Book Review: The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer

When I found out Stephenie Meyer had written a new book, I turned to Tom and told him I had to read it.

“Why would you do that to yourself?” he asked.

“Because the worst case scenario is I have something to rant about on my blog.”

He then agreed that I needed to read the book.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this because the worst case scenario has indeed transpired.

I feel the need to add a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a complete Stephenie hater. Her writing is pleasant and unobjectionable, and she does know how to tell an interesting story. I enjoyed several of the Twilight books for what they were, and I quite liked The Host. Obviously the Twilight series has some serious problems, but my main beef with Stephenie has always been the contemptuous way she treats her fans (don’t get me started on Life and Death, alrighty?). So when I heard she had written an actual book again, especially one with a title like The Chemist (in case you didn’t know, I used to be one of them chemistry types), I couldn’t resist giving her another chance.

Now, having read the thing, I’m just glad I found it at the library and didn’t actually spend any money on it.

(Fair warning: there are major spoilers in this post. In addition, this is probably the grumpiest thing I’ve written since my Hobbit posts. Also, I’mma go all pearl-clutching, Molly Mormon Utah girl on you, so if that’s not your thing, you probably oughtta skip this one. Please feel free to check out some of my other posts, like my last book review!)

***

The basic idea is that “Alex” (not her real name, but the one she goes by most consistently in the book) used to work for a shady government agency using shady chemical compounds to interrogate shady individuals. It’s all very shady. At some point her shady boss decided she knew too much but she survived the murder attempt and has been on the run ever since. After several more attempts to kill Alex, the shady organization asks her to complete one last assignment for for them, and the chance to live a normal life again is too tempting to pass up. But (shady voice) all is not as it seems™.

The really frustrating thing is that The Chemist wasn’t a completely terrible book. The plot was interesting, the writing style was fine (although you can tell Meyer is out of her element writing in third person), and Alex showed promise as an interesting narrator. There was potential for Meyer to fall back into bad habits and include yet another really awkward love triangle (identical twins, guys!), but she spared us. There wasn’t even any actual science in this book for me to cringe at (which kind of defeated the purpose of my reading it in the first place). I wanted to like this book, and I did—for the first third or so. But things went downhill fast when the romantic stuff took off.

Still a better love story than The Chemist, too.

The whole relationship is riddled with problems, starting with this gem from the main male character (Daniel…I hate that she used that name):

I see a woman who is more…real than any other woman I’ve ever met. You make every other person I’ve known seem insubstantial, somehow incomplete. Like shadows and illusions. I loved my wife, or rather–as you so insightfully pointed out while I was high–I loved my idea of who she was. I truly did. But she was never as there to me as you are. I’ve never been drawn to someone the way I am to you, and I have been from the very first moment I met you. It’s like the difference between…between reading about gravity and then falling for the first time.”

Let’s pass over the “while I was high” comment for now, but we’ll come back to it in a moment.

Girls, take note: men do not talk like this outside of really terrible romance novels. And the kind of men who do talk like this are probably not the ones you want to be dating. Edward Cullen, for example, also uses this kind of nauseatingly romantic language. I’m starting to worry that Meyer’s love language is “words of affirmation” and her husband has no idea, so she’s constantly fantasizing about attractive men telling her how luminous and intoxicating and real she is. This is not a healthy way to live your life, and it’s not a healthy way to write fiction.

What’s worse is that this conversation takes place shortly after Alex kidnaps and drugs Daniel with “a chemical compound with manifestations similar to ecstasy,” tortures him for information he doesn’t have, and essentially takes him so far out of his comfort zone that the poor guy is desperate for any sort of reassurance. Not only does Meyer create the sort of unhealthy, unequal relationship power dynamic we’re all familiar with, but it’s obvious that Daniel’s attraction to Alex is 100% adrenaline and drugs.  This is just the extreme version of my high school psychology teacher’s awful advice to the boys in our class: take the girl you like to a roller coaster park or horror movie so she’ll mistake the adrenaline rush for attraction to you.

Boys, don’t do this. Just don’t.

This is even addressed several times in the book, but Daniel blows it off quickly. No, it’s okay! I asked for your number before you drugged me, remember? We had that awkward two minutes of small talk on the train! Our love is reeeeaaaaallll!

Oh. Well, that clears everything up.

The final nail in the coffin for me is that just after a particularly gory near-death experience, Alex and Daniel engage in some poorly-concealed “adult” activities. (Actually, “poorly-concealed” isn’t accurate–she didn’t even try.) There’s nothing explicit, of course, although the scenes leading up to the act are pretty racy. This is disturbing for several reasons, not least of which is the adrenaline/attraction thing we just discussed.

(Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this blog post is not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.)

Stephenie Meyer is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So am I. As Mormons, we believe that certain practices are not only bad for individuals, but detrimental to society, and extramarital sex is one of these practices. It’s well known that Stephenie is a Mormon, and so whether she likes it or not, when she publishes her work, she is acting as an unofficial representative of the Church. It’s one thing for a Mormon author to acknowledge the fact that people in “the world” engage in these types of behaviors for the sake of realism (I personally don’t feel like you have to include sexual content to tell a good story, but what do I know?). It’s quite another to present this event as the single best decision a character has ever made in her entire life, and dwell on the life-changing “joy” she feels to the exclusion of all other consequences.

