Review: Facehooked

Posted on December 21st, 2016 @ 21:48
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Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and LivesFacehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives by Suzana Flores

My rating:

Blurb:

The number of Facebook users worldwide exceeded one billion in August of 2012. With the increase in Facebook users, psychologists have seen an alarming increase in the number of Facebook related complaints from their clients. Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist, has interviewed Facebook users of all ages for three years exploring the positive and negative features of Facebook and evaluating the effect it has on our lives.

Facehooked explores the problems most commonly found on Facebook, including controversial topics such as self-esteem, privacy, peer pressure, stalking, emotional manipulation, among others. Readers are not only provided with practical tools to help identify and avoid unhealthy behaviors, but also suggestions for healthier interaction on Facebook.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

An interesting study on people’s behaviours and addictions on Facebook: a useful social tool in some cases, a problem in others.

To be honest, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, but that’s because I’m used to social networks, and to reading about them, and to making my own mistakes on them (I was young once, too, right?). For anyone who’s interested in seeing past the surface and a mild or nonexistent usage, this study will bring enough information to be worth one’s time. It’s also interspersed with testimonies that definitely ring true, considering my own experience of Facebook (and other networks) and what I could see on them.

The book offers insights into typical online behaviours, stressing out where the problems are: not being careful enough with one’s privacy (and the consequences thereof), falling in with toxic people, checking one’s account once too many, seeking validation to the point of forgetting that it can and should come from offline life as well (not to say first and foremost), and so on. I’m positive that a lot of us, even though we probably all see ourselves in the light of “this only happens to other people”, are guilty or one or other behaviour—perhaps not in such a dramatic way, but at least slightly. Who’s never posted a selfie they made sure to embellish, or felt slightly miffed when a friend or family member posted a group picture in which we don’t show our best side?

Of course, let’s not be alarmed. Because one is on Facebook doesn’t mean they’re an addict or have psychological issues. But it’s food for thought. How many times a day do we check our social media accounts, or experience “fear of missing out”? Asking oneself this kind of question can be an eye opener—for instance, I find myself browsing FB when I’m in the bus or other “boring” situations, but I guess I could just bring a book, or chat with someone instead.

Downside: in my opinion, the book could have addressed some of these situations in more depth than just “ignore the person” or “stop checking your phone”. I assume that anyone with addictive behaviours has best seeking help, and a mere book won’t replace an actual person, however when it comes to stalker situations especially, there should be more (I mean when someone’s being stalked on Facebook—just saying “well ignore them” places the responsability on the victim’s shoulders, while the faulty person keeps doing what they shouldn’t). I guess that was not the point of the book; still, it would’ve been useful.

Conclusion: A bit too short to my liking—as usual when I’m interested in something, the more the better—yet an interesting read that I’ll recommend, especially to someone who doesn’t know much about social networks.

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Review: The #MonuMeta Social Media Book

Posted on December 18th, 2016 @ 23:15
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The #MonuMeta Social Media BookThe #MonuMeta Social Media Book by Roger Warner

My rating:

Blurb:

Mee Corp is the developer of the world’s number one social network, The Stream. Based at the recently sold-off Natural History Museum, it’s run by bizarre aliens whose seemingly human appearance masks a hideous secret: their sinister mission is to make (fake) people matter. Tara Tamana, The Stream s talented new Head Architect, holds the key to the city’s fate. The trouble is she s got way too much sass to figure it all out – and she’s also gone missing. Who can find her and help her save the day? Enter an ageing janitor, a large marble statue, a small bronze boy and a fairy queen. Their quest is to find the girl and save London from mind control, ham-fisted cloning, and a monstrous arachnid with a voracious appetite…

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

This one was a bit of a strange read—I guess I could categorise it as an over-the-top near-future sci-fi cum fairies blend, with an underlying funny criticism of social media, abusing technology, and PR stunts? Even though it took me longer to read than I expected (mostly because I had library books I had to finish in a hurry!), in the end it was a positive read, and I had fun.

The story follows the shenanigans of animated statues, ex-librarians become janitors in a museum converted into offices for a software and social media company, genius programmers sometimes too engrossed in their code for their own goods, spirits of a fairy persuasion, and execs with a shady agenda in the name of their real boss. It has highly amusing moments (the Endless Demo!) as well as scary ones (Tara and her bucket of fake bacon in Tank #6)—yes, those vaguebooking-like descriptions are on purpose, since conveying all the weirdness of that future!London isn’t so easy in just a couple of sentences.

Obviously, the nonsense is on the surface; it does make a lot of sense underneath, provided you set aside all questions about “how can statues be animated” and “why would a person’s skin spontaneously turn blue”, which aren’t so important, in fact. I didn’t need explanations here to willingly suspend my disbelief, which is good. What mattered were the dangers looming over our “heroes”, and these were of a kind that could very well hit home at some point: that is, to which extent our daily immersion into the web and social websites, our obsession with sharing everything and knowing everything about each other online, may end up being abused and affecting us in ways we hadn’t imagined. Behind the humour and the antics of a bunch of misfits sometimes not very well-equipped to understand each other, lies this kind of questioning.

