To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

In this timeless story, a little girl named Scout comes of age during a difficult time for her family. Her father, a lawyer, is defending a black man charged with the rape of white woman. Scout learns about racism from both children and adults. 

Part of the charm of this story is that it is all through Scout’s eyes, so sometimes you have to infer what’s going on in the adult world – sometimes it takes a careful reading. However, Scout is intelligent and she picks up on a lot of stuff, so it’s the perfect combination of inference and easy-reading. I loved the ending for a couple of reasons – it was beautiful and touching, and I laughed because I could tell exactly why my mom said “I didn’t get it.” She’s so literal. ūüôā

This book is considered one of the first of the Young Adult/teen genre, though I feel that it’s only placed there because of the age of the protagonist. I would highly recommend it to everyone teen and up.¬†

Holding Smoke, by Elle Cosimano

Holding Smoke, by Elle Cosimano
I received a copy of this book from Disney Press via NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review
John Conlan is in juvie for double murder, but the bars can’t hold him like they hold the other inmates. John is able to leave his body behind and travel around as a “ghost.”¬†

I read Holding Smoke for two reasons: 1) I like teen fantasy, and 2) I like realism about teens in difficult situations. The second one is a bit of a stretch, since fantasy and realism are generally considered opposites, but I had high hopes for the realistic setting of this book because the author was  the daughter of a prison warden. 

As far as realistic settings go, Cosimano did a fantastic job. She managed to show the type of anger and violence that occur in a prison, without making it unsuitable for teens. She also wrote likable main characters with flaws. I’m always interested in reading what teen books say about prison, since I think it is important for teens to realize that “this could be you under different circumstances.” No, I don’t think of every teen as a potential prisoner so much as every prisoner as a human being with a story. This book did a good job of showing that John was a human being first, and a prisoner second.¬†

Of course, the realism had to stop somewhere – ¬†it is, above all, a fantasy novel. I enjoyed the fantasy/romance side of the story, too. In fact, it’s the unique prison setting that makes this such a good fantasy story. Also unlike most teen fantasies these days, it’s about a male character – making it appeal to kids of both genders.¬†

Recommended for teens 12 and up. 

The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner
Dill is no stranger to hardship. He’s dirt poor, financially supporting his mother, and seems to have zero future prospects. His father, a snake-handling preacher, is in prison; many of his former parishioners blame Dill. Yet Dill has two things that keep him getting up in the morning – his friends Travis and Lydia. The three are strikingly different but are pushed together by their mutual status as social outcasts.¬†

This is a story about friendship, futures, and fighting. It’s the first book in a long time that’s made me just start bawling – I generally avoid crying if I can, but this book deserved a good cry. It was that moving. I didn’t just feel for Dill and his friends, I felt with them – which is saying a lot since I personally have not experienced most of the hardships that Dill and his friends were going through.¬†

The characterization and mood of this book were what made it amazing. The characters were real. They were flawed. They got angry for stupid reasons or were sometimes bossy and blind to the needs of others. Yet they were perfect. They were just what good friends should be. They knew how to love, how to inspire, how to live. The mood of the book was remarkably well-kept. It somehow mixed the darkness of hardship with the light of an amazing friendship. 

Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody who likes gritty teen realism. Personally, I volunteer for a texting crisis hotline for teenagers, and I find reading books like these helps me to better relate to the teens that text in. I am currently collecting books that I think would either be good to recommend to troubled teens, or help others in the crisis center to empathize with teens in crisis. I consider this an important collection, and carefully think about each book that I include. This one is a definite yes. Issues that I consider important in this book Рreligious extremism (and how it impacts youths), family members in prison, bullying, grief, mental illness, and coping mechanisms. 


You Were Here, by Cori McCarthy

You Were Here, by Cori McCarthy
Release date March 1st, 2016
This book was given to me by the publisher
through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review

In order to deal with the psychological grief of her brother dying, Jaycee is on a quest to rediscover him by reliving his dangerous stunts. When a group of erstwhile friends gets sucked into her antics, Jaycee learns love and forgiveness. 


