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.

Doon, by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

Let me tell you about an adorable little series of teen romance novels published through Zondervan by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon. 

Genre: Teen romance / Fairy Tale

Reason for Reading: The publisher, Zondervan, provided a copy of Destined for Doon in exchange for an honest review. 


The first book in the series is Doon. 

Summary: For Veronica’s entire life other people have walked all over her and abandoned her. When a recent break-up leads to Veronica hallucinating a handsome Scottish boy, she’s half convinced she’s crazy…but as she continues to see flashes of him, she realizes it is her destiny to cross over the Brig ‘O Doon in Scotland and meet her destined. MacKenna, her best friend, has other plans for herself and Veronica, though.

Review: This was a sweet teen romance for people who are fans of fairy-tale endings. It had a nice combination of adventure (saving an imperiled kingdom from a nasty witch, while dodging angry mobs) and angsty teen romance. It was fun to watch how close Veronica and MacKenna were, despite their differences in personality. They each had strengths and weaknesses, making them a fantastic team. This is a story just as much about friendship as it is about romance.

Destined for Doon ¬†‚󏬆¬†Authors: Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon
Zondervan ‚óŹ September 2, 2014¬†‚óŹ ISBN:¬†9780310742333
Hardcover/$17.99 U.S. ‚óŹ Ages 15+

The second book in the series is Destined for Doon 
Summary:¬†Unlike Veronica, MacKenna didn’t have a fairy-tale ending in the first book. She chose a difficult path, and one that didn’t make her as happy as she’d wished. But when MacKenna is given a chance to redeem herself (as well as save the imperiled kingdom of Doon from zombies), she snatches it up. But can she redeem the mistakes of her past?¬†

Review:¬†For me, this book seemed faster-paced than the first one. It picked up a few months after the first one left off, and instead of focusing mainly on Veronica’s relationship with Jamie, it focused on Mackenna and Duncan. One thing I liked about this continuation is that (unlike many teen romance series) the problems that must be overcome in the second book are not simply continuations of problems from the first book. Mackenna and Duncan, as a couple, are so different to Veronica and Jamie. Again, this story is a nice combination of adventure and angsty teen love.¬†

And, of course, the moment you were all waiting for – this is where I give a free copy of Destined for Doon to one lucky winner. This offer is for a hardcover copy of the book, and it’s good for anyone within the US.¬†

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Carey Corpe: Carey Corp lives in the metropolitan Midwest with her loveable yet out-of-control family. Carey wrote her first book at the age of seven, and currently begins each morning consuming copious amounts of coffee while weaving stories that capture her exhaustive imagination. She harbors a voracious passion (in no consistent order) for mohawks, Italy, musical theater, chocolate, and Jane Austen. Carey’s debut novel for teens, The Halo Chronicles: The Guardian, earned her national recognition as 2010 Golden Heart finalist for best young adult fiction and was featured at the 2012 RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago in YA Alley.  

Lorie Langdon: Lorie Langdon has wanted to write her own novels since she was a wee girl reading every Judy Blume book she could get her hands on. So a few years ago, she left her thriving corporate career to satisfy the voices in her head. Now as a full-time author and stay-at-home mom, she spends her summers editing poolside while dodging automatic water-gun fire, and the rest of the year tucked into her cozy office, Havanese puppy by her side, working to translate her effusive imagination into the written word and continue to build the young-adult-focused blog, HonestlyYA. Read more at HonestlyYA.com.

Storm Thief, by Chris Wooding

The Storm Thief, by Chris Wooding

Genre: Young Adult Dystopia, Science Fiction, Ages 11-14

Reason for Reading: This was my bookclub book for this month. 

Summary: The island city of Orokos has been trapped in isolation for so long that the idea of a “world outside Orokos” had become a dream for only the naive and the fanatics. There is nothing outside of Orokos, and Orokos is nothing but city, ghetto, and the ruling Protectorate. Chaos storms wreak havoc upon Orokos and its inhabitants – picking people up and dropping them elsewhere; crippling some people while giving life to others. Even eyeshadow isn’t too small to be overlooked by the probability storms.

