My Midlife Crisis: Watches

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The other day I asked my wife when I was allowed to have a midlife crisis... because I have big plans. I mean BIG plans! I'm a man with expensive tastes and a lot of interests. Unfortunately she told me that I have to wait a few years. Until the school debt is paid. Until the credit card debt is paid. Until we know we can afford for the kids to go to college. I tried to explain that college is over-rated anyways but I just got decimated with a burning look of death that my dear wife has come to perfect.

Well, after some hearty discussion, I was able to convince my wife that a midlife crisis would eventually fall upon us. To my dismay our negotiations took us some 10-12 years in the future and with a far less appealing budget than my whims would have taken me. But, since a boy has to dream, here are the watches that made it on my pipe-dream list for my midlife crisis (P.S. none of these watches fit into our negotiated budget):

A.Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk

A.Lange & Sohne Richard Lange Tourbillon "Pour le Merite"

Montblanc Tourbillon Cylindrique Nightsky Geospheres

Roger Dubuis Excalibur 42 Automatic Skeleton

Arnold & Son Nebula

Zenith El Primero Chronomaster

Review: The Last Days of New Paris

Pin It The Last Days of New Paris The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The premise of this book was so ridiculous that I couldn't help but dive at the opportunity to read it, especially since I was given a free galley copy by the publisher. From my previous experience, China Mieville tends to live in a space that is far outside the reaches of most people's creative capabilities. It's a fascinating world, but quite possibly one that can only exist in the mind of a mad-man. And I love it!

"In the chaos of wartime Marseille, American engineer - and occult disciple - Jack Parsons stumbles onto a clandestine anti-Nazi group, including surrealist theorist André Breton. In the strange games of the dissident diplomats, exiled revolutionaries, and avant-garde artists, Parsons finds and channels hope. But what he unwittingly unleashes is the power of dreams and nightmares, changing the war and the world forever.

It's 1950. A lone surrealist fighter, Thibaut, walks a new, hallucinogenic Paris, where Nazis and the Resistance are trapped in unending conflict, and the streets are stalked by living images and texts - and by the forces of hell."

Delicious, right!? I'm not going to lie, I was occasionally confused and disoriented by the craziness in these pages but I was never ever bored. Anyone who has ever looked at a surrealist painting knows that confusion is quite possibly the source of the thrill you experience.

This was a book that I couldn't possibly describe to another reader in a way that would effectively portray how fantastic it was. It was a joy to read and unlike any other book I've ever read!

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I've been avoiding writing this post, not because it's not important to me but because it's very personal and I think that personal stuff sometimes needs a chance to dry before it is hung out for others to see. I have honestly experienced very little loss in my life (knock on wood) and consider this a blessing because I have an extremely tender constitution and emotions like a wet doily. The loss of my Grandpa Kelsch at the end of last week, however, I think deserves more than a pool of tears and heartaches (although I assure you that those are present as well).

You see, my grandpa was unlike anyone else I've ever met. If you'd ever met him you wouldn't forget. I've tried many times in the past to describe him to people and paint a picture of him so that others could feel his love for life but I've never quite been able to capture him in a way that does justice to the man that he was. He was a passionate, brilliant artist and recently painted this portrait of himself better than I would ever be able to with words.

I've come to realize as I get older that there are few people who ever do exactly what they want to with their life. Few people focus on their passion. My grandpa was one of the few. He loved art and he loved his family and they were his life. Every time I reflect on what I'm doing with my life I can't help but ask myself if I will ever love it as much as my grandpa loved touching his brush to a canvas. He was a gloriously jolly dude because he did what he loved.... and he took the time to learn to do it well. He also loved people which gave a soul to his work and those he shared life with.

Ever since I was a little squirt, I wanted to be just like my Grandpa Kelsch. I didn't get to see him often because of distance but I loved sitting with him while he painted a La Jolla landscape or sketched a portrait. I remember one time in particular that he sat with me and taught me a lesson on how to use a charcoal pencil. The vision of his hands running along the paper was hypnotizing to me and the scratch on the paper was a song I will never forget.

Everything he ever gave to me I've cherished. The other night I sat looking at a few of his paintings that I've been lucky enough to be gifted over the years and can't help but hear the echoes of his joy. He wasn't really called 'grandpa' to us or 'dad' by his kids. He was Jopapa to all of us. And we were dude, dudettes, and things were always 'swell' or 'spiffy'. Words were like candy to Jopapa and they are some of my sweetest memories. I've spent a lot of my life reading beautiful words from brilliant authors but none will ever have the effect that his did when he told me that I was "one snazzy dude."

