Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cat Diary Special Edition: 2013 Recap and Happy Holidays

Christmas HMtC

Since you haven’t heard from me in more than a year, and Jo, or Pepca, or whatever she likes to call herself these days –

you know, she does the same to me; she calls me Mitzi instead of Pumpkin or gives me lovely nicknames such as ‘little thing’ or ‘naughty’. *hisses*. Anyway, I digress, I beg your pardon –

well, since my mistress/servant girl is busy with holiday preparations and other things, I thought I could give you this year’s highlights.

I can say I have been very happy with this year as it has been sufficiently lazy and peaceful for me, and I have accomplished some things which make me proud:

  • after years of persistent and courageous fighting for it, I have secured my right to sleep on the living room couch. Ha!
  • I exercised my right to freedom and treated myself to a nice half-day excursion in the neighbourhood on a sunny autumn day, just to show Jo I am an independent and confident cat. Of course I came back, I’m not so stupid as to abandon the safety and luxury of my palace, duh.
  • I have started inspecting Jo’s bookshelves on regular basis, making sure they are dusted and the books are properly categorised.

Now, let me tell you about what Jo has accomplished in 2013:

  • loads of volunteering and tutoring and copy-editing a lot (which made me whiny because she wasn’t that much at home and I was lonely. But she has made up by it by cuddling and letting me do what I rightfully can, see above.)
  • reading a total of 6 books, two of which were rereads; *tut-tuts*
  • also reading a lot, and I mean A LOT, of fan-fiction, at twice as much as ‘original’ books;
  • learning a ton about photo- and video-editing;
  • writing a lot of fan-fiction (comparable to a length of a novel, now you see where her blogging and reading time has gone);
  • and she has survived all the financial and health problems and other turbulences of life. And that’s a real accomplishment.

How have you been this year? Well, we hope.

What else is left to say at the end?

Nothing much, except that both

Cat signature      
 
&     Jo


wish you a

Merry Christmas

and Happy Holidays!

And if you don’t celebrate anything, just have a great week!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bout-of-Books 9.0 Coming Soon

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 6th and runs through Sunday, January 12th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 9.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Of course, I’m joining, why do you ask? What better way to start a new (reading) year than with Bout-of-Books is there? And if I did all the previous ones (more or less successfully), it really wouldn’t do to miss it, would it?

Besides, I need it to kick off my reading in 2014 well so it might go better than it has gone in 2013 (which really shouldn’t be that hard to top, lol.)

Need a boost for your reading and have fun while at it, meeting lovely people and finding great blogs? Join in! You can sign-up here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

NOTE: This post contains SPOILERS if you haven’t seen the movie and/or read the book.

the hobit 2SUMMARY (from IMDB): The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring.

MY OPINION:

I have mixed feelings about the adaptations of Tolkien’s work. On one hand, the Tolkien nerd in me is irritated by the things they unnecessarily alter or add in the films. On the other hand, the films themselves are state-of-the-art, both visually and storytelling-wise, and if they bring Tolkien’s work closer to new readers, so much the better.

If I do some nit-picking, I can easily find things that annoyed me:

  • the mix-up with Bold and Azog which has already appeared in The Unexpected Journey is what bothered me the most as there was absolutely no need for it;
  • the Dwarves actually running from Beorn was a redundant addition, there only for the sake of drama, I guess;
  • Bilbo getting caught by a spider was done for the same reason, I think; and
  • the same goes for the Orcs following the Dwarves through Mirkwood to the Elf-realm and Esgaroth and keeping on attaching them;
  • Why on Earth did they think adding a weird love triangle between Tauriel, Legolas and Kili was a good idea?
  • Naming one of the guards in the Elf-realm Elros – I’m pretty sure there would be no two Elroses in Tolkien’s universe (Tolkien of course doesn’t say that explicitly, but as Elros, brother of Elrond, is a character of extreme importance, I don’t think there would be another one, unless the wood Elves named someone after him to honour his memory. See, I said I was nit-picking.)
  • Oh, and I hated Kili getting wounded and Fili and Bofur staying with him in Esgaroth, it was completely out of place, but they needed it to showcase more of Tauriel’s fighting skills and her healing skills, oh and because of the love triangle which angered me to no extent.
  • Gandalf going to check the Witch-Kings tomb didn’t make sense since the Wraith-king was supposed to have vanished from the North, not die, anyway, but they already made a mess of that plot element in the first film with the Witch-King’s blade.

However, if I look at the film adaptations as some sort of fan-fiction, then all the above things aren’t that terrible; they are just a twist to the story, an alternate universe of the canon, if you want.

Furthermore, there are other alterations and additions which I actually liked, even if they don’t originate in The Hobbit itself, but were incorporated from other Tolkien’s work, such as:

  • Gandalf meeting Thorin in Bree and
  • Gandalf searching Dol Guldur to reveal Sauron’s true identity are both mentioned in the LOTR and I liked that they included those events here.
  • Tauriel – I loved her, though she’s not in Tolkien’s works, and his Elf-women are more stay-at-home types (except Luthien and Galadriel, of course, or maybe we just think that. Tolkien does not say they were forbidden to fight or anything, he just doesn’t mention them, maybe it’s just our in-built patriarchal reasoning we base our assumptions on.) Anyway, Tauriel is super kickass, self-reliant and compassionate, and with a moral integrity of her own, and all of it makes a great character. If only they left the love triangle out of it.
  • I liked how they portrayed Thranduil, very in-character both as far as Thranduil himself is concerned and as Elf-lords in general: somewhat greedy and arrogant, but also dignified and essentially good (though we haven’t seen that yet).
  • Thorin actually telling Bilbo to steal the Arkenstone and Smaug figuring it out and telling Bilbo he would maybe let him take it, even if only to see Thorin destroyed by it, and later Bilbo figuring out how the greed for it is already destroying Thorin was inconsistent with the book, but it achieved the same effect as is done in the book by other means, so I’m fine with it. (And I bet we’ll get a flashback to Bilbo actually taking the Arkenstone in The Battle of Five Armies, or he will steal it later, at least he should, if they are sticking to the book as they should.)
  • The Dwarves fighting Smaug is not in the book, either, but it looked great.
  • Smaug. CGI well done. That’s all I’m saying.

Despite the length, two and a half hours went by fast. Though, I was bored a bit during the action sequences. Am I the only person who gets bored by action? All that fighting and improbable saves and moves and jumps and falls the heroes get unscathed out don’t work for me – or maybe the fact that too much happens too fast overwhelms my brain and I just zone out for a while.

All in all, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was a great film and I enjoyed it.

4,5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you enjoy fantasy and adventure, you will like this film. As for Tolkien fans, if you can give the film a bit of a leeway with the adaptations made, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is well-worth seeing. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Virtual Advent Tour 2013: Christmas Cards

Virtual Advent #2 In the spirit of the season, I am participating in 2013 Virtual Advent Tour, hosted by Kailana from The Written World and Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. Head over to Advent Blog Tour to see the schedule and visit other participants’ posts.

One of the things I used to always look forward to as a child was getting Christmas Cards. When I was little, my family didn’t have a phone and there was no internet yet, so visiting people in person or writing were the only way of communication, and we only wrote when it was something urgent.

Christmas time was that one time of the year when we heard from distant relatives and friends, a sign that we were all still alive and thinking of each other, even if the distance, work, money issues or illness prevented us from visiting each other.

A week or two before Christmas we would sent out our Christmas cards and at the same time started anticipating the arrival of Christmas cards others had sent to us. It was really exciting, especially for me as a child – it was as much about greetings as about pretty images – and all the way till my late teens. Each card was carefully read and we proudly displayed them all on the cutlery drawer for a few weeks.

Things have changed since then, and staying in touch with people is easy with mobile phones and via the Internet, but sending and receiving Christmas cards remains a tradition close to my heart, even though I have abandoned it for the past few years due to financial problems (postage is more expensive then calling a person or sending an e-card), but I hope to resurrect the tradition some day (that is, if other people don’t abandon it entirely.)

Until then, I will keep up the tradition of sending holiday greetings via other means of communication and from time to time I will perhaps look through the old Christmas cards I have saved, with the picturesque winter- and holiday-themed imagery, much similar to the few examples below.
What about you? Is sending/getting Christmas cards one of your holiday traditions? Or have you switched to the electronic means of sending out holiday greetings?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

SUMMARY (from Goodreads): 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

MY OPINION:

I read The Book Thief soon after when it was first published, but I decided to reread it this year as there is a movie coming out in spring. As all my reading recently, it went slowly, but I thoroughly enjoyed rereading this jewel among WW II stories.

What makes The Book Thief stand out from other books in the genre is its greatest strength – or vice, depends on whom you ask – that is, its narrator and writing style. The Book Thief is narrated by Death, which results in a unique writing style with little lists, narrator’s notes and digressions from the main story. Whereas I can easily understand this can make it hard for some people to get into the story, I loved this style in this particular book.

The language is beautiful, and there are so many truths said about history, life and human race in general, put in such an elaborate manner that it is hard to pick just a few favourite quotes from it.

Zusak captured Death in a way that I believe could fit her perfectly. Yes, I wrote her, because in Slovene tradition Death is a female, an old lady with a scythe, and Death’s personality as depicted in the book fits my preconception of Death as such so well that I subconsciously went along with it, despite being aware of Death being a man in Germanic culture, and I was from time to time surprised by the reminders that Death is actually supposed to be male.

As for the main protagonist, Liesel, her story is full of tragedy, but also hope, happiness, and, of course, mischief. It is a story of growing up in a difficult era, and is as such both beautiful and sad, suspenseful and funny. I could say a lot about how it touched me and which parts I especially enjoyed or found important, but I don’t wont to spoil the book for you, so I won’t.

Other characters are portrayed just as vividly and diversely as Liesel, which adds to the richness of The Book Thief's world. There are numerous characters worthy of mention, from Rudy to various townspeople, though the ones that had the most impact one her life were her foster parents, who, with their opposing personalities, provided Liesel with exactly what she needed and gave her a family. Rosa, with her yelling and raw exterior and a heart of gold inside reminded me very much of my grandmother, which always makes me like a character.

Even though The Book Thief is by some standards a YA book, I would be cautious when categorising it as such due to its themes and the way they are conveyed, for Zusak doesn’t spare the reader with both physical and emotional suffering and the allusions, sometimes quite direct, even graphic, to the atrocities of the era and the mechanics of the war itself.

All in all, however, The Book Thief, is an exceptional novel, which could be enjoyed by people of different ages (perhaps, apart from young teens), depending on the individual, naturally.

5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you like historical fiction, especially WW II novels, and you are open to a somewhat unusual approach, The Book Thief might be a great book for you.

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