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Lies That Bind Us

28 May

I’m so excited!  I finally read and actually finished a book.  First time in a long time.  Well I guess that’s not entirely true, but first time I’ve read a book for the sheer entertainment value.

Lies That Bind Us by Andrew Hart sounded like the perfect read as I get ready to go on vacation soon.  This book was one of the Kindle First options for May 2018.  As I read the description I saw that the book was about a group of six friends going back to Crete for a reunion of sorts and it sounded like the perfect thing to get me into vacation mode.

 

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Lies That Bind Us is about six people (three couples) who originally met in Crete (Greece) in the year 1999.  During their initial vacation when they met Jan and Marcus, Simon and Melissa, and Brad and Kristin all decide that in 1999 days they would get together for a reunion of the first time they met.

We soon find out that Jan and Marcus are no longer dating but decide to go, separately, anyway.  When they show up in Crete there is a 7th wheel in the group, named Gretchen.

This book quickly turns from a fun vacation setting read into a mysterious who-done-it and why.  I love mysteries and found myself constantly trying to figure out who did what and why they did it throughout the book.

This book is one that is written in a way that different chapters are set in different times, past and present. I really enjoy reading books written like this because it adds to the suspense of trying to figure out the motive behind what is going on.

I won’t give too much away in my review but I will say I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  If you’re still reading this in May 2018 and you haven’t chosen your free Kindle First download yet, and you enjoy a good mystery/thriller, then I say you should give this one a shot.

How I Track My Spending

16 Apr

Hello readers!  I’ve been wanting to type this up ever since I did my review on The Year of Less but I just haven’t taken the time to do it.

I personally started tracking every penny I spent in January of 2017.  Actually I started before that but I was entering everything into my home computer in Excel and I was lucky to get to it once a week, it was a pain in the butt and definitely didn’t show me a real-time picture of my finances.

Knowing that tracking my spending only once a week or so was not going to cut it for me I set out to find a good spending tracker app.  I read a lot of reviews and people were recommending the App Mint, because it does a lot of the work for you.  I’ve tried Mint years ago and didn’t have much luck.  My accounts were difficult to sync, and I don’t honestly love an app that will connect to all of my bank/credit accounts.  It’s too invasive.

I ended up downloading an app called Spending Tracker for iOS (yes I do use an iPhone) but it appears to also be available on Android devices as well.  The icon looks like a little brown wallet.

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There is both a free and a paid for version of this app.  I was happy to use the free version for the whole first year I used it and then finally upgraded in January to the paid version because I knew I was going to continue to use this app nearly every day (sometimes more than once day) for a long time to come.  The free version worked great for me, I just had to deal with an ad every so often.

What I love about this app is that it goes with me wherever I am because I always have my phone.  When I’m in the checkout line I enter my expense immediately and I get a real-time insight to my current monthly balance.  I do have auto-pays set up on some bills which means I do have to check my bank balances and enter those when I see them come in but this has been by far the easiest way I have ever kept track of my money.

Here’s an example of what you would see when you open the app with data entered in (no this is not my data).  You can click on the February link and change your options to “Weekly”, “Monthly”, and “Yearly” which is a great option.  Personally I have mine set up for monthly because I get paid monthly.

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If you want to see the details of every transaction you’ve entered you click the “Transactions” button and it takes you to everything you’ve entered.  You can edit these entries if you need to.

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And this is what it looks like to actually enter a transaction.  It literally takes seconds to do which is why it’s so easy to do it right when you’re in the check-out line at the store.  I especially like that you can enter your own personal notes which has been helpful when buying gifts so I can know which gift it was and who it was for.

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At the end of every month I take my leftover balance and divide it three ways (because this works for me).  I take 1/3rd and place it into my savings, 1/3rd into investments, and 1/3rd towards an extra house payment.  The nice thing is that I made these as actual entries into the Spending app so I can see my percentages (turn your device sideways and it shows you percentages in either a pie graph or a bar graph) for the month.

This tool has been so valuable to me.  It has made me stop in my tracks when I’ve been ready to buy something because it is much more impactful to see the balance go down right before your eyes and to stop and think if this is really a purchase you want to make or not.

I suppose I should say that I am in no way endorsed by the company who has made this app, I just know I like using it and it works!  I hope this tool will help you to reach your financial goals too!

The Year of Less

1 Apr

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You guys….I’m back and I actually have a book to review!  It’s been so long since I’ve blogged or even read a book.  There have been a few but not many that have wanted me to change my life.

The book is actually called The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store and it’s written by Cait Flanders.

I don’t know if I have ever had a book make such an impact on me personally.  This isn’t the first time in my life that I’ve gotten rid of things I didn’t need or even attempted to spend less money, but it definitely is a different way of looking at this same topic.  When Marie Kondo came out with her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up I read it and dove right in to changing things.  I got rid of a lot of clothes and other things in my home too.  The problem with this is that you are supposed to keep things that bring you “joy”.  What does that even mean?  I ended up keeping things I shouldn’t have and getting rid of, just a few, things I shouldn’t have.  All-in-all it was a good thing though.

