Friday, September 26, 2014

Celebrate the Small Things- September 26th

Thanks to our host Viklit and co-hosts Diana Wilder, L.G. Keltner, Cyborg Mom and CaffeMaggieato!

This week I'm celebrating...

FINALLY CELEBRATING AGAIN!  You may have noticed that this is my first Celebration post since last August.  And here it is the end of September.  I sort-of fell of the face of the planet.  I haven't blogged, haven't visited- heck man, I wasn't even checking my e-mail.  Why?   Well, I could tell you that work has been absolutely kicking my ass what with not getting home until 10pm most evenings and being so exhausted on the weekends that I don't do anything but that's a damned poor excuse so screw that.  The fact of the matter is that I simply didn't make it a priority and for that I am deeply, deeply sorry.  For all of you out there who haven't seen me post a comment in forever and a blue moon- I am coming.  And for those hoping to see more of me here- I am writing.  And to everyone- I am sorry.  Truly.

Feeling Better  Monday night my throat got irritated.  I though the cup of coffee I had grabbed was simply too hot but when it was worse at the end of the night I thought 'Uh-oh..."  Come Tuesday it had evolved into a full-blown sore throat and congestion and had all the tell-tale signs of an oncoming cold.  I spent the first half of the day wondering whether I should try to arrange group coverage and the second half the day giving in and cancelling/rescheduling all my appointments for Wednesday.  It turned out to be a good call cause by the end of the night I sounded like a frog that had been run over by a truck and I was getting light headed and achy.  Wednesday I dosed myself with cold meds and slept so much I can count the hours I was awake on one hand.  Yesterday I was still froggy and sniffly but my energy started to come back and today, thankfully, I am officially on the mend.  So I'm grateful to be on the downward slope with this thing and hopeful that within short order I'll be feeling 100%.

More 5Ks  There were a couple more 5ks earlier this month- a Saturday and a Sunday somewhere in the weeks past.  One of them involved a whole bunch of doggies running with me which was awesome and probably made that one my favorite run yet (especially since it was hosted by the emergency vet we've had to rush Buddy to several times) so I'll definitely be doing that one again.  It's good but I need to get back on track to ramp up my mileage for the marathon in November.  But still, celebrating the 5ks.

I apologize, again, for missing so many weeks and ask you all to bear with me as I try to catch up with all you fine folks...


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: The Sandman Volume 4- Season of Mists

The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists (The Sandman, #4) 

* Warning: This review, like all my reviews, contains spoilers.  In fact, I talk about the big reveals and the ending in detail so if you don't want anything ruined don't read this.

This was my forth encounter with the masterfully created Sandman and it has been the best encounter yet.  The plot is on par with the first volume which introduced us to Morpheus and provided a decent amount of his background and the other characters here are the most fascinating I've seen so far.

It begins with a meeting of the Endless and we get to see Morpheus' interactions with the other members of his family- Death (whom we've seen in previous volumes and know that Morpheus is closest to), Desire, Delirium, Despair and for the first time Destiny who is so intriguing that I could happily read volumes upon volumes on just him and the endless tales contained in that book of his.  It's a brief encounter but it wets the appetite so well that one can't help but pray that the upcoming volumes of the series will go into a lot more details about these fascinating characters.

Anyway, back to the plot: Death confronts her brother about an action he took ten thousand years ago in which he sentenced an ex-girlfriend of his to an eternity in hell (full story of the worst break-up ever contained in volume 2).  After telling him that it was a pretty rotten thing to do he concludes he's gotta get her out of there so off to hell he goes.

The stakes are high as the last time he was there (Volume 1) he had an encounter with a demon that lead to him showing off a bit and angering Lucifer so he goes in expecting to find a seriously pissed off Satan waiting for him.  He is shocked to find Hell all but empty and Lucifer closing all the gates explaining that he's done with the whole thing.  Why?  Well, seems he didn't really like the role that his creator put him in and after so much time was tired of it all so he decided to turn in his wings and try spending some time on earth, taking a vacation from the whole thing.  Why Dream coming to spring his ex from the eternal slammer catalyzes this departure I couldn't say, but Destiny seems to know.  Lucifer hands Dream the key to hell before his departure, leaving our MC with a lot more than he bargained for.

Demons, Fairies, Order and Chaos, Odin and his sons and a pair of angels from heaven come knocking on his door as soon as he's arrived back in the dreaming (his kingdom) pursuing various goals, most surrounding a quest to obtain the key and use it for their own ends.  There's never been a piece of real estate more sought after and the stakes are pretty high, especially since one of the demons kidnapped the ex-girlfriend Dream had sought in the first place.

A banquet is held and then Dream invites each visitor to talk with him one on one plead their case.  These characters come from a pantheon of myths, archaic scriptures, and other comics and point to so many other series I couldn't name them all.  Each one is pretty fascinating in their own right and I found myself feeling poorly read for having little to no prior knowledge of them- but I get the feeling someone well-versed in mythology would be giddy with all the references.

A free-standing chapter shows the devastating consequences of hell's now homeless damned returning to earth and provides us with the title of this tome by way of the mist that covers everything with all these spirits roaming around wreaking havoc on the living and giving Death so much work she can't keep up with it. I found myself wanting more detail about this particular element of things and I hope future volumes will at least reference it.