When it comes down to it, when you hear that a book was written by a Mormon author, you generally expect that book to be reasonably clean and PG-rated, which made the whole experience really unpleasant I think Breaking Dawn straddles the line between appropriate and inappropriate (especially in a YA novel)but at least Bella and Edward are married. In The Chemist, it feels like Stephenie is prancing over the line, declaring to the world that she doesn’t have to follow the rules anymore.

Well, Stephenie can do what she wants, and her fans have proven that they’re going to financially support her no matter how she treats them. She’s certainly not going to read or care about my opinion. But on the off chance that she does, here’s my message for her: Stephenie, you’re a Mormon. And with all the sisters-in-Zion love in my heart, I’m asking you to please act like it.

I speed-read the rest of the book, skimming more often than was probably necessary, but it was pretty hard to enjoy it after that. The ending was rushed and underwhelming, and if I’d been at all invested in the story, I would have felt disappointed. Overall, The Chemist gets one star from me.

And now I’m going to go scrub my brain by reading something decent.

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The 2016 GTA Year In Review

Last year it was brought to my attention that the “GTA” in my title made them think of “Grand Theft Auto.” That’s hilarious, so I’m not going to change it. Muahaha.

Anywho, here I am, late as usual, to bring my twelve fabulous readers the famous year in review post! And man, it has been a crazy-good year to review.

The Fam

This was a big year for us as a family. We bought our first house, accompanied Tom’s grandparents on an amazing, life-dream-fulfilling genealogical trip to Italy, road tripped to Corpus Christi and Big Bend National Park, and basically spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a family of three.

We also put up Christmas lights for the first time!

lights

There were definitely some hard times. We all barely survived the plague, and the other plague, and there was the time Dan got that rash and everyone was stressed and I stormed out of the house to go buy Cadbury Mini Eggs. But we made it through the hard times, and I can safely say 2016 had more good times than bad times for the fam.

The best news from this year, of course, is that we’re expecting a baby in July!

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

We’re all very excited, although Dan doesn’t really know what’s going on yet. We’ve told him there’s a baby in Mom’s tummy, and sometimes he’ll say hi to the baby. But then he’ll point to his own tummy and say “baby,” so…we’re still working on it.

The Dan

This has been a big year for Dan. He learned to walk, talk, eat foods, and basically do all the amazing thing he does.

He also met Santa.

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He wasn’t thrilled.

Dan also started Nursery this year. He had a rough time at first, as most kids do, but now he loves it—especially when they bring out the bubble machine at the end!

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One time I went to Nursery with him, and he built a barricade of trucks around me so I wouldn’t leave.

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I covered most of what there is to know about Dan in my “18 Months of Dan” post, and he’s continued to develop along the same lines. He is much better at communicating now, and learns dozens of words every day. Right now we’re working on saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” He’s a real sweetheart!

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The Tom

This has been an awesome year for Tom. He put his Italian skills to good use, got promoted twice, experienced his first turnaround, and was accepted into his first-choice online MBA program. Wow!

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Tom continues to be an amazing dad.

Oh yeah—Tom was the scruffiest I’ve ever seen him on our camping trip in November.

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Wut.

The Me

I didn’t really know what to put in this section. It’s not like I didn’t do anything in 2016—it’s just that I don’t have really good physical evidence of my accomplishments. Unlike in 2015, I didn’t get much crafting done, largely because once we moved I couldn’t find my crafting supplies/equipment.

I did, however, learn to cook a bunch of cool stuff: Dancakes, beef with broccoli, japchae, singapore rice noodles, moqueca, pot roast (now I’m a real white housewife!!!), pho (new “Elissa Cooks Stuff” coming soon!), and many other delicious foodums.

(I thought I took more pictures of my creations, but apparently they were all snapchat videos…)

As far as writing goes, I wrote about 71,841 original-fiction words this year. That’s not a lot by most writers’ standards, but considering everything else that happened this year, I’m pretty happy about it. I did participate in NaNoWriMo and win, and I’m still working on that project right now. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth writing post in the near future, so if you have any questions about my writing stuff, leave a comment!

To be honest, 2016 was pretty hard for me. We had a lot of fun adventures, but not a lot of downtime. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, and/or sick. I expected the whole family would get sick more once Dan started nursery, but for whatever reason, most of the plagues originate with me. 2017 hasn’t been much better so far, which is part of the reason this post is so late.

I’m starting to realize that I’m a real wimp when it comes to traveling. My body just doesn’t handle it very well, and it can take over a week to physically recover from a short weekend trip. And every time something unpleasant happens while traveling (like, say, Dan and I getting stomach flu in San Antonio, or a night of travel insomnia turning an ordinary case of delayed-onset muscle soreness into an out of control, fever-ridden, excruciatingly-painful nightmare), it just makes staying home and reading books sound that much more appealing.

This year I’m hoping for more relaxing family time at home, more crafting, more writing, and more delicious foods. As far as new year’s resolutions go, these seem pretty attainable.

Looking Forward to 2017

There’s a lot to be excited about in 2017! Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Dan’s 2nd birthday!
  • Dragonwatch in March!
  • Our 2nd baby in July!
  • Oathbringer in November!
  • More blogging!
  • The return of THESE GUYS!

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It’s going to be a great year!

Happy mid-January to all, and may all your times be good!