Part of me wants to sit here and wallow in the misery of the loss of one of my best buddies but I can guarantee that that isn't the flavor of of fizzy wizzy that he'd want me to drink. While you'll be missed intensely, Jopapa, I want you to know that it's because of you that I continue to search for the passion that can consume me and bring life to my soul. It's because of you that I give my kids nicknames and try to be silly with them even when I'm tired. I'll miss you but I know that I'll see you and Jomama again after you guys have had a chance to paint a beautiful canvas for our family in the next life.

Getting free products online (without getting scammed)

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I frequently get asked why I get so much free stuff. Let me be clear - the adage that 'nothing in life is free' is true and applies with anything you can find online too. I've been waiting for that smoking hot leprechaun seductively caressing a pot of gold for me at the end of some rainbow but it has yet to come. There are A LOT of websites that feed you scam after scam offering you a free this or a free that for absolutely nothing (or to just answer a few questions) but I hate to tell you that just like those emails telling you that they can make your willy bigger, you aren't going to get what you think you'll get. You'll likely get a computer full of pop-ups and your personal information in the hands of a Russian crime-lord. That doesn't sound free to me.

Now, with that said, there are also a lot of legit places that you can get products or items in exchange for something that takes little effort or that you'd likely do anyways. Many companies look for people to review their products to gain more publicity and in exchange they will provide you with free samples (some tiny and not worth your time and others full-sized).

I've wasted way too much time finding out which of these many websites just want me to waste my time, and which ones actually end up with you getting good stuff. So, here's a list of a few sites that I think are worth your time if you're willing to review the product for them afterward or annoy a couple of your friends by posting about it on social media.

None of the sites I've listed require you to pay anything. I highly recommend avoiding any site that does.

Consumer Products:


Influenster is the mack-daddy of sample sites. It takes a bit of time and effort for you to get a box full of goodies (which they refer to as a 'Voxbox'.... and I have no idea why) but when you do get something, it is usually really, really good. The $120 Keurig I got for free (reviewed in my last post) came from Influenster. I have also received full-sized samples of Degree Dry-Spray deodorant from them which I will be reviewing in the near future.

If you want to score some seriously awesome stuff that you might fork out the money for otherwise, this is the site to sign up for. However, like I said, be prepared to exercise your typing fingers and occasionally post obnoxious stuff on your Facebook/instagram/twitter feeds. That's the cost of getting 'free products'.

In order to 'qualify' for voxboxes filled with different goodies, you need to be pretty active on their website reviewing products that you've tried and also have a widespread 'social impact' (aka. have a lot of followers on social media). They are a social review platform so you can basically review consumer products in any category from cosmetics to underwear. The more you review in a different category, the more likely you will be to qualify to get a Voxbox that contains items of that type. You earn 'badges' along the way while you review that essentially tally up what you've spent your time reviewing and using so you are considered something of an expert in that area. Obviously a company that provides eye shadow wants someone to review their product who actually uses eye shadow. For that reason, Influenster tends to be aimed a bit more at women. They have a strong focus on cosmetics which obviously leaves many men out in the wilderness. With that said, however, there are plenty of things that could make men qualify for different items. It's worth a shot if you waste a lot of your spare time online. I review a lot on websites anyways so the effort wasn't really an inconvenience.

Here's a link to sign up:


In my opinion, the 2nd best website for getting samples and free products is Smiley360. Like Influenster, you don't get stuff as frequently as some of the other sites, but when you do, you get large, full-sized quality products. I've received anything from large bottles of juice to family sized laundry detergent bottles. A lot of the products are new to market or yet to be release but are almost always from big brands like Tide, Kelloggs, etc. 

The best thing about Smiley360 is that you don't really need to do a whole lot in order to qualify for products and even less after you get them. Usually a review or single post to Facebook is all that's required. It's a pretty big win for so little effort.

You can sign up here:


BzzAgent is probably one of the easiest of these sites as far as effort is concerned. You're ability to get products is based similar to the other's on your online social presence and responses to a surveys they send you on their website trying to match you with products that fit your profile and lifestyle. It is very similar to Smiley360 and you get high quality full-sized products with minimal effort. Likewise, it is rare that you qualify for new stuff so you might be waiting a while before your turn comes. When it does though, you'll be happy with what you get.

Sign up here:


My least favorite of the major legit sample sites is PinchMe, mostly because the products are so small and the effort disproportionately large that you're almost wasting your time unless you have a bunch to spare. Once a month PinchMe has a 'sample Tuesday' where you may or may not be offered samples to try based on your demographics and some survey questions you filled out when you signed up. Although the tasks and questions that you are required to fill out after you've tried a product are the easiest to do of any of these sites, you have to ask yourself whether you really want to spend 10 minutes for 2 free Advil.

