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.