Readathon: April 2017

It’s time! Readathon for April 2017 has begun. Just like last April, I’m taking a mini-vacation for this ‘thon. I’ve dragged my pile of books to a local hotel and will spend the day luxuriating. There will be walks and trips to the coffee shop across the street (assuming it doesn’t rain, which is an unfortunate possibility…). There will be audiobooks and mini-challenges and hopefully some good reading. I’ve been in a bit of a slump this month, and so have been reading slowly. However, I took that slump time and put it to good use, gathering about 20 books on my to-investigate list and previewing them all to make my Readathon pile:

Indeed, only four books made the cut. But that’s okay, because that means I didn’t have to haul 20 books out to the hotel and waste my time previewing them today! Instead I have four books I know I want to read! There’s a good mix here, plus I have some audiobooks on standby waiting for me when my eyes wear out. So let’s get going! Let me welcome all my fellow ‘thoners to the blog, and wave hellos to regular readers and the amazing people choosing to be cheerleaders! All updates will be kept on this post so that no feed readers shall explode. Thank you in advance to the lovely folks running this show. Y’all are awesome!

Updates

7:00 am – It was an excellent night of sleep so I’m totally ready to go. I have my first cup of coffee in hand, and I’m starting with Big Little Lies. Have fun everyone, and we’re off!

9:00 am – Book – check. Breakfast – check. (And thank goodness for bringing my own food from home because hotel breakfast? No thank you!) Coffee – check. Exercise – check. Off to a good start here. Loving Big Little Lies so far. The reading isn’t going fast, but I’m having a fun time checking in with friends and playing on Instagram and generally spreading my attention around this Readathon.

11:00 am – The only problem with hotels is never knowing when housekeeping will come by. I spent about an hour reading in the lobby only to have someone knock on my door fifteen minutes after I finally came back. Sigh. I told them I’d be out after noon. That’ll be time to head to the coffee shop and library! Big Little Lies is still in progress and I’m loving every page. Hopefully by the time I next update – likely midafternoon, since I’ll be out for awhile – I’ll have finished this one and be starting my next.

2:00 pm – Coffee shop break was nice and relaxing. Almost to the end of Big Little Lies. I don’t think I’ll get a whole lot read this Readathon, but I’m certainly enjoying my time!

4:00 pm – Well, the slump has hit. I’m not sure if it’s the mid-afternoon blahs, or that I really enjoyed Big Little Lies a lot, but there’s a part of me that simply wants to say okay, I’m done, time to nap. I read a bit of the beginning of two other books, and listened to a bit of audio, but nothing is really catching my attention, so I’ve set all those aside for now. I’ve got one book left to try before digging into my iPad for ebooks or into my backlog of audios. I might take a bit of a break first though before getting to it. And if this is the extent of my Readathon this time? I’m okay with that.

6:00 pm – Found a hit in the week’s Sync YA title, The Dead House. The audio is fascinating. I’m off to have dinner with my family, but hope to finish the audiobook tonight!

Running Stats

  • Books: 1
  • Pages: 508
  • Audio: 126 mins
  • Exercise: 100 mins
  • Cups of Coffee: 4
  • Mini-Challenges: 3

Mini-Challenges

Pre-Event Survey
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Quite a change from my last Readathon…

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Big Little Lies, which is odd because it’s the one I’m least sure I’ll finish. I have a feeling it’s going to be a love it or hate it book. I’m going to start with it though.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Does coffee count?

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I’m a writer and stay-at-home mom to three teen boys. For the last few years, I’ve lived a ridiculously nomadic life, and I look forward to the day I can return to my home in San Antonio and settle back into my real life again.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
Sadly, I was unable to participate this past time, but I’ve participated in many since my first in April 2009. This time, I plan to take more social breaks to do mini-challenges and cheer my friends.

Instagram Challenge: For this ongoing challenge, please see my instagram feed. No need to cross-post all those pictures here!

Mid-Event Survey
1. What are you reading right now?
The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich (on audio)

2. How many books have you read so far?
Just one! Big Little Lies

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I’m really enjoying Dead House and hope to finish it before I get too sleepy.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not really, unless you count the discovery that I just wasn’t into the other books I brought to the hotel with me. I’ll read them later, but just not today. Glad I found one to get into though!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
Apparently, other than surveys and the Instagram challenge, I haven’t been much interested in mini-challenges. That’s new.

