Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 Book Challenge, July Update!

I confess, despite how easy it was for me to keep up with this challenge in the beginning of the year, now I'm finding it to be a little bit of a struggle. I think I'll be fortunate to reach 42 books this year. The last several months have been busy with my nephews, moving, taking care of my cats, and both work and writing. Hopefully I'll be able to read more in September (I think August is going to look similar to July).



1. Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin

Rating: *****

This book explores habits, how we develop them, the different habit-forming personality types, and different ways to strengthen your habit-building skills.

Like the other two books by Rubin that I've read, I really enjoyed this book. If you've never read a book by her, I suggest picking one up. This book helped me understand some things about my own personality (like how a stuffed fridge stresses me out, I'm a simplicity lover) as well as the people around me (like my mom's desire to have a full fridge, she's an abundance lover). I'm still not sure about my habit-forming type (when I was younger I was definitely an Upholder, but I'm not sure I still fit that mold). But even if you don't figure it out on first read, you can still pick up several good tips (such as her chart to track progress, I love that!).


2. Emma, by Jane Austen

Rating: *****

Emma Woodhouse has fortune and good position, and no intention of marrying. But when she sees the success of "her matchmaking" between her governess and Mr. Weston, she decides to try her hand at finding young Harriet Smith a husband.

This has long been my favorite of Austen's books (and Mr. Knightly, Emma's longtime friend, one of my favorite characters). I love the gentle, not overdone transition of Emma's character from being rather silly to a little wiser although not fully mature. Emma is a character easy to relate to, for who hasn't misread signals of attraction from the opposite sex, and who hasn't said things that they regretted when they thought their words more thoroughly through?


3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Rating: ***

Alice follows a white rabbit down a rabbit hole, and finds herself in a strange land where nothing is quite like she is used to back home. This was the only book I read this month originally on my 2017 Reading Challenge List.

This book was okay. I don't remember ever reading it before, so I picked it up so I could say I'd read it. I plan on reading Through the Looking Glass*. But I don't think I'll be reading it again anytime soon. Parts of it were confusing, and unless you research the history and culture of the time when Carroll wrote it, you'll likely to be as perplexed as I was. But if you're already pretty familiar with Victorian England, you should be fine understanding the different references Carroll makes.


I've also left reviews on GoodReads and Amazon (although probably not for the same editions).

In order to keep up with everything I have going on, for the rest of the year I might only be posting Book Challenge Updates once a month. If I can, I may post more often, but I would rather say once a month and post more rather than say every week and post only once a month.

*For the sake of brevity, I have not included the subtitles of these books.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why 15 Minute Work Blasts Are Awesome



Usually, I keep my posts book-related, but today I decided to go life-related.

A lot of us have goals we want to accomplish, projects we want to work on. Some of us just want to read more. Others of us want to write novels, clear out our bedrooms, start a get buff program, eat healthier, or maybe even just finish our school projects on time.

For any of those goals and pretty much anything else I can think of, working in 15 minute intervals can be super effective.

Here's some reasons why.


1. It's too short of time to psych yourself out.

I'm sure you know the dread of having a project to do that you really don't want to work on. This especially happens to me when I'm already tired, or not feeling well. My gut reaction is to forget about it, to get it over with when I feel better. And sometimes this is the case, and we're better of resting and working on the task later. But a lot of the time it's a convenient out, and tomorrow will see the same thing happen if we're not careful.

Often, this sense of overwhelm is because we set too big of goal in front of ourselves. It looks huge, and it's so much easier to just say "Forget it, I don't need to do that today."

But 15 minutes is so short, it's too easy not to do. Instead the shame factor starts kicking in, where you actually feel ashamed if you don't do it for such a short amount of time. And each set of 15 minutes adds up.


2. Usually a start was all you needed.

Again with the psychological, it can be hard to get working when the goal is so huge.

Writing a book can seem overwhelming. Writing a chapter can also be daunting. But writing for fifteen minutes isn't that scary.

And a lot of times I'll find that, when that timer goes off, I'm not ready to quit yet. I've gotten into the zone, and I want to keep editing my novel, or keep writing another chapter, or keep sorting through my back log of email.

Last night, I was exhausted and felt sick, and I didn't want to do things as simple as unload and reload the dishwasher, and fold laundry. But I told myself I could do it for a few minutes.

This morning I was glad I'd taken the time to just do those tasks.

Set a timer, and give yourself permission to quit after 15 minutes. But keep going after it dings if you want.


3. You can get a lot done in that time.

You probably can put away a week's worth of laundry in less than fifteen minutes. Or pack your lunch for the next day so you don't just eat whatever the nearest restaurant has to offer.

I often find it takes only 15 minutes to clean my bedroom. Or do a HIIT workout (and for those of you with joint issues, they even have low impact ones). Or read a chapter. Or draft half of a blog post.

I can usually write 500 words in fifteen minutes. If I did that every day, I'd have a 180,000 draft (about the length of Thorn Changer) in a year. A 100,000 word draft would only take about 8 months. Granted, that's still a rough draft, with a lot of editing to do, but that's not bad for just fifteen minutes a day.


4. It's super easy to accomplish.

Sometimes the goals we set for ourselves are too big to get done all at once.

Say you want to get up at 5:00 AM each morning so you can workout before heading to work, but you currently drag yourself out of bed at 7:00 AM. Instead of just setting your alarm for 5, you can work backwards by fifteen minutes every few days to a week until you are waking up at 5, and do a short workout in the time you have (check out YouTube, there are tons).

Conversely, if you never hit the hay before 2 AM, but want to start getting in bed at 10 so you're able to get up earlier for classes, you can go to bed fifteen minutes earlier and get up fifteen minutes earlier and reduce the times until you are where you want to be.


5. It helps you make use of "useless" time pockets.

Sometimes fifteen minutes is all we have before we have to move on to another task or appointment. Often we don't consider that enough time to get any "real" work done, so we fritter it away on Facebook or Instagram.

