Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Everything Everything"

This book is beautiful.

18-year-old Madeline is allergic to everything. From the back cover: "My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I'm allergic to the world. I don't leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and nurse, Carla." But then one day, a new family moves in next door, with a boy dressed in all black, and nothing is ever the same.

I really enjoyed this book. A lot. It was sweet and silly and lovely. The themes of first love and not wasting your life are beautifully woven throughout the story. Nicola Yoon's first novel addresses heavy topics like abuse and chronic illness in a way that is light while not discounting the severity of these issues.

While the novel and actual writing was enjoyable, the sketches and notebook-style entries made this book fantastic. They don't simply illustrate what the book is saying, but they continue the story in a unique way. For example, we don't simply hear Madeline telling us she wants to kiss Olly. We get a three page "Kissing Primer" (and let's not lie, what girl hasn't thought about all the steps that lead up to kissing?)

The characters of Madeline and Carla were well developed and relatable, but I'm split on Olly. I liked what we saw of him, but he felt kind of one-dimensional or superficial. We heard about the issues he faced and things he liked, but he seemed to only exist for Maddy and doing things with her.

The plot twist = genius. Loved it! But I wish we had a little bit more after. It felt like we had the twist, then some angst, and suddenly the book was over. I wish we had just a little more resolution, especially with Dr. Whittier.

But as a whole, I loved this book and you should read it. But you can't yet, unless you have an ARC. Everything Everything is on sale September 1, 2015. But once it comes out, you should definitely read it. Especially if you're a Rainbow Rowell fan, because it had a similar feel to it (and really, who's not a Rainbow fan these days?).

Also, there is a Tumblr set up for this book! There's not much there right now, but it looks like it will be a lot of fun when they get it going!

Want to hear more about my thoughts on this book? Check out my BookTalk here!

4.5/5 stars

I received this book from First in Line at BookCon 2015 under no obligation for a positive review.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BookCon 2015

BookCon15 was this past weekend and it was AWESOME. BookCon is truly where I find my people. 
They get me. 

This year, BookCon was extended to TWO days of Bookish awesomeness, so even though we were late getting there on Saturday, I still came home with a massive haul of 35 books (not counting the 7 I grabbed for others), only 4 of which I had to pay for, 16 samples for upcoming books, 6 totes, a slew of bookmarks, and random bookish things. (The end of this post has a shot of the books and a list of what they are, if you're interested).

Pretty much the moment I got to the Javits center, I went down to the autograph lines for the one celebrity I was most excited to meet. I waited two hours in line (was one of the first dozen people there), but it was worth it. Felicia Day is so sweet and geeky! She offered to sign Charlie's head when I pulled her out for the picture (which of course I allowed, because Charlie signed my Charlie). Related: anyone know a good sealant for use on vinyl?

One of the highlights of my month...maybe year (so far, anyways).

My brother and eventual-sister-in-law came with me on this adventure, but they spent most of Saturday at the hotel tired and with homework. Similarly, on Sunday I was up in line early so I could go to the First in Line Red Carpet Author Breakfast (free books + meeting the authors + food = awesomesauce. Also, I discussed Dean vs. Sam with Jennifer Niven) while they did things like sleep and eat. Amateurs. So I spent most of the weekend wandering alone getting swag like this:

One of my favorite things about BookCon is suddenly finding an author doing a signing at some random table. That's how I met Abi and Missy (authors of the Sinners series) and, most excitedly, Mike Berenstain of the Berenstain Bears!! Total fangirl moment with him.

The only author I waited in line to meet this year, aside from the FIL Breakfast, was Scott Westerfeld.  I wanted to go to the Rainbow Rowell party, but it sold out in less than 30 minutes while I was still on the bus. Sad Panda. But, Scott Westerfeld! 

When my brother and I asked to take a selfie, we kinda cracked him up. And look! I am officially Ashley-wa! My favorite thing about this is that he crossed out his name to sign it. So Bubbly.

The other highlight of the weekend for me was the BookTube 101 Panel and the meet up after. Got to watch my favorite BookTubers (Katytastic, Xtinemay, and JesseTheReader) live on stage, and then got to meet them! And they are exactly as sweet and amazing as you'd expect. The right side is the result of "okay, now a silly picture". Of course they obliged. Christine was especially enthusiastic. 

Also, now I'm contemplating becoming a BookTuber. Such books, much fun.

In addition to all this fun, there was a Welcome to Night Vale panel where Cecil read the beginning of the new novel live. If I am ever in a coma or unable to do anything for myself, I want Cecil Baldwin to come read to me. Benedict Cumberbatch can take turns when he gets tired.

