Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Best Books to Read With Your Closest Friends - Part 2

A year and a half ago I wrote the first post in this series. A year and a half. Oy. Well, here comes the second post, better late than never. Here's a continuation of the list of books that are particularly good for reading with friends. 

I've often praised Rubin here and on Filthy Casket. I can't help it. She is so, so wonderful and, as far as I'm concerned, the best author of her genre. The Happiness Project is a self-help/memoir and it offers so many insights on becoming happy and sustaining happiness. Rubin isn't one of those sappy authors nor is she one who only gives pretty New Age one-liners. She gives solid ideas and advice. She looks at what great thinkers have said about happiness throughout history and puts those theories to work. She herself forms a happiness project and documents it, so we get a real idea of how things work. It sets up a good system readers can follow, though it's flexible enough that it can be tweaked to meet each individual's needs. I think it's great to read with friends mostly because it'd be fun to do happiness projects together, and it'd be a way to stay accountable once you start the projects. I also think it'd be cool to go through the chapters and compare and contrast which elements work best for each friend.

On that same line of thought...

2. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

This book of Rubin's is specifically about habits. It's great to read with friends mostly for accountability purposes (assuming you're reading with forming/changing habits in mind).

3. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

I absolutely loved this book. It's about war, love, politics, and more. It's one of those books that, in my mind, should be just as revered as some of the classics. It's written as stories which ultimately link together in some way, which I kind of think is getting old (it just seems as though so many writers are turning to this style now). But this style, as well as Marra's writing, makes it a good choice to read with friends. It's also wonderful because some of the stories, particularly the first and the last in the book, can be interpreted in different ways. In her review, Liz mentioned that some of the stories left you wondering what really happened - she's totally right. It was one of the most interesting parts of Marra's book. In fact, after we both read it, Liz and I talked about our favorite stories and it turned out we interpreted things in completely different ways, which made it all the more fun to discuss. Books that do this are definitely good to read with friends.

4. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Ah, these books. They're wonderful and I don't understand how anyone could dislike them. They're terrific to read with friends because they're epic, they share great truths, and most importantly, after you all read them you can have a movie marathon with some pizza and wings.

5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This, I think, is my favorite read of 2016 so far. This is good to read alone, of course, but it's good to read with friends because, as most dystopians go, there are quite a few moments when you ask yourself what you would have done in the character's shoes. Oh, I've figured out the next step in reaching the prize (unimaginable money) - do I tell my friend how to complete the step, too? Oh, a corporation is threatening my life because they want the prize - where do I run? It was fun wondering what I'd do if I happened to be the protagonist, and I bet it'd be even more fun to talk about it with friends. Plus, it's a good outlet to vent frustrations with capitalism - a theme that's all too apparent in this book.

I don't know if many people like reading books with friends, but I know I do. I love when a friend and I can talk about all the awesome (or awful) things that happened in a book, or discuss the different ways we interpreted it, or in the case of Rubin's books, help each other with follow through and advice. There are a lot of advantages to reading with friends, and these are some of the books that offer the most opportunity for good fun. (It doesn't hurt that this is something you can do long-distance, too!)


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

July Into August | 2016

This is my littlest brother. He's less crazy than he looks here.
This month has been effing crazy. It's been a little bit of a physical and mental roller coaster ride. There's been some good - like registering for classes and going hiking and swimming a bit more and losing weight - and some bad.... like a bunch of doctor appointments. And a broken car.

I don't usually mind the doctor visits anymore. I'm used to them, and my other option is withering away, so, what am I gonna do, really? The problem is that I do not feel like my doctors are fully paying attention to my health as a whole picture (so my obgyn giving me something that causes depression despite my history of depression or my GI not considering everything from my other appointments in the last year, etc). So I'm dealing with that. The other problem is that, whether it's true or not, I feel like we're getting nowhere. I've been dealing with this liver stuff for almost a year and we still don't know what's up. I had an appointment a month ago with a specialist to talk about potential options (liver biopsy, going to a medical center with a good hepatology department) and we set up a follow up appointment, which I went to yesterday. And at yesterday's appointment there was nothing new to talk about. I ended up getting a ton of blood work done (more extensive studies of blood levels having to do with the liver) but I was totally under the impression that had already been done. Guess not. I'm hoping that it'll shed some light on the problem.

The car issue is almost funny. A few months back I mentioned how basically the entire thing was rusted (the undercarriage, I think it's technically called??), which I didn't know to look for when I bought it. So we first got the front fixed because it was completely unsafe to drive (it was literally wobbling - not shaking, wobbling) and that was a pretty penny and now the back part is starting to go. We knew it would happen, it just sorta has bad timing. I asked the mechanic if it was safe to drive and he said, "Well, you're fine driving around town and everything. But don't go on the interstate. You take this on the interstate and you're gambling your life. So no trips to Asheville." 

