Book Review: I Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It by Jess Kimball Leslie

Title: I Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It
Author: Jess Kimball Leslie
Publisher: Running Press
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It is tech analyst Jess Kimball Leslie’s hilarious, frank homage to the technology that contributed so significantly to the person she is today. From accounts of the lawless chat rooms of early AOL to the perpetual high school reunions that are modern-day Facebook and Instagram, her essays paint a clear picture: That all of us have a much more twisted, meaningful, emotional relationship with the online world than we realize or let on.

Coming of age in suburban Connecticut in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Jess looked to the nascent Internet to find the tribes she couldn’t find IRL: fellow Bette Midler fans; women who seemed impossibly sure of their sexuality; people who worked with computers every day as part of their actual jobs without being ridiculed as nerds. It’s in large part because of her embrace of an online life that Jess is where she is now, happily married, with a wife, son, and dog, and making a living of analyzing Internet trends and forecasting the future of tech. She bets most people would credit technology for many of their successes, too, if they could only shed the notion that it’s as a mind-numbing drug on which we’re all overdosing.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

For those of us who are part of the generation that remembers the internet suddenly being a thing in their pre-teen/teen years and embracing it wholeheartedly, I’m sure we can all relate to what Jess Kimball Leslie’s thoughts and feelings about growing up in a sudden digital age. When I saw this title, I had to read it, because I am definitely a computer geek and very proud of it. This is a collection of essays that details Leslie’s personal experiences around how her social life has been shaped by the internet while also giving some brief historical details about how the internet was back in its early days.

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Book Review: Blood Brothers by Colleen Nelson

Title: Blood Brothers
Author: Colleen Nelson
Publisher: Dundurn
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Fifteen-year-old Jakub Kaminsky is the son of Polish immigrants, a good Catholic boy, and a graffiti artist. While his father sleeps, Jakub and his best friend, Lincoln, sneak out with spray paint to make their mark as Morf and Skar.

When Jakub gets a scholarship to an elite private school, he knows it s his chance for a better life. But it means leaving Lincoln and the neighbourhood he calls home.

While Jakub s future is looking bright, Lincoln s gets shady as he is lured into his brother s gang. Jakub watches helplessly as Lincoln gets pulled deeper into the violent world of the Red Bloodz. The Red Bloodz find out Jakub knows more than he should about a murder and want him silenced for good. Lincoln has to either save his friend, or embrace life as one of the Red Bloodz.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Alright so I had a tough time with this one.  On the one hand I tore through this book.  It took me about 24 hours to get through the whole thing which usually indicates to me that I really liked a book.  And to an extent I did.  However, something just felt off about this book.  After thinking about it for a while I’m still not entirely sure, but I think my issue with it is that it just does not “follow through” in any of the areas that I found interesting.  I thought that the Jakub’s graffiti story lines were really interesting and fairly well developed early on, but this was not really explored as much as I would have wanted.  Catholicism seemed to play a pretty important part of Jakub’s life, but only when convenient.  Lincoln had a really unique relationship with his family, but despite having some conflict he seemed to consistently default to the most simplistic answer (this point I will concede could be somewhat realistic).

I think that at the end of the day this book just felt a little too paint by the numbers young adult/gang story.  There were flashes of brilliance. For example, at one point Lincoln’s brother mentions that the system is set up against them unlike Jakub, but this is never explored and I can’t remember if there is even a reference to what their background is throughout the rest of the book.  That one wrinkle could have made this book infinitely more interesting.  Furthermore, this book seemed to want to have it both ways by being super realistic, but also not wanting to be too harsh.  I still cannot fully place why this book stuck in my craw so much, but it did.

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Book Review: Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job by Willo Davis Roberts

Title: Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job
Author: Willo Davis Roberts
Publisher: Aladdin
Paperback: 161 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From the moment she set eyes on the three Foster kids, Darcy knew being their baby-sitter would be no picnic. But the pay was twice her usual rate, and the job was only for a few hours a day – surely an experienced baby-sitter like her could handle it.