When Rail and Moa make a snap decision to hide an expensive artifact from their Thief Mistress, they must flee with an assassin hot on their trail. While running, they come across a golem, Vago, who’d been misplaced by a probability storm before he had any idea of who he was, where he was from, or why he was made. Where can these refugees go when the Protectorate rules with an iron fist – keeping ghetto-folk away from the city? Their path is simply a series of coincidences strung together…leading, where?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. The characters were simple enough to flow well in a book for young teens, but each character had an interesting mixture of strengths and weaknesses. My favorite character was Vago, the Golem, whose process of self-discovery throughout the story made him intriguing. 

I loved the philosophical underpinnings of this story. It reminded us that the random power of entropy will always win. It always destroys what we have worked to build. Entropy is a non-stoppable machine. So why do we continue fighting it? Why do we continue dreaming of that “other world” when we have so much evidence that it doesn’t exist? Why do we clutch hopefully to mere coincidences and use them to fuel our dreams?¬†

Slight spoilerish material
This is a book about hope as well as one about chaos. One character, who was “fanatically” willing to risk the lives of her people in pursuit of a seemingly impossible dream said: “We can stay here with our dreams just out of reach, or we can risk everything to reach them.” Even after having finished the book, I’m still not certain which was the right thing to do – was it better for her people to risk everything in pursuit of their dreams? Or was it foolish? Is it better to keep yourself safe by being cynically aware of the brutality of the world, or is it better to hope, dream, or love?

To me, the lasting message of the book is: your life might be nothing more than a series of coincidences that are out of your control, but how you respond to the world defines who you are – and YOU decide how you respond. I’m not sure whether I agree with this philosophy or not. Lately, I’ve had a bit of a faith crisis – which makes the life-is-a-random-string-of-coincidences theory sound rather rational. But I know what everyone expects me to say is that God is in control, it’s not a string of coincidences. ūüėȬ†


Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco



The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco 

Genre: Teen Horror / Suspense

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Summary:¬†Tarquin (Tark) Halloway has been haunted his entire life. With a mentally ill mother and a caring father who works too much, he feels he has no one to talk to about the strange lady that slinks through mirrors and makes Tark do terrible things. But when he meets a roaming spirit, Okiku, they both begin to remember what it is to be human. With the help from Tark’s cousin Callie, Okiku and Tark must rid himself of his haunting.¬†

My Thoughts: Let me tell you, if I had read this book when I was 14, I would have been sleeping with the lights on for weeks. The spookiness / imagery is reminiscent of Japanese horror films that The Grudge¬†(Ju-On: The Grudge)¬†and The Ring (Ringu) were based on. (Have you seen the originals? Not the American remakes. Watch the real thing. Darn spooky! That’s what The Girl From the Well is like.) Same evil-ghost-child-with-long-creepy-hair-staring-at-you-in-crazy-fast-did-that-actually-just-happen-flashes feel to it.¬†

Part of Rin Chupeco’s spooky genius is her narration style. The story is narrated from the POV of the ghost, Okiku. Often, it reads like a 3rd person¬†omniscient¬†narrative, because Okiku mostly observes rather than acting. I often forgot I was reading a first person POV, and then suddenly Okiku would say something in the first person, and it was like she had just appeared out of nowhere. Like a ghost. Spooky. And then, sometimes Okiku would describe herself in the third person – a description of a ghost as Callie or Tark would have seen. This gave Okiku’s character a sense of otherness. She felt inhuman.¬†Ineffable.

Overall, I think this was an fantastic book, and I look forward to reading more of Chupeco’s works. I miss the old days when ghosts were ghosts and monsters were monsters. I applaud Chupeco’s work as one more for the #reclaimhorror team. (Ok, I just made that hashtag up, so technically she’s the first on the team. But it’s all good.)




Rin Chupeco: Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and travel blogger, but now makes things up for a living. The Girl from the Well is her debut novel. Connect with Rin at www.rinchupeco.com.

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