February 2016 Financial Challenge

The Lifehacker challenge for this month is “Haggle Your Bills”.  I basically did this challenge in January as well by calling my cable company to get a better rate (and an upgrade to boot), and technically lowering my cell phone bill by a few dollars as well (not much wiggle room there).

The other items suggested for possible haggling don’t concern me that much.  They suggest looking at credit cards, rent, gym membership, and car insurance.  A couple of these don’t really apply, like the credit cards and the gym membership.  The others are ones that I’m happy with the rates I have.

So, for February I’m going to challenge myself to keep up with tracking my spending.  I technically started this in January, but usually it’s about a month in that it falls apart for me.  I think just being aware of my spending will help me to cut back where I’m excessive, and help me understand if I’m living outside of my means.

I’ll check back in at the end of the month with an update.

January 2016 Financial Challenge

I opted to participate in a financial challenge that I found through LifeHacker for the month of January.  The challenge was to spend no money on restaurants, and instead put that money in a savings account.

I didn’t do great, but I don’t think I did all that horribly either.  Although, I did not put the money in savings because I had some other things come through that had to be paid.  Going into this I knew that there would be at least one exemption, my book club meets monthly at a restaurant.  And I didn’t know about the challenge until the 2nd or 3rd, and had gone out to eat on the 1st.  So there’s two strikes.  I think I got two more before the month was out.  My breakdown is as follows:

January 1st – Chik-fil-A with friends
January 12th – Amphora – Book Club
January 17th – Hard Rock Cafe with family
January 18th – Papa John’s – to feed family
January 27th – Cafe at work (I overcooked my lunch)

So I ended up spending about $130 eating out (with two of those being for more than just myself).  My tracking has not been great, so I’m not sure what my typical amount for eating out is.  I’m not sure if I saved much money or not, really.  I would like to update my tracking and try this challenge again when I have a better baseline to compare it to.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did actually eat out quite a bit more than this.  These, however, were the only times I had to pay and since this was a financial challenge I wasn’t worried about the eating out part, just about the my paying to eat out part.

So, I didn’t miss eating out, but that’s because I didn’t really stop eating out.  I think I saved some money, but I didn’t stress much about not sticking more closely to the challenge either.

Bottom line: I could have done better at this challenge.

Alice in Zombieland

She won’t rest until she’s sent every walking corpse back to its grave.  Forever.

Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed.  From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined?  Please.  But that’s all it took.  One heartbeat.  A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone.

Her father was right.  The monsters are real.

To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead.  To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland.  But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn’t careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies.

Yes, there are zombies.  Yes, there are elements of Alice in Wonderland.  No, this is not Alice in Wonderland with zombies thrown in.  Although a book like that does exist (Alice in Zombieland by Nickolas Cook – I don’t recommend it). 

Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

Gena Showalter has put a fresh spin on zombies and Alice, much to my delight.  I originally found this book, after reading the other Alice in Zombieland, and picked it up hoping that it would be more of the book I wanted to read, rather than the one I actually read (can you tell I was not impressed?).  This time, I wasn’t let down. 

Although it’s based on Alice in Wonderland to a degree, I’ll be honest with you – I can’t pick out most of the counterparts.  Obviously, there’s Alice.  Her best friend is Kat, so that one wasn’t hard.  And then, at least in my mind, Cole is the Hatter.  Other than that I’m not sure who would be who.  And the really great part is that it doesn’t matter.  This is a story built on its own foundations, and even if you had never heard of Alice in Wonderland, it would still hold up. 

The zombies are even better.  They’re not your typical undead-eat flesh-shambling killing machines.  In Alice’s world, most people can’t see zombies and have no idea they even exist.  These zombies exist in the spirit world, which makes for an interesting way of dealing with and fighting them.  People in the physical world are still in danger, only they have no idea what that danger is.  Alice and her friends are a group of slayers, who have the ability to fight the zombies in their natural habitat.  This ability is something that, while not rare, is also not rampant among the population and sets them apart.

Alice in Zombieland is also a young adult novel, so the main characters are all teenagers.  With teenagers comes a certain degree of angst, but it’s handled well here.  I also find it believable for the most part, rather than overblown.  The teenagers act like teenagers, but they’re still fully realized people.  Being a teenager is only one aspect of their lives, and the typical tropes aren’t taking over the story even if they do show up. That being said, I do have a couple of things that I’m not fond of.  The story is set in modern day, and therefore the teenagers text – with all the abbreviations and acronyms and what not that is probably 100% typical.  However, I can’t stand it.  I almost physically cringe when I read over the texts with too many 2’s and U’s.  My other issue is the reinforcement of how “bad” the bad boys are.  Not only do they look mean, but they have tattoos, and piercings, and more.  It’s driven home and I feel we don’t need so many reminders.  It is told from the point of view of a teenage girl though, so I guess maybe it’s to be expected.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Alice in Zombieland, and I’m excited to see how the story continues in Through the Zombie Glass.  Actually, I’ve already started reading it!   

