August Owl Crate Unboxing

I recently found out about a book lover’s subscription box called Owl Crate. I love books. I love subscription boxes, too, because it’s like getting a present. I have been using Stitch Fix for two years now so that I could build a more professional wardrobe. I really dislike shopping for clothes, and I often get items in my Stitch Fix box that I might not pick but that I love once I try them on. So I definitely wanted to check out Owl Crate and see what it was about.

Owl Crate has three plans. You can go month-to-month for $29.99 plus shipping. You can do three months for $28.99 plus shipping, and you can also do six months for $27.99 plus shipping. Be aware if you choose three- or six-month subscriptions, you will be charged up front for all three or six months up front. If you want to cancel, you just need to be mindful of the dates because Owl Crate auto-renews until you tell it not to.

Owl Crate’s book focus is on YA literature. I happen to teach high school English, and I love YA literature, but if you don’t like it, then Owl Crate might not be the best subscription box option for you.

I received my first box today.

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A little bit Potterish, no? I think Harry Potter might indeed have been an inspiration.

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The box was packed full of goodies and fun eco-friendly crinkle-cut fill. The card on the top has information about this month’s theme: Fast Times at YA HIgh—just in time for back to school.

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Now for a closer look at the goods. First up, what’s inside this little blue organza bag?Photo Aug 18, 5 46 04 PM

A unique Eleanor & Park necklace! I loved that book. You can check out my review here.

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Don’t you love the little mix tape charm?

Next up, a handy Decomposition Book notebook. This is a small memo-sized notebook.Photo Aug 18, 5 47 01 PM

And some cute buttons.

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And a Harry Potter print by Susanne Draws that looks like it’s about 6×9 inches. Love this!

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An adult coloring book with patterns designed to relieve stress. I will probably need that as I go back into the classroom after summer break.

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Wrapped in cellophane with a set of golf-sized colored pencils for the coloring book was this month’s reading selection, Kasie West’s P. S. I Like You in hardcover.

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It was just released last month. I think my students will enjoy this one in our classroom library. Here’s a better look at the cover, out of the cellophane.

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There was also a letter from Kasie West about the book and a signed bookplate.

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I stuck it inside the book right away.

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It’s so cute! It matches the book.

Next, I found a teaser about next month’s theme, which sounds perfect to get into the RIP Challenge! (Incidentally, anyone heard anything about that challenge for this year?)

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I don’t know what it is, but it will be something connected to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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I am familiar with Out of Print. They make all kinds of cool bookish and nerdy things.

And that was it for this box.

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Here’s another peek at all of it.

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If I had to guess, I’d say that buying a similar necklace on Etsy would cost about $15-20 based on items like it already for sale. The book runs for about $11.00 right now on Amazon, as does the adult coloring book. The Decomposition Notebook currently runs about $5.00 on Amazon. By the time you add in the unique extras, the box is a deal. Plus it’s a lot of fun. You can check out past boxes on their website, which might help you decide if you want to try it, too. I can think of a lot of teacher friends who might like it.

Full disclosure: Owl Crate did not pay me or compensate me in any way, nor did they ask me to review their subscription box, but I did use my referral link in the first paragraph.

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Reading Rules

A three-year-old Book Riot post with a clickbait-y title came across my radar this morning. While I didn’t learn anything about my personality based on my reading rules, I did start thinking about just what those rules are, exactly. I think most people have reading rules. It could be certain kinds of books you read or won’t read. It could be how you treat a book. It could be whether or not you re-read books and what you re-read. It could be how your ratings system works. At any rate, these are my own special reading tics, and I guess you could call them rules if you want.

