Sunday, July 29, 2018

Wealthing Like Rabbits

I've been waiting to read Robert R. Brown's Wealthing Like Rabbits since the middle of June. I put the book on hold at the library, expecting to see it around June 21st when it was due.  It's now almost August and the book STILL hasn't been returned.  So I broke down and bought it on my Kindle instead.  I read most of the book yesterday, and finished it off this evening.

Wealthing Like Rabbits is another Canadian personal finance book.  Much like the other ones I've read, it's aimed mainly at people who are new to building their wealth.  I think it's probably one of the easiest books on the subject to read that I've read to date.  Brown has aimed it at young adults (specifically adults thirty and younger); he says this at the end of the book, but it's kind of obvious from his use of things like zombies and Star Trek to illustrate his points.

Wealthing Like Rabbits has a lot of the same advice that the other books have, which can be boiled down to "get out of debt and save money."  While his message is the same as the other books, he makes some very interesting suggestions.  For one, he recommends that you start an RRSP as opposed to a TFSA (although a TFSA is okay too) because when you are younger you should be more in need of the tax break than when you are older.  A younger person is starting their life out, so they may be dealing with buying a home, getting married, and starting a family.  When you're older, and if you've been saving all your life, you should be able to afford the tax (especially if you're wealthy enough to be in a higher tax bracket).  He recommends that you save 18% of your income in your RRSP (I think that's the maximum you can put into your RRSP), and if you're having trouble doing so, you can fill out a form to have your employer take a corresponding amount of income tax off of your paycheck.  Brown believes getting a tax return is not a good thing, because you are in effect lending the government your money and getting no interest for your troubles.  A friend of mine at work mentioned this idea to me a few months back; I later found out she read Wealthing Like Rabbits, so I'm sure she got the idea from here.  Oh, and Brown says trips are okay to spend your money on (assuming you have saved up for your trip first! You should never go into debt for a trip); I've heard that some financial planning books and advice say trips are not a good investment because unlike buying a camp, the money is gone.  In Brown's view, the trip itself gives you memories that are well worth the money.  So that was a nice sentiment to read.  He feels much the same about weddings - the memories are important, but you don't have to break the bank having one because people don't remember the cost and stuff, they remember the other people who were there.

There was one chapter at the end that was a bit weird to read.  It was full of random musings and advice.  Yes there were some really good tidbits in it, but there were also a couple of really random thoughts that I'm not quite sure what they were doing in the book (or maybe I just didn't get the references?)

Overall, Wealthing Like Rabbits is a very good read.  It's fast and very easy to understand.  But some people may not like (or get) his references to things like zombies and Star Trek, so they may be better off reading something else like Preet Banerjee's Stop Over-Thinking Your Money! The Five Simple Rules of Financial Success or Shannon Lee Simmons' Worry-Free Money: the Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life instead.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Emerald Green

*sigh* Time travel. 

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.  I just finished Emerald Green a little bit ago.  Like Sapphire Blue, Emerald Green picks up right where the story in the last book left off.  Thankfully Gwen has decided to stop moping over Gideon making her fall in love with him, so the plot can actually go somewhere in this book.  Gwen has the help of her best friend, Lesley, and the gargoyle demon Xemerius in the present to help her figure out what's going on, and her grandfather in the past.  Together they discover the hidden location of the missing chronograph (the one that Lucy and Paul stole years ago and hid in the past).  So now Gwen is able to travel back to the past unsupervised by the Guardians. Which she uses as much as she can to try to unravel the mystery of what exactly the Count Saint-Germain is up to!  Unfortunately time is not on their side, since the Count has a strict time table; he keeps sending instructions back to the modern Guardians through Gideon.  And the Guardians are not about to risk anything since they're so close to seeing the Circle of time-travellers closed!

Oh yeah, and in the middle of all this, Gwen and Lesley still need to fit in going to the birthday party that one of their classmates is throwing.

