Saturday, December 26, 2015

Lessons from horseshoe crabs

Come September, where will I fit in? Thanks to Chad, I know now that I'm stronger than I thought. I'll get through it. Adapt or die. That
is science and one of the first lessons I learned in biology. And it's so true. Ask any horseshoe crab. They've only been around for three hundred million years.
-- Jennier Salvato Doktorki, The Summer After You + Me 
I just have to love a main character who compares human relationships with marine animals.

Goodreads and Design FAIL

A little over a week ago, Goodreads rolled out some new design elements on their website - some “much-needed visual design cleanup” according to GR staffer Emily (see: this forum thread). How needed this change was is a point of contention with Goodreads users, who immediately began complaining of eyestrain, headaches, and nausea.

Since then, I’m sure there has been behind-the-scenes scrambling to make the site more user-friendly, but it’s been too-little, too-late. And I, for one, am completely fed up with the whole thing. GR seems completely unwilling to change back to the old site design -- or even the old fonts. Instead, they have been tweaking the current fonts while ignoring the background’s blinding whiteness.

Now, I will admit, the site looks better...on Chrome. Because, one thing that has become obvious is that the developers never looked at the site they were coding in that browser. Of course, the site now looks ugly as all get-out on IE/Edge. Because that’s what happens when you use a new font that hasn’t been fully tested for all platforms, browsers, and languages! (Yes, the font GR choose -- Merriweather -- was not 100% compatible with non-Western languages. Hooray.

Here is what the site looks like in Chrome today. The font is faint and thin, making it hard to read for long periods of time. I start feeling a headache after about 15 minutes. Bear in mind, this is a vast improvement from a week ago, when the font was even lighter and thinner. (Click to enlarge.)

Here’s the site in Firefox. Better. Of the three browsers, the best of the bunch. Still eye-glaringly bright, though, with the background and the lack of gradients/contrast. (Again, click to enlarge.)

Now, here's Goodreads in Microsoft Edge -- basically, the Windows 10 version of Internet Explorer. The font is horrible. It's bolded to the point of looking "double-printed", and that boldness is making the stark white of the background even worse, if that can be possible.

Now, some questions for Goodreads:

  1. Who the hell decided this was a change that needed to be made? And then decided the best way for Goodreads to look was bland, flat, stark, and visually unappealing?
  2. Who okayed the new design without checking how it looked on different browsers, platforms, and set-ups? That's just basic common sense when it comes to web development.
  3. Why did it take so long for GR customer service to even acknowledge there were a large number of users vocally complaining (myself included) of physical discomfort and pain when looking at the site, let alone working to do something about it?
  4. Why the hell is GR wedded to this new godawful Merriweather font? Bring back Georgia!

In the meantime, I've spent more time time these past few days than I cared to cleaning up my shelves so I could get a nice export to import into Leafmarks. It's smaller than Goodreads. The interface will take a little bit of getting used to. There aren't enough active librarians so the database is a mess (though getting librarian status appears relatively easy; I got it when I sent off an email asking for it). BUT. It doesn't hurt my eyes. I can stay there for hours without having to install a browser plug-in to overwrite the site's CSS regarding font and background color. Come find me there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: The Spawn

The SpawnThe Spawn by Ken Nolan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It really says something about my reading taste that I had to add a new bookshelf to my GR shelves in order to shelve this horror book. When I opened my first Lit-Cube box and saw this book, I immediately wanted to toss it directly into the donation box. Because NOPE. Not a fan of horror. Not even close. And there were weird demon monster hands on the cover.

But I reminded myself that I joined these boxes to expand my reading, so I kept it. It sat on my shelf for a few weeks until I finally forced myself to start reading. wasn't scary. At all. I'm not sure if I should be disappointed or not.

It was an engaging book and the author kept the story moving along at a pretty fast clip. I read this in a day. I started it in the afternoon, went out with some friends for a few hours, and then finished it before bed.

That said: Boy did Nolan need an editor. There were paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences. Lines of dialogue without a paragraph break. And then at the end, at the pivotal scene, a magically reappearing gun which had gone missing just the page before.

(view spoiler)

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Subscription Boxes

For the month of October, I decided to try an experiment. I subscribed to two different book subscription boxes. A friend of mine had been getting Lootcrates and I was interested to see what else was out there in the world of subscription boxes where cool stuff magically showed up at my doorstep. I looked around at several boxes, discounted a few out of hand because of the cost, though they looked super shiny and cool, and settled on my two: Lit-Cube and Uppercase Box.

