Sunday, January 14, 2018

Milk and Honey - Rupi Kaur

Title: Milk and Honey
Author: Rupi Kaur
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 207 pages
Genre: Adult; Poetry
Started: January 13, 2018
Finished: January 14, 2018

From the back of the book:

milk and honey is a
collection of poetry about
and femininity
it is split into four chapters
each chapter serves a different purpose
deals with a different pain
heals a different heartache
milk and honey takes readers through
a journey of the most bitter moments in life
and finds sweetness in them
because there is sweetness everywhere
if you are just willing to look

-about the book

Piggybacking off of the more recent The Sun and Her Flowers, I decided to give the author's first book of poetry a try to see if it was as good as the second.

This first collection is shorter than the second and makes the author's age and relative lack of life experience at the time of writing fairly obvious, hence why I prefer The Sun and Her Flowers over Milk and Honey. The poems in this collection aren't as profound and don't make as much use of metaphor and allusion as the second, you read them and think, "yeah, and so..." When compared to the second collection published three years later (and who knows how much time passed between the actual writing of the poems and the time of publication of the first collection), you can see the author's maturity reflected in her more recent work. Don't get me wrong, there are still a few good ones in this volume that do make you pause to think, but they are few and far between compared to the second instalment.

Though enjoyable, I didn't quite like Milk and Honey as much as The Sun and Her Flowers. I would definitely recommend the former as the kind of book to just borrow from the library rather than owning outright like the latter.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple yet effective. The shiny feel of the cover irks me but it certainly does look nice.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Sun and Her Flowers - Rupi Kaur

Title: The Sun and Her Flowers
Author: Rupi Kaur
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 250 pages
Genre: Adult; Poetry
Started: January 12, 2018
Finished: January 12, 2018

From the back cover:

this is the recipe of life
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too
must wilt
in order to bloom

-rupi kaur

This book has been on practically every bestseller list since it was released in October, but poetry can be such a hit or miss with me that I was just going to wait to read it until a copy became available at the library. A friend ended up posting shots from her copy of the book on social media and that's what finally convinced me to head over to the bookstore and just take the plunge, and I am so glad I did.

This is the second collection of poetry by the author, who is Canadian and local to boot. Her style is free verse, and not everyone enjoys that, but I personally liked the collection as a whole. The only aspect I found a little frustrating at times was the fragmented nature of the poetry and lack of punctuation, sometimes it was difficult to tell when one poem ended and another began. Eventually it all flows and makes sense, but it took a couple pages for that to happen.

The author touches on several themes of love, heartbreak, assault, immigration, self-love, sexism, and  female empowerment, among others. The poems are divided into chapters based on the general mood and theme: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, blooming. The poems are fairly simplistic, not all of them hit home, but some are quite profound. I really appreciated the middle chapter dealing primarily with the author's experiences as the daughter of Indian immigrants, there were quite a few poems concerning her relationship with her mother that made me tear up (I can see a lot of second and third generation women really identifying with that section).

If you're not sure if this would be your thing, google the author's name and take a look at some of the examples of her work. If it touches something deep inside yourself, buy this book and just enjoy it. Some of the content can definitely be considered triggering for some individuals though, so keep that in mind. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Very simple, but it goes with the recurring motif of sunflowers. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome - Ty Tashiro

Title: Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome
Author: Ty Tashiro
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 261 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction
Started: January 1, 2018
Finished: January 8, 2018

From the inside cover:

How can the same traits that make us feel uneasy in social situations also provide the seeds for extraordinary success?

As humans, we all feel the need to belong. While modern social life can make even the most charismatic of us feel gawky, for roughly one in five of us, navigating its challenges is consistently overwhelming - an ongoing maze without an exit. Often bewildered by the social rules of engagement or how to master the skills and grace necessary for smooth interaction, we feel out of sync with with those around us. Though we may recognize we have awkward dispositions, we rarely understand why that is - which makes it hard for us to know how to adjust our behaviour.

