My Bookshelf

Below, you can find my recent and past literary excursions.

Click the cover art for a link to an epitome at goodreads.com.

Always get your parents' permission before reading a novel listed below.  I do not feel any of the titles are objectionable, but others may have more stringent standards than I.


163

Feels like Home by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Type:  YA Fiction (2007)

My grade and thoughts: B-. Featuring allusions to S.E. Hinton and Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay," the plot features characters trying to come to grips with their past. The ending, a realistic coda, saved this novel from being relegated to a C.


162

The Door to January by Gillian French

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: C-.   Part crime drama, part coming-of-age tale, and part mystery, you won't necessarily be disappointed. Maybe I should clarify: French's work wants to be all of the above, and on some levels it is. It's just that the plot's sinuous storylines seem vapid, requiring far more suspension of disbelief than this reader is willing to offer. (N. B. I've suspended my disbelief regarding a statue being revivified in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, so I can withold my disbelief with the best of 'em and am not being overly persnickety on this point.)

I'd be willing to bet the rent money that, if you're in the mood for a mystery, you'll be better served by reading an Agatha Christie novel or Simon Chesterman's Arcadia series instead of plodding through this loosely-structured, wants-to-be-atmospheric-but-really-isn't tale.

 


161

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Last Survivors #1)

Type:  YA Fiction (2006)

Recommended by Mr. Grimm. Thanks!

My grade and thoughts: A. This engrossing novel centers on a world suffering through an all-too-possible catastrophe. The novel forces the reader to ask just what we consider the most important aspects of our lives while offering a gripping plot that will draw you in and keep you interested. With all of our creature comforts and gadgets, we need a wake-up call like Life As We Knew It every so often in order to remind us of what our priorities should be.


160

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

Recommended by Mr. Grimm. Thanks!

My grade and thoughts: A. Life is not what you think, but it can be what you make it. Well worth reading.


159

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

Type:  YA Science Fiction (2011)

Recommended by Mr. Grimm. Thanks!

My grade and thoughts: B. Set in a dystopian future, this novel takes the reader through the trials and tribulations of its characters as they grapple with survival, the past, the future...and each other in the present. Somehow, the novel points out, we just cannot seem to figure out that last one. This book reminds me of another dystopian novel I taught over twenty years ago: Z for Zachariah. If dystopian literature interests you, neither Plague nor Z will disappoint.


158

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A-. A work of magical realism, this novel unapologetically requires the reader to suspend disbelief. Indeed, if you are unwilling to do so, you'll never get past such elements as the man with the coyote head, the dilatory reader covered in ever-growing moss, the woman who cannot but parrot back others' words, the man who grows to over twenty feet tall, or the woman whose dress is covered in monarch butterflies and on whom it continually rains. I suspect, however, that you'll have absolutely no trouble believing the profound truths this novel professes; they are well worth the effort of traveling the disorienting journey that beckons in this work.


157

The Path to Serendipity by Allyson Apsey

Type:  Nonfiction (2018)

My grade and thoughts: B. This book, raved about by some of the other educators I follow on Twitter, offers sound advice for everybody, regardless of who you are, how old you are, and what you do with and in your life. I'll refer to this book's pearls of wisdom frequently as I continue my career.


156

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Type:  YA Fiction (2018)

My grade and thoughts: B-. It's definitely worth a read if you are into the DC Universe. If not, you might find it tedious. I myself enjoyed seeing young incarnations of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne, and others in the Batman world. The storyline, while somewhat trite, had heart and was well-written: I noticed plenty of absolutes and participials! (If, by the way, you're hoping to see the Dark Knight himself in this tale, don't hold your breath.)


155

A Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

Type:  Nonfiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: A+. One of the best writing books I've ever read. Its insights are palatable and pertinent. This will change not only the way I write but also the way I teach writing. I recommend this book to all of my students but especially to my budding writers; you know who you are.


154

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Type:  YA Fiction (2002)

My grade and thoughts: B. The second novel I've read by the author of The Book Thief, Messenger does not deliver the immediacy and poignance of Thief. Notwithstanding that slight drawback, the lesson this novel espouses is a valuable one indeed, and it's told by means of a powerful, hopeful ending.


153

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Type:  YA Fiction (2011)

My grade and thoughts: A+. I found this to be an engrossing, serious, yet endearing exploration of bullying, relationships, and strength. I think the author says it best when it comes to her novel: "Everybody Sees the Ants originated from an idea that we are all prisoners. An idea that bullying is a widely ignored form of torture. An idea that only we can choose to escape our own prisons. An idea that no one can take something from us if we don't give it." A powerful work.


152

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Type:  YA Historical Fiction (2018)

My grade and thoughts: A. If you are not a fan of historical fiction, this Nazi-era mystery might very well win you over. A gripping tale, the plot leads to an exciting, thought-provoking conclusion. I was impressed.


151

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Type:  YA Fiction (2012)

My grade and thoughts: A. A story so sad, so human.


150

Paper Towns by John Green

Type:  YA Fiction (2008)

My grade and thoughts: A. My first foray into John Green's oeuvre, Paper Towns is extraordinarily well done.  The characters are completely, believably human.  What's more, the book teaches us that our idealized vision of others is not always accurate, fair, or even realistic. I think I might just need to read The Fault in Our Stars.

Meaningful Quotation: "Just remember that sometimes, the way you think about a person isn't the way they actually are." So true; so hard to live by.


149

Ghost Moon Night by Jewel Allen

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: A. A ghost story about far more than what you might expect. Intensely interesting and edifying from a moral standpoint, too.


148

The Way Back to You by Michelle Andreani and Mindi Scott

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A. Dealing with the aftermath of a friend's tragic, unexpected death, friends of the deceased find that life's paths lead us where we need to go along routes that we could never imagine. Well done; not schmaltzy in the least.


147

UnDivided (Unwind dystology #4) by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: A. I was treated to allusions from The Merchant of Venice as well as Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" in this final installment of the UnWind dystology. More importantly, though, Shusterman forces us to take a harrowing look in the mirror regarding our treatment of life...in all its forms and at all stages of development. It's not a pretty sight. With Bladerunner, Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi noir classic, echoing throughout this work, we are ultimately offered a fitting, believable, hope-filled, yet haunting conclusion to a riveting four-part series. One of the novel's most powerful lines occurs as an ancillary character asks, "What have we done?" This series, and this fourth and final part in particular, is a wake-up call of the most important kind: one that should raise our awareness of the nefariously unnoticeable ways we disrespect life and the realization that what we have done is tragic. An excellent novel.


146

UnSouled (Unwind dystology #3) by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: A. With allusions to Shakespeare's Othello and The Tempest, this third installment maintained my interest in this series. The plot thickens...but in believable, meaningful, and haunting ways.


145

UnWholly (Unwind dystology #2) by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2012)

My grade and thoughts: A. The saga continues in quintessential Shusterman fashion: weighty issues presented in the most palatable of ways.


144

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Type:  Drama (1603)

My grade and thoughts: A. Never did I realize how many similarities exist between this play and MV: treatment of women, issues of justice, and an ostensibly happy ending that seems...to me...anything but joyous. Notwithstanding such connections, I enjoyed Angelo the most: his faults are our faults, proving that Shakespeare understood human nature so very well. As a matter of fact, Angelo reminds me in some ways of MV's Shylock in that each character seems to present proof that what we despise in others is often what we don't want to admit exists in ourselves.


