Book Review: How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt

How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 16, 2015
Source: Borrowed

What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?

How Music Got Free is a riveting story of obsession, music, crime, and money, featuring visionaries and criminals, moguls and tech-savvy teenagers. It’s about the greatest pirate in history, the most powerful executive in the music business, a revolutionary invention and an illegal website four times the size of the iTunes Music Store. 

Journalist Stephen Witt traces the secret history of digital music piracy, from the German audio engineers who invented the mp3, to a North Carolina compact-disc manufacturing plant where factory worker Dell Glover leaked nearly two thousand albums over the course of a decade, to the high-rises of midtown Manhattan where music executive Doug Morris cornered the global market on rap, and, finally, into the darkest recesses of the Internet.

Through these interwoven narratives, Witt has written a thrilling book that depicts the moment in history when ordinary life became forever entwined with the world online — when, suddenly, all the music ever recorded was available for free. In the page-turning tradition of writers like Michael Lewis and Lawrence Wright, Witt’s deeply-reported first book introduces the unforgettable characters—inventors, executives, factory workers, and smugglers—who revolutionized an entire artform, and reveals for the first time the secret underworld of media pirates that transformed our digital lives.

An irresistible never-before-told story of greed, cunning, genius, and deceit, How Music Got Free isn’t just a story of the music industry—it’s a must-read history of the Internet itself.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to listen to an album, you could just… download it. Any song you could possibly be looking for, no matter how obscure, was available for download in the shady corners of the internet, and if you couldn’t find it, one of your friends definitely knew someone who could. It was great. I still remember very clearly when those sites started disappearing, so I was really excited to read a book about the rise and fall of music piracy.

The story here is interesting. Witt covers all the major players in the torrenting scene — the people who invented the mp3, the people who leaked the music, the record company executives who had to deal with declining sales — and brings up points I hadn’t even thought to wonder about. Back in the day, these songs just appeared. You didn’t have to think about who put them there, how they did it, and what they risked, so in that way, I really enjoyed reading this book.

But for being a book about music piracy, it only seemed to skim the surface of the issue. I was hoping to read about music blogs, LUElinks, and file-sharing sites like MegaUpload, which were kind of the trifecta of piracy in my circles, but they were nowhere to be found in this book. I realize that these sites aren’t quite as sensational as the employees of CD factories sneaking music past security guards, but they were used much more commonly than torrents by the people I knew. I would’ve also liked a bit more discussion on modern answers to piracy, like Spotify, or even YouTube, which used to immediately remove copyrighted songs and now provides free access to just about any song you could want.

In short, this book was interesting, but I wanted more. I’ll definitely be browsing the library’s nonfiction section for more books on the music industry.

#mm20: seeing red

Have you read How Music Got Free? Have you read any good books on the music industry?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker

Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Trapped in sunny, stifling, small-town suburbia, seventeen-year-old Morgan knows why she’s in therapy. She can’t count the number of times she’s been the only non-white person at the sleepover, been teased for her “weird” outfits, and been told she’s not “really” black. Also, she’s spent most of her summer crying in bed. So there’s that, too.

Lately, it feels like the whole world is listening to the same terrible track on repeat—and it’s telling them how to feel, who to vote for, what to believe. Morgan wonders, when can she turn this song off and begin living for herself?

Life may be a never-ending hamster wheel of agony, but Morgan finds her crew of fellow outcasts, blasts music like there’s no tomorrow, discovers what being black means to her, and finally puts her mental health first. She decides that, no matter what, she will always be intense, ridiculous, passionate, and sometimes hilarious. After all, darkness doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Darkness is just real.

The first book on my “WOW, I REALLY NEED TO CATCH UP ON THESE ARCS” list was Who Put This Song On?, which was published back in September. I was super excited about this one and then life happened and I totally forgot about it until well after it was published.

I have some conflicting thoughts about this book, but overall, I really enjoyed it.

The first thing I want to mention is the nostalgia factor. This book is set in 2008, when emo music was at its height and Barack Obama had just been elected. This was such a throwback for me. I was 18 in 2008, and Morgan is 17. It felt like I was reading a book about my own teenage experiences, because let me tell you… I also can sometimes not make it through a party without crying (or at least getting super anxious) and, back in 2008, I also got joy by locking myself in my bedroom and screaming along with Bright Eyes. (Road to Joy was my go-to.)

Morgan’s struggle with her faith while attending Catholic school was another thing that took me right back to 2008. I attended thirteen years of Catholic school and everything that Morgan talks about is accurate. Going to mass every week with your class because that’s what you’ve always done, listening to teachers awkwardly drone on about resisting temptations, weird religious versions of popular songs, the lack of sex ed (which in this book leads to a pregnancy scare)… all of that was my high school experience.

