Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Becoming Fierce Blog Tour: GUEST POST: Gerard Collins, author of "The Long Last Year"

It's a pleasure to take part in the Becoming Fierce blog tour. Becoming Fierce is a creative non-fiction anthology of teen stories. Think of coming-of-age experiences dealing with peer pressure, finding one's place in the world, bullies, relationships, dealing and escaping from harsh circumstances, and more. This generation's Chicken Soup for the Soul. 

All the stories dealt with meaningful struggles, but I felt a special connection with Gerard Collins' youthful self in "The Long Last Year," in which he is trapped in poverty and tense family dynamics. The year after high school, Gerard watches his friends go off to colleges and other pursuits while he stays in the city, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. 

"The Long Last Year" captures the transition period in which young adults have to make tough decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Gerard can't afford to go to college. But as the year progresses, he finds that he can't afford to stay undecided forever. 

 An authorly photo of Gerard Collins (that I found on his Facebook author page, heehee

Below is Collins' insightful guest post about choosing between happiness and financial stability. This was something I struggled with during my senior year of high school, and is also something that I'm still grappling with. 

What now?
The last year of high school can be exciting. Soon, you’ll move out on your own, make new friends, and start a new life. There’ll be no one to boss you around, but neither will there be someone to cook your meals, clean your house or pay for your clothes. You can do whatever you want.
Everything seems bigger and more important in that year. Your grades will decide if you can get into a good college and/or get a job. This last year will instigate your own sense of who you are and, to a great extent, who you are going to be.
Not only is school more serious, you’re also expected to make solid plans and hard choices.
Most of us have heard that cruel question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I first heard it, I was in elementary school, and my eyes nearly crossed with confusion.  I was already a good reader, a good speller, an excellent petter of dogs, and winner of many games of hide-and-seek. What more did I need to aspire to be?
When the day comes — first day of graduating year — it starts waving and shouting at you like some pushy monster: “Haven’t you decided yet? Tick-tock, buddy! Who’re you gonna be? What do you want to do ... FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?”
*cricket cricket*
*blink blink*
Personally, all I ever wanted to do was not work for a living, to not have to work a nine-to-five job that amounted to servitude and a wasted life. Without knowing it, I wanted to be a writer — which turned out to be a lot of work. But then, so did everything else worth having. Money, for example, is totally worth having. But I wasn’t convinced of that when I was a teenager. I could see all the things I wanted, and none of them cost money.
A car. A girlfriend. An apartment. An education.
Er. Wait a minute.
So, I came to a slow reckoning that money was actually important.
The ticking grew louder.
All those people — my teachers, parents, friends and busybodies at the grocery store — wanted to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I didn’t have a freakin’ clue.
Fact is, I had to do something.
Now that I teach at a university, students often say there are too many choices, and it’s hard to know what to pursue. Teenagers enter business school and pharmacy, one after another, like blind sheep over a low fence, sometimes only to tumble headlong into becoming an arts major, while their parents wring their hands and wail.
It’s the same old thing, really — pursuit of money versus the pursuit of happiness. Of course, making money can bring happiness, of a sort. The confused ones are often the more creatively, less financially, motivated. If you know from the get-go you want to be a doctor, lawyer, oil biz executive or Quickie Mart owner, you’ll find money enough. You just won’t have the nagging guilt that you should be doing something more worthy of your artistic side. You’ll also find a spouse, a piece of land, social acceptance, a car and all those other perks of good, moneyed citizenry that people tend to crave. And you can paint portraits or sing in a choir, in your spare time.
But some of us get fooled into thinking that happiness is based on something more abstract — so intangible that nothing material could ever complete us. This philosophy leads to uncertainty and the romantic notion that it’s better to do nothing than to do something that will destroy your soul.
I believed that if I did what I loved, the money would follow. But even then, I didn’t know what I loved. Still, more often than not, young people know what they would love to do if money didn’t matter, but their parents, teachers, peers and society in general tell them not to choose foolishly.
I think that’s where the confusion happens — when you tell a 17-year-old to choose stability over happiness, you are saying that happiness is secondary, or the by-product of being a good bread-winner and consumer, even though, at the same time, we are telling them “Just be happy.”
It would be nice if every day spent taking classes in business or med school would make us happy. It does happen, but it’s not always the case.
Kids can only choose wisely if they’ve been prepared by enlightened parents who know that happiness doesn’t mean the same for everyone. Money can bring freedom to choose, but how one makes that money is a matter of choice.
Free will is paramount to our ability to be happy, rather than slaves to someone else’s ideology, no matter how well intended.
When you’re standing at the crossroads of the long last year of high school, it would be a little less daunting if someone said to you, “It’s okay to be unsure. Find your passion, but get on with your life, first. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Also, maybe someone should say it’s all right to be afraid — sometimes, fear keeps you from making bad choices, but only if you listen to its dire warning.

Thanks for reading! 20% of the proceeds from the sale of Becoming Fierce will go to a youth-oriented charity! Find out more about Becoming Fierce on:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (9/15/2014)

Hosted by Sheila from BookJourney
Hi! It's great to be back with the It's Monday! crowd. I've been working six days a week, so it is taking me a longer to finish reading a novel. I've also been cooking up recipes from a cookbook, but I'll put up the review another week since I'm still working through it.

An old society of dragons co-exists with modern human life on the surface. Dragons possess the abilities to telepathically extract a daily newspaper in their minds (like downloading a book through Wi-Fi) and to transform between their human and dragon forms. The appearance of a mysterious figure in Bentwhistle's workplace leads to strange and ominous occurrences that have the young dragon scratching his head as he seeks to solve the puzzle. Read my review here.

A guide on frugal living for the "underachiever". The tips range from reducing your entertainment costs to eating more inexpensively. Read my review here.

