Book Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 24, 2017
Source: Borrowed

1 hour, 43 minutes

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds. 

This is going to be a very short review, mostly because this is a very short book and I don’t have much to say. I finished this in one sitting but can’t help wonder if I missed something because I’ve seen so many rave reviews of this book on Goodreads and other blogs and I just… didn’t feel much of anything for it.

Objectively, I can tell you that the book is well-written. It’s a timely book about an important topic. It’s a very fast read. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, at least as far as I can tell. But it’s been a few weeks since I finished it and I still have no idea what to say about it. It’s pretty rare that I finish a book and can’t come up with one single opinion on it, but that’s what happened here.

Three stars because I don’t know how else to rate something that I have no strong feelings about.

#mm19: one sitting reads


Have you read Long Way Down? Is it on your TBR?
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Blog tour (+ interview!): Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein

Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein
Links: Amazon • TBD • GoodreadsB&N
Publication Date: June 11, 2019

The Bold Type meets The Social Network when three girls participate in a startup incubator competition and uncover the truth about what it means to succeed in the male-dominated world of tech.

This summer Silicon Valley is a girls’ club.

Three thousand applicants. An acceptance rate of two percent. A dream internship for the winning team. ValleyStart is the most prestigious high school tech incubator competition in the country. Lucy Katz, Maddie Li, and Delia Meyer have secured their spots. And they’ve come to win.

Meet the Screen Queens.

Lucy Katz was born and raised in Palo Alto, so tech, well, it runs in her blood. A social butterfly and CEO in-the-making, Lucy is ready to win and party. 

East Coast designer, Maddie Li left her home and small business behind for a summer at ValleyStart. Maddie thinks she’s only there to bolster her graphic design portfolio, not to make friends.

Delia Meyer taught herself how to code on a hand-me-down computer in her tiny Midwestern town. Now, it’s time for the big leagues–ValleyStart–but super shy Delia isn’t sure if she can hack it (pun intended).

When the competition kicks off, Lucy, Maddie, and Delia realize just how challenging the next five weeks will be. As if there wasn’t enough pressure already, the girls learn that they would be the only all-female team to win ever. Add in one first love, a two-faced mentor, and an ex-boyfriend turned nemesis and things get…complicated

Filled with humor, heart, and a whole lot of girl power, Screen Queens is perfect for fans of Morgan Matson, Jenny Han, and The Bold Type.

As a big fan of Morgan Matson and The Bold Type, I was really excited to get the chance to participate in a blog tour for Screen Queens! Instead of my usual review, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and doing an author interview!

Thank you so much to Penguin Young Readers and Lori Goldstein for making this post possible!


What inspired you to write this book?

I love telling friendship stories. The core of my previous books is female friendship, and that’s one of the major themes of SCREEN QUEENS too. In SCREEN QUEENS I liked the idea of telling a story set in an environment that would be unfamiliar to all the main characters so they have to come together and navigate the landscape as one—it’s a precursor to what happens in college and of course also happens in summer camps, and intense friendships can form as a result despite the individuals being very different people. Obviously I was also heavily influenced by the #metoo movement, which had developed shortly before I started writing this book. Centering the story on the harassment that women in a male-dominated field like tech experience felt both timely and important, for technology and social media especially has such a strong impact on the lives of young adults.

You’ve previously written fantasy novels. What made you take the leap from fantasy to a contemporary about Silicon Valley?

I actually think it’s less of a leap and more of a gentle hop! With my BECOMING JINN series being a contemporary fantasy, it’s grounded in our normal, everyday world with a little bit (okay, more than a little!) of magic thrown in. But the foundation being in the contemporary world means that the transition to an all realistic story without a fantastic element felt entirely natural. While Azra in BECOMING JINN struggles with her magical destiny, it’s so tightly interwoven in the life she has in the non-magical world that she feels very much like any average teenager coming to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. Those issues are core for my main characters of Lucy, Maddie, and Delia in SCREEN QUEENS. And I think many would argue that Silicon Valley is a “fantastical” place all of its own!

I think it’s so great that you’ve written a book with such a feminist theme. Was there any reason that you decided to set this book in the male-dominated field of coding?

I’m inspired by all forms of entertainment and media, especially podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is called StartUp by Gimlet Media, which chronicles the issues faced by new businesses, especially tech-based ones. The second season centered on two women trying to grow their dating app. The struggles they encountered as female founders, things their male counterparts didn’t have to, affected me. Such as offers of funding from venture capitalists coming with the strings of dinner, drinks, or more attached. This led me to books like Brotopia by Emily Chang and articles in places like The Atlantic that offered deep insights into what it’s like to be a woman in the field of tech. The harassment and discrimination is a big part of the reason women leave the industry, which happened to a very good friend of mine who left her career as a coder. And it is also a barrier—among many barriers—for women entering the field. We all know that jobs in the future will be those related to tech, and we need to encourage more young women to consider this option from a young age, something I never did.

Your book features three really different characters. Which one do you relate to most and why?

I loved the ability to create Lucy, Maddie, and Delia, three strong, smart women with very different backgrounds and personalities. Lucy is ambitious and ready to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals, including using connections and pushing the envelope. Maddie is a talented designer, but unlike Lucy, Maddie wants to be successful simply to be able to take care of her younger brother, the only person Maddie’s able to open herself up to emotionally. Delia is loyal and deeply invested in her family and best friend. Though wildly intelligent, she lacks confidence and constantly compares herself to others. I see myself in all of these characters. My younger self was closer to Maddie; I was shy as a kid, and friendships didn’t come easily to me. As I got older, that began to change, yet I had many of Delia’s issues of lacking self-esteem, confidence, and just trusting myself. Now, I have Lucy’s drive and determination, but it’s tempered by my history and the pieces of Maddie and Delia still lurking inside. As a team, the three young ladies form a whole, and that’s mirrored in my own life.

Unrelated to your book, are there any books that you’ve recently read that you’d recommend checking out?

Absolutely! One of my recent favorites is the YA contemporary NIGHT MUSIC by the incredibly talented Jenn Marie Thorne, which focuses on a young woman struggling to find her place among her musical prodigy family. Jenn has a way with words that always leaves me aspiring to do more with my own work. Another is just about to come out on July 2, an adult called WHISPER NETWORK by Chandler Baker, which is similar to SCREEN QUEENS in its themes of female empowerment. It centers on three lawyers in a corporate firm with a boss whose behavior crosses all the lines, and the women decide to take action. It tackles so much about being a working mom and dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination but with so much humor and skill that you can’t stop flipping pages. Finally, another summer release (August 6) that I was fortunate to ready early is the YA REMEMBER ME by Chelsea Bobulski. It’s Titanic meets The Shining, and it’s a swoon-worthy love story that goes back and forth between the 1920s and present day that’s the ultimate summer read.


About the Author

 

Lori Goldstein was born into an Italian-Irish family and raised in a small town on the New Jersey shore. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Lehigh University and worked as a writer, editor, and graphic designer before becoming a full-time author. She currently lives and writes outside of Boston. Lori is also the author of the young adult contemporary fantasy series Becoming Jinn (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan). You can visit her online at www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com.


Have you read Screen Queens? Can you think of any other books about young women in traditionally male-dominated fields? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source: Purchased

Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts. 

I had seen a lot of hype for this book when it first came out and when I saw the author signing at a book festival I went to last year, I figured I might as well buy it. It was probably the most awkward encounter I’ve ever had in my life, which I don’t fault the author for since it just illustrates what happens when you throw two introverts who’ve never met before together and expect them to interact. Anyway, it took me a while to finally pick it up, and… I have some thoughts.

First of all, Tessa is not like other girls and Eric is always taking off his shirt to show off his six pack, so it’s basically the same two characters as every other YA book that’s come out over the last decade. Sure, there are some differences. Tessa is agoraphobic and Eric is famous. They mostly converse through Twitter, and Tessa doesn’t know that the person she’s been talking to is actually her celebrity crush.

I didn’t think that I’d have a problem with the premise, but I kind of do. I don’t necessarily mind that a celebrity is hiding his identity when he talks with a fan for the first time. I get that. But Eric lets it go on for so long and he doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not okay to lie about who he is when he and Tessa become close enough to consider meeting in person. Eric also had such an attitude about his fans that I found it surprising that he would even entertain the idea of befriending one of them, especially a superfan like Tessa.

The side characters in the book are absolutely ridiculous. Tessa’s mother is a blatantly horrible person. (Like most YA parents, I guess.) Her therapist is awful. The person from her past that she’s so scared of? Something was definitely missing because that whole story didn’t make a bit of sense.

The “cliffhanger” at the end is actually painfully obvious if you’ve paid attention at all to what’s happened throughout the book. I even went ahead and read some spoiler-filled reviews of the sequel to confirm that this story ends exactly as I expected it to.

I can’t think of anyone I’d recommend this book to. I’m glad it’s off my shelf, but it’s already in my donate pile.

#killingthetbr: ten months on shelf


Have you read Follow Me Back? What about the sequel?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

In This One Summer two stellar creators redefine the teen graphic novel. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.