They both came this past week and I was super excited to see what I got. Let's start with Uppercase, since it arrived first.

Uppercase Box
Monthly Book Subscription Box For Young Adult Book Lovers
Cost: $23/month

I first noticed that the box was less of a box and more of a bag. Actually, it wasn't more of a bag. It was a bag.

Which was actually fine because I can always use another cloth bag. At the very least, some yarn can fit in there.

What was inside?

  • First & Then by Emma Mills, with signed book plate.
    This is not a book I would have picked myself. I don't read contemporary YA very often, and when I do, it's usually because it's generating a ton of buzz or there's a geeky theme. This was neither. The cool thing about this box is that there are post-it notes throughout the book with a URL and a code to type in, taking the reader to extra content, a video, poll, or some other interactive online component. Which is pretty damn cool. I haven't gotten too far into the book but the first post-it code leads to a short video from the author.
  • A tiny tin Alice's Enchantmints (Get it? Ha! So punny.) peppermint mints from The Unemployed Philosophers Guild
    Super cute tin. After these mints are gone, this will be the good tin to store spare stitch markers in a project bag, if a bit smaller than I'd prefer.
  • A Mad Hatter change purse
    I like this a lot, but I'm a bit of a loss as to what to do with it. It's a bit too small to use as a project bag. And a bit too large to actually stick in my purse. Also, it's yellow, which is not a color I generally gravitate toward.
  • a sheet of temporary tattoos inspired by The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
    Okay, these are cute, but not something I would ever use, even when I was younger. I will probably end up giving this to my goddaughters, who at 2 and 5, may appreciate them more.
So a pretty eclectic bag, which is kind of cool, but also a bit odd at the same time. A contemporary novel and then two items inspired by a classic fantasy book and some swag to promote a SF series. I'm honestly a little disappointed because while it looked like the book may have been carefully selected (there's a hand-written note from Lisa, the owner of Uppercase, on why she loved it), the rest of it seems random. I had assumed that the box items would be curated around the month's book but it looks like I may be wrong.

I'm not dismissing this box out of hand. Part of this experiment is to try reading more outside my comfort zone, so a contemporary YA novel definitely fits. I'm looking forward to seeing what next month brings.

Onto box number two!

Surprise boxes filled with awesome book geekery
Cost: $34.95/month, with shipping

First, look at this adorable box! Look at it!

What was inside:
Unlike Uppercase, Lit-Cube curates each box around a chosen theme. The theme or October was "Supernatural, Idjits." There's even a little trading card in the box with the theme's logo (a faceless drawing of Bobby Singer's face). Obviously, this box is based around the TV show, Supernatural, which features two incredibly easy-on-the-eyes brothers driving around America fighting demons and ghosts and other supernatural beasties. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

In the box was:

  • The Spawn by Ken Nolan
    YIKES. Okay, 100% not a book I would have ever in a million years picked up to read. One: horror? Not my thing. AT ALL. And there are creepy demon hands on the cover. I immediately wanted to nope that book away, but I reminded myself that part of this madcap experiment (which I'm spending actual money on, by the way, so I really should read the damn book!) was to expose myself to books I wouldn't have necessarily picked-up myself, so I'll read it, I guess. In the daytime. With all the blinds open. And possibly in public. With lots of people around.
  • An ebook reader sleeve that reads "books MY DRUG OF CHOICE"
    I'm good on ebook reader cases, having bought one for every one I own already. It's neat but I'm honestly not sure what to do with it. I may end up giving it away.
    (As an aside, at last count, I owned four ebook readers. I have two Sony Readers, model PRC-650, one for my primary reader and one as back-up in case that first one breaks. You will never convince me that any other reader is better, and I am still bitter that Amazon undercut Sony in the market, causing them to decide it wasn't economically viable to keep manufacturing the Readers. I also have a Kindle Fire, a birthday/holiday present from my BFF and her husband from a few years back. It had honestly been collecting dust until this past year when I got an Oyster subscription and sideloaded the Oyster app onto it. I also, after much soul-searching, bought one regular Kindle with no bells or whistles. It was $9 because Amazon had some magic algorithm to determine who bought a ton of books but didn't have a kindle and offered all these people coupons. I wasn't one of them, but my office mate was and let me use it because I was desperately afraid my Sony was going to kick the bucket at any moment. I loathe the UI and only used it for the free loan I get from Amazon Prime every month, but it's getting shelved now that I'm using the Fire more.)
  • A keychain with a dangle that reads, "ALWAYS KEEP FIGHTING," two boxing glove dangles, and two mini corked bottles: one with salt and the other that did have water in it but the cork soaked it all up (rock salt and holy water, for fighting angry spirits, natch).
    This is, according to the card that came in the box, a tribute to a cause actor Jared Padalecki is supporting to bring awareness to mental health issues. I appreciate the sentiment. Really not sure what I'm going to do with the keychain.
  • Three mini-bottles of nail polish from Spellbound Nails
    I like nail polish, so I'm actually pretty excited about these.
  • Cards for free ebook downloads of Caelum by Mandie Stevens, and It's a Ghoul Thing, a paranormal anthology.
  • Promotional buttons for The Edge of Eden by Mandie Stevens and Namaste by Melissa Lumis
    I had just gone through a huge crafting project to turn the collection of useless pin buttons I've collected over the years into useful magnets. Most of them had sentimental value; some of them didn't and I will probably end up throwing them away. I have a feeling these two will also end up in the rubbish bin. I love the idea of buttons as free promotional swag but in practice, pin buttons are one of some of the most useless things on the face of the planet.
  • Speaking of buttons... a larger button that reads," SAVING PEOPLE. KILLING THINGS. THE FAMILY BUSINESS."
  • A promotional postcard for The Dream Slayer series by Jill Cooper
    These books actually sound pretty cool. The first one was a freebie so I downloaded it. I was hoping there was a special deal for lit-cube subscribers but I'm totally willing to buy them all if the first one is good.
I'm well aware my feelings about this particular box are mainly stemming from the fact I keep looking over at the book expecting it to eat my face and suck my soul to hell. (Actually, that may be part of the plot. I'm not fully sure. I'm kind of scared to investigate.) But other than the nail polish, it's not really stuff I will use. However, I do love the concept of this box and it's obvious each item was selected with care and with the theme in mind.

Next month's theme is "Immortal Kiss," which is admittedly making my heart sink a little since I don't read paranormal romance much (at all). But it may surprise me. And I keep reminding myself about expanding boundaries yadda yadda. It's good for me.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Problem with Cinderella

I recently got around to watching the new Disney live action Cinderella movie, starring Lily James as the title character. It was visually a fantastic movie, with lovely special effects, costumes, and sets. Plot-wise, it followed the Cinderella story that we all know by heart, thanks to the original 1950 Disney movie, with some additional elements thrown in to increase the role of the prince and to provide some political backstory. I enjoyed the movie well enough, but I was disappointed that in 2015, Disney is still perpetuating the passive Cinderella character, essentially a pushover who waits for others to decide the course of her life. The 2015 Cinderella is, in fact, worse than the 1950 one in that way, by constantly telling herself to be nice and good in the face of her stepmother's cruelty and abuse. After she's locked in the attic, she resigns herself to continuing to live under the status quo and does not fight for herself. And even, after finding the prince again and leaving her old life, telling Lady Tremaine she forgives her.

Now, I have no issue with being good-natured and kind-hearted. But that has to be balanced with independence, courage, and -- yes -- the ability to know when to stand up for oneself.

In the Grimm brothers' retelling of the tale, Cinderella is still a passive character, but (as was true with almost all their tales), the wicked are punished. The stepsisters are blinded by birds at the end of the tale. (Oddly enough, Cinderella's father was not dead in the original tale, but did not protect his daughter either. I think it's fitting that history has forgotten about him and let him mercifully pass away.)

I love fairy tales. I always have. I remember a big red hardback book with gorgeous illustrations that I'd read over and over as a child. My favorite stories were Donkeyskin and Cinderella. (As an aside, there seriously needs to be more retellings of Donkeyskin. That story is amazing. If anybody knows of another retelling other than Robin McKinley's Deerskin, please let me know!) And since then, I've read many Cinderella retellings and watched many movies based on the tale. I like most of them but my favorites are the ones which breathe life into Cinderella the character, giving her agency and intelligence and, importantly, a spine. And, I admit, I love the ones where the stepmother and stepsisters get their just desserts.

Below are some of my favorites:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The last book in this series is coming out next month and I am super excited because I have loved every single one so far. Cinder is the book that started it all. Cinder is a cyborg, and her glass slipper is her cybernetic foot. There's a handsome prince, a cruel stepmother and stepsister, a sympathetic stepsister, one kick-ass robotic sidekick, and an evil queen. Highly recommended.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I remember when this book first came out and I loved it to pieces (not literally, though--I treat my books very well). Ella is cursed at birth by a fairy with obedience, which just doesn't sit well with her naturally independent and free-willed spirit. Her stepmother and stepsisters are appropriately horrible, the prince suitably charming, but it's Ella who steals the show. She's smart and determined to do the right thing, even if it means losing her own happily ever after.

