Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Best Books for a Boy? : My Weird Struggle with Recommending Books to my Teenage Brother

My younger brother and I have always liked being called the "bookends" of our sibling set: we do cap off on both ends, as the oldest and youngest of the bunch, but we're also arguably the two siblings who happen to read the most.

My brother's love of reading has only ramped up as he's gotten older, most recently soaring through J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series - as well as The Hobbit - in only a matter of months, a feat I was never quite able to accomplish (Way too much epic poetry!). We share the same love of fantasy stories and action-packed reads, and it's been fun to pass on books from my own shelves for his perusal.

However, this new side of his personal hobbies has been getting a little harder to navigate as he's entered his teen years. At 15 years old, he's officially a high schooler, and any book I lend him is sure to be finished by the end of the week. I'm running out of titles I think he would like, not because I don't have plenty of books already stacked on my own shelves... but because there seems to be a distinct difference in the ways boys are catered to by the publishing industry, versus how girls are treated.

My brother and I are such similar people, and have similar tastes... so why is it so difficult to find books in common? 

the start of the struggle: the YA section of the library

Recently, for International Women's Day, my younger sister read an article headline to the family, about how an Ohio bookstore flipped all of the spines for male writers on their fiction room shelves, in order to display the female ones more prominently.

In response, I joked that if it had been done with the whole store, "the YA section would look like business as normal." My Dad laughed, but at the same time, it's a real observation: the Young Adult section in particular seems to have more representation for female storytellers than any other.

(This is also an arguable reason as to why so many people are willing to write it off as insubstantial reading, and why Fantasy and Science Fiction awards have such a struggle reflecting popular YA in their winning categories, but this is also not the point of this post.)

Image result for scott westerfeld peeps
That means that unfortunately, the male authors in YA are both scarce, and well-tread. Like I said, my brother has already gotten through Tolkien; he also ran through the complete Percy Jackson series when he was still in middle school, but hasn't been interested in pursuing any of Rick Riordan's other work. My recommendation for Scott Westerfeld's work seems to be faring well, for now... though I do kind of regret starting him out with the Midnighters series, rather than something like Peeps or So Yesterday.

Besides, when it comes to genres outside of fantasy or paranormal, I feel completely at a loss. For instance, I have no idea if he likes contemporary, because I feel like he's had so little acquaintance with it that he wouldn't have a great idea of it already. Additionally, there's very few male-helmed or male-narrated contemporary stories...I think he'd like Simon Versus the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and maybe something from Adi Alsaid, but even then, I can't be sure if he even has a tolerance for romance at all. I certainly don't!

Which brings up another point: it also doesn't help that I'm leery to recommend books or series that I myself don't like... which takes up quite a bit of real estate in the YA section. Back in his middle school years, I couldn't help but grimace when I saw him reading James Dashner's The Maze Runner series, because I personally didn't think it was particularly interesting or suspenseful, and wouldn't you know it? He didn't quite like that series either.

factoring in female protagonists

I remember a kid in my freshman year of high school, who caught me reading Tamora Pierce's fantasy novels under my desk in Geometry class. He told me how much he enjoyed them, too... which - Tamora Pierce being a total YA Fantasy legend, notable for her distinctively progressive and almost exclusively female heroines - I thought was a little unexpected. I asked if he'd read any of her newest, but he confessed, he hadn't felt like reading any of her books in a while. "I don't read a lot of books with girls in them." 

Obviously, he's not the only one. In fact, you'd probably be hard-pressed to find a boy in high school willingly pull a YA novel out of their backpack and admit to reading it just for fun... let alone one with a female heroine.

Image result for my side of the mountainWhen it comes to my brother, our mom doesn't like it when he reads books with female protagonists, either, whether she means to express this or not. In her attempts to monitor or judge his reading material - especially when I offer it - she'll frequently remark on whether a book looks "too girly," while also expressing interest in getting him to read more masculine books, like Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain. 

The problem is, the inability or lack of interest in reading female protagonists is a significant contributory reason to why boys might stop reading altogether. 

It's no educational secret that boys' brains develop slower than girls' do, especially in relationship to verbal-linked learning - be it literature, or other languages - and when it comes to reading in particular, it might be jarring to make the jump from books commonly shelved in the Beginning Reader section to Adult fiction, without making some kind of foray in Young Adult (and that's also why Fantasy is such a common bastion for young male readers, too).

