Review: Ascension

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

177512745/5 stars 

“Pain is just the world wanting us to pay attention to it because we’re so damned beautiful it can’t stand being ignored.”

Alana Quick is stuck; she repairs spaceship engines for a living and doesn’t make enough to pay for the advanced medication she needs for her chronic pain. Her and her aunt Lai both suffer from a disease, Mel’s, that puts their bodies under enormous stress and pain when they don’t take medication. Alana dreams of being able to afford treatments for her and Lai someday, and the only thing she needs is a steady job. The opportunity finally arises when Alana gets a visit from a spaceship captain in search of her sister. Alana makes the gut decision to stow away on the ship in hopes that, once they are far enough away, the crew will be forced to keep her on board for the remainder of their current mission. This is Alana’s only chance at making a better life for her and her aunt, maybe the crew of this ship can understand that and take her onboard as an engineer.

WOW. This book has a mix of everything I’ve ever wanted. It has a space ship, a crew of multi-alien-cultures, a main character of color with a disability, and many queer characters whose plot lines don’t revolve around being queer. If this sounds like something you’d love, like it does for me, read on!

Sidenote: This book is VERY comparable to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I loved both books and would recommend them to basically anyone who likes science fiction.

Ascension is full of diversity. One of my favorite parts about science fiction is getting to read about new, unique alien cultures and species, and Jacqueline Koyanagi really incorporated that into this book. Really, all of the characters ware anthropomorphic (mostly,,,), but all of them are from different cultures and go through life with unique things in mind. The author really does an amazing job portraying that they all have their own sets of values and beliefs about how the world works. Often, it’s hard to give each character their own personhood, especially when there are many individuals in a regular length novel, but Jacqueline does it very well.

This is the first adult book I’ve read that really puts chronic illness and pain in the spotlight. It’s a very easy thing to get wrong, by trivializing it or romanticizing it, but when it’s done right, it is done RIGHT. Alana is an independent woman with a strong work ethic and heart full of determination. In addition, she also suffers from a chronic illness. This disease, Mel’s, acts up unexpectedly. Alana has some good days and some not so good days, just like a real person with chronic pain. When Alana has flare-ups, she takes her medication as prescribed and works through it. Seeing her push through the horrible pain and tremors is heartbreaking because real people suffering with real invisible illnesses experience this all the time. I think it’s very important to normalize books that have main characters with disabilities because actual people like that are EVERYWHERE.

I also want to mention the representation of people of color in Ascension. Many books introduce characters by giving a physical description—hair color, skin tone, and clothing style. Ascension does this by mentioning that Alana pulls her “locs” back out of her face and the dark complexion of her skin. The thing that this book does that most others don’t is that it doesn’t let the reader forget that Alana is a person of color. Her locs, the texture of her hair, and the color of her skin are all mentioned multiple times. Jacqueline did not write Alana and just add on the fact that she’s a person of color, she wrote Alana AS a person of color. This is so important for representation.

Everything about this book was an A+ for me– The characters, the storylines, the writing, and the takeaways. It’s everything you could ever want from a sci fi book. This book made me happy in so many ways but there are two I want to highlight: Ascension does an amazing job portraying what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and it successfully uses minorities (sexuality and race wise) as more than just plot devices. Thank you, Jacqueline Koyanagi, for this brilliant book.

Review- Strange Medicine

Strange Medicine by Mike Russell

strangemedicine-coverforwebsite4.5/5 stars

“Sometimes the suffering of one individual is so great that it renders unjustifiable any purpose that the universe could possibly have.”

A little boy who talks to a rock, a headless fish who grows from living skin, a bridge that randomly generates, and a man who cradles a large box nearly every minute of every day. These are some of the interesting things that happen within the 8 short stories of Strange Medicine. Some of the stories make you laugh, some make you think, some have good morals, and others just don’t make any sense. If you want to teleport into a few weird, fantastical stories, try Strange Medicine and see where it takes you.

Strange Books was extremely generous and sent me a copy of Strange Medicine in return for an honest book review. I’m very honored that they chose to contact me and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to read this book because I ended up liking so much!