143

Unwind (Unwind dystology #1) by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2007)

My grade and thoughts: A. In this dystopian future, one glaring truth becomes evident in Shusterman's work: when it comes to the sanctity of life, equivocation is unacceptable. Well done.


142

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Type:  Creative Nonfiction (1966)

Recommended by Mr. Weinheimer. Thanks!

My grade and thoughts: A. I happened to be observing Mr. Weinheimer's 7th-period senior English class on the day they began their study of this novel. Intrigued by Mr. Weinheimer's introduction to Capote's work, I asked for a copy. From the very first page I was engrossed. This novel is chilling, enthralling, and beautifully written. Broaching such ideas as redemption, vengeance, courage, and forgiveness, In Cold Blood recounts the titular deed...without being gruesome or gratuitous in its depiction of events. Amazingly well-written.


141

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: B. The first part of the novel (about 160 pages out of 310) was interesting, but it moved somewhat slowly. However, upon further reflection, that pacing did indeed allow me to get to know the characters on a somewhat deep level. Part two, however, really packed a punch. This novel was powerful, no doubt. Covering topics like abuse and trust, this work deals with topics that must be addressed; however, Roe's novel might be a bit more aggressive in its ambition than the narrative could handle. For example, the Adam/Emerald storyline seemed forced and lacking; I wanted to see it more fully developed but then wondered why it was even included. An admirable work, though; well worth reading. 


140

Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Type:  Fiction/Drama (1601)

My grade and thoughts: A-. As is the case with most comedies, if you are looking for most issues to be tidily wrapped up by the end, TN will not disappoint. Featuring disguises, mistaken identities, and plenty of the other sorts of comedic devices one would expect from a Renaissance author like Shakespeare, TN does not attempt to solve any of the world's problems. Nevertheless, it imagines more than it knows by raising concerns of prejudice, love, and even abuse of others. A comedy? Definitely. Vapid and superficial with no underlying meaning? Definitely not. It might not solve problems, but TN brings some of them to the forefront; that's a first step toward change.

Interestingly, this confirms my belief that The Merchant of Venice is not a comedy; indeed, Shylock's treatment throughout MV and especially at the conclusion take the drama into the tempestuous waters of a romance. TN, incidentally, also verges on romance territory due to Malvolio's similar treatment. However, I cannot feel as much sympathy for Malvolio because he never seems to learn his lesson, nor is he treated as harshly as Shylock. Also, at least Shylock realizes his defeat, accepts it, and seems to realize why he has suffered. Thus, TN rightly remains firmly entrenched in the comedy genre.


139

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Type:  Fiction/Drama (1610)

My grade and thoughts: A-. I continue to grow in my fascination with Shakespeare's later plays as I read more of them. The Tempest requires a good amount of suspension of disbelief, but it is a very fun, very edifying drama, including magical sprites, spells, hallucinatory visions, and even self-reflection among characters. A dreamy meditation on colonization, patriarchy, and even stagecraft itself, this play is well worth reading.


138

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

Type:  Fiction/Drama (1611)

My grade and thoughts: A+. I was reading Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston. That title is actually a stage direction in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. (As a matter of fact, that direction occurs during 3.3, after Antigonus leaves Perdita and meets his shoulder-bone-eliminating fate at the paws--and mouth--of said bear.) Nevertheless, I surmised that such an allusion used as a title indicated more than a mere superficial connection between the two works. Therefore, in an attempt to more fully understand the novel as I continued reading it, I decided to take several hours in order to read WT.

This was an extremely enjoyable, fulfilling endeavor. First, it opened up new avenues of understanding for Johnston's novel. Further, however, I have now read another Shakespeare play. That has allowed me to understand The Merchant of Venice (a play I teach every year) even better. Additionally, it allows me to see the risks Shakespeare takes and the decisions he makes when writing in the romance genre as opposed to, say, the comedy genre into which most place MV. All in all, WT offered an enjoyable, extremely edifying literary excursion into the worlds of Sicilia and Bohemia and into the fictitious lives of Hermione, Leontes, Polixenes, Paulina, Perdita, and Florizel...among many others. This play, one of Shakespeare's last, rivals King Lear and The Merchant of Venice for the title of "My Favorite Shakespeare Play."

Bonus epitome from the "Shakespeare's Globe" website:  "A ‘winter’s tale’ is a fantasy, and The Winter’s Tale is Shakespeare’s great play of the irrational and inexplicable. The play’s uncontrollable emotions–rage, love, grief and forgiveness–range across gender, country, class and age. Its universe is full of monsters, gods and natural disasters, and its colossal sweep takes us from stifling courts to unbuttoned festivals."


137

Bang by Barry Lyga

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A. I've read earlier works by Barry Lyga; he has grown as a writer, offering maturely-drawn characters in this riveting novel. Taking place in the aftermath (ten years subsequent) of an unintended death, the narrative traces the life of Sebastian and Aneesa, their families, their grief, their hopes, and their own prejudices. Never once did the novel seem predictable or artificial, and the ending was pitch-perfect. I read it in one day; it's that powerful.


136

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fantasy (201o)

My grade and thoughts: A. ...and my admiration for Neal Shusterman continues to grow. In this novel, Shusterman tackles the dilemma of how much we are willing...should be willing...can be willing......must be willing...to take on the pain and sorrow of those whom we love. Told from multiple characters' viewpoints, the narrative's crux can be epitomized by these questions: "When does the cost of helping others bear their pain become too great? Should it? Can it?" Essentially, this novel is a modern-day analysis of our call to turn the other cheek. You won't believe the way Shusterman so adroitly deals with morality, love, companionship, pain, and understanding without injecting artificiality or preachiness into his narrative. Excellent.

(See Challenger Deep, Scythe, Thunderhead, Everlost, and Chasing Forgiveness...all reviewed below. This guy is amazing in his breadth and depth.)


135

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

Recommended by Mr. Grimm. Thanks!

My grade and thoughts: A+. Full disclosure: this book contains explicit language, but at no point did I feel it was used gratuitously. Essentially, this novel achieves what All American Boys and How It Went Down aimed for: engrossing truth that everyone needs to read. This is a riveting book. I think it succeeds so well because it is not trying to solve any problems outright; instead, it offers the truth--from both sides--and hope. Excellent. Highly recommended.


134

Everlost (Skinjacker, #1) by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2006)

My grade and thoughts: B+. It's official: I am a Neal Shusterman fan. This first installment of the Skinjacker trilogy teaches so much about life...while set in the post-mortal landscape known as Everlost. It reminds me of The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner; however, Shusterman's setting is logically fictitious. To wit: I know it cannot exist, but on Shusterman's terms, the reader can easily suspend such disbelief. This was good enough that I have placed holds on parts two and three.


133

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Type:  Autobiography (2005)

Recommended by Mr. Grimm. Thanks!

My grade and thoughts: A. I was not a fan of memoirs, autobiographies...call them what you want...until now. This work changed that for me. Walls has a beautiful prose style; I found myself getting to know her family very well...and caring about them. I can see why Mr. Grimm and his students liked this book so much.


