Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Title: Long Way Down
Author: Jason Reynolds
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 306 (in verse)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Sixty seconds. 7 floors. Three rules. One gun. Will's older brother, Shawn, has been shot. Dead. Will feels a sadness so great, he can't explain it. But in his neighborhood there are THE RULES:
No. 1: Crying. Don't. No matter what.
No. 2: Snitching. Don't. No matter what.
No. 3: Revenge. Do. No matter what.

But bullets miss. You can get the wrong guy. And there's always someone else who knows to follow the rules.

Review: Another Jason Reynolds right after reading Ghost! This story is so different from Ghost, but equally powerful. And, because it's in verse it is a quick read. Jason Reynolds is fast becoming one of the authors I most admire; I hope his books are making a difference in the lives of his readers. This one easily could do that.

This is one of those books where I can't say anything about the plot beyond the summary above because that would ruin the reading experience for others. I can say that it is intense, doesn't go where I thought it would, and makes a great point about the cycle of violence. The "Rules" lead to death and heartache without any resolution.

I wasn't sure how an elevator ride of seven floors could possibly work in a book; it's got to be the shortest time span of any book I've read. But it works very well and is very effective as each floor brings Will a step closer to killing his brother's murderer. I highly recommend this book for high school students and adults.

Challenges for which this counts:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Top books of the year... a meme

I am going to take part in Adam's end of year meme, My Life in Books

The way to do it is pretty simple: answer the questions with books you read this year! Pretty simple isn't really the best way to describe this; I found it quite challenging to find books that fit the sentence starters.

In high school I was: The Upside of Unrequited (Becky Albertalli)

People might be surprised (that I sometimes feel I am): Holding Up the Universe (by Jennifer Niven)

I will never be (a): Ghost (Jason Reynolds)

My fantasy job is (working on): The Atlas of Forgotten Places (Jenny D. Williams)

At the end of a long day I needThe Rooster Bar (John Grisham)

I hate it: Rolling Blackouts  (Sarah Gidden)

Wish I hadThe Night of Many Dreams (Gail Tsukiyama)

My family reunions are (in): The Country We Love (Diane Guerrero)

At a party you’d find me (talking about): (Bernie Sanders Guide to) Political Revolution (Bernie Sanders)

I’ve never been to: The Street of A Thousand Blossoms (Gail Tsukiyama)

A happy day includesSmall Great Things (Jodi Picoult)

Motto I live byWe Are Okay (Nina LaCour)

On my bucket list is: (not) A House Without Windows (Nadia Hashimi)

In my next life, I want to have: An Uninterrupted View of the Sky (by Melanie Crowder)

Join in the end of year, life in review, what-books-did-I-read-this-year fun with Adam @Roofbeamreader.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Title: Ghost
Author: Jason Reynolds
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA fiction (middle grade)
Pages: 180
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel in a new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Review: Jason Reynolds is on fire right now so I was really looking forward to reading Ghost. I previously read The Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys, both of which were fabulous.

This is a really quick read because it is aimed at middle/junior high school kids, but I enjoyed it and I am a grown up. :-) Ghost is a kid I can sympathize with even though he made me so mad as I read this story. His life isn't easy (dad in jail, mom working full time, living on the super poor side of town, etc), but he definitely adds to his own drama and pain with his attitude and actions. This is like so many young people.

But, like many young people, Ghost is given a chance to change his life through sports and an amazing coach. Coach is a great character as he is like so many people who give their time, energy, and yes, money to help out kids who really need it. Now all Ghost has to do is accept the love and support he is getting from his coach and teammates.

The book ends on a super cliffhanger moment, but not a scary or sad one. It makes me want to read the next installment, Patina

Challenges for which this counts:

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Title: The Rooster Bar
Author: John Grisham
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 352
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (Washington, DC) and Senegal

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third0year students, these close friends realize that they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.

But maybe there's a way out. Maybe there's a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right? Well, yes and no.... 

Pull up a stool, grab a cold one, and get ready to spend some time at The Rooster Bar.

Review: Good old Grisham: lawyers and drama. No one does it better. This one was fun and a bit different from may of his other novels though he continued with his digs at issues that are important, which he seems to have done in his most recent novels (think Grey Mountain).

I liked the three main characters and especially appreciate that one of them is female (rare for Grisham) and that she is African-American (very rare for Grisham). Yes, they are deceitful and break the law a whole bunch, but they are likable and one can sympathize with their situation of out of control debt ($200,000 or so each) at a crappy for-profit law school. 

Grisham definitely goes after the for-profit education world in this novel and that's great. I feel so bad for people who sign up for for-profit schools, take on huge amounts of debt, only to find that their diploma doesn't bring them the success they were promised. A second topic this novel deals with is people who are in the US without documentation. I liked that the character's family is from Senegal and not Mexico. It added an interesting direction for the story. This is so timely with many families in the US being split apart as undocumented parents are deported, leaving their US citizen children behind.

All in all if you enjoy Grisham novels then this one will be good for you. There's lawyers, law breaking, off-shore bank accounts, embezzlement, and good friendships.

Challenges for which this counts:

Southern California is on fire (but so far, I'm safe)

Thomas. Creek. Rye. Skirball. All fires that are burning out of control in southern California right now. Truly scary stuff.

I live in Santa Barbara and for now, we're safe from the Thomas fire, but the voluntary evacuation area is only 3 miles away. I have so many colleagues that live in Ventura, where the Thomas fire began, and Ojai; I hope their homes are still standing and they are all safe.
The images of fire are both beautiful and frightening as the flames jump the freeway, destroy buildings (over 400 as of this post) and nature in their path. Wild animals are coming into neighborhoods looking for water and refuge.
Dad and I walking the dog. I look a little demented :-)
What's it like to live on the edge of a fire? Smokey. Very smokey. Overhead there are helicopters and bombers. There are also sirens. But no birds. And the air is toxic so we've all got our N-95 masks on when/if we have to go outside. The only reason I go out these days is to walk the dog and they are very short walks--as soon as he poops and pees we get back inside! Oh, I also went outside to cover the vent that goes to the hood above my stove since smokey air was coming inside. Yuck.

My thoughts go out to those who are fighting the fires; their job is a horrible one filled with exhaustion and heat. I am also thinking of the tens of thousands who have been evacuated and/or lost their homes. In our house we have a bag packed and have discussed what we'll take if we're given enough notice.

School has been cancelled for yesterday and today (smart move) so I think I'll watch season 2 of The Crown today on Netflix.

Sunday, December 10 update--we evacuated tonight and are staying at a hotel. We'll take it day by day. School/work has been cancelled for the week so I am on Winter Break!

Stay safe out there!