3 Tips on National Simplicity Day

Live Simply

National Simplicity Day is something I can get behind.

The message is simple. Take a break, savour the simple things, and declutter–both mind and matter!

I think this is an especially important idea to proactively and consciously practice in our culture that is so driven by consumerism. Even a glance around my own house from my couch shows a few things I never use–certainly that I don’t need–and have been meaning to get rid of. More stuff means more to clean, look after, and keep up–it does not mean more meaningful relationships with family or friends, more purpose to my life, or more self worth. Simplify.

Here are my favourite few practical tips on living a little more simply.

1. Declutter

This is my favourite thing next to organizing. Clutter makes me feel closed in when my home is full of knick-knacks, things stuffed haphazardly into boxes, or when my closet is stuffed with yet more things waited to be sorted into other spaces that have places for the things. Ask yourself what’s really important to you. You probably won’t miss it when it’s gone.

Go through your closet and donate what you don’t regularly wear to Goodwill. Same goes for extra kitchen/office/basement junk you’re saving for some reason. Have you used it in the last three months? If not (and it’s not seasonal) then think about giving it away to someone who might need it more.

2. Pause and be present

You’ve heard it again and again; put the screen away (especially if you’re just using it to mindlessly scroll through social media to while away meaningless hours of your boring existence before bedtime drags you into the next work day.) It’s refreshing to not worry about posting on Twitter or Instagram, or getting frustrated at that dumb article someone posted. Instead, pick up a book, have a conversation with a friend, or take a walk and enjoy nature, or simply observe the flow of the street around you. Pay attention.

Yet another boring night after work can turn into something much more meaningful.

3. Hobby time

Are you a creative soul, or have that one activity that makes you feel relaxed and purposeful? Give yourself the time to do it. Set up your art supplies, take that project out to the garage, find a lake. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to have time away from doing chores, planning lists of to-do’s, weeding–it can wait. Your hobbies are usually what give you that injection of feeling ‘yourself’ and drain the stress way down.

Get rid of your life junk. Whether that’s an over-stuffed closet or a jumble of meaningless tasks glugging into your stress meter. They don’t add value to your life. Find the few things that are special to you and cultivate that time and those relationships. It feels so much more rewarding and calm when you do.

Live simply, my friends.

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Book Review: The Way of Kings

Or 4 Reasons why Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is Brilliant. That’s the review. It’s great. If you need more convincing, then read these handily-titled sections below.

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Worldbuilding

Rarely have I met a writer who so smoothly introduced entire new societal structures, cultural norms, religions, and clashing beliefs of conservatism or liberalism into the stream of the character’s normal interactions. And of course, not each people-group or sub-divisions therein agree on cultural norms. They are scandalized by what is commonplace for one culture, scoff at what is considered holy in another.

Enter a world ravaged by regular storms of ferocious rain, lightning, and wind that scour landscapes clean, demolish houses, and toss boulders. How would a world like that survive? The plants recede into rock, animals have chitinous shells, cities are built into cliffs to shelter them from the rain. Enter a society where only women are encouraged to read, write, or pursue mathematics as the ‘feminine arts,’ where men and women eat separately, and even the different styles of food you are allowed to eat are based on gender. Fascinating, right?!

There was no gigantic wad of cultural narrative dropped into the middle of the story, which he could have done, and readers would have quickly forgot. Sanderson integrates a cultural tidbit where it becomes relevant to call attention to it.  Makes perfect, beautiful sense. Yes, there’s lots of it. Lots of deliciously detailed differences, but I never found myself overwhelmed by it or feeling lost in it.

Now, this helps in part because I sit and read several chapters at a time. I absorb whole chunks of information in a swathe of reading delight. If you were to read this book piecemeal, a couple pages every few days, you might find yourself struggling to keep up.

Character Development

There are some characters who stubbornly remain the same despite circumstances, some who struggle to change but are fixed in loops of behaviour, and some who–oh so gradually–find themselves a different person than they were a few months ago.

These realizations, jarring moments of self-awareness, and deepening deviousness are threaded through almost every character the reader journeys with for a significant period of time. Without wanting to give away details, these characters are people who struggle with making right decisions, knowing what the right decision is, making mistakes, finding themselves liking certain mistakes, and either forging a new path or digging themselves deeper into it.

By the time I’m halfway through a novel, or reach the end of it, these people I was learning to know may not be who I thought they were. What an alluring way to read.

