Categotry Archives: Contemporary

The Memory Hit

The Memory Hit Book Cover The Memory Hit
Carla Spradbery
Hachette Children's Books
June 4, 2015

On New Year's Eve, Jess's life is unrecognizable: her best friend is in the hospital, her boyfriend is a cheater. A drug-dealing cheater it would seem, after finding a stash of Nostalgex in his bag.

Nostalgex: a drug that stimulates memory. In small doses, a person can remember the order of a deck of cards, or an entire revision guide read the day before an exam. In larger doses it allows the user detailed access to their past, almost like watching a DVD with the ability to pause a moment in time, to focus on previously unnoticed details and to see everything they've ever experienced with fresh eyes. As Leon, the local dealer, says 'it's like life, only better.' What he fails to mention is that most memories are clouded by emotions. Even the most vivid memories can look very different when visited.

Across town Sam Cooper is in trouble. Again. This time, gagged and bound in the boot of a car. Getting on the wrong side of a drug dealer is never a good idea, but if he doesn't make enough money to feed and clothe his sister, who will?

On New Year's Day, Jess and Cooper's worlds collide. They must put behind their differences and work together to look into their pasts to uncover a series of events that will lead them to know what really happened on that fateful New Year's Eve. But what they find is that everything they had once believed to be true, turns out to be a lie ...



“The Memory Hit” is an old-fashioned thriller for the young adult crowd.  Think “Scream” type thrills with a drug-dealing setting.

If you’re looking for romance, “The Memory Hit” is not for you.  There are some brief moments of it, mostly through memories, but that is all.  One of my favorite things about the book is the fact that there is an abusive boyfriend who is not portrayed as some misunderstood hero and a girlfriend whose thoughts are shown both before and after she realizes he is abusive.  Those portrayals are rare, and I like to point out any time a book treats abuse realistically and doesn’t in any way condone it.

The characters are well-developed in the way that you expect from a standalone thriller.  There are strengths and weaknesses in all of them, with realistic reactions to some really terrifying things going on around them.  There are several moments that had me jumping out of my seat and an overall atmosphere of general creepiness.  Add in the mystery of “whodunnit” and it makes for a fun and fast read.  Readers will feel thankful that nostalgex is not a real drug by the end of the story.

I recommend it to upper middle grade readers and up who enjoy a good scare and are looking for a quick read.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

Language, Very Mild Sexual Content, Violence, Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Denton Little’s Death Date

Denton Little's Deathdate Book Cover Denton Little's Deathdate
Lance Rubin
Knopf Books for Young Readers
April 14, 2015

Denton Little’s Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own except that everyone knows the day on which they will die. For Denton, that’s in just two days—the day of his senior prom.

Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle—as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend’s hostile sister. (Though he’s not totally sure—see, first hangover.) His anxiety builds when he discovers a strange purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton’s long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters. . . . Suddenly Denton’s life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.

Debut author Lance Rubin takes us on a fast, furious, and outrageously funny ride through the last hours of a teenager’s life as he searches for love, meaning, answers, and (just maybe) a way to live on.



Seeing as I just finished reading “Denton Little’s Deathdate”, I can only hope that I stop laughing long enough to write a coherent review.

The plot is one of the most unusual I have read in a young adult novel, especially one meant to be funny while dealing with a guaranteed date of death.  It throws in a lot of curveballs as well, and it keeps you on your toes.  There isn’t really an easy way to describe it, or fit it into one genre, and it’s very possible that it managed to create its own category.

All of the characters are well-developed and act realistically.  Well, as realistically as the circumstances allow.  Denton is especially endearing, and the dialogue had me sounding like I was recording a sitcom laugh track.  I’m pretty sure even the dogs think I’ve lost what little was left of my mind.

I highly recommend it for around eight grade and up, but only if you’ve willing to risk spontaneous urinary incontinence.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content Warning:

Excessive Hilarity, Language,  Sexual Situations, Violence

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) Book Cover Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)
Amy Spalding
Juvenile Fiction

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist meets Easy A in this hilariously realistic story of sneaking out, making out, and playing in a band. After catching their bandmates in a compromising position, sixteen-year-old Los Angelenos Riley and Reid become painfully aware of the romance missing from their own lives. And so a pact is formed: they'll both try to make something happen with their respective crushes and document the experiences in a shared notebook. While Reid struggles with the moral dilemma of adopting a dog to win over someone's heart, Riley tries to make progress with Ted Callahan, who she's been obsessed with forever-His floppy hair! His undeniable intelligence! But suddenly cute guys are popping up everywhere. How did she never notice them before?! With their love lives going from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, Riley and Reid realize the results of their pact may be more than they bargained for.



“Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)” is exactly what it intends to be and nothing more:  a lighthearted romance.

The plot is very cute, though predictable, and is told through the very amusing voice of Riley.  The other characters are pretty much relegated to romance novel tropes, but in this case that isn’t a bad thing. The teenagers act in a realistic manner, speak in a realistic manner, and think in the same realistic manner.  In other words, in case you didn’t catch on, even though it’s predictable it is realistic, and I always respect authors who aren’t afraid to show how it really is.

I recommend “Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)” for anyone high-school age and above who is looking for a quick, easy read that also makes you laugh.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Situations, Underage Drinking

Humber Boy B

Humber Boy B Book Cover Humber Boy B
Ruth Dugdall
Legend Press
April 1, 2015

A child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity.
Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B’s reintegration into society. But the general public’s anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the
secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep. Cate’s loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. Or is there a greater evil at play?



As a lover of mystery, procedurals, and books that expose flaws in prison systems, I had quite a bit of hope for “Humber Boy B”.  Unfortunately, what was a promising premise fell completely flat.

The plot began decently enough, but became burdensome after a while.  I did enjoy the way flashbacks were intermingled, but they were the most interesting parts.  By the end, several subplots had been introduced that were rather large and important, only to be left unresolved.  I know this is how life works, but the author could have made them a less important part of the story and focused more on the main storyline, which most definitely needed expansion.  There will be a second book in the series, but as it is written there will be no opportunity to clear up most of the loose ends.  I think this bothered me the most because between the flashbacks, two different types of narration (first person and third person omnipotent), and a long length, there was no reason not to essentially finish the story being told.

Some of the characters are well-developed.  Other characters are basically caricatures of mystery tropes that you get the feeling you are supposed to like but are the exact opposite of likable.  On top of that, the two main characters have been developed through many perspectives and still make decisions that are completely out-of-character and unexplained.  I came to downright despise the female protagonist, and considering the series will revolve around her, I can only hope the author redeems her in a major way, because there really was potential.

In short, I can’t recommend “Humber Boy B”.  I wish the author the best and hope she finds her rhythm.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

This is an adult book, so there is no content warning.

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl Book Cover The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
Sunshine Girl, Book 1
Paige McKenzie
Juvenile Fiction
Weinstein Books

Based on the wildly popular YouTube channel, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl has been described as “ Gilmore Girls meets Paranormal Activity for the new media age.” YA fans new and old will learn the secrets behind Sunshine—the adorkable girl living in a haunted house—a story that is much bigger, and runs much deeper, than even the most devoted viewer can imagine…



I have to say that “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl” is one of the most interesting horror novels I have ever read.  It has an unexpected blend of ghosts, romance, teen angst, and plot.

I really enjoyed the characters and their arcs.  Sunshine especially is a great and likable character who reacts to the extraordinary paranormal situations in a way that most of us would.  That being disbelief quickly followed by fright.  I won’t give away what else she goes through, but needless to say it isn’t something most of us would encounter.  At least I hope not.  I do like to sleep on occasion.

My first thoughts were this isn’t too scary, which quickly progressed to being afraid to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (which is when I was foolish enough to read a horror story), and finally ended up with “my significant other needs to read this”.  That last bit is the most telling, as she is what could be called a horror connoisseur.  She likes terrifying things and “The Haunting of Sunshine” fits that requirement at many points.

Oddly enough, the book can be classified as clean as long as someone is ok with paranormal violence.  There is no bad language, only the vaguest of sexual references, and no drinking or drug usage.  Therefore, I can easily recommend “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl” for any age provided they are comfortable with books by authors such as R.L. Stine.  It’s a lot of good old-fashioned ghost story fun.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

Ghosts, Violence, All-Around Creepiness


The Duff

The DUFF Book Cover The DUFF
Kody Keplinger
Juvenile Fiction

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper starts sleeping with Wesley Rush, a notorious womanizer who disgusts her, in order to distract her from her personal problems, and to her surprise, the two of them find they have a lot in common and are able to help each other find more productive ways to deal with their difficulties.