132

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: B-. This novel documents the racially-charged aftermath of a white police officer's wrongly brutalizing a black teenager in a scenario marred by prejudice. Of course, the fallout resounds throughout the community, and this is recounted with gritty realism that I found enthralling. Additionally, I liked the way the novel presented both sides of the incident: victim's and aggressor's. Notwithstanding such accomplishments, at several points the authors came very close to serving up propaganda in the guise of literature, seeming to ever-so-subtly proselytize those who ironically might inhabit the realm of prejudice. That leads to my one complaint: I don't need such names as Michael Brown and Tamir Rice invoked in a novel that wants me to rethink race relations in my country. Tell me the story; let me form my own opinions and insights. Other than that, however, the novel worked well as a cautionary tale strongly enjoining readers to see people as just that: people. Sounds like a platitude, but we still need to live our lives accordingly; this novel reminds us that we aren't there yet.


131

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Type:  YA Historical Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: C-. Mysteries rely heavily on good pacing; this novel was sorely lacking in that department. The climax was a dissappointment, a flimsy, faltering imitation of Mary Shelley's masterpiece, Frankenstein. The only redeeming factor, ironically, was only tangentially connected to the mystery: the female protagonist's struggle to earn autonomy in a patriarchal, oppressive society.


130

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Recommended by Jacob Ramstetter.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Historical Fiction (2005)

My grade and thoughts: A+. Incredibly powerful, this is the story of Leisel Meminger, a girl who faces the horror of WWII yet finds a way to flourish. Through well-drawn, touching characters, this book will remind you what it means to love, to fear, and to be human. Absolutely amazing; a must-read.


129

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Whenever the subject of suicide or depression comes up, I feel authors must take special care not to become condescending or schmaltzy. Stork does not make either mistake in this novel about the aftermath of a suicide attempt, offering instead a truly meaningful, realistically optimistic look at depression, suicide, love, and courage. Plus, it includes two poems by Emily Dickinson and excerpts from Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," all used to very good effect; plus, the ending? Perfect...absolutely perfect.

Meaningful quotation:

  • "'You see how silly the world is sometimes and the craziness around you. You see all the things that people strive for, like money and success and popularity, and you realize that those things don't make us happy.'"


128

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Science Fiction (2018)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  This novel simply confirms my growing admiration for Neal Shusterman. His breadth is impressive (evidinced in, for example, Challenger Deep and Chasing Forgiveness), but the Arc of a Scythe series is the crème de la crème of Shusterman's oeuvre. Like its predecessor in the series, this is science fiction with a moral barometer...and plenty of believable surprises to make it a book I highly recommend. Unfortunately, book three is not slated to be released until 2019; I'll be first in line to get a copy.


127

Hit (Hit #1) by Delilah S. Dawson

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

Warning: This novel is based on killings, and there is no shortage of them in the book. The details surrounding them are not gratiutous, and the author does not glorify it in the least. As a matter of fact, on many levels the novel makes very good statements against killing.

My grade and thoughts: A.  The first book in the Hit series, I've already requested book #2 from the public library. The story centers around the idea that so many people never read the fine print that a major bank (who has paid off our country's entire debt and now controls the government and police) decides to use that legal fine print in order to eliminate people who have not paid off their credit card debt. The premise might sound a bit far-fetched and boring, but the novel works very well on a moral level, delving into issues of friendship, finding meaning in life, love, and even our ability to cope with guilt. I'm curiously optimistic to start the second book in the series. The pace is fast enough that I never became disengaged. Fans of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick, Con Academy, Perry's Killer Playlist, No Good Deed, or Kill the Boy Band would probably like this book.


126

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: B-. This novel documents the aftermath, via differing POVs, of a black teenager's shooting at the hands of a white man. The multiple points of view grew a bit tedious since none of the characters were really well-drawn. Additionally, there was no real closure: we never find out for sure if the slain young man was guilty, innocent, a little of both...nothing. Then again, rarely do we know all the facts in life. Rarely do our lives have nice, neat closure. This novel will make you think.


125

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Type:  YA Fantasy (2011)

My grade and thoughts: B+. This work is heavily atmospheric, so be warned: if you like action, you must wait for the final 50 pages. Those final pages, however, were worth the wait.  Notwithstanding the excellent ending, the titular "Solomon Grundy-meets-Dracula" character never really came to life for me, and I'm not being ironic. However, maybe that's a venial transgression in a work that relies so heavily on setting to create a chilling narrative...which it succeeded in doing. Clocking in at 455 pages, though, the novel requires its readers to be sure they are willing to go the extra mile for this ultimately enjoyable, undeniably creepy ride.


124

All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Highly recommended. Told from the perspective of two protagonists in two different time-periods (9/11/01 and today), this novel makes a poignant statement about hope, love, regret, prejudice, and loss...without being preachy. Really well done.

Meaningful quotations:

  • "'When you grow up Muslim, hell, different in any way, you get real good at reading people. You can tell the good ones, who might not end up liking you--sure, who likes everyone they meet?--but they're not going to hate you because you're Muslim, or black, or gay, or, I don't know, a blue Smurf. And then there are the other kind, the ones who feel better about themselves when they have someone to hate.'"
  • "Hate is just fear.  Fear that we are powerless, ugly, small, nothing, so we hate people to make us feel better about ourselves, so we don't have to be so scared all the time."
  • "'[W]hen something terrible happens, all we have left is choice. You can fill that awful void inside you with anger, or you can fill it with love for the ones who remain beside you, with hope for the future.'"
  • "'People do terrible things. People do beautiful things. It's against the black backdrop of evil that the shining light of good shows the brightest. We can't just focus on the darkness of the night, or we'll miss out on the stars.'"


123

The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2009)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  At first, it seemed like this novel didn't know whether it wanted to be a mystery or a travelogue about Michigan. However, the characters eventually came to life in a believable way, and the mystery itself kept my interest.  The ending saved this novel from a grade of C.


122

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Type: YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A-.  A novel dealing with loss in the many forms it can take, this work was poignant without being schmaltzy; that's a difficult feat to accomplish.  I enjoyed the way it deals with serious issues of life, death, anger, trust, and fear in a responsible, believable, and heartfelt manner.  Well done.


121

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2013)

My grade and thoughts: D.  There are so many half-baked ideas in this novel that I don't know what the author wanted me to focus on.  Time travel?  That plot line went nowhere.  Female protagonists who are shrouded in stereotypes?  Check.  Boring red herrings?  I wish I could have followed along the paths of those tangential storylines: maybe they would have led somewhere with at least a modicum of allure.  The one interesting aspect:  allusions to Dracula and Sherlock Holmes.  Still, such allusions could not resuscitate this vapid work.


120

Outlaw by Stephen Davies

Type:  YA Fiction (2011)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  I like the way in which the novel forces us to reconsider our judgement of others.  It also calls into question the ways in which we determine our morality.  I just wish it had not been so predictable.


119

Being Arcadia (#3 in the Raising Arcadia trilogy) by Simon Chesterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2018)

My grade and thoughts: A.  A fitting ending to the series, this installment contains the puzzles and surprises that I'd come to expect in Chesterman's trilogy.  Highly recommended.