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Beef with Broccoli (Or, Elissa Kills People: Medical Lackeys)

First things first: Dan’s been under the weather this week.

He picked something up (most likely) from the kid sitting behind us at Stake Conference (affectionately known ’round these parts as “Plague Kid”), and on Tuesday he woke up with a 101.4° fever. The doctor said it was bronchiolitis, which led to a 2-hour wild goose chase around Beaumont as I tried to find him a nebulizer.

CVS: We don’t have those. You need to go to a medical supply store.
Elissa: Okay…where’s the closest one?
CVS: There’s PRN, but I don’t know where that is.
Dan: *cries*
(After a phone call to my dad and a trip across town)
PRN: We don’t take your insurance. These two places do.
Elissa: Great…do you have an address for either of those?
PRN: Nope.
Dan: *cries louder*
(After texting Tom and driving out into the sticks to Taylor Home Health)
THH: We have a nebulizer, but not the exact kind of nebulizer your doctor prescribed, so you need to get a new script. [20 minutes after I’ve phoned Dan’s doctor] They haven’t sent the script over, and we have to have it. Also, you haven’t met your deductible, so it’s going to cost you [amount]. Honestly, you can just go to King’s Pharmacy and buy one for [amount/2].
Dan: *cries even louder*
(After a 15-minute drive to King’s Pharmacy, which is just down the street from our place)
Dan’s doctor’s nurse (on the phone): Okay, so you want me to do whaaaaaat?
Elissa: *bombs every pharmacy, doctor’s office, and medical supply store in Southeast Texas*
Dan: *SCREAMS*

I did salvage a nebulizer from the smoldering wreckage of King’s Pharmacy, which was great.

On Thursday, Dan seemed to be getting worse, and we found out he also has an ear infection. Now he’s taking five different drugs, and thankfully, he seems to be improving.

Oh yeah, and I’m sick too. But I’m a mom, so I’m just dealing with it. And by dealing with it, I mean binge-watching Jane Austen movies and Duck Dynasty with Dan to keep him entertained while I die sit on the couch.

No "Mom of the Year" award for me this year.

No “Mom of the Year” award for me this year.

The same day we found out about the ear infection, Dan’s pediatrician called to say that, according to his blood test results, he’s mildly anemic. It never rains but it pours.

But, that brings us to the real subject of today’s post. It seems like we probably need more red meat around the place! And coincidentally, Tom’s been bugging me to make beef with broccoli forever! So let’s do this!

***

I’ve never been a big beef fan, but this stuff is delicious. The trick to making good beef with broccoli is using Chinese barbecue sauce. You can find it at any decent Asian grocery store.

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And in case you’re wondering: no, it’s not very much like American barbecue sauce.

Mmmm, brill fish.

Mmmm, brill fish.

I’d never made this dish before, but it’s pretty straightforward. I used, roughly, the procedure in this recipe, but dude—skip the stir fry sauce. Use the barbecue sauce instead.

As before, I was supervised by the illustrious Chef Dan.

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“Don’t try to distract me with this cracker! Get back to work!”

 

I used this stuff to marinate the beef.

I used this stuff to marinate the beef.

 

Cookin some broccoli!

Cookin’ some broccoli!

Beef in the pan

Beef in the pan

I’m typically not really good at thickening sauces, but we pulled through.

Is it supposed to look like that?

Is it supposed to look like that?

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That’s better!

The finished product turned out quite beautifully.

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And now for the scoring:

Taste: Excellent!

Ease of preparation: Very easy. This one is definitely going into the regular rotation.

Ease of cleanup: No complaints here.

Will Tom eat it?: The first words out of his mouth were, “This is good junk!” I think we can give this a yes!

Will Dan eat it?: Nope. Chef Daniel was not impressed. He tried a little bit of pureed beef mixed with rice porridge, and it didn’t go over well.

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Oh well. We’ll cut him some slack—he’s had a rough week.

Overall evaluation: Woohoo! I’m very pleased with how this turned out, and excited that I can decently replicate it. It might even turn me into a beef lover. Who knows?

Happy eating!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Farm Animals

People have been asking me to review The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (BotFA) since it came out last December. However, we’d decided not to see it in theaters. Since it came out on DVD at the end of March and Dan was born in early April (we actually tried to use the movie to send me into labor, but it didn’t work), a timely blog post just wasn’t going to happen. This weekend we were bored and Redbox had a copy, so here we are.

We did put our youngest Tolkien fan to bed before we got started, to protect his innocent mind.

"No, Mom! Not another Hobbit movie!"

“No, Mom! Not another Hobbit movie!” I know, son. I know.

I watched BotFA with very, very low expectations, so I have to admit I didn’t work up as much rage this time around. I was able to appreciate the few things Peter Jackson did well and laugh at the absurdity of it all. So, for this blog post, we’re going to look at the good, the bad, and the ridiculous.

The Good

Like its prequels, BotFA had some redeeming qualities. It was probably worth $1.50.

As always, Martin Freeman is the best part of the movie. I liked nearly every scene Bilbo was in: his interactions with Thorin were great; the acorn scene was cute; the negotiation scene with Bard and Thranduil was well done. You know what would have been great? Tolkien should have just written a book about Bilbo and cut out all that other nonsense. Oh wait…

Sorry, this is supposed to be the positive section. *ahem*

Next on the “stuff that wasn’t terrible” list: This guy.

