Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One Hand, Two Hands, a Review

Max Lucado's One Hand, Two Hands is a kids book that teaches children important life lessons--like helping others or showing compassion-- through example of what we do with our hands. The book is a nice hardcover, sure to withstand grasping hands and toddler tosses. It's beautifully illustrated (by Gaby Hansen) with splashing watercolors and captivating images.

The book is a simple rhyming style early-learning read, easy enough for young readers to follow along or for smaller ones to easily understand. The story is about a young girl that learns what all she can do with her hands, from helping her mom wash dishes to cleaning up her room to playing with pets. The lessons are important and easy to grasp, and I think this would be great for young kids.  The pages are fun and filled and the rhymes keep the attention in check.

Overall, this is a great book with a beautiful message for growing children. It's short and simple enough that I can see myself reading it over again to my kids, whenever that time may come.

This book was provided to me by Thomas Nelson Publishers and Booksneeze in exchange for an honest and fair review of the product.  

Monday, August 30, 2010

Beautiful Orthanc

Being in the realms of Middle Earth of late, (I've been re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring and spent all day Saturday watching Jackson's extended versions of the three films) I decided to draw a picture of Orthanc.  The drawing took some time to do, being that I did it using MSPaint.  The piece is called "Beautiful Orthanc," representing a time when Isengard had not yet fallen to Saruman's treachery.

If you are familiar with Tolkien famed illustrator Alan Lee, then you're familiar with the piece I used to base my drawing on.  Lee's illustration, of course, is of fallen Isengard, destroyed by the enraged Ents.

Orthanc, by Alan Lee
I am nearly finished with The Fellowship re-read, and I'm greatly enjoying it.  I've only read it once before, back a year or so before the film was released, and at the time I was young and mostly new to fantasy, so it's almost like I'm reading it for the first time.  I'll hold off lauding Tolkien now, as I'll likely do a book review, if only for completionist's sakes.

Now, to finish before Sanderson's The Way of Kings finds its way into my hands.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Win One For the Reaper (A Lost Cover)

A friend recently mentioned something about the phenomenal Michael Giacchino soundtracks for Lost and wanted to know if I knew how to play a song from them.  No, in fact, I did not, but I certainly would like to.  So I sat off and found a simple tutorial, practiced it a few times, and 'ere long had the tune down, hopefully committed to memory forever now.

"Win One for the Reaper," or "Life and Death" is a beautiful song, oddly reminiscent of last week's haunting "All Shall Fade."  I learned the song yesterday and played (and recorded) it this morning from memory.  Give it a watch, if'n you'd like.  I think I did a fair job, though it seems a bit rushed at times.  Great song, nonetheless.

(Is it odd that last Friday's tragic song was song by Pippin in LOTR, which also starred Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry, who coincidentally played Charlie in Lost, and this song just happens to be playing when Charlie drowns?  Maybe I'm jumping for Lost connections here...)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Eulogy for "My Little Corner of the World"

I first met David Wagner of "My Little Corner of the World" fame back in July of 2009.  Our year of friendship and correspondence was a nice year, and now that he's announced that he's stepping away from his blog, I feel compelled to wax nostalgic (I've always wanted to "wax" something.  Forgive me.) and mourn the loss.

The first time I met Dave was in a tiny cafe on the corner of Edinburgh and Bathilda Ave. in downtown Minneapolis.  We were there for the intra-global convention of bloggers and Dave was the keynote speaker for the session on "How to Generate Fodder and Maintain Gaseous Buildup."  His speech brought tears to the eyes of many, and there was general wailing and moaning of repentance from Dave's conviction, like a modern day Jonathan Edwards (see "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" for more info).  But me?  I wasn't having any of it.  No sir.  I did not even get to witness his great speech, for I was too busy watching "Ernest Goes to Camp" with the kid-bloggers in the next room, gorging myself on marshmallows and CapriSun.  Had I only known.  But, I met him at the cafe and we played a rousing game of Scrabble, wherein he stomped my inferior vocabulary and then proceeded to name-call me and throw bagel pieces at my head.