Okay, I'm going to add a spoiler warning here, because from here on out I will be ruining the ending of the book.  If you don't want to know what happens, please stop reading here.

So anyway, Gwen and Gideon complete the circle on the stolen chronograph (because Gideon's blood was all that was needed - Gwen's grandfather made sure her blood was added to it in the past so when they found it in the future she would be instantly able to use it).  They go about meeting with Lucy and Paul (who, surprise surprise, happen to be Gwen's real parents.  That was super obvious from the first book, but whatever) to try to outmaneuver the Count.  Everyone assumed that the Count had a modern day man on the inside of the Guardians Inner-Circle, but they come to the realization that wait, it could be the actual Count!  What if he was immortal in the past, and his immortality disappeared when Gwen was born?  (I don't know how that even makes sense, but whatever).  Gwen and Gideon still go to the preordained meeting with the Count in the past, where he drugs Gwen after Gideon is forced to leave (he was only invited for 15 minutes, while she had to stay 3 hours.  I thought that was stupidly suspicious, but whatever, he says jump and the Guardians ask how high).  She awakens in the present to discover the identity of the Count after he incapacitates the Guardian's doctor somehow (I don't really know or care how).  He is disappointed to realize that Gwen is up (I think he tried to poison her, but she's immortal so that didn't work).  He tells her to kill herself or he will kill Gideon when he shows up.  She doesn't so he shoots Gideon.  The doctor wakes up enough to knock the Count out somehow, then goes back to being incapacitated.  And it turns out Gideon used the stuff they got out of the chronograph when they completed the Circle so he's immortal, too.  Now the two of them (and Xemerius) can live out their days together forever.  The end.

Oh, and the butler at Gwen's house may be her younger brother.  Because time travel.

The end left me with so many questions.  If tons of people knew Gwen's destiny to be a time traveller, why didn't SOMEONE try to prepare her along the way.  I mean her grandfather knew.  And even the freaking Count knew because he was in the present but had met her in the past.  (Not that anyone admittedly cared what the heck she did in the past.  She sang a modern song at the soiree in Sapphire Blue and only Gideon was outraged, not the Count).  But seriously, why didn't her grandfather teach her history or something? 

Also, why did the prophecy say Gwen had to die?  If Gideon became immortal from using the stuff from the chronograph, why couldn't the Count have just used the other one, been immortal, and went to Brazil like he planned?  He could have done that and left everyone else alone in England.

Gwen changed the past in this book kind of heavily, too.  She had a ghost friend who haunted her school, who was alive during the ball the Count wanted her and Gideon to attend so badly (this ill-fated ball was actually where she time travelled to one of the first times and saw herself; she also gets fatally stabbed and realizes she is immortal).  She talks Gideon into going back in time (in the middle of way more important things, by the way.  They only have a few hour quota of time travel for the day before they feel like crap, so this really could have waited for another time), and inoculating her still-living friend (who doesn't know her back then) so he will not die of smallpox.  He goes on to live a happy life and never becomes a ghost.  Wouldn't that change history?  Like his house becomes the school when he is a do we know it still would have?  *sigh*

I should note though that this book really annoyed me because it left out scenes and conversations I wanted to read in favour of stupid other scenes.  Like it cuts off when Gwen admits to Lucy and Paul that she knows they are her parents, and jumps to the stupid party scene which pretty much had no point.  It showed Charlotte (and the whole freaking party) getting drunk, and Gideon talking her into going home, but that was literally it.