Lastly, let me show you the books I got. The books on the left are already released, about half of them are signed. The books on the right are all ARCs. The ones leaning on the side are the samples for upcoming books.

And now, THE LIST. * = signed  ** = met the author at a signing

Left Side (Already available):
The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith*
The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs**
The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla**
Love and Profanity edited by Nick Healy
How to be Interesting by Jessica Hagy**
Life After Perfect by Nancy Naigle**
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero**
Melt by Delene Castrovilla** (the last one there, missigned to someone else, so she let me have it)
Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki**
The Maze Runner/The Scorch Trials Collector's Edition bindup by James Dashner**
Reconstruction: First a Body Then a Life by Ara Lucia Ashburne
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (linked version not the same as what I got)
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven**
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart**
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Galactic Hot Dogs by Max Brllier and Rachel Maguire
Hiking Waterfalls in New England from Falcon Guides

Right Side (ARCs)
Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis*
Choose Your Own Love Story by Ilyse Mimoun
The Golden Compass Graphic Novel Vol 1 by Phillip Pullman
Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Voyagers Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon** (really excited to read this one!)
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan
Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner
Finding Forever by Ken Baker
A Mighty Purpose by Adam Fifield
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone (got the last one, insanely excited)
The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Another Day by David Levithan
The Keeper by David Baldacci
Steve Jobs Insanely Great [a graphic biography] by Jessie Hartland
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Stay tuned over the next few months as I try to read and review all of these! I've also started a BookTube channel over on YouTube! You can see a video of this haul here.

Let's chat in the comments! 
Which book above do you most want to read? Or which would you like to see a review on?
Did you go to BookCon or BEA this year? What was your favorite part?

Friday, March 20, 2015

11 Things Christian Singles Are Sick Of Hearing

People say a lot of stupid things to single people, especially in the church. "Like what?" you may ask. Let me share some of the most popular things Christian singles are sick of hearing, in no particular order.

It'll happen when you least expect it (or when you stop looking)!
Well that's good, because I stopped expecting it about 5 years ago, so my expectations can't be any lower! And I've never actively looked for a mate, so...done! I've stopped looking! But seriously, this platitude doesn't help. In any situation, this is the least helpful thing you can say to a single person. How do you stop dreaming about something you want in your life? Also, if I am one of 4 single women in my church and not opposed to marriage, you'd better believe I'm looking at the ring finger of every new guy who comes through that door, especially if they're attractive. Even if I'm not actively looking to get married, I'm still paying attention.

Maybe you're called to singleness! 
This is usually directed at young people (what?!). Oh, you're not married before you can legally drink alcohol? Guess you never will be! (But you're Christian, so you better not drink any of that alcohol, ever). Maybe I am called to be single forever, but you are certainly not the one allowed to point that out, or even ask me about it. I promise you the thought has crossed my mind that I'll be single forever, and my feelings on that subject are complicated. After about 25 years old, the single in question tends to be viewed as a spinster. I've even had people use the actual word with me! (I just turned 28).

Singles are a picture of heaven, because in heaven there is no marriage.
I'm sorry, what Bible are you reading? This is not just bad theology, it's a complete lie. True, there is no marriage between man and woman, but there is absolutely marriage! Bride of Christ? Marriage Supper of the Lamb? Ringing any bells? The Bible frequently refers to marriage between a man and woman as a picture of our relationship with Christ. We are the bride of Christ, anticipating heaven because that is where the marriage is finalized. So go read the New Testament, and then try to tell me singles are an example of heaven, more than marriage. But this is closely related to another cringeworthy statement...

Just be married to Jesus!
Okay...but is Jesus going to bring me a Coke, and cuddle with me and Netflix when I have a migraine or a bad day at work? Will he swap the laundry if I forget? Wash the dishes? Help make the travel arrangements? Make babies with me?? Yes, I love Jesus, but a relationship with him is a totally different caliber. I know people mean well with this, but just stop. It's not encouraging and it's twisting scripture. The creepy cousin to this one is the: "Let Jesus be your lover!" No no no no. No. Are you seriously telling me to sleep with Jesus? Do you hear how creepy/crazy that sounds? Besides, that raises a whole bunch of uncomfortable questions and theological debates that I would rather not deal with. Let's just leave this at: it's really hard to not have a physical connection with someone.