At some point in the future Dave realized that I was a fan of Joe Abercrombie's First Law books.  I had just finished reading book one, The Blade Itself, and was musing about purchasing the last two books of the trilogy when Dave sent me a message saying he had them and would gladly mail them to me, free of charge.  I was taken aback at his generosity, willing to give two perfectly readable books to a complete stranger.  So I gave him my addy and then, lo, a few days later there were two perfectly readable books sitting on my kitchen table, silently beckoning me to dive in.  Perhaps it was this act of generosity that made me dive in a bit further to "My Little Corner of the World."

Dave's blog was a constant source of amusement and a perfect way to kill time.  (For, truly, what more can one expect with a blog?  While blogging is a great way to learn and discover new things, it's rarely something one can do professionally, and as such is usually relegated to free-time/down-time/slow-time.  How many of us actually place our blogs at the top of our lists of important things to do?  I enjoy blogging and reading other blogs, but they're certainly not top priority.)  Each morning I would open up my Google Reader and wade through the collected feeds, reading what I was interested in, passing what I wasn't.  But if "My Little Corner..." ever had a new post, I'd never skip.  In fact, almost always, I'd reserve it for last, cherishing the silly randomness that sits so close to my heart.  You truly never knew what to expect.  Perhaps it was this strange affection for odd and desultory posts that kept my attention on his world.

One thing Dave's posts never lacked was that they were always interesting.  It's fascinating how much you can learn about someone after following a blog of theirs.  They let, either intentionally or by accident, tiny pieces of their lives slip in.  Some bloggers go all emo and intimate.  Others guard their personality behind a wall of anonymity.  Dave fell more so into the latter group, but even then there were things he'd let out that could give you a peak of what was going on, never fully opening himself up to the public, but slightly cracking from time to time.  And at these times I felt compelled to say a prayer for him and his life.  Perhaps it was this razor-thin line between anonymity and real-life that pulled me back to his blog.

The hour draws nigh and it is now time to say farewell.  So long faithful blogger and frequent commenter.  Thanks for the beautiful landscape photos that were always breathtaking.  Thanks for recommending White Ninja and Left-Handed Toons and the many other recommendations.  Thanks for churning the motors in my mind, forcing me to think about deep theological quandaries from time to time.  Thanks for the often funny pictures.  Thanks once again for the Abercrombie books (which have now been passed on to K. Denby, another fellow blogger, in continuation of your generosity).  Most of all, thanks for sharing your world, even if it was only a corner of it.  The blogosphere will be a bit darker now without your posts.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others & The Right Hand of Doom, a Review

hellboy3 The Chained Coffin and Others is different from the previous two volumes in the Hellboy saga. Volume 3 is a collections of small vignettes that re-tells folktales Mike Mignola has come across. One such example is "The Chained Coffin," which stems from an Irish folktale the author once read.

Like the first two collections, this volume is beautifully illustrated and wonderfully scripted. The colors are still rich and dark, capturing the essence of the gothic-horror feel. The characters are getting more developed, especially Hellboy, and I'm very interested to see how his future will play out.

Also included in this collection is a story about the Baba Yaga, of whom I was interested from the Fables series as well as some previous stories of Hellboy. In fact, there are several short, wonderfully dark tales that any fan of folklore or fairy tales will love.

Overall, this collection was highly enjoyable, easing off the familiar plot of the previous volumes and venturing into short-story. Still, even these short tales add to the complex character of Hellboy and his world, and I was most impressed with Mignola's work. This is a highly recommendable addition to the so-far excellent series.


hellboy4 The Right Hand of Doom is similar to Volume 3, in that it collects a few short folktales in the beginning of the book and one longer story arc, "The Right Hand of Doom," to finish the work.

Like the previous edition, the short stories are all beautiful renditions of global tales I've never heard. Mignola deals with mostly European folklore, but he also includes a Japanese story in this issue that I found beautiful and interesting.

One thing I really liked about this volume was the revelations of Hellboy and his destiny. Most of these tales hint at his purpose in this world, and "The Right Hand of Doom" comes right out and tells it. Coupled with breathtaking artwork, the plot moves along nicely and captures the reader's attention.

