The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd on April 16th 2012
Genres: memoir
Pages: 336
Goodreads

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising—she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference—and they range from the practical to the profound.

The Happiness Project is the last book I read in 2017. A friend lent it to me at the beginning of the year and it just sat on my shelf, but that friend and I got into a discussion around Christmas about the book and I decided to pick it up. After reading the first chapter, I challenged myself to read it before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Challenge accepted, me! I finished it at about 8pm that night.

I don’t entirely know what I expected going into The Happiness Project. I’d heard bunches about it, and I knew the general premise, but I didn’t know if any of it would be relatable. I consider myself a fairly happy person. The idea that someone spent an entire year of their life dedicated to making themselves happier just felt, weird?, to me.

The thing about The Happiness Project is that it’s completely relatable while also giving us examples of how each of the resolutions affected Gretchen’s life. So we had the theory behind things and then the proof of how they can work (or not). What made it even more relatable to me was the inclusion of people’s responses from her blog. For almost every resolution, Gretchen posted the question on her blog and included the answers in her book. It was interesting to see how different people interpreted her resolutions or made up their own that related.

There were a couple of things that I took away instantly from the book and started incorporating into my life immediately. I have no idea why they resonated with me so much, but they’ve definitely made small improvements to my happiness.

1. If it takes less than a minute to do, do it right now instead of putting it off.

2. Happiness comes from within, not without.

3. Pursue a passion and forget about the results.

4. Be aware of how your attitude/happiness affects others.

Even if you aren’t looking at improving your happiness, I think you should read this book. I guarantee you that you’ll take something away from it without even trying. I did! Plus, Gretchen’s writing is superb, hilarious, and flowing. It made it enjoyable to read while also teaching me something.

All in all, this was a great way to end 2017 and I’m 100% sure it’s going to help shape my 2018 into a better year.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

2018 Resolutions

Happy 2018, y’all!

I rang 2018 in curled up in bed, with my cat, finishing up a book, and thinking about how I want this year to go. As everyone is likely doing, I’ve made some resolutions. But because I ended 2017 reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, my resolutions for this year are a little different. (Review coming soon on the book. Spoiler: Go get it, it’ll change your outlook.)

These aren’t all necessarily book related, but some of them cover both books and my life in general. And as Gretchen says, the difference between resolutions and goals is that these aren’t an end destination. Resolutions are things I’m looking at incorporating into my life. So, here goes.

  1. Forgive myself more. This one applies to both books and life. In 2017, I read about a third of what I did in 2016 and I felt terrible about it to begin with. But I realized it’s not a race and the only one putting pressure on myself is me. So, I’d like to work on forgiving myself for things that I shouldn’t be harping on myself for in the first place.
  2. Read what I want. In both 2016 and 2017 I found the vast network that is booktube and fell down a nice little rabbit hole. I started to buy books that I never would have picked up just by myself. This has been both a good and a bad thing. I’ve read some amazing books that I otherwise would have never found, but it also means that I got caught up in reading what other people thought were good books and not necessarily what thought I’d like to read.
  3. Cull often. This plays off #2. I’ve got a ton of books on my shelves that I’m likely never going to read because I bought them in that booktube whirlwind. Why keep them? Someone else can enjoy them. This is also a little more broad. Why keep clothes I don’t wear? Cull those. Activities I spend time on that I don’t really like? Take them out of the calendar. People I don’t really want to spend time with? Well, maybe don’t cull them out completely. But I’ll make more time for the people that I truly care about. (Is there a way to word that without sounding like a bitch?)
  4. Stop making excuses. Ohhhh boy, this will be a hard one. I’ve always been one of those people who makes excuses not to do something because I’m too lazy to do it. Example: I should go to the gym today, but I went Monday, so I can skip today and I’ll just go next week. No, no Mackenzie. You do the things you said you’d do now. The only person losing out is me when I make these excuses.
  5. Live in my passions. Funny enough, this is also a part of #4. If you asked my two top passions, I’d answer in a heartbeat: reading and writing. If you asked me how often I do both of these activities, I’d stutter out a soft “uhhh” followed by an excuse. If these are the things I love doing, why am I not doing them more often? Fear of failure is one of my biggest excuses for not writing more. But who cares? I can write without a book ever seeing the light of day and I’d still love writing a book. Or having a book written, I doubt any writer really loves the torture that is the process of writing a book. My excuse for not reading as much as I like is either because I’m too tired to put forth the mental energy, or because I’ve gotten caught up in reading a book I’m not really that interested in. This is something I’d desperately like to change. There’s too many books out there that I want to read, I shouldn’t be wasting my time on books that I’m only half interested in.
  6. Be happy. This is another tidbit I took away from The Happiness Project. Happiness is not something that is found without, you carry it within. For the most part, I am happy. I’m one of those weird cheery people that is usually always smiling. But there’s always room for growth, and there’s always room for more happiness. I’d like to find more within myself.

