My Bookshelf

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

Click the cover art for a link to an epitome at

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

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.

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.

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.'"

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 people and life.  Well done, Mr. Yancey.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

Type:  Fiction (2017)

(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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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

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.


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.

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 nay 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.

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 believalbe.  The ending was great, fitting.  I'm impressed.

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

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. 

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 counterpart, 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.

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.

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. 

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.

The Dire King by William Ritter

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.

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

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 some well-played twists and turns.  Highly recommended.

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

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!

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 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. 

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson

Type:  YA Science Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Recommended by Logan Schneider.  Thanks!

Type:  YA 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!

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 diving rod

The Truth by Jeffry Johnston

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: A-.  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!

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!

Defender by Graham McNamee

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B.  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.

To Catch a Cheat by Varian Johnson

Type:  YA Fiction/Mystery (2016)

My grade and thoughts: B.  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.

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.

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.

If Only by Becky Citra

Type:  YA Fiction (2013)

My grade and thoughts: C+.  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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

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

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.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall 

Type:  YA Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: B-.  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.

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.

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf Zentner 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard 

Type:  Fiction (2016)

My grade and thoughts: C.  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 fun.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 the concomitant burdens, relationships, moral dilemmas, and even mystery.  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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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!


An Eagle in the Snow by Michael Morpurgo

Type:  YA Historical Fiction (2017)

My grade and thoughts: B.  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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney

Type:  YA Fiction (2015)

My grade and thoughts: C+.    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.

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.

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!

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.

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!


Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu

Type:  YA Fiction (2016)

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Type:  YA Fiction (2010)

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

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.

If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy

Type:  YA Fiction (2014)

My grade and thoughts: A.  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.

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 all of us, right? 

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?

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.

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.

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.