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


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Book review: Wordcrime by John Olsson

Wordcrime by John Olsson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 1, 2009
Source: Borrowed

Tell kids not to worry. sorting my life out. be in touch to get some things.

Instead of being a simple SMS message, this text turned out to be crucial and chilling evidence in convicting the deceptive killer of a mother of two. Sent from her phone, after her death, tell tale signs announce themselves to a forensic linguist. Rarely is a crime committed without there being some evidence in the form of language. Wordcrime features a series of chapters where gripping cases are described – involving murder, sexual assault, hate mail, suspicious death, code deciphering, arson and even genocide. Olsson describes the evidence he gave in each one. In approachable and clear prose, he details how forensic linguistics helps the law beat the criminals. This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in true crime, in modern, cutting-edge criminology and also where the study of language meets the law.

In case you didn’t know, I majored in Linguistics in college. I love words, and especially how we use words to get a point across. A book like this, that takes a look at the seemingly simple variations in the way a text, diary entry, or letter is constructed, and what that says about its author, is right up my alley.

In this book, Olsson describes a number of cases that he’s worked on throughout the years. I’m not going to get into all of the cases in this book. The book is far too long for that and I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. What I do want to talk about is a couple cases that I thought were particularly interesting and one that made me very, very angry.

I think my favorite case was the one about how The Da Vinci Code was possibly plagiarized from three books by Lew Perdue. I found it fascinating that I had not only never heard of this case before, but that the judge ruled that The Da Vinci Code was not plagiarized when there were so many uncanny similarities between the two books!

Another case that I found particularly interesting was the one about a man who had written diary entries confessing to a crime that then stated that the entries were fabricated after the details of the case came out. The way that Olsson was able to prove the time period during which the diary entries were written was fascinating!

However, there was one case that made me very angry. As someone with a background in Linguistics that now works in a medical office, I feel that I have enough of a background to adequately comment on the “case of medical disinformation.”

Basically, in this case, a man sued a hospital because they failed to provide the records that he wanted. It sounds terrible, right? As patients, we’re entitled to copies of our medical information and doctors and healthcare systems are not allowed to deny reasonable requests. Any hospital you visit will have a form that you need to complete and sign if you want your records. Most private offices will have one too. This protects the doctor by making it very clear what exactly you want, because HIPAA is not something that doctors want to mess around with. There are hefty fines involved if you violate a patient’s privacy, and, depending on the kind of violation, jail time isn’t out of the question. There’s not really room for interpretation on a records request form. The hospital or doctor will release exactly what you tell them to, because doing anything else puts them at risk for a lawsuit.

In this case, the man request a copy of his chart notes. He received a copy of his chart notes. He believed his request should have given him access to his entire medical record, but here I am, from both a linguistics and medical administration standpoint, to tell you what exactly is wrong with this mindset.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Your chart notes are usually narrative paragraphs describing what was done to you at your visit. For example, I work in dermatology and our chart notes will be something like “Patient presents with 0.6 cm lesion on the left upper back, present for many years with recent change in color. Plan: Biopsy today — skin prepped with rubbing alcohol, biopsy performed by shave method, hemostasis via aluminum chloride, ointment and nonstick dressing applied. Wound care instructions given. Follow up pending pathology results.” If you request your chart notes, that’s what you’ll receive. It’s all very boring and not usually what people are expecting when they request chart notes, but we have to provide it if you want it.

Your complete medical record is much more detailed. In addition to chart notes, this includes the actual lab results, information we’ve sent to (or received from) other doctors relating to your care, copies of letters we’ve sent you, your prescription history, summaries of all your conditions, clinical photos… basically anything and everything you could ever think a doctor might keep on file. Even for people who’ve only been seen once, a complete medical record can easily be twenty or more pages.

In this case, the man wanted his complete medical record and believed the hospital should have understood that. However, if you have any understanding of HIPAA or privacy practices, you can see why the hospital would err on the side of caution and not provide more than what was explicitly requested. It’s really very sad, but hospitals and doctors get sued so frequently that they can’t take any chances. If they had given him his entire medical record when all he wanted was chart notes, it’s possible that he could have sued them for releasing his information without his consent.

So when the author of this book claims that the hospital should have been able to infer what the patient wanted when he requested the information, I just have to say… no. There’s a difference between having a degree in Linguistics and understanding the inner workings of the medical field. As my boss likes to say, “from a medical-legal standpoint…” what a patient intends to put on a records request is irrelevant. The only relevant information is what the patient actually signed for.

