Monday, 25 January 2016

Digital Detox

Hi everyone!

I hope that you are all doing well. A bit of a rambly post from me here. I know that I do post the occasional personal post here and there. I did in the past, speaking a bit about my anxiety. I thought for the new year, I would incorporate a bit more of that. So yes, what is new in your world? It is a new year, and usually every year, I come up with some resolutions. Even bookish resolutions. But this year, my main goal is to Digital Detox. For the month of January, the lovely folks at Penguin Random House Canada have been encouraging people to enjoy life "offline" - more details can be found here! You might be thinking how on earth can I manage that with an "online" blog, but I've been finding that all the time I've been spending offline has allowed 1) more time for reading and 2) more time for reading for pleasure and not simply school/work. And with all that, voila! I plan to bring you all much more interesting, thought-provoking blogging content. I've been feeling better physically and mentally and with that, I plan on extending this Digital Detox beyond the month of January. I want it to be my main goal for the entire year.

So what are some small things I've been up to during this Detox?

1. Breathing and Meditating 
Breathing is a no brainer obviously. But I've been enjoying meditation so much month. I usually meditate before my morning begins, or even at my desk at work for about 5-15 minutes (depending on how much time I have). I use an app called Insight Timer - which has guided meditation, but also just a timer if you want to do it unguided. Sometimes, I find it can do it without a guide and just visual certain things. But most of the time, a guided one woks best for me. I like to think of it as a way to check in mentally with myself during stressful moments.

2. Eating Right & Cooking 
Personally, I will admit that I've had my fair share of issues with food and eating in general. I've tried so many fad diets and I've always struggled with finding balance in what I eat. I would go on a specific diet for a couple months, obtain the results I want, and somehow that all goes out the window. I used to think that I just didn't have discipline and I entered into a big cycle of self-shaming and guilt. I've since then realized that the diets I was working with were not good for me in general. No wonder they didn't stick! I'm going to be moving in less than two months into my first home with my boyfriend. That is a massive step. It also means I won't be coming home to little special meals from my aunt occasionally. It will mean going to the grocery store myself a lot of the time, and cooking for myself. It will also mean living on a budget and not getting my meals out so often as I do now. This past month, I've gotten a new workspace at school with a kitchen and that has allowed me to experiment with cooking. I've made most of my meals at home this month and I haven't realized until now just how much I love cooking. I've been able to test out easy, fun and healthy recipes. I've been leaning more towards a vegetarian diet which has been great. And I've walked away from the restricted rigid structures of diets and I've just been doing what feels good. It is about becoming more aware of what we put into our bodies and making sure you are cooking something that you will not only enjoy eating and also making.

3. Taking Reading Breaks 
I have a full course load this semester, so I have a ton of readings weekly. I also have "deadlines" for certain advanced readers copies that I receive. Basically, there is a lot to read weekly. It is so easy to get burnt out from reading so much because I suffer from book hangovers. It is quite hard for me to "step away" once I'm done a book. It lingers and it takes a while for it to leave my system so I can fully move onto a new text. You can also get into reading slumps like me, where it becomes like homework reading. Reading because you have to, not because you want to. I've recently decided to take Reading Breaks. If I'm not feeling up to reading some days, I simply don't. I'm usually burnt out by reading a lot of my theoretical readings for school, and honestly, it is ok to just "walk" away from reading. It removes the pressure and when you finally come back to read, you will actually enjoy it.

4. Ditching the Laptop 
Since I started graduate studies, I made the shift from laptop notes to paper notes. I've been able to recall information so much better this way. I've started doing that with blogging as well. Usually, I read a book, sit down and write the entire review. I've started journalling. I journal for therapy and I've decided to do that for blogging. As I'm reading, I make some points/notes that I want to go back and revisit in my review. I also think journalling in general has been super helpful. It allows me to get all my emotions out if I'm having a bad day, and it is a lot more refreshing than ranting about it online on twitter. I used to be anti-diary/anti-journal because the thought of reading what I wrote before made me cringe. But I simply don't read what I wrote before. I simply turn to a fresh new page and go from there. It is super therapeutic! I highly recommend it.

