Friday, March 30, 2018

Web Accessibility

Web Accessibility

What is Web Accessibility? 

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG 2.0, is a set of stable, technical standards designed to help developers (content, tool and evaluation) along with anyone else who needs standards for accessibility, including mobile accessibility, to ensure that their product is properly designed in order for those with disabilities to be able to access the information.
  • Section 508 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is a federal law, states that electronic and information technology should be made accessible for those with disabilities. Section 508 has been recently updated to closely align with WCAG 2.0.  

Why Should We Care?

  • The web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, regardless of disabilities or limitations. However, when websites are designed badly using poor web design practices provide a barrier to exclude those same people.
  • One would think that websites and software would inherently work with screen readers, and provide captions, and one would be able to navigate a website using just a keyboard, but that’s not true and it is our job to make sure everyone has access.
  • Along with benefiting those with disabilities, having an accessible website actually benefits everyone! 

What Should We Look for When We Make our Websites Accessible? 

  1. Alt text (equivalent alternative text)
    • When an image is used on a web page, there should be text that is then read by the screen reader. Anything that is an image (logos, pictures, diagrams, maps, drawings, math formulas) that convey any sort of information important to the user should have appropriate alt text.
    • For example, a map shows locations of magnet schools in the area, which conveys information, should have alternative text describing the locations.
Implementing this accessibility solution helps: blind, color blindness, low vision, people using low bandwidth and those who've turned off images when browsing, etc.
  1. Captions/Transcripts
    • Videos, regardless of how long or short they are, should have captions, and auto-generated captions are a good start, but shouldn't be the only accommodation.
    • Videos should also have transcripts! There are many subscription services that can transcribe videos.
Implementing this accessibility solution helps: Deaf, Hard of Hearing, people with sensory disabilities, people using low bandwidth and people who rely on written information, etc.
  1. Keyboard Navigation
    • To navigate a website, the user shouldn't have to exclusively use a mouse. The website should be designed to be able to use a keyboard or use Assistive Technology to mimic a mouse.
    • This includes staying away from inaccessible plugins and using best practices in web design.
Implementing this accessibility solution helps: People with mobile disabilities, people with temporarily disabilities, elderly, those who don't have a mouse, younger children, and those with sensory disabilities, etc.

Resources and Information

Thursday, January 11, 2018

No Buy January - The What and The Why

I found myself perusing Amazon, Etsy, and then websites like JoAnn Fabrics and Michaels. I have two frames, one 18x22 and one 16x20 that did not hold any pictures, and after cleaning out the basement, I wanted to hang all the pictures that I have been planning to hang for 2 years.

But then I found myself looking at TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and then finally REI... except I wasn't looking for a few prints to buy, I was looking at general stuff that I could buy with or without gift cards... and I realized I was doing it again, mindlessly window shopping out of boredom with more than half the time actually hitting the purchase button.

Josh and I have a lot of goals we wanna meet this year and though we aren't frivolous spenders by any means, but we do buy things that either fall under the "we deserve it" category or the "our quality of life would improve" category. Both of those categories aren't necessarily bad, but when you want to work on your house and travel, something needs to give.

What is a "No Buy Challenge?" 

A quick google search shows a plethora of what it means to take on a challenge like this. There are challengers who buy nothing, including groceries, for a month, two months or even a whole year. There are challengers that focus on a specific area in their life that they need to curb their spending. The most popular ones are no makeup buys in direct response to the over consumption of Youtube beauty gurus.

For us, our "No Buy" challenge will include the month of January and with exceptions of groceries, bills, medication, doctor's visits, replacement on something needed or if anything is broken in our house, we will not be going out to eat, buying drinks, or buying clothes, shoes, makeup, movie tickets, video games, comic books, home wares or any other impulse buys. The only other exception is any pre-planned events that were determined in December. For example my family wants to see The Post in theaters which was discussed during Christmas.

Why the "No Buy Challenge?"

I touched on it earlier in the blog post, along with not being able to do it all, I think it behooves us to be more mindful of how we spend our money. It's way easy to just put in our credit card information, save our credit card information on high trafficked sites, and when we make purchases, simply click to buy. We also rationalize that 20 bucks here and there is only 20 bucks, but added up it's a lot on things that are impulse buys, especially since we have big ticket items in the works this year.