Dain_Ironfoot

I liked Dain a lot. He comes riding in with his dwarf army and his battle pig (more on that later) and makes it clear that he won’t take any crap from Gandalf  or Thranduil or anyone else. You know what? Just watch it.

Then he leads his army to face down the orcs while the pansy Elves just stand there and watch. Thranduil probably wouldn’t have done anything if he hadn’t been afraid to look bad in front of a bunch of dwarves. Git ‘er done, Dain!

Also, his favorite method of fighting involves headbutting orcs. That’s pretty hardcore. Ironfoot? More like IronHEAD!

I’ll address all the exotic battle steeds used in this movie in the “Ridiculous” section, but the most heart-wrenching part of this movie is definitely the moment when the battle pig goes down. Rest in peace, noble creature.

Finally, the movie’s ending wasn’t bad. We finally get some closure as to Gandalf’s knowledge of the ring, Bilbo finds all his neighbors bidding on his stuff, and the final scene ties this movie in with The Fellowship of the Ring. It was simple, it was sweet, and it worked. This could have been the ending to the Hobbit movie I always wanted.

***

Now, I know you’re all here to see me angrily rip this movie apart. Never fear, dear readers. There’s plenty of that coming up.

The Bad

Oh, there was plenty of bad to go around. I ended up with six pages of notes on what was wrong with this movie. Let’s jump right in!

Dol Guldur

First, let’s talk about the assault on Dol Guldur.

really wanted to like this scene. I was looking forward to it long before the first Hobbit movie came out. It wasn’t all bad—Elrond’s outfit was pretty awesome. But beyond that, things were extremely disappointing.

Courtesy of NervousPearl

“You should’ve stayed dead”? That’s your epic line? What kind of Elf are you? Who’s writing this stuff?
(Courtesy of NervousPearl)

First of all, Gandalf is still in his cage. According to movie canon, there’s no reason why he should be out of the cage, necessarily, but it brought back all these unpleasant memories from The Desolation of Smaug. Sigh. Then Galadriel comes in, and you know things are about to get weird.

By the way—what’s with the implied weird romantic subplot involving Gandalf and Galadriel? Why do they keep touching each other like that? Are we all supposed to just forget that Galadriel is a married woman and has a 2700-year-old granddaughter?

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Galgandalfkiss

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Yuuuuuuuuuck.

But wait—it gets worse. Not only does Galadriel spend the first half of the battle cradling Gandalf in her arms and ignoring the fighting, but when she does get involved, she transforms into the evil swamp hag.

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Wut

Peter Jackson, you do realize that the Elven rings aren’t evil, right? Sauron had no contact with them, ever. In fact, I’m pretty sure when Celebrimbor hid them from Sauron, he thought, “I’ve got to keep these safe so their bearers don’t become evil swamp hags when they try to use them.” Elves are pretty clever that way.

And of course, the rabbit sled makes an appearance. I guess it wouldn’t be a Hobbit movie without it, but can’t we let it die already?

Anyway, the whole scene lasts about 8 minutes, and probably makes the top 50 most disappointing 8-minute segments of my life.

Tauriel and Legolas

Tauriel continues to drag these movies further down into the muck. She contributes nothing positive, and because she’s around, Legolas has to be around, too. Any scene with either Legolas or Tauriel was painful to watch. Starting with this one:

Oh, Legolas. First of all, how did you think this was going to end? Tauriel defied an (admittedly boneheaded) order from Thranduil, and you tagged along after her. And she was already in the doghouse—of course she’s going to be banished.

Second, the whole “If there is no place for Tauriel, there is no place for me” thing made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Persistence

To be fair, Legolas spends very little time mooning over Tauriel for the rest of the movie. But that leaves the two of them without a lot to do, as Tauriel’s improbable dwarven love interest is busy hanging out with his bros in the Lonely Mountain. You can’t leave the fangirls without Orlando Bloom for that long, so Lego and Tauriel take a pointless vacation to Gundabad and discover the orc army there.

Why is it pointless, you ask? Because it has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the final battle. How could it? Legolas’ and Tauriel’s warning about this Gundabad army doesn’t exist in the book, and yet somehow, the good guys still win.

Furthermore, with his characteristic laziness, Peter Jackson doesn’t even attempt to make it look like Tauriel and Legolas contributed anything important with this discovery. They warn Bilbo, Bilbo warns Thorin on Ravenhill, Thorin tells Dwalin to call Fili and Kili, and before Dwalin can do anything, the orcs show up and off Fili. As far as I can tell from this jumbled-up, illogical sequence of orc-stabbing scenes, they didn’t provide their information early enough to prevent anything or change the course of the battle at all.

While we’re talking about nonsensical action sequences, Tom wishes me to mention that no piece of masonry would ever act like this:

(Okay, I guess Legolas and Tauriel do kill some important things in that part. They’re still completely unnecessary.)

Let’s move on. Tauriel’s greatest offense continues to be her awkward, improbable romance with Kili. Worse than their awkward flirtations are her whiny, pubescent conversations with Thranduil on the subject. I swear these scenes could have been pulled out of a Twilight movie.

Tauriel: “THERE IS NO LOVE IN YOU!”

Thranduil: “YOUR VAMPIRE LOVE AIN’T REAL!”