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Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

From Goodreads: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

I’ve been turning this book over in my head for days now, trying to think of how to review it. I couldn’t even think how to sum it up, and am instead resorting to the Goodreads synopsis. I suppose that for the rest of this review, I will have to resort to bullets.

– This book was amazing in every way. One of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

– I was amused to discover that technically there are spoilery things in this book for the Smoke and Bone series, only no one would identify them as spoilery unless they’d already read the full series. This is totally standalone, even though there is a tiny connection that will only be seen by those who already know its there. Lovely!

– Lazlo Strange is an absolutely fascinating character. He’s generous and kind and meek, setting him up to be a total stereotype in multiple ways, but at the same time he’s personable, witty, teasing, irritable, and grudge-holding. He has some of the best self-effacing humor I’ve ever read in a book, and he’s just all around likable without being annoying.

– The friendships and various relationships/interactions in this book are outstanding. The conversations in particular feel real, making the characters feel real, making more of a connection to the book despite it being set in an entirely different world.

– This is billed as YA but that’s deceptive. The characters who narrate are 17 at youngest and at oldest well into middle age. Lazlo is in his early 20s. Taylor keeps the gore to a minimum, and there’s nothing overtly sexual, but otherwise this would work well for both teens and adults. This has a very rich complexity and narrative, with many stories all entwined, and lots of thematic elements.

– I’m not sure if it’s me or the book, but I found the pacing fairly slow, especially in the first half. It wasn’t plodding slow or hard to read, more like I just enjoyed taking it one to two chapters at a time, and setting it aside for awhile. I adore books that do this and I never found it boring, so this isn’t a complaint at all.

– I can’t tell you how many nights I had dreams set in this world.

– I’m planning on revisiting the book via audio after the Readathon. There’s a lot of hints right from the beginning that don’t get deconstructed until the end, and I’d love to read through it a second time with clearer sight.

– Lastly, I’m intrigued about this world – and possibly others – and can’t wait to learn more in the next volume. Strange the Dreamer had the perfect end point: one climax over, a new conflict begun. And yes, I’m sad that I have to wait until next year to get to the second book. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to wait, perhaps put this one off until the entire series is out. If you’re like me, though, you should definitely read this one sooner than later. Again: amazing.

Posted in 2017, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Instant Turn-offs

To counter last week’s bookish turn-ons! Once again, I talked about some of these last year in a Sunday Coffee post. Plus, anyone who’s been following me for awhile will know these already. But here goes – things that will immediately make me put down a book, or never pick it up in the first place:

  1. Drugs. I have a drug phobia.
  2. Vomiting. Ditto.
  3. Alcoholics and/or culture surrounding major alcohol usage, mostly because this often leads to vomiting (see #2 above).
  4. Vigilante justice. No. Just no.
  5. Glorification of criminal life in any way. I can read books where groups band together to commit criminal acts to undo a repressive government, or when people are forced to be criminals in order to live. But glorification of crime? Nope.
  6. Talking animals. There’s got to be a super-compelling reason for those animals to be talking if I’m going to read that book.
  7. Torture. Nope. Not under any circumstances can I handle torture.
  8. Excessive medical or other gore. I’m too squeamish for that, and I don’t find focus on all the gory details to be particularly useful for any book, frankly.
  9. Books that target/attack any particular group. Describing the villain by her disgusting fat rolls? Nope. Sexualizing Muslim women because of their “repressed” traditions? Nope. Narrator deciding a character is probably gay because of the way he dances? Hell. No. (All three of those are from actual books I’ve come across in my years of blogging.)
  10. Unrealistic swimmers. Yes, this is weird, but as a one-time competitive swimmer, it bugs me when authors don’t do their research. No, a kid cannot jump into a pool for the first time ever and nearly break the world record on his first swim. (Also from a book I’ve read, this one forced-to-read in middle school.)

As a runner-up, I have an auto-turn-off in audio narrators, too. I really, really hate it when narrators use highly stereotyped accents for characters. This is an insta-switch-to-print pet peeve.

PS – Can anyone guess any of the books I’ve referenced above?

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Posted in Book Talk | Tagged | 14 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Let the Remodel Begin

When we bought this house last fall, it was billed as having a “partially-finished” basement. This is probably accurate, though unclear. “Partially-finished” seems to indicate that some sections aren’t really all that usable, and that wasn’t the case here. The below-ground floor was divided into four main rooms: a finished master bedroom; a mostly-finished-though-ugly front room; a middle room that is mainly devoted to water heater and other appliances/pipes/etc; and a back room that is mainly storage due to a lowered ceiling (under the sunken living room) for 3/4ths of it. Other than the finished master bedroom, the rest of the basement is ugly, but still either mostly finished or semi-finished.