You're so lucky you're single! Marriage is so hard! 
a.k.a: You're so lucky you can do whatever you want, whenever you want!
Yeah, marriage is hard. But you know what else is hard? Always being alone. Sleeping alone every night. Not being invited to parties because "it's all couples and we didn't want you to feel awkward". Dealing with bills and illnesses and crises and other grown-up life stuff all by yourself. Even with great family or friends around, it's not easy to be single. A married woman recently said, "My husband's out of town this week, I'm kind of scared all by myself at night!" Guess what singles are feeling every night? Life is hard, no matter what. Marriage is hard, but so is being single. This isn't a contest of what's better, married or single, so stop competing. They both have their perks and pitfalls.

A woman's highest calling is to be a wife and mother.
Recently I attended a women's meeting, where it was stressed that all women should attend. So I did. But everything that was discussed pertained only to married women (protecting your husband from porn, serving your husband, etc). Finally, someone braver than I, asked "What about us single women?" The answer was essentially that we should help the married women. I'm all for helping my fellow women, married or not, but that is not my only purpose in life. I have a unique call on my life, and it's not just to raise a family. Is that the ultimate calling for some women? Absolutely. Jenny Acuff wrote a great post on her husband's blog about this once. A woman's dream to be a wife/mother is not any less or more important than what I'm called to. But doing anything other than what God has designed me for is sinning against Him and abandoning his call on my life. And why is marriage the highest calling for a woman, but not for a man? Oh, let's not go there....

You should do it [extreme activity, traveling, class, etc] now before you settle down. 
Get it out of your system.
This one I tend to just smile and nod to. People don't seem to get it. My goals and favorite activities aren't magically going to change just because there's a ring on my finger. I love to travel. No, correction, I need to travel. It's in my blood and I get anxious if I don't travel every few months. That's not going to go away if I get married. So you know what? I'm going to marry someone who is also addicted to travel. We'll be those crazy people taking their babies on trips to Spain or Thailand or Kenya or Antarctica. Putting a carseat on a camel or whatever. I'm not going to change who I am just to get married. And if I find someone amazing who doesn't want that kind of lifestyle? Then he's not the right one for me. I'd rather be single. Simple as that.

You're not married, you can [work extra shifts, work holidays, babysit my kids, serve at our church event, etc].
No, thank you. I have a life, too. And a family, even if they didn't come from my body. I want my free time just as much as you do, to do the things I enjoy. Just because I don't have a partner doesn't mean I don't have a social life. You chose to have add a spouse/kids to your life, you figure out the scheduling. I've chosen not to have those things in my life at this point for a reason.

You want to be single?! Don't worry, you'll change your mind when you find the right guy.
You're starting to sound like the aunt in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: "You don't eat no meat? Okay, I'll make lamb." Believe it or not, some people don't want to get married! *gasp* The horror! But it's okay if a person doesn't want to be in a relationship. Paul even commends singles! Also, remember back in number 4? You were jealous that I'm single! Why are you trying to convince me that I need to be married? Singleness isn't a disease you need to cure. Aren't I good enough on my own?

Have you tried online dating? This bar/class/place? You should try....
No, stop. Don't tell me what to do. Just because it worked for you or your third cousin's hairdresser or whoever, doesn't mean it's right for me. Also, have you seen the creeps out there lately? I had a guy come up to my friend in a pub, swerve in her face, and then high five as a way of flirting. What?! Even if the idea of online dating doesn't completely freak you out (like it does me), it's not easy to weed out the weirdos and find a keeper. There's an entire TV show dedicated to how people trick others in online relationships. The struggle is real. The evil twin of this statement is the dreaded: "You're too picky." No, I just have standards. I've got great things going on in my life, I don't want to mess it all up with a drunk, jobless, baby daddy just so I can have a ring on my finger.

You are so great! Why aren't you married yet?
Ugh. Seriously? Again, maybe I want to be single. And if I want to be married, but I'm not, how do I know why I'm not?! This statement is like one of Barney Stinson's negative compliments. It seems like a compliment, but it hints that there's something wrong with me. It's worse when it's a single member of the opposite sex asking you. Uhh....I don't know, but why don't you tell me, since you apparently have no interest in asking me out, either? This one also has a creepy cousin: If I weren't married, I definitely wouldn't let you get away. Dude, stop. Just stop. Go back to your wife and leave me alone.

There are a lot of stupid things that people say to singles, but at the heart of it all is the fact that many of the questions and comments made about our singleness make us feel less than. Like we're not worth anything because we're by ourselves. Remember: singles are people too! We have hopes and dreams, and goals, and jobs and everything you do....just minus the spouse. Stop trying to give us unsolicited advise, stop trying to fix us, stop downplaying the joys of marriage, and just be our friend.