But we've just looked at how much stuff you can actually get done in fifteen minutes.

You can make up some flashcards for your upcoming SATs in fifteen minutes (or better yet, study those you already made up). You can put away dishes. You can make a phone call or two. You can arrange your space for whatever task you have after your appointment. You can take a short break from your phone, and just close your eyes and relax (just make sure you set an alarm).

Those time pockets don't look quite so useless.


Fifteen minutes might not seem like a lot of time to work with. But you can really get a lot done in such a short time. And if you have a smart phone, chances are you already have a built-in timer (though I still love using my large digital timer you see in the picture).

So go ahead. Tell yourself you'll work on listing old clothes you no longer want on Ebay, or learning Latin, or getting down the basics of coding, for just 15 minutes each day. And see how much you can get done.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

5 Popular Series That I Haven't Read

I love to read. If you told me I had to choose between being able to read or having the ability to watch TV, I would choose reading, no hesitation. After all, I get bored with TV after a while. But reading opens up such a wealth of experiences. Unless I find the book uninteresting, I could read for hours.

I read a lot, and quite often. However, there are several popular book series that I haven't read. I haven't even seen all the movies or TV shows for them. Here's a list of five of those series.


1. Harry Potter 

I listed this one first because I imagine it's going to be the most surprising. My friends are surprised when I tell them I've never read Harry Potter. Of all the series on this list, this is the one which appears to be the most popular among children who are just starting to read them and adults who grew up reading them. So why haven't I read them?

In all honesty, I did read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and watched the movie based on it. I think J. K. Rowling is a very good writer, and I enjoyed it. It was an interesting read, and it did keep my attention.

However, the subject matter doesn't really interest me. I'm not really into books about witches and wizards. And maybe I don't hold the same attachment to them that a lot of other people my age seem to have because I didn't read them as a child. I might pick up the series again someday, because I did enjoy the first one. Right now, though, there's other books I'm interested in reading.


2. The Twilight Saga

This is the second series that's been really popular among my friends. But it's one I've never even turned a page in.

I haven't read this series for the same reason I haven't finished Harry Potter, lack of interest. Except whereas I may finish Harry Potter someday, I've no interest at all in picking up Twilight. I've no interest in vampires. They actually kind of creep me out (the reason why I've never read Dracula). Love triangles (such as the one which from what I've heard of the series is between Bella, Edward, and Jacob) actually are kind of annoying to me. What I've heard of the plot just doesn't interest me as well.


3. A Song of Ice and Fire (also known as Game of Thrones)

Unlike the first two series, this one does sound interesting to me. I enjoy history-based fantasy stories (my own book, Thorn Changer, is very loosely inspired by my readings of the Middle Ages), and from what I've heard, George R. R. Martin works very hard to write his books so they sound like they actually took place. I probably would give it a try, except that my mom has read some of the books, and told me enough about them for me to realize this series isn't for me.

From what she told me, Martin has done too good of a job of making these books seem like historical fiction.

I'm not a fan of obscenities of any form. I try to keep them out of my own writing, and I try to avoid them in the books I read (and if you've ever wondered why on earth I would mention profanities in my book reviews, that's why: I try to mention them so you can avoid them if you wish to). From what my mom has told me, and from what I've heard other people talk about with this series, there is too much swearing, sex, nudity (TV series), etc. for me to really enjoy it.

I don't doubt stuff like that happened back in medieval times. If I'm honest, his portrayal is much more accurate than my own of how life probably was back then (one of the reasons I say Thorn Changer is very loosely inspired by those times). But I like to read books that I could read to someone else and not blush during, that I could leave not and not be embarrassed if someone found it and started reading it.

Another telling thing: my one cousin was embarrassed to watch an episode of the TV series with her father. I'm more conservative about such things than she is, so I think that's a good sign I should leave it for other people to enjoy.


4. The Hunger Games

I've seen bits of the movies (though they never interested me enough to actually sit down and watch the entire thing). Because of all the hype, I actually started listening to the first book on my iPhone. But I never finished it, and I'm not certain I'm going to return to the series.

Honestly, I'm not into dystopia.

I know it's been a hot genre for a while. I know a lot of people who really enjoy this kind of books. But I'm just not interested. Plus, I don't really relish reading about children killing each other. For now, I'll skip this one.


5. The Divergent Series

Of all the series I mentioned, I know the least about this one (although I know precious little about The Hunger Games as well). My sister has watched at least two of the movies, so I've seen pieces of them. I've never picked up one of the books. My friends are more into Harry Potter and Twilight. But I know that in the book people are sorted into different groups based on their skills or something like that. And that the main character, Tris (whose name I had to look up), is consider "divergent" because she doesn't quite fit their sorting mold.

Based on that, I haven't read them because they don't sound very interesting to me. And since I've found other books I enjoy reading, I haven't looked into them more.


Most of these five series I haven't read because of a lack of interest. And whereas I might read Harry Potter in the future, and possibly even Divergent and The Hunger Games (if I can convince myself to try dystopia), I don't plan on ever reading Twilight or Game of Thrones.

But like I said, I don't know a lot about them. If there's a reason you love one of these series, please let me know.

Have you read any of these series? Do you think I should read them? What about them do you like, and think I might as well?

None of the links above are affiliate links (although of course if you buy Thorn Changer, I get some royalties). I'm not going to try to get you to buy books I haven't read myself and enjoyed. I provide the links so you can find out more about them if you wish (and so I don't have to make this post super long by giving a short overview of each).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

2017 Book Challenge, June Update!

June was a much better month of reading for me. The craziness of work in May eased into a slightly less crazy beginning of June, with the second half being pretty laid back. I read four books, and continuing my non-fiction trend, they were all non-fiction. I'm really missing fiction, though (especially fantasy), so I'll probably switch back to fiction in July.


