Notable Books of 2014

Why be boring and publish a year-end list of books at the actual year’s end? Here’s a list of a few books that I read in 2014 and stuck with me into the new year.

LEGO Neighborhood Book by Brian and Jason Lyles (No Starch Press, 2014)

The good folks over at Brick City Depot have put out a lovely book full of ideas for your LEGO city. It includes great pictures and tips for making modular-style buildings to fit in with the official LEGO sets as well as all the little details, like lamposts, park benches, furniture, etc. that bring your LEGO city to life. The book also includes instructions for several townhouses, and for the old-fashioned soda fountain/pharmacy building pictured on the cover.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf, 2014)

I love a good post-apocalyptic novel and plenty of not-so-good ones too. If you’re scared off by the phrase ‘post-apocalyptic’, this book just might win you over. The apocalytpic stuff is really just a device for delivering a moving story about great characters. What more could you want from a book? Follow the Traveling Symphony (motto: Because survival is insufficient), a troupe of actors and musicians who journey around the Great Lakes, performing Shakespeare and classical music for the small pockets of humanity still around after a world-wide pandemic re-shapes civilization years earlier.


Pastrix: the cranky, beautiful faith of a sinner and saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber (Jericho Books, 2013)

I read this book on the recommendation of two people whom I greatly admire – one a theologically conservative Christian, the other quite firmly in the liberal camp. Any book that gets a good word from both sides grabs my attention. Once I started reading Pastrix, it became clear why it was recommended.  Nadia is herself quite liberal; she pastors a Lutheran community in Denver called The House for All Sinners and Saints.  (To my great delight, she’s also an ex-Church-of-Christer!)  But unlike some theological liberals who have a tendency to downplay or dismiss our sinful nature, our brokenness, and our clear need for a Savior, Nadia lays it all out for us to see (and God to use). She shies away from nothing, and while she levels plenty of criticism at the conservative theology found in much of the Church, the truly interesting parts of this book are her blistering critique of her own liberal tradition. I found this to be a great guide for molding a humble yet progressive faith in Christ.

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (Viking, 2014)

A thrilling and largely satisfying ending to a brilliant modern fantasy series (are you paying attention, George? This is how it’s done.) My favorite book in the series in still the second – the Magician King – which stands out because of the engrossing story of Julia, who is a secondary character in the first novel. Still, Magician’s Land ties together the first two and concludes Grossman’s razor sharp yet loving critique of fantasy fiction, especially C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. I realized while reading these books that I can’t wait to share the Narnia books with my daughter in a few years. I hope she always lets her dad recommend books to her.


The World of Ice and Fire by George Reading Rainbow Martin, et al. (Bantam, 2014)

Part of me is very pissed that George R.R. Martin is writing 10,000 words of back story for his magnum opus instead of working feverishly to FINISH THE [your choice of expletive] BOOK ALREADY. Write for me, monkey! Write! You started this epic during Bill Clinton’s first term! Finish it! *deep breath*

Another part of me is profoundly grateful for whatever scraps Westerosi-based literature that Master George deigns to throw at me, worm that I am. Naturally, I ate it up immediately and loved it. Back story aside, the artwork is fantastic and nearly worth the price of the book alone. Nearly.


LEGO Detective’s Office

pool hall

This lovely Pool Hall is part of the upcoming LEGO Detective’s Office set.

LEGO recently revealed the newest set in their Creator Expert series (often simply called “modulars” by fans for the way the buildings can snap together to form a street scene). It’s been a year since the release of the last modular building – the Parisian Restaurant – a set so wonderfully detailed, inside and out – it set the bar on future Creator sets very, very high.

As rumored, the new set is The Detective’s Office! Here is LEGO designer Jamie Berard (who has perhaps the best job in the world) explaining the new set.

The variety of actions and businesses represented here is a marked departure from earlier sets in this series, though I do not, in any way, see this as bad thing. Indeed, my first impressions of the set are great! With a pool hall, a private detective’s office, a barber shop, and two floors of that may or may not be intended as an apartment – the pattern of 32- or 16-stud wide buildings is finally broken up!

The Detective’s Office also dramatically expands on the story-telling element in the series, with significant play features not usually found in this line. The first Modular set – 2007’s Cafe Corner –  featured several mini figures, but offered no interior detail. 2009’s Fire Brigade included a fairly detailed interior, and each successive set has added interior detail and story features. With the Town Hall, we had a couple getting married, the Parisian Restaurant featured a couple getting engaged (sort of a love theme running through these). The Detective’s Office, as explained in the Designer video, really steps up the storyline however. The pool hall, barber shop, and rooms above are all part of a cookie and candy smuggling operation, which the gumshoe, Ace Brickman, must uncover. This smuggling theme fits nicely in my city and will compliment the Camoflauged Outpost-inspired MOC, as the criminal underground grows.

