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The Obsessive Bookseller Simplifies Life [5]: Health

simplifies-life-2017

In case you missed my Introductory Post, my world was in such an upheaval that I was forced to take drastic measures by simplifying and organizing all the things that caused me stress. Each month, in 2017, I’m tackling different aspects of my life that are clutter-stressors by organizing and altering them into things that bring me joy.


May 2017: Health

2017 seems to be the year of personal revelations. Each month, I’ve been tackling things that caused me stress and turning them into things that bring me joy. Health has always been important to me, and this Simplifying Life project has really helped me set (and achieve) attainable goals. A lot of work went into it though, so it’s important for me to clarify that the simplification comes in the form of having set goals so I don’t have to stress about what I should be doing.

Disclaimer: I’m going to be bringing up a lot of health “facts” that I’ve read while doing research and am using as a basis for all of my personal health goals. I’m mentioning them merely to explain why I started doing the things I am to get healthier, not as a means to inform or educate. Heck, I’m not even standing by them as accurate, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt and do your own research before following suit.

The Trackers:

There’s something irreplaceably helpful about being able to see progress in the form of checkmarks all over my health tracker. I began this journey by identifying the physical and emotional components that go into making me healthier, happier person. I created an Excel template with all of these items and set a daily checkmark goal.

I felt my health tracker should include more than just eating and exercising, but also things that bring me emotional joy and, oddly enough, personal hygiene. I noticed that when I took the time to curl and style my hair in the mornings, I had a much more productive day. Maybe it’s because I felt like I had my “armor” on and was ready to face the world, more so than when I just tromped to work with my hair up in a messy bun. Whatever the reason, all of these things helped me feel healthier. I found this tracker incredibly motivational. Every time I felt the need to do something, I’d pick an item and see it through (most of which took under 5 minutes). I used this tracker for several months before getting into enough of a habit that I didn’t need it anymore.

The Food:

I consider it almost impossible to change your diet overnight. I talked about this a little bit in my Simplifying Life: Food post, but I really think if I had started trying to eat healthier all at once, it would’ve been doomed for failure. Instead, what I did was look up foods good for your brain and slowly start incorporating them into my diet. Over the course of a couple of years, I have slowly change my habits so that I’m buying less processed foods and more fresh foods. They say when you go to the grocery store, try to shop more on the perimeter rather than in the aisles to avoid processed foods. So far in 2017, I stuck to the edges, only venturing in occasionally for cereal (my true <3) and peanut butter.

Another thing I wanted to track was my Saturated Fat intake. I remember reading somewhere that 30% of your daily intake should include fats, but only a small fraction of that should be Saturated Fats (for me, it was about 13g to 15g per day) and 0% Trans Fats. The trouble is, I had no idea what I was actually consuming. Part of my motivation was a couple of documentaries I’d watched on Alzheimer’s disease. In one Ted Talk, a doctor claimed his research showed people had a much higher likelihood of experiencing Dementia and Alzheimer’s if you ate more than 20+ grams of Saturated Fats per day. The research he presented showed a strong correlation between the two, however, I am always skeptical when data is thrown in front of my face. I haven’t done any research to see how thorough their experiment was, nor have I done any to see if anyone else has substantiated this claim. That said, it got me thinking that, regardless of Saturated Fat’s effect on Alzheimer’s, it’s probably not a bad idea to start paying attention to how much I’m getting.

Now, I considered myself a fairly healthy eater. I don’t indulge in candy bars, ice cream, or most other processed foods very often. But, as soon as I started reading labels and tracking consumption, I discovered I was still well above my daily Saturated Fat intake goals. For example, my coworkers always bring in these frosted shortbread cookies, and I’d always just figured they had a lot of sugar, but not much else. I’d eat two, sometimes three every time. Come to find out that each cookie also had 8g of Saturated Fat! O_o! After two cookies, I had totally blown my Saturated Fat intake for the day. And I really don’t even like them that much – I just ate them because they were available. It’s all about choices. And becoming aware of what you’re putting into your body. I decided I would much rather indulge in a giant bowl of natural chocolate ice cream at the end of the day than waste it all on a tiny cookie at lunch. I digress…

There are a ton of cute meal trackers on the internet for this (google it). Mine are “fugly but functional.”

The 10,000 Steps:

I noticed when I was doing my general health tracker that it was always a lot more fun to rack up steps than it was to do strength training. It also was a lot easier to find data on calories burned based on steps taken rather than individual strength training (I’m antsy in general). According to the research I found (don’t quote me), walking 10,000 steps per day (provided at least a half-hour of those steps is a more rigorous workout) burns about 500 calories. After 7 days of this, you’re conceivably losing 3500 calories, or 1 pound. Now, all of this depends on how many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight, so you can’t just eat what you want, burn 3500 cal, and expect to lose weight. It’s a math game, and every person is different. Anyway, this seemed like a goal I could really get behind because I’ve been enjoying running lately, it’s beautiful weather outside, and it keeps me from feeling so sedentary. I have a nifty little app that helps me track my steps, but I’m looking into getting a fitbit so I don’t always have to have my phone on me.