So, there are my 6 resolutions for this year. Tell me if you made any resolutions for 2018!

-M

Weirdo

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth
Published by House of Anansi Press (Canada) on September 30th 2013
Genres: mystery
Pages: 408
Goodreads

Corinne Woodrow was fifteen when she was convicted of the ritualistic murder of her classmate in a quaint seaside town. It was 1984, a year when teenagers ran wild, dressed in black, stayed out all night, and listened to music that terrified their parents. Rumours of Satanism surrounded Corinne and she was locked up indefinitely, a chilling reminder to the parents of Ernemouth to keep a watchful eye on their children.

Twenty years later, private investigator Sean Ward — whose promising career as a detective with the Metropolitan Police was cut short by a teenager with a gun — reopens the case after new forensic evidence suggests that Corinne didn’t act alone. His investigation uncovers a town full of secrets, and a community that has always looked after its own.

I wanted Weirdo sooooo bad when I first saw it on Chapters. That cover, that synopsis. I had to have it!

(A bit of backstory: I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with anything murder related. The psychology of different people, especially criminals, hits all of my interest buttons.)

It’s October and I figured it was the perfect time to pick this darling up. Sadly, I was not as thrilled by it as I thought I was going to be.

The story itself is pretty interesting. The two different timelines (in the 80s leading up to the murder and in the 2000s when it’s being re-investigated) are interesting and insightful, but I think they make the book longer than it needs to be. You get to know the main people that were involved in the murder, while also kind of sort of learning about Sean Ward and his investigation into the murder. But there’s so much backstory with both that it I just felt like I was learning about people and completely forgot it had to do with a murder half the time.

Maybe I was just expecting something else, as I don’t really read much mystery, but it didn’t feel very mysterious to me. The plot-ish twist at the ending got a “huh, alright” from me, but that’s about it. And the ending after that felt super rushed. It’s like you received this nugget of information and the characters went “well, that’s that” and went home for the night. The entire build-up of the book is figuring out if Corinne did the murder herself and I feel like it wasn’t treated as the climax it should have been.

I guess overall I was just meh with the entire thing. I read it, though, so there’s that.

One StarOne StarOne Star

The Bees

The Bees by Laline Paull
Published by HarperCollins Canada on May 6th 2014
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 344
Goodreads

Born into the lowest class of an ancient hierarchical society, Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, an Untouchable, whose labour is at her ancient orchard hive's command. As part of the collective, she is taught to accept, obey and serve. Altruism is the highest virtue, and worship of her beloved Queen, the only religion. Her society is governed by the priestess class, questions are forbidden and all thoughts belong to the Hive Mind.But Flora is not like other bees. Her curiosity is a dangerous flaw, especially once she is exposed to the mysteries of the Queen's Library. But her courage and strength are assets, and Flora finds herself promoted up the social echelons. From sanitation to feeding the newborns in the royal nursery to becoming an elite forager, Flora revels in service to her hive.

When Flora breaks the most sacred law of all-daring to challenge the Queen's fertility-enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses who are jealously wed to power. Her deepest instinct to serve and sacrifice is now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart and her society, and lead her to commit unthinkable deeds . . .

In the beginning, I really liked The Bees. It was interesting, seemingly unique, and I wanted to know where it was going. I held on for about as long as I could.

First, I don’t know WHY but for some reason I didn’t think this was actually about bees. Pretty dense of me since it’s literally in the title and the entire cover is bees. But I figured it was a nickname for whatever faction Flora was from. Nope. She’s a bee. Which I actually thought was pretty cool. When’s the last time you read about a bee?! I like that aspects of Flora were slightly human (feelings, thoughts, etc) but she still had a somewhat bee-sque mentality. It worked for me!

