Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

Well, here we are: in finishing Steve Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, I also finished my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge!  I can't quite remember where I first hears about The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, but I remember it sounding good.  The library had it on order, so I put my name on the list.  I've had it out for quite a while, and was actually thinking about returning it because I just didn't seem to have enough time to read it.  But over the course of the last week I've been a bit sick, and had a bit more reading time.  I actually chose to bring The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs yesterday with me to a walk in clinic (I got through a good third of the book just sitting there waiting!)  So as much as being sick sucks, I can directly thank it for getting through this book (and getting through my Reading Challenge this quickly - I finished 397 Ways to Save Money, and read Worry-Free Money all while at home sick!)

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is an interesting read.  Yes, it goes through dinosaur history from how dinosaurs got their start in the Triassic period (their ancestors evolved prior to this, but the first true dinosaurs didn't appear until the mid to late Triassic), to when they died out 66 million years ago when the asteroid impacted (and Brusatte backs up why the asteroid is the accepted reason why the majority of dinosaurs went extinct).  He tells of the wonderful diversity of dinosaurs, how evolution made some of them possible (like the gigantic sauropods and Tyrannosaurus rex), and even how they evolved flight (and by extension, became birds).  The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs also tells about the people who made these discoveries and how they determined how these animals lived. 

I think some of my favourite sections were the chapter on Tyrannosaurus rex, and the discussion of sauropod lungs (which happen to be the same style of lungs that both the T. rex and modern birds share).  The discovery of feathers and how we can now tell the feather's pigments was super interesting too.  Oh, I'm not going to lie - I found the whole discussion of dinosaurs from their ancestors, the archomorphs, right through until the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous fascinating.

I did have a bit of a hard time with keeping all the scientists straight though.  Part way through I found myself really wishing Brusatte had included a who is who list somewhere (like a dramatis personae in plays) just to help keep everyone straight.  Actually, I found myself wishing for something like that with the dinosaurs he mentioned, too.  Some of them were easy to keep straight (like different sauropods and theropods), but I kept getting confused with many of the other, less-familiar dinosaurs.  Oh, and I really liked the dinosaur sketches and the random pictures Brusatte included; I would have loved to see more!

I was also happy that he included a brief epilogue about what came after the dinosaurs.  Apparently life sufficiently recovered within about a half-million years after the Cretaceous extinction event.  So that's promising, whatever happens after us (if humans don't manage to stop the horrible extinction-event we've set in motion).

All in all, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was an entertaining and informative read.  I'm really glad I read it, rather than sending it back to the library unread!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Worry-Free Money: the Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life

I can't honestly remember why I took Shannon Lee Simmons' Worry-Free Money: the Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life out from the library (it wasn't on that list of top financial books for Canadians, nor was it recommended in Preet Banerjee's book).  Oh well.  Whatever the reason, I finished it today (I started it a little while ago, read a few other books, then went back and started it two days ago, making this a really fast two day read).

Simmons is the founder of the New School of Finance, which I admit to never having heard of prior to reading this book (and which for some reason I thought was in Vancouver; it's not, it's in Toronto). Simmons quit her job on Bay Street to start her own business; here she shares her tips for getting regular people back on track with their finances (and helps shed light on whether or not you can actually afford certain expenses).

Worry-Free Money is split into three parts.  Part 1, Stop Feeling Broke, asks you to look at your life checklist (which you usually mentally compile to keep up with your friends and family - the people you identify with, who Simmons refers to as your Joneses).  It also explains how social media can easily exasperate this because you scroll through curated pictures that highlight your Joneses lifes (and which can make you feel envious in a "oh if they can afford that, why can't I?" kind of way).  Finally, she makes the case of why you shouldn't compare yourself to anyone - you don't know what their financial situation is like.  To go on the trips, get the home renos, etc, your Joneses may be in debt to their eyeballs, or came into an inheritance; you just don't know.

I'm not going to lie: I had a bit of a hard time relating to the first section.  I feel like I'm in a point in my life that I'm not quite sure where I'm going, so I don't necessarily have a life checklist.  Nor do I feel like I compare myself to other people on social media.  It was an enlightening part of the book, but yeah, just not very relevant to me.

But that's okay; part 2, Stop Budgeting, Start Living, and Get Control, is where the fun of the book begins!  Simmons advocates getting rid of a budget because budgets set you up to fail, and make you feel bad about every one of your purchases (especially if you come close to or surpass the arbitrary limit you put on each area of your spending).  In Simmons' view, life is unexpected and we don't know that we'll spend the same amount on everything each month; some months will have higher expenses in one area than the other.  So instead of a budget, Simmons advocates splitting your expenses up into Fixed Expenses (these are your mortgage, utilities, gym memberships, minimum debt payments, etc; basically all of your recurring fees.  This should not be more than 55% of your after-tax income), Meaningful Savings (this is where you put more money towards debts, or save for retirement, etc), Short-Term Savings (these are for short term goals like a vacation fund, and buffers for things like car repairs and home renos), and finally your Spending Money/Hard Limit (which includes groceries, gas, entertainment, and all the rest of your expenses).  Simmons says you can spend your spending money on whatever you want/however you want to, but do not go above your Hard Limit.