So even though I have these complaints, I still enjoyed reading Emerald Green well enough (and I thought it was a whole lot better than Sapphire Blue because Gwen wasn't strictly thinking of Gideon for the whole book - as I already said, Emerald Green actually had some plot going on with Gwen a little more engaged in what was happening). There were some fun scenes with the rest of Gwen's family - her siblings, mom, and great aunt were great and all really loved her (and Mr. Bernard was always there for her as well).   I think this series is the type of thing that you really need to not think too hard about (otherwise it falls apart).  I'd call it fluff or mind candy; it's kind of a guilty pleasure sort of read, where you just go along for the ride.  That being said, the middle book of the trilogy is a real drag, and honestly a lot of people probably won't care for Gwen and/or Gideon.  You'll have to make up your own mind as to whether or not you want to read the Ruby Red Trilogy.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sapphire Blue

Alright, so I'm continuing to power through the Ruby Red Trilogy.  Book two, Sapphire Blue, picks up right after Ruby Red ends. Gwen and Gideon had escaped from Paul and Lucy and were hiding out in a church when he kissed her.  They travel back to the present, and Gwen sees a gargoyle demon who takes an interest in her because she can see and hear him.  He pesters her and follows her back to the temple, and she finally accepts his presence if he'll agree to some ground rules.  So she ends up with a fun friend who can spy on people for her and help her find information, and he gets to talk to someone other than a ghost.

Gwen keeps getting sent back to elapse in a cellar (it's supposed to be a safe place where she gets to do her homework).  On her first trip back there, she meets her grandfather.  They devise a way to get in contact again in the future (and he agrees to look into something Lucy told her at the end of the last book).  On her next trip back, Gideon accompanies her (so she can't go looking for her grandfather); they end up making out.  Then Gideon becomes very cold and distant to her, which confuses, and ultimately angers Gwen (a lot of this book is waffling back and forth on their relationship because they don't really talk); Gideon later admits that on his last mission he saw a future version of her who may have led him into a trap.  Oh, and he's angry that she may be hiding something from him because he smells cigarette smoke on her when she comes back from elapsing (she met her grandfather).  They kind of forgive each other, then head to the 18th century to attend a soiree with the Count Saint-Germain.  Gwen is terrified of the count because of her first encounter with him (from Ruby Red), but he seems pleasant since they had a chat yesterday (it was a future meeting for Gwen, but in the past for the Count).  The soiree goes well enough (considering Gwen gets drunk and sings a future song for everyone, then later talks to a ghost because she's too drunk to realize he's a ghost), then she meets with the Count the next day.  He tells her women are dumb and easily pliable if they are in love, and that Gideon was instructed to make her love him.  She confronts Gideon about it and makes him admit that this is true.  Gideon tries to explain, but she leaves.  The book ends on a fight Paul got into in the past where he almost died, but got rescued by Gideon.  Paul implores Gideon to read some notes he has on the rest of the prophecy (and to ultimately save Gwen).

Like Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue is a very easy read.  But I did get annoyed at parts of it.  Like how Gwen finally realizes that the fact she can talk to ghosts is the Raven magic she's supposed to have (even though multiple people have told her the rhyme).  And as I mentioned, there's a lot of waffling about Gideon (which I get, that sort of thing totally happens in real life.  I just found myself getting annoyed about it because it kept going on. Plus it's not the most fascinating reading).  The Circle people keep excluding Gwen from things, driving her to discover more and more with her demon friend and best human friend Lesley.  The Circle seems to be misogynistic rather like the Count totally is, which was rather a shame.

Despite those flaws (which are largely plot-related), I still think the characters are fun (specifically a lot of the side characters).  I especially loved Xemerius, the demon gargoyle.  And Madam Rossini of course (she was fantastic in Ruby Red as well; I wish she was in the books a bit more).  I would have liked to see a bit more of James, the ghost at Gwen's school, but he took a backseat in this book (and was largely unnecessary because Xemerius was there). 