Josh and I are saving up to go to New Zealand during a high priced time during 2018 due to his teaching schedule, and we also want to go to Texas for his grandparent's 60th wedding anniversary, as well as renovate our house (our downstairs bathroom, porch and other smaller things need to get fixed). We also have our mortgage, various bills and our student loans that aren't going away any time soon. When we take out the equation of curbing our impulse buys, we can start to save up money for the things we actually want to do, instead of feeding into our instant gratification on the accumulation of stuff.

Why Just for the Month of January?

I'm sure it's going to morph into "no buys" for January, February and March, but when someone does something for the first time, it should be set up so that the person can succeed, so they will be willing to do it again. I'm sure we won't "yield" as much money as we would like, or even at all, but the goal of this month's No Buy is to be mindful of spending money, and how we spend money, and then the next few months we'll establish other goals to meet and think about.

What are your saving goals for this year? Are you doing the same sort of challenges or something different?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Resolutions for 2018 - How to meet your goals without losing heart

I know what you are thinking. "Geez, Jordan, when are you going to get back to writing about books?"

I know, I know... but the end of the year always makes me reflective, which I guess isn't unique, but with cold days, long nights and my enthusiasm for the 2018 year, I can't help but write a few posts on the topic of self-actualization and that drive to improve yourself and to make yourself a person you can be proud of. It's something I've been thinking about more about this past year. I'm not sure if it's reflective of the hostile political climate we live in, and therefore the only thing I could change was myself, but this topic was something I mulled over nevertheless.

There are hundreds of articles, blogs and lists about New Years Resolutions. Most of them are click bait-y, some are the same tired "tips and tricks" we've all read before, and finally, some are genuine think pieces designed to encourage you and help you.

I'm not going to claim I "figured out" how to meet your resolutions, or that I have newly discovered information about "beating the system" or anything else those articles claim. I don't want to lecture you either! I only have to offer my own experiences and what worked for me, and hopefully, together, we can continue the journey in improving ourselves, our lives and the lives of those we love.

1.  Reflect on your year (or several years)

The first step is always the hardest. It's easy to just pluck a random goal out of thin air and declare that's your resolution, but it's just setting yourself up to fail. I did the same thing and got nowhere. Then a few years ago, I started making myself look back on my choices, and evidently, track where I started in the beginning of the year, and how I ended up at the end of the year.

At first, it was pretty superficial (moving schools, buying a house, saving money, etc. ) but then I started really looking at my actions, choices, relationships (family, friends, husband) and my overall happiness. What went great this year or the last few years? What worked out that was surprising or unsurprising? Was I happy with the choices I made this year? How would it have been better? Is there something or someone in my life is causing me happiness? Am I making myself unhappy?

Reflecting and then taking the time to be honest with yourself is always good exercise. I usually ask myself questions, but others make charts or graphs, or even pictures of how their year went. 

2. Look at your future (6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc.)

The second step can also be pretty hard. For some people, planning for the future can be therapeutic. You are the type of person who has a planner, create bullet journals or use a calendar... but for others, the future is a vague, foggy place that doesn't have much meaning, other than the fact that it has to happen sometime.

Whether you are a planner or, not so much, still take the time to look at your future. What are some things you hope to accomplish? What do you hope to experience, to do or to see? It can be a bucket or a wish list, but I also encourage to think about other goals as well, such as a promotion or going back to school. For this step, no goal is too small or too big, because you are looking at different points of your future.

3. Asking yourself the question: Am I where I envisioned myself at this moment in time? Am I who I envisioned myself to be? Am I my best self?

These are lofty questions, but stay with me. You looked behind you, and then you looked ahead of you. Now, look at where you are standing and ask yourself the questions above. You're right, we can't ever really predict where we are going to be at any given time. For example, if you had asked me those questions in 2009, I would have told you, "of course not!" because that February, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Who could have predicted that?!

But once we dig a bit deeper, I think you would find that there are certain things we envision for ourselves at certain moments, like being happy in a relationship, or actively improving your relationship with your parents, or being successful at a job you enjoy. There are certain quality of life items that we want to have, and it's time to have that honest conversation of whether we have it or not, and then once we've had those conversations with ourselves, commit to taking the steps to make that happen.

4. Deciding on a (or several) goals

Hopefully by now you haven't just raged quit my blog post and you are still with me. I hope you were able to look at your past, your present and your future, and be honest with yourself. No one else has to know but you.