Back in the dreaming Morpheus is sparred the ultimate decision, thankfully for him, when the angels observing everything get an order from the almighty to take over in Lucifer's place since he wants people from his organization to continue running things.  A final encounter with the demon who kidnapped Dream's ex proves anticlimactic and he has a final goodbye with her during which we find out that she was kept prisoner not by his will but by the same internal belief that kept all the other souls there: the idea that they deserve it.

From a theological perspective this was the most fascinating concept of the whole thing- seeing Lucifer as a rather simple angel waiting for his creator to allow him to leave rather than an all-powerful tyrant happily torturing the occupants of his kingdom and seeking out souls "like a fishwife come market day" as he explains it.  The chapter in which Lucifer tells of his downfall and time in hell is by far the best one of the entire volume and I find myself seriously thinking about looking into the Lucifer series once I'm done with this one.

The last chapter wraps things up with the demons and the damned returning to hell to resume things as they were but finding that the new sheriffs in town run things a bit differently than their previous landlord.  The implications of the new system of pain as a payment for redemption are staggering and leave one wanting a follow up as to how this new system will be working ten thousand years from now.  And Lucifer's last shot is sort-of staggering- the devil's due never looked so good.

All in all, this may be my favorite volume of one of the most amazing series I've ever read.  I'm thrilled to pieces that he returned to a more traditional novel format after the short stories of the previous volume and I can't wait to read the next one.  In fact, I'm starting it right now.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: Stern Men

*Disclaimer: As always, this review contains spoilers so if you want to read this novel with bated breath don't read this review.  (Not that this is that kind-of book anyway, but just in case.)

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert which is why it pains me to say that I really, genuinely did not like this book.  I might go so far as to say that I hated it.

It isn't because her writing was sub-par in any way.  Gilbert shows the same astounding gift for dialogue and capturing the essence of real-life people that I first encountered in Pilgrims (her collection of short stories which I read prior to this) and I would still recommend her to anyone who was looking for a good example of writing strikingly real characters or dialogue.  She still does an amazing job of capturing the complexities of human relationships.  And she still shows the same flair for creating atmosphere with setting and she devotes more time to that in this book than pretty much anything else.  In fact, a much more accurate description of this book would be to call it a story of two islands and their people rather than a love story or even a coming-of-age story which is how most reviews describe it.

Where the book fails, however, is in the story itself.  Mainly, it's too damned short.  When I was still in the midst of reading this a friend asked me how long it was.  I told him it was a little under three hundred pages.  He commented on it being a rather short book and I realized that I hadn't really thought about it before then.  At the time, it didn't worry me.  That was until I finished a chapter ending in a huge development and then beheld the word "Epilogue" on the next page.  It hit me like a smack in the face.

And then as I read through that last chapter I was horrified to find that she had skipped over six years following the dramatic development in the previous pages and jumped straight to the (albeit heartwarming) conclusion of the story.  So far as the story arc goes she pretty much completely skipped over the climax and jumped right into the resolution.  I was shocked when I realized this.  And, to put it mildly, I was pissed.

"What the hell?  Did she not know how to write out that confrontation?  Did she write it but then scrap it for some reason?  Why the hell would she do that?"  I don't know the answers to any of these questions nor to the countless others that come up as she describes where all the characters are at six years later- because she didn't write them.

I'm not saying that you can't skip time in a story.  Heck, there's nine years between the second and third chapters and that didn't phase me at all.  What I am saying is that when the main character is revealed to have a huge life change in the works and her father has just learned this shocking revelation you don't skip over what happens next. 

What's more, the resolution, at least so far as the love story, doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense.  I mean, the main character meets this guy, they have a total of two relatively awkward conversations before walking off into the woods and screwing like bunnies (in one of the most graphic and out-of place sex scenes ever written, by the way).  The adults in charge are pretty pissed and one is expressly forbade to see the other so that by the time of that big revelation they haven't seen each other or spoken for about five months.  Then, in the epilogue six years later, they apparently have one of the happiest marriages on the planet even though the only thing they seem to do together is screw like bunnies.  I'm sorry, but great sex does not a miraculous relationship make.  And calling this book a love story because of that is just straight-up ridiculous.

And if you're in it for the other reasons- those complex relationships between the occupants of these two islands, their long history of distrust and warring over lobster fishing territory, their complex and somewhat fascinating way of self-governing and their chosen lifestyle which is so vastly different from the mainland- you'll still be disappointed.  Gilbert has the main character do something for the community which every single flippin' character in the book repeatedly says would never, ever happen and provides virtually no explanation as to how she does it.  Is she just magic?  What on earth did she say?  How could she possibly get them all to agree to that?  Explaining it all away by saying that because she was an accepted insider is not a satisfying end.

Like I said, I was pissed.  Still am, in fact (I'm sure you can tell).  I have absolutely no idea what purpose that giant skip forward served other than to ruin what seemed like it could have been a really good story.  And while this is no way detracts from my love of her other works it will make me wait a while before I pick up her new novel.