Gender-ization

Does your novel feature a painfully ‘strong female character’ that feels like she’s written only because masculinized women are the mistaken trope that entertainment is trying to shove into every cranny instead of a well-written female character? Does your novel have men who prove their budding manhood and growth by sexing half of the other characters in the book?

The above are too-common types of terribly tired characters. They’ve become strong female characters for female readers to look up to who–to scorn the help of men, to fight just as good as men, to be just as tough and care as little as men–end up destroying the point of what a good female character looks like.

People exist on spectrums of physical, mental, and emotional strength. Just because a woman may not be wielding a sword next to the rest of the guys doesn’t mean her sharp intelligence doesn’t make her ‘strong.’ This exploration of what ‘strength’ means is strongly exhibited by Sanderson. We have intellectual, detached historians. We have noble, passionate queens. A shy girl with a sharp tongue.

There are young men who go from shallow dabbling with  longs lists of pretty women to thoughtfully approaching the way they behave. Soldiers who are torn about what it means to kill in order to protect. Whose thrill for glory in battle is dimmed by what it means to act honourably.

Sanderson writes richly embroidered characters who struggle, are wounded, grow, or recede in the strengths and weaknesses inherent in humanness. Not defined by rote gender types of characteristics.

Plot Twists

I won’t say too much on this except that they’re here, they’re subtle, and they’re lovely. I admire authors who can turn a random detail into a spiraling revelation or an unassuming character into something so much more. It makes me wonder what else he’s hiding…

With all the glowing remarks said, Sanderson deserves the high marks.

Score: 5/5

Book Review: Something More than Night

I really wanted to call this ‘When Prose Gets in the Way of Story.’

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Something More than Night started out with tantalizingly imaginative descriptions. The main character detective, Bayliss, spun litanies of description in noir slang. I was intrigued, impressed even, by the metaphors and similes. I had to read carefully, mind on task as he strung together strange descriptions that had me chuckling or cocking my head. But by page 10, I was ready to read without needing to mentally re-shuffle and interpret every line.

This novel was so dense with the cheeky vernacular of a hard-boiled detective and the technical babble of a physics major that I barely saw the story through the mass of verbiage (yes, ‘verbiage’ is a word meaning an “overabundance or superfluity of words, as in writing or speech;wordiness; verbosity.” I now love this word.) 

There was one particular page I have to give a shout-out to before I dive into the rest of this mess (the reason this book was given to me to read by a friend) that was pretty cool. The author split the page into two simultaneous streams of thought, leaving the reader to decide how to read the separate but same paragraphs–I’ll give it that. Now to the rest…

A down-in-his-luck detective (a fallen angel) meets a dame in distress, amidst the mystery of a murdered angel and a stolen holy trumpet. He has a sense of honour to help her out of the mess he helped engineer. The mess ends up being hotter than he bargained for.  The dame gets in trouble, gets rescued. They they sort the mess out and part ways. The plot is simple, the world a half-formed backdrop to half-formed characters, cloaked in the cloying confusion of the writing.

The story sincerely suffers from an unending need to showcase style.

In fact, I’d go so far to say that the noir language mixed with complex physics were the impetus for writing the book, over and above any desire to write the characters or plot. The language was consistently so heavy with slang that it was almost indecipherable without careful word-by-word examination and extrapolation, and the plot literally was a copy-paste of old detective novels. It was even a plot device for the character to recognize–as her grand revelation–that her circumstances were eerily similar to noir tropes. But this did not come off as clever. It came off as an easy save to abruptly end the book.

As evidence to my reading woes, please read the below quote:

“The knoll overlooked a narrow sound formed by multidimensional breakwaters of quantum indeterminacy. Slow ripples of mathematical entropy lapped at the shoreline, eroding the non-Abelian symmetry groups along the waters edge into towering pillars of salt.”

And it continues….

“Not much to see at a casual glance, unless one happened to notice the miniscule refraction of time shadows where formless ontology met the subtlest hint of teleology. I was staring at a dormant topological defect in the Pleroma.”

Now imagine every page is like that. Every. Single. One.

If that excites you, you might want to give this book a shot. If, like me, you started glazing over by ‘multidimensional breakwater of whatsit” to get to the pillars of salt and then glazed again, I wouldn’t recommend it.

This collection of verbiage receives a 2/5.

Advice from the Greats & a Terrifying Revelation

I worked up the courage a while ago to ask a question. A question I’ve been struggling with since before I started this blog, over a year ago. Then I needed to work up the courage to post this.