Thanks for checking out my post! Have a fun Monday. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Bentwhistle the Dragon: A Threat from the Past by Paul Cude

Amazon | Goodreads

A few months ago, the author Paul Cude contacted me to review his two books: Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Threat from the Past (Book 1) and Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Chilling Revelation (Book 2). I took a look at the book blurb that he included and was super excited about the idea of an underground dragon society co-existing with modern human life on the surface. 

Book blurb for Bentwhistle the Dragon in a Threat from the Past
Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Threat from the Past is an adventure story children and adults alike will love, about the present day world in which dragons disguised as humans have infiltrated the human race at almost every level, to guide and protect them. Three young dragons in their human guises become caught up in an evil plot to steal a precious commodity, vital to the dragon community. How will the reluctant hero and his friends fare against an enemy of his race from far in the past? 
Fascinating insights into the dragon world are interspersed throughout the book. Ever wondered how dragons travel below ground at almost the speed of sound? Or how they use magical mantras to transform their giant bodies into convincing human shapes? 
In an action packed adventure that features both human and dragon team sports, you’ll get a dragon-like perspective on human social issues and insight into what to do if you meet a giant spider grinning at you when you’re wearing nothing but your smile! You’d be flamin’ mad to miss it.
The narration reveals a lot of insight into the daily life of dragons living on the surface. Many concepts introduced in this novel are unique in terms of the general portrayal of our favorite mythical lizards. Here, dragons can shift forms between human and dragons. Younger dragons grow up in nurseries in which they learn to shift between their forms. They have communal telepathic abilities that allow them to retrieve and read a daily newspaper in their minds, similar to the way we use Wi-Fi. I like the idea of a technologically advanced dragon society, and of course, there are older dragons who are more uncomfortable with surface life and think that humans still drive wagons and carriages. They even have their own sports culture, which is fascinating and the dynamics reminds me of Quidditch. 

I love how well-developed and original the world is, but all the emphasis on world-building ultimately takes away from the plot and character development. The main thrust of the plot is the mystery of Mr. Mason's malicious presence in Peter Bentwhistle's workplace. Following a sudden death of a dragon (which is extremely rare in dragon society), Peter begins to notice a lot of strange things happening in his workplace, along with the introduction of Mason, a mysterious figure who seems to have a strong influence over Peter's normally-benign boss, Mr. Garrett. As a result of escalating suspicions about Mr. Mason's motives, Peter begins to investigate what Mason really wants...

Pacing is a big issue in this novel, mostly because there is so much world building that it slows down the plot, even though the mystery is quite intriguing. The world is clearly huge and complex, but I think it would be a lot better to condense the story so that it's driven more by plot or Peter's mission. There are many chapters about Peter's daily life before or after work, as well as several long anecdotes about Peter's past that, at most, have only tenuous connections to the main plot. About 40% into the book, the plot lost its momentum as it began to meander into daily life, games, and routines, and this continued until I was 80% finished with the novel. I found myself losing interest with the characters and the plot for the middle part of the story. 

Ultimately, the story sacrifices plot, pacing, and character development in favor of world building. I love the world of dragons and their super-fast subways, but the characters don't grab my interest enough for me to continue reading in this series. The sense of urgency regarding Mason disappears in the middle (besides his odd appearances and insulting behavior towards Peter) and doesn't come back until towards the end, and so I had to struggle to finish the novel. 

My rating: 

Find out more about Bentwhistle the Dragon: A Threat from the Past by Paul Cude:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: #FRUGALITYPAYS: Money Saving Tips for the Underachiever by Antonio Starr

#FRUGALITYPAYS: Money Saving Tips for the Underachiever
by Antonio Starr

After browsing some money saving blogs like The Simple Dollar and The Frugal Duchess, I figured that it'd be great to see what other folks have done to save some dough. 

#FRUGALITYPAYS knows its audience, which consists of people who are "just a tad too lazy to take on this daily challenge. We are the underachievers!"

Well, there you go. These tips are aimed at the lazy and the people who are new to the frugal lifestyle, who are still probably paying a ton for cable and buy expensive beverages on the go. 

For its audience, Antonio Starr's book is a small compilation of basic frugal living tips that deal with automatic bill paying, reducing entertainment costs, and not buying bottled water. The tips for saving money are solid, but if you aren't a huge spendthrift when you first read this book, then you probably aren't going to get anything new from it. 

"Bring your lunch to work instead of going out or you can do what I did once, which was to find a job that offers free lunch lol." (page 45)

Lol, okay.

#FRUGALITYPAYS is concise, but at 91 pages, it can definitely go further into some of the categories. It's not even about fluff, but quality content. For $2.99, I would have liked to see some more tips on saving money in the categories about eating beyond the good ol' cook-at-home, use-a-slow-cooker, plan-your-meals things. But once again, I must remember that this book is aimed at the Underachiever.

"One thing I despise are books that are full of fluff! I hate having to spend three hours reading a book only to realize that the author could have delivered the same message in a third of the time. With #FRUGALITYPAYS, I get straight to the point because my aim is to add immediate value to your life starting with the first paragraph of the first chapter...Some of the tips in this book are more strategic actions as opposed to direct money saving tips such as buying from a clearance rack, etc...." (from the Introduction)

Something tells me that an Underachiever wouldn't be looking up actual books to read on saving cash. They'd probably hit up Google for "how to save money" tips that they can find without buying this book. I find that the actual audience of this book is actually quite different from its intended audience, since a frugal enthusiast is more likely to pick up this book than a reluctant underachiever or spendthrift.

My rating: 
(Unless you're an underachiever. Then it's five stars.)

#FRUGALITYPAYS: Money Saving Tips for the Underachiever by Antonio Starr