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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