Thank you to all the ladies of 30DoH and ATS for your suggestions!

My fellow singles, what's your least favorite thing to hear regarding your marital status? Did I miss a good one?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Millennial Gospel"

I have another friend with their first book out! I love reviewing books, but I especially love it when I know the author!

When Pastor Ryan first told me he was writing a book and it's theme, I expected something theologic and academic. I don't know why. He's a pretty cool and down-to-earth guy, and is also very smart, so I don't know. This book is anything but stuffy academic. Millennial Gospel is a call to action for all believers in today's world to reach the lost of the Millennial Generation (the generation born around the turn of the millennium) and written to connect with everyone.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the first section, which breaks down the most common damaging cliches we use in the church today and offers healthy alternatives. Things like "God just wants you to be happy" and "...because the Bible says so". Those little things that just slip out of so many Christian mouths that have no basis in Scripture, or are simply cop outs to giving an actual answer that will help people.

Pastor Ryan goes on to outline why the Millennial generation is so different than previous generations, and how that impacts their view of God and the church. Rather than simply painting a bleak picture, the book tells us how to connect with this generation as individual Christians and as the Church. All of this is done in a friendly, conversational manner that is as inspiring as it is convicting.

Every Christian should read this book and put it's principles to action in their lives. The points made in this book are not only applicable to reaching the Millennial Generation, but anyone living in today's world. It's a different era and the old methods just don't work anymore. What will work is relationships fueled with honesty and openness.

4/5 Stars, Recommended. Available to purchase here.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

No More Hamster Wheel!

I have the joy today of getting to review How to Get Out of Debt Living Paycheck to Paycheck by Camilla Kragius from No More Hamster Wheel

When it comes to financial books, in my mind, Dave Ramsey is the untouchable guru, Casey Lewis is the personal/relatable mentor, and Camilla Kragius is the neighbor who's been-there-done-that and wants to share how with you. While a lot of financial books are full of facts and stats, HTGOODLPTP is more conversational and encouraging.

This book is a very quick read. The short chapters give you the down and dirty details of how to become debt free, save for the future, and live your life. The first chapter, which also happens to be the longest, walks you step by step through creating (and sticking with!) a budget- even if you live paycheck to irregular paycheck.

One thing I really appreciated was Camilla's acknowledgement that you have to actually live while getting out of debt, even if that means not following her plan to the t so you can have a little fun. Instead, she stresses the importance of balance, even though it goes against the conventional advice from most gurus.

Along with the book, I also got to review the companion course: Financial Freedom. I LOVED this course. If you're going to buy the book, spend the extra money and go for the whole course- and you get the book included! 

In 27 lessons, Camilla walks you through all the principles in her book so you come out with a complete and personalized financial plan. It further explains some parts of the book that can get confusing, and even gives you rest days so you don't get too overwhelmed! I'd estimate that the lessons take anywhere from 15-60 minutes, depending on your debt, work-ethic, and math skills ;) 

As a whole, I think I may have liked the course more than the actual book, if that's possible? The book had some parts that seemed a little jumbled and required me to read a few times to understand, but overall was a good start for people beginning their financial journey. The book gets 3 stars from me. The course, however, gets 5 stars, as the walkthroughs and narratives were fantastic and easy to follow.

So as a whole package, this product gets 4/5 stars. I'd recommend it for anyone who needs a step-by-step walkthrough to start their budget and financial life. 

I received access to this course from the author in exchange for a review.

Update: Camilla has generously offered a discount to readers of AspiringAshley! Use the coupon code "Ashley" to receive the course for only $10! What a great start to becoming debt free. Thanks Camilla!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mr Grey Attacked My Dog

Last night, I went to bed early. I've been exhausted lately, and the past week or so has been crazy at work. So it was lights out just after 9:30p and I was on my way to dream land...except at 9:45 I heard something. 

Our dog Jack barked, but it wasn't his usual bark. Then I heard banging, and yelling, and Jack yelping, and squealing. I ran upstairs to see what was going on and found the kitchen in chaos. My dad was looking around for something, my mom was trying to close the sliding door, and they were both yelling. I looked down and saw a raccoon IN the door, my mom pinning it in place, trying to keep it from getting into the house. My mom yells at me, "This isn't Jack! It's a raccoon!" (because I obviously couldn't tell that) and is yelling at my dad to get a bucket, but he's trying to deal with Jack. 