Anyway, point is that we decided to finish finishing the basement, at least as much as can be done. The storage area with the low ceiling (about six feet) will likely never be anything other than storage and weight-bench area, you know? But the rest of it has potential. There are water and sewer lines in the middle room where the laundry used to be, which means we can add a bathroom to the lower level. All the rest will just involve some floor-leveling, room-partitioning, and (major) updating. No more dirty old paneling, flat carpet, and drop ceilings!

Earlier this week, we decided to get started by prepping the area that will become the downstairs bathroom. Attached to this is the staircase, which needed to have paneling pulled off to open it up and perhaps even make an eventual book nook! I got a little in-progress photo of this (above). Paneling is visible on the side of the staircase we didn’t (yet) rip out. That paneling used to go all the way from floor to ceiling on the side of the staircase now open. The door on the left will be the entry into the bathroom.

Of course, all this construction made for nervous and/or excited cats. One of them – we aren’t altogether sure, but suspect it was Nimi – decided to take advantage of the newly opened path to the rafters. Little did she know that drop ceilings aren’t exactly meant to hold 9-lb cats. After a loud clatter, during which (thankfully) no cats were hurt, we discovered that our basement now looked like the picture on the left.

Indeed. Half the ceiling was gone. Of course, we were planning to get rid of that already, but maybe not so soon. That wasn’t the original room we were going to work on! Ah well. It meant that over the next few days, and yesterday especially, there’s been a lot of work going on:

(ceiling off, walls start to come down)

(more walls down, paneling off, time to haul to the dump…)

(perhaps that’ll be a book nook one day!)

So this is where I’ll be for the foreseeable future. I do still plan to be at the blog, but I might be a bit more sporadic about posting for the next few months. If I disappear too long, give me a shout out to make sure I haven’t buried alive in my own basement, haha!

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 8 Comments

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (audio)

There is very little I can say about this book. It’s a letter from father to son, an unfolding of personal experience regarding discrimination and the arbitrary line of racial division. This personal narrative grows into something more, an enclosed experience as representative of a collective experience. It’s heartbreaking and wonderful, devastating and so very important, the sort of book that I hope gets read widely, especially in this day and age when so many more arbitrary divider lines are being drawn the sand of our country.

There is very little I can say, because I’ve had my own personal experiences, some of which were mirrored in this book, and some of which land squarely outside that narrative owing to the privileges of my skin, and despite/because of those personal experiences, my own narrative is unimportant. How I related to this book is individual and unique, just as I imagine every reader of this book would have an individual, unique relationship to the words within. I don’t do well examining books from the outside, because I experience them from within, and to approach from my own place feels, in this case, subtracting from the power of the book. It’s like the “all lives matter” response to the black lives matter movement – sure, all lives do matter, but that’s not the point, and if you don’t get that, you’re missing something entirely.

And if you are missing something entirely, please read this book, and perhaps you’ll start to understand. And maybe if we all start to understand, we – as a collective whole – can start to change. And maybe one day, we can all start erasing the arbitrary lines in the sand.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Wellness Wednesday #50: Tracker Apps

buttonMy April nutrition challenge involves a photo food journal. I’ve been using several for the last few weeks, and I promised to do a bit of an app review once I’d used them long enough for a decision.

1. Weight Tracker Pro – This is created by the same people who make C25K, and cost $2 to download. It’s also the app that originally got me thinking about a food photo journal. If you look at the app description and screenshots, it looks like this can track your daily weigh-ins, calculate your TDEE, and keep a food photo journal with daily collages so you can see how things have changed over time. As I use Happy Scale for my weigh-ins and already know my TDEE, it was only this last one that I was interested in.

Verdict: Don’t waste your money. After downloading, I discovered that you can only take a single picture per day. Unless you feel like taking a daily body shot, or a picture of a specific meal that day, this is useless. I even tried the daily body shot thing, until I discovered that the photo log was extremely buggy. It couldn’t even do the single-photo thing right. Fail. Deleted.

2. YouAte – This is a super simple app to use. Every time you eat, you take a picture of your food, then mark if this food is on or off path. The app collects the photos, calculates how long you go between meals, and how often (in percentages) you’re on-path. When you click on a previously-taken photo, you can write in a few notes and answer a couple questions about how you felt during the meal, where you ate, how full you felt after eating, etc. You can’t upload a photo for a previous meal, or set the time differently. The only photos and time-stamps are exactly when you take the meal picture, so that takes a bit of adjusting to remember.