But here's the problem: while girls adapt at a young age to empathize with and relate to male characters - because most characters reflected in their media, be it television, movies, video games, and yes, even children's books, are male - boys are specifically discouraged from seeking out media starring girls. YA is a very niche market that overturns that gender imbalance, leaning pretty heavily in the opposite direction.

And the large rate of female protagonists and authors in literature - especially that which is written for YA authors - comes down to a factor of consumerism: Publishing is a profit-driven system, that caters to its greatest consumers. Unfortunately, that means that if boys aren't reading, then books won't get published that were written for boys, which, in turn, means less boys will read those books, as well. Unfortunately, this all marginalizes a significant segment of an educational audience... and does nothing to bridge that gender gap.

So not only does it make it difficult to recommend that many male YA authors or main characters to my younger brother, but it makes it more important that I recommend female authors to him, as well. Even so, I still felt like I had to double check with my other younger sister before recommending Dianne Wynn Jones' Howl's Moving Castle and House of Many Ways, because I just couldn't be sure.

education and empathy

You don't need to give me another reason to talk about the connection between greater literacy and emotional intelligence (I've been talking about it on the blog most recently in discussion with the greater political climate, here and here). Reading gives us the ability to experience viewpoints greater than our own, and people who read regularly, demonstrate greater levels of empathy for others. They have experience putting themselves in others' shoes, because they do it so often in book form. 

Like I mentioned in the earlier section, girls do this rather well, adapting easily to male narrators or main characters in books, far easier than boys do to females. This means that it's not just boys falling behind in reading, it's causing them to fall behind in emotional development, as well. In a culture where social causes for women are constantly framed as "imagine it was your wife/mother/sister..." instead of relating to women as fellow human beings, I can't help but sense that it's more important than ever that boys should stay reading, especially when it comes to reading female authors and relating to female characters. 

Image result for the hunger games bookUnfortunately, the typical reading material marketing towards boys is primarily denoted by the inclusion of action and violence - well, and low-brow humor (think Captain Underpants) - which rarely translate effectively into popular publishing trends, with rare exceptions, like Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games series, deftly maneuvering the gap between male and female readers. That's why many educational experts chalk up video games for the difference: they offer compelling storyline and enrapturing action like books do, but it integrates the user into the experience differently and more directly than, say, a book does.

However, there's already been enough investigation into what values regular video game use promotes in boys, as well. (And besides: girls are just as likely to be playing video games as boys are.) 

So not only are there few selections for teenage boys to transition into easily in YA, and few opportunities for them to easily see themselves depicted in it, but the inability of men to read and empathize with female characters also has a detrimental effect on their emotional ability, too. It's not just that reading is vital for intellectual growth, but compassion, and those needs are not reflected in a critical transition stage of reading material.

I don't want my brother to grow up with such a stifling viewpoint of popular literature, but I also want to make sure that the books I recommend him are ones he'll actually enjoy, and that people won't think it's strange for him to be reading. I want them to stretch his imagination and give him not just a form of enjoyment and escapism, but a directive of new understanding and exploration... but I also don't want him to get made fun of for it.

but there's hope!

It really is a gender issue: a widely remarked-upon 2005 NEA study by Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky described the difference in the reading habits of boys and girls as having grown so distinctive, that it might even be used as "a marker of gender identity." Summed up: if you read, you're a girl. If you don't, you're a boy.

For that reason, convincing a boy to pick up a book is already difficult enough, especially by the time they reach high school. Socialization of anti-reading behavior is tough and peer-regulated, and I hate the idea of anyone getting bullied for trying to read... especially my brother. Thankfully, there are new organizations seeking to overturn this common cultural conception.

Like Jon Scieszka's Guys Read, an online movement to get boys reading again. Jon explores parts of the reasons why guys might stop reading, that educators and publishers overlook, including how encouraging the reading of literature goes against socialized male patterns of suppressing emotional exploration, and how boys are more likely to have fewer positive male role models for education and literacy. 

Unfortunately, the tastes listed on his website run a little younger than my brother, but it's inspiring to see that this is an issue that is getting plenty of attention elsewhere, and can help initiate some conversations about casual reading within our family!