So I grab the recycling bucket next to the door and put it over the raccoon, who is half way in the house, while my mom keeps holding the door. My dad finally caught the dog, who had been attacked and bit by this raccoon while he was outside for his last pee break before bed, and ran upstairs to put him in his crate and get my brothers. (By the way, Sam, I've taken to calling you my brother lately instead of "the guy who lives in our attic." It's basically true anyways, and easier than explaining.)

So the boys and Leah all come down, I'm holding a bucket over a raccoon who has half his body in our house and is squealing and scratching and thrashing. My mom is too nervous to open the door to get him out of the house, thinking he might flip himself around into the house and bite or scratch us. My brothers are offering to kill it with a giant stick they just happened to have with them. 

Being the voice of reason, I sent my brother (blood brother, Miah) to put on boots, then he took over holding the door for my mom. Mom went to examine the dog, while Miah and I took a few seconds to regroup and plan (while everyone behind us is yelling "helpful" things).

We took a three count, Miah slid open the door, I threw the raccoon and barrel up, out, and to the right (to make sure it wouldn't get caught on the lip of the door), and Miah slammed the door closed again. And locked it, per our mother's request. Just in case the raccoon knows how to open slider doors, I guess. Then the raccoon earned his new name: Mr Grey. We nearly killed him in the door, and he came right back trying to get in for more. And he was definitely injured, because he was limping around, and there was blood on our door where we had pinned him. This is how far into our house his front half was:

We called Animal Control, but they were closed, so we called the police who sent two squad cars. Called the vet and my mom took him over to the emergency clinic to get checked out. We spent the next hour watching Mr Grey root through the trash on our porch, crawl into the barrel to chew on his tail, go wander in the snow, and come back to try to break into the house and start all over. 

The police just stood around for a few minutes, then got back into the cars and one waited for the on call Animal Control guy to show. I guess raccoons have been a big problem lately, even attacking a police officer recently who had just stepped out of his squad car.

All the trash is because it was in the recycling bucket when I trapped him in it. I just tossed the whole thing out the door to get him out.

For an HOUR this animal limped around our yard, making circles around the porch. Then we watched him shimmy up a pole, attack the bird feeder, play with the bell, climb down the railing, hide under Sam's car, and disappear. The Animal Control guy showed up minutes later, and Mr Grey wasn't found. He was on our porch for an hour, and then he disappeared less than five minutes before the AC guy showed up. 

Jack went to the vet, got his injuries checked out and cleaned. He's got a bite on each hind leg, and a little scratch on his nose. He's a drugged little guy this morning, since they had to sedate him last night to clean him up, and now he's on pain meds. He's back at the vet right now getting a rabies booster, and he has to be on quarantine for 45 days, since the raccoon wasn't caught so we don't know if it had rabies. 

Mr Grey may look cute, but don't be fooled. He's a monster.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Let's Be Spies

For 2015 we are re-resolving the "Do New Things" resolution, like we had in 2013. Today we took our first adventure of 2015: We became spies. (We also posted it all over the internet. We're not the best spies.)

5 Wits at Patriots Place in Foxboro is this really cool place. They've got two adventures: Espionage and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We, of course, did the Espionage option where, essentially, you spend an hour being a spy.

You go into a "shop" that turns out to be a front for the CDA, your agency. After exchanging code words and destroying the hidden bugs, you are briefed by the senior agent (we had the fantastic James). We learned that COBAL had stolen valuable blueprints which, if built, would put an end to all electronic communications on the planet. No phones, internet...NO NETFLIX!

And of course, it was highly probably that there was a mole in our agency. After making it through the laser security system, you and your group (of twelve or so) as you are led by your senior agent through the Disney-quality sets of enemy headquarters as you try to find the blueprints and stop the bad guys. We even had to (try to) dismantle a bomb! (We survived, but barely.)

Here's where our senior agent encouraged some "Satellite Selfies" so we could prove to our higher ups that COBAL did, in fact, steal the blueprints and begin a prototype of Project Gridlock.

The lighting in the lab wasn't the best for selfies, but I still like this. I don't have other photos. I was too busy having a blast being a spy and trying not to blow up from the bomb. 

This was SO. MUCH. FUN! I would highly recommend it, and would totally go back! Everything is interactive and high quality. Our senior agent was great. Did I mention this was really fun? Because it was. You should go do it. Where else can you, an adult, go run around like a spy for less than $20?

And finally, because Gillette was right outside the door....GO PATS!

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