118

All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Type:  YA Fiction (2008)

My grade and thoughts: B.  It's very much like one of my favorite movies:  Hocus Pocus.  This novel starts out lighthearted, and it never completely loses that feeling; however, it deals with serious issues (like death, respect, and fear).  It's not erudite literature (notwithstanding the Shakespeare references), but it certainly is a fun, meaningful, edifying tale.


117

The Final Descent (The Monstrumologist #4) by Rick Yancey

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: A.  A fitting, haunting ending to the series.  It didn't end the way I wanted it to, but that's beside the point.  I should mention, by the way, that the ending is frustrating, complicated, and thought-provoking...like people and life.  Well done, Mr. Yancey.


116

The Isle of Blood (The Monstrumologist #3) by Rick Yancey

Type:  YA Fiction (2011)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Featuring allusions to Shakespeare's works (such as Othello and King Lear), mythology (Charybdis and Charon to name a few), Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, E.E. Cummings, and Edgar Allan Poe, this part in the series was deep.   I mean deep deep. (Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Rimbaud even make cameos!) This is far more than a normal monster tale:  the characters are their own monsters, questions of theology arise, and philosophical concerns surface.  I'm excited to start the fourth and final installment in the series.


115

I Am the Traitor (The Unknown Assassin #3) by Allen Zadoff

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: B+.  As the final installment in the Unknown Assassin series, I was satisfied with the information we received regarding our main character's real mother and father as well as the facts about the Program.  What I didn't necessarily like was the all-too-predictable use of Mother's glasses in the showdown scene.  However, ending on a positive, hopeful note felt right and good; it fit.


114

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

Type:  YA Fiction (2007)

My grade and thoughts: A.  The first installment in the series, I was impressed by the realistic portrayal of the main characters.  The stepdad twist was a welcome, although somewhat expected, turn.  I'm interested to see where part two takes me, and I hope Fanboy finally gets his hands on a mint edition Giant Size X-Men #1.


113

This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston

Type:  YA Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Echoes of Agatha Christie resounded in this gripping mystery, and when I write gripping, I mean gripping.  I especially enjoyed reading the culprit's interior monologues as the narrative progressed; that was very much like Christie's similar technique in And Then There Were None.


112

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff

Type:  YA Fiction (2009)

My grade and thoughts: A.  A pleasing mix of poignance, irony, humor, and pain, this tale of Andrew Zansky will immediately speak to readers.  Zadoff, not surprisingly, takes what could have been a boring narrative and turns it into a tale that preaches without preaching.  Job well done...and the ending was somewhat unexpected yet very uplifting.

Memorable Quotation:  "All the people you want to be perfect end up being human.  It kind of sucks."  Zadoff does a really good job of creating a main character who realizes this sentiment's truth without letting that realization get the best of him.


111

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1928)

My grade and thoughts: B.  This was not a bad story by any means.  It was a bit complex, and the solution was just a smidge less surprising than I've come to expect from Christie.  The last chapter with the moral of the story was actually quite impressive, by the way.


110

Cured:  The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst

Type:  Memoir (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This semi-autobiographical work documents the author's life as affected by being a member of the best band ever:  The Cure.  Tolhurst's writing was nearly top-notch, creating an engrossing tapestry of his pre-Cure, Cure, and post-Cure life.  A touching account of a man coming to grips with his own demons, this tome will be a meaningful read for anyone, but especially for fans of The Cure (which, I'm assuming, probably is not anyone who might be reading this).


109

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

Type:  Fiction (2017)

Recommended by Ms. Williams-Mitchell. Thanks!

(I would recommended this for grades 11 and above:  one needs a certain amount of maturity and schooling in order to understand the complexities in the narrative.)

My grade and thoughts: BI did NOT like its political bias because I felt the author minimizes the issues he broaches with a myopic view skewed by his political leanings.  I get it:  he wants to effect a change.  However, some of his more overt, politically-tinged statements were off-putting.  It's a shame because I feel he might alienate some readers to the point that they do not read (or finish) the novel if they feel the author condescendingly pontificates.  Notwithstanding that complaint, I found the pace to be engagingly good.  Additionally, I liked the ending.  I think that's where the novel makes its strongest statement about humanity; it was powerful.  I loved Arturo's decision to live his principles...absolutely loved that.  The novel could initiate many meaningful conversations about a slew of moral, political, ethical, social, and economic issues.


108

Blood Will Tell by April Henry

Type:  YA Mystery (2015)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  Ms. Henry is just no Agatha Christie.  There are red herrings and suspense, but they are contrived and predictable.  I did not dislike the novel; it's just that it didn't wow me either.


107

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1936)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Even the title is a huge red herring.  I loved it.  Classic Christie.


106

I Am the Mission (The Unknown Assassin #2) by Allen Zadoff

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This sequel to Boy Nobody (itself subsequently retitled I Am the Weapon) delivers on every level:  it features action, a quick pace, and a protagonist whose morality continues to grow throughout the intriguing narrative.  I have already reserved book three in the series; it's that good.  If you are a reluctant reader, this book will change your mind (but start with the first book in the series).


105

The Curse of the Wendigo (The Monstrumologist #2) by Rick Yancey

Type:  YA Fiction (2010)

My grade and thoughts: A.  In the style of the first novel in this series, part two is a thinking man's monster story:  the characters suffer moral dilemmas and ethical quandaries in a believable way.  This installment contains clever references to Dracula, but the allusions are not overdone; they worked.  Yancey delivers vivid descriptions, too, just like he did in The Monstrumologist; such images underpin the plot without being gratuitous.  An impressive work.


104

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

Type:  Science Fiction (2008)

My grade and thoughts: A.  In a dystopian future, we find a humorous yet poignant mix of mystery, conspiracy, suspense, aliens, humans (or "biologicals" as they are referred to in novel-speak), robots, and mutants.  Depicting an admittedly grim view of the future, the novel's bleak narrative is engagingly and believably tempered by a protagonist who listens to his (ironically non-existent) heart and (equally non-existent) conscience.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Like nothing else I've ever read.


103

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

Type:  YA Fiction (2000)

Recommended by Jackson Kehling.  Thanks!

My grade and thoughts: B.  I liked it much more than I didn't like it.  Heavy on action (as illustrated in the jellyfish scene), the novel leads to an ending that is believably satisfying.  Also, I admired the author's attempt at getting beneath the surface of the protagonist; I hope there is more of that in the subsequent works in this series.  The James Bond and Mission: Impossible overtones, however, became a bit tedious at times.  What's more, I was forced to suspend my disbelief when I found out the reason the novel's criminal mastermind has decided to enact a dastardly plan of revenge.  If you can suspend your own disbelief regarding this plot point, I'm certain you will enjoy this book.


102

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Type:  YA Fiction (2009)

My grade and thoughts: A.  A gothic tale with allusions to Shakespeare's Othello and other famously erudite scholars and writers? Yes, please!  In this novel, we tag along on the characters' desperate, titillating hunt of the Anthropophagi.  Ironically, Yancey's incredibly vivid descriptions were enticing in their stomach-churning detail.  Buckle up if you read this one; it's a bumpy, exciting ride. I am already planning to read the other three works in the series.  By the way, it's like Yancey had our vocabulary book open as he wrote:  there is a voluminous amount of vocabulary words in the novel. 