I checked this graphic novel out from the library mostly because of the cute cover. It seemed to perfectly illustrate summer, and it looked like just what I was in the mood for. Unfortunately, this book really didn’t do it for me. Aside from the artwork, which was pretty nice, I didn’t see much of a point to it.

There’s really very little plot. Rose and her family have headed to Awago Beach for the summer. She’s excited to see her friend, Windy, and to be away from home for a bit. Once there, Rose is disappointed that all her parents are doing is arguing. She develops a crush on an older guy who has a pregnant girlfriend. She and Windy watch a lot of horror movies that they’re way too young for. That’s really the extent of what happens.

I thought that Rose’s mother’s story was much more interesting than Rose’s. As the book goes on, we learn why Rose’s parents have been arguing and why Rose’s mother has been so sad recently. Maybe it’s my age showing here, but I was much more invested in that story than I was in Rose calling the other girls in town “sluts” (and never really learning why talking like that isn’t okay) and accusing her supposed best friend of being immature.

This isn’t necessarily a bad book, but I was mostly just bored while I read it.

Have you read This One Summer? Can you recommend any summery graphic novels?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Bloom by Kevin Panetta

Bloom by Kevin Panetta
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

As soon as I saw this book pop up in my library’s Overdrive, I knew I had to read it. That cover! I love it. Now, I might be a little biased because (1) I’m on a graphic novel kick right now, and (2) I read this while on an airplane headed to see my boyfriend (so I was already in a pretty great mood), but I thought this was the most adorable book. It’s possibly one of the best things I’ve read so far this year.

This graphic novel had everything I look for in a book: relatable characters, a slow (but not too slow) burn romance, some aspiring musicians, a guy who loves baking, and family relationships that actually make sense. I mean, I could hardly believe it. Not only were Ari’s parents actually present throughout the book, he actually had a good relationship with them!

Add to that the amazing art (and its very soothing color palette) and it’s really no wonder that I loved this so much. So much, in fact, that I don’t even really know what to say about it, other than I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

#mm19: one sitting reads


Have you read Bloom? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee

Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 14, 2017
Source: ARC from publisher

The only thing worse than not being able to tell your best friend you’re head over heels in love with him? Having to smile and nod when he enlists your help to ensnare the girl of his dreams. 

Braylen didn’t even want to go to Lennon Pryor’s epic graduation-night party, but when Fynn begs her to be his “wingwoman,” she can’t deny him. Talking up her BFF—how he’s magic behind a camera, with a killer sense of humor and eyelashes that frame the most gorgeous blue eyes in the history of forever—is easy. Supporting his efforts to woo someone so completely wrong for him? Not so much. 

Fynn knows that grad night is his last shot before leaving for college to find true love. And thanks to Bray, he gets his chance with the beautiful Katy Evans. But over the course of the coolest party of their high school careers, he starts to see that perhaps what he really wants has been in front of him all along. Bray’s been his best friend since kindergarten, though, and he’d rather have her in his life as a friend than not at all. 

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains one epic party, complete with every high-schoolers-gone-bad shenanigan, and two best friends whose sexual chemistry is off the charts…if only they’d succumb to it.

After enjoying Molly E. Lee’s Ask Me Anything a few weeks ago, I was pretty excited to get an email offering Love in the Friend Zone. Friends-to-lovers is one of my favorite tropes, but I just couldn’t get on board with this one. I suppose I should say that this isn’t necessarily a bad book, it just wasn’t for me.

The first thing I want to mention is that there’s a whole lot of drama in this book with very little actual plot. The entirety of the plot is that Fynn has asked for Braylen’s help in hooking up with the girl of his dreams, not realizing that Braylen has been secretly pining after him for years. That’s it. That’s the plot.

Nearly the entire book takes place over a single evening — a party, to be exact — and it’s pretty much just one cliche after another that keeps these kids from getting together. In general, I don’t have a problem with tropes. What I have a problem with is when a book relies on one cliche after another to move its non-existent plot along, and this book was full of cliches. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a scene where the lights go out, and I could have told you exactly what was going to happen because I’ve read it so many times.

Another thing I want to talk about is the friends-to-lovers trope itself. When it’s done right, I absolutely adore it. Some examples of books that have done it right are Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi, Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren, and Not So Nice Guy by R.S. Grey. The thing that sets these books apart is that the progression from friends to lovers feels natural. It’s not like a switch flips one day and both people are like, “whoa, I love you, where did that come from.” Here, I’d say that, for maybe 90% of the book, Fynn is entirely focused on a different girl, a popular girl nicknamed “Killer Boobs” who has a history of bullying his best friend. (So, basically a classic teenage girl stereotype.) Am I really to believe that Fynn just suddenly loses his feelings for this girl in favor of his best friend, who’s been there all along?