When you think about how to answer the questions in number 3 about what you have or are lacking, it should naturally lead to thoughts what you want to improve upon in your life. Like the future reflection, it can be a broad picture of the kind of person you want to become, but now it has to narrow down a bit.

Think about overarching goals that can span between a few weeks to several years. Some examples might be: you want to be a better friend, or cut your spending, or work on your savings, or take that trip to Europe like you've always wanted, or start eating healthier, or finally lose the college weight, or start a business, or fund raise for a cause you care about. Write them down. That can be your bucket list, your vision board or bullet diary.

 5. Decide on an attainable goal that can be met this year

This is a doozy, because what about all these wonderful goals you've already came up with? Put those to the side for now, and let's work on just one. The reason for that if you are anything like me, you need a win, and you need something that is challenging, but attainable, to boost your confidence and help you take on other goals and projects.

Choose a goal that you've written down, and then scale it down even more. We thought in "generals," then more concrete plans, but now we want to limit ourselves to what is actually attainable in a year.

I'm going to use the most popular resolution - losing weight, more specifically, losing 20 pounds. The reason I'm using this one is because a lot of people fail miserably by the end of January, feeling terrible and defeated. I'm also going to use it because after a few failed starts, I finally achieved the "losing weight" resolution.

 6. Start before the New Year, and start slowly.

You've chosen that goal, highlighted it, circled it and committed to it, and now have made your resolution. "It's my new year's resolution! I'm going to start this on January 1st!" You happily think to yourself in December.

Stop. Just Stop. Don't wait to start your goal, no matter what it is. For example, if it's losing weight, don't take the opportunity to eat whatever you want now because you have to give it up in January. If it's trying to save money, try to take inventory of what you spend (presents included!) before, during and after the holidays. Even if it's a week before the new year, it's still a start. That way, you are starting to develop a habit of being mindful of your goal.

7. Rethinking your goal; instead of something to obtain, it becomes a lifestyle change

This goes hand in hand with 6. Work yourself up to the resolution with the intention that it is a lifestyle change. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, do research on how to best do that for your lifestyle. I am Type 1 Diabetic and vegetarian, so naturally I leaned towards low carb, but also vegetable heavy foods that I can eat.

The reason for that is that in order to meet your resolution (goal), there needs to be an change internally, and the idea is that it's not a superficial thing you are going to half-ass at the start of the year, but something in your life that you want to change permanently. Taking the time to research (preferably before the start of the year) and seeking out support groups and inspirations will also help you commit to the new lifestyle or habit in your life. 

8. Taking your goal and turning them into actions

You've gotten into the mindset, you've started off slowly and you've done your research. Now it's the time to actually turn that goal into actions that you can realistically do. Going to the gym 7 days a week and eating really cleanly when you haven't been to a gym in years is setting yourself up to fail because you will get burned out very quickly.

It takes time to reorder your thinking, not to mention losing weight is HARD WORK. If you decided to stand up for yourself, or learn a new skill, it's still HARD WORK. Doing too many things at once is overwhelming and guaranteed to not follow through.

So, turn your goals into small actions. What do you want to work on first? If you want to change your eating habits, replace soda with water or tea. Instead of getting fries every time you go out, get a side salad (dressing on the side) instead (and sneak a few fries if you go with a friend). If you want to work out, take 1 class a week to start, and keep the momentum going!

9. Set up a support system 

Getting help from other people is really beneficial. We aren't in this world alone, and any support we can muster to stay committed to our goals (and not punk out when it gets tiring and hard) will propel us forward to being that person we want to be. That support can look a few different ways, such as friends, spouses, support groups and even online message boards. For instance, r/loseit, r/motivated and r/progresspics on Reddit is one of my favorite places to go when I'm feeling down or I feel like I've lost my way a bit and I need a pick me up. 

If you are on the shyer side, or maybe there are people in your life that are less than supportive, a diary or a notebook to write your thoughts and feelings in can also be beneficial. I keep one in my purse and also write down notes when I'm having a good or bad day.

10. Celebrate your success and understand your failures

We are all going to have really good days along with really bad days, and the most important thing to remember that life doesn't stop because you've eaten 10 cookies at a staff luncheon because you didn't want to talk to anyone. Sure, you've went over your calorie count for the day, and if you haven't eaten sugar for a while, you'll feel awful afterwards, but that's life. We are going to make mistakes and make choices we aren't proud of.