  1. I don’t dog-ear pages. I am trying to promote reading in my classes, and one of my students borrowed The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. And he dog-eared the pages. I was horrified when I saw it. It took a lot of self-control not to react, but I didn’t. After all, I did donate the book to my classroom library. But now I might need to have to buy a pristine copy for myself.
  2. I always have a few books going. My mood strikes differently. Sometimes I want to listen, and sometimes I want to be on my iPad and not in paper book. Sometimes I want to read a paper book. For that reason, I usually have at least three books going all the time, one in each format. Often more.
  3. I review pretty much everything I read here, and I rate it, too. I have done this for the last decade at least. I find I remember the books better if I reflect on them a bit before moving on to the next. Had Goodreads been around before I started this blog, I”m not sure this blog would exist. However, now that it’s established, I don’t want to move everything over to Goodreads. That said, I don’t like the Goodreads rating system. I have devised my own rating system instead. I still use stars, but my stars mean different things.
  4. I prefer paperbacks or e-books to hardcovers. I just find them difficult to hold. I don’t fold over my paperbacks or anything, but if a book is not available in paperback, I will try to get it in e-book or wait rather than get it in hardcover. The exceptions to this rule are special collectors books.
  5. I don’t like to break the spines in my books. Sometimes it happens with the cheaper ones.
  6. I don’t like stopping in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it is unavoidable. If a book has really long chapters or worse, no chapters, it’s probably going to lose at least a star in its rating for me because it has inconvenienced me as a reader and possibly required me to break this reading rule.
  7. I re-read whatever and whenever I feel like it, and I don’t worry about it. I count those books as reads for whatever challenges I am doing as well because I see no reason why they shouldn’t count.
  8. I really prefer reading longer books on my Kindle. They are easier for me to get through that way. I am very sad that Citizens is not available for Kindle. It will take me forever to read.
  9. I give myself permission to stop reading books that are not grabbing me. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about how long I give it before I stop. Mainly, I play it by ear. But I never force myself to finish a book that is not working for me, and I think that is a rule everyone should follow. I helped a student out with this rule earlier this year. I think he was grateful. It might surprise some folks that kids might not understand you don’t have to finish a book just because you started it, but it’s true. I am, of course, excluding class reads from this rule. However (shh… don’t tell), if I kid doesn’t finish a required text for class, well, they missed out on a good book. I don’t get mad at them about it. I hope they’ll pick it up later when they are ready, and the choice likely means they will do poorly on some reading quizzes and writing assignments, but that’s their call. I don’t see any reason to flog a kid over it. I think (sadly) that I am unusual in this regard, and I think that’s how and why we create adults who don’t read.
  10. I don’t worry about what anyone thinks about my reading. I read what I want. If people judge others for reading, then they’re book snobs, and they are not worth my time. The most important rule I have about reading is that everyone should read. They should read what they want to read and not apologize.

Do you have any reading rules? I know some folks disagree with a few of mine, and ultimately, the thing I care about most is that people do their reading thing and don’t feel judged for it.

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Sunday Post #38: December

Sunday PostDecember is here! I guess because of the warm feelings in the lead-up to Christmas, I’ve always liked December. New Year’s Eve has always seemed inexplicably sad to me, and I wonder if it’s because it feels like the end of such a, for lack of a better word, merry season. I remember when I was in Girl Scouts we would go caroling, and I have very fond memories of Christmas as a child.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions (and I don’t care if people think this is cheesy or hate this movie) is watching Love Actually with my sister. She has lived overseas and currently lives in Texas, but we synchronize our DVD players and chat online through the movie. We haven’t settled on a date for this year.

I’m also a big fan of making Christmas cookies. Today I’m making a batch of the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that were such a hit last year. Also, as a bonus, this is the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted.

This week I finished up Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, easily one of the best books of the year. I started reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. So far, I’m really enjoying it. My most recent tally for books completed this year is 55. I set the goal of reading 52. I should probably set a higher goal for next year. I thought 52 would be ambitious because the most books I’d read in a year previously was 50.

I’ve added the following books to my TBR pile in the last week or so:

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Some of the recommendations came from other teachers at the National Council of Teachers of English conference I attended recently. Others came from poking around and seeing what folks have enjoyed.

I was able to “win” NaNoWriMo this year. I think it’s only the second time I have been able to do it. Because one of my most valuable professional conferences takes place in November, it can be a rough month for me to complete NaNoWriMo if I fall behind while I’m at the conference. Next year, I will probably have next to no time during the conference to write because it will be in Atlanta, and I will have family and friends to visit when I’m not at the conference itself. Still, I really love participating in NaNoWriMo because of the constant encouragement and feeling of community.

I’m looking for some fun challenges for 2016. Do any of you have suggestions? I always like to do a historical fiction challenge and map the locations of my books. Every year I also like to do R. I. P. Any of you doing a fun challenge (or hosting one)? I haven’t really started looking around yet for reading challenges, but let me know if you hear of a really good one.