101

The Devil's Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

Type:  YA Historical Fiction (2009)

My grade and thoughts: A.  I am always wary when it comes to historical fiction:  I do not want to be mired in confusing minutiae.  McKernan alleviates this misgiving of mine with admirable skill in this novel.  The narrative documents the trials and tribulations during an 1860s trek along the Oregon Trail.  Moreover, I found myself caring about the characters; kudos to the author for painting a vivid picture of characters whose misfortunes and successes resonated with me on levels far deeper than those addressed in the novel itself.  An impressive work.


100

Nothing to Lose by Alex Flinn

Type:  YA Fiction (2005)

My grade and thoughts: B.  I suspected I would like this work based on my approbation for Ms. Flinn's Breathing Underwater (which can be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of this page).  I also knew that, in typical Flinn fashion, the novel would tackle some weighty issues.  I was not disappointed, overall.  My only gripe:  the ending was predictable about two-thirds into the narrative.  It was still effective, and this is not a mystery; nevertheless, I wanted more of a punch to the gut.  Still a very good work.


99

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1936)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Another Poirot mystery, this novel definitely does not disappoint.  A murder takes place in the same room as two simultaneously-occurring games of Bridge.  All the suspects are in the room in which the murder takes place...as it occurs...yet the culprit is not apparent.  How could Christie possibly devise a way to make this such a tantalizing mystery?  Read it to find out.  There are red herrings galore until the very end of the novel.  A thoroughly enjoyable read.


98

The Body in the Woods by April Henry

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2014)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  As mysteries go, I like believable red herrings and clues that hide in plain sight.  On those two counts, the author held her own rather admirably.  Additionally, I liked the character growth that occurred at the end even if it did feel a bit forced and artificial.


97

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  If you like action, mystery, and adventure at breakneck speed, this book will not disappoint.  With plentiful dramatic irony and multitudinous red herrings, the novel held my interest so much that I read it in one day, finding myself engrossed.  It has very much in common with Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick and Perry's Killer Playlist


96

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: B.  Everybody needs to fit in, and we all have our own crosses to bear.  Stone, however, deals with this all-too-often trite subject matter in an engrossing way.  About two-thirds of the way through the novel, there's a surprise that I definitely did NOT see coming.  Impressive and uplifting even though I wanted more of a believable reason for bringing the OCD component into play.

 


95

Blight by Alexandra Duncan

Recommended by Logan Schneider.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Science Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Every single time I thought I had the narrative figured out, the author threw a curve ball...a totally believable yet utterly unforeseeable curve ball.  It's dystopian, but not hopeless; gritty, but poignant in spots.  To wit:  the protagonist makes a life-affirming, self-denying decision at a crucial point in the novel.  I loved it.


94

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Everything fits together beautifully in this novel.  It just works.

Meaningful quotations:

  • "Behind me, a bookcase full of stories my mother read to me, full of swimming trophies and jewel-toned ribbons, full of certificates from childhood piano recitals.  What is any of it worth?  What is any of it without my mom?"
    • This particular quotation gets at one of the novel's core beliefs:  what we have is overshadowed by whom we love.  So true...
  • "I wonder if anything feels as grown-up as not blaming your parents.  Understanding where they're coming from instead of waiting for them to see your side."
    • It is sentiments such as this that typify the author's ability to show growth in the main character.  Better yet, it really worked well.  The main character's growth didn't seem artificial at all.


93

The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2011)

My grade and thoughts:  A+.  Mackall takes a mystery and gives it a heartfelt, poignant twist that is both suspenseful and believable.  The ending was great, fitting.  I'm impressed.

Meaningful quotation:  "Are we different people every single moment of our lives?"


92

The Ables by Jeremy Scott

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts:  A.  This novel explores friendship, morality, fitting in, forgiveness, and loyalty within the context of an adventure story.  I was hooked.  Very well done.  You will not be disappointed.

Meaningful quotations: 

  • "...forgiveness is far more powerful and fulfilling than anger and revenge."
    • We are taught to forgive and forget and to "turn the other cheek."  I therefore really admired the author for including this sentiment in such a believable, meaningful way within the context of the story.
  • "Sometimes, you don't realize how much you've grown to care about people until something threatens to take them away from you."
    • The older I get, the truer and more meaningful this sentiment becomes.  As is the case in the novel, realization of such an idea can inspire us to share and articulate our love with those about whom we care rather than keeping it inside.
  • "Being one of the good guys means that sometimes you don't get what you deserve."
    • How true this is!  As Shakespeare observed, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."  Granted, I'm casting a wide net with my application of Shakespeare's sentiments; nevertheless, if our crown is integrity (that is, goodness), the path can be difficult and frustrating. 


91

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This novel, ostensibly about a WWII encounter between an American soldier and his Japanese opponent, is a story within a story.  Throughout the pages, we read about not only the plot mentioned above but also a parallel storyline whose connections to WWII run deep.  Featuring monsters, flashbacks, and family mystery, this work really engrossed me.  I really liked the development of the two island-bound characters; it was exceptionally well done.


90

The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner

Recommended by Brandon Hickey.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Fantasy (2015)

My grade and thoughts:  B.  What really worked for me as I read this novel were the good lessons it espoused without being preachy (see quotation below).  However, the idea of the actual Hush itself (a parallel universe-ish sort of otherworldly location that is simultaneously present and not present) was never really explained well enough to satisfy my lingering questions about it.  That did not really detract from the main storyline's facets of trust, love, realtionships, struggles, and loyalty.  I would recommend this book to those who like adventure with both heart and a touch of mystery.

Meaningful quotation:  "'Sometimes [...] true strength is admitting when you're vulnerable.'"  How true.


89

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: D.  I was disappointed with this novel.  I expected more character development, but the characters seemed cardboard and predictable...even when they were supposed to be acting unpredictably.  The atmosphere seemed contrived, and the Farrah/Bell storyline did not seem to work for me.  On the plus side, Mabry's descriptions are clear and somewhat engaging.  Notwithstanding such an ability to paint vivid pictures with words, I found the plot to be unremarkable. 


88

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Type:  Juvenile Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B+.  I enjoyed Nesbet's heartfelt glimpse behind the 1989 Iron Curtain.  The author offers good character development although I would have preferred more information regarding the parents' ulterior motives in traveling to East Germany.  The ending impressed me.  I learned history while reading this but did not feel that I was being taught anything; that's the best type of learning scenario.


87

The Dire King by William Ritter (Jackaby #4)

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+. This is an absolutely phenomenal final installment of an amazingly good series.  The ending elicited hopeful joy from me; that's all I'll say without spoiling it for anyone who might read the series.  In this final installment, I found further character development of our friends from the previous works in the Jackaby series.  The author's ability to weave a tale of magic and heroism is laudable.

Meaningful Quotation:  “This world doesn’t need showy champions.  It needs people who are good, who do good—even if nobody will ever know.”  As a teacher who believes wholeheartedly in such a sentiment, I was overjoyed to see it enacted so enchantingly in this novel.


86

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter (Jackaby #3)

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+. This third installment of the Jackaby series has all the allure of the first two titles...plus some well-played twists and turns.  Highly recommended.


