A while back I was really into reading personal finance books. Suze Orman’s Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny was the last of the finance books I read. While the book was very obviously written before the economic collapse in 2008 (published in 2007), many of the her basic tenants of finance are still very practical in the new economic climate.

Women & Money

Because the book is written for women, it starts out by describing the eight qualities of a wealthy women: Harmony, balance, courage, generosity, happiness, wisdom, cleanliness, and beauty. Orman believes that by taking control of all areas of a woman’s life and mental state, she becomes a better person. Her eight qualities are a guideline and a goal for all women to live their lives by. One interesting part of this book are the countless personal examples from Orman and the women she has helped over the years, and they all exhibit one or more of these qualities in their path to financial freedom.

Like every personal finance book, Women & Money has a plan to help readers get their finances under control. Orman’s plan is called the “Save Yourself Plan” and is based on the believe that before you can take care of the other people in your life, you must take care of yourself. Similar to how parents must put their own masks on in case of an emergency on a plane, making yourself financially stable allows you to help the people around you also become stable.

Step one is focused on checking and saving accounts. She strongly encourages women to open their own accounts, even if they are married and share household responsibilities with their spouse. One sign of this book being several years old are the recommended bank accounts and interest rates on savings accounts–a woman reading this book today can almost certainly count on the listed accounts not existing anymore. Step two focused on credit cards and credit scores. Again, Organ strongly encourages women to get their own card and actively monitor their credit report separate from a spouse. In step three, retirement investing is addressed. This chapter especially stressed the need for women to control their own finances, as a women general live longer than men and need investments that reflect those extra years. This is also where Orman is strongest about protecting yourself before others, using questions from women torn between saving for retirement or saving for their children’s college education. She advises women to save for their own retirement, so that when they get older their children won’t be burdened with their care. Not because children won’t be willing to help parents, but because it was your responsibility and not theirs to save for your life after retirement.

Steps four and five focus heavily on important documents to protect your investments. In step four, Orman goes over all the necessary legal documents every woman should have: a will, a living tryst, and durable power of attorney. She goes over what each document does, how to set them up with your lawyer, and how often they need to be updated. I found this chapter interesting, as I had never thought before about a will being a financial document. But as part of the “take control of your finances” message, Orman strongly pushes all women to be prepared for every situation, even death. Step five covers how to protect your family and home with the proper insurance.  Again, she goes over the different types (especially with life insurance) and how to evaluate plans to find the best one.

Although parts of Women & Money are dates, the advice is invaluable to any reader–the act of taking care of your finances isn’t selfish, it ensures that you can take care of yourself and the other people in your life to the best of your abilities. The book is heavily geared toward older women with families, so while I wasn’t the target audience it was extremely helpful to see what steps I need to take to control my finances all the way into retirement. While I might recommend some of her newer books to my mother, friends, and cousins, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny is still a great financial book.

Now that my Wheel of Time reading challenge is over, I’m moving on to my next goal: NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books. I’ve already read 19 of the books and started five of the fantasy series, but most of what I’ve read falls into the fantasy category. In an attempt to get back into sci-fi, I bought the first three books of The Foundation Novels by Isaac Asimov. Apparently I’m a terrible reader for never having read (or honestly, even heard of) Asimov, so I eagerly picked up  Foundation when it arrived.

Foundation

From what I’ve been told and experienced, there is one main difference between science fiction and fantasy: science fiction is world centered, while fantasy is character centered. What this means is that a sci-fi author will spend most of his or her time describing the world and the way it works, at the expense of a strongly developed character. A fantasy author may have wonderful back story for every character, but the world they live in won’t be very important. Of course there are exceptions to this very vague rule, but Foundation falls firmly into the “world-centered sci-fi” category.

At its core, Foundation is about how humanity has doomed the world to a terrible downfall. Planets are rebelling, culture is deteriorating, and science can no longer keep up with the needs of the population. To save humanity (or at least make the decline into a barbarian-type world less painful), Hari Seldon has created a plan–send a group of scientists to a remote planet to write a great scientific encyclopedia for future generations to learn from. From here, the entire book follows the adventures of that scientific community. It skips generations and several characters disappear between sections (an example of not being character driven), but they are working to preserve human knowledge at any cost.

In this scientific community, called The Foundation, Asimov has placed high importance on nuclear power. The planet they settle on has few natural resources, but they have a better knowledge of nuclear power than the neighboring militaristic planets. To prevent an attack, the Foundation creates a mystical religion surrounding nuclear power that only they can teach. While individual characters are torn on how good maintaining this religion is, they all ultimately support anything the Foundation tells them is right. Scientific evolution is the most important thing to these characters, and they will do anything to ensure the human race doesn’t completely descend into chaos.