The setting was wonderful, and the way Paull writes is superb. It didn’t feel like a hive at all for me. It was some robust, living, richly exotic world that I found myself wanting to visit. I loooved it.

What fell flat for me was the story. The beginning of it was great. Exploring the hive with Flora was tense and exciting. But about half way through the book I kind of knew what was going to happen and it made me care less about reading it. I think if the entire thing had been shorter, I would have been able to hold on. But 200-ish pages of a story I’ve already guessed isn’t fun.

So, unfortunately, I DNF’d this half way through. It was wonderful though, and I’m sure many people will enjoy it! I did sneak to the end to figure out what happened, so it’s not like I didn’t care. Tehehe.

The Conjoined

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
Published by ECW on September 13th 2016
Genres: mystery
Goodreads

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

I read The Conjoined last year, as I was so kindly given a review copy from ECW Press (thanks guys!). Unfortunately, since I was silly enough to let my hosting lapse, that review is no longer up. Why past Mackenzie, why?! Luckily for me I really loved this book and still have my notes.

Going into The Conjoined, I assumed it was going to be some sort of psychological thriller. You know from the synopsis that Jessica finds two bodies in her mom’s freezer when she’s sorting through her mom’s belongings after her funeral. You read that and you’re like but why?! That’s certainly something I wanted to know! I’d be curious as hell if I found evidence to what I can only assume is my mother murdering two people.

The thing is, this book is more than just a thriller. It’s a heart-wrencher. It’s less so about figuring out who did it, and more about finding out what lead up to Casey and Jamie ending up in that freezer. It’s quite a sad story. The atmosphere surrounding these two kids is HEAVY. I wanted to reach through the pages and fix their lives, to tell the people surrounding them what was going on and save them the fate they end up with. I so badly didn’t want them to end up the way they did, but I was absolutely powerless to stop it. And that just made it worse.

Although we shift between different timelines, stories, and characters, it’s all done with ease. Not once did I forget who was who, or what I’d read about them previously. Jen did a wonderful job of weaving everything together, and I never once got bored.

I didn’t get the ending I wanted, but I’m okay with that. I think it was better that way.

Thanks again ECW Press! You’ve published a great book.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Tastes Are Changing

A very wise woman (hi Grandma!) recently had a discussion with me regarding my last post about being in a reading slump, and brought up a very good point.

It’s very possible that the reason I’m in a slump is because my tastes are changing. And if I’m trying to read the same old thing while simultaneously growing away from those topics, it makes sense that they no longer resonate with me!

See, very wise.

This brought up a question for me, though. What do you do when the books/genre you used to rely on so heavily no longer feel comfortable to you? How do you go about finding your new comfort zone?

I honestly have no idea yet, as I’m just starting this journey. But it’s a good question to ask. I’m finding myself more and more drawn to immersive literature – things that I can lose myself in.

I’m less and less attracted to YA. I’m starting to find it very surface deep and I just can’t connect to it in the same way. I want rich characters, thorough plots, heightened emotions. I don’t need everything to be happy at the end. Reality is messy and I’m okay with my fiction being messy as well. (I’m not bashing on YA as a whole, just what I’ve been drawn to in the past.)

So, if you’ve got any recommendations on some good books to check out, leave them below. And if you’ve gone through similar growing pains, let me know!

-M

2017 Has Been a Slump

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been in this big of a reading slump. At least not that I can remember.

I’ve started and stopped probably close to 10 books this year. Which might not seem like a lot, but that’s only because I haven’t actually been reading enough to DNF more. In 2016, I think I read a total of around 70 books. We are 8 months into 2017 and if I’m lucky, I’ve finished 20.

To be fair, from April until December of last year, I had a lot more time on my hands. Starting in January of this year, not only did I start working, but I started a job that involves an hour commute each way. So that’s taking up a good chunk of time.

But even when I do have time to read, I don’t. I normally set aside an hour before bed each night to pick up a book. For most of 2017 that hour has felt like a chore. I at one point was forcing myself to continue doing it, but now I’ve just stopped.

My weekends usually involved sitting and reading a book for at least an entire afternoon. And now they don’t.

