Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dollars and Sense by Dan Ariely

Found this book through another Dayrean's review and since I enjoyed Dan Ariely’s other books, I thought I’d give it a go!

Dollars and Sense is a personal finance book, only instead of telling you what to do, the book shows you the financial mistakes you’ve been making and explains why. The first part of the book covers what money is (foundation) and the second, longest, part covers the not-so-rational ways we think about money, such as:

- Relative prices (we’re tempted to buy when we think that we’re saving something even when we’re not)

- Mental accounting (we categorise the ways we spend money which leads to not so prudent financial decisions

- The Pain of Paying (so we value potential loses more than potential gains)

- Anchoring (basing valuation on the first number we see)

- Ownership (if we can see it as ours, we value it higher)

- Whether we think the price is fair (to us and for the effort we see exerted)

- Whether we can restrain ourselves in the present for the sake of the future

- Overemphasising money

- Fancy language and rituals making us value a product more

- Expecting a certain experience vs the actual experience and how that affects our value of it.

After going through all these ‘bad’ thinking habits we have, the book ends on a hopeful note: by offering us strategies we can use. Of course, awareness plays a huge role in helping to avoid such behaviour, but other things we can do is to visualise the future as a concrete thing (save for a specific retirement date, e.g. Dec 1 2050, instead of a vague X years in the future), make good financial habits (like savings) opt out rather than opt in, and other strategies.

I found this book to be very educational and very entertaining! It’s actually co-written by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler; since one of Kreisler’s ‘jobs’ is comedian, it explains the copious amounts of humour in this book. The chapters all focus on one, perhaps two ideas, and are explained using stories that are buffeted by studies.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to change the way they think about money. Like another one of Ariely’s books say, we humans are ‘predictably irrational’. That means that we can anticipate certain habits and change them for the better.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

I feel like this year has been fairly good for the SEA Reading Challenge so far because I’ve read two fantastic books - Track Faults and other Glitches and Smaller and Smaller Circles. I found this while searching for SEA fiction and borrowed it the minute I saw “Pinoy detective fiction” because I love mysteries.

Smaller and Smaller Circles Stars Father Saenz, a Jesuit priest who is also a forensic anthropologist, and Father Jerome. When the mutilated bodies of young boys are found in Payatas, they decide that they have to be part of this investigation and get to the bottom of the matter. In the subplot, Father Saenz is on a crusade to get a child-molesting priest away from the charity that puts him in contact with young boys.

This is so much more than an amazing detective story. I really felt the weight of bureaucracy and corruption as Father Saenz, Father Jerome, and the Director of the NBI try to marshal their resources to achieve justice for the poor that normally get less than nothing. Add in the weight of the subplot (with a man of the Church pushing for justice) and you get a stunning indictment of corruption in both the civil service and the Church.

And this is not a spoiler, but if you read the book, pay attention to chapter 34. It’s my favourite, and in my opinion, the most powerful chapter because it humanises the people of Payatas and shows us that these boys were loved and did have worth - even if the ‘higher ups’ didn’t think they were worth devoting resources to.

The characters were also expertly written - there are the two Fathers, who want the best but also know the worst of the world, Director Lastimosa, who is merely a stop-gap for the real appointee but still tries his best, and Arcinas, the ambitious attorney. They all sprang to life on the page and I find it sad that this is not the start of a series because I would love to see how all of them and the relationships between them continue to change.

I would highly recommend this to everyone who wants a good read. It’s superbly written, with great characters and a plot that will keep you turning. I know this book came out several years ago but I’m still going to hope that a sequel is in the works.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Bite Sized History of France by Stephane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell

I requested this book from Netgalley purely because it’s about food (even though I don’t really know or eat a lot of French Food).

A Bite Sized History of France tackles French history through its food, from the Gauls (before the Roman Empire) to modern day France. Each chapter is relatively short and focuses on one food, such as honey, wine, many types of cheeses, the croissant (a relatively new invention, it seems), salt, how the potato become popular, and much more.

Along the way, the book dispels some common legends about food and tries to put them in the proper light.

While the book is organised roughly in chronological order, the topical nature of the book means that this isn’t the right place to get an overview of French history. Certain people (like Napoleon and some of the Kings) pop up in a couple of pictures but things aren’t placed into the bigger picture.

But, this book is an enjoyable way to dip in and out of French history. I will freely admit to being an ignoramus about the subject and it was fun to learn about things like how mushrooms became popular (and how seriously they take mushroom hunting). There are also some really great chapters that explore the darker side of French history, namely French’s colonial ambitions that brought peanut oil to the nation.

Overall, this was a fun book that foodies will definitely enjoy. It not only introduced me to French history and culture (and lots of food), it also showed me the global nature of food through the development of French cuisine.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

As you know, I’m a huge sucker for fairytales, which is why I picked this book up. The name and the cover intrigued me, as did the promise of a book within a book.

The Hazel Wood stars Alice, an angry girl who has been on the road with her mom for her whole life, trying to escape their bad luck. After her grandmother, the famous author Althea Prosperine passes away, her mother falls in love and decides to settle down.

But her mother jumped to conclusions and Alice comes home from school one day to discover that her mother, stepfather, and stepsister have been stolen away by the Hinterland. While her stepfather and stepsister are returned, her mother is not and Alice embarks on a journey to rescue her mother.

Helping her is Finch, a boy from her school who’s a super fan of her grandmother and has actually read the stories she wrote. He introduces her to her grandmother’s dark works, something that proves invaluable in their journey.

I love dark fairytales so I obviously really enjoyed this work. I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers but I thought the worldbuilding was excellent and tied in with Alice’s personality very well.

And of course, I loved the retold fairytales here! They are dark and creepy and so good. I went to Goodreads and saw that the author will be publishing the tales in a standalone book and I am so excited for that!! But the estimated publishing date is 2020 which makes me a little sad (and I hope I don’t forget about it!)

Going back to Alice, I thought she was a really interesting character. She has some anger management issues, which she acknowledges and tries to manage, but her love for her mother is fierce and true (although complicated, like all relationships) and I really admired her loyalty.

I also liked Finch, the super rich super fan that immediately helped Alice. Unfortunately, he and Alice’s relationship didn’t develop the way I expected and hoped, but their relationship was still pretty sweet.

If you’re a fan of dark fairytales, you’ll want to read this. I really enjoyed this book and I cannot wait for the standalone of the stories to come out!