Book Reviews

Top 5 Fiction and Non-Fiction Reads of 2019

Happy holidays to you all. Last year I did a post on my top five fiction and non-fiction reads of 2018 and I wanted to continue the tradition. I love my goodreads account because it helps me track what I’ve read for the year and also for my entire life, which is kind of fun. I like a lot of different books. I’m big on romance novels, non-fiction, biographies, contemporary adult fiction, etc. I mean I will literally read anything as seen below. Here are my top five favorite books I read this year split into fiction and non-fiction. Let me know your favorites!

Top Five Fiction Books

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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This book was a trip. It made me feel all the feels. The novel gained attention when Reese Witherspoon announced it was going to be her book club pick a few years back, so you’ve probably heard of it. Eleanor is a quiet, quirky office worker who is content to stay that way forever. She’s got a long list of weird habits and offbeat social skills that have kept her from having emotional relationships with just about everyone. Once a week she is allowed a phone call with her mother, which gives off a creepy vibe right away, and on top of that she has that mild alcoholism thing going on, so there is obviously more to the story than Eleanor lets on. Boy is there ever. I loved this book. It made me cry.

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng is quickly becoming a favorite author for me. Her previous novel, Little Fires Everywhere was amazing and this book was no exception. The story follows a mixed race family in an all white area in the 1970s as they all grieve in their separate ways bout the death of their perfect daughter and sister. All of Ng’s books are super character driven and this one is no exception to that rule.

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) by Sarah J. Maas

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Speaking of character drive books…earlier in the year I finally finished Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series. What I loved so much about this entire series is that it starts off super basic. A girl enters a king’s tournament of assassins to become the king’s assassin and is torn between the love of the prince and his guard. Like, we have heard this one before. By the second book though all tropes are thrown out the god damn window as Maas delights us with plot twists and turns you couldn’t even predict. New characters are introduced constantly throughout the series and somehow readers care so deeply about them all. This series literally has it all. And it goes so far beyond romance and into a high fantasy, EXTREMELY character driven epic series that honestly blew me away. It had such a great final book and I just cannot recommend this series enough. Manon Blackbeak is my hero.

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Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

A LOT of people were talking about this book this year. Mostly for how unconventional it was. The story follows Daisy Jones and The Six, a fictional band in the 70s (think Stevie Nicks and The Heartbreakers). We follow Daisy’s journey from no one to fame, from solo career to The Six, all through a series of interviews pieced together by the interviewer. And wait until you find out who the interviewer is. It is super unique and a really fun read.

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

This has my vote for book of the year. Ocean Vuong is a fairly well known poet and this is his first novel. The entire thing reads like poetry. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and really pulls you in. The novel follows a young Vietnamese immigrant throughout his childhood and adulthood. Told through the boys’ letters to his mother later in life, the novel follows his mother and grandmother’s lives as they deal with the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the cultural shifts in America and the narrator’s sexuality. My heart. It hurts.

Top Five Non-Fiction Books

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

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McKeown’s book had a profound effect on the way I do my job since reading it. Trying to wade through the madness of a to do list and multiple priorities, McKeown asks you to find the priority. Singular. There should only be one after all, it was never a word that was meant to be used to describe more than one thing. Essentialism also asks you to say ‘no’ more, to value your time and better decide how and where to spend your energy. Something I’ve been trying to do for ages. This book has really helped me and I read it twice this year!

Educated by Tara Westover

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I did a full review of this already, but this was such a good read. There have been some disputes from Tara Westover’s family that have come out since the book released, but I believe Tara’s story over theirs. Even if it turns out some facts aren’t 100% true the overarching story definitely is and it is one of the power of education and living your own life, even if it means separating from your family and leaving everything you’ve ever known behind.

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White Rage by Carol Anderson

This is a fascinating read about how historically white people in power and the voting public have roadblocked black Americans at every twist and turn since slavery was abolished. This book is a short, but powerful narrative on our society and understanding the pervasiveness of racism and inequality, and the state of current American politics.

