Monday, July 20, 2009

Thumbs way up for Essentially Odd, the 826 products catalog (review roundup)

I mentioned this briefly when it first came out, but I've read it now and "Essentially Odd: A Catalog of Products Created For and Sold at the 826 Stores" is terrific. Nearly 200 pages of photos of the different 826 stores and their best products, coupled with commentary on the products' creation. $12 at the 826 National store and the money will help teach the next generation of writers.

Here are direct links to the various stores.
1. 826 Valencia: The Pirate Supply Store.
2. 826LA: Time Travel Mart. Photo gallery of the store.
3. 826NYC: Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. Photo gallery of the store.
4. 826michigan: The Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair (webstore largely limited to products from the writing center).
5. 826 Boston: The Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute (no webstore).
6. 826 Seattle: The Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co.
7. 826 Chicago: The Boring Store (webstore not yet open, and frankly the products displayed in the catalog are pretty lackluster).

And here's a few more reviews:

1. Huge thumbs up for Dan Simmons' "Drood." 800 pages and I was sad when it ended. "Drood" is a thriller set in the 1800's, narrated by Wilkie Collins, a friend and sometimes rival to Charles Dickens. The book might be about Dickens and Collins and their dealings with an Egyptian death cult hiding out in the slums and undercity of London, and a determined detective out to stop the cult's leader (Drood). Or something else might be going on that's just as interesting (and I don't want to hint as to what that alternative explanation is). The narrator's a hardcore opium user, so the fun is not knowing how much to trust him. $18 at Amazon.

2. Thumbs down for "Annihilation Book 2." I liked volume 1, but volume 2 was so boring that I won't buy volume 3. And that's even though it starred the Super Skrull, who is possibly my favorite comic book character. $17 at Amazon.

3. Thumbs down as far as they can go for "Justice Society of America Vol. 1: The Next Age." I only bought it out of residual fondness for Alex Ross' "Kingdom Come" character designs, and it reminded me why I so rarely buy DC Comics. Lackluster art, autopilot story, distasteful violence. $12 at Amazon.

4. Thumbs up for "All-Star Superman Volume One." Enjoyable, especially the art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant, but not as good as the reviews had led me to believe. Presumably intentionally, it reads like a really good all-ages comic. Available only with a hefty markup at Amazon.

5. Thumbs down for "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol III: Century." Easily the worst League book yet and I'm dumbfounded that it received positive reviews. Enough with the graphic rape scenes, guys. $5 used at Amazon.

4. Thumbs up for "The Savage Sword of Conan, Vol. 1." Not as good as Busiek's run on Conan, but this collection shows that you don't need glossy paper, thick cover paper, or even color to make a quality comic book. 544 full-sized pages for less than $13 at Amazon.

6. Thumbs up for Wii Fit and EA Sports Active. I hate exercising, but these games keep me motivated.

Wii Fit is more like a real game - - every single time you complete an exercise, it scores you and compares your score to anyone else who has used the game on your Wii. Couple the competitiveness of beating your housemates' scores with the fact that it generates an avatar that mimics your physique, and you have real motivation to succeed. There's also several balance games that are really fun and make good party games, including ski long jump, tightrope walking, and marble drop. On the downside, the yoga games don't do a very good job of measuring whether you're actually achieving the right form. Also, there's no fitness routines. Every time you finish an exercise, you have to look through the menu to choose a new one. $83 at Amazon.

By comparison, EA Sports Active is much more like having a personal trainer in the house. You choose from a selection of fitness routines, and then do a series of exercises for 20 to 45 minutes. I've nearly completed the 30 day challenge and it seems like I'm still experiencing new exercises. Because it comes with a leg strap that holds the nunchuk, the program does a much better job than Wii Fit of making sure you're using proper form on exercises, which include running, boxing, squats, and my favorite, inline skating. On the downside, it doesn't seem to have a scale function, and doesn't have any solid game-like aspects to serve as motivation. Also, the upper body routines don't work very well since they require that you hold an exercise band (the one that comes in the box is too weak for me) and the nunchuk and wiimote, a proposition I found too cumbersome and uncomfortable. You don't need the balance board at all to enjoy EA Sports Active. In fact, I turned off the exercises that used the board because the motion detection didn't work reliably. $54 at Amazon.

*You can see more of my reviews here.