On the downside, sometimes the plot seemed to meander and lose itself, in a way that I can probably blame on plot holes rather than on “it’s meant to be weird.” (I tend to consider that a “nonsensical” story still needs an internal logic of its own to function properly, even if that logic seems complete nonsense on the outside. I hope I’m making sense here.) The villains were also a bit too much of the cartoonish kind, and while it can be fun, I keep thinking they would have remained fun yet more credible if that trait hadn’t been enhanced.

Conclusion: 3 stars—but that’s because over the top tends to be my thing, so if it isn’t yours, maybe you’ll like it less, though.

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Review: Six

Posted on December 14th, 2016 @ 22:15
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Battlestar Galactica: SixBattlestar Galactica: Six by J.T. Krul

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Blurb:

A pivotal chapter in the history of Battlestar Galactica, the reimagined series… set before the destruction of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol! In developing the next generation of Cylons, getting the models to look human was the easy part. But acting human is another story. Witness the evolution of Number Six as she learns to live, to love… and to hate.

Review:

[I received a copy of this comics through NetGalley.]

In general, I found the artwork here problematic. The covers—both internal and external—are striking and often dramatic, and one of the reasons I requested this book; they easily evoked the internal turmoil and the ambiguity that I expect from Six. On the other hand, the inside panels, more specifically their characters, aren’t consistent enough, and not really recognisable. Which is a problem, indeed, considering they should look like their counterparts in the TV series, but don’t. Or not much. I probably wouldn’t care as much about this if the comics was a series on its own, however when it’s about translating real faces/actors to paper, it’s all the more easy to notice when it fails. Moreover, it didn’t convey the kind of feeling that would’ve paved the way to TV!Six, with her blend of seduction, ruthlessness and questioning.

I didn’t enjoy the storytelling either. I was expecting something more enthralling, that would play on Six’s psyche, what happened, what shaped her and set the foundations for how she would develop in the TV episodes. Well, it did try to explore those aspects, but the narrative(s) were too disjointed to make sense early, creating a sense of confusion—one that confuses the reader, rather than actually echoing the character’s. Also, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s never watched the series: some tie-ins are understandable even when you don’t know the original universe, some others aren’t, and this one is part of the latter category.

Conclusion: 1.5 stars.

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Review: Heartless

Posted on December 9th, 2016 @ 22:09
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HeartlessHeartless by Marissa Meyer

My rating:

Blurb:

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.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Hm. I liked the premise (telling the story of the Queen of Hearts before Alice came to Wonderland), however there were parts when I was a little… bored?

Catherine Pinkerton, daughter of a Marchess, loves nothing more than to bake, and dreams of opening a bakery with her maid and best friend Mary Ann, rather than just marrying some rich nobility son that she won’t even love. Of course, her plans get thwarted when she catches the attention of the King… or are they? When the new Court’s joker waltzes into the play, things change again, and this time, Cath may have a chance at true love. Except… We all know how the Queen of Hearts behaves in Carroll’s story, so we also know that whatever Fate has in store for those characters, it’s not a happy ending.

It’s not so easy to write a (re)telling of something whose end is already well-known, and while it was problematic, some aspects I really liked. The beginning had a certain vibrancy, what’s with the cake/bakery imagery and Catherine’s dreams, not to mention Jest’s first appearance during the ball, and the darker parts, including the meeting with the three sisters, were creepy in their own ways.

The main problem I had with this novel were its characters, and I think that had a lot to do with how I knew (or at least suspected) it would end. This time, it’s not even a case of insta-love—Cath’s and Jest’s relationship progresses quickly, but frankly, I’ve also seen much, much worse in that regard—more a case of characters trying to let their own personality develop and shine through, only to be put back on rails in order for the story to end up where it should. I found this too bad for them, to be honest; I suspect they would’ve been more interesting had they been able to live their own tale fully. As a result, Catherine especially ended up rather passive and unappealing, stuck between a sort of Regency-like society where noble girls marry noble men and must remain silent and pretty in their corsets, a holier-than-thou attitude (ironically mirroring Margaret’s without never realising it), and twists meant to turn her into the Queen of Hearts, yet too predictable to really hit home. The courtship period was infuriating, what’s with all her refusing the King but never telling it to his face, letting things happen, then worrying that she’ll have to marry him and not be with the man she actually loves, but still not doing anything, until it was too late and whatever she’d do would just end up badly (also it’s the others’ fault, never hers… great).