Let me start out by saying this is the best fiction work on grief that I have ever experienced. McCarthy is clearly someone who understands the power of grief. It seems like everyone in the story is experiencing grief, yet they are all coping in different ways. What’s more most of the characters are incredibly wise (perhaps a little too wise to be real). At one point, Jaycee demands of her new old friend whether she should change her grieving process to not weird people out – how many adults understand that their grief is a personal process, and that it is not wrong to cope the way they do, even if it emotionally or physically healthy for them at that moment (i.e. it is not wrong to experience grief, though sometimes they must be protected from themselves).¬†

This book is gritty, and at times brutally honest. I would¬†recommend¬†this¬†book to any teenager who wants to understand others’ pain, though I would suggest caution to people who are depressed or going through grief at the moment. There were times while reading this book that I reexperienced difficult moments for myself; however, that is what made the book so powerful to me. This book deserves 6 stars, but my rating system doesn’t go that far up.¬†

Burning Midnight, by Will McIntosh

Burning Midnight, by Will McIntosh
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher
via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review 
This book takes place in the not-so-distant future Рa future in which magical spheres have inexplicably appeared all over the world. These spheres can be burned by one person, and that person receives an extraordinary gift. 

In order to make enough money to help his mother pay the rent, Sully sells spheres at a flea market. When an edgy girl with an attitude and great spheres walks in, they make a deal to start hunting together. 

This is by far the best YA science fiction / fantasy novel ¬†I’ve read in years. I knew it would be as soon as I started reading. The story pretty much starts out as a near-future mystery. Who is this girl Hunter and what’s her story? Where’d the spheres come from, and why? The action starts out slow and then steadily rises throughout the book until an¬†adrenaline-pumped end.¬†And the end is where this book went up from 4 stars to 5 stars. McIntosh has achieved the unthinkable: he’s wrapped up all of his loose threads in one book.¬†It’s so nice to read a reasonably non-violent, non-sexual standalone book once in a while. And this one was exceptional, with its mixture of mystery, adventure, and action.¬†

I’d recommend this book to people anywhere from about 5th grade on up, and it’s appropriate for all ages.¬†

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black



2015 Media #6 / Book #3: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black 

Reason for reading: This was the January pick for my bookclub.

Summary:¬†In this near-future book, vampires have emerged into the public eye due to an outbreak started by a sloppy newly-made vampire who left his victims living instead of completely draining them. Vampires, and the Cold (people infected with the vampirism disease, but who haven’t yet tasted the blood of humans and so haven’t turned) are forced to live in ghettos called Coldtowns. In this setting, the story starts out with Tana waking up to a vampire-related disaster, which begins both a physical journey away from the disaster and a spiritual journey of self-discovery.

What I thought: This book was fast-paced and difficult to put down. It asked some interesting philosophical questions. Do we all have monsters within us? Do we crave immortality and beauty at the price of humanity? If not, why are so many people attracted to paranormal romances? Is it because we want the ultimate bad-boy? Or, in the opposite line of questioning, why do so many people seek good in what seems evil?T

Fire & Ash



Fire & Ash, by Jonathan Maberry

Reason for reading:¬†This is the fourth and final book in a series that I’ve been reading. I’m making a goal this year to get farther in / finish as many series as possible

Summary: In this fourth and final book in the Rot & Ruin series, Benny, Chong, Lila, and Nix battle the genocidal Reapers while keeping the zombies at bay. But they might have to become monsters to fight monsters. And who is more of a monster: The zombies or the humans? 

Thoughts:¬†This book was filled with action and adventure with a dash of intrigue. Like most Maberry books that I’ve read, the action got a little too much at times, to the point of feeling a little B-rate. But Maberry has some interesting plots and his philosophy about who really is the monster is quite interesting. Overall, a good finale. If you liked the first three books, you’ll like this one as well.