And the music! I loved how Morgan loved all of the same music that I did back then. (And, okay, I’m still an emo kid even though I’m in my late 20s.) I’m a sucker for music references, and I loved how Morgan and her friends made mixes for each other all the time. I loved making mixes for my friends back then!

I also appreciated the exploration of Morgan’s anxiety and depression. While mental health is a big thing now that people make a point to talk about and prioritize, it definitely was not in 2008. It was something people actively avoided talking about, and if they did talk about it, it was in whispers or just vaguely alluded to. That’s really captured well in this book, and the intersection between Morgan’s depression and her race adds another level to the story.

There were, however, some things I didn’t particularly like.

The pacing was, I think, my biggest issue. The book is only 336 pages, but it definitely drags at times, and especially at the beginning. There were some chapters that didn’t really seem to serve a purpose, which, because this is a semi-autobiographical novel, I feel kind of bad saying.

Another issue I had was the sheer amount of issues this book tries to tackle. I’ve included several of them in my list of content warnings below, and there are definitely more that I’m forgetting. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a heavy book, but it does deal with some very difficult topics. This on its own wasn’t really an issue for me, but the fact that very few of these issues were actually resolved was. A lot of things happen to Morgan, and then the book just kind of ends. I know that this book is based on the author’s life and real life doesn’t always have a neat and tidy ending, but, at least for me, that didn’t translate into a novel very well.

Overall, I think this book is definitely worth a read if you can relate to being an anxious teenager who felt like an outsider and was obsessed with emo music in 2008. That might be a very specific demographic, but it’s one I fit into.

Content warnings:depression (including suicidal thoughts), anxiety (including panic attacks), homophobia, drug and alcohol use, racism, attempted sexual assault

Have you read Who Put This Song On? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: The Vanishing Stair, 19 Love Songs, & The Wicked King

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Source: Borrowed

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.

Much like with Truly Devious, I wasn’t really fully convinced by The Vanishing Stair until partway through. I was worried that this was going to be a filler book, one where the characters sort of just wander around looking for clues until we hit the final book in the trilogy, where everything finally happens. That worry ended up being unwarranted, because a ton of stuff happens in this book!

With any mystery, I’m kind of hesitant to get into details because I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything. I just want to say that Maureen Johnson has clearly thought everything through in this series and planned out every detail in depth. I can’t wait to find out what will happen next!

19 Love Songs by David Levithan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Source: Borrowed

The New York Times bestselling author of Every DaySomeday, and Two Boys Kissing is back with a short story collection about love–perfect for Valentine’s Day or year-round reading!

A resentful member of a high school Quiz Bowl team with an unrequited crush.

A Valentine’s Day in the life of Every Day‘s protagonist “A.”

A return to the characters of Two Boys Kissing.

19 Love Songs, from New York Times bestselling author David Levithan, delivers all of these stories and more. Born from Levithan’s tradition of writing a story for his friends each Valentine’s Day, this collection brings all of them to his readers for the first time. With fiction, nonfiction, and a story in verse, there’s something for every reader here.

Witty, romantic, and honest, teens (and adults) will come to this collection not only on Valentine’s Day, but all year round. 

I’ve been reading David Levithan’s books since I was a teenager myself, so when I saw that he had a new collection of short stories out, I had to read it. Levithan has written some of my all-time favorite books (The Lover’s Dictionary, You Know Me Well) as well as some books that I’ve really disliked (Every Day, the Dash & Lily books). He’s also written a ton of books that I’ve felt indifferent about, and I won’t link all of those reviews here, but they’re all on my “all reviews” page.

The point is, I can go either way on Levithan’s writing, and I went both ways on the stories in this collection. When they were good, they were really good. I loved the story about Taylor Swift fanfiction, the story about being snowed in, the quiz bowl story, and the Santa story. I also loved all of the music references. The stories I didn’t love mostly left me bored. This isn’t really Levithan’s fault, because I’m sure there are plenty of people who connect more with those stories than I did.

Overall, I think this evens out to a three-star read for me. If you’re into Levithan’s writing, a lot characters from his previous books make appearances in these stories, so you might be pleasantly surprised.

The Wicked King by Holly Black
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Source: Borrowed

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

Well, 89% of people on Goodreads have given this book either 4 or 5 stars, and I am not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this series or anything. I gave the first book four stars, mostly because it really grabbed me toward the end, but I definitely thought it had a rough start.

