Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finish What Ya Started

C'mon, baby! Van Halen's got nothing on me.  I am the king of unfinished blog posts. I start a new blog post (with gobs of beautiful photos) nearly every time I:
  1. Lead a hike, climb, or scrambling expedition for NW Wilderness
  2. Spend a weekend or daytrip away with my kids Lena and Levi (the Ls)
  3. Fly overseas for a day or two, to visit my international buddies

Last month's Iceland travel photo from my daily Instagram Story

Also, many posts have been drafted but not released about spiritual and social issues which I feel need to be addressed. Those entries usually end up on my personal blog. But the travel and outdoors posts... I have no excuse. I just need to battle my short attention span and finish what I start.

Lots of cool adventure posts are on the way! In the meantime, I'll keep writing my "Just Read" posts about the books I read. Hopefully those book reviews are entertaining enough diversions to distract y'all from my lack of getting things done.

And speaking of distractions... How could I get anything done with these adorable Ls hanging around?

Photo from my daily Instagram Story

Monday, November 14, 2016

Just Read: Rage, A Dance with Dragons, Star Wars: Vader #3, and the Special Power of Restoring Lost Things

The brand new Star Wars novel, Catalyst: A Rogue One Story finally drops tomorrow!  I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon so it would arrive on the release date.  It’s a prequel story to the upcoming film, Star Wars: Rogue One.  I’m unreasonably excited to tear into it, after I'm done leading my next NW Wilderness hike on Thursday!

My world traveling posts, as well as trip reports from the recent hikes and climbs I’ve led, will resume soon.  And the mini-reviews below will also be featured on my Goodreads page at some point.

By Zygmunt Miloszewski

Translated from Polish, this crime melodrama centers on a justice/rules obsessed prosecutor Teodor Szacki who is investigating a series of grisly murders which may be targeting domestic abusers.  The slow burning “rage” depicted in Szacki’s characterization eventually pays off big time, more cleverly than I expected.  And there are at least two or three truly memorable moments, including a chilling scene involving a mother and infant in peril that haunted me for days (And I was on a Mexico mission trip!).

Other than those standout moments, this novel was a bit slow paced for my taste.  Also, some of the graphic sexual depictions and gruesome CSI-type investigation details seemed a little excessive.
After realizing that this is the final book of a trilogy, I surmised that faithful readers of author Miloszewski would find the conclusion of Szacki’s character arc to be quite dramatic indeed.  The mystery elements of the plot are interesting, yet this novel works best as a character study.

Note: This was a pre-release book, but it’s now available.  I selected this title for free from Amazon’s Prime’s “Kindle First” offerings of August 2016.

Verdict: *** ½ out of *****

By George R. R. Martin

Since I don’t have HBO, I can’t say how this book compares to the latest season of the hugely popular Game of Thrones.  However, this book is a slight improvement over A Feast for Crows, the fourth and previous book in the Song of Ice and Fire high fantasy book series.  It’s set at the same time period of Feast, which means that the events take place immediately after A Storm of Swords, the third book.  The main characters whom were mostly neglected in Feast return to the spotlight here: Tyrion Lanister, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Bran Stark, Arya Stark, Theon Greyjoy/Reek, Stannis Baratheon, and others.

Was it worth the wait?  Not particularly.  We should have been reading about these characters in the fourth book, which spent most of the time in King’s Landing, the Iron Islands, and Dorne.  But it was nice to finally return to the characters at Castle Black, beyond the Wall, and Pentos and Slaver’s Bay across the narrow sea.

Disturbingly misogynist sexual content, meandering prose, and excessive length mar this book just as much as the previous books.  And the wait for the long overdue Book 7, The Winds of Winter, has dragged out for years.  But how could we readers quit the Song of Ice and Fire series now?  We’re so invested in the characters.  George R. R. Martin isn’t on the hook.  We are.

Verdict: *** ½ out of *****

The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things

By Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

Listed under Kindle's “Literature” genre, I expected this pre-release to be a substantive read about coping with grief.  It wasn’t what I anticipated.  However, this tale of a devastated family living in the aftermath of a daughter’s disappearance is an acceptably brief diversion.