But Darcy hadn’t counted on the mysterious things that started happening at the Fosters’ home after she took the job. She did everything a good baby-sitter was supposed to do: she didn’t let the stranger claiming to be from the gas company into the house and she called the police when the burglar alarm went off in the middle of the afternoon. But that wasn’t enough to prevent a baby-sitter’s worst nightmare from coming true. Now it’s up to Darcy to rescue the Foster kids – and herself – from three ruthless kidnappers.

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Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

This was a book that somehow ended up in my family’s bookshelves when I was a kid and I never got around to reading it, but the title stuck around with me, so I finally decided to request it from the library.

Overall, it was fine. It’s a children’s thriller about a young teenage girl named Darcy who baby-sits to earn herself a little extra money. She decides to take on the Foster job, even though she knows the kids are going to be bratty, but she’s getting a lot of money out of it, so why not? Right from the start, weird things start happening in the book — she and her brother seem to be followed by a black car on their way back from the Foster home to their home; and later, while walking with her friend, Darcy sees the same black car. At the same time, her friend has run away from home to escape her father’s abuse, so she tries to help her out. The main conflict of the story, though, is that Darcy and the Foster kids get kidnapped to earn a ransom and they want to figure out a way to escape from the kidnappers before they get hurt, or worse.

Basically, there’s a lot going on in this book and I’m not sure it holds up. It was written in the 80’s, and a lot of stuff is thrown out that isn’t taken very seriously. And yes, this is a thriller and not a Judy Blume book, but it’s troubling to see abuse get thrown out and not really addressed properly. It seems like the book’s message is: no, don’t talk to the proper authorities, running away is a good option sometimes, which isn’t a great message for kids. Even later, when the kidnapping is resolved, Darcy talks about it like she just had a daring adventure, calling her friend late at night to fill her in on all the “drama.” No mention of trauma? No parental check-ups? They hug her, give her an extra dessert, and let her talk on the phone. It’s all very strange.

With that said, it’s a fairly enjoyable story if you don’t think about it too much, which pretty much fits into the thriller genre overall, in my opinion. It’s nice to see Darcy realize that the kids she watches are more than burdens, so her character growth is interesting in that she starts actually caring for the kids she baby-sits rather than inwardly complain about how spoiled they are. And it’s nice to see the kids go through a change with how they treat her. This is an entertaining story, but not one I think kids today would enjoy, and not something I’d recommend as a “good read” to anyone, but it’s not bad either.

Book Review: The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes

Title: The One That Got Away
Author: Leigh Himes
Publisher: Hachette
Hardcover: 384 pages
Source: BookCon
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Meet Abbey Lahey . . .

Overworked mom. Underappreciated publicist. Frazzled wife of an out-of-work landscaper. A woman desperately in need of a vacation from life–and who is about to get one, thanks to an unexpected tumble down a Nordstrom escalator.

Meet Abbey van Holt . . .

The woman whose life Abbey suddenly finds herself inhabiting when she wakes up. Married to handsome congressional candidate Alex van Holt. Living in a lavish penthouse. Wearing ball gowns and being feted by the crème of Philadelphia society. Luxuriating in the kind of fourteen-karat lifestyle she’s only read about in the pages of Town & Country.

The woman Abbey might have been . . . if she had said yes to a date with Alex van Holt all those years ago.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BEA.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

When I was a couple of chapters into this, if you told me I’d end up liking it, I’d laugh in your face. But, wow, what a surprise! This turned out to be an enjoyable read! Basically, it starts out with Abbey feeling stressed and disappointed by how her life is turning out. Her husband’s business is failing, she hates her job, and she’s just so TIRED. She sees a guy she once turned down for a date in a magazine and wonders what would happen if she had said yes to that date and ended up marrying him instead. Then Poof! Freaky Friday/13 Going on 30-esque magic happens, and her wish comes true — she gets to live the life of rich Abbey married to a successful husband.