And I don’t think it’s the books. I 100% think it’s me. I just can’t get into the mindset I normally have with books. I can’t lose myself long enough to get wrapped in whatever world I’m reading about. I’m finding it easier to give in and watch YouTube videos than to push my way through a book.

Not only is this annoying on a recreational reading level, but it also means my book reviews have suffered. Can’t really do a review if I haven’t read any books!

There really isn’t a point to this post, other to let you guys know what’s going on in my head. And why there’s more writing on here instead of reviews. Eventually that will change. I hope. I’ll aim for a healthy 50/50 balance at some point.

On the plus side, my wallet is happy because I’ve also been spending less on books! I’m utilizing the library instead since I can’t guarantee that I’ll make it through any of the books. Silver linings, always.

-M

Confession Time

I haven’t actually sat (for some reason, my brain really wanted to put sitten here) down and written for awhile. Sitten/written, I now understand why my brain chose that word.

I’ve had that weird finger tingly, adrenaline pumping, I-need-to-write feeling for awhile now. Writing constipation, in other words. The only way to release this feeling is to poop out the words onto a piece of paper or screen.

But I have no done that.

And I was questioning why I have not done it, when I came to a realization.

Fear. Fear is holding me back.

Not fear of failure, or even fear of success, but fear of letting someone see what goes on in my head. Fear of letting those thoughts out and someone judging me for them. Fear of realizing that I might just be that crazy. Maybe even a fear that I’m not messed up at all, and therefore not the individual I thought I was.

Even if no one ever reads the words I put down, it’s the possibility that they could that scares the crap out of me. I’ve never quite realized how absolutely vulnerable writers, and artists in general, have to be in order to put their work out into the world.

You have to be willing to put your heart and soul out there for someone else to judge, interpret, comment on.

So I sat on this. And I thought. And I thought some more. And then I thought about how utterly stupid that was. Fear is healthy, but it’s also stopping me from doing the thing I most want to do in the world. And why should I let one emotion rule my life?

I’m going to hold myself accountable somehow. I need to. I should. Not for anyone else, but for me.

I’ll update this post with how I decide to do it, but it’ll happen. I may even make it interactive so others can follow along too. Keep each other accountable and what not.

-M

In My Head

I’m struggling with some things at the moment. As much as talking to other people helps a bit, writing has always been my outlet. So below you’ll find a piece that I wrote this morning when I woke up. It’s short, but it expresses (generally) how I feel when I’m in one of these “moods”.


I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be in someone else’s head.

Not to have them explain it to me, but to actually be in there. Watching through their eyes as they go about their day to day life, aware of their thoughts and feelings but knowing that they are separate from mine.

I feel like that sometimes in my own head, but I know that the person acting and the person thinking are the same. Two separate entities, but also the same entity. An outside me and an inside me.

Sometimes they act as one whole person and everything is right with the world.

Sometimes I’m the inside me sitting back and watching the outside me interact with the world. I’m aware of what is going on, but I can also tune out while the outside me continues to function. I don’t feel the world the same. I don’t see the world the same.

I know they are both me. What I don’t know is why the split. What I don’t know is the cause, or the reason they decide to join back up.

My fear is that one day they won’t, and I’ll be stuck as the two versions of the same person, slightly broken, inhabiting the same body. And there won’t be a thing I can do.


The ironic part of this piece is that this is a glimpse into my head.

-M

By Gaslight

By Gaslight by Steven Price
Published by McClelland & Stewart on August 23rd 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 731
Goodreads

London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures -- a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.

I dnf’d it.

If you’re wondering, earlier this month (last week? Time is a thing I can no longer keep track of) I didn’t know if I should continue By Gaslight or not.

Reasoning: pacing was slow, writing style (no quotations and a TON of run on sentences) were annoying the poop out of me.

Funny thing is, I actually continued reading it after I posted. I’d rented it from the library, so why not?

A couple of days before it was set to go back from the library, I went to renew it online and found out I couldn’t. I looked at the book, looked back at the notice saying I couldn’t renew it, looked at how many pages I had left, and then flipped to the end of the book and read the ending.

It seemed like an okay book, but again, had it been half the length, it probably would have been much better.

Oh well. Moving on.