To make things easier, she says it's best to have two accounts: one where you put your Spending Money into, and the other to deal with everything else.  Then you can spend your Spending Money down to zero and not be worried about dipping into your other expenses. 

Part 2 has tons of examples of how all of this breaks down (using true stories, with permission, from Simmons' clients), talks about how to figure out whether you can afford a Lifestyle Upgrade (this is something bigger that will change your Fixed Expenses permanently, like a bigger house). Part 2 also explains Happy Spending (which is spending that you feel good about both now and in the future) and how your purchases need to both feel good and be affordable.  Then she goes into detail about saying no to overspending, and not feeling guilty about saying no to things (and to help you not feel guilty, she advocates about being honest about your finances with other people when you say no; according to Simmons, money is a taboo subject and she thinks that if we change that and start talking about it without judging, the world will be a better place for all).

Part 3, The Future is Financially Friendly (I Promise), has a few chapters about making and adapting to changes in your life (basically you can either spend less or earn more), making the best of a situation when life hands you lemons (when you're dealing with lemons, you may need to look at your life checklist and see if you can make a change so you will be financially safe and so in the long term happier), being realistic about how uncertain life can be (spoiler: have an emergency savings fund that is easy, but not too easy, to access), dealing with financial regrets (you made the best decision at the time that you could with all the information at the time; if you compare yourself to other people, often you forget to factor in their luck), and finally talking about money with your people (without judgement!)

While I wasn't sure about it in the beginning, I honestly really liked reading Worry-Free Money.  I liked how Simmons was able to illustrate her points with so many different case studies.  Her method is relatively simple.  And while I wasn't super fond of her fancy terms at the beginning (Fixed Spending vs Meaningful Savings, that kind of thing), by the end of the book I was fine with it.  Oh, and I was really, really thankful that she didn't throw acronyms out all over the place; the only one I can think of was EROI, or Emotional Return on Investment.  Simmons' tone is very conversational, which I think worked in a book about financial planning (I don't think Worry-Free Money would work nearly as well if it was written in a formal academic tone, for example - that would be very off-putting to people, myself included). 

And by the time I finished reading Worry-Free Money, I had actually busted out some spreadsheets to figure out where I was at financially.  Was I spending more than 55% of my income on Fixed Expenses?  How much spending money do I really have per month?  Can I cut back anywhere to get some short term savings going?  (I think that last question is going to require me tracking my spending for a few months).  So needless to say, Worry-Free Money is a very inspiring book; I recommend it for everyone who has worried about their spending habits (which I'm sure is most people), or for people trying to figure out if they can REALLY afford something.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

397 Ways to Save Money: Spend Smarter and Live Well

397 Ways to Save Money: Spend Smarter and Live Well on Less by Kerry K. Taylor was one of the books recommended by Preet Banerjee in Stop Over-thinking Your Money! I was happy to see that the library had it, so I snagged it as soon as I could.  Taylor is the creator of, which is a blog about frugal living; it makes sense that she decided to share her tips in a book.

397 Ways to Save Money is split into four parts.  Part one covers buying big ticket items, like choosing whether to rent or buy a home.  Part two looks at saving money in home management, including maintenance, energy efficiencies, and cleaning.  Part three goes through the entire house and suggests ways you can save room-by-room.  And part four has a few extra ways to save, looking at things like vacations and pets. 

A lot of Taylor’s  suggestions, particularly in parts two and three, are surprisingly eco-friendly.  She advocates cleaning the way our grandparents and great-grandparents did using common household items like vinegar and baking soda.  Cleaning in this way will save you money on more expensive cleaners AND keep more chemicals out of your home.  I also like that she includes recipes to make cleaners and even things like laundry soap throughout the book.

Going room-by-room in part three was also pretty interesting.  Taylor had a number of cost-saving ideas that would never have occurred to me, like adding a bit of water to extend the life of your liquid soaps and shampoos, or saving money by buying dried beans in bulk for cooking (although I admit I probably won’t be using that last tip too much right now – I’ve been buying beans in cans and they last me quite a long time because I’m single and living alone – I actually struggle a bit more right now with accidentally wasting food I’ve bought or prepared and failed to eat). 

A major pro of the book in my opinion is that it is Canadian; Taylor gives Canadian resources and talks about benefits the Canadian government can provide for you (and sometimes some provincial benefits, too).  The major con of the book is that it is a bit out of date (it was published in 2009).  So some of the facts she uses (like her assumption on the price of gasoline) are out of date.  Plus a lot of her resources are websites, so some of the sites may no longer be available/relevant.

Overall though, I really liked this book.  A lot of Taylor’s tips are pretty common sense and easy to implement.  If you’re an experienced frugalista, you probably won’t get a whole lot of new information out of this book.  But for beginners, 397 Ways to Save Money is a fantastic book, full of all kinds of easy tips to get you started. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Norse Mythology

I wanted to read Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology back when it came out a year ago.  I read a bunch of Norse mythology back in school (it's hard to believe, but it's been eight years since I read The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda!) and enjoyed it.  So I was interested to see what Neil Gaiman brought to the table.  I started reading Norse Mythology last night and finished it a few minutes ago; it's a super easy and enjoyable read.  It also felt like going back to an old friend because, after reading the two Eddas, all the stories in Norse Mythology were very familiar to me.