I’m really not sure where this series is going. In the first book two main and important characters have already been killed off or forgotten, and it is hard for me to connect to the story when characters aren’t developed. But the ideas in this book are different from anything else I’ve read, and I know that getting into science fiction will challenge my reading habits. I’m going to finish this series, and hopefully I can be convinced that a world focus over characters makes for a good story.

I’m not big into diets or weight loss–I love food and baking too much to fully commit to any health food craze. But I am a fan of healthier eating, as a way to balance my too-often chocolate indulgence. So while I would never read a “diet book,” I would read a “healthy lifestyle” book. Which is what lead me to Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, a guide to living (and eating) like a French woman.

Three out of Five Bookmarks

Guiliano’s experience in France is rooted in her family–she grew up there and frequently visits, although she is now married and lives in America. Until her semester studying abroad in Massachusetts, Guiliano was  what she describes as a typical French teenage girl: skinny, beautiful, and intelligent. Then she came to America for a summer, discovered American portion sizes and brownies, and gained so much weight she wasn’t recognized by her own father when she got home. Her doctor back in France put her on a diet of soup and plenty of activity (but never exercise, because French women don’t sweat), and she magically lost weight and devoted herself to never living like an American again. Ok, maybe that’s not exactly how she phrased it, but that’s what I got out of this book–Americans have no self control, they don’t care about appearances or else they wouldn’t be fat, and exercise is stupid.

Most of the book isn’t actually about her specifically, but rather how generations of French women (or at least the ones in her family and her small town) have managed to eat delicious and rich food without creating an obesity epidemic. In simple terms, it comes down to balance: if you want to eat a rich dessert you need to eat a light dinner and only have one glass of wine, and then walk up an extra flight of stairs the next day. But because an entire book can’t just say “eat better and walk more,” she has several steps for American women to take on the path to being more French. First, record everything you eat and the amounts for several weeks. Don’t do anything to change your eating habits, just write everything down. At the end, it should be clear what foods you are eating in excess and can cut down on. Second, do a crash diet for a weekend,eating only magical leek soup, to jump-start your taste buds and rewire your brain to accept proper portion sizes. Then, for the next several months, eat healthy foods prepared at home and don’t indulge. After several months you’re allowed to start eating a diet that balances healthy foods with mindful indulgences; eat sweets on the weekends, but remember to have a few weekends of magical leek soup too. And always, always remember to trick yourself into an active lifestyle (because exercise means sweat, which is as far from a glamorous French woman as you can get) by taking the stairs.

The book also includes many recipes, which were my favorite parts of the book. While some of them seemed weird–all the soups called for the cooked veggies to be blended in a food processor after cooking–most of them included seasonal ingredients and easy prep work. Her healthy desserts were my favorite, including recipes for fruit tarts without crusts and baked apples with walnuts. She created a menu for each season, highlighting which meat and produce would be freshest (I’m a fan of seasonal eating, just because fruits and veggies taste so much better right after they’re picked). She doesn’t give any calorie counts, but there is minimal use of salt and portions are small.

Her often flippant attitude does a disservice to the common sense advice of balance in diet and lifestyle. It’s not the most ground-breaking book on healthy eating, but her advice is something many people need to remember and is obtainable in everyday life. Don’t overload yourself with the empty calories of sugary drinks, don’t eat out all the time because you can’t control portion sizes and ingredients, and don’t forget to plan your day to compensate for an indulgent dessert. She throws in a few too many French words for my taste (I thought it came off as snobby, the boy says it just shows she is multi-cultural) and her attitude toward all non-French women may put off some readers, but if you need a common sense kick in the butt to get your life back in balance, French Women Don’t Get Fat may be for you–just remember not to take anything too seriously.

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Mr Darcy’s Diary, which was a very enjoyable and light read. Between the fourth and fifth Wheel of Time books this week I took three days to read another Amanda Grange book, Mr Knightley’s Diary. For fans of Jane Austen, Amanda Grange writes from the main male character’s point of view and are worth checking out. Quick minor book blogging point, I’ve started a new system for ranking books and would love feedback from you all. Instead of just putting the book title as the caption for the book cover, I’m going to start ranking books on my “Bookmark Scale.” Five out of five bookmarks is a great book I loved, one of out five is a book I did not enjoy. Please let me know what you think, or any suggestions you make have! And as always, I’ll use tags for each post for how much I enjoyed it (loved to meh) and if I would recommend the book.