The Right Hand of Doom
doesn't carry the same conventional story progression as Volumes 1 & 2 do, but it's still a great addition to the Hellboy universe, easily worthy to sit alongside the rest. And with the truth about Hellboy coming out, I'm certainly eager to see where the hero will go now.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Touch of Melancholy

It's bittersweet.  The song below is haunting, truly, and brings with it feelings of death and memories buried.  But on the same hand there's something beautiful about its sound, like it reaches into your soul and commands you to listen, despite the grim words.  In the end, all shall fade, so it goes.  It fits my mood, I think.

While the song is originally sung by Pippin in The Return of the King, in the scene where Faramir rushes out to die to please his crazy old man Denethor, the version below is a beautiful cover.  I'm not sure how many times I've listened to it, but it keeps pulling me back.  Give it a listen, not just a simple "play."  Close your eyes for the minute and absorb the song, feel its tug on you.  Let the singer weave a spell on your ears.  Go on.  Try to resist.

Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread,
Through shadow to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Mist and shadow, Cloud and shade
All shall fade,
all shall fade.

Not only does the soundtrack nearly move me to tears on a few selections, it's appropriate for today.  Like the deep loss and sadness that spreads across Middle Earth, plenty of folks die here for no good reason.  Famine and hunger.  Murders.  It's disgusting how little we do.

My brother is going back to Afghanistan today to finish out his tour.  The fifteen days he's been home now seem short, and I wish he didn't have to return.  I saw him three times in the fifteen days.  Once at Ian's birthday party, once at mom's for supper one night, and then on Tuesday night.  We sat around talking for an hour or so, and it felt good.  It didn't strike me until later that I didn't hug him bye.  Just told him I told him I loved him and to be careful.  I can only pray for his safety.

On the brighter side, the tennis tournament begins tonight, followed by tomorrow morning's disc golf scramble and then another round in the tourney.  Should be a thoroughly exhausting weekend.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fables: The Dark Ages, a Review

After finishing the first 75 issues, I recommended the series to many different people. (See "Comics You (Really) Should Read [Part 2]")  It told an epic story, crossing through familiar folklore territory but adding new twists and turns. I had planned on stopping with #75, but something just kept pulling me back, beckoning me to pick up and read what happened next. My resolve eventually broke and I did, requesting that the library order a copy. Soon it was in and I had a new graphic comic collection to read.

Fables: The Dark Ages collects issues #76-82 of the series. The story begins right after the events that spanned issue #1-75 come to a close. Fabletown's newest citizen is given a tour of his new home, and many fables aren't too keen to have him among them. A new antagonist, Mister Dark, appears starting in #77, and he threatens to destroy Fabletown and its inhabitants. Will the fables survive?

It was nice to be immersed back in the world Bill Willingham imagined. As always, the various artists do beautiful panels and covers, changing styles frequently between issues. The way a character looks may even change between issues (compare Pinocchio or Bigby from #76 and #80), and I really enjoy the artistic freedom given. Sadly, the trade paperback does not offer the glossy finish a comic page carries, nor does it truly display the beauty of each individual cover. That's not to say that the collection isn't beautiful, because it is, but it's just not as pretty.

Plot-wise, Willingham doesn't give the fables much time to rest. They've been through a terrible ordeal with the Adversary, and now that that's over, they get thrown into something else that may make the Adversary look like a cute kitten. Mister Dark is a wicked creature, hellbent on destruction and revenge. For what wrongs, we're unsure, but he intends to make them right, no matter the cost. The pacing of the plot was never dull, and Willingham masterfully plays with our emotions.

Overall, it was fun being back in the Fables universe. I didn't realize how much I'd missed these characters until I went through The Dark Ages, and now I'm going to have to do some heavy comic reading to catch back up. If you've read the first 75 issues of this series, then I can easily recommend this collection to you. Conversely, I wouldn't start with this one or you may be lost.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Warded Man, a Review

When the sun falls below the horizon, the demons rise from the ground ready to slaughter any they may find. The only thing that keeps mankind safe is the forbidding wards, ancient symbols and patterns that must be exact lest they fail and the corelings feast. Some say there used to be offensive wards, but that knowledge passed from the lands long ago. Every night man sleeps restlessly, anxious that their wards won't hold, and every day the ward patterns are inspected and mended in preparation for another night. Such is life in the fantastic world of Beter V. Brett's The Warded Man.