Psychologist and interpersonal relationship expert Ty Tashiro knows what it's like to be awkward. Growing up, he could do complex arithmetic in his head and memorize the earned run averages of every National League starting pitcher. But he struggled to add up social cues during interactions with other kids and was prone to forget routine social expectations. In Awkward, he unpacks decades of research in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and sociology to help us better understand this widely shared trait and its origins. He considers how awkward people view our complex world and explains how we can comfortably engage with it, delivering a welcome, counterintuitive message: the same characteristics that make people socially clumsy can be harnessed to produce remarkable achievements.

Interweaving the latest research with personal tales and real world examples, Awkward offers us reassurance, and provides valuable insights into how we can embrace our personal quirks and unique talents to realize our awesome potential.

This was a Christmas gift from my better half, and when I received it I was actually excited to read it and didn't take offence to his choice of reading material for me (we're all self-professed awkward introverts in our family and we admit it proudly).

Similar to Quiet (a lovely book on introversion I highly recommend), the author outlines the subject matter and explains it (what social awkwardness is), tackles societal shifts regarding the subject, and then concludes with how the particular trait has benefits in the real world and how people with said personality trait actually bring quite a lot to the table.

The book is well-researched and decently written; I'll admit the first two sections didn't really do much for me since I realized based on the author's anecdotes that I'm actually not as awkward as I recently thought. Social experiences, though sometimes anxiety-inducing for me, are not mystifyingly difficult; so I'm pretty sure that I'm more introverted than socially awkward. The third section correlates awkwardness and giftedness in terms of the precise focus and need to master their preferred subject matter (similar to children with autistic characteristics, which as he outlines, all tend to overlap and come from the same genetic base). That though these individuals tend to sacrifice social exposure in lieu of time alone to hone their talents, they do have a lot to offer through their dedication and persistence to their craft. I particularly appreciated the advice to parents of awkward (and gifted) kids to give their child opportunities to find other like-minded kids who "get" them, which, unsurprisingly, makes social interaction easier for them.

A great book to help understand that awkward individuals need acceptance and patience while they navigate situations that don't come easily to them, and that they are worth knowing as friends and colleagues.

Thoughts on the cover:
The emojis don't make for a very professional book cover, but they sure are cute here.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Armada - Ernest Cline

Title: Armada
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Crown Publishers (Random House), 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Science Fiction
Started: January 1, 2018
Finished: January 6, 2018

From the inside cover:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and video games he's spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there's nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don't get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he's staring at is straight out of the video game he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada - in which gamers just happen to be protecting Earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn't lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he's seeing is all too real. And his skills - as well as those of millions of gamers around the world - are going to be needed to save Earth from what's about to befall it.

It's Zack's chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can't help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn't something about this scenario seem a little...familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming-of-age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you've ever read before - one whose every page is infused with the pop culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

After reading Ready Player One to get myself ready for the movie in March, I thought I may as well dip into the author's second book to see if it was as enjoyable as the first....sadly to say the author did not strike lightning twice.

Zack Lightman's father died when he was a baby in a freak industrial accident, so it's only natural that he would want to learn more about the father he's said to resemble so much. He plays the same types of video games his father played (and is a top scorer worldwide), as well as reads and watches all the science fiction books and movies his father loved. While reading his father's journals, Zack comes across a weird conspiracy theory penned by his father as a teenager: that the government is using science-fiction movies and video games as tools to train civilians to fight in an alien invasion. Zack worries about his deceased father's delusions, until he sees a flying saucer outside the window one day while sitting in class. Zack believes that some severe mental health issues might be hereditary, until the Earth Defence Alliance (EDA) whisks him away to fight in an alien war that's been going on since the 1970s unbeknownst to ordinary citizens.