I also remember reading somewhere that sitting for more than 2 hours a day straight negates any health benefits gained from eating well and exercising. The 10,000 steps keeps me up and moving, and as an added benefit keeps me from wearing out my eyes staring at a computer screen for too long. I just need to apologize to the people in the office directly below mine because I’m now clomping around so much…

The Preparedness:

All of these health goals involving food are absolutely redundant if you don’t make sure they are available. If you’re at home and all there is to eat is junk food, then you have only two choices: break your health goal and feel guilty about it, or starve. I can eat good foods all day every day if they are available, but the moment I get lazy (by not going to the store or prepping produce), that’s when I revert back towards eating poorly.


Now, this is usually the point where I list all the goals I achieved, but in the case of health, the endgame is longevity. I’m hoping the good habits I’m getting into now and the lifestyle changes I’ve been slowly making over the last three or four years will pay dividends as I get older. I can tell you one thing, because I’ve started tracking numbers and setting daily goals, I feel amazing and have stopped worrying so much about what the future holds. So, in that sense, I have successfully reduced my stress in both my current and future health situations, and that, in itself is a win!

Project Status: Health Simplified!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Title: Voyage of the Basilisk

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal. Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m happy to say that Voyage of the Basilisk was a combination of everything I’ve been hoping to see since the beginning of the series. The foremost of which being the heavy focus on dragons (and not all the other crap she included in the first book… although a lot of that is now becoming relevant, so I’m kind of eating my words). I especially appreciated the infusion of fantasy, naturalism, and archaeology into this adventure.

I feel like I’m living vicariously through the main character, and am loving the chance to explore new territories, study dragons, and come up with new theories on how they impact the world. If I could have any fantasy job, dragon naturalism would be near the top of the list. Part of the reason this was my favorite installment to date is because it let me appreciate the breadth of Brennan’s dragon creation. I think she did an excellent job of incorporating a wide variety of species while keeping in mind what’s biologically feasible for each territory. VotB also hinted at a cool mystery involving ancient dragons (which just might be the overall arc of the story), which shows a depth of world building I also hadn’t truly appreciated. All the things have me super excited to pick up the next book.

I still have a slight hold-up about the main character – I like so many things about her, but she still has a tendency to make hair-brained decisions. Even though Brennan did an excellent job addressing it in this volume, it still required a bit of that eye-rolling acceptance near the end. At least the character is consistent, I guess. The best advice I can give is: just go with it.

Overall, there are moments in this series I’ll love forever, and those memorable moments seem to happen more and more with each book. If you are as obsessed with dragons as I am (and are patient enough to wait for the payoff), this is an excellent series for you. I highly recommend the audio – Kate Reading is the queen of narration.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Arcanum Unbound by Brandon Sanderson

November 22, 2016

Title: Arcanum Unbounded

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: The World of Cosmere

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: Individually Rated Below

The Overview: Brandon Sanderson’s first story collection: novellas and short stories set in the Shardworlds, the worlds of Stormlight, Mistborn, Elantris, and more. Originally published on Tor.com and other websites, or published by the author, these wonderful tales convey the expanse of the Shardworlds and tell exciting tales of adventure Sanderson fans have come to expect.

 The collection will include eight works in all. The first seven are:
“The Hope of Elantris” (Elantris)
“The Eleventh Metal” (Mistborn)
“The Emperor’s Soul” (Elantris)
“Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Epsiodes 28 through 30” (Mistborn)
“Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” (Threnody)
“Sixth of Dusk” (First of the Sun)
“Mistborn: Secret History” (Mistborn)

Arcanum Unbounded will also contain a currently untitled Stormlight Archive novella which will appear in this book for the first time anywhere!!!!! -Goodreads

The Review:

If you can’t tell by now, I am a HUGE Sanderson fan. To have all of these amazing short stories in one collecitno is awesome. This compilation includes everything from maps of the Cosmere to behind the scenes expansions for some of our favorite Sanderson works (ahem…Mistborn). In this review, I’ll briefly explain what I liked about each story [In ascending order by rating].


Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Epsiodes 28 through 30 [No Rating]:

Okay, I’ll admit the blasphemy that I didn’t read this one. But I hear if you liked the introductions to each chapter of Mistborn Era 2, you’ll like this too.

It’s very reminiscent of the golden age of radio era in the 1930’s (not my thing) and I couldn’t get past the presentation long enough to appreciate the story.

