Book Review: DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric Smith

dontreadcomments

 

Don’t Read the Comments 
Author: Eric Smith
Publication Date: January 28, 2020
Publisher: Inkyard Press
ISBN: 9781335016027

 

Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith is a fun quick read!

At first, I was concerned that this story would only appeal to gamers, with terms like doxxing, trolling, and streaming. (Doxxing–or doxing–means, according to Google: “searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.”) But even with gaming description and terminology, this story will appeal to all fans of young adult literature.

With diverse characters, a captivating plot, and unique settings, Don’t Read the Comments kept my attention from the first to the last page!

I enjoyed almost all the characters, except for Divya’s mom. She relied on Divya too much and had huge blinders on when it came to Divya’s needs. And, actually, Aaron’s mom, too, was not my favorite. I wanted at least one mom who encouraged and facilitated their child’s dreams. But the story wasn’t necessarily about the moms. It was about the teens who wanted to enjoy and pursue their online gaming experiences without being harassed by stupid Internet trolls. Seriously, don’t those people have better things to do with their time?! They need a worthwhile hobby or a team sport to better utilize their energy! I do wish the characters had been developed a bit more with richer, fuller arcs. Specifically, I wanted Rebekah’s inner demons resolved. Aaron, by far, was my favorite character!

The sections that feature gaming details read like a science-fiction novel. It was fun to have a sci-fi element embedded within a contemporary novel. For example: “With a hum, the landing pads extend, emitting a soft rumbling under my feet.”

However, some of the gaming references and details felt like commercials for products. “…plugins courtesy of Samsung.”

If language matters to you, there are a few f-words spattered throughout, but overall there are minimal cuss words.

There were sections that made me gasp. Such as the moment Divya realizes just how close the trolls have gotten to her in the real world: “I click it. It opens. And I see a photograph of my apartment building. My breath catches in my throat. How? How could this have happened?”

Overall, I highly enjoyed Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith. The writing is terrific and the story is fun.

 
Description from the Publisher:
Two teen gamers find their virtual worlds—and blossoming romance—invaded by the real-world issues of trolling and doxxing in the gaming community.

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

[I received an early copy from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]

Book Review: SNOOPY: FIRST BEAGLE IN SPACE (PEANUTS AMP Series Book 14) by Charles M. Schulz Pub Date: 17 Mar 2020

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A classic comic strip book full of Snoopy and the Peanut gang. You can’t go wrong with classic Snoopy. I remembered some of the strips from reading the comics from the newspaper. I read a lot of it aloud to my son, and we both enjoyed it. The little stories still made me laugh out loud, smile, and have those moments of awe.

At the end you learn about the 50th anniversary of Apollo 10, and how the astronauts used pictures of Snoopy and Charlie Brown to communicate.

Book Review: THIEF OF CAHRAMAN by Lucy Tempest

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Adelaide is an orphan thief. She meets a witch who holds her friend and her friend’s father hostage in order to blackmail Adelaide into stealing the lamp for her. The lamp is at the palace where a competition is taking place for ladies to marry the prince. Adelaide pretends to be a noble lady and competes for the prince’s hand.

The first chapter pulled me in. I was excited about the main character, Adelaide, and her thievery, but then the story turned to where she wasn’t brave or gutsy but was scared and unwilling to leave home. I wanted the main character excited and curious to find out what the eyes in the woods were. I wanted her to desire to go on the adventure.

It would’ve worked better if the character was pushed toward wanting this adventure in a few small ways in the chapters before the reveal about the lamp.

When Adelaide is asked to steal the lamp, I felt like the story got back on track. That was the kind of adventure I was hoping for.

I listened to the audio version and in the book, Adelaide’s friend, Cherine talks fast. The audio version also talked fast when this character’s dialogue came up. It was really jarring.

I was not expecting characters to be half-demon, half-witch, or half-beast. That threw me off a bit.

I got reinvested in the story again when Adelaide started the tests and met Cyrus, another thief in the palace. The relationship between Cyrus and Adelaide was lovely, especially at the shrine of the love goddess. This is what kept me interested and engaged.

The storyline weakened a bit with Cherine not knowing whether real events were a dream or not. This felt unbelievable.

Overall, the romance kept me intrigued. The writing about the romance was well done and gave the book a solid finish. I felt like the writing in the second half of the book was much improved compared to the first few chapters. If I could rate the second half of the book, I’d give it a 4.5. It made up for the flaws, and captivated me enough to want to read book two.

Best New Historical Romance Movies

Ophelia (2019) PG-13

Wow, if you love historical movies, this one is beautiful. The costumes, hair, and setting are luscious. It is based on a Shakespeare tragedy, so don’t get your hopes up for a happy ending, but it’s so worth it. The ending was too graphic with the violence for me (I tend to look away), but the rest is smooth sailing. I give it a thumbs up.