I've read quite a bit of praise for this book and I needed me something short and exciting to read, and Brett's novel met those desires and then some. The Warded Man is a dark fantasy novel, where the world is constantly plagued and man cowers each night afraid of corelings. A rich and dynamic world, Brett's command of the prose pulls the reader into the book and slowly reveals the world and its workings, leaving much up to imagination, but providing enough to shape your thoughts.

There are three different POVs in this book. All three are young when we are first introduced, but the plot of the book spans nearly twenty years. Arlen spends his days mending wardposts in Tibbett's Brook and helping his father farm. He has dreams of getting away from the Brook, but only when tragedy strikes does he actually pursue them. Leesha, from Cutter's Hollow, is a smart and beautiful girl who spends her time dreaming of the day she gets to marry Gared. He will save her from the awfulness that is her mother, but when something happens, Leesha's life takes a different turn. Rojer, the youngest of the lot, is only four when we meet him, and tragedy hits him early, putting his life on a one-way path with a somewhat famous man.

These three characters are all deeply realistic and personal. I cared about Arlen's life and the choices he made. I wanted happiness for all of them, but Brett's world is a vile one, and happiness was sparse to be found. Bad things happen to these characters and they do bad things, but I could not imagine it otherwise and be satisfied. Brett's ability to make you care for the protagonists--and loathe the corelings--was a big reason this book was so good.

Other than characterization, the plot of the novel is very quick-paced and never dull. And rightly so. How can you expect the world to be mundane when demons rise from the Core every night? Along with this, the world-building is superb, creating a few different cultures and a rich history that only gets hinted at. I'm hoping this gets expounded on more in a later volume.

Overall, I really enjoyed Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man. It's certainly the best book I've read so far this year, easily ranking up there with the likes of Abercrombie, Sanderson, and Rothfuss. If you're looking for a new fantasy series to try, The Warded Man is it. It's rich in imagination and wonderful in story, and I strongly recommend it be added to your reading list.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday (the 13th): H&H Rob the 42nd Street Bagle Bros. Bagel Shoppe

Note:  This one's a bit absurd and plays with some cliches, but was fun.  It originally started as an exercise to see what I could come up with in 10 minutes. Maybe this stems from the massive amounts of comics I've been reading...


Hubert stepped into the bagel shop and held up the gun.  He popped three quick shots into the ceiling to show that he meant business.  The screams stifled when he threw angry glares around the room.  “I’m not here to hurt anybody,” he said, his sing-song voice squeaking melodiously, “but I am prepared to if’n I have to.”

Behind him, dressed in a matching purple jogging suit and white fanny pack, his brother Herbert snorted.  Hubert glared at him, too, and the younger sibling quietened.  “Who here can tell me about Jonny Beatnick?”  He surveyed the terrified patrons.  In all it looked about fifteen people.  One man, possibly in his fifties, appeared to have either peed himself or spilled coffee down his front.  There was a young couple sitting snugly at the settee, a laptop resting on their conjoined knees shaking furiously.  A few middle-aged professionals stood in the queue, briefcases and cells in their hands.

With all the speed and accuracy of Clint Eastwood, Hubert fired a bullet through a man’s hand that was holding a phone.  While the stunned victim cried out, Hubert continued.  “Now I hope nobody else plans on alerting the police like our dear hero was, or perhaps I might not be so exact with my next shot.  In fact,” he licked his teeth and nodded, “it’d be best if we just all threw down our phones now.”

Herbert was now at the counter, holding king size pillow case.  “Schweetie,” he said, hiccuping, “why don’t you pop open that cash drawer there and drop it in the bag.”  The terrified cashier nodded, her ponytail bobbing.  Hubert watched  for a moment and then went back to his directions, nodding at the cell phones slapping the ground.

“Nobody knows Jonny Beatnick?  He’s impossible to miss.  A big fella, maybe three hundred pounds.  Always in Hawaiian shirts.  Loves bagels?  Anybody?  I have it on good authority he frequents this bagel shop often.”  He was kidding himself if he actually expected an answer.  The hand-shot man was writhing on the floor and the cashier was sobbing hysterically.

“Please don’t kill me.  P-p-please.  I-I’m...”