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
This one is a bit different. It starts after where Cinderella-the-fairy-tale ends. Ella finds palace life too restrictive and boring, and decides being a princess might not be for her.

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
I describe this book, and it's subsequent sequels, as the Brothers Grimm meet Charlie's Angels. Danielle (aka, Cinderella), finds out her new mother-in-law is the leader of a group of operatives, who just happen to be Snow White and Sleeping Beauty (but not as we know them), on missions of importance to the kingdom. Lots of action, some pretty dark moments, and some hints that Snow and Talia's fairy tale pasts were not so happily ever after.

Ever After
This is hands-down my favorite Cinderella movie. I remember watching this in theaters as a teenager, soaking up every wonderful moment like a sponge. It wasn't until I was older that I realized just how amazing the story was because this Cinderella movie broke from the passive heroine trope and made Danielle (Drew Barrymore) a fiercely independent and intelligent woman who went behind her stepmother's back to try and save her family's legacy and those she considered hers. And she didn't need a prince to ride in to save the day. No, she saved herself, grabbing a sword and demanding her own freedom. And, very importantly, the evil stepmother and the wicked stepsister got suitably humiliated and punished. If you haven't seen it, go watch it.

A Cinderella Story
Yes, I'm talking about the Hilary Duff movie. Yes, it's a teen movie. No, I'm not ashamed how much I love it. Sam (Duff) has spirit, hopes, and aspirations. She's intelligent, and it's shown that the only reason for her passivity is how downtrodden she is by being bullied at school and by her step-family. Once she is given something to fight for, however, she stops being a passive character in her own life and begins to assert her control.

I love that all the above stories show that being a good person, a good-natured person, even a nice person, is not mutually exclusive with being independent and strong. I really wish Disney had not regressed in message in its newest film and presented us with a new Cinderella: one who can proudly march forward into the future on her own two feet instead of sitting in a cold and empty attic, merely a plot-point for other people's stories, and a grossly ill-conceived parable for young girls.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Presented Without Comment

Ugh. The week go away from me. I'll post an update soon, but in the meantime...

Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Accountability

Oh hey. Friday again. How'd that happen. I swear I meant to post something this week, and actually have some drafts in-progress.


  • Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures by Virginia Morrell
    I've had this one my to-read list for awhile and snatched it up when it came up on sale. I find animal psychology fascinating and always want to learn more.
  • This is the Night by Jonah C. Sirott
    This was my Amazon Prime First Reads choice for October. The selection was a bit ho-hum. I'm now sure I'll get around to this.
  • The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
    I've never read this but it seems to be super popular amongst the YA-set. I picked it up on sale. Let's see what the fuss is about.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
    This has been getting some nice buzz and the second book is coming out soon, apparently. I decided it was time to read it.
  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
    Insta-buy as soon as I saw this was on sale. I love Howard Zinn and have a penchant to love anything that pays homage to his great A People's History of the United States, but I was further moved to purchase the because of the topic.
  • The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
    I own the first one but haven't read it yet. So of course it makes total sense to purchase the next in the series...
  • Ash by Malinda Lo
    I've been hearing about Malinda Lo for awhile and have been meaning to read her. I've determined to read more by authors of color, particularly of Asian descent (do you know how hard it is to find genre fiction written by Asian authors? Try it sometime), so this was an easy purchase.


  • Yes Please by Amy Poelher
    I got this for free from the Goodread's Ford Audio Club. I've already started listening to this and am enjoying it immensely.


  • Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
    I had this on hold at the library and it finally came in. (See note for Ash by Malinda Lo above.)

I'm still acquiring books faster than I'm reading. Eek. I must work on that.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: Tiger Heart

Tiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures to Make a Difference in Darjeeling, and What I Learned about Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family Half a World AwayTiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures to Make a Difference in Darjeeling, and What I Learned about Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family Half a World Away by Katrell Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced review copy from the publisher via Netgalley.
"Today, our teacher told us about the number zero, which has no worth," she said.
"But put it next to another number, and it makes that number important. The more zeros you add, the bigger the number gets. So know that if you are feeling like a zero, you do have great worth with teamwork."

