You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham

(4 / 5)


YNAB is different. The book does not include spreadsheets, or financial calculators, or pages of detailed directions on what percentage of your income should be allocated to what particular kind of thing. Instead, Mecham provides information that can help people change their concept about money and what money is and how to put it to work. Mecham believes money is a tool which will help people create the kind of life they want, rather than money as the end-goal itself. The book includes the usual kind of testimonial stories, which are to be expected in any kind of self-help book, but they are testimonials with a twist which prove that thinking about your money differently, and budgeting differently, can help you change your financial life.



Mecham gives the reader four rules for money:

Rule one: Give Every Dollar A Job. Be intentional about what you want your money to do before you spend it.

Rule two: Embrace Your True Expenses. Break up larger, less frequent expenses into smaller, more manageable amounts. By saving monthly for insurance premiums, holidays, or car repairs, when the time comes, your money is ready and waiting to do its job.

Rule three: Roll With The Punches. When life changes, so must your budget. Make adjustments and move along. Flexible budgets succeed because they’re guilt-free, realistic, and sustainable.

Rule four: Age Your Money. As you repeat the first three rules, you’ll increase the time between the moment you earn a dollar and the moment you need to spend it. When your money is at least a month old, you’ll have finally broken the paycheck to paycheck cycle for good.

These rules seem simple but for those without the concept of money as a tool, they could be revolutionary. Mecham also stresses that every family situation, and every budget are different. There is no one-size fits all budget option. The information would be invaluable to those living paycheck to paycheck, as well as those without a plan of any kind.

Morningstar by Ann Hood

(5 / 5)

In Morningstar, Ann Hood recounts her youth growing up in a small town in Rhode Island. Her immigrant family were not readers, and there wasn’t an abundance of money. But at a young age, Ann fell in love with books. She was encouraged to read by a teacher, and so began her love affair with all things reading. The bigger the better.

Morningstar tells how us how books shaped her life from an early age. One of the most poignant stories includes growing up during the Vietnam War where every night Walter Cronkite would announce the death toll of US soldiers. For Ann, these numbers meant nothing. The US had been fighting the Vietnam War for her whole life. It seemed just something on the TV screen like a movie. Then Ann got a copy of Johnny Got His Gun. The reading opened her eyes to war and warfare and she could no longer look at the news about the war without realizing that these numbers were people. The dead were brother, sons, fathers. The book impacted her life.

Though these stories are not surprising given Hood’s literary guns, they are exquisitely written and moving, reminding the reader of how impactfull books can be, and how they shape our lives and teach us about love, sex, and language, and seeing beyond our own skin.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking


(3.5 / 5)

Written by the CEO of The Happiness Institute in Denmark, The Little Book of Hygge attempts to translate the concepts of Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) from Danish to American English, something that doesn’t translate overly well, but basically, means something like “cozy” or “comfort.” Hygee, according to the author, is the main reason that Danes are the happiest people on the planet, and it is something they practice in daily life, both at work and at home.


The concepts provided in the book are simple, and yet suspiciously difficult (I suspect) for Americans to achieve. We are not an overly cozy people in my experience, especially in the current political climate. But perhaps if we made some effort we would be more apt to be happier as a whole. The key to happiness, it seems, is to slow down and enjoy the moment, enjoy your friends and loved ones, and have a coffee and a piece of cake. This is oversimplified, but it’s the gist of it. Hygee creates little pockets of warmth in one’s life, though the author admittedly states that this can also make it difficult to invite new people in.


Hygge is all about atmosphere and experience, something the book presents again and again in quaint and cozy variations. Curling up with a good book is another way to experience Hygge, and this book gives a good overall presentation on the concept in demonstrable form. Pour yourself a coffee. Grab a blanket, and curl up and read this book during a thunderstorm and you will have a physical example of this elusive word.


Conan the Grammarian: Practical Guidelines on Grammar and Craft for Fiction Writers by Susan Mackay Smith

(5 / 5)

Conan the GrammarianConan the Grammarian: Practical Guidelines on Grammar and Craft for Fiction Writers humorously and concisely shows that grammar can be both entertaining and informative. Writers of fiction need to be able to tell their stories clearly and powerfully which makes a good knowledge of grammar essential. Through Smith’s alter ego Conan, it is clear that this book was written with a passionate love of language, and with the desire for authors, if they don’t share in that passion of language, not to make dumb writing mistakes which make Conan fly into a berserker rage.


Don’t be duped into thinking that Conan the Grammarian is a dullard because you happen to find grammar dull. Conan is incredibly witty and intelligent and has crafted a string of surprisingly funny sentences to prove his point. 

“She wore a dress the same color as her eyes her father brought her from San Francisco.” You’re smart and talented, and you have a suspicion that her father probably didn’t bring her a pair of eyes from San Francisco. You know when to laugh at your autocorrect when it incorrectly suggests you add a comma. In reality, you know the difference between to, too, and two, and there, their, and they’re. You’re a pro, right?

Maybe, but what about those other tricky situations? Do you think your editor will fix it? Good luck with that.


The topics included in the book make it clear that this grammar was written for novelists, but it is a good reference for anyone wanting to improve their writing skills. This is the rare kind of book that should be recommended reading for all aspiring writers and some professional ones.

Unexpected Prisoner: Memoir of a Vietnam POW by Robert Wideman and Cara Lopez Lee

(4 / 5)

On a cloudless day in May 1967, Robert Wideman heard a noise that would change his life forever.  It was a small, simple click.  That seemingly innocuous noise meant the A-4 Skyhawk that Robert had been flying over Vietnam had been hit.  Robert was forced to eject from his plane only to land on North Vietnamese soil and subsequently be taken prisoner.  The story that follows in Unexpected Prisoner is a recounting of Robert’s harrowing, gripping ordeal as a Vietnam POW.


After Robert was captured, he was forced to strip to his underwear and march blindfolded and bound, in mud and cold from one village to the next as his captors led him to the first of many prison camps in which he would be detained.  In each camp he would experience varying degrees and types of persecution and suffering. Throughout his imprisionment in North Vietnam, he was interrogated repeatedly by North Vietnamese soldiers.  They would not hesitate to torture him (although Wideman doesn’t see it that way – he says so many others suffered so much worse than he) if he did not “answer correctly”.  He bears some of the physical and mental scars of his captivity to this day.


Wideman would finally be released in March 1973, after spending time in the infamous Hanoi Hilton in addition to other lesser-known prison camps.  In Unexpected Prisoner, he writes frankly of his time in North Vietnam, the conditions he endured as well as the unforseen difficulties of living in a stressful, demanding environment with other American POWs.  His matter-of-fact narration allows the reader to easily be there with him through the fear and the boredom, the friendships and the betrayals, the hopelessness and the hope.  Robert never paints himself or his fellow POWs as saintly, just human.  And it is in reckoning with his own innate imperfection under inhumane conditions that Robert allows us to glimpse the elemental divinity within us all.