“Oh hush, darlin’, I ain’t gonna hurt you.  Couldn’t dream of hurting a cutie like yourself.”  Herbert smacked his lips and sauntered back over to his brother, bag of cash in hand.

“I thank you all kindly for your assistance today,” Hubert said, unzipping the fanny pack around his waist and pulling out a photo.  “But I’m really interested in finding Mr. Beatnick.  Perhaps this picture will--”

His voice faded into a gargle as he collapsed on the floor.  Herbert turned to his brother and came face to face with the super hero.  Donned in a bright floral shirt and a rubber mask that looked like a child’s Halloween face, Lei Man shook his head slowly at the still-standing robber.

“B-B-Beatn--”  Lei Man’s fist slammed into Herbert’s nose, blood spraying from the impact.  The criminal swung the heavy cash bag, but the hero ducked and uppercutted with a Fist of Lei.  Herbert flew in a neat arc and crashed into a table and chair.  The man groaned.

“Get up, Herbert,” said Lei Man.  “Or should I say Moon Boy?”

The bagel patrons all gasped at once.  Someone’s phone rang out a dramatic duh-dun-dunn!  The disgraced criminal cackled.  When he stood, the oafishness that had been there before was replaced by raw malice and genuine instability.  An elongated cat-o-nine had somehow appeared in his hand.  “Very good, Lei Man.  How did you know it was me?”

Lei Man laughed.  “Who else could it be, Herbie?  You’re the only one left.  All the rest are dead, in prison, or retired.  It’s just you and me now, old friend.”

“Ha!  Is that what you think?  There’s a whole new breed rising, Lei, with ideals that put ours to shame.  Dreams of domination.  Of suffering!  Hahahaha!”

Lei Man popped his knuckles and cracked his neck.  “Well let’s get this over with then.”  Moon Boy nodded, bringing up the cat-o-nine as he did so.  The whip smacked inches from Lei Man.  Moon Boy slashed it around the room, some of the tails cutting into stunned patrons.  Lei Man growled and barrelled toward the final rogue.

It was there, in the tiny bagel shop that the world’s last super hero and villain fought.  The battle was fierce and the bloodshed plenty, for these were true men, fighters of their passions, not ethics.  And when the dust finally settled, when the screaming and the cursing finally ground to a halt, when the newspaper’s had their photos and the reporters their stories, there were free bagels for all.

Word Count: 774

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When Struggling to Finish a Book

I'm the type of person that finishes things I start, be it a book or what have you.  I've always been that way, especially with books, thinking the author deserves the time to at least read what's been written.  I'm a patient individual, as it is, and not too slow of a reader, so I almost always give the book cover-to-cover time.  But sometimes, on occasion, I truly struggle to finish.

That's happening now with one of the five books I'm currently reading.  I read Robert Jordan's opening tome for The Wheel of Time, The Eye of the World (review here), and finished with a slightly favorable impression.  Nothing amazing and terribly exciting, but the series is one of the essential fantasy series, so I thought I'd give it a chance.  Plus I'd already bought about five books in the series.  Book Two, The Great Hunt, is grieving me as I press on.  I find myself not caring really at all about any of the characters, only mildly interested in what's going on and what their fates are.  I'm currently on page 481 of 705, but I just don't know if I'll be able to finish.

But still I feel bad about not finishing a book.  Part of me understands that there are so many other unread things out there waiting for me that I shouldn't spend time with something I'm not enjoying.  I completely agree and understand this part of me.  But then I also feel like I'm giving up, and that doesn't jibe well with me.  In fact, the last book I put down was almost a year ago, Dan Simmons' The Terror (review here), and I went through the same struggle with it.

Who knows what the ultimate fate of this series is?  I really wanted to get to the Brandon Sanderson take over, but I really don't see that happening now.  I also would like to have read the whole series just to experience it, but again, I just don't see that happening.  The Wheel weaves as the Wheel weaves, eh?