Image result for locke lamora book
Additionally, librarian and blogger Beth over at Fueled by Fiction responded to a request of mine for a list of readalikes to my brother's fantasy favorites, recommending several classic and YA works to choose from to help inspire his genre fixation. Some of the picks on the list are titles I was hoping to grab for myself soon - such as Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, as well as Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series - which makes it all the better, because I know it's something my baby bro and I can share! 

So, while I'm still treading lightly where he is concerned, he continues to plow through his own bookshelves with high confidence. Reading anything and everything seems to be his current game plan, as it helps him narrow down what he likes and doesn't like. Meanwhile, my younger sister, Delaney, and I continue to carefully push books his direction that might push his own boundaries a little - from Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, to Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows, to Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events - in the hopes that something will really strike his interest.

Clearly this is a topic that warrants a lot more discussion, but for now, I'm just really happy he's still reading.

What kinds of books would you recommend to my brother? Have you had any frustration with this gender difference in publishing? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Power Your Happy

Image result for power your happy book
In the past couple of weeks, I've been feeling a little uninspired by my stacks of reading material. Ever since making it through February having read only one (!!!) book, I've been stuck in a serious slump, that was only recently remedied by way of a trip to the local library. Thankfully, it was there where I found this: a perky career-growth-meets-life-coach account of a life lovingly lived, written by a web superstar. 

Lisa Sugar is no stranger to the pressures of having her words read by thousands of people: that's exactly how she grew her celebrity and lifestyle website, PopSugar, into an Internet phenomenon, multimedia powerhouse, and marketing mecca, with numerous sub-channels and purchasing projects backing its clout. In her book, Power Your Happy, the advice and information she shares with her readers every day is transformed, into a personal account of a career and life defined by optimism, and always looking forward for the next biggest and brightest thing. 

Power Your Happy is a cheerful mix of career biography and inspirational guide, complete with advice on such topics as work/life balance, building your own team, and discovering work that inspires you. Lisa Sugar has lived a charmed life, and she knows it, and it's the bubbly voice that has attracted so many people to her website, PopSugar, over the years that makes this book good to read. 

At first, it was a little frustrating, in the way that many overly-cheerful inspirational guides are: it refuses to bow to the idea that life is harder for some than others, and in Lisa, this was only more apparent. Despite early struggles with reading, she comes from a well-off Jewish East Coast family, was a George Washington University graduate, who immediately scored jobs in New York out of college, met her future husband when she was 17 and stayed with him ever since, has three beautiful daughters, and started her own website and company when she was living in San Francisco. The most tragic moment of her life was when one of her dogs died. 

So that rankled me a bit. It definitely got a bit frustrating when she would give advice about going on dates and building a relationship, when she's been together with her guy since she was literally fresh out of high school. Or how she touts the importance of healthy body image and exercise, when she also readily admits she was born with a genetically-gifted petite frame and addictive fondness for athletics, leading her to have never dealt with body issues until after she had given birth to her second child.

However, despite these criticisms - which definitely come with a dose of "damn, how can a person be so lucky?" while also acknowledging Lisa's strengths and serious smarts - the book's powerful sense of kindness, optimism, and gratitude were really too endearing to stay frustrated with for too long. As someone who was raised on the life-changing power of Disney Princesses, I get it: attitude is everything, smiles are addictive, and life is too short to listen to people who say otherwise. And that really was the takeaway theme from the book: be happy. 

And, of course, power that happy yourself!

My favorite part of this book, on the whole, was Sugar's adept career insight and informationHaving skillfully navigated several career areas before landing her own brand of entrepreneurial genius - which has since blossomed into a lifestyle brand empire, complete with its own ties to fashion and beauty commerce - I knew she would dispense vital advice for constructing a career... but I wasn't quite prepared for how skillfully she implemented those elements into her daily life, as well. 

From discussing how to build a team in an office environment, to how to construct your own set of personal cheerleaders, from emphasizing the importance of leaving work a little early to renew yourself, to touting the idea that it's not taking work home if it's something you really enjoy, what really stood out to me the most about Sugar's passion for a life fully lived was definitely not just her work practices, but how these translate into other parts of her day, when she's not at the office. 

Stars added to obscure the library stickers on the outside from view!

