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.