Read: The diary of a Tokyo teen: Japanese-American girl travels to the land of trendy fashion, high-tech toilet and maid cafes by Christine Mari Izner

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The diary of a Tokyo teen: Japanese-American girl travels to the land of trendy fashion, high-tech toilet and maid cafes by Christine Mari Izner is a fun illustrated overview of visiting Japan.

Izner writes about going back to her home country of Japan for a summer when she was a teenager. She stays with her grandparents for several weeks on her own and then the rest of her family joins for the last part of her trip. During that time she sees Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara, along with enjoying the company of her grandparents in their small town outside of Tokyo. Several popular foods, sites, and noteworthy cultural aspects are explained as she explores Japan.

Although the graphic novel is simple with only a photo or a few drawings and minimal text on a page, it really is meant for a teenager. However, adults can enjoy too especially if you need a quick idea of what it is like to visit Japan. For the most part, there isn’t anything offensive, but there is a reference made to love hotels.

The overall style of the graphic novel conveys the bright and trendy as well as historical parts of Japan very well. She uses snapshot photos, drawings and doodles to tell the story. Sometime she makes comparison drawings while other times she depicts the scenery of an area. The style makes for a fast and breezy read, and if you have a bit of time, it can be finished in one sitting.

Recommended?: yes, for any teens or adults traveling to Japan, lovers a graphic novels, and anyone who wants to be transported on a whirlwind adventure. Although it’s told from the perspective of a teenage girl, everyone can enjoy it.

Diary of a Tokyo teen by Christine Mari Izner book cover

Picture of pages 56 and 57

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Read: China rich girlfriend: a novel by Kevin Kwan

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Crazy rich Asians have nothing on a China rich girlfriend. This sequel by Kevin Kwan is even more over-the-top, a feat that doesn’t seem possible, making it another fabulous time in Singapore, Hong Kong, and of course mainland China.

Rachel and Nick are back with another whirlwind adventure trip to the East. This time, they go to China but Nick’s family features fairly prominently as well in Singapore and Hong Kong. Drama seems to follow them despite their low-key attitudes, making this another fun and enjoyable read.

While the first novel focused on Nick’s family dynamics and their desire to remain private and frugally spend their wealth (or not), China rich girlfriend is all about the publicity-seeking, gigantic-spending, wealth-inheriting Chinese mainlanders of Nick and Rachel’s generation. The more bling the better! No price is too much.

Again, Kwan plots an extravagant story that has believable characters despite the grandiose setting and spending sprees. He is very deft at walking the fine line between ridiculously unbelievable and just crazy enough. Rachel and Nick head to China once again on a trip that has likely found her actual birthday father but his family is less than thrilled that she found them. As she tries to enjoy China, drama ensues with her stepmom and they try to make the best of the trip anyway.

Recommended?: Yes, especially if you’re a fan of the first novel or want a peak into how the opulent young mainlander Chinese unload their money without so much as blinking an eye. While not required to enjoy this sequel, it certainly makes more sense since you will know right away who everyone is and what their relationships are to each other. I can’t wait to read the third in the trilogy!

China rich girlfriend by Kevin Kwan book cover

Read: Leviathan wakes by James S.A. Corey

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Sometimes I think books should count as two, especially when they are 561 pages such as Leviathan wakes by James S.A. Corey. However, despite its size, it truly was a fast read considering, due to the plausible premise, compelling storytelling, and interesting characters of this sci-fi mystery novel. It is the first in the Expanse series, which has also been made into a tv show although the book contains much more depth and detail.

While no year is given, the story is set in the distant future in which Mars has a stable military colony, something disastrous happened to Earth that changed the environment in certain areas, and there are additional human colonies throughout the solar system on stations and moons. Enough time has passed that people born and raised in space alone have different features, being extra tall and lanky among other things–referred to as “belters”. Mars and Earth have a love/hate relationship at this point. The three groups just barely get alone since everyone needs the others to fully survive as they trade resources and provide services or goods unique to their group. However, war breaks out flamed by tension and mistrust between them all, which only obscures the real threat going on that very few know about and a handful are trying to stop it.

The novel consists of alternating chapters by two main characters: Detective Miller and Captain Holden. Miller is a belter working on a missing person’s case until he gets fired when the war breaks out. Holden was part of a larger crew when he and a few other crew members got separated from the rest and saved from the attack on their main ship, making him the new captain on their smaller shuttle; unwittingly, he sets off the war when he broadcasts the evidence of the attack, not knowing at the time that it was all a set-up to allow a greedy corporation to do human experiments with alien technology that they discovered and kept to themselves, believing they could profit from it. However, the alien technology is more of a virus than realized so wreaks havoc and devastation. Miller and Holden, first separately then together, work to expose and correct the actions of the devious corporation in order to save humanity.