That quote basically sums up the entire message of the book for me. Katrell Christie's mission of bettering the lives of these girls in Darjeeling, India would be impossible without help.

I've heard of The Learning Tea before. I'm a bit of a tea obsessive, with cupboard overflowing with the dried leaf. I remember finding the website at some point, looking at the tea and considering buying some. I ended up not, only because I am not a fan of darjeeling tea, finding it lacking the depth and subtlety of flavor that I find in teas from China, Japan, and Taiwan. But The Learning Tea stayed somewhere in the back of my mind and when I saw this book on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

Tiger Heart is part memoir, part call to action, part marketing material, and part feel-good "find the good in the world" missive. It's deceptively simple, with clear writing and short chapters interspersed with motivational quotes from well-known thinkers or writers. On the surface, the book is simply Christie's journey that led her to create The Learning Tea, and where The Learning Tea is today. But it's more. It's also the story of one person making a difference -- but not on her own.

I think that's the most powerful message in this book. Unlike another international development NGO founder who was outed to be a fraud after writing several best-selling books, Christie never portrays herself as the hero, single-handedly moving mountains. She's honest in what she doesn't know, what she had to learn. She's humble in her quest, focusing on helping the individuals she can. And she's upfront with her failures.

She could have very easily sensationalized her story, and it was a bit of a shock when I came across this:
I’ve made it through two armed robberies, one attempted carjacking at gunpoint, one knife holdup, and one hijacked train. I was smuggled through a political war zone in the hatchback of a car covered in burlap. I’ve tossed on a burka to be able to ride the train by myself. Throw in a handful of death threats. And then there’s bullying from people who don’t want my low-caste scholars to take seats away from their rich kids at school.

Because Christie, while making it clear throughout the book that it was incredibly difficult and draining to do what she does, never up until that point toward the end of the book, mentioned it was also dangerous.

But the story wasn't about her and her being the hero. It's about the girls who are being helped, and India.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Accountability

Either this Friday accountability thing is working, or there just weren't as many books on sale I wanted to buy this past week... Probably the latter.


  • The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary
    Basically Nellie Bly teams up with Oscar Wilde and Louis Pasteur to solve crime. Sold.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    It's hard to believe I'd never read this book. I'd bought in paperback from a used book store years ago, and never touched it. Bought it on audiobook but never listened to it. Might as well finish the trifecta and buy it in ebook form, especially since it was on sale. Hopefully this time I'll read it.
  • The Phantom of the Earth by Raeden Zen
    This was a freebie that I got from Netgalley. This looks potentially interesting, though I'm not in a mad rush to read this.


  • I am Princess X by Cherie Priest
    This has been on my to-read list since before it came out, and I knew I needed it. I was prepared to buy it in electronic form but had heard that because of the illustrations and the fact the story was partly told through graphic novel format, the files didn't display well. I finally picked it up during my last B&N order. I've already started and finished this; review to come.
  • Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells
    I fully admit I bought this because I needed to hit the free shipping minimum and it was on sale. Still, it looks interesting enough I'll probably read it eventually.
  • A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda
    This was an impulse purchase when I went to Barnes & Noble. The store didn't have the books I came in for in stock, so I wandered the SFF section. This caught my eye, and seemed more old-school epic fantasy than what I normally see on the shelves these days. Also, Julie Czerneda is awesome.
  • Snow White Red-Handed and Cinderella Six Feet Under by Maia Chance
    This purchase is proof that those end-cap displays really do work. During my wandering of B&N, I saw Cinderella Six Feet Under and was intrigued. Fairy tale murder mystery? Sign me up! But it was book 2. So of course, I had to hunt down book 1 and buy both.


  • The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley
    I LOVE The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and listened to the audiobook of the first spin-off novel, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, which was read by the actress who played Lizzie, Ashley Clements. I heard there was going to be a second book about Lydia. I crossed my fingers, hoping for an audiobook read by Mary Kate Wiles (it is!). I hoarded a last audible credit long after my membership had expired just to pick it up. And now I have it. And it will be amazing.


  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
    My hold on this at the library came in. This looked interesting enough to read, but not necessarily to purchase. I had honestly forgotten I'd put a library hold on this until I got the email.

The Martian: Book vs. Movie

I had read The Martian by Andy Weir earlier this year and it was hands-down one of the best reads I'd read in a long, long time. There are so many things I loved about the book.