This novel had a good premise, and similar to Ready Player One it takes a familiar concept (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for Ready Player One, and Ender's Game and The Last Starfighter in Armada) that's known to readers to hook them onto the story. Unlike in Ready Player One though, Armada doesn't really grow beyond that familiar concept to become its own story. As you read, you're getting the Ender's Game vibes and references and waiting for it to acknowledge it and move forward and it eventually does, but by that point you've lost interest in the characters and you're bored out of your mind.

Armada unfortunately isn't as good of a read as Ready Player One (and I still had my issues with that book as well), so best to skip this one.

Thoughts on the cover:
The cover has metallic accents on it that does make for an eye-pleasing image.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Crown Publishers (Random House), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 372 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: November 20, 2017
Finished: November 30, 2017

From the inside cover:

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS - a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune - and remarkable power - to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved - that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes' oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt - among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life - and love - in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

In advance of the movie coming out in March, I felt I should cover the source material since I know we'll definitely be watching the film and I want to be able to compare the two.

First of all, this is nostalgia porn (other people's words, not mine), a geeky boy's wet dream (my words). It reminds me a lot of reading Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a kid, it's such an engrossing morality tale that children can't help but love; and Ready Player One is the grown-up, geeky male version of it.

Wade Watts lives in 2044 in a world we helped destroy. Humanity now spends most of their time in the online world called OASIS. Through the use of virtual reality visors, haptic gloves, and created avatars, kids attend school there, businesses are run, and people can escape the bleakness of their poverty-stricken lives. James Halliday, the now deceased co-creator of the virtual world, left an Easter egg of sorts hidden within the OASIS, promising his fortune and ownership of the company to whomever can decipher the riddles and find the three keys and subsequent gates. Wade and thousands of others are gunters - egg hunters - deciphering Halliday's riddles and immersing themselves in the culture of the 1980s, the key to solving the clues. After working as a gunter for 5 years with no success, Wade finally stumbles upon the first, the Copper Key. What follows is nothing short of an engrossing adventure that certainly entertains.

I have only one real issue with the book itself. The world-building is quite well-done, Wade is a sympathetic character, most of the book moves along in a brisk fashion that rarely lags...but the one persistent feeling I had while reading this book was that it was oh-so blatantly male. At one point Wade lists off Halliday's favourite things, and the list is male dominated. I get that the feminine influence was lacking in the mainstream media of the 80s, but it wasn't completely absent. Even the John Hughes movies are categorized into male and female-oriented, and there's a scene where a fellow gunter makes fun of Wade for enjoying a movie that was targeted towards women. Halliday's friendship with Og falls apart because of a woman, there's only one female character for 90% of the book, and all the creators of the mentioned pop culture are male (I figured Madonna's music would at least get a mention in a book about 80s pop culture, but alas no). All these examples make the story seem sexist, despite the strong character of Art3mis later on. That's not to say the story isn't enjoyable because of this issue, as a female geek who was born in the early 80s I quite liked it, but I got the pervasive sense that this is exclusively male with no room for women or girls, much like how I felt growing up in the 80s and 90s until I discovered aspects of pop culture that could actually pass the Bechdel test. There is another issue about the "diversity" of the novel that I can't bring up because it is spoiler-heavy in regards to the ending.

A great, engrossing story. For my only issue with it, see above.

Thoughts on the cover:
This is the original cover, the new one has an image of Wade scaling the stacks. I like the little 8-bit character reaching for the key, it's a nice little detail.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spinning - Tillie Walden

Title: Spinning
Author: Tillie Walden
Publisher: First Second Books, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 395 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Nonfiction, Graphic Novel
Started: November 18, 2017
Finished: November 19, 2017

From the inside cover:

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden's life. Sh woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing in glitter and tights. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family.

But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the closed-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life.

Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award-winner Tillie Walden's powerful graphic memoir captures what its like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

I'm still on my Yuri on Ice kick, hence the figure skating book. This isn't really a graphic novel about figure skating though, it's a coming of age memoir about a girl coming out of the closet and how her lifelong hobby, figure skating, affected that.

