Book Review: Warcross


Warcross

Warcross
by Marie Lu
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Form: Library Audiobook and Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: Online Gaming, Virtual Reality, Hacking

Summary from Goodreads: For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

My thoughts: As the book started, I definitely saw the book as a little too similar to Ready Player One. Poor kid, virtual game world, fame and fortune, etc. But once the mystery element was introduced, I was much more into the story. Emika’s identity as both a hacker and bounty hunter makes her a fun character to follow as she tracks down a mysterious figure. The Dark Web, bombs, assassination attempts, etc. were more exciting than the game they played (and I often found myself zoning out during the virtual game portions).

I liked having Asian lead characters–I have a ton of Asian students this year and have been looking for more books featuring Asian leads.

But what made this book great was the ending. There is a big twist that I didn’t see coming. And you are left with a really tough moral decision for Emika to make. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel to see where this story goes next.

Overall: A fun read that is similar to Ready Player One in many ways, but with a mystery plot that will grab you and a twist at the end that will get you thinking.

Book Event Preview: NoVa Teen Book Fest 2018

NTBF Logo

NoVa Teen Book Fest
Saturday, March 10, 2018
9am – 5pm
Washington-Lee High School
Arlington, VA

Why you should consider going:
First off, it’s FREE. Secondly, this is one of the most well-organized, thoughtful, fun, and cozy author events in the DC area. The coordinators attract amazing authors, whether it be up and coming talent like the fantastic Jason Reynolds or industry legends like Holly Black.

My favorite part is how this festival groups and organizes authors onto panels surrounding a particular theme. The themes can be timely/relevant to modern issues or focus on a particular element of author’s craft.

Despite how fantastic the event is and it’s growing reputation, the venue is not overcrowded. The auditorium is comfy, the microphones work, the stage easy to see. The breakout rooms give attendees great opportunities to talk to authors in a small group setting. There is a free, covered parking garage for icky weather. And the festival arranges for various food trucks to stop by around lunchbreak.

Here is a link to this year’s schedule: NoVa Teen 2018 Schedule

And below are some authors/books that I’m excited to see this year!

Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi
Author of Children of Blood and Bone

Summary from Goodreads: Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

The Belles

Dhonielle Clayton
Author of The Belles

Summary from Goodreads: Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

One of Us is LyingKaren M. McManus
Author of One of Us is Lying

Summary from Goodreads: Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.”

MoxieJennifer Mathieu
Author of Moxie

Summary from Goodreads: Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

UnearthedMeagan Spooner
Author of Unearthed

Summary from Goodreads: When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

Before She Ignites

Jodi Meadows
Author of Before She Ignites

Summary from Goodreads: Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer. Since the day she was born, she’s been told she’s special. Important. Perfect. She’s known across the Fallen Isles not just for her beauty, but for the Mira Treaty named after her, a peace agreement which united the seven islands against their enemies on the mainland.

But Mira has never felt as perfect as everyone says. She counts compulsively. She struggles with crippling anxiety. And she’s far too interested in dragons for a girl of her station.

Then Mira discovers an explosive secret that challenges everything she and the Treaty stand for. Betrayed by the very people she spent her life serving, Mira is sentenced to the Pit–the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. There, a cruel guard would do anything to discover the secret she would die to protect.

No longer beholden to those who betrayed her, Mira must learn to survive on her own and unearth the dark truths about the Fallen Isles–and herself–before her very world begins to collapse.

Nyxia

Scott Reintgen
Author of Nyxia

Summary from Goodreads: Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

A Land of Permanent GoodbyesAtia Abawi
Author of A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

Summary from Goodreads: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.

Down and AcrossArvin Ahmadi
Author of Down and Across

Summary from Goodreads:
Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. Writing the Great American Novel? Three chapters. His summer internship? One week. His best friends know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott can hardly commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion.

With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious and settle on a career path like engineering or medicine. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, DC, to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold out of what was supposed to be a one-day visit. But that’s what Scott gets when he meets Fiora Buchanan, a ballsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles. When the bicycle she lends him gets Scott into a high-speed chase, he knows he’s in for the ride of his life. Soon, Scott finds himself sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the crossword thing a try–all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be.

To Kill a KingdomAlexandra Christo
Author of To Kill a Kingdom

Summary from Goodreads: Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

And many more authors will be there! That was just a sampling!
Hope to see you there!

New Release: Down and Across

Down and AcrossRelease Date: February 6, 2018

Down and Across
by Arvin Ahmadi

Summary from Goodreads:
Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. Writing the Great American Novel? Three chapters. His summer internship? One week. His best friends know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott can hardly commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion.