There’s also a very odd section in this case about how the man requested copies of videos from staff meetings because he thought his case might have been discussed. First of all, I can tell you that no sane doctor keeps videos of their staff meetings. It’s too much of a liability. But even if they did, sharing those videos with a patient would be a huge violation of HIPAA, subject to crazy fines, because I can almost guarantee that his was not the only case discussed. You’re not entitled to view discussions of other peoples’ medical information just because you think the doctor might have also talked about you. It’s absolutely outrageous that this man not only thought he was entitled to this, but also that the author of this book defended this as a reasonable request.

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who have no idea how the medical field works trying to make assertions about the way things should be done. It’s possible that there’s more to this case than the author let on, but based on just the language of the request alone, I can’t say that there was some huge conspiracy here. The hospital did what the hospital had to do, and I’m sorry that this man was confused about how records requests work, but that doesn’t mean that the hospital should break the law for him.

Anyway. That rant is over, and all in all, this book was fine. Olsson had some interesting things to say, but he could have used a good editor and, as illustrated in the records request case, sometimes just didn’t know what he was talking about. I think forensic linguistics is a very interesting field, but I’m sure there are better books about it than this one.

#mmd19: a book about a topic that fascinates you


Have you read Wordcrime? Are you interested in linguistics?
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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?
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Book review: Gothic Tales of Haunted Love by Hope Nicholson & S.M. Beiko

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love by Hope Nicholson & S.M. Beiko
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 23, 2018
Source: Sent by publisher

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is a new comics anthology curated by Hope Nicholson (The Secret Loves of Geek Girls) and S.M. Beiko (Scion of the Fox).

In 1950s Vietnam, a lost soul comes to the aid of his lover’s field under attack by American troops.

In Victorian Boston, a new governess comes to care for the rogueish widower of a stately manor and his charming brood of children.

A fashion journalist lands the interview of her dreams – but it unearths the deadly secrets of Taiwan’s most popular fashion designer.

A Sioux elder revives a recently deceased woman who sets out to recover her lost love.

A Jamaican slave faces the horrors of her hateful mistress, on the eve of her liberation.

A Brazilian writer-in-exile discovers the dark history of an abandoned mansion inhabited by a charming and sensual ghost.

And a young bride spins a story of murder and deceit that paints her husband as a killer . . . but is there any truth to her tale?

Featuring 19 original stories from some of modern comics’ finest talent, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love collects fragments of lovers torn apart, romantic liasons with the unliving, ghostly revenge, and horrific deeds, in the vein of the short-lived 1970s gothic romance comics.

A foreword on gothic romance comics is provided by historian Jacque Nodell, and the collection also features a reprint of the 1970s Korean horror-romance comic “The Promise” by Sanho Kim.

I generally have mixed feelings about anthologies, but when I got an email offering me a free copy of Gothic Tales of Haunted Love, I couldn’t resist. After all, I’m on a huge graphic novel kick. Reading something that was at least a little out of my comfort zone didn’t sound so bad, either.

As usual, I had wildly varying thoughts about the stories in this anthology.

Crush by Janet Hetherington, Ronn Sutton, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: ★★★★☆

I was getting some Sound of Music vibes from this one, and even half-expected some clothes made out of curtains, until the end. I did not see that ending coming!

Rose’s Heart by Colleen Coover: ★★★★☆

I wasn’t loving this one at the beginning. I thought it would go the very cliche way of Jim ending up as the villain, and I’m glad he didn’t. That ending, though, totally saved this story. My goodness!!!

Secrets in the Silk by Nika: ★★★★☆

This one was so much fun! Or, at least, as fun as murderous mayhem can be…

L’Heure Verte by Femi Sobowale, Caroline Dougherty & Zakk Saam: ★★★☆☆

I thought this story was cute, but the twist was (1) much less exciting than the previous three stories and (2) honestly kind of obvious.

Goldblind by Hope Nicholson & Scott Chantler: ★☆☆☆☆

I feel kind of bad, but I did not understand the point of this one. Like, at all.

Minefield by Hien Pham: ★★★☆☆

This is primarily written in Vietnamese, so I’m not 100% sure that I fully understand what was going on, but it made me very, very sad and I’m calling that a success.

The Return by David A. Robertson & Scott B. Henderson: ★★★☆☆

An interesting enough premise, but the execution was pretty cliche. It basically just followed every fable ever.

Green, Gold, and Black by Cherelle Higgins & Rina Rozsas: ★★☆☆☆

The art was great and the story was heartbreaking, but what exactly was the point? I feel like this was too big of a story to tell in this short amount of pages and it would have been improved a lot if it were at least twice as long.

Ladies of the Lake by Sarah Winifred Searle: ★★★★☆

I love twists on Arthurian legends, so this one was right up my alley. I fully expected that final twist, but still appreciated it. This one was a great story.

Fazenda do Sangue Azul by H. Pueyo & Dante L.: ★★★☆☆

There are some definite plot holes here when it comes to the ghost’s appearance (and actions), but I still enjoyed this one. Surprisingly, even with the torture and war and everything, it was pretty cute.