Tolkien (2019) PG-13

Oh my goodness. I absolutely loved this movie. It’s the origin story of J.R.R. Tolkien. You might know him as the author of the Lord of the Rings. It was so incredibly fascinating, especially how it delved into the origin of Tolkien’s ideas for the Lord of the Rings. It goes through the love of a lifetime romance with his true elvin princess. Suffering really does lend to fantastic writing, the silver lining of the darkness he had to face.

Book Review: THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION by Donald Maass

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral StakesThe Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes by Donald Maass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re wanting to improve your skills as a writer, read books written by Donald Maass.

Having devoured two other books written by Donald Maass, I was thrilled to finally read THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION.

One of the elements I love best about his books is when he includes exercises to put principles into practice. In THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, these “exercises” are each titled “Emotional Mastery.” There are 34 different ones throughout the book, and there is even a checklist in the back of the book to mark your progress completing the exercises.

Within “Emotional Mastery 8: The Meaning of Everything” Maass writes: “Choose some dry information that must be imparted for your story to make sense. Who has this knowledge? How does that character see these facts as no one else does? … What is good, bad, worrisome, reassuring, or in some other way revealing about these facts? What does your character love or hate about what these facts are saying? What would she change about this information if possible? What would he change about himself? … Don’t be afraid of slowing the pace. When you deepen the meaning of things, no one will complain” (page 67).

An additional highlight of this book is the chapter at the end: “The Writer’s Emotional Journey.” While I loved the entire book, this chapter had me nodding my head and saying, “Yes.”

Maass writes: “Many fiction writers do not feel worthy of their calling. … When writers approach their craft that way, it shows. You can sense when fiction is masking cynicism or anger. … The spirit that you bring to your writing desk either infects your pages or enlivens them. … How you feel inside is how we will feel in reading. … In some ways the most important work you do in writing your novel is the work you do on yourself. … your fundamental outlook, your positive spirit, your embrace of goodness, your faith in humanity. It shows in … granting strength to your characters and filling their hearts with expectation” (pages 177-178).

I could continue to quote passages and sing the praises of this book, or I could simply say: Go read this book if you want to improve your skills as a writer. Oh, wait, that’s how I started this review! Go. Now. Read. Practice. Improve. And …

Enjoy the gift of being called a writer.

View all my reviews

Stranded in Nice, France

It was the summer of 2000, and I rode a night train from Rome to Nice. The International Film Festival was going on in Cannes, and the train was bustling with excitement. The night rail car consisted of two bunk beds in a tiny space, and the woman bunked above me was heading to the film festival. We were a bunch of strangers nestled together, men and women, speaking in our best attempts at other’s languages. It was just fun.

We, my brother, a friend, and I, arrived in Nice and went to the ATM for some cash, French francs. We had originally flown into Paris, had retrieved some francs, and had a little left over. Exchange rates were high, so we didn’t exchange them into German marks, Czech crowns, or Italian liras throughout our backpacking trip in Europe.

So…in Nice, France…the ATM did not work.

None of our debit cards worked.

We tried two other ATMs.

None worked.

We thought something was wrong with our debit cards. They’d been working for our whole trip. We didn’t understand what was wrong.

We met a French man who explained the newly introduced Euro had basically crashed compared to the global currency market. In order to preserve the financial markets of Europe, all banks had been closed, including ATMs.

We pooled together all our francs. We had enough for one night at a youth hostel for the three of us. We had a few granola bars and snacks. We figured we could make it through the day.

The next day, no banks, no ATMs, and no money. Maybe one granola bar left each.

We were hungry.

This was before cell phones, and ATMs were a pretty new thing. It was an adventure getting different currencies out of ATMs all over Europe. It was so exciting, but suddenly it wasn’t fun anymore.

We were literally stranded in Nice, France. Our flight home left in two days from Paris. We didn’t even have enough money to make it to the train station.

The youth hostel let us stay an additional night only because my brother’s debit card had a fancy new credit card option. They held the card to run once the banks came back up. However, if this new feature on his card didn’t work when the banks came up, we were out the next night.

We decided we’d sleep on the streets if we had to. And after one more day of hunger,  we’d start begging.

The banks came up. His card worked. Whew!

Still, no ATMs. No drawing of cash allowed. Had a place to sleep but still hungry.

Again, my brother’s fancy new card had a cash advance option against the credit card. The banks were allowed to use that to give us cash, since it was a credit and not a debit withdrawal.

Serious close call!

We ate some French steak and eggs (which is basically a hamburger patty and eggs), gelato, and everything else we could get our hands on.