The Eleventh Metal [2.5/5 stars]:

This is a prequel short story for the Mistborn Trilogy, Era 1. It gives a little glimpse into how Kelsier coped after escaping the Pits of Hathsin (don’t panic if you haven’t read the series – this happens before the first book). I enjoyed it alright even though it didn’t add anything new to the series. 

Moving on…

The Hope of Elantris: [3/5]

This felt like a deleted scene from Elantris, but has very little to do with the main story… it’s more of a tangent. I honestly don’t think it added much to my enjoyment of the world as a whole, but I did like it.

Interestingly enough, my favorite part of this segment was actually the author’s note at the end explaining how the story came about. It has to do with one of his fans… way cool. :-)

Edgedancer [3.5/5 stars]:

Edgedancer was a great short story, but it’s one I think I’ll need to go back and reread once I’ve finished my reread of Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. It has been so long since I read those two that some of the references in Edgedancer went over my head. THIS is a problem because if I have holes in my memory, I wont be ready for Oathbringer, due out in November 2017. So, I will reread all the things, then review this one again. All you need to know is, this short story might help curb your craving for Oathbringer and help fill in some gaps.

White Sand [4/5 stars]

I freaking loved this short story. What a cool culture! It presents a magic system which involves using moisture in your body to manipulate sand (a cost/reward system I found particularly clever). Its about a young man who wants to run the trails of skill, but doesn’t have enough tradional magic strength to do it “properly.” I liked it so much I immediately went out and bought the graphic novel. Honestly, even though I’d just read the short story, I was hoping for a detailed expansion of the exact same scenes in graphic novel form. Instead, it breezed past it too fast for my tastes. With that said, if you plan on reading the graphic novel at any point, I’d highly recommend this short story first. It’s a marvelous introduction to this world and these characters.

Sixth of Dusk [4/5 stars]:

Sanderson is known well for his epic world building (among other things), but he really outdid himself with Sixth of Dusk. It was an experience, to say the least. Inspired by Polynesian culture, it takes you to the ridiculously dangerous jungles of an isolated island. Everything from the beasts that prowl the island, to the most minute flora and fauna was fascinating. On top of that, the character had these cool, albeit disturbing, hallucinations/premonitions of the future that help him see (and survive) the dangers around him. Even though the plot lacked a little resolution, it’s still one of the coolest short stories I’ve ever read. We all should badger him for more things set in this world (as if he doesn’t have enough to work on).

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor’s Soul [4.5/5 stars]:

I read this short story ages ago, but apparently never wrote a review for it. It’s a well-woven tale infused with Asian culture, includes a neat magic system centered around calligraphy, and provides truly unique character exploration.

It stands on a pedestal as one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever read.

Mistborn: Secret History [4.5/5 stars]:

Mistborn: A Secret History is definitely my favorite new read from Arcana Unbounded (I’d already read Shadows for Silence and Emperor’s Soul). This short story provided tons of insight to the events that took place on the periphery of Mistborn, Era 1. Sanderson offers so many layers to his storytelling! Knowing all of this extra information about what really happened completely enhanced the main trilogy. Seriously, if you read nothing else from this collection, pick this one up. You’ll want to read it before picking up the 4th Wax and Wayne novel.

Shadows for Silence by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell [5/5 stars]:

If you only read one novella from Brandon Sanderson, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell would be my top pick (by a smidgen – they’re all awesome. And really, why would you limit yourself to just one?). It’s just one more example why Sanderson is one of my favorite authors – his novellas are every bit as good as his full-length novels. I loved this one because it had the perfect mix of characterization, setting, story, pacing, action, and resolution. It felt like a snippet out of a fully developed novel, but was self-contained enough to stand complete on its own. Silence, the main character, really struck a chord with me – her decision-making during the most intense scenes of the story still have me reeling months later. I want to get into the nitty-gritty details and geek out about all of them, but I can’t discuss it to my satisfaction without spoilers. So just take my word for it – this is definitely worth reading! :-)


Overall, Arcanum Unbounded is a brilliant compilation that I deem essential for any fan of Sanderson’s Cosmere. One of my favorite elements was the introduction to the planet systems within this universe and elusions to how the shards affected each one. I love how I learned about the Cosmere from this collection and look forward to discovering even more in his future works.

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: To Guard Against the Dark

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #3 [A Clan Novel]

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: October 10, 2017

The Overview: The final book in the hard science fiction Reunification trilogy, the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Clan Chronicles. -Goodreads

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Nik’s Notes:

I’ve been a long-time fan of Czerneda, even going so far as putting myself through a grueling (but fun) competition to become a beta-reader for this trilogy. Alas, I didn’t win, just missing out on being an alternate by one spot. I didn’t mind too much, though, because it gave me the opportunity to re-immerse myself in Czerneda’s Clan novels before diving into this Reunification Trilogy. To Guard Against the Dark is the trilogy-ender, and quite possibly the saga-ender. I’m not so sure how I feel about the cover, being a huge fan of Luis Royo’s work for previous books, but I am definitely excited for its contents in October!