I've heard other people rave about their experience with PinchMe so perhaps I just don't fill the demographics for a better selection of products but it is rare that I actually receive anything worthwhile. Many times you may only receive a coupon for part of the cost of a product and still be required to fill out feedback.

You can sign up here if this seems like something worthwhile:


If you haven't already guessed, I am an avid reader! I'm one of those book nerds who would often rather lay down with a book than watch TV or play a game. Yuck, right? Well, the only thing better than a good book is a FREE good book. Unlike the product sample sites I listed above, with all of these places I get free books, the ONLY thing you need to do is review the book on the respective site (and many of them claim that you don't even necessarily do that... but I suspect that your likelihood of getting future books somewhat depends on how much you review). You don't have to worry at all with these books sites I'm listing below about having to annoy your friend on social media. None of that is required... although if you are as big of a book nerd as I am, you probably already annoy your friends.

There are lots of websites that offer free ebooks and some are scams while others are not. Even most of those that aren't click-bait only give you access to books that are public domain or not worth reading. But all of these sites I'm listing offer access to new, popular (often eventual or recent bestsellers) copies of books. Joining these sites is a no-brainer in my opinion. I haven't paid for a book in years and have read most of the books that have made it on all the big bestseller lists (and many more which should have), often long before they were actually released. My bookshelf is sagging with galley copies of anything from Red Rising to The Girl on the Train.


The king of all book websites! Goodreads was recently purchased by but for years has offered giveaways of new, unused books from all types of publishers. At any one time there are thousands of books listed for giveaway and they set it up kind of like a contest. You essentially click the button to request a book and you are entered to win. You can enter as many as you want and new offerings are added on a daily basis.

Goodreads keeps their selection process fairly secretive so I'm not exactly sure how you become a recipient of new books but all I know is that over the last 4 or 5 years of entering giveaways, I have been sent probably in the neighborhood of 150 or so books from publishers (at their expense). No one harasses me or expects anything of me other than possibly a review when I'm done if I am so inclined (I always review them once I read them because I feel it is only fair to the author... but I am ALWAYS honest).

The books you can enter giveaways for are of every possible genre and from pretty much every publisher on the market. The majority of the books are galley copies (pre-release copies with minor editing errors) but ocassionally a publisher will offer up a copy of a recent bestseller from an author who has a new book on the horizon to spark interest.

I expect the reason that I receive so many books is that I also review a ton of books and generally make my reviews pretty thorough. I not totally confident that's true but I'd assume that you need to be somewhat active in reviewing to get books. Also of note is that only one person from a given shipping address can enter contests (so my wife has to rely on me if she wants to enter for a book)

All that you need to do to start entering giveaways is to have a account (any human being should have one anyways) and go to the area of the site that says 'giveaways.'


If you have a Kindle and prefer ebooks, Netgalley is what you are looking for. It is very similar in concept to the way Goodreads giveaways function but unlike Goodreads, there is no other functionality to the site other than requesting and receiving book copies. All books on this site are delivered as Kindle books which are sent to you via your Kindle email address or through Adobe Digital Editions (not a huge fan of the ADE method). Copies sent to your Kindle are yours to keep permanently in your Kindle library whereas those you read in ADE you only get to keep for the period of time allotted by the publisher. For most books, both options are available.

Unlike Goodreads, Netgalley ONLY offers galley copies of ebooks (no recent bestsellers). However, the selection is incredibly good and many of these books achieve a place on the bestseller lists when eventually released. One of the biggest benefits of Netgalley is that approval for a book is much easier than winning a giveaway on GR. About 50% of the books I request I get approved for. I have so many books on my Kindle that I could read consistently for the rest of my life and not have read them all. This site has made me a hoarder of books.

You are much more likely to receive books if you have an active blog or other place you review books. It was built for professional reviewers but can be utilized by any of us normal folks too. I highly recommend signing up.


LibraryThing is a bit of an oddball for me. Probably the one that's been around the longest, it is also the most obscure, confusing and poorly designed. It is very similar to Goodreads in concept - it's also a book lover's social media site. The way you get books from this site is by requesting them from a list that is published once a month on the 'Early Reviewers' section of the site. All copies are for galley's of soon-to-be-released books, some in ebook format, some in physical hard copy, and some in audio format. The list doesn't change throughout the month so it's kind of a one-and-done deal each month. The list of offerings is much smaller than the other sites but they are all generally from popular authors and books that have been getting publicity.

I have only won a few books through LibraryThing but in all honesty I'm also not very active there as I find the website confusing. Unlike Goodreads, they have a paid account in addition to their free book management account so I found it unfortunate that I could only add up to 100 books on my shelf (my Goodreads shelf holds as much as I want and I currently have about 1500 books on it).