1. The Curated Closet*, by Anuschka Rees

Rating: ***

If you never really knew what to wear, or constantly buy things that later you can't stand wearing, Ms. Rees walks you through how to find your personal style and revamp your wardrobe so it reflects your taste. She teaches you how to shop and choose clothes you like so you can always wear your favorite things.

This book gave a lot of practical style advice I never heard of (and revisited some things I already practiced, like wearing clothes and styles that I liked, regardless of whether I was "supposed" to or not). The one issue I had with this book was that, of all the example styles and color palettes, there wasn't a single one I liked. In fact, I think all except one I absolutely hated. Granted, this book is about finding your own style and color palette, so the fact that I didn't like any of her samples is irrelevant to the purpose of the book. I just found it really disconcerting that there wasn't a single outfit idea which intrigued me (I shuddered at most of them), and not one of the color palettes would I desire to play with by tweaking the colors. If I would get over that hang up, I think I would find the book very useful.


2. How to Get Dressed*, by Alison Freer

Rating: ***

Costume Designer Alison Freer reveals the secrets she uses to help actors look amazing on camera. She goes over what alterations are worth the money and which are not, how your clothes should fit, special tips and tools you can use to make the fit and feel of your clothes better, as well as how to take care of your clothes so they last.

I learned some interesting tricks and tips from this book. Some of them (like her use of moleskin and toupee tape) I plan on using this autumn when I'm in a wedding. Others I probably will not use at all (I don't think her trick of finding your natural waist is very useful, because at least on me wearing pants there would be super uncomfortable). Her writing voice annoyed me so much in the beginning that I almost put the book down, but after a while I got used to it and it wasn't so bad. Her washing and stain removal tricks are great. Overall, I think this book is worth checking out (just read a sample before you commit to make sure you can stand her writing voice).



3. The Millionaire Next Door*, by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

Rating: ****

More people are millionaires than you think, and some of them might even live next door to you. Chances are, they are not the people you'd guess. In this book, Stanley and Danko study what qualities millionaires have, the differences between those who accumulate wealth and those who don't, and ways you can work on becoming a millionaire yourself.

I enjoyed this book. Even though it's almost twenty years old, a lot of the tips still hold true, and I imagine most if not all of the qualities of proficient accumulators of wealth (which they term "PAWs") hold true as well. It's inspired me to work on my own habits surrounding work and money in order to gain the true financial independence they described in the book (I never thought about it before, but in a way they're right: anyone working for someone else is dependent on keeping that job, unless they've taken steps and precautions in order to ensure they could survive for some time without it). I'd give it a read, and see if there's any areas in your life to work on in order to gain financial freedom.


4. Happier at Home*, by Gretchen Rubin

Rating: ****


This is my second book I've read by Ms. Rubin (I previously read her The Happiness Project* and really enjoyed it). I think her tips are wonderful (some of them, like her "suffer for 15 minutes," I'm working on incorporating into my life), and I really enjoy her writing style and voice. I love reading self-improvement books by authors I can relate to, and many of the struggles she shares in the book I can relate to. I found this book a simple yet enjoyable read, perfect for reading before bed or when you want to relax. Yet her tips and suggestions are great for working on your own life.


I'm very happy with my progress in June. I wanted to read about a book a week, and I've succeeded in this month. But I'm ready for a shift from nonfiction to fiction, so in July I plan on reading books such as Alice in Wonderland and A Girl of the Limberlost.

I've also posted reviews of these books on Goodreads.

*For the sake of brevity, I have not included the subtitles of these books.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Writer Life: What's on My Desk?

Work spaces interest me. Some people need a pristine area to get stuff done, whereas others thrive in a pile of chaos. On the day he died, Albert Einstein's desk was a mound of papers. I wonder sometimes if this is the creative mind, thriving in chaos, surrounded by things that might spark new ideas (creative people love ideas). 
Naturally, I'm rather neat and tidy, but that all changes when it comes to my desk. Papers can be scattered all over. I might have piles of books I'm reading, pens, to-do-lists, notes, etc. In the picture, my desk is actually neater than it usually is. 

It's strange, because I don't like mess. I don't like a lot of clutter (I actually hate knick-knacks because they collect dust and never look neat to me). With my desk, however, it's not the same. I've cleared off my desk numerous times, but it always reverts back to being littered with things both random (like the tube of antibiotic cream on it right now) and that make more sense (like a pile of books for my June Update post). And I don't mind it. I actually think I prefer it with some clutter on it.

Maybe eventually I'll try keeping my desk clear, see if I'm more productive and creative with a blank canvas before me rather than piles, but for now I'm going to embrace it. So here's a list of things currently on my desk.

1. A bamboo plant that seriously needs some pruning. It was a birthday gift from years ago, and I love having that bit of nature with me when I work.

2. A salt lamp. I got one of these to see if it would help with my headaches from staring at my screen too long, and whether placebo or not it does.

3. A stack of books I've already read.

4. My surge protector power strip, also my main charging station for everything when I remember to charge them.

5. A thermometer and humidity gauge. The time is wrong, and I've been too lazy to figure out how to set it, but I didn't get it for a clock anyway.

6. A legal pad with a to-do list on it.

7. A sticky note pad with my list to accomplish this week.

8. Two index cards, one with goals for the year, the other with goals for July.

9. Another sticky note pad. I love them.

10. A pen and highlighter, which I use for my to-do lists.

11. My laptop and charger (of course, lol).

12. A chronological order Bible. I decided to use this for my Bible Study time and it's quite interesting. I've read the Bible before, but I really like how this one gives you an idea of what events happened concurrently.