Guys, guess where my school is. 

I told him and he said it's okay if I take the back roads. So it'll be slow going. 

Me making my way to school.
But just trying to think about the good stuff. Like school. And continued weight loss. This is a shitty picture, but here's what I look like now: 

Mind you, some of the weight loss is probably due to medicine/sickness since I'm not putting that much effort into it, but.....whatever.

My goals for the last month went pretty good. I read a ton of books (over my goal of six), I finished reviewing The Underland Chronicles (though my reviews sort of sucked since it's been nine months since I read the books..... must start reviewing things sooner). I went outside more than usual, although it's been raining a crazy amount here, which makes it even more difficult. I posted five book reviews (over the course of that month and a half). I've not been eating wonderfully, but I've managed to still not go back to the horrid eating habits of days past. I wanted to lose ten pounds but only lost six, but that's okay. I started those depo provera shots which my doctor warned might make me gain weight (and I have noticed an increase in appetite at times) and I still managed to lose something, so I'm counting that a win.

My goals for this month...

1. Lose ten pounds (just keeping this a standard).

2. Read five books. 

3. Write seven book reviews. 

4. Keep up on bullet journaling.

5. Write the second posts in at least two unfinished series (maybe the Harry Potter vs. Hunger Games and Books to Read With Friends series??). 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Book Review | The Underland Chronicles (Book 5)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote up a little review of how I felt about the fourth book in The Underland Chronicles - Gregor and the Marks of Secret. I loved it and thought it was a good continuation of the series, if a little slower paced than the other books. I also mentioned not remembering quite as much detail since it's been months since I've read the books... it's obviously the same deal with this book. But I think I can still give a pretty decent idea of what this book is about and whether or not you should read it (you should!). 

Like I've said in each of these reviews, this series is amazing. (For those who like kidlit/have kids and are familiar with it: this series is better than Percy Jackson but not quite as good as Harry Potter.) It tackles discrimination, oppression, war, right vs. wrong, morality, and this time, fate. By now Gregor has fought in Underland several times, trying to do what is right (and to be honest, just trying to figure out what is right). He learns of a prophecy that calls for his death (this story line is sort of getting old? I say this as though it ever stops me from reading anything...) and must decide if he's still willing to fight. I guess I won't give the answer away but it's pretty obvious considering it's a novel... 

But anyway. We once again deal with Solovet and her grimy tactics. She's basically America. She wants to look good and fair and all, and she says she stands for justice and peace, but... she tries to "achieve" justice and peace by, like, violent tactics. So... 

Gregor is not a fan. 

A lot of this story is simply battle. We still have some issues and we're not entirely sure who is bad and who is good. I think the ending is mostly a morally sound one. We do not get to know every detail about what happens once the novel is over (big things like "does peace last?" and small things like "what happens to Luxa and Gregor?"), which annoys me a bit. But I thought we were given some clarity on the war and on morals and I think the "right" things happened. (I'm trying and failing to describe this without giving anything away.) Essentially, none of the bad guys truly win. The morally bad characters - whether obnoxiously, Donald Trump-esque bad like Bane or more subtly, Hillary Clinton-esque bad like Solovet are ultimately seen for what they are. It is a dark, hard ending. There are major losses. I cried and I imagine it'd be difficult for kids, but that's true of this story in general once we hit the third book. I'd want to read it with a kid instead of them reading it alone. 

So this whole time we have one species fighting another species, some species driving other species out of their homes, species trying to kill off other species, etc. etc. And throughout this whole thing we see some members, particularly of the oppressor groups, employ awful means. There is little regard for life by these characters, and especially for life that doesn't resemble their own. (Sound familiar? Regalia is America, for real.) And at the very end of the series, our young hero Luxa and the scrappy Ripred, a rat leader, do something completely unprecedented and totally moving (to me, anyway) to change the way things are done and I don't think Collins could have given us a better ending. I don't want to spoil it so I can't say much more, but I think Collins just ended it on such a good and appropriate note. 

Overall as a series these books teach readers to question war, to stand up for the oppressed, to wonder about free will, and to choose good. I don't think it gets much better. I really think I might like this series better than The Hunger Games. I 100% recommend it. 


Since Liz and I now have a book review blog (Filthy Casket Book Reviews!), this can be found over there, too.
Reviews for earlier books in The Underland Chronicles:

Gregor the Overlander (Book 1)
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Book 2)
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (Book 3)