85

Beastly Bones by William Ritter (Jackaby #2)

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A+. Dragons and (kinda) dinosaurs?  Check.  Believable, loveable, intriguing characters?  Check.  You have to read this.  Amazingly good!


84

Jackaby by William Ritter

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Welcome to a world of mystery, fable, folklore, and immediately interesting and accessible characters.  Mr. Ritter has created an endearing and addicting tale in this first installment of the four-book series.  A duck who was formerly a detective's assistant...living on the third floor of a haunted house...whose ghostly hostess is, herself, an intriguing character?  I understand if you think it sounds crazy, but give it a try; you will not be even the least bit disappointed. 


83

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson

Type:  YA Science Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  As a rule, I am not a fan of science fiction novels, but this novella (a mere 149 pages in length) diminished some of my disdain for the genre...almost.  I really enjoyed the dystopian view of the future portrayed in the novel, but I guess I just wanted to see more character development.  I wanted to care about the struggles the characters encountered.  Then again, maybe keeping the characters at arm's length was an authorial technique meant to underpin the cruelly sterile interaction between the aliens and humans.  I do not think you will be disappointed if you read this, but I wouldn't nominate it for any awards, either.


82

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: A-.  This is essentially a lemons into lemonade story with a protagonist who doesn't realize that he's finding silver linings.  It ends up being an exceptionally well done account of friendship, personal goals, and courage.  The ending was really good, too.


81

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  I really don't think I'd recommend this novel to anyone else.  It's well-written with a haunting ending, but the reader must endure a grueling examination of life and life after death in order to get to that ending.  A fan of somber, melancholy fiction, I myself found this to be a novel that went overboard on the gloom.  A heavy read!


80

Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel

Type:  YA Historical Fiction (2016)

WARNING:  Contains intermittent (perhaps two) references to occurrences of a sexual nature.

My grade and thoughts: B-.  What we have here is a story of dueling paleontologists whose children fall in love during a quest for the ultimate dinosaur fossil.  The novel is interesting and well written; indeed, the paleontological aspects are not off-putting or boring.  However, some of the personal plot lines get to be a bit much during a narrative that promises an exciting hunt for a dinosaur fossil but delivers it with the gratuitous storyline of a burgeoning relationship.


79

House of Furies by Madeleine Roux

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  This is the first installment in a series, and I'm avidly awaiting the next title.  The novel is set long ago and features old Scratch himself.  I found its fascinating mix of magic, suspense, and mystery very appealing.


78

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen

Type:  YA Fiction (2009)

My grade and thoughts: B.  A novella, actually, this work is quite heartwarming.  It delves into the topic of cancer in a believable way without getting schmaltzy or coming across as patronizing.  It reaffirmed my belief in the inherent goodness in people.


77

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2010)

My grade and thoughts: B.  What I really liked about this book was its unflinching look at how we perceive...and judge...others without having all the facts.  We hear all the time that we shouldn't do so, but this novel makes it clear why that is such a bad tactic to deploy in our lives.  I found the ending to be especially effective.


76

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Recommended by Logan Schneider.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Science Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  The first book in the Arc of a Scythe series, this is an excellent read.  Shusterman, an author of whom I've become an unwitting fan, weaves suspense and weighty issues of mortality together very well in this page-turner.  I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.  Highly recommended due in no small part to the twist at the end.  Loved it!


75

The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt

Type:  YA Historical Fiction (2010)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  The entire dowsing* aspect of the novel was a minor plot point at best.  This is more of a curiosity than a detraction, however.  Notwithstanding that issue, the plot recounts the tale of a family heading for the Oregon Territory in the late 1800s, including the trials and tribulations concomitant with such a journey.  It kept my interest.

*dowse:  to search for underground supplies of water, metal, et cetera by the use of a divining rod


74

The Truth by Jeffry Johnston

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  It's a standard "tragedy drove me to extremes" type of storyline, but it works.  There's enough of a twist at the end that I didn't feel the novel to be the least bit banal.  Plus, the opening scene is pretty darn good!


73

You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements by David McCullough 

Recommended by Mr. Joe Driehaus.  Thanks!

Type:  Nonfiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This is written by a former English teacher, so I had to give it a try; plus, if Mr. Driehaus recommends a book, then I know it will enlighten and hearten me as a teacher.  Let's just say that I was not even remotely disappointed by this book.  While the book's wisdom and anecdotes struck a chord with me as a teacher, this work actually has a tremendous amount of insight for high school students, with whom it is sure to resonate.  Give it a try!


72

Defender by Graham McNamee

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  The story of an adolescent basketball player, the narrative features a protagonist who finds herself in the midst of some unsettling truths about her family.  It kept my interest, and the characters were believable.


71

To Catch a Cheat by Varian Johnson

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  Wanna have fun?  Then read this book.  It features twists, turns, and surprises galore...enough to keep even a sharp reader on his or her toes.  Plus, the novel offers several well-deserved nods to the greatest mystery writer of them all:  Agatha Christie.


70

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Wow!  This is a good one.  The story centers on corporate greed and cover-ups all in the name of profits.  Identities are concealed and revealed, motives are shady, and the tension is palpable in this novel.  If you read it, you will not be disappointed.


69

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  Well, this novel is almost a really good example of magical realist fiction.  Its characters almost come to life on the pages.  Its ending is almost really good.  Therefore, I can almost recommend that you'll like it.  If you're into moody atmospherics more than action, check it out; you will not be disappointed.  I just feel it promises more than it delivers.


68

If Only by Becky Citra

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: D.  I guess I wanted more development between the twin siblings on whom this novel centers.  Notwithstanding that underwhelming issue, the novel's focus on an assault and the aftermath wrought by it were done well enough (barely) to keep me reading.  The plot is believable but delivered in a somewhat vapid way.  I cared about the characters, but they seemed somewhat lifeless and artificial; I wanted to care more, but that's difficult when an author fails to transmute her characters into people.


67

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha

Type:  YA Historical Fiction/Mystery (2012)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.  An orphan gets taken under the wing of a renowned detective, and the adventurous mystery begins soon thereafter.  This is a page-turner, heavy on action, believable characters, fun, new-fangled (back then) contraptions, and an enjoyable ancillary character: none other than Teddy Roosevelt!


66

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Imagine suffering a town-destroying superstorm along with finding out that your family is not what you thought it was.  That will give you a glimpse of what this novel holds in store.  Kephart writes in beautifully poetic prose with descriptions that are emotional and lush but not overdone.  This is a moody, haunting novel.  Recommended especially for juniors or seniors.


65

Peeled by Joan Bauer

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2008)

My grade and thoughts: A.  I'm a sucker for small-town, comfy, bucholic settings; this novel delivers in that arena.  Featuring a spooky little ghost story and some skeletons in various closets, this little gem thoroughly enchanted me.


64

Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A.  As usual, Moldavsky takes aim at societal faults, but she does so in a way that makes her readers want to amend those faults -- at least this reader.  This novel was in turns hilarious, thought-provoking, and sobering.


63

The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake

Type:  YA Fiction (2008)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This tale of a dystopian future is applicable to some issues we experience today.  Don't let the title fool you into thinking this book is not worth the grade I assigned it.  The ending, by the way, is really good.