And speaking of working at home, one element I particularly loved about the book were the mini-questionnaires at the end of each chapter, which reminded me of something between a self-interview and a magazine quizlet. These guiding questions were perfectly placed for self-reflection in the midst of all of this reading about someone else's life, and gave you opportunities to connect to what she was preaching, while also making room for those kinds of practices in your own day-to-day. As you can see from the above picture, I wasted no time in jotting down my favorite responses in a page of my bullet journal! 

In total, did I enjoy reading this book? Absolutely! It takes less than a day to read, and you can probably make it in one sitting, even while writing down journal responses, as I'd recommend you'd do. 

And if there was a question of Lisa ever writing a second book, I'd have to say, I'd probably pick up that one, as well. However, as my favorite elements - by far - leaned more towards Sugar's concrete advice, rather than her own personal components, I'd want it to focus more on self-development and goal setting, rather than a biography. 

Final Verdict: While her advice sometimes sticks to the overly sunny side of the street, Lisa Sugar's lifestyle guide is powerful not for its biographical aspects, but in her sage managerial and personal advice. A great read for not just those looking to up their career game, but also anyone interested in behind-the-scenes looks at what makes Internet brands work!

(PS: Not included in this blog post: a joke about taking a shot every time Lisa mentions SoulCycle. You would seriously die of alcohol poisoning.)

Do you like to read PopSugar? What's your favorite career-oriented nonfiction? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2017 Resolution Check-In, Month Three : Bookish Retail Therapy, and Being Happy with What I've Got

So, it's March. The third month of the year. Like the truly dedicated - or truly crazy - I'm still hanging tough on my Reading Resolutions  for 2017. That means I've officially gone a little over two months out of the year, without buying any books.

To some, that might not seem so impressive... as you might remember, I've taken on this particular challenge before, as a Resolution for 2015, so it's something I know I can do. And being that it's focused around a negative act, instead of initiating a new habit, you'd probably think things might be a lot easier; for instance, it shouldn't be too difficult to stop going into bookstores, or browsing the paperback aisle at Fred Meyer, based on the sheer fact that you can easily avoid both of those environments.

However, it's 2017 now, not 2015, and

things are a little different.

As it turns out, there are elements of my lifestyle and environment that I didn't anticipate initiating such different feelings towards this particular enterprise. Even if I had, I don't know what I could have done differently to prepare for the change.

For instance, one of the reasons I gave up buying books back then, was because I was just busy. I was knee-deep in one of the most challenging academic years of my life, was tasked with both Panhellenic Executive Board and active sorority member duties year-round, and was also figuring out how to live in Seattle on my own for the first time that summer. Needless to say, I had a lot going on.

But like I said... my lifestyle has changed since then.

As an unemployed graduate who is still trying to figure things out in the adult world, I've got a lot more time on my hands. Having a less crowded schedule has forced me to confront some of my reading habits - especially in the face of things like recent crippling slumps - and attempts at generating more of my own personal writing. With all this freedom, it's gotten a lot harder to focus on things that aren't just reading and writing, and with that, I've had to confront a couple of truths about why it is that I bought so many books last year, and that I chose to take on this Resolution again in the first place.

cheaper than therapy... or is it?

Buying books is my favorite brand of retail therapy, because it's easy to do, and I know enough about how to keep it relatively cheap that it doesn't stress me out too much. In addition, it's the kind of thing my parents always encouraged me to do growing up, so I've never felt like there was a better reason to avoid buying a book, rather than buying it... until I started to give myself one.

And it's not just buying books, too, but also, borrowing them: after the success of my speed-dating round of books recently, I've already got my next couple of titles to-be-read set up, and I'm making my way through Lev Grossman's The Magicians as we speak. However, despite having not just the next five books in my schedule lined up, but still plenty of books on my shelves that I'm still incredibly interested in, I've had to convince myself three times this week, to avoid visiting the library and picking up a few more titles.

Why is that?

empty to-do lists and misplaced "productivity"

The compulsion to keep bringing more and more titles my way strikes me as a kind of misplaced sense of productivity: it's always good to bring more titles into my hands, because I'm going to read them all eventually, right? At least I'm doing something.

The problem is, planning on reading a book is not the same as actually reading that book, just like planning on losing a few pounds is not the same on actually dropping a dress size. It feels like success, because now you have more, and you're excited about having more, but what's actually happened is that you're giving yourself more reasons not to actually tackle the stack of books you're trying to take out in the first place.