Lego: “DAD STAAAAAAHP” (*flashes werewolf abs*)

And then there’s this one:

Cringe-inducing. I almost expected to see Tauriel moping in a chair in front of a window while the camera pans around and the months pass by. There’s a possibilityyyyyyyyyyyy…

The phrase “Still a better love story than Twilight” doesn’t apply here.

And then Legolas throws a hissy fit and refuses to go home for unexplained reasons. 

Seriously, someone this delicate has no business in the Fellowship of the Ring.

GANDALF: (reading) “…Speak, friend, and enter. And underneath small and faint is written: TRIGGER WARNING: Orcs in here, bro.
LEGO: “Whoa whoa whoa! Sorry, dudes. I don’t do orcs. Come on, Bill.”
BILL: (whinnies)
Exeunt LEGO and BILL.

The worst part is that Tauriel doesn’t even die at the end. I wanted her to die so badly, maybe even hand in hand with Kili. It would have been so, so satisfying. Instead we’re left to wonder what happens to her, since she’s apparently still exiled from Mirkwood. Oh well. Maybe she died of a broken heart off camera—a girl can hope.

Thorin’s Insanity and “Dragon Sickness”

I want to briefly touch on the fact that Thorin’s greed and corruption were blown up to unreasonable, bizarre proportions, and we’re supposed to believe that it’s all because a giant lizard sat on his money for awhile.

I’m sorry, but this whole “dragon sickness” thing is way overblown. You can be corrupted by greed without any sort of supernatural curse making you go absolutely bat-guano crazy. This is, in fact, the case for most people who are corrupted by greed. Last I checked there weren’t many dragons in Washington, DC, for example.

"A treasure such as this cannot be counted in lives lost." --Planned Parenthood's mission statement

“A treasure such as this cannot be counted in lives lost.”
–Planned Parenthood’s mission statement

Seriously, if this treasure is so dangerous, how are the Lake-men supposed to use it to rebuild their town? How is Bilbo able to take some home and become fabulously wealthy? Wouldn’t it make the Lonely Mountain uninhabitable forever? News flash: after the battle, Dain moves right in. But maybe Dain is incorruptible because of his indestructible head and his fondness for porcine steeds.

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Even Gandalf is taken in by the supposed “dragon sickness” nonsense. And he’s supposed to be the smartest guy here. And don’t get me started on that “Don’t underestimate the evil of gold” nonsense.

Thorin’s madness culminates in this acid-trip-esque hallucination involving that lake o’ gold I love so much.

I know when I’ve been a moron about something, it takes a weird hallucination to make me see reason. Personally, I prefer to be swallowed up in a lake of hummus. Or maybe pho.

Look, there are a lot of perfectly mundane reasons for Thorin to become corrupted by greed. He’s just regained control of an amazing treasure stolen from his family. The moment he gets it, everyone comes knocking at the door trying to grab it back from him, Rainbow-Fish-style. Normally he’d probably be okay with that, but these people are armed; among them is Thranduil, the jerk who threw him in prison.  Human nature is inclined to be stingy under those circumstances; dwarf nature even more so. Thorin simply chooses to indulge these feelings instead of deciding to be the bigger man (uh, dwarf), and so he becomes corrupted. It doesn’t have to be weird, and it doesn’t have to involve “dragon sickness.”

In short, Peter Jackson took a potentially relatable character arc and turned it into a freak show. In other words, it’s business as usual in Hobbit Movie Land. Sigh.

Honorable Mentions

I’m only scratching the surface on what was wrong with this movie. Here are some other things I noticed that didn’t quite generate paragraphs worth of rage:

  • Gandalf is a total pushover in this movie. He spends the whole time whining when Thranduil won’t do what he wants, and Bilbo is continually getting the better of him. What happened to this guy?

  • This Asian.
    laketownasianI’m all for cultural diversity, but a place as tiny and isolated as Lake-town is just not likely to be that diverse.
  • Another Billy Boyd song? He’s not even a very good singer.
  • I hate to say this, but Howard Shore continues to disappoint.

The Ridiculous

Every time I watch BotFA, there’s a distinct moment in which I can actually feel part of my brain shutting down—the part connecting the movie with the book. See if you can figure out which moment I’m talking about:

If you guessed the were-worms popping out of the hills, you get a gold star! (Ding!)

From that point, I stop registering deviations from the events of the book. I still notice things that are lame or nonsensical, but I can sit back, relax, and revel in the ridiculousness of it all. I almost wish my brain had been overloaded like this earlier in the series, but then I realize that my conscious revulsion has saved me money that might have been spent purchasing DVDs or seeing this abomination in theaters.

As for the were-worms, I don’t think much commentary is needed. I’ll just add that the only basis for the presence of were-worms in Middle-earth is this throwaway comment by Bilbo at the beginning of the book:

“Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.”

This blog post is already way too long, so let’s move on.

What’s with all the animals?

I titled this post “Battle of the Farm Animals” because of the astounding variety of war-steeds used in BotFA. We were introduced to Thranduil’s majestic elk in An Unexpected Journey, but the animal doesn’t really come into his own until this scene:

And then the elk dies, just as I’m starting to like it. Oh well. It still wasn’t as sad as the pig’s death.