The storyline (which isn’t the focal point anyway) is somewhat engaging, the characters draw sympathy, and theological matters are occasionally addressed.  The book’s most effective hook is illustrating how unbearable it would be to live through the disappearance of a daughter/sister.

Note: This was a pre-release book, but it’s now available.  I selected this title for free from Amazon’s Prime’s “Kindle First” offerings of September 2016.

Verdict: *** out of *****

By Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Leinil Andrews, and Kaare Andrews

Taking place between the films Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the dramatic continuity of the previously excellent Darth Vader graphic novel series makes no sense.  No spoilers here, but did that thrilling, revelatory moment with Boba Fett in Volume 1 never happen?

That’s a relevant gripe, making this feel more like a standalone story than a continuation of Darth Vader’s character arc.  His relationship with Grand Admiral Tagge still provides dramatic tension, though, especially with the added conflict of Dr. Cylo being assigned to make Vader look bad.  Unfortunately, as with previous volumes, Vader’s ludicrously sadistic droid Triple Zero and blastomech BT-1 (the Tobey Maguire/Spiderman 3-esque bad-guy versions of C-3PO and R2-D2) are too silly to bear.  For that matter, MOST of the supporting characters are drastically less intriguing than Vader himself.

As a fan of the new Star Wars canon, I’m reluctant to say that I also noticed a potential contradiction between Vader #3’s account of the remains of Leia’s home planet Aldaraan and the account given in the latest Star Wars novel, Life Debt: Aftermath #2.  But I REALLY want to believe that Disney’s Story Group has a firm grasp on the continuity of the new Star Wars canon.  Don’t let me down, guys!

On the bright side, Darth Vader #3 is not boring.  But let’s hope that Vader doesn’t continue to be a co-star in his own Star Wars spin-off comic series.

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** for non-fans

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Venting about the U.S. Presidential election

Photo from my Instagram Story last night:  My Jeep at the polls

America voted yesterday.  Despite Hillary Clinton winning more popular votes, Donald Trump won the electoral college... And on January 20, 2017, Trump will be inaugurated as our next President of the United States.

Photo credit:

While I won't explicitly share on Garth's Blog how I voted, it's easy math: I voted for the Presidential candidate whom I thought had the best chance of stopping the LEAST MORAL/ MOST UNQUALIFIED candidate from winning (though none of the major candidates could claim much of a moral high ground).

Specifically, my conscience wouldn't allow me to vote for a man who...

...Is endorsed by the KKK, degrades women and graphically boasts about sexually assault, makes fun of disabled people, categorizes Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists, pushes for a ban on Muslims, racially stereotypes POCs and inner city residents interchangeably, threatens to abolish relationships with our international allies, disregards the validity of the democratic voting process/ peaceful transfer of Presidential power, changes his position on abortion out of political convenience, wants to deport every undocumented alien without offering any hope for a path to citizenship, cited "Eye for an eye" as a favorite Bible verse, and doesn't even read books.

Note: I have sources for each of the above.  But the list goes on and on.

Continued below, after a couple of my tweets...

For me personally, last night seemed like a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from (or fall asleep to escape). I was shocked, discouraged, and depressed as the results of each state's votes were gradually reported live by the equally stunned cable news anchors. I wept for this country. I barely slept. And I continued to feel ill today, throughout my work shift at Delta Airlines.

Photo from my Instagram Story:  This morning's Delta breakroom was a mix of tears and cheers.

How could this have happened? My own loved ones may be direly affected by Trump's worldview and proposed policies. Woman and minorities may continue to be dismissed as second class citizens. And the United States may cut ourselves off from the nations that we should be reaching out to in cooperation for ending war, genocide, human trafficking, environmental neglect, hunger, and poverty.

Yet I do not look down upon nor judge any of my family and friends who voted differently than I did. We are all Americans.  Countless veterans have fought and died for our liberties, including choosing who will represent us in government.  And I am thankful for these freedoms.

Tonight in my youth group teaching, I challenged my students to support candidates whose lives look the most like Jesus Christ (Without even hinting about which Presidential candidate I voted for last night). I will be lifting up President-elect Trump in my prayers. I have hope for the future of this country, and for our world. And I am encouraged by the assurance that God still reigns on His throne.

Regardless of any election results, love and peace will ultimately win!