This is a short book—141 pages. But, these are 141 pages of fun, horror, humor, and thoughtfulness. I had no idea where this book would take me (and I’m still not quite sure where it took me) but I’m so happy with the journey I found myself on. Every story was witty, in its own unique way, and kept me racing through the pages to find the catch at the end of each chapter.

Mike Russell has an extensive imagination. I’ve never read a short story collection with such a wide variety of characters who, truly, were each their own concoction of weirdness. Most stories have one or two unique characters who are a little bit out there, but Strange Medicine was full of them. I applaud Mike Russell for having the dedication to fill all 8 stories with unforgettable characters who will remain in my forethoughts for a long time.

I also want to add that Mike Russell’s writing style is something that is not seen very often in short stories. I sometimes have a hard time with short stories because I can’t keep up with the rapid plot and character developments and get a bit confused halfway through a story. Strange Medicine was not like that for me, at all. The writing style was extremely easy to follow and understand, even with the short length of chapters. If you are convinced that short stories are not for you, I urge you to try this book; it’s very different from anything else I’ve read.

If you can’t tell, Strange Medicine blew me away. I wasn’t even really a short story person, that is, until I read this book. I loved so many things about this collection as a whole and as individual stories, but I don’t want to spoil any of the plot. Again, a huge thank you to Strange Books for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I hope to read more of their stuff in the future because I loved Strange Medicine!

Review: Crank

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

“Life was good
before I
met
the monster.
After,
life
was great
At least
for a little while” 

5/5 stars

51Q0w0XnijL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Kristina is the poster child for model kids; she has good grades, solid friends, and has a great relationship with her mom and step dad. Everything is going smoothly until she visits her biological father, across the country, the summer before she turns 16. There, her life changes. Kristina falls in love, she sees her dad for who he really is, she experiences someone she knows attempt suicide, and she meets the monster. The monster is crank and it quickly takes control of her life. Kristina becomes someone new when she’s high, someone more confident and daring: Bree. Unfortunately, Bree doesn’t go away when Kristina returns to her mother’s home and begins school. How can she balance her perfect life and the monster?

This book grabbed me from the first page. This is the first Ellen Hopkins book I’ve read and it did not let down. A lot of my friends read and loved Impulse in high school, so I already had high hopes. The way that Hopkins uses verse to keep the pages turning and the reader engaged is brilliant. I couldn’t put Crank down!

Kristina’s story is one that readers of all ages can learn from. When Kristina returns home from her dad’s, her addiction has only just begun. She goes for weeks without crank until she finds herself craving it again. After that, Kristina constantly puts herself in risky situations with no care for the consequences, as long as they result in crank. Readers get to see how quickly Kristina’s life falls apart as she starts using crank more frequently and hanging around people (mostly men) who hurt and use her.

Crank not only shows what drug addiction does to an individual, but also how it affects family and friends. Readers really get to see how Kristina’s addiction hurts her parents and siblings. Her mother and stepfather see the warning signs as Kristina spends more time alone and acts extremely agitated by blowing up at seemingly minor problems and they immediately start to worry. There are a few instances when they talk to Kristina separately to check on her and the reader really understands how much they’re hurting. Even when Kristina won’t tell them what is going on, knowing that they’re daughter is hiding something big from them tears them apart.

The thing that really makes Crank something special is that is based off of Hopkins’ daughter and her struggles with addiction. There is a bonus chapter at the end of the book that explains how much of the book is true to her daughter’s story and what is made up. She does a phenomenal wrap up by highlighting the dangers of addiction and how it changed her and her daughter’s lives. Hopkins’ is very open about her daughter’s constant battles; it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

I loved this book. The writing style was A+, the story and takeaways were A+, and the conversation with Hopkins at the end was A+. I hope this book educates teens and adults on how real and life-threatening addiction can be for people, including teens. In my opinion, everyone should read this book at some point in their lives. I want to thank Ellen Hopkins for sharing her story and her pain and using it as a way for people to learn. I can’t imagine anyone giving this book anything less than 5/5 stars.

 

February 2017 Wrap-Up!