(On a side note, Peter Brett's The Warded Man just may be my favorite thing I've read this year.  I'm about halfway through this, too, so look for a review in another week or so, as time wills it.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

cause and effect, a poem

eyes searching,
heart longing
breaking beyond the bound.
rise up
and vanquish.

arms pumping,
legs kicking,
beating gravity and ground.
out of the angry planet
and into silence.

limbs turning,
lips smiling,
absorbing light and sound.
leave behind troubles
and let go.

teeth chattering,
bones shaking,
trav'ling homeward bound.
space is cold
without a jacket.

lungs filling,
voice screaming,
nearing solid ground.
unintended consequence
of freedom.

Monday, August 09, 2010

White Water Rafting the on the Ocoee

As I write this, my arms are heavy and weighted, my legs are rubber, my brain is fried, my body is exhausted, and my bladder is full.  One of those is not really related to the weekend.  Nevertheless, the bachelor party for William, consisting of white water rafting and true camping, in the eastern hills of Tennessee and the western mountains of North Carolina, was tremendous fun.

Adam and I took my car down to William's house on Friday afternoon, top off and windows down.  The trip is about five hours, plus a time-zone change (CST to EST).  On the way we worked a diagramless crossword puzzle and managed to finish by the time we got to Chattanooga.  We got there first, unpacked the car and filled William's truck, and waited for the rest of the group to get there.  Little sleep was to be had, for I am but a super-sensitive sleeper, particular in that I almost need pitch black and deeply cold rooms accompanied by absolute silence and a whirring of a fan.  Still, I managed to get a few (2-3) hours and woke up excited to hit the river.

From William's, we drove another hour or so east and met up with his brothers at the rafting outfitter.  The eight of us checked in, signed our waivers, got our gear (life-jacket, helmet, and a paddle), and watched the safety info.  Soon we were bussed to the river and carrying our raft down at the base of a dam.  We picked the vessel up and stepped it into the water, feeling for the first time the coolness of the river.  And then we were in it and rapid bound.

Total time on the river was about an hour-and-a-half.  Much of this time was spent in the rapids, from names like Broken Nose to Hell's Hole.  I was amazed at the sheer power of the water, at the white-foamed bubbles from the swift flowing river, broken by massive boulders and jagged rocks spread throughout.  The rapids were loud and noisy.  The whole river was beautiful.

Going through a rapid is an exhilarating experience.  First is the anticipation, hearing the raft guide tell you about it and how you're going to have to paddle to make it through.  It's important that everyone paddle in sync to be efficient, and for the most part we did this.  Next comes entering the rapid and the guide yelling directions.  The boat is rocked and pulled to one side, bumping into a rock here, spinning around there, free-falling over a ledge there.  It's kind of like mixing a roller-coaster with ATV riding, only you're on water.  Sometimes you may all have to lean one way or the other to prevent a capsize, and sometimes the raft may be inclined as it rides the waves or sucked down by a powerful whirlpool.  Finally, once the rapid is cleared, you're either in a brief calm section or approaching another rapid, the guide already giving directions.  As I said, exhilarating.

The first time we capsized I slightly panicked.  The raft flipped, we all spilled over into very cold waters, and I swam up to the surface.  However, I came out of the water below the raft and I was disoriented.  I gasped and gulped down water and tried to breathe.  Eventually I realized that the raft was flipped over and the air cavity would let me breathe, and so I took a lungfull of air and made my way out.  After a moment to calm down, I relaxed and floated on down the river.  It was a calm between rapids and we enjoyed a few minutes of swimming.  Still, the body never really acclimates to the temperature, but I enjoyed swimming in a river.

The guide asked us if anyone wanted to ride the bull.  This means that the rider abandons their seat and paddle and goes to the front of the raft.  Then they hop up on the side, dangle their legs over, and hold on to a rope attached to the tip.  It's almost like riding a mechanical bull.  There are three spots during the trip that one can ride the bull, and I did it on the last spot.  When I hopped up there, the guide told us we were going through Hell's Hole and Powerhouse.  He gave the warnings that if the raft flipped to make your way immediately to shore, that this section was strong and swift.  Somewhat apprehensive, somewhat thrilled, we entered the rapid and I held on for dear life.  Riding the bull was crazy.  I was pounded by ten foot waves, taking the brunt of them head on.  The whole time I was fighting for air, but drinking down water.  I could feel the raft tipping forward and backwards and sideways and I loved it.  I managed to stay on the whole time and shortly after the trip was over.