The elk and the pig are enough to make one wonder why no one rides horses anymore (okay, so dwarves really can’t, but Thranduil has no excuse). Not to mention the rabbit sled. But wait! There’s more!

(Sorry…you’ll have to skip to about 1:40 in the video)

Where on earth did Thorin and Co. find fully domesticated battle goats, particularly in an area patrolled (until recently) by a giant carnivorous lizard?! Is there some sort of traveling battle farm where people can just buy domesticated animals on which to charge down orcs? How can I get in on this business?

On a more serious note, I’ve just learned that 27 animals died, sometimes in horrific ways, during the production of the Hobbit movies. I’m no animal rights activist, but that’s pretty darn bad. Chalk that up as another of Peter Jackson’s offenses.

***

Next on our list of ridiculous BotFA elements…

This guy.

Alfriddress

Can we just pause for a moment and consider the fact that this man is named “Alfrid Lickspittle”? That is the actual name of an actual character in this movie.

This man serves no narrative purpose. He just hangs around Bard and annoys everyone around him by saying things like, “Out of my way! Abandon the cripples!” and “Not every man is brave enough to wear a corset.” He’s a completely static character. Why is he in this movie?

As Tom puts it, “Realistically, somebody ought to shank him.”

***

In conclusion, I liked BotFA much more than Desolation of Smaug, though only because my expectations were outrageously low. It may have had its moments, but for every battle pig there were three were-worms, so the whole business is doomed.

At least the series is over, and Peter Jackson’s reign of terror comes to an end at last. (It does come to an end, right? He can’t possibly be thinking about The Silmarillion, can he? CAN HE?!?!?!?). Also on the plus side, the How it Should Have Ended guys are on point.

To end on a positive note, here’s a goofy picture of Dan that always makes me smile.

IMG_20150529_082734

Happy Thursday!

Pregnancy Brain—Is It a Thing?

Well, look at that: it’s been over two months since my last post, which was honestly a bit of a cop-out. I’ve been feeling guilty about this for awhile, but Tom managed to cheer me up: “There’s no way you can be worse at your blog,” he said, “than you are at Instrumental Analysis.”

Oh, that Tom. He always knows what to say.

(Instrumental Analysis is a 500-level chemistry class, and the first class in which I managed to score a 52% on a midterm. Thank goodness for the curve.)

To be honest, I’ve been having a lot of trouble blogging lately. I have four or five drafts that I’ve started and abandoned for various reasons:

“This post is so angry. Maybe you shouldn’t blog while you’re so angry.”
“This post is booooooring. Why can’t you write anything interesting?”
“This one is better, but still pretty lame. No one wants to read about that.”
“I don’t want to blog. I want to sit on the couch, eat chocolate, and watch Duck Dynasty. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

If this silliness was localized to blogging, I wouldn’t be concerned. The problem is, it’s spilled over into my regular writing. I’ve spent the past month trying to brainstorm and plot my next project, and I’ve gotten nowhere beyond a few pages of summarized Wikipedia articles. If I can force myself to work through the fog, I feel like I’m getting somewhere, but as soon as I take a break, I immediately lose interest in the idea and wonder why I thought anyone else would be interested.

It’s been so frustrating that the other night I told Tom that maybe I should quit writing and do something else with my life. He told me that maybe now isn’t the time to be making sweeping statements about my career, given that I’m 7.something months pregnant and haven’t been feeling 100% lately.

That, along with spending some time with another pregnant woman who was obviously having trouble remembering things, got me thinking: could “pregnancy brain” be the cause of my writing problems? Instead of making me lose my keys or leave the house without pants, could New Friend be simply claiming all my creative energy? I can’t think of a worthier use for it (New Friend is certainly more important than my mediocre-at-best novels, after all), and Googling “pregnancy brain writing” indicates that lot of pregnant women have similar complaints. I even found some evidence that women’s brains physically shrink toward the end of pregnancy, which would explain a lot. I hate it when writers talk about “losing their muse” (it’s a pretentious excuse if I ever heard one), but I just had this mental image of New Friend sneaking up on an ancient Greek woman with a harp and hitting her in the head with a meat mallet.

Of course, I immediately found tons of conflicting information. This article claims that pregnancy actually improves women’s cognitive abilities, while this one extols the positive effects of pregnancy on a woman’s creativity. “You can claim brain shrinkage if you want,” these sites seem to tell me, “but science isn’t backing you up. Maybe you’re just lazy.” Thanks, internet.

The one common thread in these articles is that sleep deprivation and stress commonly contribute to the “brain fog,” which makes a little more sense. What, you mean my brain doesn’t like waking up every hour from 11 pm to 4 am so I can either go to the bathroom or break up the all-night dance party in my abdomen? You’re trying to tell me that juggling prenatal classes, two sets of doctor’s appointments, amped-up dietary requirements, medical insurance paperwork, and buying all the baby things on top of my normal responsibilities might be more than my brain is used to?

In some ways, I haven’t had this much stress in my life since I graduated from college. It doesn’t feel as stressful most of the time because instead of dealing with grouchy professors and TAs, I’m dealing with smiling doctors and nurses; instead of receiving disappointing midterm grades for my efforts, I’m being handed adorable sonogram printouts. I’d take pregnancy over P-chem any day, but still—there’s a lot going on.