For my life right now I, unfortunately, have to keep some things in my life that don’t bring me joy because they are necessary for work.  My work wardrobe isn’t joyful, but at this point in time it’s not supposed to be.  Things are oversized and baggy but that’s what I need them to be.  The Year of Less has a much more practical approach: have you used the item in the last six months to a year? Do you plan on using it soon?  If the answer is no then you probably don’t need it.

I also really like Cait’s approach to current “needs”.  If you feel you need something today think about if you also needed it yesterday.  If you need it today but didn’t need it yesterday wait for a month and see if you still need it, then think about buying it.

She also has a practical approach to “stockpiling” which is huge for me.  I’ve been much better in the past few years but I used to purchase lots of lotions or other body care products because they were on sale if you purchased several.  I still have lotion from god knows when that I haven’t even touched.  I guess I’ve had it in the back of my mind that if I didn’t have these things available and I NEEDED them then I wouldn’t be able to get them.  News Flash: everything is available all of the time.  In this day and age where Amazon Prime gets here in two days and I have a store less than five minutes away there is no such thing as an emergency I can’t fix at the touch of a button or a quick drive.  There is no reason to have a bunch of back-ups on hand.  From here forward I will be using what I have and replacing it only when and if I am about to run out and have no other alternatives.

Cait makes it a point to track all of her spending and has goals on the percentage she wants to save each month.  I already track all of my spending, which I’ve been doing for the past year using an app for my iPhone called Spending.  It’s an awesome app that shows you percentages and categorizes your spending into as many categories as you could possibly want.  It also allows you to make notes about each purchase if you want to.  I’ve been doing this for over a year and managed to pay my car off a couple years early by applying every penny I had leftover each month to my car payment.  Now I split my monthly leftovers into thirds and apply one third each to savings, my house payment, and investments.  That being said I know I could be doing better.

I’m ready for some simple, mindful living!

The Fault In Our Stars

28 Sep

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

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I just finished The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. I’m I am by no means a fast reader and I read this in three days. I literally couldn’t put it down. It’s very good, insightful. I’m finding it difficult to express just exactly how I feel after reading this, but I’ll do my best to explain it.

If you’ve ever lost someone you love to a disease then this will hit exceptionally close to home, especially if that disease happens to be cancer and the person you lose was a girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse. I’ve never lost anyone that close to me, but I did lose my dad when I was young so I can understand it in a way.

The way John Green looks at and discusses issues like cancer, love, and death are very touching and very honest.

The book is about Hazel (endearingly referred to as Hazel Grace), a 16 year old girl who has been fighting cancer for several years. She is a recluse, taken out of school, not willing to really do much of anything. Her mother makes her to go a group therapy session with other kids dealing with the same sort of ailments to get her out of the house. There, she meets Augustus (Gus) a 17 year old who has had his leg amputated due to cancer.

To fall in love with someone you know is dying makes for a powerful and wonderful story. The quote above says so much to me, that you fall in love like you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once. I love that quote, because really, isn’t that the truth? I tend to think so. And when someone you love dies, you don’t love them any less. You continue to love and in that love they do live on in a way.

My other favorite quote from the book (which is actually a true quote according to Wikipedia) is from Dom Perignon after he invented Champagne (my favorite drink ever) “Come quickly: I am tasting the stars.” I never knew why I liked champagne so much, but it is like tasting the stars and I will forever think of that when I am drinking champagne!

I don’t want to spoil the book. Honestly, it’s about cancer and love and loss, so you can probably already guess that it is sad. That being said, even knowing that there is no way to really ruin this book. It’s amazing! I recommend you read it while drinking a glass of the stars. Have some kleenex ready, and if you happen to have someone you love nearby this will make you want to love them more and to make sure they know it.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

23 Sep

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Not long ago there was a lot of media hype about the fact that The Cuckoo’s Calling was actually written by J.K. Rowling, not Robert Galbraith. She had attempted to leave behind the Harry Potter stigma in an attempt at a “fair shot” at writing some other genre, and to see if it/she was actually any good in her own right.

I’m here to tell you, after finishing this book, that she needs to stick with Harry Potter! Don’t get me wrong, I loved Harry Potter. And, no, I didn’t expect this to be anything like it. The Cuckoo’s Calling is an adult book (no, not that kind of adult book, just one written towards a grown-up audience; drugs, sex, and a little rock n’ roll), about a private investigator named Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary Robin. Strike (as he is most often referred to) is hired to investigate the suicide/murder of a famous model named Lula Laundry, by Lula’s brother John.

This book took me FOREVER to finish, right about two months. It’s not an overly huge book, just over 450 pages. The problem is that none of the characters made me love them, hate them, or want to be them. They were so unbelievable and inhuman that you didn’t care for them one way or the other. I seriously only finished reading the book because I had actually paid for a hardback copy. And, if you know me you know I don’t like to waste money, so I finished the book.

