Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Book Summary
Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. It's a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It's a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. 

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer--a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person's real livelihood is at stake. 

From acclaimed teen author (Little BrotherFor the Win) and Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow and Koko Be Good creator Jen Wang, In Real Life is a perceptive and high-stakes look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture clash.

Flo's Review
I've been meaning to get a chance to read one of the great YA Comics offerings from First Second Books, so I was glad when I remembered to stash In Real Life in my purse before going off to the hair dresser today.

In Real Life starts off with an introduction that is pretty intense. I was thinking, "Wow, this is heavy right off," but I came to appreciate it. For one, it gave me the reader necessary background to the story I was about to read. I would have still understood and enjoyed the story without it, but it definitely helped. Secondly, it set the tone for the comic. This is not just a light picture story. This is a deep narrative that does a good job of social commentary of our modern time, and it shows that everything is not always just what meets the eye.

Jen Wang's drawings are bright, happy, and engaging.

Many years ago, I did some research into Second Life for an article I was writing. I set myself up in the world with an avatar and tried to navigate around. I was completely floored by everything I saw in there and by what I learned. The idea that things that were happening in virtual reality could actually impact my real reality was mind boggling. I couldn't believe it when I learned that real money was exchanged between Second Lifers -- and more. Admittedly, I have not kept up with Second Life since then, so I have no idea what it looks like or how it operates in 2017.

Because of my experience with Second Life, I could sort of understand Anda's introduction to the world of Coarsegold Online. But this story was also completely completely unique, and I enjoyed the exploration of economy, gaming, girl power, identity, growth, and more that this graphic novel showed me.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Audiobook review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

the hate u give, Angie Thomas

Book Summary
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Flo's Review
I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this and have it signed at YALLFEST back in 2016. I made sure to choose it from the HarperTeen table because I heard it was the "Black Lives Matter" book and I was intrigued.

I then sat on it for almost a year.

But I have been seeing it sitting pretty on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks now. When I discovered that my local library had an audiobook copy on CD, I jumped on it.

My Goodreads post after finishing? "Officially my favorite book of 2017." There was so much to love about this book:

1. I laughed: I was seriously laughing out loud at "breadcrumbs"! And Starr's reactions to parents at several points is great, as are her interactions with her brothers.

2. I cried: So much though! This was interesting to listen to on audiobook, because I spent so much of it legit crying. I've basically been driving around town crying for the past few weeks. The movie is going to destroy me.

3. I related: Was my upbringing like Starr's? It wasn't. But there were definitely some things she felt and was going through that I totally went through myself. She would describe a situation and I thought, "Preach!" They were things I felt and was going through in high school and my teenage self would have really liked to read this book at that time.

4. I learned: There were some good history tidbits and things I didn't know that Maverick and Starr educated me on. 

5. I want to recommend it: As I was listening to it, I was already thinking of a friend of mine that I'm going to recommend it to. (Not a YA reader at that!) 

In conclusion: I'm going to recommend it to YOU! Go read this book! Don't wait, like I did! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Book review: I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

Book Summary
I see London, I see France, I see Sydney’s underpants.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney has the perfect summer mapped out. She’s spending the next four and half weeks traveling through Europe with her childhood best friend, Leela. Their plans include Eiffel-Tower selfies, eating cocco gelato, and making out with très hot strangers. Her plans do not include Leela’s cheating ex-boyfriend showing up on the flight to London, falling for the cheating ex-boyfriend’s très hot friend, monitoring her mother’s spiraling mental health via texts, or feeling like the rope in a friendship tug-of-war. 

As Sydney zigzags through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, and France, she must learn when to hold on, when to keep moving, and when to jump into the Riviera…wearing only her polka-dot underpants.

Flo's Review
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to travel. I don't believe in living your life with regrets, but if I did have one it would be that I never did the whole "backpacking through Europe in your 20s" thing. I went straight from high school to college, college to grad school, grad school to my first job. And now I think I'm past the time in my life when I could feasibly take a trip like this. 

So I was happy to live vicariously through Syd and Leela! :)

This was also fun because I have been to a lot of the places they visited in the book, so I knew exactly what they were talking about. And the descriptions were great for everything: I want to go see the places that I haven't been, like Monaco and Juan-Les-Pins. I commented early on when I reading that this book made me want to have an adventure with a group of friends. I looked forward to picking it up and seeing where Syd and Leela were heading next.

It almost seemed like too many cities, though? I started to feel a little weary toward the end, as if I was the one on the trip. I think the story would have just as fun if they had gone to a few less places and spent more time. And then there was the ending. It was just abrupt. Like  the author couldn't decide how to end it so she just stopped writing. I did later discover that there will be another book, so that makes a little more sense. I'm curious to see if the next book follows different people through different places? My travel loving self will probably pick it up.