Whether due to brain shrinkage or plain old sleep deprivation, something is definitely happening upstairs, and I’m not convinced it’s anything to worry about. Perhaps the most interesting article I found claims that the changes in pregnant women’s brains serve to make them better mothers, and that’s definitely something to embrace. Maybe I should take a nap and realize that while the next 6.3 weeks may not be the most productive writing weeks I’ve ever had, it’s all for a good cause. Plenty of women manage to write books after having multiple kids, and whether that’s my lot in life or not, raising New Friend and Future Friends is the most important thing I’ll ever do.

And because this post has been sort of a downer, here are some cute pictures to make up for it!

We got a crib! And I only maimed myself twice putting it together. The mobile was a gift from my family.

We got a crib! And I only maimed myself twice putting it together. The mobile was a gift from my family.

This is the New-Friend's-eye view of the mobile. I sewed all the animals except the tiger, which was made by my dad. He has mad skills.

This is the New-Friend’s-eye view of the mobile. I sewed all the animals except the tiger, which was made by my dad. He has mad skills. New Friend also gets to look at our BYU diplomas. We try to stress the importance of education in this family…or something.

The bright side of seeing a perinatologist every few weeks: lots of ultrasounds! Sometimes Dr. Reiter will pull up the 3D sonogram just for kicks, probably to cheer me up when I'm looking especially nervous.

The bright side of seeing a perinatologist every few weeks: lots of ultrasounds! Sometimes Dr. Reiter will pull up the 3D sonogram just for kicks, probably to cheer me up when I’m looking especially nervous. Tom’s just happy that we’re finally using this photo holder a good family friend gave us for a wedding present.

I found this baby bathrobe at Ross and thought, "My child needs this." Adorable/embarrassing pictures to come after New Friend is born.

I found this baby bathrobe at Ross and thought, “My child needs this.” Adorable/embarrassing pictures to come after New Friend is born.

I’m working on a baby blanket. This is actually the second blanket I’ve started, but the first, though awesome, doesn’t currently lend itself well to photography. Yet.

Anyone have crazy stories/advice about dealing with “pregnancy brain”? Drop me a line! I love comments!

The Hobbit: An Explanation (and Exciting Contest!)

It has come to my attention that part three of a certain bloated waste of special effects and Martin Freeman’s acting talent is coming out this week. Tom and I will be skipping the theater experience on principle, though we’ll probably waste a dollar or so when it’s available at Redbox.

Will we finally find out what this guy's deal is? You'll have to let me know.

Will we finally find out what this guy’s deal is? You’ll have to let me know.

I also realize that I have yet to post my third critical review of the last installment. Some people *cough Tom cough* have pestered me to get my post up before The Battle of Five Armies hits theaters. However, I’m extremely reluctant to do it.

It’s not like I don’t have anything written; I wrote most of it in September. The problem is, it’s not very good, definitely not up to the standard set by the first two. Part of the issue is that I didn’t have a good focus for the post, but the main problem stems from the fact that at the time of writing, I hadn’t seen the movie in almost five months. It wasn’t at Redbox, and it wasn’t available to rent on Amazon. If I wanted to refresh my memory, I was going to have to buy the thing, and that definitely wasn’t happening (or, you know, I could have borrowed it from someone, but that would have involved talking to people). I’m not willing to spend more than $3 on another Peter Jackson movie, and even that’s pushing it. In order to make my points, I was relying on sketchy, disjointed clips on YouTube.

Anyway, this is super lame, and I apologize for not keeping a commitment. When it comes down to it, I’m too prideful to post something I feel is less than my best work, so I procrastinated. However, I owe you guys something, and I do have a draft sitting around. So, here’s the plan: I’m going to hide my third Hobbit post, in all its rambly, unpolished glory, somewhere on my website. Those of you who are interested enough can poke around and try to find it. The first two people to leave a comment on the post will win the Grand Prize.

What is this Grand Prize, you ask?

Why, it’s an autographed copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game!

dating game(I submitted the story of how Tom and I met for this book. They published it, so they sent me $200 and ten copies of the book. I still have several copies I can’t get rid of, and I’m not allowed to sell them online.)

All right, I know: it’s a lame prize. I’ll throw in some candy or something. The good stuff, like Twix bars.

(Those of you who already have a copy can still leave a comment, and maybe we’ll arrange for an alternate prize.)

Happy hunting!

Pregnancy Food Battles

Tom insists that my first trimester was WAY worse than I remember. Right now, I can only think of a few days in which I was grumpy because I knew I had to eat food, but I didn’t want to. According to Tom, the magnitude of my suffering was only rivaled by my “trooper” attitude. I guess this is a good thing; my ability to conveniently forget things that suck will come in handy in April. I can see it now:

During labor: “GAH IT HURTS SO BAD I HATE YOU TOM I’M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN NO MORE BABIES!”

Two weeks later: “Meh, that wasn’t so bad.”

…yeah, probably not. Anyway, it’s a good thing I started this blog post while in the throes of morning sickness; otherwise, I’d have no idea what the past three months were really like. I still think I was incredibly lucky.