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robinson and Joe Dominguez

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This was another one I did a full review on. This book changed my life about how I perceive my time and money. It’s been around for a long time and the basic concept is to treat each decision with money as if you are paying for it with your life force, which essentially you are. Paying for a night out drinking? That’ll be five hours of your life force on Monday, please. The book also helps calculate your true hourly wage (after the cost to get to work, time traveling to work, lunch bought, etc.), which has really been eye opening for me.

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Maid by Stephanie Land

The things people say, do or leave out for their maid to find are truly staggering. This book is a memoir of sorts from Stephanie Land, a woman who raised a daughter alone, battled with government assistance and tried to make a better life for herself and her daughter while cleaning houses. Barrack Obama chose this as his summer reading pick this year and it is well worth the read.

A Simple, Honest Life · Simple Life

Deleting Facebook & Messenger

As part of this ‘Simple, Honest Life’ kick I’ve been on for the last few months, I finally took a leap to remove something from my life that I’ve been wanting to get rid of for a long time: Facebook.

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There were a few reasons for wanting to do this.

First, I just don’t use it that much anymore. I’m mostly on Instagram for my digital social life. I’ve been trying to free up more of my time to live in the real world and Facebook was a platform I wasn’t using that much, but one that felt easy to get sucked into mindlessly using. It just started to make sense for me that the next step would be to remove the account all together.

Facebook wasn’t doing anything good for my mental health either. In fact, it doesn’t do a lot for most people’s mental health. Here is a great bit from the opening of the research article I just linked: “Facebook, which remains by far the largest social media company, has 2.3 billion monthly active users worldwide. As of 2016, the average user was spending 50 minutes per day on Facebook and its sister platforms Instagram and Messenger. There may be no technology since television that has so dramatically reshaped the way people get information and spend their time.” That’s not to say it’s BAD time spent. I’m sure that varies by individual. But I think it’s a good idea to evaluate if the time you spend on Facebook is valuable to you and if it puts you in a good state of mind.

For me, it was adding up precious time in my day by checking and responding to it. A good 20 minutes total. On top of all this I didn’t like the way I was watching people use it. Facebook is full of ads, scams and false information via news and sharing. It felt like an easy way to disengage from all the noise and dare I say it: Fake news. I also didn’t like the way it forced surface level friendships on me and what always felt like false connections with my extended family and internet friends.

The Mental Process of Removing Facebook Forever

The first thing I did to make sure I really wanted to do this was to delete the app from my phone. I did this for three months and only used Facebook on my desktop computer. When I did log in, I found I did not miss it. So the answer to if I’d miss Facebook was a simple no, and the next step was to just delete it.

Well, I soon realized it wasn’t going to be that simple. I had 13 years of crap on this thing and a lot that crap was actually important to me and didn’t live anywhere else but on Facebook.

This important info was mostly photos upon photos that I had uploaded that existed on Facebook and no where else. Some of these were dumb photos, but I wanted them anyway. This used to be an ordeal to obtain. I was thinking of deleting Facebook about five years ago and there was no way at the time to obtain all your photos at once. You had to automatically go in and save them one at a time. This was a problem for someone like me that had over 3,000 + photos.

But all that has changed. Facebook BY LAW has to give you access to all your data now, which includes being able to download all your photos at once into a nifty zip folder. Facebook has messed up so many times in their history with people’s data, there is now a great feature that allows you to download all your data at one go. Directions below:

All my information from 13 years of Facebook in one zip drive

This entire process took about 15 minutes. They emailed me when my data was ready to be downloaded and two minutes later I had a zip drive of what I thought would just be my photos.

Hello 1984

But there was SO MUCH MORE. So much more. Facebook gave me EVERYTHING. Everything I didn’t even know they had. You don’t just get photos. You get every post you’ve ever made, everything you’ve liked, all of the ad interests Facebook has tracked on you and all the ads you’ve clicked on. You even get a list of every friend you’ve ever had on Facebook along with their phone number and email if they provided one at sign up. Even if you aren’t friends anymore. Creepy.

The next thing I had to do was remove myself from my groups and my messenger. This was more difficult. I have a good group of friends from all over the world that uses groups as a way to keep connected. I had to reach out to them to see if there was a way we could communicate differently.