62

No Good Deed by Goldy Moldavsky

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A.  I loved this book.  It shows the vapid attempts we make to change the world when all we really want is to aggrandize ourselves.  Moldavsky's wit is firing on all cylinders in this novel.  Also, the reference to the glass ceiling had me laughing so hard I cried.  Highly recommended because it teaches valuable lessons and applies so readily to our lives.


61

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  I'll say this:  it's one of four books I've ever read that has made me cry.  It's that good.  Amazingly poignant, meaningful, and evocative.  Really, really, really, good!


60

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1922)

My grade and thoughts: B+.  This was the first time I got to meet Tommy and Tuppence, a pair of Christie characters who are endearing in their attempts to find adventure, make a living, solve crimes, and sort out their feelings for each other.  As with most Christie novels, this one provides a fun ride with a believably complex yet engaging narrative.


59

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall 

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: C.  I was floored by the poignant and detailed descriptions of the trials and tribulations of obsessive-compulsive disorder, especially since the term OCD is thrown around so haphazardly these days.  It's good but not great; engaging but not riveting.


58

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  My introduction to Jeff Zentner, Goodbye Days had me hooked almost from page one.  The novel details the death of three friends due to a fourth friend's driving while texting.  However, the novel goes so much farther than merely offering the platitude that we shouldn't text while driving.  Zentner's ability to delve into his characters' souls is notably adroit.  I highly recommend this novel.


57

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  This novel details the self-blame that occurs in the wake of the titular character's death.  Unbelievably good.


56

Blank Confession by Pete Hautman

Type:  YA Fiction (2010)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This mysterious tale is actually a case of the underdog sticking up for those who get bullied.  I really enjoyed it.


55

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1923)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  I just couldn't get into this novel.  Hercule Poirot is spot on, as usual; as a matter of fact, I really enjoyed the way that Christie develops this character throughout this and other novels in which he is featured.  I don't know; this one just didn't draw me in like so many of her other works do.


54

Finding Arcadia by Simon Chesterman

Type:  YA Mystery (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  The second installment in the Arcadia trilogy did not disappoint.  Indeed, Chesterman mixes humor, mystery, poignant detail, and some nods to Arthur Conan Doyle in the most delightful way.  I'm anxiously awaiting the third and final book in the series.


53

Michael Vey:  Rise of the Elgen by Richard Paul Evans 

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: B.  The second in the Michael Vey series, this installment became somewhat tedious.  After finishing this novel, I actually began reading the third novel in the series but stopped about 50 pages in*.  It just got to be too much of long, drawn-out, sinister plots.  In this volume, though, it still held my attention long enough to finish the book.  I like the way that Evans adds the moral dimension to his works; his protagonists are frequently caught in moral quandaries as they try to do the right thing.

*My decision to give up on a book is a rare one, nor is it one arrived at lightly.  This is perhaps the third book I have ever decided to stop reading, but sometimes, it just isn't going anywhere.


52

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard 

Type:  Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: D.  It wanted to be tense, and it sometimes was.  It wanted to create suspense, and it sometimes did.  It wanted to pack a believable, unexpected ending, but it didn't.  The ride, however, was intriguing enough to be somewhat fun.


51

They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie 

Type:  Mystery (1951)

My grade and thoughts: B.  It's Agatha Christie, so it's good.  Nevertheless, I found the details and minutiae to be a bit distracting this time.  What I really enjoyed, though, was how the book's political intrigue was oddly applicable to the world in which we find ourselves today, decades later.


50

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie 

Type:  Mystery (1934)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  I absolutely loved this one.  The ending was right up there with the culprit's enlightening confession in And Then There Were None; there's no way you'll figure it out on your own! (But isn't that how we like our murder mysteries?)  Highly recommended.


49

Great Falls by Steve Watkins 

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B.  This is a novel about the unseen injuries of war suffered by those who serve, but don't scroll further without reading.  It goes further than what my initial sentence might lead you to expect.  This novel also explores relationships, guilt, and moral dilemmas.  I recommend this to anyone who has a brother or who is interested in history or who wants to understand our human condition with more clarity.


48

Perry's Killer Playlist by Joe Schreiber 

Type:  YA Fiction (2012)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Loved it.  Amazing.  This novel is the second in the Parry/Gobi series, and delivers punch after punch.  It's part action, part adventure, part mystery, and a 100% FUN ride.  Highly recommended.


47

Splinter by Sasha Dawn 

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: B.  This novel centers around the question of whom the main character can trust.  I found it engaging and well-done.


46

Michael Vey:  Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans 

Recommended by Mason Hershner.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Fiction (2011)

My grade and thoughts: A.  I really enjoyed this first installment in the Michael Vey series.  This novel features super powers and their concomitant burdens and moral dilemmas.  If you like adventure centering on characters that you can get to know, this is a book you would like.  As a matter of fact, it's very X-Men-ish.


45

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schrieber 

Type:  YA Fiction (2011)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  That exchange student you're hosting is really a trained assassin who is about to take you on a non-stop, action-packed escapade through the streets of New York.  That's just the tip of the iceberg in this novel.  Excellent!


44

Rush for the Gold:  Mystery at the Olympics by John Feinstein 

Recommended by Evan Vollmer.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Mystery (2012)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  The novel provides a pleasant if vapid mix of sports and mystery.  The teenage protagonists are believable if somewhat cliché.  I think most kids in grades 8-10 would like this series.


43

Ultimatum by K. M. Walton

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Offering an exploration of the relationship between two brothers whose family life is crumbling, this novel is gripping and engaging.  Highly recommended.


42

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Recommended by Mr. Grimm.  Thanks!

Type:  Nonfiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Anything Mr. Grimm recommends is sure to be worthwhile, and this work was no exception.  This is the memoir of a neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Throughout the work, he grapples with the question of what makes life worth living.  Emotional without going overboard into sentimentalism, objective yet heartfelt; I highly recommend this book.


41

Wool by Hugh Howey

Type:  YA Science Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: D.  I barely remember this novel; I guess that's how much I was not affected by it.  I seem to remember that everyone's living underground and that being sent outside, for some unknown reason that is supposed to engage readers, is a fate worse than death.  I think we find out what was going on at the end; I think I remember being underwhelmed by that ending.


40

The Shadows We Know by Heart by Jennifer Park

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  This novel includes the sasquatch myth, and it incorporates it in a somewhat believable way...as myths and fables go.  However, I felt the whole "wild person teaches civilized person" motif became somewhat strained as I ventured further and further into this somewhat murky novel.


39

Con Academy by Joe Schreiber

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Amazingly fun yet edifying.  You'll learn about relationships and moral struggles as you take part in this adventure.  Highly recommended.


38

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Type:  YA Fiction (2012)

WARNING:  Contains several references that are sexual in nature.

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Wow!  This novel touches on 80s pop culture (which I found endearing and nostalgic), social criticism, relationships, and adventure.  Give it a try if you are ready for a gripping ride.


37

The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged version) by Alexandre Dumas

Type:  Fiction (1844)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Quite possibly the absolute best adventure novel ever written.  This behemoth of a novel (totaling about 1442 pages) tackles everything from love and revenge to redemption and sacrifice...and the need to see our own faults.  Incredibly, amazingly, unbelievably, uncategorically great!