13. A devotional book with mini lessons compiled by Beth Moore.

14. A plastic bin with memory verse flash cards. I find this is the easiest way for me to memorize Scripture.

15. An essential oil diffuser that I haven't refilled or used in weeks. 

16. A picture of my first cat, Buffy. I loved that cat (and still do).

17. A kitchen timer. I set it to remind myself to take breaks (and to remind myself to get back to work).

18. That tube of antibiotic cream I mentioned before. Not sure why I'm leaving it there.

19. Owl stickers (because why not). 

20. A giant snail shell I found on the beach years ago. 

21. An empty Smart Water bottle. For some reason, I love having a water bottle on my desk. I like the aesthetic much more than a glass (and there's not the danger of spilling, I always cap my bottles when I'm not drinking from them). 

22. A blood pressure monitor I borrowed and need to return.

23. A check for the bank.

24. A reminder from the dentist.

25. A twist tie I usually keep around my phone charger.

26. An index card and sticky note with verses and quotes that I love.   

27. A hair band and a bobby pin, to keep my hair out of my face when I work (I feel so Violet Baudelaire haha). Usually, though, the hair band is keeping my hair up already (I have really thick hair which makes me feel almost instantly hot when it's down), and I don't need the bobby pin too often.

I'm curious about doing an experiment sometime, to see if I work well with a clear space if I keep it clear long enough. After all, maybe my desk is messy because I'm lazy. But certain things I like to have out and right in my face, like that timer and my to-do paraphernalia, because it's right at hand when I need it. I'm also curious what effect putting everything anyway when I'm done working would have. 



Thursday, June 22, 2017

2017 Book Challenge, April and May Update!

As I mentioned in my last post, March, April, and May were hectic months for me, in which I didn't get much reading done. Because of this, I'm combining April and May, since I only read 3 books total.

April:

April was a tough month with a lot happening. I finished the first draft of Wind Singer, the sequel to Thorn Changer (and it is certainly a rough draft, I have a lot of editing ahead of me). My second nephew was born premature, so I spent some days taking care of my toddler nephew while his parents visited his brother in the hospital. One of our cats, Callie, fell seriously ill. And I spent the first week recovering from being sick myself in March. But I still got 2 books read, so at least it was a little closer to my goal.
 
1. Affluenza*, by John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor

Rating: ***

This book studies the "too much stuff" disease (aka "Affluenza"). It tells you what common symptoms are (like "Swollen Expectations"), probable causes, as well as treatments to try in order to rid yourself of this "disease" (including a chapter on political solutions).

It was intriguing how the authors compared having too much stuff to a disease. I'd never heard that comparison before, and they had some good advice. I feel like some of their suggestions are not super practical, but you've got to start somewhere, and being aware of and learning to control your "need" of more things is a good start.


2. The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

Rating: ****

With her father away much of the time, Princess Irene is under the guard of the servants of his manor house next to a mountain mined for his service. The mountain is filled with goblins, banished only by song. But when the goblins plan to overthrow the kingdom, Irene and the miner boy Curdie must rely on the aid of her magical great-great-grandmother to save the kingdom.

I've read this book several times, and I still enjoy it, even though the writing style is much different than that of books written nowadays. I think young children would enjoy it, but would likely need someone to read it to them in order to understand it. Children 10 and older would be fine reading it on their own, and even though it's written for children, adults would enjoy it as well (I certainly did).


May:

May is the busy season at my work, necessitating long days to get everything done. My second nephew was still in the hospital for part of it, so I had days of babysitting my other nephew. Callie died near the end of the month (a surprise, because she had been doing better). I had to pack up a lot of my things for moving (and I can tell you, after just packing up my personal belongings, I am definitely interested in becoming some form of minimalist). I watched more Netflix than was healthy. Because of all this, I only read one book.


3. The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald

Rating: ****

The sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, Irene and her father have gone away to the capital city, and while Curdie was asked to come along, he has stayed behind to help his parents. However, everything is not right in the capital, and Irene's great-great-grandmother tasks him with setting it right. Given the ability to tell by the touch of a hand whether a human is becoming more depraved and animal-like, or whether an animal is becoming less depraved and more human-like, Curdie sets off to the capital city with Lina, a woman who became an animal and is now trying to grow better and become human again. Things are indeed seriously wrong in the capital, and it will take all of Curdie's courage to set it right.

I don't like it quite as much as The Princess and the Goblin (I'd probably rate it three and one-half stars if I could get a half-star), but it is still a very good book. I was very disappointed by the very ending, though (the ending of the main tale was wonderful, the main tale wrapped up beautifully, albeit almost exactly as I pictured so not much surprise in the book). If the last page or so was cut out, it'd be a much better story. If you read it to children, I suggest not reading the last couple of paragraphs, as I don't think they'd really understand why they were tacked on the end. Honestly, I'm not quite sure why they were myself, but I think MacDonald wanted to make an allegory out of this book (although I don't think it suits well for a children's book). The rest of the book is definitely worth reading.


I've counted up how many books I've read from my Book Challenge list, and it looks like I'm almost halfway through it. Granted, there are a couple I didn't finish, and am not counting in my read quota, but I think I've found enough others to replace them. I'm a little surprised that I've read so many of the nonfiction books already, since I usually lean toward Fantasy. But most of that genre I have on Kindle, and it's easier for me to read paper copies sometimes (like if I read before going to bed), so that might help explain it.

I'll also post reviews of these books on my GoodReads Account.

*For the sake of brevity, I have not included the subtitle of this book.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

2017 Book Challenge, March Update!

If you want to read about how I did on my Book Challenge in January or February, the links will take you to those posts. Today I'm posting about how March went for reading, and what books I read.

I'm a little behind in posting updates (as well as posts in general) because of a lot of life changes, including getting ready to move, taking care of a sick family member, several projects at work, and taking care of sick cats. I plan on regularly posting again, and this post and the next will talk about my reading through May, and get us all caught up (because of time constraints, I didn't read much in either month, so I'll be consolidating those reviews into one post).

