Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman

April 28, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: Gemina by Amie KaufmanGemina by Amie Kaufman, Marie Lu (illustrator)
Published by Knopf BFYR on October 18, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Sci-fi
Pages: 672
Format: ARC
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Goodreads
two-stars
The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that critics are calling “out-of-this-world awesome.”

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (side characters have surnames that indicate they’re POC, but none of them are important characters)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 2 (Nik’s genius hacker cousin Ella has bad legs and needs help breathing after getting sick when she was younger)
Intersectionality: 0

To explain something a bit lengthy and complicated in a nutshell, “literary incubator” Paper Lantern Lit’s process operates like this: writers send in their writing samples, the company later contacts them if they have a project they think the writer is a good fit for, and the writer comes up with a chapter or two based on a 1-2 page summary of that project. If PLL likes what they read, the writer is hired to write a few more chapters and everyone works together on a proposal to submit to publishers. If that proposal sells, the writer gets paid to write the entire book.

What does all that have to do with Gemina or The Illuminae Files as a series? I think it would be much better than it is if it had been conceived through a PPL-like process. The person who has an idea for a book may not necessarily be the best person to write it and I’d say that’s the case with this series. The core worldbuilding and events are phenomenal, but everything else is so, so bad. Read more »

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Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser

April 21, 2017 Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie HouserGirl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser
Published by HarperCollins on March 7, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Perfect for aspiring coders everywhere, Girl Code is the story of two teenage tech phenoms who met at Girls Who Code summer camp, teamed up to create a viral video game, and ended up becoming world famous. The book also includes bonus content to help you get started coding!

Fans of funny and inspiring books like Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular and Caroline Paul’s Gutsy Girl will love hearing about Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser’s journey from average teens to powerhouses. Through the success of their video game, Andy and Sophie got unprecedented access to some of the biggest start-ups and tech companies, and now they’re sharing what they’ve seen. Their video game and their commitment to inspiring young women have been covered by the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, CNN, Teen Vogue, Jezebel, the Today show, and many more.

Get ready for an inside look at the tech industry, the true power of coding, and some of the amazing women who are shaping the world. Andy and Sophie reveal not only what they’ve learned about opportunities in science and technology but also the true value of discovering your own voice and creativity.

If you can’t tell by the sad self-designed blog graphics, I kinda like Photoshop, digital design in general, and web design. I took web and digital design classes in high school, but the web design class kinda devolved into a business class once the teacher left to teach math and her husband took over. We didn’t learn much about websites and coding after that.

Thankfully, Gonzales and Houser didn’t have teachers like that and were able to create the fabulous little game that is Tampon Run. Girl Code is Gonzales and Houser taking us through how the game came about and the aftermath of their viral fame. Whether you’re a STEM girl or firmly on the English/History team like I am, these girls are pretty inspiring!

The linear structure of Girl Code tracks their journey from everygirls to viral stars from start to finish to epilogue: Sophie got into coding to get over her anxiety about speaking and find a new language in which to express herself; Andy was interested in coding from a young age and took it as one of her interests even while listening to her Filipino family’s “doctor, lawyer, engineer” motto for her future. Their paths collided when they attended the same Girls Who Code summer program in the summer of 2014 and decided to partner up for their final project.

Beyond informing me that the incredible original title of Tampon Run was Texas Tampon Massacre and the game was inspired by a Huffington Post article about an abortion vote, the girls take you step-by-step through how it came together as though they’d kept very precise diaries about the process. (To be fair, Sophie did. She keeps a personal diary.) Even when the tech talk got more advanced than rudimentary little me could understand, I stuck to it. Anyone without knowledge of coding games won’t be able to replicate their work very easily, but they’ll understand what the girls are doing and that’s the important part.

The game, once they decided to release the full product online, didn’t go viral solely by chance either. The girls smartly used social media to its fullest by tweeting the link out, posting about the game on Reddit, etc. Marketing: it ain’t always fun, but you don’t get anywhere without it. Girl Code takes us through what it was like to be in the international spotlight and, even better, what they’ve done since those fifteen minutes of viral fame died down. Sophie is pursuing entrepreneurial paths to eventually create her own start-up and give back the same way people gave to her; Andy is sticking with coding.