So two down and one more to go in this trilogy!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Ruby Red

A friend of mine gave me some books recently.  Among them were Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier, but not the first book in the trilogy, Ruby Red.  Luckily the library had it though, so I picked it up yesterday.  I started reading it in the evening after work...and nearly finished it last night (I had about twenty pages left to go, but decided sleep was a better plan at 3:30am rather than finishing it).  So today during my lunch break I finished it off. :)

Ruby Red is about Gwen, who moved with her immediate family into her extended family's house.  Everyone in the house knows that Charlotte, Gwen's cousin, has the time-travel gene and so is destined to be a time traveller.  So Charlotte is trained in history, languages, dancing, fencing and anything else she might need once her time-travelling gene kicks in around age sixteen or seventeen.  Gwen, being normal, is left out of all of the mystery.  But then on her way to the store, Gwen suddenly fades out of our time and finds herself in the past.  Suddenly she is forced into a life she is completely unprepared for (while her cousin is thrust out of the one she has been preparing for her whole life).

I liked the premise of Ruby Red, but at the same time I will admit it's a little odd.  Gwen's family knew that the time traveller would be born on a certain date (the date Charlotte was born on); Gwen's mother admits Gwen was actually born on that day too, but had the midwife switch the dates in the hopes that Gwen could have a normal life away from all of the family mysteries.  So when Gwen starts time travelling, Gwen is wholly unprepared for everything (beyond knowing the basics because she's overheard what is supposed to happen to her cousin).  Gwen's mother says she wanted Gwen away from the secret society that their family is part of, but everyone thinks it's weird that her mom didn't prepare her AT ALL for the possibility that she might start time travelling. And I agree, it does seem pretty weird, especially since her mom was super quick to get her over to the secret society as soon as she knew Gwen had started time travelling.  But whatever.  I'm pretty sure there are *reasons* beyond that as to why she didn't prepare Gwen (just like I heavily suspect Gwen's mother is not her *real* mother...)

Beyond that weird plot hole, Ruby Red is a pretty fun book.  Gwen gets partnered with Gideon, who thinks she's going to slow him down on his mission (and so is a bit of a stuck up ass to her at the beginning).  Their relationship sort of reminded me of the one between Agnieszka and the Dragon in Uprooted, which I also found rather fun.  Gideon himself seems to be a lot more than Gwen gives him credit for (just as Gideon admits at the end of the book that Gwen is not at all "normal," which he accused her of being at the beginning of the book - normal being boring and vapid, and not at all a compliment).

So after powering through Ruby Red, I'm quite excited to see where the story takes us in Sapphire Blue!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate

Awhile ago, my brother recommended Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate to me.  I can't remember exactly why now, but I think it was because I had just read another of his recommendations, A Short History of Progress, and he felt that Klein's book would similarly change my outlook on the world. I'm not going to lie, but I've put off reading This Changes Everything for the stupidest of reasons, primarily because the book is big.  It’s 466 pages of text, plus notes and index, which brings it to a whopping 566 pages in total.  566 pages of much denser reading than most fiction.  And even though I won’t be reading a lot of the extras, 466 pages is still the equivalent of two shorter books.  And when I was worried about making my Goodreads reading challenge over the last few years, I was far more worried about quantity than quality.  Heck, even this year, when I pledged to read just 25 books, I still waited until I was finished reading those 25 books before actually starting to read This Changes Everything.  But it's been coming up more and more in the other things I've been reading (I can't remember the exact count, but I know David Suzuki and Ian Hanington mentioned it several times in their text).  So I took This Changes Everything out from the library a second time and actually started reading it.

Of course, after starting I came across a fact in the introduction that said humanity has to get our emissions under control by 2017.  And I knew I should have read this book far sooner.  But such is life; better late than never, right?

This Changes Everything looks at how our current world (specifically the economy) has been set up to be in direct opposition to taking care of the environment.  The economy is built on the idea that humans can take and take from the "machine" that is nature.  It's also built on the idea that humans from one part of the world can take resources from, or basically sacrifice, another part of the world so that the first part of the world lives a richer life.  

