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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Into the Drowning Deep

I've been hearing good things about Mira Grant's (Seanan McGuire's) Into the Drowning Deep. So I got it from the library and started reading it on Sunday when I went out to camp for the last time this summer.

Into the Drowning Deep starts out with an entertainment company, Imagine, sending a boat, the Atargatis, out to the Mariana Trench to film a mocumentary about finding mermaids. Unfortunately they actually discovered mermaids, who devoured the entire cast and crew, leaving only the ship behind. Their footage was leaked, and the world was left to grapple with whether or not the mermaids were real. Now, seven years later, Imagine is sending a second ship, the Melusine, to definitively prove the existence of mermaids to the world. They've contracted the world's leading oceanographers, and designed the Melusine to be both research vessel and floating fortress so as not to have a repeat of the Atargatis disaster. Unfortunately, unknown to the scientists who are on the vessel, some of the security features of the Melusine aren't quite working....

Among the scientists on board the Melusine are Victoria Stewart, a grad student who specializes in sonar and who wants revenge however she can get it because her sister was on the Atargatis, and Dr. Jillian Toth, the world's expert on mermaids (even though many people think she's a quack, she pointed the Atargatis towards the Mariana Trench seven years ago, and feels guilty because she sent those people to die). Dr. Toth finds her estranged husband, Theo Blackwell, accompanying the vessel as well. Theo is the right hand man of Imagine's CEO, and realistically shouldn't be on the vessel (he had an accident years ago), but he is there all the same as the head of the vessel in everything except security (that's the Captain's job).

I loved how the mermaids (or more realistically "sirens") felt plausible through the whole story (even though they went from the deeps to the surface without any issue - I wasn't sure how she was going to make that sound plausible, but she did!) You could tell that McGuire really did her research on them (and she acknowledges "all the aquarium employees who were willing to talk about mermaids with me" at the end of the book). 

I also really liked the characters of the book. The deaf twins who resented the world that wasn't willing to even attempt to communicate with them (by learning simple signs). Their sister who grew up signing and started to find a way to communicate with the mermaids. Imagine's employee who has some form of autism. And how okay a lot of the characters were with theirs (and others') sexuality. It was a diverse cast who never felt forced - they were just people being people.

The one thing I wasn't a fan of was the ending. It felt super abrupt. All of this stuff was happening and then it wasn't anymore.  And when the large female was surfacing and Tory saw it but wasn't really saying anything in narrative I was a bit annoyed.  That was the author specifically leaving details out to artificially build suspense.  Not great.

The beginning is also a bit slow.  I didn't find it bad, but it felt like it took a lot to get the story really going.  I realize that some of the backstory (especially about the Atargatis and how it related to certain characters) was necessary.  But I felt like the story doesn't *really* start until about 100 or so pages in.

That being said though, I still did enjoy reading it.  The book falls a bit more into the horror side of speculative writing than I normally read, but that was okay too.

Friday, September 6, 2019

New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living

I saw New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living at the library last night and decided to read it on a whim. I started reading it last night and finished it a few minutes ago.

New Minimalism isn't remotely groundbreaking; I've heard a lot of the arguments in the book before. Declutter before buying storage. Declutter in this set order. etc, etc. I honestly almost stopped reading half way through because I was getting bored. Of course, if you've never read a book on decluttering (or sustainability), you won't have this problem. The authors were relatively engaging throughout the text.

I didn't really like how they handled their archetypes though. They defined four decluttering archetypes that people generally fall under (connected, practical, energetic and frugal - I'm most closely related to energetic and frugal based on the questionnaires), but then when they went through the decluttering process, they simply noted which archetypes will have trouble with different categories, rather than actually giving tips for each one (which is what I expected in a book that has defined categories like that). Plus the book was really heavy on the theory of decluttering (again, the archetypes), but overall really lean on actual decluttering tips.  The book finishes up with "12" design principles; some of the principles overlapped (like redefining your definition of full and using boundaries to indicate when a category is full), while others I would call suggestions, which are not going to be practical for everyone (like put your dresser in your closet - not really a principle,  plus that doesn't work if you have an older house with no closets, like mine).

But the one thing I really liked reading were the small snippets when they talked about things their clients struggled with. Those stories were interesting and I wish there had been more of them!

If you're new to decluttering, New Minimalism is a great place to get you started, especially since it's such a quick read. But if you've already read any books on decluttering, you'll probably want to give this one a pass.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Automatic Millionaire Homeowner: A Powerful Plan to Finish Rich in Real Estate

As I was reading The Automatic Millionaire, I was struck by the fact that homeowners are, on average, much wealthier than renters. I went looking to why this was the case; in a nutshell, renters are funding someone else's wealth, while if you're a homeowner, every mortgage payment you make goes towards you (and building the equity in your home).  This completely changed my perspective (I've been looking at it as a case of throwing money on rent is the same as paying property taxes - neither of them really get you anything/go towards your assets), so I decided to give David Bach's book The Automatic Millionaire Homeowner a read, too.