With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious and settle on a career path like engineering or medicine. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, DC, to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold out of what was supposed to be a one-day visit. But that’s what Scott gets when he meets Fiora Buchanan, a ballsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles. When the bicycle she lends him gets Scott into a high-speed chase, he knows he’s in for the ride of his life. Soon, Scott finds himself sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the crossword thing a try–all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be.

I can’t wait for this book because:
Sounds like a great coming-of-age story! I love that it focuses on the idea of grit and perseverance. Fiora, with her crossword obsession, sounds like just the type of quirky character I’d love! And it’s set in DC, my childhood hometown!

This author will be at the NoVa Teen Book Fest on March 10, 2018!

Book Review: Heartless

HeartlessHeartless
by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Form: Audiobook & Hardback
Big Themes: Fate, Freewill, Love, Friendship, Baking

Summary from Goodreads: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

My thoughts: At it’s core, this book is a tragedy about a girl trying to build her own life and everything that prevents her. Girls of today will read this and be so grateful that they don’t have to deal with the social norms and restrictions that were common for women years ago.

The theme of fate vs freewill is developed beautifully. Throughout the book, you root for Cath’s freewill–for her bakery plans to come to fruition, for her to choose Jest over the King. She knows what will make her happy, but fate and those around her keep getting in her way. The tragedy in this story is that ultimately it is one choice she actually does make that results in her losing everything.

One moment that really broke my heart was on Cath’s wedding day, when she is marrying a man she doesn’t love, her parents finally ask,

“Is this what’s going to make you happy?”
“How different everything could have been, if you had thought to ask me that before.”

Marissa Meyer did such an outstanding job of capturing the whimsy and nonsense of Wonderland in this origin story for the Queen of Hearts. The characters, dialogue, and world all felt like an authentic new addition to Carroll’s canon.

And the nods to Poe through Raven were an unexpected fun touch!

If you are a foodie or enjoy binge-watching The Great British Baking Show… this is your book. Cath is a passionate and gifted baker, and the descriptions of her baking are enough to make this book worth reading purely for that alone. One chapter in, and you’ll be craving lemon tarts.

I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Soler. She was FANTASTIC as a narrator. I began this book as an audiobook and finished the last 40 pages in hardback. The audiobook really brought Marissa Meyer’s words to life and captured a tone of whimsy that was hard to recreate in my own head. I just can’t recreate the Cheshire Cat’s drawling voice like the narrator could.

Overall: A wonderful and whimsical tragedy from Marissa Meyer. Highly recommend the audiobook. 4.5 stars

January 2018 Recap

Reading Nook

By the Numbers:
Physical Books Read: 0
eBooks Read: 1
Audiobooks Read: 1
Graphic Novels Read: 0
TOTAL: 2

Wordy Hughes Awards:
Character BFF: Feyre–Her self acceptance is so admirable, and her support for her friends and sisters would make her an ideal friend!
Character Crush: Rishi–The date he planned for Dimple warmed my book-loving heart!
Place I Wish Was Real: Thesan’s palace in the Dawn Court. It’s described as being made of opalescent golden sunstone, with purple wisteria hanging from the walls. That image, along with the balconies and spiral staircases, made me wish a place of this beauty was real.

Links to Posts Published this Month:
A Court of Mist and Fury (December Read)
Ready Player One (December Read)
The Westing Game (December Read)
A Court of Wings and Ruin
When Dimple Met Rishi
On Writing: Healthy Masculinity

February TBR:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi (currently reading)
Heartless
by Marissa Meyer (current audiobook)
The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Saga comics
Monstress comics

Overall: I was aiming for a book a week (or four books for the month), but fell short of that. One reason for that was frustration over an audiobook being returned to the library before I was finished. ARGH. I then stopped listening to audiobooks on my commute for about a week, out of pure irritation. Also, I need to knock out some graphic novels that have been piling up, so hopefully I’ll be able to play catch-up in February to reach my goals!

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

ACOWARA Court of Wings and Ruin
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury
Form: Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Love, Relationships, Sisterhood, Sacrifice, Identity, Redemption

Summary from Goodreads (Book 3): Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

My thoughts:
The final book in the series really excels in two ways: world-building and showing the costs of war.

In this book, more than any other, we get glimpses of the other Courts: Autumn Court, Winter Court, Dawn Court, and Day Court. The Dawn Court in particular was one that I loved imagining. Their palace reads like a calm, pastel paradise:

Steps and balconies and archways and verandas and bridges linked the towers and gilded domes of the palace, periwinkle morning glories climbing the pillars and neatly cut blocks of stone to drink in the gilded mists wafting by.

It’s not just places that we get glimpses of, but the people who inhabit each of the different Courts. The world really comes to life, and sets up a wealth of possibilities for future books.