Oh, and the girls explicitly call out the tech nightmare Gamergate movement as just a tiny, big-mouthed group of cyberbullies. 1000% AGREE, WOULD SCREAM INTO A MEGAPHONE.

In general, the book is very positive about the future of women in tech industries, but it doesn’t address the cultural issues so few women stay in STEM programs and later enter STEM professions. Y’know, rampant sexism and classmates who make them so miserable they bail. To be entirely fair, this wasn’t something I exected the book to address. If they’ve experienced that toxic tech atmosphere besides the cringeworthy radio interview they write about, they didn’t make mention of it or detail it at length.

My strongest criticism is reserved for the book’s prose. Though accessible, it’s also pretty rough and my thoughts wandered away from the text easily thanks to the basic “we did this, we did that, we felt like this” way the girls write. Nonfiction books can have engaging writing that goes beyond that and it’s clear Gonzales and Houser are not top-notch writers. Though it makes reading this short little book take a little longer, that’s still not a deal-breaker.

Gonzales and Houser’s incredible accomplishment and their determination to one day give back to women in STEM is inspiring and will make its readers want to go out and create after they read Girl Code. Video games, writing, paintings, a scholarly article about how this one historical figure was definitely gay–there are no limits on who this book will spark inspiration in. For instance, the original title Texas Tampon Massacre gave me an idea for a short story and I want to work as hard on that as the authors worked on their game.

Spring 2017 Bingo 8 Girl Code

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Review: The Possibility of Somewhere by Julia Day

April 20, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: The Possibility of Somewhere by Julia DayThe Possibility of Somewhere by Julia Day
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 6, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Goodreads
two-stars
Together is somewhere they long to be.

Ash Gupta has a life full of possibility. His senior year is going exactly as he’s always wanted-- he's admired by his peers, enjoying his classes and getting the kind of grades that his wealthy, immigrant parents expect. There's only one obstacle in Ash's path: Eden Moore—the senior most likely to become class valedictorian. How could this unpopular, sharp-tongued girl from the wrong side of the tracks stand in his way?

All Eden's ever wanted was a way out. Her perfect GPA should be enough to guarantee her a free ride to college -- and an exit from her trailer-park existence for good. The last thing she needs is a bitter rivalry with Ash, who wants a prized scholarship for his own selfish reasons. Or so she thinks. . . When Eden ends up working with Ash on a class project, she discovers that the two have more in common than either of them could have imagined. They’re both in pursuit of a dream -- one that feels within reach thanks to their new connection. But what does the future hold for two passionate souls from totally different worlds?

Diversity: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Ash and his family are Indian)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Eden’s babysitting charge Kurt is autistic; his rep is questionable)
Intersectionality: 1 (Eden’s family is dirt poor)

Ugh, I’ve been trying and failing to write this review for ages because The Possibility of Somewhere is just so unremarkable. I’m not even gonna put in a “read more” cut for once because this won’t take long to review.

Though all my initial review notes were negative, reading this novel at first made me feel nostalgic. For various reasons, it reminded me of the YA novel I queried to agents my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Eden is such an unmemorable character that I regularly forgot her name while reading the book, but her cruddy dad earned her my sympathies. Points for her having a good relationship with her stepmother too.

Also? Love that Ash’s “locker room talk” about Eden’s boobs was punished by the narrative. Specifically, punished via his four-year-old nephew telling Eden what he said and embarrassing him. It’s such an unorthodox way to see the sexualization of girls punished in fiction and I’m all for it in the future. Speak of people as though they will eventually know what you said!

Then the book got boring. For being just over 300 pages, The Possibility of Somewhere felt so, so much longer and it should have ended earlier. The last chapter should have been dropped altogether for being unnecessary and ending the book far too sweetly considering the events and the racism that emerges in the community once Eden and Ash’s relationship becomes known.

I’m also concerned about the autistic rep provided by Kurt, one of Eden’s babysitting charges. I don’t have autism or even the knowledge to judge whether Kurt’s disorder is accurately represented, but I’m concerned about his narrative use toward the end of the novel. When Eden needs to interview for a scholarship but still has to watch her charges, she takes Kurt into the interview with her. Inevitably, he wanders into the conversation and Eden uses him to illustrate to the scholarship committee that she’d use her scholarship to become a special education teacher and work closely with kids like him.