The especially guilt-inducing thing about going to the library, is actually the complete lack of guilt. Because libraries are a free public good - thank God! - my going there doesn't actually cost me money, and if anything, the walk to it ensures I get a little time to breathe in some fresh air in my day. So while I can try to reduce my book-intake-therapy habits by attempting to shift that focus into a different sphere - getting new stickers from Amazon, or going thrift-shopping for new sweaters, for example - those definitely consume money, and if I took part in those hobbies as much as I'd like to, I'd be making a dent in my savings that I still feel like I really can't chance right now.

so... how do I fix this?

In my eyes, there's only one course of action for exercising these particular "productivity"-oriented demons of mine: actually reading the books I already have. Two months is definitely not enough time to decide to modify a Resolution, especially one I've made it through before, and I know that the problem lies not with the books I already own, but with me not giving them adequate attention. If I really am so desperate to be productive in these endeavors, then I can't misdirect my attention to easily-procured new reading material.

Maybe my attention should be more directed into revitalizing reading as a relaxing habit, rather than one done for Goodreads goals, or making it seem like I've done more with my day than I actually have. For instance, my mom was watching me clean my room the other day, and asked how many books I've actually made it through this year, and I turned red with embarrassment when I had to answer, "Only six." Clearly, the resolution to my problems is not to be found in making them more numerous, but instead, making progress in the traditional sense.

Adding more books to my TBR pile was never an effective long-term solution, it was just a short-term solution that made me feel like I was accomplishing more with my reading habits. I'm not going to remedy those problems by continuing them in a different form, and I'm no less a bookworm for not buying books or going to the library.

I didn't think minimalism was going to play such a starring role in my bookish habits this year, but if I really want to get serious about being happy with what I have right now - at least, for the rest of the year - I'm going to need to focus more on how to make the practice of reading more fulfilling and rejuvenating in itself, rather than the practice of purchasing books, instead.

the money matters

So, I'm a little bit of a hypocrite: in the time since I originally drafted this blog post, I definitely went to the library... and Ulta... and World Market, TJ Maxx, and Costco. And even Barnes and Noble!

However, the things I lent out or bought weren't just impulse buys to make me feel better or more productive; they were purchases I'd been considering for a while, and they have all already gotten use in the short time since I've procured them.

When I went to the library, I checked out four books, and instead of simply gathering up all the new titles that I'd been eyeing, I thought critically about why I was reaching for those books in particular. For instance, cook books and self-help books are not typically purchases I'm likely to make, because I read them too quickly, and they cost a lot of money for minimal use. I don't love having costs accrued for short-term reads, which is why I get them through the library instead, and keep the benefits of having a new cookbook full of ideas, without having to pay upwards of $25 for them.

The purchases from Barnes and Noble were a couple of my favorite magazines, selected after helping my younger brother weigh his own fantasy YA selections. The Ulta, TJ Maxx, Costco, and World Market shopping bags yielded a face mask and a new lip color, a new notebook and stationery set, on top of a pile of snack food. It reflects the developing format of my self-care retail therapy... and it seems to me to be a lot more cost-effective than an ever-growing pile of books! 

So, while I'm still spending money on things that make me feel better, their shape is changing. If I dedicate more of this particular branch of my financials into more meaningful, self-care-oriented spending - and if I let myself get to the library every once in a while, to choose a few short-read books that I wouldn't be spending money on anyways - then the mindfulness with which I approach my spending and reading habits has already shown the benefits of giving up buying books for the year!

How are your reading resolutions going so far this year? Got any advice for a bookworm trying to be content with the titles they've got (at least for the time being)? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

News and Things: February Favorites

Every time I try to think about how quickly February went by, I have to remind myself it's only 28 days long. Then again, I feel like a lot happened, too!

On the career front, I was asked to join a research team by a past professor of mine, and am talking with an organization I worked with in high school on whether I want a temporary position there. On the personal front, I celebrated my sister's birthday, and added some cool new items to my wardrobe after a very successful day of thrifting. I went to World Market for the first time - game changer! - and loved the drama from every single awards show this season. I finally went to the doctor and figured out that I have had a sinus infection since about December that just has never gotten cleared up, and now I'm stuck on a regimen of choking down the biggest antibiotics I've ever seen twice a day.

So, you know, this month has been a fairly decent one to me.