I didn’t just ask my Facebook friends. I humbly asked three honest-to-goodness published, famous authors I look up to.

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And even crazier, they responded to me.

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  • Eeach of the authors I asked responded–amazing.
  • Each of them had a different perspective on the answer, but they were similar answers.
  • Each of the authors like the other authors’ tweets, showing that, to some extent, they all agreed with what each other.

 

“Do you want to be an online personality or a novelist?”

 

Brent Weeks’ question began haunting me.

Why did I start this blog? The more I see on Pinterest from ‘professional’ bloggers, the more I asked myself this question. They’re doing it to make some money on the side, either lots of it or enough to supplement other income. They’re promoting DIY projects, new products, recipes, etc.

I’m not here to sell you anything. That’s not why I started this blog. I started the blog because I had decided to self-publish, and countless articles said that having a blog was essential before self-publishing. Growing an audience, a readership. I thought I’d share my writing journey, grow some similarly-minded writers, and share advice along the way.

I started this blog because I heard that writers need to have an online presence even for seeking agents for traditional publishing. That agents won’t sign with you if you don’t have a blog. I don’t think this is universally true, but they framed it in a way that if you didn’t have a thriving blog, you were kicking yourself in the shins. Never mind even trying to write the book at the same time.

With a polished first draft of a novel sitting ready on my laptop, I first had to worry about a blog. Worry about creating an ‘author platform’ for myself. Worry about gaining followers. I don’t have many. Worry about how releasing my first novel would mean getting the second in the series out within no more than a year after the first because your audience wouldn’t wait that long for another. Worry about making an online personality for myself. Not being a novelist.

That’s not me.

As a writer with only a few short stories published, I feel fake shelling out piles of ‘how-to’s’ on writing, pretending like I know everything to hook another reader. And I feel the same way reading others blogs offering advice on writing the best dialogue, the darkest villains, etc. If you haven’t published anything, by what basis are you offering this advice?

And while I stress on getting blog articles out to keep the blog going, I set my writing more and more to the side.

That’s bad. That’s down right the opposite of what needs to happen.

It became a chore. If I wasn’t writing posts on my blog or working on my novel, I felt more and more guilty until now, turning on my laptop for the express purpose to sit down and write gives me roiling anxiety.

I’m not a blogger personality. I’m a creative writer. I’m a fan-fiction enthusiast who delights in complicated villains and shades of grey and have won several contests doing just that. I enjoy grappling with turning the usual way things should go on its head and surprising readers. Tell me I need to write a story about a kiss and I’ll give you love lost and poisoned, a lingering cruel brand on a cheek. That’s me.

I don’t want to be an internet personality. I wanna write. I want to get back into the grit and not worry about blog stats and followers. My writing should speak first.

I’m going to stop putting expectations of thriving success on my shoulders. Of the how-to’s and ‘tips for success.’ Not a single one matters if I’m not writing. Instead of listening to Pinterest, I’m going to listen to me for a while. That had gotten me the farthest.

I’m going to disappear for a while.

See you all on the other side of…writing.

Supper in a Box: Trialing Chefs Plate

I tend to ignore the flashy Facebook ads running pictures of mattresses in a box or meals delivered to your door. What caught my interest in Chefs Plate was excited conversation in a boardroom, from a coworker, who was sick of grocery shopping.

Now, I am a frugal person (unless it comes to books), so I didn’t dash online to order right away. I looked up reviews, read other people’s experiences, and then found something that clinched it. A coupon! With coupon code loaded, I started the process. I even have a coupon code to pass on, right at the bottom of this post.

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Chefs Plate gives you lots of choice. You can choose either a two person or family plan (we chose for two). Each week has a different menu with many meat options (chicken, beef, pork, seafood) or vegetarian, and they let you see the menu for two weeks out. And the options aren’t simple casserole,s folks. These are delicious looking, intriguing, healthy plates I had trouble picking between. After you’ve picked your meals, you give them your postal code to make sure they can deliver to you, pick which day you want the food delivered (either Tuesday or Friday) and send your monies. Don’t worry–you don’t even have to be home to sign for the food.

For our trial meals, we ordered Paprika Chicken with orzo, feta, and spinach, as well as Gaucamole Turkey Burgers. Husband approved.

As promised, I found a cardboard box of food on my porch when I got home from work on Tuesday. Then I unpacked the goodies! The box is refrigerated and has ice packs so everything stays cool–it’s all recyclable too.