Then I had to see what chats I had in messenger. Which ones were just passing chats and which ones were long threads. For our podcast for Cinemabysmal we use a Facebook messenger chat. I just had to convince the guys to switch to a group chat. Which worked out great because it actually convinced one of them that Facebook was a heap of garbage and they’re now deleting theirs at the beginning of the year. As a side note: you can keep messenger without having Facebook. But for me it was about getting rid of all the extra noise and methods of communication. Just having one message app really appealed to me so I wanted to keep that goal in mind.

Finally I had to go through my friends list and delete the people I didn’t want to keep in touch with through social media anymore. This part was harder. I have a lot of acquaintances on there , but I really took the time and went through and thought about which relationships I valued the most. I went from 475 friends down to 116 friends. That visual alone told me how little Facebook was doing for me and my relationships with the people I cared about.

Then about a week ago I made a post letting the people left on there know I was going to delete my Facebook in a week and if they wanted to keep in touch I gave my phone number, email, website and Instagram. I wouldn’t have given out my phone number before to all 475 people but everyone that was left I found I didn’t mind if they had it. I knew them, they knew me. The great feeling came when I realized that most of them already had my phone number. All that was left was people that I cared for, knew and loved.

And then I deleted it. And I have zero regrets. And I’ll leave you with the instructions on how to deleted your own Facebook because it’s kind of hard and they make it a little tricky.

For those of you that aren’t sure about deleting Facebook, at least get a copy of your data so you can start to remove some of things Facebook has that you aren’t happy about them having. Also, if you keep a copy of your data after you delete Facebook you can restore your profile by signing up again and re uploading the data pack Facebook gives you. So even if you just want to get away for a year and see how you feel, this is a great option.

Step by Step (oh baby)

Another strange find: In settings if you go to ‘Manage Account’, you can request to have your Facebook page deleted when you die. This can avoid having your page become a strange memorial after you pass full of people from high school you haven’t talked to in years claiming they were your best friend:

Now that my Facebook is deleted I have a 30 day grace period to log back in and restore my page. It is slightly annoying to me that this is an option, but I don’t plan on using it and now the deed is done and I can enjoy my official Facebook free life in 2020.

A Simple, Honest Life · Honest Life

If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will

Oh Hey, It’s Me
Northern California Coast Line

I remember May. I remember Memorial Day Weekend. I remember the redwoods and the northern California coastal air, how it smells like it’s always going to rain and how the fog blankets the coast every morning. I remember camping early in June and hiking up the butte that tried to kill me, but instead gave me an epiphany about turning this site into a reflection of honesty and simplicity. I remember feeling like summer was just about to start.

And now it’s September.

I had a really great summer planned with restful self care weekends in between some of the bigger ticket items such as visiting my parents, going to Spokane, three camping trips, a walking relay event and one of my best friend’s wedding. But even the best laid plans…

Slowly dying inside at our LA office

Work got in the way if I’m being honest. Not just some hard weeks at work, but work travel on top of that, which is never as fun as it sounds. I was down in LA seven times this summer for work and even pulled a 15 hour turn around trip followed by three more days in a row. One good thing is I got really good at packing a suitcase and bringing only what I knew I’d need and wear. But putting in all that work travel against my carefully laid out summer plans meant I was busy. So busy I have barely had time for myself.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time this summer, but since my May revelation I’ve been wanting to focus more on my needs and my time. When I can manage those things first, I become a better person at home and with my friends and family. I can allow myself to be in the moment when I’m with other people and give them my full attention and focus because I’ve taken care of myself first. Which leads to the fact that I have not taken care of myself this summer.

I have felt completely out of control. Like things were happening TO me, and I was just a bystander going through the motions because I felt like I had to. I felt had no control to stop these things from happening and I just had to follow through and do them. I’d like to preach about how we all have control in our lives and I could have canceled things or told my work no, but that is always so much harder than it sounds. I think most people don’t feel in control of their lives. We have bills to pay and people to please and plans to show up for.

The best plan I showed up for: Claire’s wedding with my BFFs

So I’ve been having these thoughts in the background about putting myself first and being in my control of my time and my life and meanwhile I’ve just been going, going, going. And when I’m finally able to stop, I end up sleeping because I’m so exhausted. Going to bed at 7 or 8 and when I can sleep in I’m sleeping until my alarm goes off at 9 am. I have to set an alarm because I will sleep even longer than that if I can. So what is that telling me when I’m so tired my body wants to sleep more than 12 hours? It tells me I’m doing too much.