The only redeeming quality is the last 100 or so pages. When you realized that Strike knows the real story and you as the reader still have no idea (or at least I had no idea, right up until the very end when it’s blatantly obvious). The ending really is good, not very good, but good.

Overall I’d give this book two and a half stars, maybe three if I just based it on the last few chapters. I’d NEVER bother to read it again. Too bad for me I also purchased The Casual Vacancy at the same time. I’ll read it because I bought it, but I have a really bad feeling I’m not going to like it. None-the-less I will start it with an open mind and hope to be proven wrong.

Have you read this book? What did you think? I’d love to hear your comments!

The Twelve – Justin Cronin

9 Dec

The Twelve is the sequel to my favorite book of all time, The Passage! This one took me a while to read, in part because it’s fairly long (over 500 pages) but also because when I’m actively going to school I find it hard to read. So, the semester is over, I found myself sick with a cold, and nothing better to do than to finish my book!

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The Twelve was, in my opinion, not as good as The Passage, but it was still an awesome book. I love the style Justin uses when he writes. He reminds me a lot of Stephen King (I suppose the subject matter has a little something to do with that).

Ok, on to my review. For a quick recap on The Passage, the government finds their new “ultimate” weapon…vampires! A breed of vampires (called Virals) unlike any you’ve read about before. Only the project goes all wrong and these creatures are unleashed on the world. The world as we know it comes to an end rather abruptly, with only a few “human” survivors remaining.

The Twelve picks up in the future, some 100 plus years after the Virals took over the world. Amy is once again a large part of the story, as well as Carter and Wolgast (who I was surprised to hear about again). There are some new characters introduced as well, but all have the same agenda, to kill the Virals.

As the book ends there are many things left unanswered. Just what has become of Amy is unclear, although I have no doubt she’ll be back in the third and final book (two years from now). Wolgast has been lead to “heaven” to be with (I’m assuming) Lila and Eva, his family. Wolgast asks Amy if she is in love now that she is a woman, to which she replies yes. Ok, I’m confused on this part. Does she mean Peter? They keep sharing these little finger touching sessions but nothing else. Or does she mean Carter? I don’t think so. Or Zero? Since they are both Virals? I’m confused to say the least, but I suppose that’s what Justin had in mind.

So, do I think you should read this book? Yes, of course! But start with The Passage first otherwise you’ll be completely confused. I already can’t wait for the last book to come out, The City of Mirrors (2014).

The Host

17 Sep

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I don’t make a habit of starting a book at one time and finishing it much later, but this was an exception to the rule. I can’t be certain when I started reading this, but my bookmark was a boarding pass from my flight to/from Philadelphia in May of 2010. So it’s a safe bet that I was reading this on the plane, although I don’t actually remember that. For having a two year gap between starting and finishing the book I think I remember the first half fairly well, not details but the main story anyway.

The Host, by Stephanie Meyer (yes the Stephanie Meyer or the Twilight books), is about a race of parasites that roam from planet to planet, essentially taking over. They aren’t a violent species, in fact they are anti-violence, but somehow they still manage to overpower the human race once they make their way to Earth.

This book focuses around a parasite called Wanderer (who later becomes known as Wanda). Wanda takes over Melanie’s body, but in her case it’s different than with most parasite takeovers. Wanda and Melanie first fight over who is in control. Wanda can hear Melanie talking to her, sometimes yelling at her, inside her head, but mostly it’s Wanda who is in control of their body. They go in search of Jaime and Jared (Melanie’s brother and boyfriend) and somehow end up at a human hideout in the Arizona desert. Melanie/Wanda is beaten and nearly killed by this human clan because she has been infected with the parasite. Over time the humans begin to trust Wanda, some even love her.

Towards the end of the book I was bawling. The story gets very sad when Wanda realizes that she has essentially taken away Melanie’s “normal” life. She decides to tell Doc (the human doctor) how to safely remove souls (parasites) from their human hosts, but only if he makes two promises to her first. He must promise not to kill any souls/parasites (they have to leave for a far away planet, alive), and he must removed the soul Wanda from Melanie’s body, but she doesn’t want to be shipped to another planet, she wants to die and to be buried next to some of her human friends. This was especially sad for me because Ian (a human) professes his love to Wanda, making it all that much harder for her to come to terms with her impending death. She first believes that he only loves Melanie’s body, not Wanda the soul. As you read on and Doc is performing the surgery to remove Wanda it is so sad but then there is a happy twist! Doc didn’t keep his promise (at least not the second half of it), they found a new body for Wanda and they don’t kill her soul. She gets to live with her human friends, and develops a relationship with Ian.

It was a happy ending, and I love a happy ending. But, I love even more that this book could make me cry, that it could make me feel so deeply for these characters who aren’t real. Stephanie has a way of making you care about the characters and for that reason alone this was a good book to me.

I still don’t know why I put this down two years ago and didn’t pick it up again until now, but I’m glad that I did!