We have to get up, dust ourselves off, and move on. Along the same vein, we should also celebrate when we do achieve our goals and not be ashamed of following through with what we wanted to do. Just a side note: if you decide to lose weight as your new year's goal, don't reward yourself with food. Find things like experiences, or even buying things, or even paying yourself as a reward if you need one. I paid myself for the first half of the year in my savings account every time I worked out, and my savings account is much more full now!

Final Thoughts 

These are just some thoughts I've had about the new year, and what I've done to personally achieve some goals that I've set for myself. I hope it was encouraging and beneficial, and wasn't too much like lecturing (which I hate!). What new resolutions do you have for the new year? What strategies and tips do you try to utilize to stick to your goals, for new years or otherwise?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reflections on 2017 and Resolutions for 2018

Yes, I'm one of those. I actually followed through with my New Year's resolution for 2017. I promised myself at the beginning of the year, is what I gave myself at the end of the year, which I think is something to be proud of.

My resolution was three fold, because not only am I pretentious, I can't just make a simple resolution. It has to have meaning! But I digress. My resolution did mean many things to me this year, so it's especially meaningful that I met it.

First Fold

At the shallow end of my resolution, I wanted to lose weight. Doctors told me I needed too, and that Diabetes is managed better with less weight. I knew all of that for years. However, I was sick of being overweight and whereas my husband continued to lose weight (100 pounds since 2011!! How fantastic is that?!), I just slowly continued to gain. My pants "shrunk" in the washer. Vanity sizing convinced me I was still a medium and I was in denial when my pant size increase as well as my shirt size. After seeing some less than flattering pictures of myself (it's easy to be in denial of weight gain when you just look in the mirror), I resolved I needed to cut the crap (the food and the denial).

Second Fold

In the middle of my resolution, I wanted to be healthier. I've read think pieces on having HIV was better than Diabetes, and I wanted to live, or give myself a fighting chance, on living a good, long, quality life. I didn't want to endure the side effects of Diabetes just because I liked food a bit too much and I was getting lazier and lazier. I was sick of being tired all the time, and my limbs had started to hurt (!!) because of just lounging around all the time. Even though I like my job, I sit for most of the day, and there has been substantial studies on why sitting most of the time is terrible for you. I wanted to change that.

Third Fold

And finally, the deep end of my resolution had nothing at all to do with weight, or physical health. It had to do with mental health. I resolved to say what I mean, and mean what I say, and know the value in my time, to put myself first, be more confident and above all, trust myself.

Writing that out sounds like a teenage girl's mantra, right? She got bullied a bit and she writes that in her diary, trying to boost her moral to get through the rest of her junior year of high school. But it was mine, and I was going to follow it.

The reasons I made it my resolution this year, and to become part of who I am are complex and long winded. My early twenties were entwined with someone that in retrospect I had no future with (hindsight is 20/20) and too late did I recognize the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. My middle and late twenties were riddled with actions I'd taken because I thought it was something I was supposed to do, not because I really wanted to do. Much of that was professional - I was told that I couldn't get a job unless it was in education, or another field that was in demand. I had the misconception that everyone knew much more than I did and I should shut up and do what they said (laughable to anyone that knows me, but professionally, this was true!).

In graduate school, I met my husband, so naturally some of my actions worked out for the best. ;-) But most of those actions I took because I thought I didn't "know any better" and surely other people knew what they were talking about more than me, but what I realized is that a) everyone is going through life for the first time, and even though people have experience, they aren't the end all be all of all decisions and b) at the end of the day, you have to live with those decisions, and if you aren't happy, it isn't worth it. You only have one life to live, and it shouldn't be spent being miserable.

How did I do this year? 

I did lose weight. 25 pounds (!!11) to be exact and my diabetes is now more controlled than ever before. I started off slowly, going to the gym three times a week, and in March, I started going to the gym every day, with walking to the Library on Saturdays (20 minutes up and 20 minutes back). In April, I started logging what I ate, followed CICO (Calories in, Calories out) and weighed myself weekly (at the same time on the same day). I still have a bit to lose, but I feel better, use less insulin, and my doctor's appointments are far less stressful. There were a lot of hiccups along the way, and I'm not perfect. I have a cheat day, and there are times, like the holidays, where I overeat and I feel awful afterwards. But you pick yourself up and you continue on, and you don't let mistakes get in the way of your health.