And, of course - just like last month - there's been a lot of News. There's been a lot of Things. Which means, of course, that it's time to recap them all in my still-relatively-new monthly segment, "News and Things"!

1. Kind of from the end of last month, but still jaw-dropping enough that it's worth a read today: the secret, weird lives of ultra-rich doomsday-preppers. AKA, how the 1% is preparing to watch the world burn!

2. In your favorite "Why is this a thing?" and "Why does it make so happy this is a thing?" news, Internet sensation erotica author Chuck Tingle rides again... this time, for the ACLU! (Will you be adding it to your TBR?)

3. It's not just fake news that provides the divide between how Red and Blue voters use Facebook, which is why the Wall Street Journal generated this side-by-side comparison of two feeds, in order to show just how large that divide has grown, and what kind of topics show the most difference.

4. In the book-bloggosphere, it's easy to get caught up in things like read-a-thons, Goodreads Challenges, and all-too-large TBR piles... to the point where sometimes, you just kind of forget that there's other ways to read, too. One of my all-time favorite fashion and lifestyle bloggers - Emily from Cupcakes and Cashmere - posted about her own relaxed reading philosophies.

5. As someone who chronically spends significant amounts of time by herself, at home, from about 8am to 5pm, this satirical bit from The New Yorker totally slayed me.

6. Back on the topic of news literacy, here's how Seattle librarians are leading the charge to raise a generation of information-minded kids, in pursuit of knowledge beyond Facebook-shared headlines.

7. In "feminist stuff you never knew you needed to read until now" news, The Hairpin describes what happened when Molly Caro May and her husband decide to give their daughter her last name, instead of his. (Here's a hint: it's not the husband who gets upset.)

8. Do the proposed arts and culture cuts to the national budget leave you steaming? Or do you feel vindicated in your own beliefs about what deserves federal funding? Either way, watch this video, about how easy it is to contribue to federally-funded platforms that provide vital arts and community support, as well as how little impact their funding actually has on federal resources.

1. I'm not a huge wall decorator, but I've recently become enamored with the letterpress postcard quotes from the talented designers of the Dead Feminists book. I have three separate, small pieces of this distinctive artwork posted up various places around my room, representing not just three inspirational women, but beautiful artwork to match their sentiment.

2. After my dedicated collegiate laptop, my Ol' Trusty Toshiba, started to look a lot worse for wear - like, only-one-bit-still-hanging-on-to-the-screen worse for wear - this past Fall, I decided I needed a new one. And yet, it still took me until February to take the plunge. Now, I couldn't be happier with my new HP Envy!

3. You know it's a thing, when even you and the Target checkout lady can't stop gabbing excitedly about the presence of these fantastic snacks in your cart! Made from only a handful of all-natural ingredients, Larabar Bites - especially in the flavors Coconut Macaroon and Cherry Chocolate - have been omnipresent in my snacking habits all month.

4. I came for the packaging, and stayed for the insanely smooth, soft results: Lano lanolin lip balm is not just a fad, you guys! Far denser and creamier than any treatment you've ever tried, this lip balm requires very little use for a whole lot of impact.

5. Everything is still awesome in the happy land of yellow figurines, with The Lego Batman Movie! I was skeptical about how the team behind the franchise would be able to follow up the unexpected genius of the first film, but this stellar sequel caught me completely by surprise, once again! Not only does this diminutive version of the caped crusader add street cred to the pantheon of Batman films, but also models emotional vulnerability and healthy communication in a way kids can understand.

6. You guys, I have a problem: I just can't stop buying new stickers from Redbubble! Each of my siblings got a sticker to match their interests this Valentine's Day, and I was shocked at how wide a selection there was to choose from for each. You really can find something for everyone there... which is why I keep finding so many things I like, too!

7. It's a head-to-head smack down of the best-of-the-best, with SyFy's Face Off special effects makeup reality competition returning for another season; this time, a battle royale between some of the best finalists across the seasons! My favorites to win are Cig and George, but then again, they were some of my favorites their own season, too.

8. It's been pretty gloomy outside, here in Washington State - hold your '90s era Rainy City jokes, please - but the weather's much better indoors: I've been obsessed with Lush's "It's Raining Men" shower gel since the second I smelled it's hint-of-honey scent. It's almost enough to make you forget the fog!

What are some of the News and Things you've been enjoying this month? Are you partial to any of the ones included here? Let me know, in the comments below!