I have a winter playlist that’s maybe a bit dated, but I still like it.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #30: Post-Potter

Sunday PostI finished my re-read of the Harry Potter series late last night. I spent pretty much all day yesterday reading, which is something I haven’t done in a long time, and it felt great. I was reading on my Kindle, and I think I was about a fifth (or close to a fourth) of the way into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when I picked up the book yesterday, and I just read it until I finished it. Every time I finish re-reading the books, I go into a little bit of a post-Potter funk and don’t quite know what to do with myself, so I re-read The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I find so much in those books each time I read them. I can say with certainty that they are my desert-island books. With Pottermore making some changes, I will be interesting to see what they come up with. They have discovered that most of the site’s users are not children, as they anticipated, but adults visiting the site for the extra encyclopedic information and backstory. As a result, they’ve decided to remove the games and interactive parts of the site and focus on the information. From what I understand, not everyone is happy about this, but since I was more interested in the new writing than brewing potions, fighting duels, or playing games, I’m welcoming the changes. I am a little sad they are dispensing with the House system. Proud Ravenclaw, here. Oh, and with that, I think they will be eliminating shopping for your wand. The part of the site I return to most often are the articles about wandlore. My wand is sycamore, phoenix feather core, 10¾ inches, hard.

I did go ahead and pick up This House is Haunted by John Boyne for the R. I. P. Challenge. I’m still trying to decide which other books to read, but that one’s been on my Kindle for a long time now, so I decided I would start with that one. It might perhaps be a mark of how much I love this reading challenge that I’m prioritizing it over my book club and other books I want to read as well.

I didn’t add any books to my to-read pile this week, which was probably smart. It’s too big already. I have a lot of books I need to go ahead and just finish, most of them re-reads for school.

I’ve been lamenting the sad fact this week in particular that my children don’t enjoy reading as much as I do. I have been fairly successful in matching my own students with books, but as much as I try, it doesn’t seem to work as well with my own children. I am a firm believer that it’s not true that people don’t like to read. I think sometimes they haven’t found what they like to read yet, and schools do a great deal of damage in this regard by not allowing students to choose their books, especially in the crucial years of middle school and early high school. If you’re going to lose a reader, I’ve noticed, you generally lose them right about 7th grade. Especially boys. I’m working on it, but if you have tips, please share.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #4: We Have ALL the Snow

Sunday PostWorcester had 30.5 inches of snow as a result of the blizzard I mentioned last week. I had two snow days, and my kids had three. Another foot of snow is in our forecast for tomorrow. I’m not sure where we’re going to put it. I already have a snow day tomorrow as well.

This week I finished William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher. I am close to finishing the audio book version of Diana Gabaldon’s fifth Outlander book, The Fiery Cross. It’s a long audio book. Well, all her books are long. This one is 55 hours and 34 minutes. I am 4 hours and 36 minutes away from being finished.

Now that February has arrived, I plan to read my next book in the Literary Movement Reading Challenge, a Renaissance book. I have chosen As You Like It. I haven’t ever finished that play, and I have long wanted to.

I’m also still reading Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice. I am enjoying that one quite a bit. I won’t be reviewing until February 17, no matter when I finish it, because I’m reading it as a part of TLC Book Tours, but a review will be coming soon. Next up, also as a TLC Book Tour selection, is The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson.

I’m still thinking of picking up either The Lotus Eaters, All the Bright Places, We Were Liars or Men Explain Things To Me after I finish The Tell-Tale Heart. I’m leaning more toward The Lotus Eaters than the other three mainly because 1) I already have it, and 2) I’m feeling in the mood for it right now.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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The Trouble with Amazon Reviews

Amazon reviews can be helpful. I find them particularly valuable when I’m buying an appliance I’m not too sure about, but I admit that there are some aspects of Amazon reviews—of all types—that I find problematic. I never rely on Amazon book reviews, for instance.

In order to present my case, I selected a book I read in the last few years, Jude Morgan’s [amazon_link id=”B004P5OPAW” target=”_blank” ]Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontës[/amazon_link]. You can read my review of this book here. For the record, I loved it.

Charlotte and Emily by Jude MorganForgive the apostrophe error in the title; it’s not mine. Note that the book is rated at 4.5 stars with only 12 reviews.

On Goodreads, the same book:

Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan The rating is 3.76 stars with 120 reviews and 471 ratings.

To be fair, this book’s title in the UK is The Taste of Sorrow (much better title, but the publisher likely thought Americans wouldn’t get it), and Goodreads compiles reviews for both titles. Amazon does not, so I searched for that book and found only 5 more reviews (all 5-stars). Amazon UK’s site has 58 reviews for The Taste of Sorrow averaging 4 stars.

The first issue I see is that literary fiction, especially from authors who are not as well known (especially in the US), don’t receive a lot of reviews on Amazon. Compare the number of ratings for each book. The novel was rated only 12 times by Amazon reviews, but it received 471 total ratings, 120 of which also had written reviews, on Goodreads. As a result, one review, either direction, makes a big difference. With books that receive a large number of Amazon reviews, the ratings tend to even out to numbers that resemble those on Goodreads more closely, but for niche books that don’t have a wide audience, Amazon isn’t often that helpful for readers trying to decide whether or not to read a book.