I feel like I can’t really say any more about this book without spoiling the whole thing, so I think I’ll just end by saying that I was really disappointed by this book. I think I would have liked it a lot more as a teenager than I did as an adult.


Have you read Love in the Friend Zone? What’s your favorite friends-to-lovers book?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 14, 2006
Source: Purchased

At the Manhattan School of Art and Music, where everyone is unique and everyone is ‘different’, Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. It doesn’t help that she’s known as the girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of her favourite superhero, just so she won’t have to talk to anyone. Her best (and only real) friend is there for her, but that’s only if she’s not busy – she’s always busy! 

It’s no surprise that Gretchen isn’t exactly successful in the boy department. Her ex-boyfriend is a cold-fish-sometimes-flirty ex who she can’t stop bumping into. Plus, she has a massive crush on a boy named, Titus but is too scared to make the first move. One minute he seems like a sensitive guy, the next, he’s a completely different person when he’s with his friends. She can’t seem to figure boys out!

Gretchen has one wish: to be a fly on the wall in the boy’s locker room. What are boys really like? What do they talk about?

I can’t review this one without spoilers, sorry.

I’ve had Fly on the Wall on my TBR since it came out thirteen years ago. I never quite know what I’m going to get when I read an E. Lockhart book. There are some books by her that I’ve liked (like her Ruby Oliver series) and others that I really haven’t (like Genuine Fraud). It seems like a lot of her books have really mixed reviews, and Fly on the Wall is no different.

Let me start by saying that this is one of the easiest books that I’ve read in the last few months. It took very little effort to read it, and before I knew it, I was done. I don’t think I spent more than two hours reading the whole thing. There were parts of it that I really liked. The ending, in particular, was very cute. I also liked Titus and the way he stood up for Brat, and everything that happened with Malachy and Katya. All of this is why I gave it two stars and not one.

Everything else, though? Weird at best. Incredibly problematic at worst.

This is where the spoilers really get going.I’m going to be blunt here. You see how, on the cover, it says in big, bold letters, “How one girl saw EVERYTHING” — well, everything is referring to penises. I think it’s really important to just put that out there. A good chunk of this book is made up of the fly version of Gretchen sitting on a locker room wall and ogling her classmates’ penises. She flies up close to one guy to get a good view. She makes comments about penis size and compares her ex to his classmates. It’s all very creepy.

As if that isn’t weird enough, Gretchen also decides to grade all of the boys based on their butts. Like… letter grades. How odd. There are full descriptions of so many butts. It was like being inside Tina Belcher’s mind.

I mean, I don’t really have a problem with teenage girls exploring their sexuality. I think it’s great that this book talks about how Gretchen gets turned on when she sees a naked guy, how it’s a totally different experience than seeing her classmates clothed. Especially in 2006, this wasn’t really a thing in YA books. But let’s be honest here for a second — these guys have no idea that one of their female classmates is creepily staring at them. I could not get over how weird and creepy it was for this girl to be nonchalantly examining her classmates’ penises and butts without their knowledge and not finding anything wrong with it. I would’ve hoped for this to be challenged at least a little bit, but nope. Gretchen just resumes her normal daily activities one day and it’s like none of this ever happened.

Can I also talk for a second about two MAJOR plot points that were never resolved? First, we have Carlo and Xavier who get bullied for taking an African dancing class instead of a sport that the other boys in the grade deem acceptable. I can definitely see this happening. Gretchen witnesses them being made fun of and even beaten up for it, and then… nothing happens. It’s totally forgotten about, despite multiple scenes featuring these characters. I didn’t necessarily need justice, but something would have been nice. And then, my biggest question while reading this book, what exactly was happening to Gretchen’s body while she was a fly? Was she just kind of in a coma? If she wasn’t eating or drinking, how did she stay alive? How did she even become a fly? How did she get turned back into a human? SO MANY QUESTIONS. NO ANSWERS.

One thing that I didn’t really understand was the slang in this book. Literally every character refers to penises as “gherkins” and breasts as “biscuits.” Gherkins… okay, I guess that makes sense. But BISCUITS? It took me some time to figure out what that was referring to. It was just… so weird. What was the point? It was almost like either the author or the publisher was afraid to use any anatomically correct terms (or actual slang words) and had to make up these weird food-related words for an entire school to use.

I don’t know that I can really recommend this one as anything other than a very odd, very fast read.

#killingthetbr: three months on shelf


Have you read Fly on the Wall? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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