5. Colouring! Drawing!
We all know how big adult colouring books has gotten. There are colouring books for specific fandoms now which is awesome! I have a Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones one! :D I've been taking some time to colour every now and then and it takes me about 15-20 minutes most days and I just find it really clears my mind and allows me to focus simply on colouring. I also recently picked up some drawing books, specifically anime and manga ones. I used to draw a lot when I was little, but it got harder with me being a perfectionist and not wanting to draw unless it was perfect. But recently, my sketchbook has been filling up and much like the journal, it is super therapeutic. :D

So yes, those are my "tips" or strategies of what I've been doing recently in terms of doing a Digital Detox. Let me know if you have any other tips for focusing more on life "offline" -- I would love to know!

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Blog Tour: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn - Review and Author Q&A!

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Publishing Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 336 pages
Young Adult Contemporary

The Premise: [taken from the publisher] "Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time-the kind Mercedes never had herself. Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy - so far. Her mother isn't home nearly enough to know about Mercedes' extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious friend, Angela, won't even say the word "sex" until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn't bank on Angela's boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn - or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed. When Mercedes' perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her own reputation - and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, Firsts is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up" -- I thought it might be better to put the premise from the publisher this time because I tried to phrase the premise myself and I kept writing in spoilers! It is so hard to condense a book like this into a few sentences.

My overall review and thoughts: When I was first approached to participate in the blog tour, I immediately jumped on board when it was mentioned that the book was written in the same vein as Easy A. The premise sounded incredibly interesting but I was a bit apprehensive because when it comes to "firsts" in general, it is such a generic topic that is written about time and time again in young adult contemporary novels. First kiss, falling in love for the first time, having sex for the first time, etc, etc. I was super happy to see and read this refreshing take on things that Flynn offers the readers. To begin with, she speaks about sex quite explicitly in the book, which I find that a lot of YA novels tend to beat around the bush with. Sex is a taboo topic and including sex in a book may push the book more on the New Adult or romance side of things. I found that Flynn overs a very realistic depiction of what it can be like and does not "sugar-coat" things. She also speaks about consent which is incredibly important and that it isn't something that was simply assumed. Mercedes' "system" is definitely flawed, because in a manner of speaking, her sleeping with boys who have girlfriends already, could be considered cheating, but again, it is important to note that sex is an act between two consenting adults, so it gives you a look into the story from both parties. Mercedes also unfortunately has to deal with a few guys that really push boundaries and limits, and really take advantage of her. I'll be honest, I felt sick to my stomach reading some of those scenes and quite angry that I had to put the book down for a bit. But again, this ties into my point of Flynn not sugar-coating the scenarios at all. She offers a really realistic depiction and I think it is important not to "fluff" up first times in general for people. Because sometimes, first times aren't wonderful. It isn't always going to be a reflection of a movie rom-com. Sometimes, it is something completely different.

Although, there are problems with her system, the book's objective isn't to show Mercedes as a negative person, but rather to show and help explain, why she is the way she is. Her perfect "first" time didn't exist and it is more than just that experience that has shaped her character. Her relationship with her mother is also an important part of the book. I've been watching a lot of crime tv shows recently (tangent), and recently in one particular show, it mentioned that even though we try to distinguish ourselves from our parents, we are a product of our environments and our upbringing. Our parents will shape us in one way or another, even if we don't notice it right away. Mercedes calls Kim (her mother), by her first name because she feels that her mother hasn't earned the title of Mom, but towards the end of the text, she realizes she actually has a lot in common with her mother. My only criticism for the text would be that the relationship narrative between Mercedes and her mom wrapped up pretty quickly towards the end, and I would've liked to see more resolution there.