CICO is the biggest change in how I looked a food and weight. Anyone that says that calories don't matter and that exercise is the solution are wrong. Seriously! If you are struggling to lose weight and you don't know why, buy a cheap scale off of amazon, and measure using Myfitnesspal or Fitbit app and seriously measure serving sizes. You'll be amazed - I was. There are unhealthy snacks that are very calorie dense, but also, things that are "healthy" are also calorie dense (oatmeal, and almonds for instance). Be aware of oil, butter and other cooking condiments. I limit caloric intake, and ignore Myfitnesspal recommendation of 1200 calories a day (I do 1550 calories right now). There are websites that can calculate your height, weight, and how active you are during the day and can help you calculate.  Stick with it, it's worth it.

It also helped that my husband unflinchingly followed along with whatever I wanted to do. We got on a meal plan, ate more veggies, and our cheat day usually meant cooking at home something we wouldn't normally eat. It's absolutely true that it's harder to lose weight when your partner isn't on board, and I'm so grateful he still is. 

My "deep end" resolution will probably be ongoing. I still struggle with it, but I committed on following through. I had to make hard decisions this year professionally and personally. Professionally, I went back to school, which is less of a hard decision but more of a continued commitment. I finished my certificate for website design, and now I'm deciding if I want to continue, and what I want to continue in. Personally, I've had to cut ties with a few toxic friendships this year, and I had to start standing up for myself with family and friends. It's hard because though I like to think I march to the beat of my own drum, I am a people-pleaser, and I want everyone to like me, but that's simply impossible.

I turned from a door mat, to someone that just distanced myself because I didn't want to confront anyone. However, the first action is unfair to me, and the second was unfair to the other person. Its hard to know when to confront or to let it lie, and it's something I'm still working on now.

What do I want 2018 to look like?

What is noticeably absent in my reflection is the political atmosphere of 2017, and I think part of my resolutions for 2017 was to focus on myself to give myself some semblance of control where I felt lost every time I listened to the news. I am extremely blessed to live in a state where the state's attorney has filed numerous lawsuits against the federal government, and that our representatives, though in the minority, do not succumb to lobbyists and toxic donations. However, there is still more work to be done.

So for 2018, I want to give more of my attention to actually supporting what I think is right and opposing the GOP and their evil antics. I'm not sure how that is going to look, but I'm sure it's going to involve time and money, and actually talking about topics with those who oppose my viewpoint, instead of shouting into the echo chamber that is social media. We have a lot of work to do to take this country back and turn it into a somewhat decent place.

I also want to write more, and get back into my blog. I kept reading this year, I never stopped but the reviews were lacking, and even if a few people read them, they are a good way to keep the mind active and to constantly improve my writing. I read a ton of books with no intention of stopping, so why not review them again?

Finally, I'm going to let you all in another another secret of mine: I've been writing a book. I started last year with an ex-friend, and I'm continuing the project solo. It's frankly awful, but I want to finish it, and then revise and edit it throughout 2018 to make it completely mine. I only have about 6 chapters left and it would be a wonderful gift to myself if I turned it into something I was proud of.

I'm not going to stop working out, or standing up for myself, but now I think it's the year to focus on personal projects as well as continue the effort in opposing the Trump Administration.

How did your resolutions go this year? What do you want to focus on for next year? How will you meet your goals?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What Was I Thinking? Bad Books (And Authors) I've read this year

On the opposite end of my top 10 books for the year, comes my "bottom list" for books I read this year. However, I don't have enough to warrant a list, which I guess it's good that I didn't waste much of my time reading mediocre books?

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James

Honestly, I wanted to see what the big fuss was all about. I never read the books before, nor viewed the movies, and I was too embarrassed to check it out of the library. I also didn't want to buy the book since I knew that it was fan fiction based off of Twilight, then the names were changed, and then completed to be a complete book, then a complete series.

When I got back into audiobooks through Overdrive, ( It's free! Don't be ripped off by using Audible!) the final installment of the movies (Fifty Shades Darker? Darkest? who knows what the title is) just came out in theaters. The audiobook was available and it's free, so I saved myself the embarrassment of checking it out of the library, and could listen to it whenever I felt like it.