I had a very strong feeling about where this would go. She’d realize that all people have problems, learn her lesson, and be grateful for her regular, ordinary life. And it was kind of like that, but the journey there was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. It wasn’t the hokey over-the-top after school special that I thought, but much more human and aware than that. Abbey goes on a self-discovery tour and realizes that while rich Abbey may seem different, they are really the same person; just different versions of each other. This book is less about learning to not take what we have for granted, but more about that who we are is a culmination of the choices we make, and we make choices ALL THE TIME. Those choices — even the small ones like what food you decide to eat for breakfast, what you snack on, or even whether or not you allow yourself to snack — are what make you the person you are and shape the life you live.

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Book Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Title: Things I Should Have Known
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcout
Paperback: 320 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From the author of Epic Fail comes the story of Chloe Mitchell, a Los Angeles girl on a quest to find love for her autistic sister, Ivy. Ethan, from Ivy’s class, seems like the perfect match. It’s unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people, but Chloe can deal, especially when she realizes that David is just as devoted to Ethan as she is to Ivy.

Uncommonly honest and refreshingly funny, this is a story about sisterhood, autism, and first love. Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan, who form a quirky and lovable circle, will steal readers’ hearts and remind us all that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

We are not supposed to judge books by covers or at least that is how that platitude goes, however, the cover for this book was a large factor as to why I picked it up.  I found the description of the book to be an interesting one, and adding in another element to a typical YA book of having an autistic sibling related to the main character drew me in.  I thought it was clever playing with the title on the cover to change the tense of when the character should have have/did “know” these important things.  I was a little let down by this idea not coming up more in the book itself.

Let me start with what I think is my really positive takeaway from the book.  I think that the autistic characters in the book were written very well and respectfully.  There is some interesting nuance used both in developing those characters themselves and, maybe more strikingly in the book, the way that family members interact with these characters.  Any time the book was focused on these relationships I was really interested, and I think that it did a wonderful job portraying these things.

Unfortunately, I found the rest of the novel to be a bit boring and predictable.  I did not particularly like the main character Chloe and think that although there is some growth throughout the book she starts off in such a ludicrously stereotypical place that this character growth doesn’t feel satisfactory.  The same can be said about her dating life in the book.  Things are not just telegraphed but explicitly stated at times in the book in a way that makes them feel a bit inevitable and like a slog to get through.  I kept hoping that something would happen to subvert this or at least be propelled forward in an interesting way, but at least in my opinion it did not.

That is not to say the book was entirely predictable.  There were a few moments that genuinely seemed to work against the overly simplistic and predictable nature of the majority of the book which were greatly appreciated.  For that reason, I think the book may be one that high school students would enjoy reading.  The more I think about it, the more I feel my criticisms may come from a place of not being the target audience.  Overall I would say it is decent but definitely not something I would go out of my way to read.

Book Review: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Title: Cork Dork
Author: Bianca Bosker
Publisher: Penguin Books
Paperback: 352 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Like many of us, tech reporter Bianca Bosker saw wine as a way to unwind at the end of a long day, or a nice thing to have with dinner and that was about it. Until she stumbled on an alternate universe where taste reigned supreme, a world in which people could, after a single sip of wine, identify the grape it was made from, in what year, and where it was produced down to the exact location, within acres. Where she tasted wine, these people detected not only complex flavor profiles, but entire histories and geographies. Astounded by their fanatical dedication and seemingly superhuman sensory powers, Bosker abandoned her screen-centric life and set out to discover what drove their obsession, and whether she, too, could become a cork dork.

Thus begins a year and a half long adventure that takes the reader inside elite tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, a California winery that manipulates the flavor of its bottles with ingredients like Mega Purple, and even a neuroscientist s fMRI machine as Bosker attempts to answer the most nagging question of all: what s the big deal about wine? Funny, counterintuitive, and compulsively readable, Cork Dork illuminates not only the complex web of wine production and consumption, but how tasting better can change our brains and help us live better.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Andrew and I started learning more about wine when we first read The Judgment of Paris by George M. Taber. Once we started earning money from having jobs (rather than being rather poor full-time students), wine became a favorite drink of ours to start off and end our weekends. We were fascinated with the history of winemaking and the culture that surrounds it. We’ve lately taken our drinking a step further and joined a wine club where we very rarely drink the same bottle twice — we love trying new wines, seeing what they pair with, and comparing them to other wines we’ve had. So, when I saw Cork Dork available on Netgalley, it seemed like the perfect fit.

