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 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

Audiobook Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon
Published by: Simon Pulse
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Arranged Marriage, College Life, Love, Friendship, Indian Culture, Coding, Comics

Summary from Goodreads: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

My thoughts: This book was such a fun surprise!! It was such a fun, sweet love story. The story alternated between Dimple and Rishi’s point-of-view, which I really enjoyed. You get to see what each character is thinking and feeling as they get to know each other, and it made you so invested in seeing their love story work.

I loved how Dimple and Rishi grew and changed over the course of the story. Each character had a fear that they had to overcome in order to be truly happy. The parallel structure of their stories was a nice touch by the author.

I am a sucker for characters with passionate interests. So Dimple’s obsession with coding, and Rishi’s love of comics made the story all the more lovable.

Rishi is a great example of healthy masculinity. He is compassionate, honest, loyal, and strong. We need more male leads like him!

I also really loved a particular moment between Dimple and her mother towards the very end of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was so sweet!

HR sealofapprovalOverall: Five stars! Highly recommend! If you want a happy, feel good read–this is your book! Better for older teens due to some sexual situations.

Book Review: The Westing Game

Westing GameThe Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
Form: Hardback and Audiobook
Big Themes: Murder Mystery, Contest, Disguise, Partnership/Friendship

Summary from Goodreads: A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger – and a possible murderer – to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead… but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

My thoughts: I can definitely see why this book is a children’s classic. Well-crafted characters, unique mystery, and unexpected twists.

My favorite characters were Angela, Turtle, and Chris Theodorakis. I appreciated how our understanding of Angela changed over the course of the book. Turtle is a spunky and a tad unlikable, but you root for her just the same. Chris Theodorakis warms your heart.

This book is a quick read, and perfect for kids ages 8-12. This is the kind of mystery that will grab a young reader and blow their minds.

My only criticism is that the red herrings are so plentiful that the mystery is near impossible for a reader to solve. I prefer mysteries where an astute reader could come to the correct conclusion.

Overall: A classic mystery for young readers.

Audiobook Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One
by Ernest Cline
Published by: Crown Publishers
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Virtual Reality, Video Games, 80’s Pop Culture, Social Class, Corporate Power, Identity

Goodreads Summary: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

What I Liked: The world and concept of Ready Player One is fun to read about. The idea of a virtual world wide contest and the puzzles being linked to 80s pop culture is the engaging core of the book. The idealistic nature of Oasis has relevance to the current battle of net neutrality.

Wil Wheaton is a great narrator of the audiobook. He narrates a lot of near-future, cyber-heavy books. I enjoyed his narration of Cory Doctorow’s Homeland as well.

Criticism: The book was incredibly heavy on info dumps. The author doesn’t just drop 80’s references–he explains each one. I wanted the plot to progress, and even listening to the book on 1.5 speed didn’t help the pace with these constant dumps of information.

I also wasn’t pleased with the roles the female characters played in the story. Both Aech and Art3mis existed for serving the hero’s story which really irked me.

I dreamed up an alternate ending–where Art3mis’ reluctance to be with Wade was due to the fact that her and Aech were already in a relationship. This would have forced Wade to acknowledge and consider other’s goals/wants and not just his own. Wade had to make zero sacrifices in the story to achieve a happy ending.

Instead, I felt like the ending was very much a geek fantasy:

  • Meet hot girl
  • Go from fat to muscular
  • Become famous
  • Defeat bad guy single-handedly
  • Win ultimate game
  • Get super rich
  • Get the hot girl

Wade is a bit of a Mary Sue. He’s too good at everything. I had a hard time believing he had played every video game (dozens of times), watched every TV episode (dozens of times), and watched every movie (dozens of times) at the ripe old age of 17/18? Really? He lacked flaws or anything he had to sacrifice to achieve his goals. And therefore, I had trouble rooting for him.

Overall: A fun adventure story with 80s pop culture references, but with slow pacing due to info dumps and characters who lack depth and growth.

Homeland by Cory Doctorow

HomelandHomeland
by Cory Doctorow

Published by: Tor Teen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Technology, Freedom, Elections, Protest, Corruption

Summary from Goodreads:
In Cory Doctorow’s wildly successful Little Brother, young Marcus Yallow was arbitrarily detained and brutalized by the government in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco―an experience that led him to become a leader of the whole movement of technologically clued-in teenagers, fighting back against the tyrannical security state.

A few years later, California’s economy collapses, but Marcus’s hacktivist past lands him a job as webmaster for a crusading politician who promises reform. Soon his former nemesis Masha emerges from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump of hard evidence of corporate and governmental perfidy. It’s incendiary stuff―and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world. Then Marcus sees Masha being kidnapped by the same government agents who detained and tortured Marcus years earlier.

Marcus can leak the archive Masha gave him―but he can’t admit to being the leaker, because that will cost his employer the election. He’s surrounded by friends who remember what he did a few years ago and regard him as a hacker hero. He can’t even attend a demonstration without being dragged onstage and handed a mike. He’s not at all sure that just dumping the archive onto the Internet, before he’s gone through its millions of words, is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, people are beginning to shadow him, people who look like they’re used to inflicting pain until they get the answers they want.

Review:
What I enjoy about Doctorow’s books is very much present in this one. I enjoy that the narratives take place in the near-future, and therefore, make you think about the current society and your own role in shaping the future. I also enjoy that Doctorow manages to teach you things in his books–whether it’s tech terminology or why cold-brew is superior. Sometimes these info-dump passages can interrupt the pacing of the narrative, but he does it with humor and within the voice of his protagonist–so I let it slide.

The audiobook is well-done and narrated by Wil Wheaton, who is a great reader and there’s some humor to it since he is an actual character within the narrative.

This book is incredibly relevant to what is going on in the world at present–all Doctorow’s books are–in truth. If you haven’t read any of his work, he’s worth paying attention to.

Overall: Four stars. Incredibly relevant to what we currently face in our country in terms of corruption and elections and protest. Story pacing can be interrupted by info dumps at times, but I also like how I learn something while reading Doctorow’s books.

Series Review: The Selection (Part Two)

Selection Series2

The Heir (#4)
The Crown (#5)
by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Falling in Love, Identity, Royalty, Competition, Reality TV

Summary from Goodreads (Book Four): Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn’t expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn’s heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she’s always thought.

Review:
Eadlyn is not as likable a character as her mother, America, was in books one through three. She is spoiled, self-centered, narrow-minded, and determined. Not all those traits are negative. But it’s the way she treats others that really made me dislike her. She does some callous things that will make you cringe during the Selection process. Eadlyn does grow and change over the course of both books, and makes some wonderful, redeeming choices in the end.

The book has some great positive messages for girls. Both books examine double standards of women in leadership positions. And I wonder whether part of Eadlyn being an unlikable character stems from her being not a traditional, submissive female figure.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy these two books as much as the first three, but I’m still glad I listened to them!

Overall:
The first three books in this series are more fun. Eadlyn’s story is tough to get through at times because of her unlikable nature, but there are great feminist messages for girls who want to be leaders someday. Three stars.