White water rafting was an incredible experience that I would love to do again.  We all had a great time together on the river, and spending another late night out camping was also fun.  Sunday, cold and fatigued, we packed up tent and headed back home.

Overall the weekend was phenomenal.  It was good seeing people.  It was fun camping again, as it's been a long time.  And it was amazing being able to raft.  Good times all around.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Home From Afghanistan (At Least for Now)

The Brothers StewartSome of you may be aware that I have a younger brother that was deployed to Afghanistan back in January.  Jake, and his wife Courtney, had their first son (Ian) back in August, and Jake’s leaving this time around was sadder than before.  But off he went for a year long tour, driving some kind of big truck and doing armed escorts or something of the like.  It’s dangerous, being out on the road and susceptible to IEDs or road-side bombs, and I’ve prayed for him a lot.

Yesterday was Ian’s first birthday and Courtney was having a party for him.  Jake was scheduled to have a 2-week R&R time some time in August, but the exact dates were never really clear.  We first thought he’d be in for Ian’s party, and then he said it’d be later in the month, and then it was possible again.  Eventually, and to everybody’s surprise, Jake landed back in America yesterday morning.  Courtney drove to the airport and picked him up, and Jake made it home for Ian’s first birthday.

IanSeeing my brother again was nice.  We’ve grown apart a bit as we’ve aged, but I still feel close.  And knowing that he was safe and out of a war zone eases that subconscious stress that lingers.  I believe he’ll be out of Afghanistan for 25 days, but I’m not sure.  He said the temperature was miserable, that they were constantly drenched in sweat, waking up at midnight covered in perspiration.  And he comes home to a record heat-wave in Kentucky, where the heat index yesterday reached 119*F.  Still, from time to time there was a breeze and shade.  He did say, however, that the food over there was top quality and he was eating good.  Lots of down time, though.  Lots of boredom.  Lots of reading.  I suppose that’s better than the flip side.

Stella & Sofie The party was fun.  Ian got a lot of presents and played with the water-based and bubble-based ones outside.  Watching my only nephew makes me happy.  The boy is cute and all smiles, and he reminds me a lot of myself and how I looked when I was a wee lad.  One of these days Keisha and I will get around to having a baby, and I’m getting more excited about that with every child I’m around.  One of these days…  For now we already have our two babies.

So I’m glad my brother’s home now, even though I probably won’t be seeing him again until next week some time.  The rafting/camping trip will keep me away, and my Monday night tennis league will keep me tied up early next week.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed, a Review

So long ago I don't remember when I first heard about Patrick Rothfuss' not-for-children children's book.  What began as a bedtime story he told his girlfriend made its way to publication through Subterranean Press.  I put my copy on reserve months ahead of time and, eventually, the book arrived at my house.

At a cursory glance, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle seems like any other children's book.  The cover has a cute little girl and her stuffed teddy bear playing in a creek.  Even the names "the Princess" and "Mr. Whiffle" imply all is well within the pages.  But, as the author, the publisher, and the accompanying sticker tell the reader, this book is not for children.

The Thing Beneath the Bed is a story of three parts, that is to say it has three different endings.  One ending is a sweet, happy ending that may be read to appease the lighthearted or those in need of a happy ending.  One ending leaves a bit more to the imagination and has horrifying ramifications to the story.  And the third ending, Pat's "true ending," as he calls it, hearkens back to an older style of fairy tale ending.  Of the three, the third is certainly my favorite, as it captures both my type of humor as well as offers a shock value that can let the reader think.

But what about the plot?  What about the illustrations?  Both of these work hand-in-hand together in this book (as they do in any comic or picture book).  Illustrated by Nate Taylor, each page is beautiful and conveys a certain message or feeling.  Some pages require background investigation to pick up on things in the Princess' kingdom.  One thing about the illustrations that I particularly liked was the use of black and shadows, especially when dealing with the Thing.  I also liked the sweet caricatured facial expressions of the Princess.  As for written plot, the story is simple.  There is a Princess that lives alone with her stuffed teddy bear, Mr. Whiffle, in a castle, and together they play and try to avoid the Thing that lives beneath the bed.  The duo have adventures and fun together during the day, and at night they keep the lights on.

