly up to, er, speed with the game mechanics. Azriel loves combinations, and was happy to do as many of these as he could, even if they weren’t the best for his chances of victory. Rosalynn, Peleg, and I competed to be second to last, as Sheer had decided he wanted to win from the back and stay in last place as long as possible. Come the final lap, Sheer made his break for the front and we all chased him. But a bad draw meant that Sheer’s bold stroke fell at the last hurdle, and I was first pass the post.

We finished the night with a combination of Dominion: Adventures and Dominion: Intrigue. It was very definitely my night, as I built up a stack of gold cards, and nobody else’s combinations got anywhere near to my buying power often enough. (I think most of the other players were still in shock from me winning the last game, as my previous efforts at it have been awful.) So, I managed the rare event of winning the second consecutive game of the night. Hopefully everybody else still enjoyed it…

Thanks to all who came for making another great night of gaming.

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Nice Touch

It is customary in Israeli hi-tech companies for employees to receive a bonus or a gift at chagim. At HPE, you were given a choice of gifts, or you could opt for the default option of a gift token worth several hundred shekels. Come the time, an email went round, and you collected your gift or token.

My new employers are a privately owned company, and they do things slightly differently.

Last week, a message went round that the owner would be coming to distribute the Pesach gift tokens. And so he did, taking his time to come round everyone, handing over the token, and offering Pesach greetings. (I had seen him around the office, but this was teh first time I had met and spoken to him.) It took him a while to complete the job, but he obviously thought it was worth doing. I thought it was a nice touch that he took that time and trouble. So, well done that man.

Oh, and in addition, we each received a Pesach gift box of wine and chocolates. Very nice, indeed. Two nice touches!

Finally, because I am unsure when I will get time to blog again, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach! Pesach is on its way.

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The Judas Goat – Robert B. Parker

judas-goat

Fifth in the Spenser series, this one sees the eponymous private eye recruited to track down the members of a terrorist group who maimed a business man, and killed his family. Spenser gets to go abroad, and brings in the mercurial Hawk as an aide. The Montreal Olympics feature as part of the back drop.

The story is straightforward enough, though there is less of the Spenser repartee than usual, and the plot demands a tad too much on convenient events. But it’s entertaining, and certainly flows fast enough.

Not the best of the bunch so far, but neither was it the worst. I’m up for more.

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Build that wall!

alhambra2

No, not a political commentary, a game session report…

This week, while Sheer fought the traffic, Azriel, Peleg, Rosalynn and I warmed up with a game of Dominion: Intrigue and Alchemy. One of the cards – Masquerade? – generated curses, and these made for a slow middle game. Azriel kept plugging away at his Golem cards, and Rosalynn had a useful combination too, so both of them scored well. Peleg was put off his stride by Sheer arriving, and the pair of them combined to achieve the lowest score I have ever seen in such a game: eleven points. Considering they started with three, and I gave them three – it’s a long story- that’s bad. Real bad. I guess it shows that too many cooks do spoil the broth. Oh, and I won. (Tee hee.)

Sheer got his revenge when we switched to Alhambra, a game tasking you with building a palace, where the length of your palace wall is as important as the gardens and buildings within the palace. He won. I had a dreadful start, but recovered well enough to finish up second, the others just behind me. It was a first time outing for Azriel, and he usually wins, but not this time. Rosalynn seemed to have a good start, but then got caught with the wrong cards at the wrong time, and she was not able to buy enough. Peleg had also done well, but seemed to lose ground in the third phase, and the game definitely ended at the worst time for him.

Thanks to all who came. Great fun.

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Dead Girl Walking – Chris Brookmyre

dead-girl-walking

Somehow or other, despite liking the author’s Jack Parlabane books, I missed out on a couple, and lost touch. I am now putting that right thanks to Amazon and the Book Depository.

Parlabane is (or was) an investigative journalist. Now out of work, and under investigation by the forces of law and order for possibly being involved in the theft of state secrets, he takes on a sort of private eye role for a pop band manageress. She, the younger sister of one of Parlabane’s now deceased friends, is just about to start a USA tour with her group. The problem is, the star of the group – Heike Gunn – has gone missing. Can Parlabane use his usual resourcefulness and disregard for the law to find the star before the public find out, and before Parlabane ends up inside?

The book gives us Parlabane’s perspective – told in the third person – and the first person perspective of Monica, a recent addition to the band who becomes close to Heike. The twin narratives are different in style, too, and you get very different experiences of the plot unfolding because of this. Although some of the twists were a bit obvious, Brookmyre still has more up his sleeve, and more than enough to satisfy this reader.

