28 January 2015

Book Review: The Cautionary Tale of Butch Black

Title: The Cautionary Tale of Butch Black
Author: JB Maynard
Genre: Humor
Rating: 3 Stars

If you have ever worked in retail, then you will understand why this cautionary tale exists. J.B. Maynard really captures the despair of feeling stuck in a retail job that is going nowhere.

Butch Black is a dedicated employee of World-Mart. He has given ten years of his life to the company and does not want to quit. One of my favorite lines from the book is "A quitter gives up on his or her dreams in the face of complacency. A quitter gets comfortable." This mentality does not just apply to people working in retail jobs, but really to anyone who has ever felt stuck in a position and does not want to, or know how to, change.

Another favorite line is about how we become complacent. "Morale is necessary, a placebo to drown out the wasted years. People need to progress, even if it's down a road to nowhere."

This was a very quick read. It is written journal-style and it is easy to follow along with Butch's descent into madness, even if you have never worked a day in retail. There were a few technical issues that need to be worked out, but the story is there.

Full disclosure: JB Maynard is a personal friend to me and I received a Kindle copy of this book as a gift.

16 January 2015

Tolkien, the Lord of the Rings, and a (sort of) Hobbit movie review

January 3rd would have been JRR Tolkien's 123rd birthday!

I have been a fan of Tolkien since I was a teenager. I think I have read the Hobbit about a dozen times and the Lord of the Rings books at least half as many times. I used to try to re-read them every year, but I have not had the chance to do so the past few years. I have attempted The Silmarillion several times, but have not yet managed to finish that one. I also have not read most of his other work, although I do have seven more of his books waiting on my bookshelf.

The Lord of the Rings movies are among my favorite movies of all time. I saw each one in the theatre for the first time at a midnight line party (and yes, I did dress up) and then saw each of them at least five times. I have had countless marathons, of the theatrical and the extended editions. I spent my New Year's Day watching the extended editions of Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. I would have watched Return of the King as well, but a friend came over, so I had to watch it the following day instead. It still counts as a marathon! (I admit that I read that in Gimli's voice). Despite the liberties the Peter Jackson took with the movies, I think they are very well done and they just grab me. I become emotionally invested in the movies, crying in the same places every time, even though I know what is going to happen. I also still discover new things with each viewing. To me, the movies are timeless. The music is as well. I even walked down the aisle to "Concerning Hobbits" and our first dance was to Enya's "Only Time." I still get chills when I hear "The White Tree." The LOTR is MY fandom, and I have the totes full of action figures and collectables to prove it. My house bears decor of plates mounted on swords, of mounted weapons, and of statues. I am not ashamed to admit I have the theatrical DVDs, the extended edition DVDs, the original movie scores, and the extended edition movie scores.

When I heard that, after years of legal issues and other problems, that the Hobbit movies were finally going to be made and that Peter Jackson was going to direct them, I was absolutely ecstatic. I anxiously awaited all news and information about the movies. When I heard that PJ was going to split the book into two movies, I was a bit concerned, but I still trusted his judgement so I did not think too much about it. Then it turned into three movies, and that had me scratching my head a bit. The book is barely 300 pages - that is 100 pages a movie! But I know how detailed PJ can be, so I decided not to judge until I had the chance to see the movies.

I bought my tickets for the first showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the day they went on sale. That was when movie theatres and studios were trying to attract more people to early showings, so the movie actually started at 10 PM, not at midnight. I still arrived at the theatre more than two hours early, expecting there to be a line party or at least some activities happening. Nope, just a few people in the theatre, and I do not even remember anyone being in costume. I brought my well-read copy of the book with me and proceeded to read it while waiting for the movie to start, which was really my biggest mistake. With the book being so fresh in my mind, I could not help but nit-pick the entire movie as I watched. I did not enjoy the movie at all and I left the theatre extremely disappointed. However, my husband, who had at that point attempted to read the book several times without success, was not as hard on the movie as I was, so when the Blu Ray was released, we added it to our collection. I did, however, enjoy the score (which I had also pre-ordered but did not listen to until after I saw the movie).