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January was a really big poetry month for me and February ended up being my graphic novel month. I think I poetry’d myself out…I can’t seem to find any more poetry books that grab my attention! Nevertheless, I found another genre that I love. This month, I read a lot of series that lead me to buying the 2nd and 3rd issues because I liked them all so much. A big theme for February was science fiction and women in science fiction. Cheers to new indie authors that graced my reading list this month! Here’s the 8-book breakdown:

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (memoir) 5/5 stars- I meant to pick up this book for the longest time and then, as you probably know, Carrie Fisher died, so it got bumped to the top of my To Be Read. I am SO glad I finally read this. It was super informative and real, which is something I love to read about, especially when it has to do with mental health. Carrie Fisher had a lot on her plate– substance abuse, a mood disorder, and growing up in the spotlight. It was very interesting to hear what she had to say about these issues.

Where the words end and my body begins by Amber Dawn (poetry/LGBT) 2.5/5 stars- I didn’t like this poetry collection very much. I thought I would, because of the LGBTQ themes, but it just didn’t do it for me. I skipped a lot of lines and even full poems at some points. It’s possible that I just didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the topics at hand, but I did NOT get it.

Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (sci fi/graphic novel) 5/5 stars- This is the second issue in the Saga comic series that I grew to love in January! I’m trying to pace myself with these because they’re just that good. If you appreciate female narrated sci fi with kick-ass characters and a little bit of romance, Saga is the series for you. It’s no wonder that this series is so popular, because it’s absolutely amazing.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli (graphic novel) 5/5 stars- I read this book during my 2nd year of college in 2014 and loved it. I had a feeling, though, that I didn’t quite understand it. So, I re-read it. That was a great choice because I definitely got more out of it this time around. In addition, it was a lot of references to The Odyssey which is fantastic (for me, at least).

Love is Love  by Marc Adreyko (graphic novel/LGBT) 2/5 stars- Wow. I really did not like this book. I had such high hopes for it, since the sales benefit the Orlando shooting victims. I mean, what an amazing cause to donate to. This book is catered for cisgender, heterosexual people FOR SURE. Most of the comics were about straight people trying to explain queerness to their kids or accepting LGBT people themselves. Less than half of the stories had a queer main character and only one comic featured a bisexual person. And, get this, bisexuality was explained as being straight, then gay, then straight again. Buy this book for the cause, please, not for the content

Husks: The First Book by Randall P. Fitzgerald (sci fi) 4/5 stars- YAY for the bimonthly bookbox I receive in the mail! It’s called Paper Street Books and you get a graphic novel, a sci fi book, and bookish goodies in each box. Most of the books are by indie authors, too. It’s AMAZING. So, this book was in a past box of theirs and I finally got around to starting it. The main character is totally a kick-ass female protagonist, something I live for. Ultimately, this was a great book by an indie author and I’m so glad it found its way to me.

Dept. H, Volume One by Matt Kindt (graphic novel/mystery) 4/5 stars- This was another book that I received from Paper Street Books. It was from the most recent box of theirs. As soon as I opened it, I knew I had to read this book. I ended up finishing it in a few hours! It is the perfect mystery…but under water!

Astrid: Cult of the Volcanic Moon by Kim W. Andersson (graphic novel/sci fi)- This was the third book from Paper Street Books that I read this month. It was from the same book box as Husks: The First Book. The theme was all about women in science fiction so, as you can probably guess, this graphic novel features a strong, independent female protagonist. What’s not to love? This is easily one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve ever read.

There you have it! I didn’t realize that 5 of the 8 books were graphic novels until just now and I’m pretty impressed with myself. I just started reading graphic novels a few months ago and I’m really happy with the style preference I’ve developed over that period of time. As of right now, March has been more of a fiction month for me. Maybe I comic’d myself out in February! If anyone is interested in the book box I mentioned, here is the website link: x. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll be sure to have another formal review up in a few days.

Review- The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

287634855/5 stars

Natasha is very rational; she believes in science, facts, and objective things that can be measured. If it can’t be proven by a study, she doesn’t consider it the truth. Natasha is a few hours away from being deported from the United States, as her family came to the country illegally. The cops discovered their status because her dad was caught drunk driving, and she’s been racing around New York City trying to locate a lawyer who could help her family since then. Daniel, on the other hand, is a poet. He’s always been second best to his family, until his older brother flunked out of an Ivy League school. As he’s walking around NYC in preparation for a college interview, he spots Natasha. Natasha and Daniel are definitely more different than they are alike, but for some reason, the world seems to want them together.