I was also really impressed with how the author conveyed the costs of war. While lives lost, injury, and overall destruction were portrayed, it was the mental and spiritual toll that she highlighted in the story. Seeing war from Feyre’s point-of-view, someone who hasn’t experienced it prior, gave a glimpse of how war changes your soul. And yet why she fought and what drove her. For a series that has explored abuse, trauma, and recovery–it made sense for the author to show the toll war takes on the mind and spirit.

While not the last book in this world, this book is a solid conclusion to the trilogy that is Feyre’s story arc. Readers will be satisfied with her growth as a character and her role in protecting the world she loves.

Overall: This series was a pleasant surprise. If you enjoy lush fantasy world-building, strong female protagonists, deep ensemble cast of characters, and well-written action sequences, this series delivers. Recommended for older teens due to mature content and themes (sex, violence, abuse).

On Writing: Healthy Masculinity

Healthy Masculinity.jpgHealthy masculinity versus toxic masculinity is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. In the last ten years, the publishing industry has focused a great deal on strong girls, and I’m so very grateful. I’m seeing evidence of this feminist push every day in my classroom. I have THE BEST strong girls as students this year. Girls with dreams and voices and determination.

But our world needs healthy men, too. And I’m growing more and more concerned at what we feed our boys–through media, movies, games, TV, advertising, and literature.

The hardest part of this process is realizing that my idea of masculinity has been formed by toxic messages around me. And that I need to change my own ideas on masculinity.

A moment that woke me up was my general lukewarm feelings towards the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I couldn’t put my finger on why this movie didn’t thrill me like Harry Potter did.

Then I watched this video:

The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

After watching the video about Newt’s version of masculinity, I learned that Newt wasn’t the type of hero I was accustomed to in film–and yet he was one that embodied many of the traits I wanted in a man. And I suddenly realized that something was wrong with my ideas of masculinity. And it was disorienting. I needed to rewire my brain.

My very first celebrity crush was Han Solo. I watched Star Wars for the first time in 2nd grade. So I was seven years old when Han Solo became the epitome of crushworthy. I know I’m not alone in my crush on Harrison Ford. But that crush gives me a sick feeling these days.

Because this video shook me to my core:

Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies

I’d had a crush on a man who didn’t value consent. Who didn’t listen to women when they said no. Who trapped and coerced women. This wasn’t the kind of man I wanted in real life. I wanted one who listened to me and respected me.

With this new awareness, toxic masculinity was appearing to me everywhere. It unnerves me that my male students are likely absorbing these messages about masculinity each and every day.

What is toxic masculinity? The social construct that defines masculinity as unemotional, violent, sexually aggressive, the lesser capable parent, and more. Any traditionally feminine traits are emasculating. Men cannot: be emotional, show sympathy, need help, like cute things, and more.

I suddenly realized there were ways that, in my very classroom, I was unconsciously feeding my students this toxic masculinity without realizing it. Every year while teaching Shakespeare, I criticize Romeo for how he goes on and on about his emotions. I chastise how moody he is, swinging from depression to bliss and back again. However, in doing so, am I further sending the message to my male students that it is not okay to share how they are feeling? Am I telling them to bottle up their emotions because no one wants to hear them?

I needed to educate myself and do self reflection. So I have been. And it’s made me appreciate so many things about the men in my life.

I love that my boyfriend prefers going to art museums with me than spending his Sundays watching football. I love that he is comfortable talking about how he’s feeling, things that are bothering him, and his dreams for the future. I love that he’s a good listener. And I love that we’ve discussed the possibility of him being a stay-at-home dad. None of these things make him any less of a man to me.

I love watching my younger brother and his wife. He freely expresses how much he loves her. He dresses up as Disney characters because it makes her happy. He frequently plans and cooks dinner. None of these things make him any less of a man.

As a writer, every single thing I experience feeds my writing. How has media shaped my perceptions of the ideal man? I don’t want my subconscious to create toxic men in my books. And so I’m trying to rewire my brain with healthy examples of masculinity.

So in addition to creating strong girl characters in my stories, I will now be very conscious of the male characters I create as well. I want to fuel a new vision of masculinity:

  • Men who show emotion: love, sadness, fear, compassion, and giddy joy.
  • Male/female friendship and companionship.
  • Men who appreciate romance and the slow process of getting to know someone.
  • Men solving problems diplomatically and in non-violent ways.
  • Men who compromise.
  • Men who enjoy childcare and parenthood… and excel at it.
  • Men who ask for help, work as part of a team, and consult others for advice.

I am still learning, growing, and developing my understanding of this topic. It’s going to be a process, but awareness is the first step.

I’d love to do some follow-up posts on books, movies, TV shows that have great examples of healthy masculinity. Comment below with anything you think I should check out!

Here are some additional sources that helped inform me on the topic:

What is Toxic Masculinity?

The Unfulfilled Potential of Video Games

Male Protagonist Bingo: A Study in Cliches

We Need Better Male Literary Heroes