***

My first trimester could be described succinctly by Strong Bad’s and Strong Sad’s comments from about 1:30 to 1:41 of this video:

This has got to be my only pregnancy complaint so far: eating food was really hard for a few weeks. I didn’t even want it anymore—the idea of food was about as appealing as cleaning a toilet or taking a chemistry exam. I had totally lost the ability to understand why food is a positive thing.  I was expecting to have those weird pregnancy cravings you always hear about, the kind that would send Tom on a midnight shopping adventure to get pickles and ice cream, or whatever. Instead, my personal definition of a “craving” was “anything that sounded remotely, hypothetically, temporarily edible.” Tom quickly learned not to trust me with buying the groceries, because I’d only buy things that seemed edible (read: not much).

I particularly had problems with anything sweet (including most fruits) and anything saltier than, say, bread. Soups and hot, heavily-sauced, salty dishes were off the menu. You guys, I have two big tubs of delicious Thai curry that are about to expire because I haven’t been able to eat curry in months.

I actually lost several pounds at one point, prompting Tom to start texting me almost every day, making sure I was actually eating.

For the most part, I tried to exercise self-discipline and eat as healthily as possible (yay hummus and smoothies!). However, there were times when this was much harder than it should have been, like that horrid week when I couldn’t make hummus because I was out of garlic, or when everything I would normally put in a smoothie was suddenly poisonous. Now that my stomach is behaving again, I’m trying hard to make up for lost nutrition (don’t ask me how many YAMS! I’ve eaten in the past week. I don’t even want to know).

Today, I’m going to share some of my more embarrassing “pregnancy recipes” from those early weeks. Hopefully you’ll find these as entertaining as I do.

Peaches

Ingredients:
~6 large peaches

Directions:
Peel peach. Eat. Repeat every two hours for as long as you are awake.

Minimal-Fruit Green Smoothie

This was the only smoothie I could stomach, and even it met with limited success.

Ingredients:
2 cups spinach
1 peach
Large handful of carrots
1 frozen strawberry
1 cup water

Directions:
Prepare smoothie according to standard procedure. Realize this would be revolting to many people. Drink 3/4 of the glass, and decide there’s no way you can force down any more. Wonder when your stomach got so small and dainty, and why it couldn’t have been like that when you were actively trying to lose weight. Store remaining smoothie in fridge indefinitely.

Apples With Peanut Butter

Ingredients:
1 apple
Peanut butter

Directions:
Decide you need an apple. Decide an apple is not enough calories to constitute a meal. Slice apple, and cover several slices with peanut butter. Retire to couch for resulting stomachache. Wonder whether the apple or the peanut butter was the culprit; shun both.

PB&J

Ingredients:
2 slices of bread
Peanut butter
Jam
Peach

Directions:
Make PB&J sandwich according to standard procedure. Start eating. Wonder who in his right mind decided that putting PEANUT BUTTER on BREAD was a good idea. Wonder if bread has gone bad. Decide bread has gone bad (it hasn’t). Discard half eaten sandwich. Eat peaches instead (see above).

“Bread”

It’s like a sandwich, without any sandwich fillings. Sandwich fillings are problematic.

Ingredients:
1 ciabatta roll (obtained while wandering around HEB like a pregnant zombie who’s lost her taste for human brains (or anything else, for that matter))

Directions:
Remove ciabatta roll from package. Eat morosely while contemplating your poor life choices.

Club Crackers and Jam

Ingredients:
Club crackers
Jam

Directions:
Decide club crackers are the only thing in the world that sounds good. Eat crackers plain until your mouth gets dry. Decide to risk a little bit of jam. Decide jam is okay. Eat almost an entire sleeve of club crackers in one sitting. Feel gross. Gag when Tom tries to force-feed you club crackers when he comes home.

Failure Pasta

I had a day when the only thing I wanted was a ton of pasta with alfredo sauce, eating-for-two style. Here’s my alternative.

Ingredients:
Pasta
Garlic salt
Parmesan cheese
Broccoli florets

Directions:
Cook pasta according to package instructions. Toss some broccoli in pasta water toward the end of cooking to feel better about the fact that you’re about to ingest pure carbs and salt. Drain. Sprinkle with a little bit of garlic salt and cheese. Feel ashamed at how much better your stomach feels after eating this. Contemplate how something so right can feel so wrong (or is it the other way around?).

Shrimp Pasta

This one has actually been a more-or-less weekly staple in our household since we’ve been married, but pregnancy’s made it weird.

Ingredients:
Canola oil
1 onion
1 red bell pepper
Pasta
Pasta sauce
Frozen shrimp

Directions:
Feel bad that you haven’t cooked an actual meal in days. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Sauté vegetables in oil. Add pasta and sauce. Simmer shrimp in sauce until fully cooked. Wake up at 3 A.M. with disgusting shrimp aftertaste. Swear off shrimp forever (or at least until you can forget this experience).

And, because David Sorensen insisted, here’s what I’ve eaten nearly every day since I’ve been able to eat again.

YAMS!

Ingredients:
1 YAM!, cut into small pieces
1 broccoli crown, cut into florets
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
~1.5 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Rosemary
Thyme

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine YAM!, broccoli, and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, mixing to combine. Add salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and any other toppings. Mix well, and dump onto foil-lined baking sheet. Try to achieve monolayer coverage (think Langmuir). Bake YAMS! and other things for 45 minutes.

Serves 1. Seriously, eat the whole thing. You really need to.

***

Man, those were good times.

And now, I’m going to text Tom and see if he can bring home some pickles and ice cream on the way home from work.