Luckily work is slowing down a bit. There shouldn’t be any more crazy travel for awhile. That helps. And I’ve tried to be more honest with my personal plans. I’ve been trying to say no more. And instead of saying ‘I can’t’ I’ve been trying to say ‘I don’t want to’. Not to hurt people’s feelings, but to put my time in more perspective with myself. It’s not that I don’t want to hang out this week, it’s that I don’t want to make that a priority this week. I know that I won’t be my best if I schedule something this week, I need more time to put myself first and then when I do make plans with someone – when I am truly up for it – I will be more present than I would have been if I had forced it into my schedule. Into my time. Remember, time is our most precious resource. It is literally all we have.

It is okay to say no. I know that it doesn’t always feel that way and there are truly things that we can’t say no to. Work being the most obvious one. If we want to keep our jobs, keep the people in charge happy enough to keep us around, we more often than not feel forced to say yes. I think a lot of people feel this way and I want to share some pieces of a great book I finally got around to reading this summer called Essentialism by Greg McKeown. There are some great tid bits in there about saying no in a work environment and how nos can sometimes be really well received.

Here’s one of my favorite tips:

For example, if your manager comes to you and asks you to do X, you can respond with “Yes, I’m happy to make this the priority. Which of these other projects should I deprioritize to pay attention to this new project?” Or simply say, “I would want to do a great job, and given my other commitments I wouldn’t be able to do a job I was proud of if I took this on.”

Excerpt from Essentialism by Greg Mckeown

Saying no isn’t easy for fun, but you can definitely take a moment to feel awkward about saying no and live with that moment of awkwardness for a short time or you can say yes and live with a day, a week or even a month of regret for saying yes.

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

Honey Badger Champs

What do I feel deeply inspired by?” and “What am I particularly talented at?” and “What can I do that meets a significant need in the world? I don’t know yet.

I have to keep working because I have bills to pay and honestly I like the people I work with. We are dodge ball champs after all – another thing I signed up for this summer thinking I’d have more time in my life. Is my work my passion though? No. I’m not there yet. And in the meantime I don’t need to be killing myself and sleeping in 15 hours increments when I can to make up for working so hard. Now that things are a bit calmer at work I’m hoping I can re-prioritize my time and my hobbies and really start to think about what I want to do with my life and how I want to make a difference in the world with the time that I have.

Mary Oliver wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” I’m still figuring it out, but while I’m working through it I’m trying to make sure I’m giving myself the time and space to do so.

A Simple Life · A Simple, Honest Life

Email Subscriptions

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. Mostly about ways in which I can take back my time from other things and people and make it my own again. Sometimes I come up with really big ideas for this and other times I just think small.

Here’s a small idea that took up more time while I was doing it, but has really shown to have a great payoff.

I was trying to track my phone usage last month and have really clear ‘No Phone Time’ sessions blocked out. Like most people, I start checking my phone within a half hour of waking up. I like to keep my mail app clear of those little red notifications that tell me I have email. That means every time I pick up my phone and see a mail notification I feel compelled to check the email, sort it and in turn remove the notification.

The problem with this is that I was getting a lot of junk mail. Subscriptions I didn’t remember signing up for, discounts for stores I shopped at one time, reminders about sales or points expiring, etc. So when I’d get a text on my phone or even use it to check the time I would end up spending 5-10 minutes more than I wanted to on it going through all the new email subscription junk I would get. Over the course of the day this could end up sucking up an average 30 minutes of my time. Our most precious resource.

So I started unsubscribing. Which at first took up even more time. Some places make it so easy to unsubscribe and others make it a bit of a puzzle. My favorite ones are the ones the iPhone flags and they have just a simple unsubscribe button at the top.

Then there’s the unsubscribe links you have to click, usually found hidden away at the bottom of the email.

That will take you to a website where sometimes you just have to click a button saying ‘opt out of emails’ or you have to reenter your email, or (the worst) individually select which emails you’d like to opt out of.

These are the worst and most time consuming.