Oh man. It might have read a tiny bit better if I had stuck with the book, where I could skip over lots of paragraphs if I needed too, but the audiobook was torture, and the poor woman who read did her best... but oh man. I'm bitter that E. L James makes more money than I do, and just keeps releasing books about the same things about the same characters.

Little House Living: The Make-Your-Own Guide to a Frugal, Simple and Self-Sufficient Life by Merissa A. Alink 

This was a big whoppin' dud. Even though I have respect for the author, who had a blog and wrote a book based off her blog, I just couldn't get into it. I couldn't relate to the subject at all, not to mention so much misinformation on skincare that makes my own skin crawl. No, raspberry and carrot oil (or whatever oil she mentions) should not be used in place of proper SPF. Lemon and Baking Soda shouldn't be put on your face. She advocates buying staple ingredients, and saving various containers, jars and other containers for her DIY all natural household, skincare and recipes. Whereas I do save containers and reuse them, unless I lived in the middle of nowhere or had a stark cut in my income, I wouldn't use any of these recipes.

Bill Bryson's Books, namely, In a Sunburned Country and A Walk in the Woods 

So, these books aren't "bad" per say. Bill Bryson is an very good writer and his books are comprehensive and explores the history as well as the culture of the places he travels too. However, he seems to writes without any self-awareness, and his befuddled, satirical way that he writes comes off as out of touch and almost as a stick in the mud. Instead of an exciting book about traveling and experiencing something new, you feel as if you are wading through murky water, waiting for the chance to get to land to dry off and be on familiar territory again.

He seemed to enjoy going to Australia in In a Sunburned Country, and though it took me some work to get into it, I overall didn't regret reading it. However, A Walk in the Woods made me roll my eyes over and over again, from his choice of walking partner (seriously, why would you go back out with him after he dumped half of his food and made one dangerous decision after another) to the way he sort of half-assed the thru-hike, only selecting to go at certain times, and then taking day walks for the rest of the time. Instead of reflecting on his own actions, and his partner's actions, it seemed to be more of, "hiking the Appalachian trail is really stupid" attitude instead of, "it's really hard!"

Down these Strange Streets edited by George R. R Martin and Gardner Dozois 

I didn't even finish this one. I think I wanted to check out spooky books for the Halloween season, and this looked spooky. I should have stuck with more Stephen King, because this was a compilation of authors writing urban fantasy. I like urban fantasy, and some of the short stories were entertaining... but I wasn't into it. I just don't think I'm into compilations.

What books did you read that were duds this year? How did they disappoint you? Where you surprised by any of them?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Top 10 Books I've Read in 2017

Here are my top 10 books of 2017!

10. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer 

This is a problematic start to the top 10, I know. When I read this book back in January, I loved it. It was funny and relate-able, and Amy went to Towson University, which I can rattle off many of my friends and family members that also went there. I didn't quite get the hate yet, about her, and just simply enjoyed her book.

I have not seen her movie Snatched, and I don't even think I ever seen the latest season of her show, Inside Amy Schumer. While I do appreciate that she's trying to become more political and use her fame to talk about issues like gun control and sexual harassment, it's like she's become every other progressive liberal in Hollywood, where they are content to preach their views to like minded individuals, but fail to offer real support for those who need it.

She also steals jokes, according to the internet. WOOF.

9. The Dead and Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I read these books out of order, and though this is the second book in the series, it's the one I read last. There is one more book after this one, but after reading the reviews, I think I'm going to pass due to the fact that Pfeffer handles these themes in a problematic way.

The reason why the I put this book at number 9 is that it's still such a good post-apocalyptic YA novel, and I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings. It's completely different from the first novel, where it's set in New York City at the end of the world, and follows the children of a family, where the mother dies on the night the asteroid moved the moon and the father is in Puerto Rico and is never seen again. Alex and his two sisters struggle to survive in an urban environment, and they become closer as the book goes on.

8. Miss Peregine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I am a sucker for books that are "Harry Potter-esque." Kids that have powers that are hidden from the rest of the world and something evil is coming after them? DONE. The book has "sideshow" pictures, the same pictures that Jacob uses to find the home from his grandfather's stories. It's Gothic and vintage, and though there is a male protagonist, he's far from the "chosen one," and the other peculiar children band together to survive.