March was a chaotic month for me, which you'll notice in the fewer number of books (one was a little longer, but the others were rather short). I spent a lot of my free time this month helping out my ill family member and taking sick cats back and forth from the vet, as well as dealing with illness of my own (which for some reason, I have a hard time reading when I'm sick, anyone else?). But I was pleased to see that, even under those time constraints, I still was able to read four books.


1.  The Joy Of Less*, by Francine Jay

Rating: ****

In this book, Francine goes through and teaches you how to organize, declutter, and simplify your life, and helps challenge your current thinking so you realize why you would want to.

She has a wonderful way of looking at things. From challenging you to think about what you would actually pay to replace if it was all lost, to encouraging you to realize how much you already own when you feel the need to buy more (she suggests trying to number your things when you think you don't have a lot), Francine works on challenging your rationalizations for why your stuff matters, and encourages you to get rid of those things which don't.


2. Lilith*, by George MacDonald

Rating: **

A young man finds himself trying to save children and the woman he loves from her mother, who is bent on destroying them all.

I wanted to read this book because I've read others by him (such as The Wise Woman, my favorite by him), and enjoyed them immensely. Add while this book was intriguing, it was hard to follow in places, and although I finished it, I probably won't read it again. MacDonald goes into rambles sometimes that draw away from the story (although, as this is a book from the 1800s, it probably was typical of these types of books of its time). I would recommend his works for children (such as The Princess and the Goblins) before this one.


3. The More of Less*, by Joshua Becker

Rating: *****

After realizing he spent the day cleaning his garage when he could have been playing ball with his son, Joshua and his wife Kim decided to try downsizing their possessions and see what they really can do without.

I loved this book. Joshua gives some wonderful tips for downsizing, and reasons why. I love his idea of experiments, trying for 29 days to live without something to see if you really need it (I'm currently trying that with sweets, and so far it's been going great!). He also put forward some ideas for minimalism I hadn't come across before, such as having more time to volunteer and give to others in need. There's a lot of books on minimalism out there, but this was the first one I've come across which seems to be written from a Christian's perspective, and as a Christian myself, I enjoyed his connecting minimalism with Biblical principles (but if you are not a Christian, you don't need to worry about this book being "preachy").


4. The 100 Thing Challenge*, by Dave Bruno

Rating: ***

Overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in his and his family's house, Dave decides to experiment and see what it is like living with less by getting rid of almost all of his personal belongings and committing to living for one year with 100 or less things.

I confess, I am not at all interested in living with just 100 things (I was, until I decided to number my stuff just for the fun of it and found out I have over 100 things in my bathroom alone, if you count small things like extra razor blades). I am working on downsizing what I do have, though, and using up my extras (like my 15 little notebooks, for example). I was intrigued with how he did it, and how his year went. I appreciated how open he was with his struggles about living with less, as well as the joys he found in it. There is some swearing in this book.

As you can see, two of the books listed here were not part of my list for my original challenge. I'm pleased to be finding other books I want to read besides those 42 I listed. And even though I did not read much in April or May, I feel pretty good at this point that I'll be able to read 52 books this year.


I've also posted reviews of these books on my GoodReads Account.

*For the sake of brevity, I have not included the subtitles of these books.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Talk! My Thoughts on How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger

I gave a quick review of this book in my February Book Challenge Update, but I wanted to talk more about it as I really enjoyed the book. It contains a lot of information people should know, so they can make their own decisions about what they want to eat.

Dr. Greger recommends a pretty much completely vegan diet, but I urge you to read this book even if you never want to give up your chicken nuggets. Whether you want to follow a plant-based diet or still eat meat every day, the information he provides in this book is to arm yourself with knowledge so you can make informed choices about your diet, no matter what those choices are.

The main organization of the first part of the book is to divide it into chapters talking about how to prevent and possibly recover from the leading causes of death in the U.S.A. (such as heart disease). I like this format because if you have a particular health concern now, or have a history of the disease in your family (such as colon cancer and breast cancer, which my biological grandmothers died of), you can go straight to reading about it right away, instead of having to hunt for it through the book.

The second half talks about his personal diet recommendations, and goes into more depth about each of the points on his checklist app (which I love, and when I got it was free. Check out Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen for Android or iOS). I think the app is amazing, because it gives you an idea of what to shoot for each day in eating, but in a positive way rather than in the normal dietary negative (with recommendations such as add 1.5 cups of beans rather than don't eat potato chips, although he doesn't encourage those either). At least for me, the addition mindset works a lot better than the subtraction one, because instead of bemoaning the loss of ice cream and other yummies from my diet, I can focus on adding a lot of delicious stuff (and honestly, if you eat everything recommended on the checklist, you're probably not going to have a lot of room left for junk in your day anyway). His app also has an exercise recommendation, but personally I just use it more to make sure I moved my booty in some way rather than getting all of his suggested workout time in.

One of the biggest things I love about his book is that he goes straight to the studies to see what they say about certain foods, which diets prevent more diseases, which foods help reverse which diseases, and what the studies say about extracts and isolated vitamins versus the whole foods themselves. He even goes as far as to recommend one type of Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) as opposed to the form most recommended among natural health circles (methylcobalamin) because isn't enough evidence that the other forms really work (Greger & Stone, 2015)*.

And the amount of studies he cites is enormous. At the back of the book, his footnotes section is almost one half inch thick (and yes, I did measure, haha). Granted, some of the studies are listed more than once, but that's still a huge amount of peer-reviewed studies.

Many times when you read posts or books about health and nutrition, they're based on the author's assumptions or only a few studies (at least the ones I've read). And a lot of times, those people are also hawking their own supplements. Maybe I'm just overly paranoid, but I get suspicious when the people who are telling you a certain supplement is good for you are also the ones trying to sell it to you. Dr. Greger recommends a few supplements, but doesn't even give you suggested brands to buy. In a way, it's nice because you know he must have reasoned from the research he's conducted that they are actually beneficial, and he's not making any money off it. At the same time, it would be nice to know which brands he uses personally, but if he did tell us, then that same no-kick-back-possible factor wouldn't be there.