A Heritage of Woods by S.M. Beiko & Maia Kobabe: ★☆☆☆☆

Oh dear. This one was too much.I could have happily lived my life without seeing someone have sex with a tree.

Lovers’ Moon by Chris Stone & Dani Bee: ★★★☆☆

So, first of all, I’m not a doctor but I don’t think you get Graves disease from walking around at night. That said, this one had an interesting twist, and I loved the conversation between Andrew and John.

Mistress Fox by Megan Kearney: ★★★★☆

Another twist I didn’t see coming! I was already on board with the idea of the main character recounting her dream, but that twist really took it to another level.

My Heart Still Beats for You by Amber Noelle & Allison Paige: ★☆☆☆☆

I’m sorry, but is this the novelization of every text post from 2009 Tumblr?

One More Cup by Barbara Guttman: ★☆☆☆☆

I was 100% on board with this until the end. These tragic, supernatural love stories are just not my thing.

Ouroboros by Svetla Nikolova & LAB: ★☆☆☆☆

Not sure what’s up with all of these dramatically emo stories all of a sudden. This honestly reminded me of something that one of my more dramatic friends would have tried to convince me was amazing back in like… 2004. It’s everything she used to find on Xanga and covertly print out in the school’s computer lab. It wasn’t my thing then and it’s still not my thing now.

I Am the Song by Cecil Castellucci, Willow Dawson, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: ★☆☆☆☆

What… in tarnation. There was no point.

What’s Best by Katie West, Ray Fawkes & Zakk Saam: ★★★☆☆

Interesting art style. Odd storyline. But above all else, this was entertaining.

The Promise by Sanho Kim: ★★★☆☆

I can’t really say that this is my favorite story that I’ve ever read, but I have to say that the soldier really got what was coming to him.

Grave Misfortune by Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris: ★★★★★

I have never not loved something by these authors.

Overall: 2.65 stars, rounded up to 3

#mm19: one sitting reads
#romanceopoly: creature crescent


Have you read Gothic Tales of Haunted Love? Have you read any other graphic novel anthologies? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: A Most Imperfect Union by Ilan Stavans

A Most Imperfect Union by Ilan Stavans
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Enough with the dead white men! Forget what you learned in school! Ever since Columbus—who was probably a converted Jew—“discovered” the New World, the powerful and privileged have usurped American history. The true story of the United States lies not with the founding fathers or robber barons, but with the country’s most overlooked and marginalized peoples: the workers, immigrants, housewives, and slaves who built America from the ground up and made this country what it is today.

In A Most Imperfect Union, cultural critic Ilan Stavans and award-winning cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz present a vibrant alternative history of America, giving full voice to the country’s unsung but exceptional people. From African royals to accused witches, from Puerto Rican radicals to Arab immigrants, Stavans and Alcaraz use sardonic humor and irreverent illustrations to introduce some of the most fascinating characters in American history—and to recount travesties and triumphs that mainstream accounts all too often ignore. What emerges is a colorful group portrait of these United States, one that champions America’s progress while also acknowledging its missteps.

Sweeping and cinematic, stretching from the nation’s prehistory to the post-9/11 era, A Most Imperfect Union is a joyous, outrageous celebration of the complex, sometimes unruly individuals and forces that have shaped our ever-changing land.

Oh dear, it’s time for another one-star review. When I checked out a pile of graphic novels from the library, I thought I was avoiding this nonsense, but here we are again. I thought this would be an interesting, maybe funny look at U.S. history. I thought I might learn something. I was wrong.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure what the point of this book was.

In terms of historical content… it’s all over the place. It’s sort of in chronological order, until it isn’t, and then at one point the author just blatantly promotes his own Twitter account?? In a history book?? Most topics were barely touched on, getting half a page or so in this 288-page book. Rather than this haphazard account of American history that spends as much time on the fact that Barbie is named after the daughter of Mattel’s cofounder as the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, I would have preferred a book that picked one area of history and gave it the attention it deserved.

In terms of this being a “contrarian” history…. is it considered “contrarian” to point out that Christopher Columbus could not have discovered the United States because people already lived here? Is it considered “contrarian” to say that some of our most revered presidents did not-great things sometimes? Is it considered “contrarian” to mention that history is primarily written by rich white men? None of this was news.

In terms of art and layout… I personally found it distracting. There were fairly detailed black and white drawings with walls of text, and that’s just not conducive to reading a graphic novel. If you want to write walls of text, write a standard non-fiction history book. Don’t just shove some pictures in there and call it a graphic novel.

All in all, I almost DNFed this book several times, but eventually pushed my way through so I could get it out of my house. Definitely not recommended, but I’d love to hear recommendations of similar books that are actually good!