Corey writes such a realistic and plausible colonized space, describing the environmental systems running the space stations, negative effects of space travel and the countermeasures in place to counteract them, as well as the aging technology in need of further upgrade that’s not receiving it. Many times sci-fi only showcases shiny, new technology and space travel with zero consequences on the mind and body, but Leviathan wakes captures a more wholistic view and places the story in a “lived in” world, at a time in which space colonies are boring, typical, everyday life. It’s a great take on life in space and likely would eventually happen if we ever actually colonized the solar system. The plot is then more about humanity than space, in that regard.

There’s a great mix of characters and personalities, several of whom the story follows closely. Their perspectives are unique and many times they have to either convince each other or explain their reasoning, which deepens the plots and characters.

Recommended?:

Yes! Sci-fi fans will love it, along with anyone who likes space novels or pondering humanity and the fragility of it. Word of caution, there’s a good amount of gore and descriptions about how the alien virus-like technology as it transforms its human victims that can be a bit disturbing. Due to this, it’s more adult reading even though older teens could understand it. Still, it’s a great novel and very enjoyable read. I can’t wait to read more books in the series!

Leviathan wakes by James S.A. Corey Book cover

Read: B is for burglar by Sue Grafton

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Having recently finished A is for alibi, I just had get Sue Grafton’s next in the “alphabet mystery” series. B is for burglar does not disappoint and if anything, is more enjoyable than the first. Good thing there are many, many more. I’m going to try to intersperse other books in with the Grafton mysteries but clearly this is going to be a major part of my book list for the rest of the year.

The novel opens again with Kinsey Millhone once again tucking into a new case. This one begins as a missing person but soon becomes a murder mystery with lots of unknowns and questions, along with a whole slew of characters it could be just as guilty as next. Kinsey’s character development is phenomenal in this novel. The first one gave just a taste but this one really digs into who she is and her brazen, savvy personality. She is a strong woman who takes no gruff from anyone and takes particular pleasure in when she reverses gender roles and catches men of guard, such as ordering for them at a restaurant. Fun to think that this was written in the mid ’80s with all the talk about stereotypes and pushback that is going on currently in society.

The storyline in B is for burglar, is more complex and intricate than the first novel as well, which is a very good sign for the books to come. Rather than being over the top, the plot begins to unfold as the pieces slowly come into place. The drama is low-key although there are some surprises along the way. Grafton has a good blend of keeping the story progressing while making it realistic at the same time.

One thing that did jump out at me in this novel, Grafton uses a lot of metaphors and similes. Usually they just enhance the scene or emphasize something but there are some that are harsh and brash. Very funny stuff, since it furthers Kinsey’s personality with her inside commentary that the readers also get to enjoy.

Recommended?: Yes! For mystery fans, Sue Grafton fans, and anyone who wants a good crime-fighting drama with a strong woman protagonist. It’s possible to start with this book or read it on its own. But the first book does lay more groundwork although the basics are covered in this one too.

B is for burglar by Sue Grafton book cover

Read: A crack in creation: gene editing and the unthinkable power to control evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg

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A crack in creation: gene editing and the unthinkable power to control evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg is a non-fiction book that explains CRISPR cas-9 and its potential societal uses as well as implications. I first learned about this book after catching a tv broadcast with an extended interview with Doudna. Having heard about CRISPR in passing, the interview intrigued me and her succinct, easy-to-understand descriptions made me want to read her book which was being released soon.

While a non-fiction science book about genetics, the overall tone reads more like a narrative than dry facts. Since her career dovetails well with the emergence of gene editing and her role in its popularity, she and her co-author tell the story from her point of view, adding in additional information about what others were doing around the world for the same endeavor, as appropriate. The narration certainly makes it a much more readable book, despite its technical scientific topic. By presenting the science within a story, the content is approachable.

Also, briefly, the writing style is simple and straight-forward, making what could be an otherwise complicated topic easier to understand. The authors employ a wide variety of smilies, as well, in order to ensure that the reader comprehends the science. The clearly wanted everyday people, regardless of their familiarity with science, to read and discuss their book and the potentials and pitfalls of gene editing.

So, what is gene editing? It is the new method to make changes to anyone or any living things’ genetic code that controls traits. Previously, gene splicing (using the genetic code from one living creature to change another’s) was the leading technology. Gene editing can use one’s own genetic code with greater accuracy, ease, and less cost. Due to this, the field of scientists testing CRISPR cas-9 for gene editing has exploded in the past few years alone, and along with it comes amazing potential and worrying detriment depending how this technology is used.

The book itself is divided into two part: the tool and the task. The first part covers all of the technical science behind CRISPR cas-9 and gene editing. It is also the main story, covering Doudna’s career and the rise of gene editing. While it is dense at times, it is well written and not too overwhelming although it does have some jargon since it is difficult to get away from it entirely; but again, the authors explain the terms and procedures well.