A word of warning, though. His book does read in a sarcastic way similar to his videos on YouTube. Personally, I adore sarcasm (probably a little too much) so that was just a bonus for me. If you're not such a fan, I still recommend reading it, but maybe read the sample on Amazon or borrow it from your local library before you buy it.

In short, I love this book, you should read it, and then make decisions on what to eat based on being fully informed of the benefits and consequences of those choices.

To learn more about Dr. Greger and his work, go to http://nutritionfacts.org/.


*Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2015). How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. New York: Flatiron.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

2017 Book Challenge: February Update!

Today I'm sharing my February update on my reading challenge. I'll list the books, and give a short review of each one.

Here's the books I read:


1. How Not to Die*, by Michael Greger and Gene Stone

Rating: *****

What causes disease? Should we blame it all on genetics? Or is there something we can actually do about it? Dr. Greger looks at numerous nutritional studies and based on the results, gives his dietary advice.

I have long been a fan of Dr. Greger's YouTube channel (I love his sarcastic sense of humor), and when I heard he had written a book, I knew I had to read it. To my utter delight, it reads exactly like he speaks in his videos. Another thing I really appreciate is that all his dietary recommendations come backed by studies. He doesn't just pull ideas out of unicorn land and say "hey, eat this way." Rather, he goes to the studies themselves and sees what dietary guidelines work best.

If you love sarcasm and nutrition based on peer-reviewed research, I highly recommend his book and channel. If you don't, then don't get this one.


2. Overdressed*, by Elizabeth L. Cline

Rating: ****

If you've ever wondered where your clothing came from, and whether $5 for a top was really a good deal, this is the book for you. Ms. Cline discusses the history of the clothing industry, and the dangers our new fast fashion world hold.

Honestly, my gut reaction was to make all my own clothes after reading this, but it's since transformed into caring better for what I have and being willing to pay more for quality (although I am intrigued with the idea of learning how to sew more than I ever was in the past). It would have been nice if she provided a resources list though. I'm an eco nerd, so I already have a good idea of where I could buy more fairly and sustainably (and trust me, organic cotton is the way to go for socks and panties. Try it, you'll thank me). Those not as well versed as I am, though (and I consider myself a beginner yet) may feel lost without suggestions of where they might be able to shop.



3. No More Dirty Looks*, by Siobhan O'Connor and Alexandra Spunt

Rating: ****

We've heard a lot about the dangers of what's in our food, but what about the chemicals of what we put on our face? This book gives a quick overview of some chemicals to avoid, and guides you in replacing your toxic toiletries with those that will actually be good for your skin.

I really liked their delivery style, although some if it seemed a little put on playful (is that how you describe it?). For example, some of their cutesy jokes and wordplay felt a little overdone. But their material was good, and they really provide some wonderful suggestions if you're just getting into the natural products game (including a warning to take heed before picking up just any product that claims to be natural).


4. Spark Joy*, by Marie Kondō

Rating: ****

This book takes the concepts of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and adds fun illustrations as well as some extra tips (such as how to fold your clothes properly, I really struggled with that, and the illustrations help a lot).

I thought the illustrations really added to the book. Although some of Ms. Kondo's methods are a little out there for me (such as thanking your things like they're alive, honestly that just kind of freaks me out), her tips on the order of decluttering and how to go about it really resonate with me. While I have not Konmari'd my life yet, it's a process I am definitely interested in trying out. I'm glad it's working for so many people.




5. Women In Clothes, by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton

Rating: *

The authors spoke with several women about how their clothes shape them, and how they go about choosing what to wear and their relationship with clothes.

I didn't end up finishing this one. The concept was great, but the execution was poor. The book was disjointed, with the formatting confusing at best. It read like they threw stories in willy nilly without any planning or proper organization. It's sad, because I think the concept was a wonderful one. I wish the authors had taken the time to develop it properly.


6. Deluxe*, by Dana Thomas

Rating: ****

This book chronicles the journey of luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and how they transformed from companies producing quality for the wealthy into mainstream conglomerates marketing to the middle class.

After reading this book, I am longer saving up my money to buy a high end bag, because as Ms. Thomas reveals, these bags aren't that high end any more, and they might not even be made where they claim to be made. If you are a lover of luxury brands, then I don't recommend reading Deluxe, unless you're trying to curb a spending habit. If I understood the book correctly, there is still some quality in luxury brands, but it sounds like anyone who is okay without the name brand is better off searching for a quality lesser priced alternative.


7. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Rating: ****

Their fortunes as derelict as the castle ruins they rent, Cassandra, Rose, and their family appear to have a bleak future, until an American gentleman inherits the estate.

For some reason, I had an idea this was a fantasy story, but it's not. Cassandra's whimsical view of the world and the changes that come over her thinking as she grows up are endearing and bring you to her side almost immediately. Although I wasn't expecting a romance when I picked this book up, I enjoyed it a lot. The only part I have issues with is the ending, which was disappointing when I excepted it to wrap up all those loose ends.




8. How Not to Die*, by Jan Garavaglia

Rating: ***

Medical examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia recounts the strange and horrible ways people have ended up dead in her morgue, and suggests how you can avoid a similar fate.

I actually found this book when I was searching for Dr. Greger's How Not to Die*, and the idea intrigued me. If I could stand the sight of blood, I would have considered becoming a ME myself. Some of the deaths she describes are truly heartbreaking, since they were seemingly so preventable. She gives a lot of good advice, although she follows strict medical ideals (such as getting flu shots, which if I have heard correctly, are not as effective as once thought, something to research and check with your doctor about). While I will not be following all of her advice, I am incorporating some of her suggestions into my life (just got to hope that I'm not mistaken about ignoring the rest, haha).