There’s a good mix of humor and tension, with atmospheric descriptions of the rock and roll touring world, a band in conflict, and the jealousies that success can cause. Throughout it all, regardless of perspective, the writing is slick, smooth, and confident.

A pretty damn good read.

Oh, and one thing’s for sure: the author hates Starbucks. If you read the book, you will know what I mean.

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A Song for the Dying – Stuart MacBride

song-for-the-dying

This is very much a change of pace from the Spenser books, this time featuring an ex-policeman (Ash Henderson) who starts the book in prison. He is there because evil Mrs. Kerrigan framed him for his brother’s murder, and nobody will believe he has been stitched up. What’s worse, is that very time Henderson comes up for parole, Mrs Kerrigan ensures there is trouble, and skewers his chances of release.

However, at this point the Inside Man resurfaces. That’s the name given to a serial killer of women who cuts them up and sticks a baby doll inside them. Sick. (there’s a lot of sick stuff in this book. Be warned.). Henderson came closest to catching the killer years ago, and is taken on by a Detective Superintendent in charge of a special task force now trying to get their man.

Of course, Henderson has some other ideas about what to do with his freedom while hunting down the Inside Man.

This is violent, stark, and suspenseful. Occasionally you might get overwhelmed by the number of characters kicking about, but if you can hang in there, it’s worth it.

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Promised Land – Robert B. Parker

promised-land

This is the fourth of the author’s Spenser series (I told you I was on a roll) and, thankfully, has bugger all to do with Israel, Jews, or anything of a Middle eastern nature. Instead, we have our not so politically correct detective recruited to find Harvey Shepard’s runaway wife. Spenser goes looking, and from that point on the story heats up nicely.

I suspect there was some marriage conflict episode going on in the author’s life (or circle of friends) at some point, because his observations on the relationships here are extensive and informed, if occasionally a tad harsh. Nevertheless, there’s more to the story than marriage trouble, of course, and it is the hidden danger that puts Spenser firmly in danger.

This was the best of the Spenser books so far, with some good action scenes, as well as the usual trademark Spenser dialog.

This is enjoyable time travel style entertainment, taking you back to the 1970s, and reminding you things weren’t all that great.

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Mortal Stakes – Robert B. Parker

mortal-stakes

This is the third of the author’s Spenser series (can you tell I am on a roll?) and is a dark tale of sex and marriage and baseball and gangsters. Our intrepid detective is recruited to go undercover and try and find out if the star pitcher of the Boston Red Sox baseball team is taking bribes to throw games. Of course, being Spenser, it doesn’t turn out to be a straightforward assignment, and soon the action and the danger are fast rising.

Spenser navigates the rocky waters assuredly – as you would expect – and the whole thing is reasonably well wrapped up, and delivered to the reader with some considerable skill. That having been said, there were some patches of the writing that didn’t quite maintain the flow, but on the whole this rattled along and allowed Spenser the character to develop just a bit more. That’s probably a good thing because, apart from the occasional love interest, the other characters are not particularly deep. Never mind; the story’s the thing, and this is a decent enough story, and a decent enough read.

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God Save the Child – Robert B. Parker

gd-save-the-child

Number two in the author’s Spenser series, and the quirky private detective continues his adventures in much the same way: he pokes the hornet’s test of whatever trouble he is asked to sort out, then ducks, dives, and hangs on until the time is right to step in and save the day.

Spenser is an irascible throwback to the non politically correct 1970’s, but he is also strangely charming, appealing, intelligent, and funny. The bonus for the author is that he doesn’t need to invest much in the plot, because Spenser can (mostly) carry the reader along, and that is what happens here.

The story, such as it is, involves a missing fourteen year old kid that appears to have run away. But his parents are not so convinced, and Spenser is recruited to get to the truth. He does, simultaneously causing a bit of aggravation.

Spenser also observes and reflects on some of the social and cultural issues involved in this plot, such as parenting and moral standards. This time around I felt the author had pitched things about right, so that the sermon delivered from the pages was neither too long, nor too heavy.

This is light, but reasonably crafted entertainment that despite its flaws, is engrossing and satisfying.

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These people are absolutely nuts

From the Times of Israel:

In honor of Iranian mother’s day, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took to Twitter Sunday to vent his spleen share his views on gender issues, asserting that the West considers women to be “goods and means of pleasure” and that this is the product of the “Zionists’ plot.”

You choose: he’s insane, or he’s off his medication, or he is so blighted by hatred that everything he doesn’t like is the fault of the Zionists.

Could it be all three?

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