 

2 out of 5 Bookmarks

 

Mr Knightley lives a quiet, comfortable life in the village of Highbury. His brother is happily married and living in London, many of the young people in the village are getting married, and his young neighbor Emma encourages the matchmaking with her own schemes. By turns he finds her spoiled, stubborn, beautiful, talented, amusing, and endearing. But most of all, he finds her to be the one woman he enjoys spending time with. Of course that doesn’t mean he loves her, he just needs to find a wife who is like Emma in almost every way.

For her part, Emma lives to have fun and make people happy. She is an ideal daughter, a wonderful playmate to her nieces and nephews, and a good friend to her neighbors. Emma may not be the most accomplished woman, but she has a passion for life that often makes up for a lack of focus and dedication. Despite their large age difference, Emma and Knightley have been best friends for years.

Together, Emma and Knightly make up the best of Highbury society. But things are changing in their small village, thanks in part to Emma’s matchmaking. Knightly is starting to think of getting married, but every woman he encounters never compares to the relationship he has with Emma. But she is so childish at times, and they have known each other for her entire life, he could never think of her that way…until a new man comes to town and steals her attention.

Jane Austen’s Emma is said to be one of the greatest love stories, but I’ve just never been a huge fan. I find Emma’s spoiled and self-indulgent behavior to be obnoxious and it isn’t offset by finding a good husband in the end. And somehow, Amanda Grange turned Knightley into a character that is just as oblivious and silly as Emma ! Mr Knightley’s Diarywas a fun read, in the same way I enjoy reading gossip magazines. And Knightley’s diary did read like a gossip magazine. But despite my dislike for the characters, I thought the writing was great. A gossip magazine is exactly what Emma would read if she was alive today, and this book will be tons of fun to anyone who loved that aspect of Emma.

I read Dune in February of last year, at the insistence of a few friends. And I loved it. But I waited to read the second book, Dune Messiah, because few sequels are as good as the first one. I finally gave in, and actually finished the book two weeks ago but couldn’t pin down my thoughts on it. I finally found a chance to talk about the book with a friend and while I can’t say I loved it as much as I did Dune, I will be excited to start the rest of the series after my Wheel of Time reading challenge is over.

Dune Messiah

Dune Messiah follows the life of Paul Atreides after the violent revolution that happened at the end of the first book. He is now emperor, his sister Alia is a priests of her own church, his wife is trying to trick him into getting her pregnant, and the woman he loves can’t bear the heirs he needs to secure his rule. Paul is also leader of the jihad, spreading his rule over millions of people on other planets. Yet despite all his religious, political, and psychic powers, Paul cannot stop the horrible future he has foreseen for himself and his people.

Dune was full of action and battles, while Dune Messiah focused much more on political strategy. And there was a lot of political maneuvering in this book. Paul’s wife is part of a conspiracy by the Reverend Mother’s to breed Paul and Alia and create a powerful child they can control; the religion that has grown around Paul and Alia is something neither of them want to deal with, yet pilgrims come to them every day seeking help; and powerful (and hidden) enemy tools have come into his life for reasons he could not foresee.

Yet while I love a good political story, I found Dune Messiah to be much less interesting and not as well developed as Dune. The first 90% of the book was completely devoid of action, and consisted of Paul and Alia avoiding their responsibilities as leaders. The last 10% I really enjoyed, because everything the book had been leading up to finally happened. The ending was extremely exciting, but it took me a few months of reading to get there.

I’ve been told the next two books are much better, and I really hope they are. Dune was an amazing book, with a society that was superbly developed and detailed. Dune Messiah added nothing to that society or the character development, and felt more like a placeholder between the first book and the rest of the series. I would recommend this book to someone reading the series for the first time, but after I’m done I only plan to reread Dune.

I started reading Jane Austen books in junior high; honestly, the first one I read was Emma because I loved the movie Clueless. From there I read everything at the public library because I get obsessive about my books, but you all should know that by now! Along with enjoying Austen’s books (Persuasion is my favorite) I love the movies and BBC tv mini-series my best friend’s mom has on VHS. When I’m in the mood for chick-lit and gossip, I almost always choose Jane Austen over a more modern author.

Mr. Darcy's Diary

I got Mr. Darcy’s Diary from the same friend’s mom who owns the mini-series we watched a dozen times growing up. The premise of the book should be pretty obvious from the title…it’s the diary of Mr. Darcy, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Amanda Grange has a whole series of these books; the next one on my list is Mr. Knightley’s Diary. The book follows the same events as the original book, with a few additional scenes from Darcy’s life to provide more context for his actions.