Because we ordered two meals, there were two bags of packed foodables, with each packet of spices, bag of lettuce, or cup of feta individually packaged and labelled.

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Very handy.

Then we set up the colourfully printed recipe card, with follow-along pictures and instructions, and got to cooking.

Yes, it’s blurry. Yes, I may have been too absorbed in dreaming of this delightful dinner than thinking of taking good pictures.

I mean, look at that cooking! Bright tomatoes and boiling orzo? So great. I didn’t even know what orzo was before this (like rice basically).

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Both this dinner (and the turkey burgers I have zero pictures of but were stacked with juicy, guacamole with a side of crispy, freshly juiced lime-iness) turned out spectacularly. The produce was fresh. The meat was delicious and juicy. The spices had true flavour to them. This was good good food. True to time listed, both meals took no more than 30 minutes from start to finish, and was not difficult in the least. The recipe card label both as ‘easy’ cooking difficulty.

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The paprika chicken, garnished with sliced almonds.

We ended up even having leftovers, not necessarily of the mains (two people=two burgers, but I was more than full), but of the shallots, the lettuce, the avocado. We didn’t use all the sides, so I had fun extras to play with for leftover nights.

Overall, I’d do this again. Not often, but as a treat that saves shopping time. And it’s still cheaper than eating out.  Full price for two people with two suppers is $49.80 including the delivery fee (if you pick three meals, delivery is free). Totally up to your family what’s worth your time and what you can afford.

But I can help you with the cost! If you use my referral link, you get the first 3 plates for free (=one and a half free suppers). http://www.chefsplate.com/?r=3pc-va9lO0k 

Full disclosure, if you use this link, I also get one supper coupon.

Anyone else try this? Or use my link if you’re curious and get a taste of it for cheap.

Best & Worst Reads of 2016

2016 brought me so many new authors! I have my list of go-to favourites, but in 2016 I scoured lists of anticipated upcoming authors and found some solid, and wonderfully strange, gems I may have never otherwise discovered.

I read 22 books in 2016. 10,484 total pages. And my longest book was roughly 742 of those pages.

Here’s a list of my best and worst reads from 2016 (note: not necessarily published in 2016, but simply what I read last year).

The Good Stuff

The Builders, Daniel Polansky

I’m a huge Redwall fan. I can still picture the rows and rooows of Redwall books stacked on my bedroom shelf as a child. So when I saw animals on the front cover of an adult book,  I think it took me three seconds before I decided YES PLEASE.

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This novelette was short and punchy. When your book is only 226 pages long, every sentence counts, and Polansky’s writing is precise, vivid where it needs to be, and makes these characters memorable even a year later. You should read this. It features a mouse and a stoat. A STOAT.

The Vagrant, Peter Newman

I wrote a review on this book earlier in the year because it was THAT GOOD. The cover greedily grabbed at me when I first saw it. A guy with a sword and a baby? What??

theVagrant

This novel is a stunning journey through a devastated world with a mute man, a baby, and a goat.

Depravity is pitted against virtue as the Vagrant struggles against demon invaders and humans alike that seek to scrape raw the human sense of love, generosity, and kindness. Each interaction is a risk, a gamble, a battle.

Newman’s writing is beautifully wrought and wrenchingly grotesque. The characters are layered, complex, and hilarious. The plot takes you through towns, cities, and memories that linger long in your mind afterwards, like twining smoke.

Pick this book up for incredibly rich writing, a twisted take on an apocalypse, and the degradation of human nature. Highly recommended.

–Newman’s follow-up book, The  Malice, is already out! It was also AMAZING.–

 

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins

What a messed up, psycho-freaky trip through the lives of abused demi-gods. I was horrified, deeply intrigued, and glued to the story the entire way through.

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This is…fantasy. Sure. Yes. The story of a girl named Carolyn, her fellow librarians with unique powers, and their grasping for control of the universe held within their library. God did go missing after all. Carolyn’s got a shot at being top librarian, but has she lost everything that once made her human in return?

If you want something totally different, this is totally different.

 

The Blood Mirror, Brent Weeks

This is probably the most well-known series I read this year. The Lightbringer trilogy is four books in, and has been thoroughly enjoyable. Weeks’ magic system is based on manipulating light, and he’s got a broad spectrum of interesting characters with a twisting plot that keeps you guessing what’s real or not. Over the four books, the series has been strong.