Amazon requires written reviews; readers cannot simply rate a book on a star system without writing an explanation of their rating. While I find that requirement helpful, as often understanding the reason for the review helps me more than a simple star-rating, I can understand why some people might not want to bother.

On the other hand, I find Amazon reviews often focus on the packaging or some other insignificant detail of the book when what I want to know is whether it’s a good book or not. I find it maddening that so many Amazon reviewers still do not understand this concept: the review is for the product itself, not for the service, the packaging, or any other element. I don’t care if it was packaged well and arrived promptly.

One recent trend I’ve noticed on Amazon is for reviewers to write amusing, over-the-top reviews for products that it’s clear they haven’t used, but that they find funny. A case in point is the product page for Sugar Free Gummi Bears, which has pretty much devolved into TMI toilet humor. It’s so bad that the same kind of reviews are being written on the product pages for regular Gummi Bears, which, to my knowledge, do not seem to have the same purported laxative effect as the sugar-free ones. Amazon doesn’t do anything to prevent these kinds of reviews. I don’t want to be a downer, as I actually do think these kinds of reviews can be fun (maybe not the Gummi Bears in particular, but you have to admit the reviews for the Mountain’s Three Wolf Moon tee-shirt are classic). I like amusing reviews. I just want to know that people who are reviewing a product are familiar with it and not just writing reviews to be funny. There is a way to write funny reviews that are also helpful.

A final issue I have with Amazon reviews is that you can rate reviews as either helpful or not. A lot of people use this function exactly as it’s supposed to be used: to upvote reviews that are particularly helpful and downvote reviews that are not helpful. However, a significant number of Amazon users use this feature to downvote reviews with which they disagree, especially if you didn’t like a book they loved or if you loved a book they hated. Or perhaps because they’re capricious and/or ignorant. Who knows?

One of the reasons I started a book blog many years ago is that I didn’t like reviewing my books on Amazon, for all the reasons I’ve shared here. Had Goodreads existed back when I started this blog, the blog might not exist, as I still find Goodreads very helpful and probably would have decided to write books reviews there. Barnes and Noble, with its focus on books and more literary bent, is also helpful, though it suffers from the same issues with literary fiction as Amazon: Charlotte and Emily has only 7 reviews on their site.

I very rarely write Amazon reviews, but at this stage, I think I’m giving up on writing them completely. Any authors who share books with me with the hopes of seeing them reviewed on Amazon have a right to know so that they can decide whether they want to share books if they will be reviewed only on my blog, Goodreads, and Shelfari. I think Amazon’s review system is broken, and I believe sharing my reviews in these other venues is ultimately more helpful, even if fewer people will read them.

None of my concerns about Amazon reviews prevent me from purchasing products from the site, but they prevent the site from being as useful as it might be.

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Weekend Reading: January 11, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIt’s a rainy, blustery day. Perfect for curling up and reading! I have a plan to make some soap later today, particularly as I have received this excellent equipment in the mail.

New England Handmade Artisan Soaps apronI made it on Zazzle. It turned out just like I wanted. I haven’t made a soaping video in a while either, and I am going to try to do one this weekend.

I’m still reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m about halfway through the book on p. 283. I’m still enjoying it very much, and I half wonder if I’m subconsciously drawing out my reading so I can keep reading it for a while. Then again, I don’t have as much time to read during the work week.

I finished the audio book of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, read by Michael York. You can read my review here if you missed it. I am moving on to The Horse and His Boy read by Alex Jennings. I have zero memory of what happens in that book, though I’m pretty sure I read it about 22 years ago or so. I’m also still listening to Voyager by Diana Gabaldon read by Davina Porter. That book is pretty long, so I imagine it will take some time to finish.

We had to buy a new microwave yesterday. Our microwave died earlier this week. I’m not sure what happened. It wasn’t terribly old (perhaps a maximum of ten years or so). I remember we had to buy the old one when we moved into our previous home, which was about ten years ago now. The one before that lasted about ten years as well. Perhaps that’s about all they’re good for nowadays?

No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity

My copy of No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity has also arrived. I had to order the journal and supplies, so I can’t get started right way. That sort of sounds like an excuse! I do hope that I can make a regular habit of art journaling and perhaps even post some photos from my journal here. We shall see.

What are you up to this weekend?