In this quick read, Bach walks you through the process of buying a home, be it your first home or a new rental property.  He starts the book with arguments on why it's smarter to buy than rent, gives you some tips on how to get into the market when you don't think you have the money for a down payment. Once you are thoroughly convinced (and if not he recommends you reread some of the chapters), he then looks at the more practical aspects like researching mortgages, interviewing mortgage advisors and real estate agents, and how to pay off your mortgage a few years early, saving you thousands of dollars in the process. He ends the book with a chapter on weathering the inevitable market bust that happens every 20 years or so, and with a final chapter encouraging you to help others become homeowners (through charities like Habitat For Humanity).  I actually really like that both this book and The Automatic Millionaire end with chapters on donating time and money to charities; a lot of the financial books I've read are more about accumulating wealth so it was nice to be reminded about the positives of giving, too.

I really liked how thorough Bach was. He really dissected the whole path to home ownership and explained it all in easy-to-understand language. Of course, I was also a fan of the fact that this book is the Canadian edition, so it was more pertinent to me than the American edition would have been. Unfortunately, like The Automatic Millionaire, The Automatic Millionaire Homeowner was written over a decade ago, so some of the websites and other facts may be out of date.

I'd also like to add that this thinking of mortgage as building your assets flies in the face of JL Collins' advice in The Simple Path to Wealth; Collins advocated for not owning and instead investing your money in an index fund. He said that only once you are secure (and wealthy) should you consider buying a home as a luxury.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and FinishRich

So I found another personal finance book that I had to read: The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach. I was happy to see that it was the Canadian Edition too.

Now there's a big caveat to this book: like The Wealthy Barber, The Automatic Millionaire is rather out of date.  It was published before tax free savings accounts were available for Canadians (and presumably before ETFs and index funds were around/talked about).  So he only talks about RRSPs and mutual funds.

But Bach's advice is still pretty solid. He recommends paying yourself first (at least 10% of your pay). Buying a house. Getting out of debt (especially credit card debt). And tithing (giving money or time to charity).  While some of this advice is pretty standard (you can't build wealth if you're saddled with debt), I found the house discussion particularly interesting. Here Bach was saying you can't get rich if you don't own your own house because if you're paying rent, that money is going towards making your landlord wealthy, not to your own net worth (whereas if you're paying down a mortgage, every payment is building equity within your house). This goes against the advice JL Collins gave in The Simple Path to Wealth, but is definitely worth considering.

I also liked the discussion on tithing. It's a short chapter at the back of the book that just talks about how giving attracts abundance (and how giving is very common for people who later became quite wealthy), and also how you should make sure your money is actually going to help the cause you're supporting (and not to administration fees). Again, something worth considering.

Overall, The Automatic Millionaire is another fairly basic book on personal finance. But I think it's still worth reading because now I have more to think about in terms of my own finances (which is always a good thing!)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to Make a Plant Love You: Cultivate Green Space in Your Home and Heart

When I first saw Summer Rayne Oakes' How to Make a Plant Love You, I was pretty intrigued. I love house plants and currently have about twenty in my space. But after recently losing a couple, I was thinking reading about better cultivating green space in my apartment might help me make sure my plants are happy.

How to Make a Plant Love You starts out by talking about the many benefits of plants for people, and how we are losing our connection to them (and nature in general) as we're migrating into cities. There is a lot of research that talks about how beneficial it is for us to be out in nature, or at the very least around plants. Oakes also talked about what cities like Singapore are doing to green the space in an attempt to make people healthier; I really want to go and see it now!

She also talks a bit about how plants function; this discussion reminded me of what was in The Soil Will Save Us (except that Kristin Ohlson's book goes into far more detail on the subject).

Unfortunately, the subtitle of How to Make a Plant Love You is a bit misleading; I found the book to be extremely light on the details of how to actually cultivate your own space and get plants to love you (beyond "do research to make sure the plant you like will actually like it in your place"). The few chapters on the subject really didn't have a lot to them; while giving a few very basic tips (consider light, soil, and water), Oakes talked more about what she has done in her own apartment and life. I'm sure you can adapt that to your own life if you'd like (and really, her main message is just to get started and bring a plant into your home). But if you already live with plants, this part of the book really brings nothing new.

How to Make a Plant Love You is ultimately a quick read though that does have some interesting tidbits. If you're curious about the benefits of plants within your home, definitely consider giving this a read. But if you've lived with plants for awhile (and researched them at all), you might want to give this one a pass.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Unquiet Land

Well, here we are: Unquiet Land, the last book in Sharon Shinn's Elemental Blessings series. I brought it out to camp with me over the long weekend, starting it on Saturday night, bringing it out to the dock with me on Sunday, and finishing it Sunday night (or more accurately, Monday morning around 3am). I've been super excited to read it because overall I've really enjoyed Shinn's Elemental Blessings, but I was also a bit sad to be reading it because this is it.