 I have not seen the movie adaptation, and though I shied away from watching it, it might be a possibility over the Christmas break.

7. The Passage by Justin Cronin

When Cronin is on, he is on! The first third of the book is compelling, and he sets up the world perfectly, allowing the audience to see the train wreck that is going to happen, and no one can stop it. However, the abrupt changes in setting is frustrating, and as soon as you become familiar with Wolfast, Amy and the other characters, they are gone, and you are propelled into the future, and the set up isn't as tight as it was the first time around.

It comes around full circle and the characters that you've invested in make another appearance, but if you aren't invested in what happened to them as I was, the book falls a bit flat. Again, I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic novels, so of course I will read the second book in the series.

6.  How to Win at Feminism: The Definitive Guide to Having it All -And then Some! by Reductress

This is a quintessential coffee book. It's colorful with short stories, poems and tidbits but tailored to the feminist perspective, where all you can do is roll your eyes and say it again with more sarcasm.  The book is fantastic. It's colorfully done, using many of their satirical news articles from the website as basis for their book. It's a beacon of light during an especially troubling time,with a much needed lens of being a woman.

It's a great coffee table book, and it's a great book to re-read when these troubling times get to you.

5. Red Rising by Pierce Brown 


This book checks most of my boxes: dystopian, science fiction, YA, book series. The world is creative, and Brown doesn't waste time slowly introducing you to the world that he created. He throws you in, first person narrative, and then effectively changes the setting one-fourth of the way through the book.

It's easy to follow, engaging, and you are invested in most of the characters, even if Darrow is the biggest Gary-Sue I have ever seen, and there seems to be a bit of a woman problem. I still don't buy that Darrow, a Red sentenced to be a miner and live his life without ever seeing sunlight, is able to pass as a Gold, the best of the best of the best in the Galaxy, and managed to win the games by the end of the book, but I almost didn't care as Brown drives you this world that is simplistic in it's design and engaging.

4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah


This was my first book that I listened to on Overdrive this year. I downloaded the app again when I was going to Greece to visit friends, but unfortunately my phone was stolen (pick pocketed right on the train!) so I was unable to listen to the rest of the book until I got back.

I'm conflicted about WW2 novels because there seems to be an constant influx of Historical Fiction set in WW2 with no end in sight. I get it, the "Great War" and many Americans love to romanticized the war where there was a "clear enemy." I was also conflicted by this book because it was set in France, where accounts of the French resistance is shady at best.

I really did enjoy this book. It didn't go where I thought it was going to go, and Hannah did a phenomenal job of what it means to really sacrifice for the greater good. No character was left untouched by the end of the novel, which is a requirement of war book, but one that many authors do not abide by.

 3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman 

I got this book at the Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio. It's a fantastic independent book store where there are 32 (I think?) rooms to peruse books, with everything from top sellers to more unique books that wouldn't typically be available in other books stores or libraries.

I enjoyed the movie immensely (how could you not?!) and the book, written after the movie based on the screen play, did not disappoint!. It was even more special because it reads like an adult recounting the days when he was younger about The Princess Bride, but this time he gets to actually look at the book, and realize that his father skipped over many of the (boring) parts!

Now I want to watch the movie again...

2. Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America


 I remembered when he made the news hitch hiking and was picked up by the band Here We Go Magic, and I remembered many people theorized that, finally, John Waters had lost his damn mind. He hadn't made a movie in a while, (I think the last one was Dirty Shame) and obviously he couldn't handle it, and started hitch hiking. 

It was for a book, that Josh got for a Christmas present a few years ago. John Waters actually signed it but Josh hadn't gotten around to read it. It's a shame John Waters can't make independent movies anymore (in the book he discusses why) because he's a local hero in his weirdness and putting Baltimore (Baltimore City, County and Maryland) on the map. 

The book is entertaining, weird, and everything you expect John Waters to be. Side note: when the Freddie Grey riots were happening, I was at Rocket to Venus in Hampden with a few friends and Josh, and John Waters sat in the booth behind us. In typical Baltimore fashion, no one said anything to him or looked his way. Baltimore is too cool for that celebrity shit, though Josh and I secretly freaked out for an hour. 

 1. Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler


This is not a new book. Butler passed away in 2006, and therefore her books are finite, which is a shame. Her most famous book is Kindred which is currently is required reading for 9th graders in Baltimore County. 