Other ways to get free stuff online:

Bing Rewards - If you are one of the confused souls who use Microsoft Bing rather than Chrome, than this is gold. You get points for searching from your computer and mobile devices and doing other stuff like completing trivia, etc. I suppose you are giving away your search history for free... but lets be honest, aren't we all anyways? You can turn those points into gift cards or contest entries. No quickly but eventually it adds up.

Google Screenwise Panel - similar to Bing Rewards, Google essentially pays you to track your every move from every device you own. This sounded to me like a scary big brother scenario from dystopian fiction so I have avoided it. Others swear by it and apparently get paid decently for little effort other than the sale of their soul.

There you have it folks. Here's a list of stuff I am familiar with and, for the most part, have tried and found to be a good source of "free" stuff. If you want to try your hand at getting goodies, don't blame me if you get sucked in!

Review: The Atlantis Gene

Pin It The Atlantis Gene The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Atlantis Gene is a novel that I received a very long time ago as a Goodreads giveaway and kept putting it off because something else always seemed to jump to the front of my never ending to-read list. Finally after some coaxing from my wife that our bookshelf needs to start getting cleaned off, I dove in a gave it a shot.

I'd classify The Atlantis Gene as a sci-fi adventure novel. It is written as an adult novel but I think it'd be appropriate for a mature young adult as well. In my humble opinion, it started off sort of slow and it took some coaching for me to keep at it until about half of the way through the book where it really took off.

Although you'd be better off reading a professional synopsis, the basic plot is about a researcher who is working on Autistic children and discovers a treatment that helps them develop their abilities. When her lab is overrun by a militant group called the Immari with a seemingly crazy agenda related to the people of Atlantis, she teams up with a rogue paramilitary agent to stop this group for destroying the world....

Okay, I realize that that sounds bat-$#*! crazy, and I guess it kind of was, but A.G. Riddle does a fantastic job of really making the story flow well and not making you roll your eyes too much at the odd plot. Some of the characters were extremely well written and developed like agent David Vale. They made him exciting and tough without making him impervious to harm. Kate Warner on the other hand was not as well thought out. She was a very one-dimensional character and I had several eye-rolling moments with her.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by The Atlantis Gene. I rarely have the desire to keep going in book series but I may actually check out the second book in this series as it left me wanting more.

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Review: The Buried Giant

Pin It The Buried Giant The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Buried Giant is a book which seems to elicit a response of dreadfully confused boredom or cultish worship from its readers. Kazuo Ishiguro has a very devout following that often proclaims him a literary master and anyone who doesn't enjoy his novels simply not on an intellectual level sufficient to appreciate his genius.

I'll admit that I may be one of these ignoramuses because I struggle to understand what the heck he is getting at. I didn't even remotely enjoy Never Let Me Go and I often felt as though I was missing something while reading The Buried Giant. Perhaps there is some mysterious intent that Ishiguro has woven into the story of Axl and Beatrice's journey across the countryside. If so, it will forever remain a mystery to me.

The writing was not at all bad. It was the story that choked. The flow of it felt somewhat like a fable or allegorical tale.... but it was as boring as all get-out. I wanted so badly for there to be an uplifting (or heck, even sad) lesson in all of this but the story fell terribly flat. I wish I would have given up the first time it crossed my mind.

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Review: A Nameless Witch

Pin It A Nameless Witch A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Nameless Witch is not my typical kind of book. It's not that I don't read paranormal books (because I do) but I don't tend to read "funny" books. I enjoy a good laugh like anyone else but I have to admit that I am not the type who chuckles or chortles while reading. Most humorous books are lucky to get a smirk out of me despite my appreciation of their humor. Christopher Moore is a rare exception who manages to tickle my funny bone at times. And I think it is natural that this book get compared to Christopher Moore's style although the latter is by far superior, in my humble opinion.

I actually listened to this as an audiobook and have to admit that I didn't particularly like the narrator (Ann Marie Lee). That may have affected my overall opinion of the book more than it should have but it's not the only thing that didn't strike my fancy.

A Nameless Witch is the story of a "cursed" girl who is adopted by a witch and taught the witchly arts. When her master is killed, she goes on a quest of vengeance, aided by her duck and a troll. There are no real twists or riddles you want to solve in the book and it spells itself out rather plainly as you go.

A. Lee Martinez did have his funny moments in the tale but I think I'd consider them more amusing than uproarious. He used some clever ideas that went against what one would typically picture in a witch and I couldn't help but enjoy the contrast. The writing was passable as well. Not a feat of genius by any means but it fit well with the style of the book.

What threw it all off for me was the story which kind of fell flat and took a while to get where it was going. It was a short audiobook but felt much longer than it was. I admittedly considered putting it on my DNF shelf a few times. In the end, I was glad I completed the audiobook but wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone.

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