Who else is excited for this one?!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Reviews: Magic Bleeds [4] & Questionable Client [.5] by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews

Title: Magic Bleeds

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Kate Daniels #4

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Kate Daniels works for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, officially, as a liaison with the mercenary guild. Unofficially, she cleans up the paranormal problems no one else wants to handle—especially if they involve Atlanta’s shapeshifting community. When she’s called in to investigate a fight at the Steel Horse, a bar on the border between the territories of the shapeshifters and the necromancers, Kate quickly discovers there’s a new player in town. One who’s been around for thousands of years—and rode to war at the side of Kate’s father. This foe may be too much even for Kate and Curran, the Beast Lord, to handle. Because this time Kate will be taking on family…  -Goodreads

The Review:

It would have been difficult for any book to follow Magic Strikes (one of my new favorite books EVER.), but I thought Magic Bleeds gave it a good effort. Picking up right where the last one left off, the authors did a great job progressing the overall arc of the series. It didn’t have quite as much humor or romantic tension as the books before it, but made up for it with an extra dose of mystery and action. I admit I missed a bit of that passionate spark between the two main characters, but what’s a good literary relationship without a fallout here and there? At least the mystery was engaging. The authors integrate cool mythological beings from all over the globe and it was really neat to see manifestations from different cultures. Overall, Magic Bleeds was still a great installment in a series that shaping up to be a favorite. I can’t wait to see what happens next! :-)

A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews

Book Info: A Questionable Client [Kate Daniels #0.5]

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I had so many issues with the first book of the Kate Daniels series, I almost didn’t continue on. That would have been a shame because I’ve enjoyed every subsequent novel and short story since. Had I started with A Questionable Client, I likely would’ve been a little more enthusiastic for the series. Heck, I think even if you’ve read the series, you’d probably enjoy this snippet. It was about how Kate and Saiman first met and I actually thought it gave Kate a lot of depth of character, showing how she became so proficient in mythological lore. In fact, I recommend all of the short stories that go along with this series – I’m only through about half of them, but so far they’ve really helped turn it into a full experience.

 by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh

Title: Foreigner

Author: C.J. Cherryh

Series: Foreigner #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: The first book in C.J. Cherryh’s eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race.

From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space. It is the masterwork of a truly remarkable author. -Goodreads

The Review:

From the GR overview: above “begins an epic tale” is likely the most misleading one I’ve ever read. It gives the impression that something actually happens in the first book. I technically should be discussing Foreigner in a DNF Q&A because I stopped reading with only two chapters to go. I figured since I hit the 95% mark, I feel justified giving it a normal review.

I did not like it.

Issue #1: it had three beginnings.

Cherryh began her story, jumped through in time, began another story, then jumped through time again to start what was actually the bulk of the book. This was an issue for a couple of reasons, the foremost of which was that it took so much concentration and effort to remember all the characters introduced in the two “prologues”, that by the time the main story kicked in, my give-a-shit was busted. I didn’t really focus for the first few chapters of the main story because I kept expecting it to jump ahead again. Instead, it proceeded to drag on for another 300+ pages. I think what upsets me the most is how good the first two” starts” were and how much potential it had (and wasted).

Issue #2: the main character was very unlikable.

And not in an anti-hero “I’m an ass hole and I don’t care who knows it” kind of way, but in an entitled, “spoiled little rich boy” kind of way. Most of his contributions involved excessive whining about the lack of good accommodations and how much he wanted his mail. It was insufferable, and I can’t think of anything I actually liked about him. Harsh but true.

Issue 3: the entire story took place on the periphery of the action.

I don’t want dozens and dozens of pages of speculation on what happened. I want to EXPERIENCE it myself through the character. If there’s nothing to engage your character, apparently the solution is to infuse political speculation of no consequence. The character basically just sat there either thinking about politics, how bored he was, or, God help me, his lost mail. The general rule of thumb is, if your character is bored, your reader is board. And despite my aversion to politics in real life, I actually love reading them in books – especially between humans and interesting alien species. This book should have been an amazing cluster of intrigue, but there was very little actual political maneuvering. Just a bunch of theory and historical information (yawn). The only redeeming quality was the alien beings themselves – wicked cool (cover image).


Overall, there was so little plot advancement that Foreigner could have easily been summed up in about 50 pages or less. I’m very disappointed. I think hopes of what the story could be was what kept me reading, but I lost all gusto when I realized it just wasn’t going to get there. I’ve been collecting hardcovers for this 18 book saga for years and was looking forward to immersing myself in them and now I’m not sure what to do with them. I might go back and finish Foreigner to continue on one day, but not for a long, long while.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes