Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith #bookreview #YA #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

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 may not be a gamer (unless you count playing the Harry Potter Lego game on my old Xbox 360), but it’s not a prerequisite for understanding and enjoying this book.

So many important issues are addressed in this story – online safety, internet trolls and bullying, and doxxing, to name a few.  Divya is a victim of online harrassment, which is a criminal offense.  What happens to her is frightening – but what’s worse is things like this happen every day.  The haters are out there, folks.

The author does an outstanding job of writing from a female perspective.  Divya’s reaction to these events is inspiring.  She’s fierce, determined, and refuses to let the trolls deprive her of her virtual safe space filled with a community of people doing what they enjoy.  Aaron is also dealing with some problems of his own, but is a sweetheart and a perfect example of a supportive friend.  I loved being in the game, and the vivid imagery made me feel like I was experiencing it along with the characters.

My desire to see the trolls get what they deserve kept me reading long after I should have turned out the light.  With the tension-filled buildup, I was ready to see them crash and burn.  But then everything seemed to be over rather suddenly, and I still felt as if things were unresolved.  Maybe it’s just a revenge thing on my part.

Although this book deals with some heavy issues, it’s also full of clever banter, pop culture references (bonus points for mentioning John Cusack and Say Anything), strong friendships, and a little romance.  I plowed through it in two days.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.  This is release day for Don’t Read the Comments and I’m excited to be part of the blog tour!

Author Bio:

Eric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).


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Slay by Brittney Morris #bookreview #YA #suspense #TuesdayBookBlog

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process? 

I can’t say I’m the target audience for this book, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to dive in and play Slay.

I was immediately intrigued by a high school girl developing such a popular game and keeping it a secret from everyone she knows.  And the game!  A safe place where players don’t have to hide and can enjoy the freedom to be who they truly are.  Such creative imagery – the characters in the game, the dueling cards, the world within Slay – I can see how this would transfer easily to the big screen.

Something else I enjoyed are the relationships between Kiera, her sister, Steph and their parents, and Kiera’s friendship with Cicada – all loving, humorous, and very relatable.  Her relationship with Harper is a tad strained at times, even though they’ve been friends since they were children.  Having read The Hate U Give, there are parallels between Starr and Kiera in the way they felt they could never truly be themselves around their white friends.

When the troll infiltrated the game, I was so ready for him to get what he deserved.  The buildup is tense, infuriating, and completely offensive – and then there’s a twist and the situation is dealt with in just a few pages.  I felt a little cheated, like the payoff wasn’t big enough.

Even if you’re not a gamer, Slayer is an exciting, suspenseful read with some powerful and timely messages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens

Longing for escape from his mundane existence as a Stanford computer science major, Jason Lind signs up to play Fortuna, an online role-playing game set in Renaissance Florence.From the first, fateful 7337093mouse click, Jason tumbles into the vibrant, lush, anonymous world of Fortuna. Swept up in this highly complex, highly addictive game of fame, fortune, and power, Jason quickly transitions from casual gamer to compulsive player.Soon tangled up in a steamy virtual love triangle, Jason becomes obsessed with breaking Fortuna’s code of anonymity. But Fortuna is anything but fun and games, and when a sizable debt incurred in the game spills over into reality, Jason is forced to leverage the legacy of his father, a high-tech legend killed in a car accident years before, to pay off the debt.What started as a great escape may only leave Jason trapped, as the game that transported Jason deep into the past exposes a shocking, present-day reality.In the world of Fortuna, it’s not how you play the game; it’s if you survive.

Although it was pretty easy to figure out the ending somewhere around the middle, I still enjoyed reading this book.  I liked Jason, although I kept wanting to yell at him about shirking his responsibilities in his real life when he was so caught up in the game.  Seeing how his personality in RL contrasted with his ingame alter ego of Father Allessandro was interesting and I observed how RL Jason evolved over the course of the story, incorporating some of his Father Allessandro traits.

The descriptions of the game provided great imagery, but the technical explanations about Fortuna and Jason’s programming were completely over my head, although I got the gist of it.  The section of the book traveling back in time, was a great addition, giving backstory on Jason’s father, Nick, and providing some explanations about Jason’s past, but it also clued me in on the ending.

Something I caught, that I have to assume was an oversight on the author’s part, was the use of Jason’s real name by another character while ingame, although Fortuna is supposed to be anonymous.  Since Jason was questioning if some people he knew in RL were playing the game, I assumed that the use of his name would confirm his suspicions, but it was never addressed in the book.

Although much of this story was improbable, it was very enjoyable and I’d recommend reading it if you’re a fantasy fan, computer geek, or gamer – or even just want a quick thriller read.

This review is based on a digital copy from the publisher through NetGalley.