This memoir, in graphic novel format, is quite poignant and heartfelt; I'm amazed that the author is only 21 and managed to craft something like this. My only beef with the work is that I feel that some aspects were introduced and then abandoned too soon for my liking, like her relationship with her mother, and the sexual assault for example. I did appreciate how the author mentions that the only reason she even kept up with figure skating at the beginning was for the affection shown to her by her first coach, it really highlights the importance of other adult figures in a kids life besides parents.

The art style isn't as detailed as what I'm used to seeing, but I liked it; and the purple and grey colour palette is really appealing.

A nice quick read, and worth it for the subject matter (our kids need more LGBTQ representation in their media).

Thoughts on the cover:
A nice image that showcases the author's drawing style, plus it's nicely symbolic how Tillie is the only girl looking off in the opposite direction.

Monday, November 13, 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson

Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: November 7, 2017
Finished: November 13, 2017

From the inside cover:

With a flock of her paintbrush, Isobel creates stunning portraits for a dangerous set of clients: the fair folk. These immortal creatures cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and they trade valuable enchantments for Isobel's paintings. But when she receives her first royal patron - Rook, the autumn prince - Isobel makes a deadly mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes, a weakness that could cost him his throne, and even his life.

Furious, Rook spirits Isobel away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously amiss in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending on each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, perhaps even love...a forbidden emotion that would violate the fair folk's ruthless laws, rendering both their lives forfeit. What force could Isobel's paintings conjure that is powerful enough to defy the ancient malice of the fairy courts?

Isobel and Rook journey along a knife-edge in a lush world where beauty masks corruption and the cost of survival might be more frightening than death itself.

Fae, fantasy, and that stunning cover. I love me some fairy lore, so I was so along for this ride. The ride was enjoyable, no doubt, but I wasn't as impressed as I was hoping I'd be.

The premise has such potential: the Fae, who are cunning, vain and cannot lie, are sorted into their seasonal courts like in many other fantasy settings. They crave the products of human imagining (writing, painting, cooking, crafting, etc.) and routinely leave their realm to visit Whimsy, a place shrouded in eternal summer where humans live to produce Craft and hope to live long enough without being subject to the callous whims of the Fae around them. There's the World Beyond that people can escape to, or humans can drink from the Green Well to become Fae themselves.

Amongst all this, Isobel is a painter, specializing in portraits, and her work is prized among the fair folk. When Rook, the Autumn price, asks for his portrait, Isobel finds herself falling in love with him, and he with her, over the several weeks he sits for her. When her work depicting human sorrow in his eyes is unveiled to Rook's court, he absconds with her back to the autumnlands to have her stand trial for her crime of exposing his weakness, but they never make it that far, being diverted by Hemlock and the Wild Hunt pursuing them.

The pure imagination of the setting and the details surrounding it are just amazing. The author is a good writer as well, so I have to give her props for those two elements. The only thing that was a bit of a detriment was that there wasn't enough explained in terms of the world building, like how did Whimsy come to be? What is the World Beyond? Why do the Fae crave Craft? What is the deal with the Alder King and the Wild Hunt? There's so much introduced here and it isn't really built upon, at least to my satisfaction. Also, the romance wasn't really believable. Isobel and Rook essentially fall in love before they go on their crazy journey through fairy land, and it just isn't realistic considering they barely speak during the time the portrait is being commissioned. Other than those two things, the book is quite the enjoyable ride, but unfortunately prevent it from being an absolutely stellar book that I was really hoping for.

Definitely worth the read, but sadly not amazing. I'm interested enough though to see what the author writes in the future though, there's a lot of promise here.

Thoughts on the cover:
Freaking stunning illustration of Isobel and Rook (in raven form). The illustrator is Charlie Bowater, seriously go Google this guy and stand in awe of his work. He has some work in his gallery from Sarah J. Maas' Court of Thrones and Roses trilogy, so any fans of that work can go ogle those like I did.