Jurassic World vs. Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

I went to the theater and saw Jurassic World with my nephew not long after it came out.  When we were leaving he asked me what I thought of it, and I replied with something akin to “It’s not Jurassic Park.”  He scoffed at me, as teenagers do, and we continued on our way.  I had trouble explaining to my nephew just what it was that was off for me, I just knew it wasn’t Jurassic Park.  I didn’t have the same feelings watching Jurassic World as I did with Jurassic Park.

Later, I went and saw Jurassic World again with my best friend, and at the end of the movie asked her what she thought and related the above anecdote.  She asked me what I meant, and I kind of thought here we go again, since I’d already had trouble explaining this difference once.  However, she understood what I was trying to explain, and was able to sum it up nicely.  Jurassic Park is a suspense movie, and Jurassic World is an action movie. 

When I heard her say that I exclaimed “Exactly!” That was the difference I was trying to put my finger on, and couldn’t quite articulate.  Part of the problem for me was that I don’t think I’d ever tried to categorize Jurassic Park.  When explaining it I described the sense of tension I felt throughout the movie, and that’s what lead to the categorization of a suspense movie. 

Jurassic_World_poster.jpg

Now, all that being said, even though I didn’t have a concise categorization of Jurassic World, I enjoyed it much more the second time through.  I knew what to expect and I wasn’t going in thinking it would have the same kind of feel as Jurassic Park.  Chris Pratt as Owen Grady is easily the best part of Jurassic World.  I also liked Lowery (who I thought was named Larry until I caught his name in the credits after the second viewing). 

My favorite dinosaurs were the Velociraptors, made even better since Owen trained them and the “raptor pack” was able to be born.  The “big bad” dinosaur, Indominus Rex, wasn’t bad.  She had some cool abilities, but I feel some of the awe and scariness was lost in the way she interacted with the people and the environment.  I felt there was a lot more  general destruction, rather than hunting.  

Both movies are a lot of fun, but for me Jurassic Park is definitely the winner. 

Morrigan’s Cross

Morrigan’s Cross is the first in The Circle Trilogy by Nora Roberts, and like all good beginnings, we’re introduced to the major characters.  This set of books happens to have six, but the first and foremost is a gentleman named Hoyt.  He is the central figure of the book, and is referred to as a “serious man” in earnest and in jokes.   That’s a pretty accurate description of him.   Hoyt is a sorcerer from 12th century Ireland, who gets pulled forward in time to battle Lilith, the vampire queen.   This makes his character feel out of place for most of the book, some of which is to be expected, but I’m hoping that in the second book he will have become more comfortable in his own skin.

Morrigan's Cross book coverHoyt is tasked with finding the other members that will make up the circle for the fight to come.  We meet each of these characters, as they’re introduced throughout the book.  Each of these six main characters has a part to play in the coming story.  During this book they’re all trying to learn what that role is and how to interact with each other.  As this progresses into the second book I expect we’ll see that they play larger parts than just the role initially assigned to them.

A lot happens in this first book; time travel, death, a wedding, fights, and with so many characters involved there’s the worry that the story will become overly complicated and lose the reader.  That didn’t happen here.  Even for all the action and interaction of the characters, it was easy to keep up with which made for an enjoyable read.

This is the first novel by Nora Roberts I’ve read, and I have to admit that I was originally a little biased towards her and  thought I might not enjoy her work.  In my mind Nora Roberts was pegged squarely in the romance category, and not in a good way.  I can’t really explain where that notion came from, but I’m glad that I have the chance to revisit my opinion.

A friend of mine gave this trilogy to me as a Christmas present, and proved my initial conception wrong.  It was definitely a good choice to spark my interest, as it falls into my favorite genres of books – fantasy and the supernatural.   I was eager to know what would happen to the characters, and how the story would unfold.  Yes, there’s still some romance in here, but the characters and the plot drive this book, not just the romantic interactions.   I became invested in the book, and now I can’t wait to read the next two in the trilogy.   I have another Nora Roberts trilogy that was given to me as well, and it’s now gotten a higher spot in my to read list.

Next up is The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi for the book club I’m in.  After that I’ll be back to read the second book in The Circle Trilogy.

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