Other problems were the writing (not bad, but nothing exceptional either), and the pacing: especially in the second third, the story dragged and felt padded out—that was when I started struggling to keep on reading, before getting to the last/darker part. While the kingdom of Hearts had a ‘cutesy’ and colourful side that I quite liked, it didn’t enthrall me (Chess with its warring Queens seemed more exciting?), perhaps because half the book at least was devoted to parties and balls and a more traditional “arranged marriage” plot, instead of playing on a more Wonderland-like atmosphere.

Conclusion: Well, I expected more, and this is clearly a case of a story whose characters would have been better left to their own devices.

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Review: Tôru – Wayfarer Returns

Posted on November 23rd, 2016 @ 21:19
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Toru: Wayfarer Returns (Sakura Steam Series Book 1)Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie R. Sorensen

My rating:

Blurb:

Revolutionary young samurai with dirigibles take on Commodore Perry and his Black Ships in this alternate history steampunk technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan.

In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures, growing ever more demanding.

Tōru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by American traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come.

Tōru: Wayfarer Returns is the first book in the Sakura Steam Series, an alternate history of the tumultuous period from the opening of Japan in 1853 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This volume covers the year prior to the American Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan and follows the hero and his young allies as they lead Japan through a massively compressed industrial revolution, dramatically altering that pivotal moment in history.

While Tōru and his dirigibles are fictional, the story unfolds against the backdrop of the “real” Japan of that period, with historical figures and their political environment woven into the tale, staying true to their motivations and agendas even as the alternate history warps their actions, history and a few laws of physics. Underpinning the adventure plot is a young man’s yearning for his father’s approval and an honorable place in his world.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

More an alternate history novel than a truly steampunk one, “Tôru: Wayfarer Returns” deals with late feudal Japan faced with the potential intruding of American civilisation—more specifically, the last years of the Tokugawa bakumatsu, and the arrival of Commander Perry and his “black ships”. The idea: what if, instead of feeling inferior to this technology, Japan at the time had had an industrial revolution of its own, and had been able to withstand such demonstration of power?

Enters Tôru, a young fisherman who, after being shipwrecked, was saved by Americans, and spent two years in their country before coming back to Japan with books, blueprints, and lots, lots of ideas about how to revolutionise his country for the day Westerners come to impose their trade and culture on it. Things aren’t meant to be easy for him, first and foremost because bringing western books and machinery to these lands, and sneaking in at night, are deemed traitorous acts, punishable by death. When Lord Aya catches wind of this, his first reaction is to get the traitor executed. Except that ideas are contagious, and Tôru’s more than others.

This first volume in the “Sakura Steam” series shows how a handful of daimyôs and commoners manage to find common ground to dig the foundations of Japan’s industrialisation: first in secrecy, then by ensuring the support of some of the most powerful coastal lords, to make sure that when the Shôgun hears about this (and he will), they’ll have grounds to argue their case, machines to show off, and engineers to explain how said machines will allow their country to stand strong and proud. These rebels definitely go against the stream in many ways, by also allowing commoners and women to take part in engineering trains and dirigibles. And even though some characters are (understandably, considering their upbringing) against this, they do try and see how this could change the world, and acknowledge that such “unexpected people” will do good and have a place in this new order. Not to mention that Jiro the blacksmith, or Masuyo the noble lady, are pleasant characters to see evolve, and I liked when they had parts to play; even some of the more unpleasant characters, like Lady Tômatsu, had their redeeming features.

However, while this is all very exciting, I could never really shake my suspension of disbelief, because everything happened both much too fast and sometimes too slowly as well:
- The “rebels” should logically have been discovered sooner.
- And, more importantly, building railroad tracks, engines, a fleet of dirigibles, a telegraph network, etc, in secrecy, with the (limited) means of a handful of daimyôs, in less than one year, seemed too far-fetched to be believable. Granted, they had blueprints and all; on the other hand, all those engineers had to learn from scratch, only from those blueprints not even in Japanese, translated and explained only by Tôru who isn’t even an engineer, and… Well. Really, really hard to believe. Had it been done in a few years rather than a few months, I probably would have been, paradoxically, more excited about it.
- At times the narrative devolves into explanations about the political views during the Bakumatsu, the fixed place of samurai vs. commoners—which is interesting, but was dumped in between scenes. It would have been more welcome if better intertwined with the dialogue and action, which in turn would also have left more room to the characters to fully interact, giving us a better feel for them.
- It would’ve been more interesting IMHO to see a different “industrialisation”, and not a mere “westernisation” of Japan. Something that would’ve mixed traditional/feudal ways with modern weaponry, instead of having basically one or the other.
- Minor pet peeve: Tôru’s secret, which he takes great pains to hide, but is much too obvious to the reader, almost from the beginning.

Conclusion: I wish it had been more “believable” in terms of alternate history, and had provided a different path than the expected one.

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