I still followed news about the second movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I like tradition, so when the tickets went on sale, I again bought them. This time the early showing was 8 PM. I did not bother getting to the theatre early, which was fine because I guess line parties are a thing of the past and no one likes to dress in costume for movies anymore. I did not make the mistake of rereading the book so that I would have a less biased opinion of the movie. I ended up leaving the theatre even more pissed off this time. I could understand PJ "adding" characters from Tolkien's cannon into the LOTR trilogy, but creating a character for the sake of creating a character was a bit too much for me. Also, the first movie was pretty close to 100 pages of text. The second movie was closer to 150 pages. What did that leave for the final movie? Since I started the Blu Ray collection, I did buy the movie, but I did not even open it. I did not even bother buying the score, although I think the music was probably the best part of the movie.

Now I only had a passing interest in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Of course I was going to see it. I had to see how it ended. The date of the presale tickets came and went. Granted, I was sick and knew I was likely going to have surgery, but I was in no rush to buy tickets. I did not even technically buy the tickets. I bought two $25 Red Robin gift cards and registered each of them, which gave me two free vouchers for tickets to see the movie. I finally watched both movies again (a mini-marathon!) shortly after Christmas. I was feeling better, so on New Year's Eve I printed my vouchers and went to my second-choice theatre. I tried to keep an open mind, but I could not shut off my brain. Why was Legolas even in this movie? And why the heck did PJ feel the need to invent a dwarf-elf romance? Dwarves, Elves, Men, Orcs - where is the fifth army that is IN THE TITLE OF THE MOVIE (BTW, that would be the Wolves)? There were just so many things wrong with the movie that I could not enjoy it. I did like the score. Again. So I will probably purchase both scores eventually. And I am sure I will buy the Blu Ray when it is released just to complete the collection. But to me, the series just did not live up to my expectations.

There are a few things about the Hobbit Trilogy that I did enjoy (besides the music). I loved Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. After Ian Holmes in the LOTR Trilogy, I did not think I would like anyone else as Bilbo, but I was wrong. In the book, I absolutely hated Thorin from the very beginning. In the movies, Richard Armitage brought out a side of Thorin that I actually wanted to like (and kind of did the first two movies). Honestly, the acting was great all around. The breathtaking landscapes reminded me that New Zealand is still on my bucket list of places to visit. Preferably in the very near future. Like, I was seriously looking at travel information for Australia and New Zealand for 2016.

The Hobbit movies may not become an annual movie marathon tradition like the LOTR movies. Maybe one day I will be crazy enough to have a Hobbit/LOTR weekend. I do not care that the Hobbit also has extended editions (because at least for LOTR, PJ was up front about extended editions being released so people could wait to buy those and not be blindsided). If Peter Jackson decides to direct any more Middle Earth movies (the Silmarillion!?) of course I will be at the theatre, just maybe not at the earliest showing

Just kidding, I will probably buy the presale tickets the day they do on sale.

06 January 2015

Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rating: 4 Stars

I enjoyed the book, but I did not like it as much as Anna. I just could not relate to Lola the same way I related to Anna. I also wasn't really a fan of Cricket. Or their relationship. I did not care if they ended up together. In fact, I thought Lola was kind of a brat. I did find her talks to the moon very endearing though. I did enjoy seeing glimpses of Anna and Etienne in this book. I thought it was a well written story. I enjoyed the glimpses into San Francisco, which felt familiar because I was just there in October. I even went to the Japanese tea garden where Lola and Max had a date.

05 January 2015

Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my birthday. I am 34 years old. I don't really feel it yet. I am grateful to be celebrating another birthday, especially since I was so sick toward the end of last year.