When I began reading “The Duff”, I thought I would find a somewhat typical teen romance.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case at all.

Bianca and her two best friends are inseparable, and on one of their nights out Bianca is told by the school’s resident that she is “The Duff” of her group of friends.  Duff means “Designated ugly fat friend”, and along with some other major issues occurring in her life, the term completely ruins her self-esteem.  The internal feelings are something most of us can relate to, both male and female.  Bianca’s internal dialogue is witty and self-deprecating, revealing to the reader the things she cannot see for herself.

What really hooked me is the ultimate conclusion to her cycle of self-hatred.  While I cannot elaborate without spoiling the story, I can say that it is something that every single person needs to hear, young and old, male and female.  The overall message is one of empowerment and awareness.  I am not ashamed to admit that part of it made me cry from the memories of my own time in high school.

I wholeheartedly recommend “The Duff” to all older high school readers.  While the message is good for everyone, the content is explicit (and very realistic), making it a book best saved for when middle readers get a little older.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content Warning:

Explicit Sexual Content, Language, Minor Violence, Alcohol Abuse


Seed Book Cover Seed
Lisa Heathfield
Juvenile Fiction
Running Press Kids

All that Pearl knows can be encapsulated in one word: Seed. It is the isolated community that she was born into. It is the land that she sows and reaps. It is the center of her family and everything that means home. And it is all kept under the watchful eye of Papa S. At fifteen years old, Pearl is finally old enough to be chosen as Papa S.’s companion. She feels excitement . . . and surprising trepidation that she cannot explain. The arrival of a new family into the Seed community—particularly the teenage son, Ellis—only complicates the life and lifestyle that Pearl has depended upon as safe and constant. Ellis is compelling, charming, and worldly, and he seems to have a lot of answers to questions Pearl has never thought to ask. But as Pearl digs to the roots of the truth, only she can decide what she will allow to come to the surface. Lisa Heathfield’s suspenseful, scintillating debut features a compelling voice that combines blithe naïveté, keen observation, and sincere emotion.



Well, that escalated quickly.

Those are the words to most accurately described my feelings toward “Seed”, a book about a teenaged girl living on a cult compound with a fear of the outside world.  The cult is well-developed and the creepiness of it (and believe me, it tips the creepy scale) is revealed in a way consistent with the view of Pearle, the narrator.  Everything is presented naturally, without much explanation, but her observations adequately clue in the reader to what she cannot see.

The plot moves at a slow, though steady, pace.  This is good, because things at Seed do not change quickly.  In fact, they rarely change at all.  The characters are well-developed and for the most part sympathetic.  It’s very easy to feel sympathy for the innocents and hope they finally realize they are not in a good place.   That is the first 99% of the book.

The last 1% of the book is a whirlwind that needed quite a bit more exploration.  There were subplots introduced that had nothing to do with the conclusion and had no resolution.  That space would have been much better used to make the actual conclusion more cohesive.  I understand that there is a point where things would speed up rapidly, and the author is trying to convey this, but it was such a disorienting jumble that it cost an entire star in my rating.

If you like reading about cults, or things that make your skin crawl in general, then you may wish to give “Seed” a try as long as you go into it with the knowledge the very end may fall short of your expectations.  It is most definitely for high schoolers and adults.  The content is not explicit but very much present.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

Strongly Implied Sexual Content, Brief Language, Violence, Abuse

The Tragic Age

The Tragic Age Book Cover The Tragic Age
Stephen Metcalfe
St. Martin's Griffin
March 3, 2015

This is the story of Billy Kinsey, heir to a lottery fortune, part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided that the best way to deal with an absurd world is to stay away from it. Do not volunteer. Do not join in. Billy will be the first to tell you it doesn't always work-- not when your twin sister, Dorie, has died, not when your unhappy parents are at war with one another, not when frazzled soccer moms in two ton SUVs are more dangerous than atom bombs, and not when your guidance counselor keeps asking why you haven't applied to college.?
Billy's life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another's mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie's. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul.?



“The Tragic Age” is the type of novel I adore, but yet find extremely difficult to find one that is well-written.  It is, above all else, an excellent study in existentialism for the current high school generation, not to mention the rest of us.