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Book Review: Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Industrial Magic
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 4
Publisher: Spectra Books
Paperback: 528 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Paige Winterbourne, a headstrong young woman haunted by a dark legacy, is now put to the ultimate test as she fights to save innocents from the most insidious evil of all…

In the aftermath of her mother’s murder, Paige broke with the elite, ultraconservative American Coven of Witches. Now her goal is to start a new Coven for a new generation. But while Paige pitches her vision to uptight thirty-something witches in business suits, a more urgent matter commands her attention.

Someone is murdering the teenage offspring of the underworld’s most influential Cabals—a circle of families that makes the mob look like amateurs. And none is more powerful than the Cortez Cabal, a faction Paige is intimately acquainted with. Lucas Cortez, the rebel son and unwilling heir, is none other than her boyfriend. But love isn’t blind, and Paige has her eyes wide open as she is drawn into a hunt for an unnatural-born killer. Pitted against shamans, demons, and goons, it’s a battle chilling enough to make a wild young woman grow up in a hurry. If she gets the chance.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

While I am usually very strict about only reading series in order, for some reason, I’ve skipped around in this one a lot. Maybe because different books are from different perspectives? Anyway, I picked this up after being away from this series for a while, so it took me a bit to figure out exactly where I was in each character’s storylines. Having already read sequels, I must say it was way too much fun meeting Jaime the necromancer for the first time. Her first impression is as ridiculous and wonderful as I wanted it.

This book is a fun mystery/thriller with supernatural aspects involved, and of course, it includes all of our favorite characters from the Otherworld series; I love that the werewolves make an appearance in this novel. (Since the series started with Elena, I have a feeling that she and Clay will always be my ultimate favorites.) But I really would recommend this book for thriller lovers, I kept referring to it as the “supernatural serial killer” novel I was reading, and it fits so perfectly. Basically, Paige and Lucas agree to help the Cabals (supernatural mafia-like groups) to help find the person who’s been killing teenagers of Cabal employees. It follows the typical thriller-style of stories where they think they have the whole thing solved, but it turns out that they were missing a couple pieces of the puzzle, which makes for an interesting, surprising read.

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Book Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Title: Masque of the Red Death
Author: Bethany Griffin
Series: Masque of the Red Death, Book 1
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Hardcover: 319 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery makeup . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club, and Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This was a huge hype book when it came out, so I was excited to (finally) pick up a copy and read it. I enjoy Edgar Allan Poe’s short story that this is loosely based upon and was interested to see what sort of world Griffin would create around that idea — especially one that would hold up for an entire novel and its sequel.

Masque of the Red Death is basically a post-apocalyptic dystopia rather loosely set in Victorian times, with some steampunk elements to it; for example, Araby and her friend April ride in steam-powered carriages, created because horses died from the plague that killed off most of the population in the city. While Poe’s short story focused on the Prince Prospero’s parties and how he locked everyone up to escape the plague, this story mostly focuses on outside Prince Prospero’s castle and what’s happening while he hides from the city’s problems. We get to briefly meet him and hear about him because April is his niece and Araby is the daughter of the scientist who invented a mask filtration system that allows the rich to go outside and survive.

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Book Review: Console Wars by Blake J. Harris

Title: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
Author: Blake J. Harris
Publisher: It Books
Hardcover: 576 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Following the success of The Accidental Billionaires and Moneyball comes Console Wars—a mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video game industry.

In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the video game industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But that would all change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a man who knew nothing about videogames and everything about fighting uphill battles. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat and bold ideas of his renegade employees, transformed Sega and eventually led to a ruthless David-and-Goliath showdown with rival Nintendo.

The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and schoolyards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the US against Japan.