Wow, under 500 words for the first time in a while! Book was okay. I’m kinda hoping that last chapter got dropped between the ARC stage I read the book at and its finalized publication, but I’m not able to check right now. Wouldn’t recommend it, wouldn’t tell you not to read it.

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Review: Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson

April 17, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: Say No to the Bro by Kat HelgesonSay No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson
Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on May 2, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads
two-stars
Ava’s plan for surviving senior year at her new school is simple: fly under the radar until graduation. No boys. No attachments. No drama. But all that goes out the window when she gets drafted into the Prom Bowl—a long-standing tradition where senior girls compete in challenges and are auctioned off as prom dates to the highest bidder.

Ava joins forces with star quarterback Mark Palmer to try and get herself out of the competition, but their best laid schemes lead to self-sabotage more than anything else. And to make matters worse, they both begin to realize that the Prom Bowl isn’t all fun and games. When one event spirals dangerously out of control, Ava and Mark must decide whether shutting down the Prom Bowl once and for all is worth the price of sacrificing their futures.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (minor character Kylie is black)
QUILTBAG: 1 (another minor character named Denise is dating a girl)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 2 (Ava is a fat girl and losing weight is never part of the equation)

CHRIST ON A CRACKER, THIS BOOK MADE ME

SO

SO

ANGRY

BIGGEST TRIGGER WARNING IN HISTORY HERE: if you’re highly sensitive to sexism and sexual assault, this book is not for you and I will open the window for you to escape Scott Pilgrim-style before I dig into this quagmire of a book.

Okay, everyone out that wants to be out? Let’s get started. You’re gonna be here for a while.

I hope that bright book cover didn’t make you think this book was going to be a light read because it’s a fury-inducer the likes of which almost led to me giving the book no rating at all. There’s a lot of messed up stuff in here. It’s meant to be messed up, but then there are unintentionally messed up things going on too. Also, most of the book only happens because the two narrators refuse to communicate with one another.

Read more »

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Review: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill

April 13, 2017 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie MorrillThe Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill
Published by Blink on February 7, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Historical
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-stars
Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.

Diversity: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0 (the only POC is a black woman employed by Lydia’s family as a servant and her 1-2 lines of dialogue have a rather stereotypical phonetic accent)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0 (Lydia has seizures due to an unidentified disease or disorder)
Intersectionality:  0

The 1920s was a big, extravagant mess of a time in American history. We had the Harlem Renaissance going on and we tend to associate the decade with glamour, but we also had Prohibition and organized crime basically owned the city of Chicago. That’s the setting of The Lost Girl of Astor Street and the background for one girl’s search for her best friend. It was an alright novel, I guess. I have a few bones to pick, though. Read more »

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Review: The Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato

March 31, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: The Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages AmatoThe Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato
Published by Balzer + Bray on March 21, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Paranormal
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Megan Brown’s brother, Tyler, is dead, but the cops are killing him all over again. They say he died of a drug overdose, potentially suicide—something Megan cannot accept. Determined to figure out what happened in the months before Tyler’s death, Megan turns to the things he left behind. After all, she understands the stories objects can tell—at fifteen, she is a gifted collage artist with a flair for creating found-object pieces. However, she now realizes that her artistic talent has developed into something more: she can see memories attached to some of Tyler’s belongings—and those memories reveal a brother she never knew.

Enlisting the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability and specializes in murderabilia—objects tainted by violence or the deaths of their owners—Megan finds herself drawn into a world of painful personal and national memories. Along with a trusted classmate and her brother's charming friend, she chases down the troubling truth about Tyler across Washington, DC, while reclaiming her own stifled identity with a vengeance.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (love interest Nathan is black and his adoptive parents are Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Nathan’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s)
Intersectionality: 0

YA is not dumb no matter how many Jonathan Franzen-esque literary dweebs come out of the woodwork saying so. They claim it’s juvenile (no duh, it’s written FOR teens, who are classified as juveniles), simple, brainless fluff, or otherwise lesser than adult fiction. Quite frankly, they need to stop looking at their anuses and accept that different people like different things. The Hidden Memory of Objects is one of the smartest YA novels I’ve ever read, but it’s perhaps a little too smart for me.