This book was CUTE! I’ve been meaning to read more YA and this was the perfect book to start with. This book has a 4.19 star average on Goodreads, so I knew it was going to be good, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Natasha reminds me a lot of my younger self. I was very objective. I always relied on facts and never on my gut or emotions. I made all of my decisions with my brain, not my heart, and didn’t put a lot of value into feelings. This was a hard way to live because it didn’t leave much room for experiencing joy, excitement, or even sadness, because I always calculated everything that would happen beforehand. So, long story short, I could really relate to Natasha. Also, I knew that Daniel was the exact person that Natasha needed to open her mind to the subjective.

Daniel is the “touchy-feely” type. He’s perfect for showing Natasha the strength of emotions. Sometimes (if not a lot of the time), it’s important to use your heart to reach new personal feats, make decisions, and experience life events. Daniel writes poetry, which Natasha thinks is a waste of time, but it shows how in-tune he is with his feelings. He believes in fate, and that keeps him determined that he has a chance at keeping Natasha’s family in the US.

Suddenly, I’ve turned into a huge sucker for YA romancey novels. Prior to this, I read a lot of books that left me uneasy or talked about dark (or even horrifying) themes. The Sun is also A Star left me feeing good. I love that—putting a book down and feeling happy. I’m looking forward to reading more books that leave me feeling this way.

I gave this book 5 stars for a lot of reasons. The characters were very well written, the story was captivating and kept me glued to the pages, and the ending was very unique. I really think this should be available in school libraries to encourage young adults to read! I hope to get to Nicola Yoon’s other book, Everything, Everything, sometime soon.

Review- Nexus

rn_rebrand_nexus_03-tiny-233x400Nexus by Ramez Naam

4/5 stars

Nexus is a drug that connects peoples’ minds together in low doses, and can allow people to alter the way their brains work in high doses. On the more extreme end, a few scientists have permanently put Nexus into their brain and used it to become almost super-human. These scientists are working to make Nexus a safer and practical drug, until they get caught illegally altering and administering the drug and are forced to give the blueprints up to the government. What happens when this potentially dangerous drug gets into the wrong hands? What happens if people all around the world are creating their own versions of Nexus, each with different purposes in mind? How far can one alter their brain until they become non-human altogether?

The concept of this book reminded me a lot of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, which I loved, so I was really excited to start this book. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. In my opinion, it’s very easy to write a book about the dangers of mind-altering drugs and fill it with fluffy, filler plot devices. Ramez did a great job of not doing this. The plot, characters, and dialogue were very constructive and really made me think of the pros and cons of developing mind tools.

I thought the most interesting parts of Nexus were the instances that you got to see how the drug affected the brains of the narrators. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have connected minds and experience other people’s memories, and I found reading about that fascinating. Also, the concept of treating your mind like a computer and uploading programs coded specifically to manage anxiety and stress is one of the coolest things I’ve ever read about. If that were possible today, would there be need for anxiety medications? Could there be a programs designed to help with other conditions or mental illnesses?

The negative thing I have to say about Nexus is that is dragged out a lot. I thought it should have ended 75 pages sooner, because I became bored in the last few chapters. I felt like there was a lot of extra plot and dialogue that wasn’t needed. I ended up skimming the last hundred pages or so. I hate doing this, but I was quickly losing interest and I really wanted to finish the book!

All around, great characters, great themes, great conversation starter. Like I said, this is a topic that can either be done really poorly or really well, and Nexus was definitely the latter. I love a good thought-provoking sci-fi novel, so I’m really pleased with this book.

January 2017 Wrap-Up!

January Wrap-Up!