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Sunday Salon: Resolutions

A Ride in the SnowJust like everybody else, I am making a few resolutions as the new year begins. However, making resolutions is not typical for me. I usually ignore the passage of a new year, at least in terms of turning over a new leaf. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a teacher or not, but I always felt like the real new year turned when a new school year started. For some reason, I don’t know why, this year feels different. I actually find myself feeling like it is the start of the new year, and for the first time in years, that didn’t feel like a sad thing to me. New Year’s Eve usually makes me quite sad, and this year, while I can’t say I was excited or anything, I felt pretty content. As a result, I started thinking about the things I really want to do better or do more of in the coming year.

No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity I have the usual resolutions regarding tackling organization, etc., but in terms of reading, I want to try to be much more active in reading and talking about my reading here. I have had a hard time making myself blog for the last couple of years, but I do enjoy it, particularly book blogging, and I have missed it.

I also want to do better with journaling, and to that end, I picked up No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity. It looks like a fun way to try a new creative outlet. One of the things I have enjoyed about making soap is the creativity. The soap is like a work of art. No two cut bars are the same, and no two batches of soap are the same. Art journaling seems like a fun way to be creative when I’m stuck. One of the things I’ve learned about making soap over the last year is that it can’t be my only creative outlet, or I wind up making too much of it. By the way, if any takers want to try out my soap, let me know. If you want to check out my soap on Etsy, try here.

So, do you have any resolutions?

The Sunday SalonA Ride in the Snow by DaveLawler

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Weekend Reading: January 4, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIliana posted her current reads over at Bookgirl’s Nightstand, and it inspired me. A new year is always a chance to try new things and introduce new habits (hoping they will stick!). Here’s hoping I can make a regular Saturday post about my weekend reads a habit. What I’d like to do is take a snapshot of the book I’m reading, right where I’m starting for the weekend.

This weekend I’m reading [amazon_link id=”015602943X” target=”_blank” ]The Time Traveler’s Wife[/amazon_link]. I’m already in love with it on page 79. One of the reasons I picked this book up is that I have a new-ish obsession with Doctor Who, particularly the love story of the Doctor and River Song, and I read somewhere, I forget where, that their relationship was similar to that of Henry and Clare in The Time Traveler’s Wife in some respects. Given I’m not too far in yet, I would say the comparison is fair, and I can see how the novel may have inspired the creation of River Song.

I’m also listening to Michael York read [amazon_link id=”0062314599″ target=”_blank” ]The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe[/amazon_link] by C. S. Lewis and Davina Porter read Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. Both are what you might consider re-reads, since I have read the Outlander series up to [amazon_link id=”044022425X” target=”_blank” ]Drums of Autumn[/amazon_link]. I would like to catch up the end, and I’m looking forward to the adaptation of [amazon_link id=”0440212561″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] on Starz.

It’s bitterly cold outside. My browser’s weather extension says it’s 14 degrees and feels like -3 degrees. Perfect for curling up inside under my husband’s robe with a cup of tea and a good book.

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Bookish Gifts

beautiful books

Years ago, my local Barnes & Noble had a Christmas tree set up in the center of the store. It was decorated with gift tags, and each tag had the name and age of a local boy or girl who was in need of a Christmas gift. I had so much fun buying books for boys and girls that year. I haven’t seen anything like it since, though my school did a book drive for a local chapter of Girls Inc. I don’t know why I haven’t seen the tree idea used again. I suppose it’s possible it wasn’t very successful, but I find it hard to believe (of course, that’s also because I bought a lot of the books myself, so naturally I assumed others did, too).

I find it harder and harder to figure out what books people might like for Christmas. Even me. I hate to admit it, but I’d much rather receive a bookstore gift card than a book. I can spend the money on whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. I find this to be true even if I want a particular book, though I can’t say why, particularly because a book chosen as a gift usually sends the message, “I saw this and thought of you,” or “I loved this and wanted you to love it, too.” And I love to give books, even if I do have trouble figuring out what others will like.

One of my new roles at work involves working on the YA collection in our library. I also give book talks to the middle schoolers, and I absolutely love sharing books I enjoyed with them. Even more, I love it when they tell me how much they enjoyed a book. A student who heard my last book talk stopped me in the hall to tell me she read The Fault in Our Stars in one evening and just loved it. Their teacher recently told me that many of her students were already finished with the books, which they had to read over their holiday break, and were requesting them for Christmas.

In a way, I almost feel like I gave those books as gifts, even though I didn’t physically do it. However, I have several books that have been given to me, book I actually really want to read, and I haven’t read them yet. Maybe 2013 is the year I need to do that. It feels sort of rude not to read a book given to me as a gift.

So what books are you giving for Christmas? What books do you hope to receive?

Merry Christmas to everyone.

The Sunday Salon

 

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