 When I was a kid, having a birthday so soon after Christmas sucked because 1) I was often lumped into the "here is your Christmas AND your birthday present" group and 2) we were usually still on Christmas break so I did not get to have big birthday parties (also this was hampered by the fact that I lived on a Navy base). As I get older, however, I like to think of my birthday as an extension of New Year's. I am not one to make "New Year's Resolutions" because I think we always have the opportunity to better ourselves. Also, I love the "101 Things in 1001 Days" project and am driven more by that than by the date on the calendar.

But I do like to think of new things to do every year. One year, I thought about how, even though I travel, I do not really do a lot of "touristy" things in my own state of Florida. Not just the theme parks, I do visit those often enough. But the museums, the historical sites, and all of the places I like to visit when I am in a new city. So I made it a point to try to think of my state like a tourist and decide where I wanted to go. I was pleasantly surprised by some of quality museums, particularly in the Tampa Bay area.

 This year, I was thinking that I really do not explore the outdoors enough. I live in an area called the Nature Coast, and while I take advantage of the local waterways by both kayak and speedboat, I really do not do enough camping, hiking, or other exploring. I think I will challenge myself this year to see more state parks (I have a state park in my hometown that I have never even visited) as well as other local parks. I want to throw the kayaks into the truck and find a new place to launch. I would like to take the boat out later in the evening and see a sunset on the water, because really, how have I NOT done that yet? I paid for a SCUBA class, as soon as I am healthy enough I am going to get certified so that I can explore more under the water.

Yesterday I decided to spend my birthday at Homosassa Springs State Park. I have been there before, but I thought it was the perfect place to kick off my resolution. I brought the wheelchair with me, but I did manage to walk the entire park (with a few sitting breaks). I only saw one manatee in the river, but I watched it for about 15-20 minutes just enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, the sunshine, and being outside for so long for the first time in weeks.

02 January 2015

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2014 Book Year in Review and 2015 Goals

Books Read in 2014: 24
Goal: 50 Books
First Book Read in 2014: Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Last Book Read in 2014: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
# of Books with 5-Star Reviews: 5
# of Books with 4-Star Reviews: 11
# of Books with 3-Star Reviews: 8
Total Pages Read: 9495

 5-Star Books:
Cress by Marissa Meyer
Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I was not very good at reading books OR writing reviews in 2014. As much as I love to read, I guess I just do not enjoy writing about them as much as I thought I would.

I do not make a lot of resolutions, but I do try to set reading goals for myself. I have been aiming for 50 books a year for the past few years, but I have yet to reach that goal. Something always ends up getting in the way. So, for 2015, I decided to give myself the much more manageable goal of 30 books. I am on the right track, already having read one book. So yay for me!

As for the blog, I plan on writing more, but it may not always be book reviews. 2014 started off great, and many awesome things happened in 2014. But the two months of the year were just plain awful and for the first time in a very long time I was actually happy to see the new year. The first thing I need to write about will be those two months. "And it's been a long December and there is reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last" (Counting Crows - A Long December).

 I also have some ongoing projects that I need to comment on, such as 101 in 1001 Days. I am nearing the end of my second cycle and am excited about making new goals for the next 1001 days.

 I want to start writing about my travels, both past and upcoming.

I just need to get into the habit of writing again. Period.

01 January 2015

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss

Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rating: 5 Stars

I was hesitant to read this book. partly because of the hype and partly because I do not read much contemporary YA. This book surprised me in so many ways. I was immediately drawn into the story and could easily relate to Anna. I loved "discovering" Paris with her. I have not been to Paris (yet) although I have been to France, so reading brought back memories of my own travels and discoveries. I always wanted to study abroad and never had the chance in high school or college. Knowing that Stephanie Perkins spent time in Paris to write this book made me think that maybe I could still have the opportunity to spend time in another city just to write about it. But back to Anna's story. I loved watching her not only fall in love, but as cheesy as it sounds, I loved it when she found herself. I even loved the moment she realized that she understood French! I took French in high school and college, and both times I was in France it still felt so foreign to me to hear and speak. I thought the book was well-written. It sounded "young" without sounding annoying. I will definitely be reading more books by Stephanie Perkins this year.