Verdict: Honestly, this one ended up being too simple for my purposes. It was also a bit difficult because technically my “path” this month is to take pictures of my food, so I found myself debating with each photo. Perhaps it would have been better if I defined a specific meal plan. In fact, I’m keeping the app just in case it will help me in the future. Perhaps I’ll revisit this one in May.

3. MealLogger – This comprehensive app has a lot in it. You can log steps, weight, and sleep. You can join nutrition programs with specific goals to reach each day. When you take food pics, you can choose what meal it was and what time you ate. If you forget to take a picture, you can still enter a meal without one. If you like, you can enter the number of servings for different nutrients (starchy vegetables, poultry, dairy, etc) and the app will attempt to calculate both your calories for the day and your macronutrient ratio. If you have the macronutrient amounts and want to put those in, there’s a place for that each meal, too. You can also add pictures for exercise. Every day, you can go in and see a summing up of your day, including the photos and how closely you met your nutrition goals (if chosen). Apparently you can also link this one up to the MealLogger community, but I haven’t done this.

Verdict: I have mixed feelings about this one. First, it’s really buggy. I believe this was originally an Android app so that might account for the bugginess on my iPhone. It’s not so buggy I couldn’t use it, but there are a lot of little things (like being unable to move your photo around to crop exactly where you want). I can live with the bugginess, but I found myself getting obsessed with the calorie info. Some days the calories were spot on, within 100 or so to what I would get on My Fitness Pal. Other days, it was totally off. For instance, one day I ate about 1900 calories and it thought I ate 3000. Since I don’t know which of the food servings is causing the big increase, I began obsessing about making sure I got the calories right, and that was the opposite of what I wanted for this program. So I tried taking pics without using the serving-portion section, and that just seemed pointless. In the end, this didn’t work for me personally, but I could see it being good for someone else.

4. Rise Up – This is not a photo log at all, but an app designed to help people recovering from a variety of eating disorders. It’s a simple thing: Record your meals, choose where and with whom you ate, choose emojis to represent how you felt at that time, pick any disordered eating behaviors you might have indulged in, and write a little diary entry. After you’re done, the app encourages you with little quotes and posters and cute pictures of animals. No judgement, no guiding toward better behaviors when you screw up. You can also check in daily (emotions, actions, medications, etc), and there are sections where you can get activities to help with journaling, body image issues, mindfulness, etc. The app is 100% private, no potential social media aspect, and you can give it a lock code so that no one else can enter it if they happen to be on your phone.

Verdict: I adore this one. It’s not what I was trying to find when I started this project, but the no-judgement aspect is exactly what I needed. I found that when I was feeling awful, sometimes using this app – just writing out how I was feeling – could stave off some of the negative behaviors I have around food. Not always, but even sometimes is a good thing. Some of the cheesier aspects of the app (motivational quotes, logging emotions in emojis) made me think in the beginning that this would be really not-my-thing, but the whole setup ended up perfect. Simple, and totally up to me. I feel calmer using it, and I hope that in time, I can heal some of my disordered eating habits with this app as one of the tools to help toward that end.

Overall
After a couple weeks trying out all these apps, I’ve settled into a pattern of taking pics of my food and then just making a collage at the end of the day to document. I’m also using Rise Up as a mindfulness and food-emotion-connection tool, which does help me a lot. Now to see if these two things in combination actually helps me on my journey toward health. Results to come in a few more weeks.

Posted in Wellness | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Top Ten Instant Turn-ons

In books, you dorks. Heh.

I once talked about these in a Sunday Coffee post, so let me start with those bookish turn-ons. I’m immediately drawn to books if they:

  1. are set on a cruise
  2. involve shared dreams
  3. involve reincarnation through many lives or reliving the same life multiple times
  4. have love-distance falling in love, especially through phone calls or letters
  5. contain elements of the occult
  6. involve telepathy of any kind
  7. are set in the Middle East or involve Middle Eastern culture (in a way that isn’t antagonistic)
  8. have characters that deviate from the normal bi-gender cultural roles

Those are the ones I discussed about a year ago in that post. Two more things I’m drawn to are:

  • books that in some way retell or revisit Phantom of the Opera or Jane Eyre
  • nonfiction related to food history or food science (thought not diet-based books)

What sorts of things make you immediately want to read a book?

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Posted in Book Talk | Tagged | 13 Comments