  1. I adored Mark Watney, who we really only see in his mission logs and in some communications he has with NASA and his crew. He is snarky as hell and I loved it.
  2. Science. Science saves the day and it's freaking amazing and awesome.
  3. The supporting cast. They are smart, driven people who I'm sure all hold higher-level degrees, mostly in the hard sciences.
  4. Did I mention science? 'CAUSE SCIENCE!

After already falling in love with the book because of the plotting and the characters, I realized something that made me fall in love even more. The cast of characters, this group of highly intelligent, highly capable people, are never defined by Weir by their looks, race, or ethnicity. And that? Is really awesome. No one's physical appearance is ever described, so it's left up to the reader to determine how these people looked like. There are obvious context clues from names (Mindy Park as Korean, and Venkat Kapoor as Indian, Bruce Ng as Vietnamese, and Martinez as Hispanic), but for the most park, these characters are blank slates regarding their ethnic backgrounds. They are defined by their names, their jobs, and their competencies.

The other really amazing thing was that the characters' genders are also fairly glossed over. We find out Commander Lewis is a woman because Watney mentions he is part of "her" crew. The fact that the commander of the Ares mission is a woman is no big deal. Weir doesn't focus on the gender of any of the characters, male or female, other than using the correct pronouns and their names. And I loved this. Because the fact that there were women on the mission (one leading the mission), working at NASA, etc. isn't a big deal in the future world of The Martian. It just is.

Which brings me to my thoughts on The Martian, the movie.

I was super excited when I learned there was going to be a movie. I obsessively read the articles, watched the promo spots, and made plans to see the movie with everybody I knew who had read and loved the book. But the one thing I was hesitant about was the casting choices. Which appeared rather ... white.

Disappointingly white. Overwhelmingly white.

Yes, Michael Peña and Chiwetel Ejiofor were cast as Martinez and Kapoor, respectively. I was delighted to see Donald Glover as Rich Purnell. But there was a white woman cast as Mindy Park, taking away some diversity I thought had been assured because of the character's name. Every other major character, with the exception of Bruce Ng and the Chinese scientists, were white.

So the movie missed the opportunity to add additional much-needed diversity not just to Hollywood, but to STEM.

That said, I loved the movie. Adored it. Will be seeing it again this weekend, and nagging everybody I know to do the same. Because at the end of the day, it is a story about science, ingenuity, perseverance, and intellect winning the day. If you loved the book, you will love the movie. It was not 100% faithful, but it was pretty damn close. There were a few things that were cut out, the movie neglected to mention that Watney was an engineer in addition to being a botanist (Why? It would have been so easy to just slip in), and one scene was rewritten to add additional drama. But overall, it was the book translated to the screen in a way that preserved both the story and the spirit, while being entertaining.

And I was heartened to see that while the main cast was not as diverse as I wanted, there was diversity in the background characters/extras.

The Martian is a nerd's movie. I loved it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Accountability

Dear readers, I have a problem. It manifests in overflowing bookcases, in me hauling boxes of books to the library book sale to donate on a biannual basis, in me worrying about a harddrive failure.

Readers, I buy books. I buy books in bulk. I used to haunt used bookstores until I deliberately began avoiding them (my groaning bookshelves thanked me). I am pathologically unable to leave a bookstore without purchasing one book--usually more. Frequent ebook sales have become my weakness, with their annoyingly easy one-click purchasing.

So what has entered into the Möbius Dreams book den this week?

In ebook form:

  • Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
    A YA historical fiction about Queen Victoria before she was queen, as told by her lady's maid, Liza. For 99 cents, it was an easy decision. I adore historical fiction, though I don't read nearly enough of it, and I realized I don't know much about Victoria's life pre-coronation.
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
    Rae Carson has been on my radar for a bit. She's an author who consistently gets rave reviews, and her books just look amazing. Her Walk on Earth a Stranger has been on my TBR list for awhile. When this went on sale, I snapped it up. I look forward to this a lot.
  • The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey
    Wool Omnibus and its sequels ate my brain, and I will read anything this man writes. I already own and am slowly working through his backlist. I read Sand as soon as it was released. For some reason, I missed this one so was happy to buy it when it was a Kindle Daily Deal.
  • Falling in Deep: 14 Tales from the Sea from Clockpunk Press
    I was exploring book subscription boxes, and one of the past boxes I was considering included hard copies of two of the novellas included in this collection. I love mermaids, and was immediately intrigued. A bit of investigation later, I had pre-ordered the anthology that collected all fourteen stories. I'm still a bit unclear if all the tales are novella-length, or some are shorter. But still a huge amount of content for not a lot of money.
  • Night Sky by Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann
    Brockmann's Troubleshooters series of Navy SEALS and anti-terrorism operatives (and the FBI agent ever, Jules Cassidy!) is one of my favorite series. I had stopped following what she has been up to since she announced she was taking a break from them, so I hadn't realized she had written a YA thriller with her daughter. Wicked cool.
  • A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
    I had reviewed The Bollywood Bride by the author and liked it enough to hunt out the author's first book, which takes place in the same world.
  • The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister
    You had me at "Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus." The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of my favorite books, and I hope the comparison is a good one.
  • Faking It by Leah Marie Brown
    I'm currently reading the sequel, Finding It, which I received from the publisher via NetGalley, and am liking it so much I bought this one.
  • Letters to Zell by Camille Griep
    This is my monthly borrowed book from the Kindle Lending Library. The story combines two of my weaknesses: an epistolary novel and fairy tales. Swoon!
  • Indexing: Reflections by Seanan McGuire
    This is a Kindle Serial novel, meaning I have to sit impatiently for two weeks after each new installment for the next one. If you haven't read the first one, you really really should. It's like CSI and the Brother Grimm had a one-night-stand, and the resulting love child was raised by Joss Whedon.
Three new ARCs also came in. Plus my backlog of my existing book collection.

Oh, and I did break down and subscribe to two of monthly book boxes.

I know I have a problem. I know.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

View from a Hammock

I recently returned from a much-needed vacation at Hilton Head Island, SC. Having been born and raised in the mid-Atlantic, and lived here for most of my life, it is always odd to visit a different ecosystem. The plants look so different! The wildlife is strange! It's nice going to a place like Hilton Head after Labor Day. It's technically the "off" season for tourism so it's not crowded. The weather is wonderful: not oppressively hot and humid, but not chilly. And there is still plenty to see and do.


I stood on an oyster bar.

Went kayaking.

Took a boat tour and saw dolphins. (Including baby dolphins! SQUEE!)

Held live sand dollars. Which was SO COOL. I'd never really thought of them as living creatures before, which is stupid in hindsight, because they obviously are.

Saw some new butterfly species. (My biologist friend IDed this as a long-tailed skipper.)

And, of course, spent as much time as I could laying in a hammock reading. I didn't get as much reading done as I expected. I discovered hammocks were extremely comfortable and very conducive to napping.

I'm glad to be home, though sad at the same time. It was paradise down there. But I have my kitties again, and a stack of books to read, and I'm in the middle of knitting a skirt that I'm very excited about.

Until next time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

The Bollywood BrideThe Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced review copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Ria Parkar is a Bollywood star. She returns home to Chicago for her cousin's wedding, and comes face-to-face with her first love, Vikram, whose heart she broke in the most horrible way.

I waffled between three or four stars for this book. I did really enjoy reading this and liked the characters. Ria was so broken that I wanted to reach into the book and give her a big hug. But at the same time, the angst reached almost unbearable levels a number of times, and much of the problems could have resolved themselves easily if Ria actually opened up to somebody instead of defaulting to avoiding her feelings or running away.

I liked this book enough to go buy Dev's first book, which one the main characters I noticed had a brief cameo in this one. So readers who enjoyed A Bollywood Affair would get a nice smile from that.

I appreciated that Dev avoided many of the pitfalls of the romance genre, with characters and plots that seemed cliched and fake. Her characters were human, with flaws and real emotions that despite all the drama in their backstories, never veered into soap opera levels of unbelievable. The obstacles between Ria and Vikram's happily ever after are personal and self-inflicted. There are no outside forces keeping them apart. It would have been very easy for Vikram's meddling mother to have been given a larger part in the story, and I appreciated that she wasn't. Instead, the main characters had to work through their own issues and come to terms with them.

This was a very warm book, despite the darkness in Ria's past. Dev showcases love in many forms, not just romantic love. Familial love, friend-love, and love within a community are all present. And throughout the entire book, there is love of culture. Dev, through Ria, shows the love and respet she has for Indian and Hindu culture, and it was enlightening as an outsider to see it through Ria's eyes.