We made it to the train station. Got to Paris and flew home.

It’s amazing how fast you can become homeless. I call it the rule of three. You have three big hurdles and that’s it.

1. Foreign country meant no relatives/friends to stay with

2. Little cash from traveling from one country to the next

3. Banks shut down

That was it. So simple.

And that’s why I always recommend carrying some local currency when traveling!

Why “Instalove” isn’t an Issue of Time

(3 minute read:)

Hey, everyone! Tanager here! Three things this week got me thinking about instalove, and how I’ve probably been oversimplifying what that is exactly, so I figured it would be a good topic for my first post!

So are you ready to fall in love with me fast? Like, really fast? Great! Let’s get started!

instalovegif

My sister and I still share an Amazon account (What can I say? We’re both too lazy to make new ones.). She accidentally signed us up for Prime’s free trial this month, and I’ve been binging an embarrassing amount of TV because of it. Thanks to a couple examples I saw on there (and a book review that made me wonder why I didn’t agree with it), I’ve been forced to consider that I’ve been unfair in my definition of instalove.

To keep things short, I’ll primarily focus on one example, the movie MILLENNIUM ACTRESS.

To understand how this fantastic piece of art connects to instalove, I’m going to quickly summarize the movie’s premise.

MILLENNIUM ACTRESS is about Chiyoko, a once famous movie star — now elderly recluse — recounting her life-story to a biographer. Dementia causes memories of Chiyoko’s real life — and the wars and heartaches she’s lived through — to mix into the worlds of the movies she’s been in. And the various characters she’s played become more and more one with herself. The whole thing is beautifully surreal. It could have been confusing for the audience, but it’s not, because the narrative is driven by one powerful thing which connects all the disjointed fragments: a love story.

I bet you all are wondering when I’m going to get to the topic of instalove. Well, sit down, you impatient adorables. Here’s where instalove comes in (This is also where things get a little spoilery, so be warned).

When Chiyoko is a young teen, she saves a peace activist who’s being hunted by the government. She and this mysterious young man maybe spend one evening together, talking and bonding though the night. In the morning he’s discovered by police, and he’s forced to run again. After spending just one night together, these two people spend the next few decades trying to find one another again.

TLDR: A famous actress falls in love with a young activist. After only spending a few hours together, she spends the next 70-80 YEARS (or so) looking for him.

Pretty fast to fall deeply in love, right? Right. But is it instalove? No. Does it work as a romance that carries through decades? YES. I 100% believed in this romance. And what did I learn from it?

There is no scientifically quantifiable time-frame for love to bloom. 

None. Zero.

And?

Circumstances change timelines.

Do we all recognize instalove when we see it? Yes. Do we all hate it when we see it? Yes. But I think we’re wrong when we think of it strictly being a fast romance (as I’ve seen some reviewers use as a definition). Fast romances can and do work. And many circumstances can speed up that time-frame (using examples from the books and movies I’m thinking about right now: character ages; and things like war, starvation, and other high-stress situations where people are vulnerable, create faster bonds). Love isn’t about simply putting in the hours and getting your time-card stamped. The reason we don’t enjoy instalove isn’t because it happened fast. It’s because we never felt a real connection between the characters. It’s all about how an author/director/creator executes a romance, not about how quickly it happens.

Believable romances are about what characters do with the time they share together, not about how much time they actually have.

giphygandalf
via GIPHY

Best Historical Romantic Movies on Netflix

I love romantic movies! Especially those with an actual plot, good character development, and realistic emotion. Here are some historical romantic movies I’ve found on Netflix that I gave a thumbs up.

Running for Grace (2018) TV-14

Set in Hawaii, a half-Japanese boy falls in love with the daughter of a rich plantation owner. A lot of the film is about the boy’s relationship with a physician who takes him in as an orphan. It’s heart-warming.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5696326/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

Dare to be Wild (2015) PG

Based on the true story of an Irish woman who wins a prestigious gardening contest in London called the Chelsea Flower Show. The romance is between her and a young activist who is trying to turn the hills of Africa green again after deforestation. While this movie is romantic, the romance was more realistic and less of a sweeping love story. However, if you like gardening, you will like this!

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2989350/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) TV-14

A British writer is torn between her American fiance and a widower on the previously nazi-occupied island of Guernsey. As she dives deeper into the town’s stories about what happened there in WWII, she falls in love with all aspects of Guernsey.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1289403/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

The Lovers (2013) R

A two-dimensional time story that flips between a marine archeologist’s current life in the U.S. and a past life in 18th century India. Of course, there’s a magic ring that sets it all into motion and two romances.

It is rated R for some violence and language but has no nudity.

I have been to India, so I do have a special heart for stories based there.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1321869/