As with all diary books I’ve read, this was a quick read. At 329 pages it only took a few sittings to read. The book begins in July, when Darcy has decided to remove his sister Georgiana from London for the summer. The entries about his sister were some of my favorite, for this book goes much more into their relationship (as imagined by Amanda Grange). Darcy loves his sister and agonizes over being both parent and brother to her, and he mentions her achievements in music and art constantly because he is amazed she has succeeded so well despite his bumbling attempts to raise her. The book then jumps to Darcy helping Bingley find a country home, leading of course to their introduction to the Bennet family. Darcy dislikes how uncultured the Bennet family is compared to his London friends, despite Bingley’s growing love for Jane and his own grudging admiration for Elizabeth.

The book faithfully follows to original story line and includes many of the conversations between Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley. It was really fun at times to have Darcy’s point of view, having read Pride and Prejudice several times. His internal dialogue makes him seem much less like the jerk his is in the original, and more of a person who wants to do everything perfect to become a role model for his little sister. I rather like that interpretation of his character.

For those who have read and enjoyed Jane Austen’s novels, Amanda Grange’s series is a fun and enjoyable look through another character’s eyes. She does a very good job of staying true to the original storyline and characters, and I loved the inclusion of dialogue from Pride and Prejudice. It wasn’t groundbreaking, and people who hate when a great book or author is messed with will hate these books, but Mr. Darcy’s Diary was entertaining and that’s all I ask of my books.

Things that are local always seem better. Local produce from the farmer’s market tastes better than the stuff in the grocery store that was picked a month ago; that one awesome indie local band is totally better than some band that went mainstream; and local authors have more unique takes on basic story lines. Well, ok, that isn’t always true–I still love Green Day even if people say they sold out. But sometimes it is fun to shop local and enjoy all the natural talent and tasty apples that grow in your own back yard. I found a new author, Brent Weeks, in the Local Author section at Powell’s. While I have read better books, it was fun to try a new author while supporting someone local. Are there any authors from your town or state? Share your favorite local authors in the comments!

Night Angel Trilogy #01

In the past I’ve had issues with books that have children as main characters. They are usually written as mini-adults or innocent victims, many times without the emotional depth and development of adult characters. While I understand that children are not as developed as an adult, having poorly written characters is a sure-fire way to guarantee I won’t finish a book. The Way of Shadows has a child for a main character, and I just wanted to give him a hug!

The Way of Shadows is book one in the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. The story follows Azoth, a young boy who has grown up in the slums as part of an abusive kid’s street gang. With his best friends Jarl and Doll Girl, Azoth dreams of a time when he can escape the slums and become an apprentice to Durzo Blint, the city’s best wetboy (assassin that uses magic). Yet when the chance to escape finally comes, will he be able to pass Durzo’s test and kill his abuser? And if he can kill, does he have the desire to give up his old life, including his friends, and live in the shadows?

My favorite character was Azoth, although there were many great supporting characters. Momma K, a powerful and intimidating woman who runs the city’s prostitution business, was a surprisingly cuddly mother figure to the orphaned street children. Logan Gyre, who could have been a spoiled noble, was playful and incredibly loyal. Durzo, the mythical wetboy, tried to hide his emotions to save himself from manipulation yet still cares deeply about the people in his life. There were the standard bad guys trying to kill the king and steal the throne, but Azoth was by far the best developed and best written character.

There were many complicated moral dilemmas, and it was refreshing to read a new author who tackled these in unpredictable ways. The reasons to kill a person were talked about in-depth (money, honor, obligation, uselessness of life, blackmail, ect), but Weeks also delved into issues of leadership, friendship, love and marriage, the bonds of family, and religion. At times the action of the book faltered and the story was bogged down with these discussions, but the groundwork has been laid for the next two books in the series to be pretty good.

The only complaint I have with this book is a few stylistic issues, mainly that the basic country and society it takes place in was never well explained. After reading the book I’m still unsure about the organization of the mob-like underground culture, or the secret society within that. The magic system is complicated and never explained because Azoth is unable to use his Talent, yet major fight scenes and political scheming involve the use of magical powers.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable second trial for the Sony Digital Reader. The author has great potential, and the next two books in the series are supposed to be much better. I would not recommend this book for people who are incredibly picky about perfect grammar and writing, but for a fun read about assassins, this book makes for great weekend or vacation reading.