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January was a great reading month for me. I read 13 books! Most of them were poetry books, so they were quick reads, but they definitely still count. For some reason, after reading Milk and Honey last month, I cannot stop reading poetry. If anyone has poetry recommendations, please send them my way. Anyway, here’s the breakdown:

Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous (fiction). I did a full review on this book! I thought it was a great, fast read that brought a lot of the struggles of addicts/alcoholics to light. I am really happy to see a book that breaks down the stigma around addiction on the best seller list! Here is my full review: x. 4/5 stars

The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace (poetry). This was a book full of strong, feminist poems. I commend Amanda for writing about her struggles with eating disorders. Personal demons, such as that, are difficult to write about but make for very moving poetry. 4/5 stars

Sapiens by Yuval Harari (science nonfiction). I’m a biological anthropology major and this book was right up my alley. Harari writes about how Homo Sapiens outlived the other Homo species and the cultural revolution that occurred within our own species. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about the cultural parts of human evolution. 4/5 stars

Eighteen Years by Madisen Kuhn (poetry). I wasn’t a big fan of this collection of poetry. I am guessing that I didn’t enjoy this book much because a lot of the poems were about bad breakups, which is not very relatable to me. I’m sure that if the topics of writing had resonated with me more, I would have given it a better rating. 3/5 stars.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (YA fiction). This book has the highest of praise in the young adult community, so I was very excited to get my hands on it. I was not disappointed. I could not put this book down! It had the perfect amount of romance to make it cute and all-around happy. I’m looking forward to reading Nicola’s other book, Everything Everything! 5/5 stars

Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (science fiction graphic novel). I can’t believe I only read one graphic novel this month! I am such a graphic novel enthusiast, but I guess this month was full of poetry books. Still, I am SO glad I picked up a copy of this because it was amazing. I just purchased Volume 2, and I’m so ready to start it. This book is for all science fiction lovers. 5/5 stars

The Chaos of Longing by K. Y., Robinson (poetry). This collection had a few poems that absolutely hit home for me, like the author was writing from inside my head. The book is split into 4 parts, but I only related to about 2 sections. Still, the half that did resonate with me were breathtaking. 4/5 stars

Bitter Sweet Love by Michael Faudet (poetry). Generally, I’m not a big fan of poetry written by men. I have no idea why, but I enjoy poems a lot more when they’re written by women. Perhaps it’s because I relate more to the struggles of women in today’s society. Still, this was a great collection. The thing is, I don’t remember it very much because I liked Michael’s other book (that will be later on this list) way more. Still, I gave it 4 stars so…I must have thought it was well worth the read! 4/5 stars

I Wrote This For For You by pleasefindthis aka Iain S. Thomas (poetry). This collection of poetry was very unique because it included photographs, taken by Jon Ellis, specifically for this book. Looking at the pictures and piecing together how they related to the words was very fun and interesting. 4/5 stars

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler (science fiction). I LOVE Octavia Butler. She writes the coolest, creepiest science fiction out there. Plus, she was one of the first female, African American sci-fi authors. This book was a little horrific, due to the topics it touched upon, but not gory or gross in any sense. If you haven’t read any of Octavia’s books and you’re a sci-fi fan, please pick this one or Dawn up! Here is my full review: x. 5/5 stars

Dirty Pretty Things by Michael Faudet (poetry). This was a fantastic collection of poetry that has stuck with me since I finished it 2 weeks ago. I’m going to warn you that a lot of the poems are erotic, in case that makes or breaks a book for you. This was one of the two poetry books that I absolutely loved this month. 5/5 stars

Nexus by Ramez Naam (science fiction). January was a good sci-fi month for me. This was an excellent book about the dangers of developing powerful drugs that could be used for the wrong purposes. It was very fast-paced and almost like a thriller with all of its ups and downs. My only complaint is that it was a bit too long, I felt like the ending was very dragged out and I got bored in the last 40 pages or so. 4/5 stars

Pansy by Andrea Gibson (LGBT poetry). This was an amazing collection of poetry written by a queer author about queer topics. I don’t think there was a single poem that I didn’t like. This book inspired me to find more LGBT poetry books that I’ll be reading in February, so be on the look out! This was the second out of the two 5 star poetry books that I read in January. 5/5 stars

So, that’s it! Thirteen books in January 2017! What a great way to start the new year. February has started kind of slow for me, but I’m hoping to speed up my reading pace. I’m trying to decide which books from this list are deserving of full reviews. If there’s a certain title you’d like to know more about, please shoot me an email! Cheers to a book-filled 2017!