This is the sequel to the book, Parable of the Sower. The setting is post-apocalyptic (do we sense a theme here?) but what makes these two books SO GOOD is that unlike other dystopian novels where there seems to be a catalyst that initiates the end of the world, the protagonist, Lauren, describes the world in such a manner that it feels like that it could definitely happen in our life time. 

The sequel follows Lauren Olamina on her journey to navigate a world where the President is a religious zealot and emboldened Christian Extremists to attack Lauren and her followers as well as stealing the children that lived on her farmstead.

Like many of Butler's books, her protagonists are usually female and black, and the rest of the cast are diverse and well rounded.  It's a harrowing read, and as the reader, you are unsure where the book will finish up. It ends positively (for the world) but has disastrous affects on Lauren's family.

I loved this book for several reasons, but the major reason why I loved this book that it so closely mirrored the state of our current political affairs, but there was a way out of it. The book gave me hope, that despite all the chaos going on around us now, that humanity will win, and we will become stronger because of it.

There are my top 10 books of this year!  Did any surprise you? What were your favorite books you've read this year?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Year in Books

My heart was heavy when I discovered that I did not make my Goodreads Reading Challenge this year, and won't manage to read ~15 books before the end of the year. I was too ambitious, not to mention that it was only until these last few months that I started getting into audiobooks again. I only read 44 books out of 60. It was a good effort! I'll keep the same goal for next year and see if I can make it!

This year, I made some changes in how I consumed books. Instead of discount books, and occasionally caving and buying a new one off of Amazon when they were cheap enough, I decided that I was going to use my local library. Enoch Pratt is renown, and arguably, one of the best libraries in the country. They have a central location downtown, but have branches all over the city.

The closest branch to me was 20 minutes up the road. There was hardly any parking, so I would have to walk, which could be done on Saturday when they were open. I would need to plan out due dates for books, and make time to walk up and peruse.

It wasn't that much planning, and when I realized I could reserve books and they would come to the specific branch that I go too and I would get a text that notified me that they were in, well... I haven't bought a book all year. I'm not sure why I didn't do this sooner. The library rocks!

Reflection on this year in books - Goodreads

Back towards what I read this year in 2017. Here are my thoughts on my book lists and ratings on Goodreads: 
  • I started a lot of science fiction and fantasy book series, some of which I heard about and always wanted to try, and others where I picked up the second or third novel. With the library, I can do that, and it's freeing.
  • I stuck to my tried and true lane of my favorite historical fiction writer - Philippa Gregory. I read one other historical fiction book from one other writer, and it was one of my discount books. It was ok but glossed over the interesting stuff.
  • I read some more travel books - namely, Bill Bryson. I am not a fan.
  • I've read some famous/infamous authors, such as Stephen King, Octavia Butler, Rick Riordan and Cassandra Clare. I want to read more King and Butler and even Riordan, I've read three of Clare's books, and remember nothing about them.
  • I've seldom read any books on the best seller list all year.  The exception was The Nightingale.
  • I've actually started to read some home tidying books and "self-help" books. One book, the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, big win. The other, Little House Living, was a dud. 
  • I inflicted on myself Fifty Shades of Grey in audiobook. It was awful and I regret it. That woman makes so much money. 

Final Thoughts 

Whereas I love my science fiction and fantasy novel series and I'll continue to read them, I think this year I'll branch out to read more on the best seller's list. It will keep me current on trends as well as I can probably vote for Goodreads Choice Awards!

As well, I would like to reading more Historical Fiction authors from different time periods. I'm not sure why I was stuck in Tudor, but there is a plethora of authors and time periods out there.

Finally, I would like to actually read more self-help books. Maybe it's being in my 30s and finding out that your parents are still human (and are just navigating life just like you are), or maybe I've finally latched onto the idea that a) I'm not perfect (shocker) and that b) it would be good to seek out a better way to do things.

I think also this year, in 2018, I will also reread a few books... in audiobooks. I've been meaning to read the Harry Potter Series again, and while the library has infinite options, I think it would be fun to revisit old favorites and books that has a profound impact on my life. There is something soothing about being read too, something that I hadn't appreciated until recently.

What books or genres can you recommend to me for 2018?

Any books, authors or genres you've been meaning to get to but never found the time? What books or media do you want to read, watch or listen too in 2018?