So I obviously appreciated the book a lot, and enjoyed reading it. Why then did I choose 3 stars instead of 4? Because at the end of the day, as invested as I was in the character and the story, I still felt there was a veneer of shallowness to everything. Not that the book was superficial - it wasn't. "Ice Princess" Ria as the POV character seemed as stand-offish to the reader as she was to the other characters in the book. Her voice made me feel as if there was an invisible wall between me and the story, which made me unable to fully immerse myself as I would have liked.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: The Only Woman in the Room by Eileen Pollack

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' ClubThe Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club by Eileen Pollack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced review copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

The description for this book is a bit misleading. The first half is Pollack's memoir of her own experiences as a student from childhood in public school in a predominantly Jewish area through college at Yale as one of the few female physics majors. The second half of the book is more in line with what I had been expecting given the description, and includes anecdata from other women who Pollack had known or interviewed from her own generation and the later generation of female science majors and scientists, as well as recaps of interviews with her former professors and teachers who we had met in the first half of the book.

This is a deeply personal story for Pollack, but at the same time it is also deeply personal for every girl who thought she wasn't smart enough, or every woman who decided to drop out of a science major, or every student who didn't even try for a science degree in the first place. This book was deeply personal for me.

Pollack's experiences are not every woman's or minorities' experiences, but they are similar enough that many can relate. One of my criticisms of this book is Pollack's weakness in connecting women's experiences with the similar experiences of minorities and economically disadvantaged students. She does mention that several times, but it is definitely a message that can be strengthened. Towards the end of the book, Pollack noted that some students, even if they enter into college at the top of their high school graduating class, find themselves floundering and behind other students because they were not privileged enough for their schools to offer certain courses. I wish Pollack had highlighted that more because it's a problem that systemically places students from under-served, poorer schools at a disadvantage in college.

I write this review the day after a 14-year-old Muslim boy with brown skin was detained by his school and arrested for bringing in a homemade clock to show off to his science teacher, which another teacher reported as a bomb. That is an extreme case of the educational culture discouraging a minority from entering a STEM field, but it highlights the challenges that some students face by virtue of their sex or ethnicity.

Pollack's story is an important one, and both its strength and weakness is its reliance on anecdotes (what I referred to as "anecdata" earlier) from her own experiences and gleaned from interviews or missives with other women or minorities. She does mention the results of a few studies of bias against women in STEM, but the bulk of the book are anecdata rather than empirical controlled studies. The anecdata bring the problems to life in a way that pure numbers don't, yet at the same time anecdotes are easy for those in the sciences to discount because they are not data (hence why I have been referring to them as "anecdata" because, well, it can be argued that the plural for anecdote is data).

Given the larger conversation that has been on-going for the past few years of women in the sciences, and the blatant misogyny that I keep running up against from big names (Google "Richard Dawkins women"), The Only Woman in the Room is an important book, and very timely. Remember in June when Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine Tim Hunt said at a science conference in South Korea, “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry”? Or last November when European Space Agency Rosetta Project scientist Matt Taylor gave public interviews after the Philae space probe landed on a comet while wearing a shirt covered in nearly naked women? It is heartening, I guess, that all of these incidents have lead to huge public outcries and public apologies (in the case of Taylor) or firings (in the case of Hunt). A decade or two earlier, they would have been the status quo.

I hope that Pollack's book inspires change in STEM education at all levels, and I hope that it also inspires women to pursue STEM educations and careers.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A New Chapter

Much has happened since I last updated this blog. I've left jobs, acquired new pets, learnt new skills, acquired new hobbies, and realized just how difficult it is for me to maintain constant blog updates in a world where I have many distractions.

Today is July 23, 2015, and I endeavor to remember that this blog exists and to update it regularly.

So an update in list format:
  1. I am a hooker no more. Or, at least, not only a hooker. I am now also a knitter and a spinner. The crochet hook is an insidious gateway drug to the rest of the fiber world. My stash overfloweth to include not just yarn now, but spinning fiber. And to my consternation, is not shrinking because spinning results in the creation of new yarn and does not actually decrease the stash.
  2. My household has increased by a net of two cats. Zephyr passed shortly after my last post, and I adopted two brothers from the same litter soon after, and then a year later, another cat. Samm the bun is still kicking, albeit a tad slower than in her younger days. I enjoy my little menagerie, though wish Ginger (one of the brothers) is a little less of an asshole at times (all the time).
  3. My bookshelf is as full as ever, despite my efforts to keep it manageable. As I try to crochet/knit/spin from stash, I suppose I should try reading from stash too. (Yeah, I'm laughing at myself too.)
  4. New hobby! I've rediscovered my love of tabletop gaming and hope to have some game reviews in addition to book reviews and my random musings on cats, yarn, and life in general.
Until next time, I remain your friendly neighborhood reader, dreamer, and creator.

Image by Alex Colmedo