Gaiman's Norse Mythology is a retelling of the old Norse myths.  In the introduction he says he took bits and pieces of stories from both of the Eddas to create his versions.  His stories start with the beginning of the universe and how the worlds were created, give us some fun adventures of Thor, Loki, and the other gods, then end with Ragnarok and a glimpse of what happens afterwards.  Most of the stories start with some trickery by Loki, who then has to make things right afterwards.  Most of the stories are rather light romps (although they often end with the death of a bunch of giants because of course that's how stories with Thor will end), but the end few are much darker in tone.  Gaiman has modernized the tales a bit in his retellings (particularly the dialogue); in his introduction he said he tried to imagine himself back a long time ago in the lands where these stories were first told, but often the dialogue is much more modern than you would expect from that (like in "The Master Builder," Freya says to Loki "You talked these idiots into it" - that phrase sounds really modern). I don't think that this takes away from the retelling, but I did want to point out that it is there.

Overall, Norse Mythology is a quick and fun read if you are interested in or enjoy mythology (particularly Norse mythology).  I can see why everyone loved it when it first came out last February. :)

Monday, June 18, 2018

You Grow Girl

I remember reading about Gayla Trail's You Grow Girl years ago in a magazine.  I had to get it.  And while I've flipped through it many times over the years, this was my first time reading it from cover to cover.

You Grow Girl is very much a gardening book for beginners.  And that's okay!  That makes it a great all-around reference book.  It covers activities in a typical gardening year, from planning your garden, planting your plants, growing them all season long, harvesting, and preparing for winter.  Along with some great advice on a variety of topics (I learned all about mulching's benefits!), it's also got some fun gardening related craft projects that you can make. 

My major criticism is that this book really is not meant to be read cover to cover (even though Trail tells you that you can in the introduction).  It was really slow going (I started this book on May 29th; I've read two books in the meantime because I had a hard time motivating myself to continue reading it).  If you do manage to read it cover to cover, it'll give you a great overview of what you should be doing in your garden all year.  But rather than slog through, I recommend flipping through and reading the parts that you find interesting or need help with.  You Grow Girl is much more enjoyable that way.

Ship Breaker

I was recently out of town for a few days.  I visited a bookstore and bought myself a couple of books there (it was a birthday present to myself!) When I got home I decided to give one of them, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, a read.

I thought t

Monday, June 11, 2018

Stop Over-Thinking Your Money! The Five Simple Rules of Financial Success

Well, now I appear to be on not just a non-fiction kick, but a personal finance kick as well. After reading The Simple Path to Wealth, I wanted to read something that was Canadian rather than American.  I found a list with the best financial books for Canadians; Preet Banerjee's Stop Over-Thinking Your Money! The Five Simple Rules of Financial Success was very highly rated on the list.  And the library had it, so I decided to give it a read.

Banerjee has five simple rules (which are hard to implement):
  1. Disaster Proof Your Life
  2. Spend Less Than You Earn
  3. Aggressively Pay Down High-Interest Debt
  4. Read the Fine Print
  5. Delay Consumption
As you can see, these are, for the most part, pretty obvious rules.  I mean, spending less than you earn (and saving the rest) makes sense because how can you be financially successful if you are in debt and paying high interest rates?  Paying down your high-interest debts also makes sense for the same reason (how can you save when you're paying lots in interest?) And delaying consumption means you can save up the money to buy something rather than taking a loan out (and having to pay interest).

The other two rules were eye-opening though.  I've never thought about getting disability insurance or life insurance before.  But statistically 1 in 3 Canadians will be off of work for a few years in their lifetime, so disability insurance really makes sense.  And life insurance definitely makes sense if you want to make sure your family is taken care of after you die.  The other rule also makes a lot of sense - read the fine print so you aren't surprised by anything (like in his examples where someone thought they had insurance coverage, but in fact they did not).

After the rules, Banerjee goes into a bit more detail on investing, finding a financial advisor, and insurance.  I will admit, some of these chapters were a lot harder to understand than the first few (but I will also admit that I mostly read this book late at night while I was sleepy, so that most definitely didn't help).  Banerjee's discussion of financial planners was really good though; he advocates for a proper financial advisor who will help you with an overall financial plan, whatever your goals.

Banerjee finishes off the book with a bigger discussion on Insurance.  It was really interesting looking at how the companies come up with their premiums (and why premiums go up as you age).

A major flaw of this book was that there was no bibliography or further reading list.  Banerjee throws out a bunch of book recommendations that I had to write down on the spot because there was no handy list to refer to or photocopy at the end.  But at least now I've got a bunch more books I want to read!

Overall, I thought this was a great book on personal finances for Canadians, particularly people who are just starting out thinking about saving and don't know where to start.  His rules are simple, but do be prepared: they can be hard to implement.