Here is the good news. I did this for a solid two weeks and it took up more time than I wanted, but now I’ve started to notice a huge decrease in my emails (and the time I spend checking them. Instead of 25 notifications in the morning and five more every half hour I’m getting three in the morning and about 10 total throughout the day. A major improvement in my time, wallet and well being.

A great way to practice digital minimalism as well. Less distractions on our phones means less phone time over all. I’ve still got a few more companies emailing, but I’ve been practicing the unsubscribe method and I wanted to encourage you all to do the same if you’re feeling like too much of your time is spent on email.

July 2019 - 3 For 30

3 For 30 – Week Three & Four

Is it seriously August? How did that even happen? I feel like I blinked in May and woke up here and I’ve just barely managed to keep my head above water. Anyone else having that kind of summer?

I had this great moment of clarity at the end of June. I wanted to make more open, honest and simple posts about minimalism and living a slower life. I wanted to help people feel free and empowered to live their own lives, far from the burden of possessions, jobs and societal pressure. That’s my goal with my time on this Earth for myself, and if I can share my journey there and help even just one other person start to think about their own time in a different way then I’ll be happy.

But it’s been so hard to do that when I feel like I can finally breathe for the first time in two months. I looked at my weekend today and I couldn’t believe I had nothing going on. I knew July was going to be busy, but I had no idea work would ramp up around this time too and I would regret having overloaded myself on the things I could control. But some things you just have to roll with and bite your tongue and do them even if you’re exhausted. It’s a choice to say yes and to follow through on commitments even if you made those during a time when you thought you’d have time for them.

Hence my good intentioned July challenge. Doing three things for thirty minutes a day doesn’t sound that hard, but when you add it up that’s an hour and half of time and all that time has to happen after work for me. So if I’m off at 5 and having nothing going on (this usually only happens about 3 days a week), then I come home and make dinner, finishing that up and the eating bit around 6:30. Then I want to shower, throw laundry in, prep for tomorrow with lunch, etc. and that takes until about 7:30. I’m in bed asleep by 10 on a good night so now I have 2.5 hours of free time. If i do 1.5 hours of my 30 minutes a day with little breaks in-between for water or anything else, then it’s 9:30 when I’m done. Then I’ve got the teeth brushing and the face washing and then I have to get to bed.

So that’s on a work day where nothing else is going on but work. I signed up for summer kickball so that’s one night a week. I usually do a happy hour with old coworkers or a friend once a week. The point is, I wasn’t being honest with myself during this challenge about the time I had to complete it. So now I’m being honest with you all about that. Which feels good and I hope you don’t mind too much. It’s hard to write blog posts about the failures instead of the successes, but I’d rather be honest about it than have you read some garbage I wrote up about learning Spanish, writing the next great American novel or beating my mile pace time in 30 days. The last thing I want to be on here is unauthentic because in the end it hurts everyone.

So I’m still writing. With the business trips this month tripling and the exhaustion from trying to ‘do it all’, the writing hasn’t been as frequent, but I’ve been trying to fit it in. The Duolingo app is still my favorite to open up during a Lyft ride or a quick coffee break. And finally, the walking has had to just be fit in when it can. Today I walked over to the park and did laps around it for a few hours just testing out my pace and I haven’t lost any momentum in the past month, but I haven’t gained any either. Overall, I didn’t set out to do what I wanted with July, but July was so unexpected for me, and I think you remember bits of that in your life much more than you’d remember and cherish the slow times.

I spend a weekend in Bend, OR, a week in LA for work, another weekend with my husband’s family, a weekend back in LA with family and then work in LA again and now I”m just catching up and flowing back into my slower life that I love.

Is there anything that you started to do but didn’t follow through with? I’m sure we’ve all done this before. I used to make myself feel so guilty about it. I would even finish books I didn’t like just because I felt like I couldn’t NOT finish. I’ve started to make very deliberate decisions with my time though and instead of forcing myself to follow through on certain things, I’ve just learned to let go more. It feels good and it’s good for me. I hope if you’re a pusher or a perfectionist these stories might help you realize it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go just as you imagined they would. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and readjust your priorities when you have to.

On that note, monthly challenges are going to get scaled back to when I feel like I can fit one in, and lots more posts will happen on the simple, honest life I’m hoping to start with you all.