Have you read A Most Imperfect Union? What’s your favorite history-themed book?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley

How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Fascist politics are running rampant in America today–and spreading around the world. A Yale philosopher identifies the ten pillars of fascist politics, and charts their horrifying rise and deep history.

As the child of refugees of World War II Europe and a renowned philosopher and scholar of propaganda, Jason Stanley has a deep understanding of how democratic societies can be vulnerable to fascism: Nations don’t have to be fascist to suffer from fascist politics. In fact, fascism’s roots have been present in the United States for more than a century. Alarmed by the pervasive rise of fascist tactics both at home and around the globe, Stanley focuses here on the structures that unite them, laying out and analyzing the ten pillars of fascist politics–the language and beliefs that separate people into an “us” and a “them.” He knits together reflections on history, philosophy, sociology, and critical race theory with stories from contemporary Hungary, Poland, India, Myanmar, and the United States, among other nations. He makes clear the immense danger of underestimating the cumulative power of these tactics, which include exploiting a mythic version of a nation’s past; propaganda that twists the language of democratic ideals against themselves; anti-intellectualism directed against universities and experts; law and order politics predicated on the assumption that members of minority groups are criminals; and fierce attacks on labor groups and welfare. These mechanisms all build on one another, creating and reinforcing divisions and shaping a society vulnerable to the appeals of authoritarian leadership.

By uncovering disturbing patterns that are as prevalent today as ever, Stanley reveals that the stuff of politics–charged by rhetoric and myth–can quickly become policy and reality. Only by recognizing fascists politics, he argues, may we resist its most harmful effects and return to democratic ideals.

If I’m being completely honest, I have absolutely no idea how to review this book. I added it to my library wish list — where I track books I want to read, just not immediately — shortly after it came out. I happened to be scrolling through Overdrive one day when I saw it was available as an audiobook, so I figured I might as well listen.

And the book is fine. Really, it is.

But is it good?

I’m not sure.

As I was listening, I was reminded of both Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, both of which I read last year. I even thought of Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen, which touches on the same topics (sort of), but in a much more engaging way. What I’m getting at, I guess, is that this book wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.

As a primer for fascist politics, it’s fine, if a little… dramatic. I understand what Stanley is getting at, but it seems that any political ideology that he doesn’t agree with could be considered “fascist,” and although I am in agreement with his politics, it still didn’t sit right with me. I don’t think that conservative politics are inherently fascist. They’re just conservative.

In the end, if you want a pretty basic introduction to fascism, check out this book. If you’re looking for something deeper, you can probably give it a pass.

Have you read How Fascism Works? Do you like political nonfiction?
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ARC review: Blackbird, Vol. 1 by Sam Humphries

Blackbird, Vol. 1 by Sam Humphries
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Source: ARC via Edelweiss

Nina Rodriguez knows a hidden magical world run by ruthless cabals is hiding in Los Angeles. When a giant magic beast kidnaps her sister, Nina must confront her past (and her demons) to get her sister back and reclaim her life. Don’t miss the first collection of the smash-hit neo-noir fantasy series from fan-favorite writer SAM HUMPHRIES (Harley Quinn, Nightwing) and red-hot artist JEN BARTEL (Mighty Thor)!

I noticed this graphic novel when I was scrolling through Edelweiss one day. The cover alone made me download it. I mean, the color palette! The artwork! Amazing. I’m a sucker for this kind of art style.

I read this book in one sitting. It’s an interesting enough premise. We start out with adult Nina working as a bartender, addicted to pills, and constantly arguing with the sister she lives with. It seems that Nina can’t get her life together and it all goes back to a traumatic event from her childhood, an earthquake that everyone she knows insists was a normal event but that she knows was supernatural. Turns out there’s a secret society of paragons living in plain sight in modern Los Angeles. Nina has been noticing their existence ever since the earthquake, but not really understanding what was happening.

The story handles the fantasy world well enough. It’s set up in a very basic manner, but this is only the first volume, so I have faith that it’ll be expanded in the future. The issue I took with this story was Nina’s “real” life. At the beginning of the book, Nina is struggling with her addiction. She’s constantly thinking about more pills, more pills, more pills. Then, all of a sudden… she just isn’t. The story surrounding her family and her childhood also felt very repetitive. I get it, okay. Her mom died, her family thinks she’s crazy, she pretty much raised herself. It’s all very sad. I didn’t need to be reminded of it every few pages.

I’ll end on a positive note — if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I love cats. (And if you didn’t, now you do.) Sharpie was easily one of the best parts about this book for me. Just look at him.


#romanceopoly: kickass lane

Have you read Blackbird? What’s the last urban fantasy you read?
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