But that model of economic thinking is starting to fall apart.  People everywhere are starting to realize that we can't take and take from nature (because nature will start fighting back and humanity WILL NOT WIN).  The sacrifice zones have also started getting bigger and more widespread in the quest to extract as much fossil fuels as possible from the earth, and more people are saying "not in my backyard."  People with diverse backgrounds and beliefs are starting to fight against this extraction together (in what Klein calls "Blockadia").  She believes that people need to fight against big fuel and fundamentally change the economy to make it more cooperative and fair (in a way that movements over the last century or so have been fighting).  This is the last decade where we can halt even more dramatic climate change, so Klein hopes that everyone will be able to rise up together to stop it; otherwise we will lose our shared home due to corporate and billionaire greed.

I will admit, This Changes Everything is a difficult read. For one thing, it is very heavily fact-based, which makes it a bit tough to get through quickly.  But This Changes Everything will also fundamentally upset you at how very unfair the world is (and has actively become over the last few decades).  I was close to tears when I read the first few chapters and discovered that the economy was built in a way to ignore the environment, and that the environment was either ignored in trade agreements or actively taken out of them.  I was furious to hear how people are often beaten down by the lobbyists from fossil fuel industries.  And how our governments have worked hand in hand to lock our countries into fossil fuels through infrastructure decisions (even while the technology has existed and gotten good enough that we could have been working towards switching our societies to clean energy long before now).  But after those first few chapters, the book starts to look up: people in greater and greater numbers are starting to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and change the way things work.  Klein is hopeful that we will not squander this critical mass of people and instead use it to build a better future for everyone.

So while This Changes Everything is in many ways a difficult read, it is still very much worth reading.  It will teach you just how much our current political environment has forced us down this path (even though scientists have long known that global warming was happening and that we needed to change our ways), and will get you thinking about how we can move forward together. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do

Continuing on with the books I've had out from the library for awhile that I was considering returning, here is Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington.  This one I actually started reading a few weeks ago, but stopped for some reason (I honestly can't remember why).  Then after finishing The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, I decided to restart reading this book.

The climate crisis has been a huge concern of mine for the last while, so I was very interested in reading Just Cool It! when I first encountered it.  I liked the idea that it isn't just doom and gloom about the future, but that it has a game-plan for tackling global warming.  Also, I've read some of Suzuki's articles in the local paper, so I was interested in reading a full book authored by him (and Hanington, who I will admit I have never heard of prior to this book - on Goodreads it says he is the senior editor at the David Suzuki Foundation. Makes sense).

Just Cool It! is split into two parts.  Part one talks about the climate crisis in detail, looking at the science that supports it, the consequences from it, and the many barriers that prevent us as a species from dealing with it.  Part two is all about the many solutions, looking at personal, agricultural, technological, and institutional solutions that are possibilities moving forward.  The book examines the pros and cons of all of the proposed solutions and makes recommendations on which ones offer the best hope for the future (just so you know, the book has a very clear bias towards getting society off of fossil fuels in favour of renewable resources like solar and wind power - this argument is consistently made in the latter half of the book).

I really liked how Just Cool It! was broken down, both in terms of the challenges and the possible solutions, and in terms of looking at the individual proposed solutions.  In a lot of ways I found this book rather inspiring - even though we have waited so long to confront this issue, the fact that globally people are starting to and that there ARE possible solutions helps to lessen the dread I feel for the future somewhat.  That being said though, this book is a bit on the dry side and is rather repetitive, to the point where it felt like paragraphs were copied and pasted from one part of the book into another.  There were also points where something was discussed in a previous section, then mentioned and defined in a later section (I'm looking at you, life cycle analysis - this was mentioned and defined on pg 205, and linked back to the discussion on biofuels on pg 194, where it was mentioned but not defined). Just Cool It! really could have used some better editing. 

All in all, I thought Just Cool It! was a good, comprehensive look at where humanity is at in terms of the climate crisis.  While a little dry and repetitive, it's a relatively short and quick read, so it'll get you up to speed in the crisis in no time!