Besides talking about sex and consent in a very unique manner, I also enjoyed the characters that Laurie Flynn created for the readers. Mercedes is incredibly brave, confident, but also vulnerable. I really enjoyed seeing her academic side and that really resonated with me. I also loved Faye and Zach so much, they were wonderful friends and it was so nice to see their relationships blossom with Mercedes. I also really liked the character of Angela and seeing her growth as well. Overall, I think that this was a great YA read, tackling a popular topic of "firsts" but in a super unique way.

My rating of the book:  (5/5 stars) 

Author Question and Answer

1. You take a very unique approach to the idea of "firsts" - The usual narrative is how one values their "first" experience or how the experience has shaped them in some way. What made you decide to approach it from a different perspective? I love reading books from the point of view of unlikely characters. It was important to me to tell the other side of the story from the perspective of that girl—the girl who may not get her own story otherwise. There is so much shaming pointed toward girls who have sex, and I wanted to dissect why that happens. With teen girls, there’s so much judgment surrounding not just the first time, but every time after. I wanted to tell a story from a girl who didn’t have a perfect first time, but wants to regain control by giving it to other virgins. I wanted to explore why she does what she does.

2. What is the one central message that you hope your readers walk away with when they finish the text? I hope readers consider that while it’s easy to judge a person, it’s harder to really know them. We all have secrets. Everyone has gone through trials and tribulations in life, and it’s impossible to know everything about someone else—especially someone you know by association or through rumours instead of fact. Mercedes doesn’t trust anyone to know her real self or what has happened in her past, so she only lets people know one particular version of herself. It’s so important to be kind to everyone, because you never know what someone is going through or has been through.

Be sure to check out the final stops on the blog tour tomorrow, and go back and check all the wonderful reviews from the previous stops :) 

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was provided by Raincoast Books for participation in the book tour. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Publishing Date: May 12, 2015 (Paperback) | June 26, 2014 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Pages: 320 pages
Literary Fiction

The Premise: The story takes place in the 1970s in Ohio and follows the Chinese American family, the Lee family. Lydia is the daughter of Marilyn and James Lee. When Lydia passes away from a mysterious drowning, the perfect image of the Lee family starts to unravel as secrets are uncovered. The story follows from the perspective of Marilyn, James, and their other children, Nath and Hannah.

My overall thoughts and review: I've seen this book around for quite some time now and I'll be honest, I did buy it to fulfill a popsugar reading challenge last year. It was to read a book by an author with the same initials as me. I knew very little about the book and was a bit reluctant to pick it up immediately after purchase because I'm terrified of water myself, so a book about drowning? When is there every a good time to jump into that? One of my best friends had recently finished the book and loved it, and I was also rethinking my doctoral studies of wanting to incorporate more fiction with an Asian American focus, so I dove in.

I really did not know what to expect, but from the first chapter, I was immediately drawn in by Ng's beautiful writing. The passages read to the reader in such a way that is so welcoming! Ng offers the story of how Marilyn and James first met, and I found this part of the story particularly interesting because of how it parallels to my life as a doctoral student. The story also tackles the issue of racism and expectations during the time of the 1970s, and although, we would like to think today we have grown past all of that, expectations and what is "proper" and what "should" happen, unfortunately still linger. Ideas of who you "should be with" based on race, still linger. Some people are still very traditional in that sense, and I feel like a lot of the issues that James mentioned, I faced growing up as well. I enjoyed that Ng did not sugar-coat anything and that she pushed the boundaries of the readers comfort zone. She was able to make you love both Marilyn and James together, but also love them individually, especially when they didn't particular agree with each other. I also really enjoyed how she was able to flow from the narratives of Marilyn and James, and then to Lydia, Nath and Hannah. It was quite interesting that the main question of "What really happened to Lydia?" lingered throughout but wasn't the focal point. This book mainly tackles issues of family and relationships and most importantly, expectations that people have of us, and expectations we have of ourselves. This was truly a wonderful read and I'm so glad that this is my first read of 2016. What a way to start off the year. I would highly recommend this remarkable story to anyone!

My rating of the book:  (5/5 stars)