Billy is a narrator with an excellent voice.  His observations are disturbing, disturbed, witty, intelligent, and downright funny.  Funny, that is, until you actually think about them too hard.  Then they become disturbing and/or disturbed.  The author managed to make him both a very self-aware narrator and a very unreliable narrator.  That is a true mark of talent.

Nothing about the plot is predictable, yet at the end the conclusion seems inevitable.  It is definitely a novel that needs a second read to fully appreciate all that it has to offer.  I can honestly say it will be something I analyze for quite some time.

Also, I died a little bit inside when the epitome of old was revealed to be forty.

Recommended for the older young adult crowd and those who like existentialist literature.   “The Tragic Age” is not for younger readers, as it is dark and adult in nature,

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

Strong Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence, Underage Drinking, Bullying

Pioneer Girl

Pioneer Girl Book Cover Pioneer Girl
Bich Minh Nguyen
Penguin Books

Discovering a family heirloom that her mother may have received from Laura Ingalls Wilder, PhD graduate Lee Lien explores the tenuous connection between her ancestors and the famous pioneer author only to discover a trail of clues that lead to fateful encounters.



“Pioneer Girl” is an absolutely wonderful novel about a Vietnamese woman born to immigrant parents in the 1970s.

As a child, Lee Lien was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books as she and her family moved from place to place, looking for a better life.  As an adult, she begins to trail a story that goes back to her mother’s childhood in Saigon.  The search for the full story makes for a wonderful literary mystery that would be enough to make a good read on its own.  However, there is much more.

Soon Lee, and the reader, begins to connect the lives of her family with those of the Wilders.  The search for a better life is something that spans all cultures and generations, and never has book so captured the American Dream as eloquently as “Pioneer Girl”.  It is something unchanging, and will hopefully be embraced and extended to all of those yet to come.  Don’t we all want what is best for those we love?

I learned more about Vietnamese culture than all of what I knew previously combined.  It was extremely educational, and I don’t think I will ever be able to eat at a Chinese Buffet again.  More diverse books are desperately needed, and this is an excellent addition toward that goal of universal diversity.  Thank you to the author for your work.

I recommend “Pioneer Girl”.  While it is an adult book, the subject matter can be appreciated by upper middle graders and up.  It will be extra enjoyable to all “Little House on the Prairie” fans.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



Painless Book Cover Painless
S.A. Harazin
Albert Whitman Teen
March 1, 2015

A first kiss. Falling in love. Going to prom. These are all normal things that most teenagers experience. Except for 17-year-old David Hart. His life is anything but normal and more difficult than most. Because of the disease that wracks his body, David is unable to feel pain. He has congenital insensitivity to pain with anhydrosis--or CIPA for short. One of only a handful of people in the world who suffer from CIPA, David can't do the things every teenager does. He might accidentally break a limb and not know it. If he stands too close to a campfire, he could burn his skin and never feel it. He can't tell if he has a fever and his temperature is rising. Abandoned by his parents, David now lives with his elderly grandmother who is dying. When David's legal guardian tells him that he needs to move into an assisted living facility as he cannot live alone, David is determined to prove him wrong. He creates a bucket list, meets a girl with her own wish list, and then sets out to find his parents. All David wants to do is grow old, beat the odds, find love, travel the world, and see something spectacular. And he still wants to find his parents. While he still can.



“Painless” is a book about a boy, David, who suffers from a life-threatening disease called CIPA that makes it impossible for him to feel pain or changes in temperature.

The world of David is a fascinating one, with inner thoughts and situations that are not what most of us have ever been exposed to.  Additionally, there is a wealth of information about CIPA and what life is like for those living with it.  The plot is excellent in that it shows how David learns to come out of his shell and begin dealing with the world around him, facing his fears head-on, along with learning there are people there to help him and how to accept that help.

Unfortunately, there is almost zero resolution to the mysteries in the plot.  While realistically all of life’s problems are rarely solved easily, it would have been nice for there to be some sort of closure for the reader to at least one of the threads.  It made what was a good read a source of frustration, and that is what is lingering in my head as I write this review.

I cannot recommend “Painless”, nor can I say not to read it.  It will depend upon the reader whether or not it is appealing.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

Brief Discussions of Sexual Situations, Language, Violence