Unquiet Land follows Leah, who was working in Malinqua as a spy for Darien Serlast; she helped Corene out a fair bit in that city. At the end of Jeweled Fire, she agreed to go home to Welce.  She decided that after five years of running, it's time she tries to be a mother to her daughter, Mally (who in Royal Airs was the decoy princess because she looked so much like Odelia, but now that Odelia was determined to be unfit to rule, Mally is free to be herself).

After arriving in Welce to restart her life, she is approached by Darien Serlast, who wants her to open a shop in the hopes of attracting some foreign visitors.  While in Malinqua, Leah had been working at a booth in the Great Market with Chandran, so she has some experience with this sort of thing (and determined that she actually has a talent, both for choosing wares to sell, and for selling to wealthy clients).  With his wife, Zoe Lalindar, and Zoe's best friend Annova, and some help from Chandran from afar, Leah puts the shop together in record time. She is also surprised by Chandran, who has followed her to Welce.  He shares a secret with her that leads her to keep him at arms length for a bit while she considers it, but over time (and through working with Annova at the shop), they become closer.

Leah also slowly grows closer to her daughter.  At five years old, Leah doesn't know quite how to tell Mally that they belong together.  But with the help of her friends, she spends more and more time with Mally and grows closer to her.  I actually really liked this aspect of the story; it would be very hard to grow closer to a child whom you've never met (and very hard to find the right moment to tell them that you are their mother).

The story took a couple of weird twists near the end.  Leah does manage to befriend one of the foreign people Darien wanted her to learn information about.  These foreigners are people of extremes: they will do works of great charity in order to do things of great sin. Their country was annexed some time ago by another one, so they are in Welce trying to gain an alliance.  Because Darien doesn't want an alliance with them, he has been holding them off, telling them he has to speak with the primes.  The prince believes that Darien is therefore weak, or else that he is not actually going to be crowned king instead of Odelia (Odelia is a blood heir of the last king, and therefore the only one who should wear the crown in his opinion).  Unfortunately, his people have encountered Mally, who still introduces herself as Odelia (as she had to as the decoy princess).  Believing they have found the true heir, they kidnap her in the hopes of securing the alliance they seek.

This was a weird turn in the story in my opinion.  I was expecting them to kidnap Celia, Darien and Zoe's daughter.  But whatever.

Darien and company go chasing after the kidnappers to head them off before they board ships and leave the country.  Their plan is to offer Chandran in exchange for Mally; Chandran believes they will accept this because he greatly wronged the prince's family in the past.  Leah is heartbroken because she wants both Mally and Chandran to be safe.  An unexpected twist sees Mally freed: Leah's friend among the foreigners realized Mally was Leah's daughter and stole her away from the others to give her back.  And when enemy soldiers try to stop them, Mally literally moves mountains to save them, revealing herself as the heir to the torz prime.  It was very climatic, but in a lot of ways not entirely fitting with the rest of the book.

Overall though, I did enjoy Unquiet Land.  As a story about a woman trying to navigate her way among family (and in many ways building her own family), it's wonderful.  I actually really loved how Mally's father explained things to Leah, too - he called them a family and she disagreed (she wants nothing to do with him because he broke her heart, but she has to see him because he is Mally's father).  He countered by saying that they're not a household, but they're still a family. That's such a great sentiment because it is so true: once you have a child together, you are connected, even if you're not living in the same house. 

I also liked how Lean and Chandran navigated the way through their relationship in the aftermath of Chandran sharing his great secret with her.  They kept trying to stay apart so Leah could consider things (especially whether or not she could trust Chandran around her daughter).  But slowly they grow closer while working in the shop together (plus one of the primes endorses Chandran to Leah, saying he's a good man).

Even though it is the first book not to deal specifically with the princesses (or Zoe who was supposed to marry the king), Unquiet Land is a good addition to the Elemental Blessings series. I just wish it wasn't the last one - I would love to read more about Shinn's fantastic characters and setting!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right & Enjoy Life

I read about Melissa Leong's Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right & Enjoy Life in the same article as You Are a Badass at Making Money.  I was attracted because Leong is Canadian, so her book is going to be a lot more relevant to me than most American financial planning books are.  I also liked how Leong wants you to rethink your relationship to money so that you can be happier in your life. 

I honestly almost stopped reading Happy Go Money part way through because it starts off very much like a self-help book (like You Are a Badass at Making Money was).  But after that point, it got into a lot more tangible financial stuff (such as explaining different options for your cash like mutual funds, ETFs, and GICs, or explaining different kinds of insurance and why you might need them).  By the end of the book, I was glad that I kept reading; Leong's writing was both practical and lighthearted as the TBPL Off the Shelf article promised.  I will offer the caveat though that Happy Go Money is very much for people who are new to the world of personal finance; if you've done some reading on the subject, you may want to give this book a pass because it is very basic. 

As a fun side note, I've actually read 2 of the 4 books she recommends in her resource list: Preet Banerjee's Stop Over-thinking Your Money! and Shannon Lee Simmons' Worry-Free Money, which were both excellent. And the other two, The Wealthy Barber Returns and Money Rules, are both already on my list of books to eventually read on the subject! :)