If you want something like The Da Vinci Code with fewer conspiracy theories and gaping holes, this book is for you. Though it’s a contemporary YA novel, its plot spreads its roots deep in American history–specifically, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Before his death, Megan’s brother Tyler got obsessed with John Wilkes Booth and the assassination, seeing it as something of an inspiration because it seems Booth genuinely believed he was doing the right thing. What readers learn about the assassination from this book only barely goes beyond what we learn in history books, but it brings the night Lincoln was murdered to life.

Megan’s grief for her brother runs so deep in her that when she touches things that once belonged to Tyler–later any objects with an emotionally charged history–she can see the memories attached to it. For instance, she touches some small silver balls she found in Tyler’s room and sees when he stole those balls while in a senator’s office. Other charged items specifically related to Lincoln’s assassination dance in and out of the story, like the gun Booth shot Lincoln with and a scrap of the bloody dress of Clara Harris, a woman in the box with the Lincolns that night.

No solid explanation is offered for Megan’s sudden development of psychometry, creating confusion about exactly which genre the book might fall into. For magical realism, such things simply are, like footprints literally left on the heart of someone heartbroken. Psychometry on its own is typically classed as paranormal, but the theory Megan’s friend Eric proposes would take the novel into sci-fi territory a la X-Men. Its inability to fit comfortably in any of the three makes it difficult to recommend the book to the right reader.

But as smart as the book is, it’s also boring. Megan, her grief, and her dangerous dealings with historian Dr. Brightman inspired nothing in me. The only character who brought me to any emotion was Eric and he really just made me want to strangle him. You know the pixie type character Zooey Deschanel gets typecast as? The love interest in every John Green novel? Yeah, that’s Eric except he’s the best friend, not the love interest. Despite being a relatively short 336 pages, the novel felt almost endless.

Like I said earlier, it’s all very reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code but without any screams of HISTORICAL CONSPIRACY!!! coming from the pages. It’s a great read for teens who want an especially smart read. It may not have been my particular fancy, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile for another reader. Now if I could just figure out whether it’s trying to be magical realism, paranormal, or sci-fi for ease of making recommendations…

Spring 2017 Bingo 6 Hidden Memory of Objects

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Review: The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

March 30, 2017 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★½

Review: The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol OstowThe Devil and Winnie Flynn by David Ostow (illustrator), Micol Ostow
Published by Soho Teen on October 15, 2015
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
one-half-stars
Told as an ongoing letter to a friend, Winnie’s story is a heartrending mystery and a pop culture critique in the vein of Libba Bray’s Going Bovine and Beauty Queens—with illustrations throughout that recall the quirky, dark, and distinct aesthetics of Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Winnie Flynn doesn’t believe in ghosts. (Though she wouldn’t mind a visit from her mom, explaining why she took her own life.) When her mysterious aunt Maggie, a high-profile TV producer, recruits Winnie to spend a summer working as a production assistant on her current reality hit, Fantastic, Fearsome, she suddenly finds herself in the one place her mother would never go: New Jersey.

New Jersey’s famous Devil makes perfect fodder for Maggie’s show. But as the filming progresses, Winnie sees and hears things that make her think that the Devil might not be totally fake after all. Things that involve her and her family. Things about her mother’s death that might explain why she’s never met Aunt Maggie until now.

Winnie soon discovers her family’s history is deeply entwined with the Devil’s. If she’s going to make it out of the Pine Barrens alive, she might have to start believing in what her aunt is telling her. And, find out what she isn’t.

Diversity: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

The Devil and Winnie Flynn is one of those books I didn’t know about until a good while after it came out. I like to think I stay on top of current and upcoming releases, so this doesn’t happen often! In addition to finding an ARC in my local used bookstore, I discovered my library had gotten a copy of it. SWEET! Using my loophole that I can check out a book from the library and it can skip my TBR jar whether I already own the book or not, I dove right into this spooky little tale. Except it wasn’t that spooky, just bad.

Read more »

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