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I struggled with his second book (his portrayal of women and sexuality sometimes made me cringe). And I struggled a touch with this fourth book as well. I found myself less interested in Kip’s tactical journey, and yearning for more character-driven struggles. Also, Weeks’ choice of personal struggle for Kip with his lady friend seemed a bit…oddly specific. He chose to particularly focus on a strange physical issue, and it took up much more of the plot than it needed to. I won’t go into details lest I spoil things.

Gavin goes through some fantastic mental twists, but he seemed to revert to ‘sexually objectifying full-on jerk Gavin’ instead of the more nuanced Gavin I was enjoying. The flip flop from jerk to thoughtful and then jerk again has been frustrating between his books. Just when I start to feel like his character has grown, he returns to his previous behaviour. This feels like inconsistent writing rather than a deliberate character trait choice. Overall, I didn’t get the same rush of tense excitement as I did with his previous books, but it took me less than a week to read it, and when I read books fast, it means I’m enjoying them.

 

The Bad Stuff

Going Grey, Karen Traviss

I know Traviss best from her very well-written Star Wars books, so when I saw she’d published a new book in a new world of her own making, I was eager to dive in.

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It started strong. A young boy in an isolated community, suddenly orphaned, with a secret his family has tried to keep from him. A government experiment that wants the boy back. And the two family military men determined to keep him safe. It’s a thriller…but I never felt thrilled. The plot lumbered through large stretches of plodding manly bonding. Her writing is usually so thoughtful and descriptive in ways that surprise you. By halfway through, I started reading faster and faster to get through it, and never missed a darn thing. There was nothing to savour or sink your teeth into. I was bored. I skimmed, shrugged at the end, and was more than happy to move onto something else.

 

Children of Fire, Drew Karpyshyn

I wanted to read this primarily because of Karpyshyn’s work with BioWare and my favourite videogames of all time. But alas, the writing I hoped for did not translate into a novel.

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Children of Fire started off with an intriguing idea: a few select children are cursed with a chaotic power that will inevitably twist their lives with strife and sorrow. The first 1/3 of the book follows them from birth, how their lives are warped by this event, and the terrible things that happen to them. I read fairly quickly through this part, but then my reading abruptly slowed.

For me, it became a popcorn read. It was a fantasy involving a chosen one with a global destiny, a big bad antagonist, magic systems and histories too often reiterated, with characters that never quite clicked for me. I read pages in a skim and never felt the prose needed any concentration.

If you want a light read with a basic bad guy who wants to destroy the world because he just needs to, magic explosions, and a few violently gory fight scenes, this might be right for you. If you’re looking for challenging prose that’s gets you thinking or complex characters, this isn’t it.

 

Did you read something last year that made you want to hold the  book up like Simba on Pride Rock and proclaim to the world everyone should read it? Or read something that just stank? Tell me in the comments!

Tolkien’s Twelvety-Fifth

Happy 125 years of life and legacy, Tolkien!

We all know of his immense impact, so I wanted to share a few special Tolkien tidbits.

He started his legacy with a scrap of a thought…

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He led a fascinating life…

  • Tolkien said his surname came from the German word tollkühn, meaning “foolhardy” or “daredevel.”
  • Tolkien was an orphan by 12 years of age.
  • He acted as a signal officer in World War I at the Battle of the Somme, but contracted trench fever and was sent back to England.
  • During World War II, he was earmarked as a codebreaker.
  • Tolkien told off the Nazis when they wrote asking him to prove his ‘Aryan’ line before they published his novel in German. Full text totally worth reading. He then described Hitler as a “ruddy little ignoramus.”
  • There are a few dictionary words that Tolkien is said to have first used. One is “eucatastrophe,” which Tolkien said meant “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.”
  • Tolkien had a lot of languages under his belt: Danish, Dutch, French, German, Gothic, Greek, Italian, Latin, Lombardic, Middle and Old English, Old Norse, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh and Medieval Welsh.

He gave us wise words on fantasy…

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He had a favourite line from his own writing…

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If you’re curious what Tolkien sounded like, here’s audio of him reading The Tale of Beren and Luthien.

And as a lesser-read piece of his Lord of the Rings world, I encourage you to try (if you haven’t already) The Children of Hurin. Enjoy the pure heartache. It’s worth it.

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”

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Do you have a favourite quote of his? Or a favourite anything of all his works and wisdoms?