 


36

An Eagle in the Snow by Michael Morpurgo

Type:  YA Historical Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  Based on the premise that a character's decision could have prevented WWII, this novel underwhelmed me to a degree.  As long as you buy into the premise that WWII could have been prevented in the way the novel suggests, it will work.  I guess it comes down to how much you're willing to suspend your disbelief.  Granted, I'm a tougher customer than most in that area.  It was, however, an intriguing premise; I'll give Morpurgo that.  If you're a fan of WWII or WWI, you'll like this one.


35

A Mosnter Calls by Patrick Ness

Type:  YA Fiction (2011)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Incorporating pictures drawn specifically for the novel, this is at times funny and at other times melancholy.  I felt so bad for the protagonist.  Like nothing else you've ever read.


34

Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  This novel offers a realistic portrayal of its teenage protagonist.  It centers on his attempts to live up to his father's reputation and expectations.  Exceptionally well done.


33

The Clocks by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1963)

My grade and thoughts: A-.  It's typical Christie:  clever and engaging.  You won't be disappointed.


32

Thirteen by Tom Hoyle

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  Okay, so you were born at midnight as the new millennium began; a cult therefore thinks you and the other twelve boys (understand the title?) born at the same moment all need to die.  There's action, adventure, mystery, and suspense.  Not bad, but the ending tried to build suspense without really delivering.


31

How to Read Literature like a Professor by Tom Hoyle

Type:  Nonfiction (2003)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Ever wonder how we English teachers know how to interpret the novels and poems we read?  Then read this book.  It's a FUN trek through the ins and outs of how to attain that deeper understanding of literature that seems so esoteric to so many.


30

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  A fascinating look at the world of mental illness.  Give this novel time.  All of a sudden, you will understand...and care.


29

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman 

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

WARNING:  There is quite a bit of explicit language in this novel.

My grade and thoughts: A+.    This novel takes a hard look at loyalty, legality, morality, and relationships.  What a gripping, engaging read.


28

No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: D.    Not terrible; not great.  It will keep your interest as it takes you through its paces, but don't you want more from a novel?  I did.


27

Raising Arcadia by Simon Chesterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+.    An absolutely phenomenal work.  I was hooked by the first page when we read of a parent-student-administrator meeting that gives Arcadia a chance to show her amazing abilities to scrutinize, synthesize, and lure readers into her world.


26

Will in the World:  How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

Type:  Nonfiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+.    I teach Shakespeare, so I wanted to read this work. Admittedly, I approached it with some trepidation, fearing that a book on Shakespeare's life would be boring.  I could not have been further from the truth.  What an enjoyable work!


25

Manitou Canyon by William Kent Kreuger

Type:  Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B.  It's a standard murder mystery with a few twists that raise it above the level of banality.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.


24

A Detective at Death's Door by H. R. F. Keating

Type:  Mystery (2004)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  What an extremely engaging, fun read!  I absolutely loved the way the author wove Agatha Christie into the plot.  Fantastic!

 


23

Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  A kidnapping leads to a fascinating plotline.


22

A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby

Type:  YA Historical Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  An absolutely amazing murder mystery including Jack the Ripper.  Extremely engaging and well done.


21

Payback Time by Carl Deuker

Type:  YA Fiction (2010)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  The central question of a character's history and identity is engrossing.  I was impressed.


20

For This Life Only by Stacey Kade

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B.  Kade offers a novel about a sibling dealing with his brother's death.  Overall, well done.


19

Cold Case by Julia Platt Leonard

Recommended by Ethan Boyers.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Mystery (2011)

My grade and thoughts: B.  It gets the job done as young adult mysteries go.  Nothing excpetional, but certainly not a novel that fails to please.  I'll never look at restaurants the same way.


18

The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison

Type:  YA Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B+.  In some ways, a typical mystery; this one, however, has more of an eerie psychological mood than others I've read.  Not bad.


17

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  I wanted more from this 9/11 story.  I got some of the poignance of that fateful day, but not all that I wanted.  The novel, it should be noted, definitely takes an "off the beaten path" angle on that terrible day.  Then again, maybe I'm too demanding when it comes to this date in our country's past:  my standards are very high when reading a work about 9/11.


16

Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This is a really well done coming-of-age story about a senior in high school.  Bliss handles what could have been a trite narrative with finesse and originality.


15

Swim the Fly by Don Calame

Type:  YA Fiction (2009)

My grade and thoughts: B.  Three adolescent boys spending the summer trying to accomplish, oh, so much.  The novel is humorous but refreshingly perceptive in its depiction of the protagonists.


14

Getting the Girl:  A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby

Type:  YA Fiction (2008)

My grade and thoughts: A.  A thoroughly enjoyable and meaningful novel.  You won't be disappointed.


13

Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: A.  A heartfelt tale of two teens, both of whom have cancer and the desire for a relationship with each other.  Well done.


12

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Type:  YA Fiction (2010)

My grade and thoughts: B+.  This novel centers around a cancer patient, but there's so much more to it than that.  I liked this book; I think you will, to0.  Give it a try.


11

Prison Boy by Sharon E. McKay

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A.  A novel of political strife and the human struggle to survive, this one is really good.


10

If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: B.  This novel weaves together a father-son relationship even though the father is deceased.  With a hint of mystery, the work pleased me very much.  I felt Reedy handled the subject matter in a believable yet heartfelt manner.


9

The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

Type:  YA Fiction (2012)

My grade and thoughts: A.  You'll love it as you get to know the smart-alec Jay.  There's so much more to him than meets the eye...like all of us, right? 


8

Sasquatch by Andrea Schicke Hirsch

WARNING:  Be sure to look for the novel with the correct author:  apparently, this is a popular title for novels.

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Loved it.  Loved it.  Loved it.  Just suspend your disbelief (which isn't that difficult with this novel), and go along for a curious, edifying ride.  Loved it.  Did I mention that I loved it?


7

The Fall by James Preller

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A.  The novel deals with the aftermath of suicide in a believable and meaningful way.  I was engrossed.


6

Inside Out by Terry Trueman

Type:  YA Fiction (2004)

My grade and thoughts: A+.  Wow!  This is a good one.  It starts with a robbery gone wrong, but I guarantee you will not believe where this novel goes.  Really well done.


5

Chasing Forgiveness by Neal Shusterman

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Just how much can you forgive, especially when the person whom you must forgive is...


4

The 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1957)

My grade and thoughts: A.  I love Miss Marple, and this story was not a disappointment as I watched her piece together the case.  The entire premise intrigued me:  a chance occurrence, happening during the slimmest of all possible time frames.  Fascinating.


3

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

Type:  Mystery (1937)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Yet again, Poirot uses his "little grey cells" to intriguing effect in this mystery.  Loved it.


2

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Recommended by Mr. Grimm.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: A.  This is a really engaging read.  I found it poignant but not sentimental.


1

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

Recommended by Mrs. Brandel.  Thanks!

Type:  YA Fiction (2011)

My grade and thoughts: A.  Tense, poignant, and realistic, this novel takes a look at violence and its effects on a relationship.  Extraordinarily well done.