The second part enumerates the potential benefits and pitfalls in four chapters that cover uses in food supply (both plants and livestock), medical treatments and elimination of certain conditions, risks and ethics, and finally the concern about abuse of the technology and unknown damage to society and humanity as a whole. The last two chapters begin to tease out a very important distinction when talking about gene editing: somatic versus germline editing. Basically, one of the main debates is where to edit just one person’s genes, such as with a cancer treatment, or to edit germ cells which is inheritable by future generations so that, say, everyone born with the edited gene already never gets that cancer. While gene editing is precise and very accurate, it is still an unknown as to what may happen by changing a gene for future generations or even introducing a gene to mosquitoes that would make them unable to reproduce and kill them off as a species so that they could no longer infect anyone with diseases. Another use could be creating “designer babies” with the exact traits and gender desired by the parents, or at least correcting particular genes to prevent certain conditions before they could develop. Gene editing is very powerful and could do great good or harm, depending on how it is used.

The authors intend this book to spark discussion among society, since they believe if and how gene editing with CRISPR cas-9 is used should be a collective decision. Whether or not that actually happens as more and more scientist explore the possibilities and companies see the money-making potential in this technology is another question.

Recommended?: Yes! I am certain that as testing continues, the general public will be told more and more about this incredible technology. This book is an excellent introduction to it and lays out a lot of information and questions to consider. If nothing else, it is very good food for thought. I wasn’t sure where I stood exactly and even after reading this book, I am still not sure. More to ponder as the technology continues to develop.

A crack in creation: gene editing and the unthinkable power to control evolution book cover

Read: A is for alibi by Sue Grafton

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Perhaps it is fitting to end the year with a final book review by an author who suddenly passed away recently. I decided to start reading mystery novels to broaden my reading diet and who better to start with than Sue Grafton, who published her 25 of 26 “alphabet mystery novels” this summer. I figured I should get reading in time to be caught up for Z, but sadly that’s no longer an option. Grafton’s daughter has already said “As far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.” The final novel in the series was planned to be called Z is for zero, but without a draft or even an idea, it will never be written.

A is for alibi (1982) is the first novel in Grafton’s series that focuses on PI Kinsey Millhone, a twice-divorced longer who used to be a cop but prefers to work for herself. The main plot is trying to figure out who actually killed Laurence Fife, whose wife at the time was found guilty of his murder and served 8 years in prison, and being recently released wants to know who actually killed him. As Millhone digs deeper into the past to figure out was actually responsible, she finds herself in difficult spots with hard decisions to make. Trust is not easy to give or receive, although she already understood that from her life experience already.

The writing style makes for an easy, quick read. Though simple writing, it is highly enjoyable and well detailed. The plot slowly unfolds, becoming more complex and intriguing. Although not a twist or surprise ending, I found the resolution satisfying. The novel neither tried to be too tricky or over-the-top, which I appreciate. It read as a realistic and plausible story, and I appreciate that. Some stories are unbelievable, with too much action and drama for the sake of drama. Grafton did a great job of writing a mystery that’s compelling yet realistic. Even before I read the sad news about her passing, I had already decided to continue the series; now, though, I’ll prioritize them over trying out other mystery authors at this time.

 

Recommended?: For mystery lovers and those who want to become one. While a crime drama to some extent, there’s no blood or gore; maybe due to the time in which it was written, unlike today. There is a sexual relationship but nothing too graphic described and the main focus, as far as the relationship goes, is rather Millhone dealing with how to have another person in her life, and if she can.

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Read: Stranger and stranger (an Emily the Strange novel) by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner

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The second of four in the series, Stranger and stranger by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner continues to document the life of goth teenager Emily the Strange. While it chronologically follows The lost days, this novel can be read also as a standalone since the most important details from the first are incorporated.

The overall themes remain the same between the two novels: exploring a new town, enjoying her hobbies (sewer and late-night exploring, skateboarding, experimenting), and emoting her gothic laissez faire attitude. More emphasis is given to her artistic and scientific sides in this novel, which brings out elements of her personality that were subdued in the first one.

The novel itself has the same format as a somewhat graphic novel written in a loose diary-style journaling with hand-drawn doodles and many 13 point lists. Considering her age, it works really well and makes the book more approachable. There’s also a consistency for the readers, if they have read the first one.

In Stranger and stranger, the main plot is Emily the Strange wanting to pull off the ultimate prank on the new town. Although still unknown, her mom periodically moves them to a new place for a fresh start. While the prank originally starts off as an ambitious duplication of everyone in town, she ends up replicating herself first by accident and must learn to live with a second Emily the Strange. At first, she’s not sure what to think but then it gradually becomes clear that the duplication also split certain parts into each Emily, so that their personalities and motivations are not identical like she originally thought. At one point, the girls accidentally swap journals and the Other Emily begins writing the story, sharing her side of things. Part of what’s interesting is the idea of what makes you, well, you. Emily the Strange and the Other Emily both are obsessed with who the “real” one is but in the end, it’s a matter of needing both of them to make up Emily the Strange.

Recommended?: Yes, for Emily the Strange fans and those who enjoy YA graphic novels/journal format. The novel is simpler than the first, since there isn’t a complex mystery; the story itself if more straight-forward even if it gets a little more complicated when they swap journals. If you’ve ever wondered what “typical” life is like for Emily the Strange, this is the one to read.

Stranger and stranger book cover