In The Wicked King, I had many of the same problems as I had in The Cruel Prince. Jude is less annoying than she was in the first book, but she’s equally dumb. Cardan is still mostly mean to Jude (that’s the point, I know) and I didn’t buy their “romance” at all. I found much of the plot boring, and the big plot twist at the end seemed so in-character for everyone that I wasn’t really surprised at all. In 336 pages, very little happens that actually advances the plot.

And yet. For however much I disliked this book, I still want to read The Queen of Nothing to find out how everything ends.

Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good YA recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Vox by Christina Dalcher
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: August 21, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Set in a United States in which half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than one hundred words per day, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial. This can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

Soon women are not permitted to hold jobs. Girls are not taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words each day, but now women have only one hundred to make themselves heard.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

This is just the beginning…not the end.

I burned myself out on dystopian novels a few years ago, so now I like to wait until I’m really in the mood before I pick one up. I’d seen Vox just about everywhere when it was originally published. It was all over book blogs, all over bookstagram, in magazines and on TV and just… everywhere. I was a little nervous, honestly. I don’t always do well with hype. But eventually, I decided to read it.

What’s happened in Vox is that women have lost their voice. They get 100 words per day and are punished if they go over their limit. This has effectively banned them from employment and made them entirely dependent on their husbands. In addition to the ban on speaking, there are bans on homosexuality and premarital or extramarital sex. Women that were once at the top of their field, like Jean, the main character, are now limited to cooking and raising children, never really leaving the house because they can’t communicate if they do.

What’s terrifying about this book is that it’s not that unbelievable. I mean, do I think the government is going to strap a device to my wrist that electrocutes me if I talk too much? No. (But neither did the characters in this book, I guess.) But given the current political climate and attitudes toward women that we see from some politicians, this book hit pretty close to home.

I think that Dalcher did a great job of showing how out of control the constant regulations on women’s health could get, given the right circumstances. I just think she went about it in a very heavy-handed way. I was never 100% on board with the premise — after all, would an entire world just sit idly by while the U.S. government effectively silenced half of its population? — but I was going with it. Then we hit the second half of the book.

I don’t want to spoil what happens, so I’m not going to get into details. But the entire second half of this book was one over-the-top plot twist after another. Any plot twist you could think of probably happens. To the main character. To her family. To minor characters. In the government. Everything. And the ending really disappointed me. I can understand how it made sense, but it seemed to contradict the entire point of the book.

Regardless of how I felt about the second half, though, this book was an overall good read. If you’re in the mood for some feminism and some dystopian themes, you could definitely do worse than Vox.

#wian20: 4 letters or less

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

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Book Review: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

10:00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.

11:00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.

Before I start my review, I have to mention that the only reason I really wanted to read this book was that it made me think of the Keane song, which I was obsessed with when I was 14 years old. I just listened to it again and it took me right back!

Now that that’s out of the way, on to the review.

I’d previously read Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel in 2018, and felt that the characters were written to sound a lot younger than they actually were. The character I related to most in that book was the father, so yikes. In Somewhere Only We Know, that’s no longer the case. I felt like both Lucky and Jack were much more mature than I’d expect for characters of their age and it continually surprised me when I was reminded that they were supposed to be teenagers.

I think, overall, this book was pretty cute. I liked Lucky a lot, and Goo did a great job of making a celebrity seem relatable. I liked the exploration of mental illness in Korean culture and body image/dieting. I also liked Jack. He seemed to truly care what about what happened to Lucky from the first minute he met her. I’ve also never read a book about the paparazzi before, so that was an interesting wrench to throw in the story. All of the things that Lucky and Jack did on their romantic day out were so cute, too. This book made Hong Kong seem like the most magical place to visit.

With all of that said, there were also things that didn’t sit quite right with me. First of all, this book is heavy on the instalove. It takes place in one day, okay. ONE DAY. I’m a romantic at heart, but it was a little much even for me. The constant lying also bothered me. If you’re going to fall in love in 24 hours, at least be honest with each other! Good relationships are not built on a bed of lies!

Overall, this book kind of reminded me of a better executed Permanent Record. I still didn’t love it, and I’ll probably forget the entire plot by the end of the week, but it was fun while it lasted.

#mm20: winter wonderland

Have you read Somewhere Only We Know? Can you recommend any good celebrity romances?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers — and why they often go wrong.

How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true?

While tackling these questions, Malcolm Gladwell was not solely writing a book for the page. He was also producing for the ear. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll hear the voices of people he interviewed–scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. There’s even a theme song – Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.”

Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.

It’s been a long time since I finished a book feeling quite as conflicted as I do now.

On the one hand, Talking to Strangers is an incredibly interesting, engaging book about a number of high-profile news stories over the last several decades. Gladwell takes on Jerry Sandusky, Amanda Knox, Sandra Bland, Sylvia Plath, Larry Nassar, and more. He presents really interesting psychological studies. He made me think about how I interpret strangers’ behavior and how other people might interpret mine.

On the other hand, I’m not sure he ever makes his point, or if he really has a point to make. He makes some disturbing excuses for sexual assault and race-based crimes. I’d like to think that he’s just trying to provide a well-rounded view on the topic, but if there were ever topics that shouldn’t be excused, they’re sexual assault and racism.

Two things I learned from this book:

  • We naturally default to truth. We want to believe that people aren’t lying to us, so we’ll rationalize weird behavior, as in the Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar cases. Not defaulting to truth, and instead defaulting to everyone being a criminal, is what results in cases like Sandra Bland’s arrest.
  • Things like crime and suicide are coupled, meaning that their place and context of occurrence are tied to their existence. For example, adding a suicide barrier on a bridge will overall reduce suicides, not encourage people who might want to commit suicide to find an alternate method. Increasing police presence in a high crime neighborhood will overall reduce crime, not force it to a different area.

It seems that Gladwell’s main point in this book is that many of the problems in the world can be traced back to misunderstandings. That seems to be a pretty flimsy idea to base a nearly 400-page book around, and I don’t really think the connection worked for me. That said, this book was so interesting that I don’t really care.

Have you read Talking to Strangers? Have you read any good books on psychology recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Pet, Symptoms of Being Human, and With the Fire on High

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Pet is here to hunt a monster.
Are you brave enough to look?

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question-How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

I’m not sure the last time I finished a book feeling so confused as when finishing Pet, but at least I knew that I liked it. The thing about this book is that the writing style feels very middle grade, but the subject matter is very much not.

My favorite thing about this book was the representation. Jam is a trans black girl, and it’s not the focus of the story or really relevant to the plot in any way, it’s just who Jam is. I think this is the best kind of representation to have.

The book has an important, if maybe heavy-handed message, that just because we don’t expect people to be evil doesn’t mean that they’re not. In Jam’s world, evil has supposedly been eradicated, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not lurking where we’d least expect it. Her journey, along with her best friend Redemption and the monstrous-looking (but not actually monstrous) Pet, to find out what’s been going on with someone they both care about, is absolutely heartbreaking.

In the end, I would recommend this book as long as you’re okay with the fairly obvious way the message is delivered.

Content warnings
  • child abuse/molestation
  • fairly graphic vigilante justice
  • (accidental) self harm with razor blades

#wian20: 4 letters or less

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Borrowed

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

We’re all taught from a young age that there are only two choices: pink or blue, Bratz or Power Rangers, cheerleading or football. We see gender in two dimensions because that’s what society has taught us from birth. But, are you ready for a shocking revelation? SOCIETY NEEDS TO CHANGE.

I’d had Symptoms of Being Human on my TBR for a while, but I still went in with no expectations. The reviews are pretty mixed, with most people agreeing that it has great genderqueer representation but very little plot. I guess I can see that.

The story revolves around Riley, who identifies as genderqueer. Riley’s parents don’t really understand. Riley’s classmates don’t really understand. So Riley starts a blog and finds some people to talk to about life. That’s really about it, and I’ll agree that it’s not much of a plot to go on, but it did hold my interest.

I will say that this book made me angry, though. I don’t have any children, but I hope to never make my future child feel like they’re not good enough the way they are, like they have to stuff themselves into a suffocating box to make me happy. I hope it made other people angry too.

Overall, I think the characters really carry the story here, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free. 

After really loving The Poet X, I decided to give another of Acevedo’s books a try and read With the Fire on High. I didn’t love it quite as much but it was still really, really good.

I loved Emoni. She was such a strong character and she was truly just trying to do her best with the circumstances in her life. I loved the relationship she had with her abuela. I loved her cooking and just wish that I could taste some of those recipes! There’s even a little touch of magical realism, which I thought was great.

As for why four stars and not five, I felt like, though the overall writing was very good, it did have some awkward parts. (I rolled my eyes every time Emoni let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding.) I also didn’t understand what purpose there was to all of the drama with Pretty Leslie, though it does get resolved nicely in the end.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. But if you have to pick one of Acevedo’s books to start with, I’d recommend The Poet X.

Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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