Wisdom from Gilead

[T]here are certain attributes our faith assigns to God: omniscience, omnipotence, justice and grace. We human beings have such a slight acquaintance with power and knowledge, so little conception of justice, and so slight a capacity for grace, that the workings of these great attributes together is a mystery we cannot hope to penetrate.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

There are lovely passages of prose and important truths on nearly every page of this novel. If I tried to blog them all, it would take me months to finish it.

Franklin Park Update: it could be worse

The Town Council held a work session last Wednesday to hear proposals from the Parks Department about the future of Franklin Park.

Clay Chafin presented several proposals, which the Council then modified into one plan to present for public comment.

The first proposal, presented as Option 1, changed very little about the park. Parking was added at the north side by relocating the basketball court. The trail system was extended to loop completely around the park. The diamonds remain as they are with only minor improvements to the dugouts on the smaller diamonds.

This proposal is fantastic and directly reflects the input of the residents around Franklin Park.

Option 2 involved replacing Anderson Field and adding a road along the north side of the park (and more parking). Though the road would not hook up with North Street, it would instead run parallel, emptying onto Mill Street.

Council members were, thankfully, skeptical about removing the big diamond (Anderson Field) and instead suggested moving the fence in left field forward 10-20 feet to provide room for the road.

This modified Option 2 is what will be presented to the public for comment.

Concerning the new road, Clay Chafin and several of the Councilors seem keen on the idea that traffic in the park should flow one way, and that such an arrangement will make the park safer for the kids. I am sympathetic to the safety concerns at the park. There are ball diamonds on both sides of the road serving the park, and kids routinely run back and forth across the road. However, I am not sure how making traffic flow one way will make improve this situation. I am also concerned that, in order to re-route traffic, a new road will be added to the north side of the park, thereby introducing cars into a section of the park previously spared from this intrusion.

Generally, I was pleased with the plans Clay proposed. I felt our concerns were largely addressed and I look forward to the next phase – diving into the nitty-gritty of road and traffic planning. Fun! Meetings for public comment will be announced soon; there will be one in mid-December and one in mid-January.


Franklin Park

franklinparksignFranklin Park, Plainfield’s oldest park, is small in size – only 35 acres –  but full of large trees towering above the playground and providing substantial shade for the right fielder playing at Anderson Field. An iron foot bridge over the White Lick Creek connects the park to Plainfield’s great trail system. For those of us who live near the park and use it heavily, it is the quintessential neighborhood park.

Currently, the Town Council is considering changes the Director of Parks and Recreation has spilled the beans on changes he wants to see at Franklin Park, including expanding the parking lot, adding a road to the west side and replacing historic Anderson Field with two smaller Little League-sized diamonds. None of these things can be accomplished without removing mature trees and substantial acreage from this wonderful park. Furthermore, the widening of roads, the addition of a road and expansion of parking will make the park more convenient for drivers, but more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, its primary users. Fortunately, citizens are organizing to save Franklin Park and you can help! You can learn about this project by visiting this site.  Don’t forget to send a quick email to the Town Council (and copy Clay Chafin)  voicing your opposition to these proposals.

Robin Brandgard –

Kent McPhail –

Bill Kirchoff –

Renee Whicker –

Ed Gaddie –

Clay Chafin – Director of Parks and Recreation –


Place as Character

Just hours before my daughter was born (and I still haven’t quite gotten used to saying that), my wife and I went on one last pre-child date, knowing that our time for such things was limited (though we didn’t know just how limited). We had dinner and saw Wes Anderson’s newest film The Grand Budapest Hotel, which like his other films is a feast for the eyes, spread on the table of dark humor. The Grand Budapest Hotel is also a perfect example of the literary trope of place-as-character. (That the place in this case is a glorious old hotel makes the story even more appealing to me.) I find it very satisfying when a storyteller can bring a building or neighborhood or an entire city to life.  Which brings me to Kate Racculia’s recently released second novel – Bellweather Rhapsody. The place-as-character is, again, a hotel – the Bellweather – in upstate New York. The hotel’s glory days are behind her and now the only time the Bellweather is anywhere close to capacity is for the Statewide Music Festival, a gathering of talented high school musicians for a weekend of great music (and all the other things that happen when several hundred teenagers occupy a small space for several days.) Add to the mix a cast of eccentric chaperones and hotel employees, a decade old murder-suicide mystery, and the Bellweather Rhapsody becomes a highly entertaining read.