One thing that greatly intrigued me about this book was the prospect of three completely different endings.  I was intrigued to see how the story would end, and I'm glad to say that Pat did not meet any of my expectations, but instead well exceeded them.  I was thoroughly pleased with all endings, and I think that if one were to stop at the first then it would be a fine book for children.  The latter two endings still may be fine for children, depending on maturity levels and faith in the world, but to be on the safe side I'd recommend the multiple warnings to keep from kids.

Overall, I really enjoyed Patrick Rothfuss' picture story book.  It was short, dark, twisted, and bittersweet, and it fit right up my alley.  I read the book aloud to my wife, showing off each page like a kindergarten teacher.  (My wife preferred the first ending.)  If you didn't get your hands on a copy of The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, know that this book is currently only available through Subterranean Press.  It was one of Sub Press' fastest selling books of all time, and they currently are offering a signed 2nd printing for $25.  (Makes me feel conflicted.  I have an unsigned 1st printing...)  So, if you've the money to spare and are interested in reading Pat's delightfully dark "children's" story, click the above link and order your copy today. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

In a Few Days...

...I'll be on the road, heading down to East Tennessee for an unforgettable weekend.  My dear friend William is getting married in November and I am honored to be his best man.  As such, it falls on my shoulders to plan a bachelor party, which I have been doing for several months now.  The plans come to fruition this weekend.

A group of eight, friends from college and William's three brothers, are going white water rafting and camping.  I've never been rafting before, and the Ocoee River is supposed to be awesome.  In fact, the 1996 Summer Olympics held the rafting events at the Ocoee.  A few friends have been to the Ocoee and have told me how much fun it is, and others that have been rafting all assure me I'll have a blast.  And I know I will.

So I'm packing up my beat-up-but-beloved 1995 Honda Del Sol, taking the top off, loading some music, and hitting the road Friday afternoon.  My friend Adam is riding down with me.  The destination is about six hours away, but we're spending Friday night at William's house in Chattanooga, which is only an hour and a half from the river.  We'll get up early and hit the water for a few hours, then after we're all exhausted we'll head over into North Carolina and set up camp.

I grew up camping, and it's been a long time since I've gone.  There's just something about being out at night with a clear sky and billions of twinkling stars above.  When the air has cooled from the day and the darkness of night is all around.  Where the toads burp and the crickets chirp.  Where the glowing of the campfire is the only source of light other than the moon.  Ah how I've missed it.

And on Sunday, after cooking breakfast over the fire, Adam and I will hop back in the Del Sol and head home, back to my waiting wife and pups.  Truly, I'm very excited about the weekend.  Rafting will be enjoyable, and camping will be a sweet return to a long-lost love.  It will be good to hang out with old friends and remember times forgotten.  While I'm in no real need for a break, I'll gladly take one.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Hellboy: Wake the Devil, a Review

Hellboy: Wake the Devil picks up shortly after the incidents of Seed of Destruction takes place.  A brief introduction informs the BPRD team on the life of Vladimir Giurescu.  Giurescu lived an illustrious and bloody life during the early 19th century, fighting in wars and struggles.  More than once he received mortal wounds and died, but his body was always returned to Castle Giurescu, where he would return to life after the full moon, whole and fine.  Eventually Giurescu dies and his body is kept from returning to his castle.  Of course, something goes wrong and the BPRD is called to investigate.

The plot is really pretty straightforward from here on.  No one knows exactly where Castle Giurescu is, though there are three likely locations.  Three teams are sent separately to investigate and recover the bones before the full moon or things could be bad.  Very bad.  The hero, Hellboy, goes alone to one castle, and what he discovers there rocks him to his core.

Like Volume One, this issue has fantastic illustrations, using the same style and colorings to keep a very gothic feel.  Part of the beauty of these comics is how much information is conveyed with each panel, even the ones without dialog.  No scene is wasted.

I enjoyed this addition to the Hellboy catalog.  I'm not sure I fully understood what happened by the end, but what I did understand sat well with me.  Hellboy is a shiny, wonderful comic series that keeps pulling me back in, despite my efforts to try and read something else, and Wake the Devil is a perfect sequel to the excellent opening number.