Final verdict: If you want a light fun read while you travel, or one that you can read on your couch that will make you want to travel,  I See London, I See France will hit the spot!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Book review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

aziz ansari, modern romance
(Super Long) Book Summary
A hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern romance from one of this generation’s sharpest comedic voices

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

Flo's Review
I was lucky enough to snag this audiobook at a con. I love audiobooks, and I especially love audiobooks read by the author. That was all I needed. I didn't actually read to see what it would be about first before jumping in, so I was actually expecting it to be an autobiography about Aziz. Whoops.

But Modern Romance was delightful. Aziz partnered with Eric Klinenberg to study dating in the modern era and share their findings. Not surprisingly, dating has been impacted largely by the rise of technology, and especially smart phones. See?! Now I understood the cover picture and you do too! 

This book was great because it talked about a lot of things that I knew to be true, but never really considered as a direct factor of how dating today looks. For example, Aziz talked a lot about how the internet has opened up the whole world as a possibility. It's a good thing, because we know have sooo many people to choose from for a potential mate. But is it a good thing that we have sooo many people to choose from? We are looking for a soulmate, a perfect match, now because we can. We don't need to get married to start our adult lives. More and more people are experiencing "emerging adulthood," living on their own, building their careers, and trying lot of new things. All this is so different from past generations, where the pool of potential mates was often just your town or neighborhood, and getting married was a means to get out of your parents house. Therefore, a lot of young people weren't looking for the "perfect match." They would find a good one and the love would grow from there.

Aziz and Eric traveled to a few different cities around the world to research their dating scenes: Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Wichita (Kansas) to name a few. I loved these sections. It was fascinating to me to hear how the dating scenes varied in the different cultures. 

The audiobook was fantastic. Aziz kept cracking on the listeners about being too lazy to read the book and choosing to listen to it instead. He also had fun doing different voices for the people he interviewed. He mentioned in the beginning that the book had several graphs. I ended up grabbing a copy of the book from the library to look at while I read, and I was impressed with how well Aziz explained all the graphs in the book to the listeners. I definitely did not think that listening to the book took away from the experience. In fact, I might even recommend listening to it over reading it, because the funny side comments translate better (I think) when you hear Aziz say them as an aside than when you read them in footnotes.

But whether you read it or listen to it, if you want a thorough but fun examination of dating culture in the world today, I'd recommend you pick up Modern Romance.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book review and author event: Zodiac by Romina Russell

zodiac, romina russell
Book Summary
At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain….

Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.

When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancerian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.

Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?

Embark on a dazzling journey with ZODIAC, the first novel in an epic sci-fi-meets-high-fantasy series set in a galaxy inspired by the astrological signs.

Flo's Review
I was lucky enough to meet Romina Russell, the author of the Zodiac series, last Fall at the Miami Book Fair. At the time I hadn't read any of her books yet, but I remember that she was really sweet. This led me to want to read her books, so I got Zodiac, the first book in the series. Fast forward to last Tuesday, August 29, which was the release of Thirteen Rising, the fourth and final Zodiac book. I was so excited to learn that the launch party was going to be at the Barnes and Noble super close to me! I made it my goal to read and finish Zodiac before I went.

Well it was really cool to have just finished reading the book and then go hear her talk about it and the series as a whole. Because the thing that struck me most when I was reading the book was the world-building. Forgot putting an action-packed story on our known earth. Or even on another planet. Romina created an entire galaxy! And in such precise and beautiful detail! I was seriously in awe of the descriptions and the details of all the different planets in the Zodiac. The people, the places, the vibe, the lifestyles, the city centers, and on and on. Each so different on the different houses. 

I remembered Romina talking about her writing process at the Miami Book Fair in November, and she talked about it again at the Thirteen Rising launch. She creates the world first. And, being a Virgo, she creates detailed notes and considers everything about each place: if it is like this, then what kind of person would come from that place? That's how she creates the characters.

Which brings me to Rho. She was very intense, and at times a little much for me to stomach with her, "I must go forth heedless of ALL things people are telling me or how they react." But then listening to Romina talk about Rho at the launch warmed me to her a little more. Romina explained how the person to bring change to the galaxy wouldn't necessarily be a politician or a super intelligent person -- it would be a -- HUFFLEPUFF! An AMITY! (Which I got really excited about because guess who is ALSO a Hufflepuff Amity?! That's right -- this girl.) But she talked about how Rho doesn't lie, and I thought, "Ahh, yeah, that's true." 
zodiac, romina russell
Hufflepuff, Amity, and ... Aries. I know, it's weird, right?! But that's me!
The good news is that book I had Romina sign in November? Wandering Star, the second book in the series. So I'm all set to jump right in. Romina said Wandering Star was the easiest of the four books to write - that it came out pretty much fully formed - so I am looking forward to it.

Important Questions
Have you read the Zodiac series, or do you want to?

What's your sign?
...and your Hogwarts house? And your Divergent faction?