Total read: 7.

Unfinished: 1.

Read so far: 20.

Unfinished so far: 2.

Again, I was pleased with my reading progress in February, as most of these were longer books (some were shorter, and some were very easy reads, so that helped). I was pleased to find two books this month to replace the two I didn't finish. Only 32 left to reach 52 books read!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you agree or disagree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.

I also left the reviews for all of these on GoodReads.

*For the sake of brevity, I have not included the subtitles of these books.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

My Life According to My Cat: The Pill

It's morning, but early yet. There is no sun peeking through the curtain, though the sky is gray tone instead of black. I close my eye again, curled comfortably into my little warm ball of fur. For anyone reading this who is not a cat, I feel sorry for you. Because you have no idea of the delights of being able to curl into a ball and be surrounded by warm fur, and because you are not a cat (you can take comfort that you are not a dog, though).

A door creaks open. Her. It's always her this early. Trying to be stealthy, to sneak out here quietly to where I'm cuddled up on the couch. I would laugh if it wasn't so pitiful. Humans really have no idea what loud creatures they are.

Footsteps. You'd think an elephant taught her to walk. She must have learned how to be stealthy from a dog. I would teach her better, but that would be annoying. Plus, it is more convenient this way. No need to listen hard to figure out where she is. I curl tighter into my ball, closing my eye again. I'm almost back to sleep when I hear that hideous noise: "FEESH! Hun-nee!" What possessed her to think "feesh" was a good nickname for me? If she was going to call me something delicious, couldn't she at least pronounce it correctly, "fish" instead of "feesh"? She's no better than a kitten.

It is laughable, though, that she thinks she's whispering. The other humans must be deaf not to hear her.

"There you are, my love!" a hand musses up my fur before I have a chance to turn around, as the couch cushion next to me sinks. She's faster than I thought she would be. But then, it's only because I'm still practically asleep. I open my eye again. There she is, smiling that smile which means danger. Sure enough, as she pulls me onto her lap, I see the disgusting pill in her other hand.

My mouth is open and it's going down my throat before I can claw my way free. Bleugh! It tastes awful, like that time I licked my fur after going through some cobwebs. Bitter and sticky. I glare at her as she proceeds to run her hand over my fur. It was clean. "There, now you sleep until it's time to eat."

I'd scratch her, but that would be rude. Although as she continues to hold me, the temptation is strong. I squirm, and she finally gets the hint and deposits me back into my nice warm spot. As she gets up and heads into the kitchen, I consider chasing after her to bite her ankle. But it's not worth the trouble. I'll trip her later when she's getting my food ready.

I curl back into my spot, but now the blanket is messed up. I claw at it until it's adequate, and lay back down. She'll leave me alone for an hour now, before she comes back with my food. I run my tongue over my paw. I'll sleep again. But I'll need another bath first.

To learn more about why MeMe needs medicine, you can check out this post I wrote on my other blog.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book Excerpt: Thorn Changer Chapter Five Part Four, Last One!

If you missed Part OnePart Two or Part Three of Chapter Five, go ahead and follow the links. Today, I'm posting the last part of Chapter Five, a very short scene. This completes the sample chapters I'll be posting for Thorn Changer. However, please read through to the end of the post, because that announcement I promised Monday is coming up.😊

If you want to see the copyright/disclaimer page, go to the Amazon page and click on the picture of Thorn Changer for the Look Inside option, and scroll up (this also gives you a chance to see the beautiful detail of the cover).


* * *

Excerpt from Thorn Changer by Christy Reed 


Skey swung her feet, kicking the leg of the bench, as she waited for the cook to finish her mutterings about “no-good vagabonds” and “feed bags with a dozen holes for every inch” and bring her the bowl of stew she so grudgingly ladled out. Her stomach was complaining, gnawing at itself. It didn’t like its long fast. It’d been three days now since she’d eaten anything but some wild berries she’d found growing on a bramble bush by the roadside. Raspberries, she would’ve said they were, save that it was too late in the year. Whatever they were, there’d been far too few of them. Skey wished the cook would be as fast in getting that stew over to her as she was in using her tongue.
“It appears you’re not too fond of minstrels,” she made an attempt at a joke, as with a sour look the woman set the bowl before her. “Is it the sound of their voice grating along on notes? Or their harp strings tuned ten years ago?”
“It’s the way they fill their bellies as though eating for ten or twelve.” The cook scowled. “You’re all alike. Nothing but empty sieves.”
Skey laughed, as she dipped her spoon into the bowl. What an old fool. The steamy smell of vegetables and beef rising from the stew made her even hungrier. “It certainly feels that way sometimes. Either I’ll be feeding my belly, or else it’ll be eating itself.” She grinned at her, “But maybe it looks that way to you because your cooking smells so good. If you’d cook worse, I think you might solve the problem.”
The woman blushed. Yes, those charm lessons did come in handy. “But if you’ve a troublesome lover,” she continued, “you might get rid of him just as easily. I’ve no experience, but they say the way to change a man’s heart’s to change your cooking. But if it fails, it’s nothing some hot spice can’t take care of. Or some hemlock.”
The kitchen woman laughed. She gave Skey a playful box on the ear. “Aye, you’re not only a minstrel, but a scalawag as well. If I had the bad luck of being your mother, I’d be driven well-nigh frantic by you.”
The warm stew in her mouth was cold and tasteless. She forced herself to swallow. “Aye, you would’ve been,” she said, as the cook went off to tend her pots. She sighed. “My own mother couldn’t handle it.”


* * *


That's the end of Chapter Five. I hope you enjoyed it. For right now, Thorn Changer is available exclusively on Amazon. Feel free to share this excerpt, just please include all text between the asterisks (* * *), as well as a link to Thorn Changer's Amazon page. This will give your viewers a link to where they can purchase Thorn Changer if they're interested. Thanks.