Based on over two hundred interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the underdog tale of how Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punchline into a market leader. It’s the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, birth a $60 billion dollar industry.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I came across this book a while ago and, growing up in a hardcore Nintendo family, I was interested in learning the history behind Sega and Nintendo, especially since I was a kid in the 90s and while I don’t quite remember how Sega became a thing, I remember it being novel to me when one of my friends said they had a Genesis rather than an SNES. It’s been sitting on my to-read list for quite a while and my interest in it was renewed when my husband (who’s way more knowledgeable about video games than even I am, and that’s saying something) decided to read it as one of his summer reads. After not too much cajoling by him, I finally picked it up to read it.

Console Wars is interesting, because while it mostly follows Kalisnke, who was the CEO who got Sega to become a household name, it’s not told in any sort of biography or memoir format and mostly heavily focuses on marketing, the partnerships between the different gaming companies, and the games/systems themselves. So, if you’re not interested in the history of video games or how feats of marketing can completely change a company, this book is very much not for you. I studied marketing at university, so reading the different techniques the companies used to get ahead was fascinating. Also, like I said, I come from a hardcore Nintendo family and grew up playing the NES and SNES (if I remember correctly, actually, my family purchased every single system Nintendo came out with), so it was fun to see things from the “competitor’s” side and also read about how Nintendo responded to what was happening.

Overall, this gives a fairly comprehensive look at how Sega and Nintendo originated and also touches on the history of some well-known video gaming companies like Electronic Arts and Namco. I love that the human element is included and we get to learn about who the people are that drove video game innovation, even while so many were saying that it was bound to die. It was a slow read for me, but I very much enjoyed the steady pacing and the sheer volume of information that this book contained.

Book Review: The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Floating Island
Author: Elizabeth Haydon
Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, Book 1
Publisher: Starscape
Paperback: 368 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Long ago, in the Second Age of history, a young Nain explorer by the name of Ven Polypheme traveled much of the known and unknown world, recording his adventures. Recently discovered by archaeologists, a few fragments of his original journals are reproduced in this book. Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told…

Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–is the youngest son of a long line of famous shipwrights. He dreams not of building ships, but of sailing them to far-off lands where magic thrives. Ven gets his chance when he is chosen to direct the Inspection of his family’s latest ship–and sets sail on the journey of a lifetime.

Attacked by fire pirates, lost at sea and near death, Ven is rescued by a passing ship on its way to the Island of Serendair. Thankful to be alive, little does Ven know that the pirate attack–and his subsequent rescue–may not have been an accident. Shadowy figures are hunting for the famed Floating Island, the only source of the mystical Water of Life. They think Ven can lead them to this treasure, and will stop at nothing to get it–even murder.

In a narrative that alternates entries from his journals and drawings from his sketchbooks, Ven begins the famous chronicles of his exciting and exotic adventures–adventures that would later earn him renown as the author of The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

This book is just downright fun. I picked it up because Elizabeth Haydon writes an AMAZING adult fantasy series (Symphony of Ages, if you want to look into that), and I wanted to see how her middle grade stands up against that. The answer I found: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme might actually be better than Symphony of Ages.

The Floating Island centers around a 50-year-old “Nain” (literally french for dwarf — very cool wordplay there) named Ven, who is just reaching his majority by his race’s standards. He is the son of a shipmaker and when he goes to inspect his father’s newest ship, he embarks on what seems to be a never-ending adventure full of twists, surprises, and magic. This feels like an old-fashioned, true adventure story to me, and it’s something I would have DEVOURED when I was twelve — mermaids, dwarves, pirates, kings, intrigue, revenants, magic — this book has everything I love about fantasy, and more. Even as an adult, I enjoyed it immensely. It’s well done in that it’s framed as a “true” story and these journals of Ven were recently discovered and gathered and published by the author. The narrative itself is interesting in that it switches between straight-up journal entries told from Ven’s perspective and regular narration. This definitely allowed the story to strike a balance between being fast-paced while also remaining true to the journal idea. The illustrations by Brett Helquist are great and add a lot to the story in terms of being able to imagine everything and giving credence to the journal idea.

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