Okay, so my announcement: right now, Thorn Changer is on sale on Amazon for 99¢. If you want to snag a copy at this price, head on over to Amazon. This sale will only last around a week.


Thank you so much for reading these chapters. I hope you found them interesting!

Next week, I'll return to posting once a week on Thursdays. 


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Excerpt: Thorn Changer Chapter Five Part Three

If you missed Part One or Part Two, go ahead and follow the links. Today, I'm posting Chapter Five Part Three of Thorn Changer

If you want to see the copyright/disclaimer page, go to the Amazon page and click on the picture of Thorn Changer for the Look Inside option, and scroll up (this also gives you a chance to see the beautiful detail of the cover).



* * *

Excerpt from Thorn Changer by Christy Reed 


“Yes, yes, I believe so,” Sieku laughed at Lord Gredlo’s comment. “The minstrels have been keeping Foaie at a standstill, or so I hear. Hopefully His Majesty will figure out how to defeat the Iezomen for good soon.”
“My lady?” she heard a voice at her elbow.
Sieku looked at her steward. “Yes? What is it?”
“Forgive me for the interruption, but would you care to have the minstrel play now? She’s quite ready to do my lady’s bidding.”
Sieku smiled. It would never do to admit she had eavesdropped. “Ah, so you did find a minstrel? And a woman, at that?”
“No, my lady…she’s but a child. But her skill makes up for it.”
“Are you sure she’s good?” She laughed, “I can’t have a bad singer. You know the talk it’d make.”
He shook his head. She smothered a giggle. What if it rattled loose from his neck… “No, no, no, my lady. I assure you she plays well. Very well. She may even rival Farer.”
“Well, then, she must be skilled.” To hear a minstrel besides Farer, after all this time… “Yes, I believe we’re quite ready for some music,” looking around to the guests. “Would you care to hear the minstrel now, or shall we wait a while longer?”
Many nods went around the room. “Yes indeed, whenever you wish is fine,” Lady Meyka said, closing her fan. “I would like to hear a minstrel’s voice after so many weeks.”
Sieku turned back to the steward with a smile. “Very well, you’ve heard the decision. Fetch this young minstrel of yours.”
The doors of the great hall opened. All was silent as a yellow-haired girl walked into the room, and straight to her.
So this was the minstrel. The steward wasn’t exactly right when he called her a child. Though she wasn’t grown up either. Around fifteen, sixteen, she’d say. The girl gave a sweeping bow, and looked up at Sieku with confident green eyes. The kind of eyes she’d always imagined the fae had. “Greetings, my lady. Am I to have the pleasure of playing for you and this merry company tonight?”
Sieku laughed. She liked politeness in a minstrel. “Yes, indeed.”
The lass straightened up. “Very well. Tell me, what shall I play for the pleasure of my lady’s ears?”
Such good court manners. It was like she had spent years as a royal minstrel. “How about ‘The Chalice of Nairve’?” Sieku took her chair at the head table. Gredlo and Meyka sat on either side of her, as the peasants in the great hall followed suit.
The girl dropped to one knee before her table. “If that’s my lady’s pleasure.” Her fingers glided over the strings. She bowed her head. In a low clear voice, she began:
“Many tales have been told
Of Zennure, and the cup of gold,
The treasure of the glad fairies,
Not for men’s eyes to see,
The Chalice of Nairve.

Her father a shepherd,
She watched the flock, as a small bird
Sung softly, sweetly in a tree.
There appeared a lady
Shroud in fine misty gray.

She tried to run away.
The lady said, ‘Don’t be afraid.
I need your help to find something
Dearer than anything
Any tongue’s words can say.’

‘What, Lady?’ Zennure asked.
‘If I can, I’ll complete this task.’
The lady told her the whole tale
Of that cup of gold pale.
And Zennure didn’t stay.

She started out to find
The cup whose tale was in her mind.
It is too long to tell of here,
But by hill and stream clear
She made her winding way.

At the cave said to hold
That Chalice of such lovely gold.
A fierce dragon stood on guard,
With sharp fangs and scales hard,
Keeping Zennure away.

She charmed it with a song
Of spring, and summer days so long.
The dragon sighed, and fell asleep.
Zennure softly did creep,
And took that of Nairve.

She came back, but she found
The lady was nowhere around.
She couldn’t find her anywhere.
So she watched with it there,
The Chalice of Nairve.”
The words faded away, as the girl ran her fingers once again over the strings, and was silent. Sieku sat still, and didn’t say a word, though many cheers went up from every side of the room. The child told it almost as if she had been there, had lived through the legend. Never had she heard it so well told. She gazed down at the girl as she tuned her strings and brushed off an imaginary speck of dust. Maybe she was fae, after all.
It was just a song, couldn’t be real, yet she couldn’t help asking every time she heard it. “What ever happened to them? What became of Zennure, and the lady?”
The girl looked up, and smiled. “I don’t know. But I hope the lady returned one day, and took Zennure back with her to her fair kingdom.”
Was that bitterness she detected? Why? She peered closer at her. Where did this girl come from, anyway? She didn’t quite look Beolkin or Mekain…
“Now, Seili,” the steward’s voice cut into her thoughts, “sing that song you sung earlier. You know, about the tear. You’re certain to be pleased with this one, my lady,” he turned to Sieku.
She sighed to herself, and nodded to the girl. She would have to ponder this all out later. Seili ran her fingers over the strings:
“But a drop, but a tear,
But a second in a year.
But what things are revealed
In naught more than a tear…”


* * *



That's the end of Chapter Five Part Three. I hope you enjoyed it. For right now, Thorn Changer is available exclusively on Amazon. Feel free to share this excerpt, just please include all text between the asterisks (* * *), as well as a link to Thorn Changer's Amazon page. This will give your viewers a link to where they can purchase Thorn Changer if they're interested. Thanks.

Chapter Five Part Four will be available tomorrow.