The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Shea is a receptionist in a doctor’s office and makes a crime podcast in the evenings. She wants to interview a woman accused of but acquitted of murdering two men forty years ago, Beth Greer. Beth is a rich heiress who lives alone in the family mansion after her father was shot and her mother died in a car accident. Mystery surrounds Beth. She reaches out to Shea to talk about what happened forty years ago. Little by little, Shea is exposed to Beth’s life and secrets and the further she digs the more dangerous it all becomes. 5 stars for this well-written haunted mystery!

Trigger by N. Griffin

Disturbing fictional neglect and abuse!

Small town, USA is where Didi attends school but she lives with her father in a secluded area. He’s abusive and neglects to give Didi everything she needs. Didi is terrified and on edge always, even when she’s not around her father because she’s worried she’ll do something wrong and he’ll find out somehow. Her father makes her run laps around the property so she can become as quick as possible but she doesn’t know why he cares about that. He also forces her to learn and play chess and compete in tournaments and she has to be the best. Eventually Didi understands the reason her father has made her do these things but it might be too late for her to save herself.

Likes/dislikes:
The story is disturbing because of the neglect and abuse. The effects on the child’s physical and mental well-being are portrayed through the coping skills the main character develops over time to deal with her life; they were heartbreaking at times. The timeline jumps around and that was difficult to follow. The ending was the best part.
Language: R for 67 swears and 22 f-bombs.
Mature Content: R for physical abuse and severe neglect.
Violence: R for child abuse and hunting child with a gun.
Ethnicity: Didi has brown hair but other characters’ ethnicities aren’t described.

Five Survive by Holly Jackson

The intensity builds to the extreme!

Red is traveling in an RV to Florida with her friends to spend a week celebrating spring break together. They lose cell service and GPS capabilities then end up down a dead end road getting a flat tire. After replacing the flat tire with the spare, Red sees a red dot hovering around the RV and yells at the others to notice. They ignore her until they hear the gunshots that take out all four tires. The group runs into the RV for protection. The shooter leaves a walkie talkie for communication and tells them that one of them has a secret they need to share. The secret is going to be revealed, one way or another!

Likes/dislikes:
Oliver is annoying because he’s a know-it-all with a superiority complex. The mystery is interesting to try to unravel when a few characters allude to having secrets. The suspense builds intensely, which makes a riveting read.

Mature Content:
PG-13 for drinking

Language:
R for 20 swears and 105 f-bombs.

Violence:
PG-13 for Someone shoots at the RV and holds the travelers hostage inside. The sniper fatally shoots an elderly couple that stop to help. Bloody shootings. Attack with a knife.

Ethnicity:
Mixed, Korean, Mexican, white, African American

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A powerful, authentic read!

Starr lives in a rough part of town and after one of her best friends gets shot in a drive by shooting when they’re ten, Starr’s parents have her attend a private school that’s safer. Now Starr is sixteen and she witnesses her other childhood friend getting fatally shot by a police officer. Her friend did nothing to provoke the shooting. This is a powerful novel about much more than racism. It’s also about choices, bravery, integrity and helping others. This book has a lot of swearing which is authentic to the lifestyle of the character’s surroundings but the message of empowerment makes it a must read. 5 stars for a novel that will stick with me.

Likes/dislikes:
I liked how the author shows reality and brings her characters to life to make the readers care about them. I like that two different worlds are brought together by two teens living in both and experiencing the stark differences in each. Character development is abundant and bravery and integrity are a huge factor in the main character’s life and family. I love how the main character’s family is open to discussing everything instead of keeping secrets from each other.
Mature content: PG-13
Underage drinking, marijuana use
Page 81 foreplay (boyfriend touching of girlfriend’s pubic region)
Page 376 arousal (the boyfriend had a bulge in his pants when he kissed his girlfriend)
Violence: PG-13
Fatal Shooting at a party. Police brutality and fatal shooting of a teen male. Riots, gang beatings, starting fires.
Language: R for 100+ swears and 54 f-bombs

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-hate-u-give

Talk Santa To Me by Linda Urban

A cutesy Christmas story!

Francie helps her family with their Christmas business and all of the ups and downs that go with it. She’s trying to overcome her horrible, mistaken kiss and outlive the teasing that’s occurred ever since the boy shared the details with his friends. He told everyone it was like kissing a stick. A few people have offered ways to overcome the bad kissing problem and only one person truly helps her, and helps her without judgment, by kissing her and offering sincere and honest critiques. Once that’s over, Francie gains some confidence and is able to go after her crush. A cutesy Christmas story, 3 stars!

Language Content: PG for three uses of the word dang
Mature Content: PG-13 for underage drinking, kissing
Violence: none
Ethnicity: mixed
Likes/dislikes: I liked the mixed ethnicities, the cute Christmas setting and the light humor. I didn’t like the length of time it took for the romance parts to appear in the book. I enjoy the service that the Christmas interns give by offering to buy books for a girl who only wants to finish reading Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, since the copy she had didn’t have the ending; it was missing. That’s her request in the letter she wrote to Santa.

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany Jackson

Similar to Stephen King’s Carrie with added racial conflict!

The book opens with a devastating accident and a survivor covered in blood limping home. The opening is a report from a 2014 event that ruptured the town. Researchers are discussing the events before the accident to try to understand what happened. The non-linear timeline moves back and forth between events before the accident and the research discussion. Maddy is the focus of everything that happened. She’s been forced by her father to hide her African American roots because he’s white and their community is extremely racist. One day she’s running in gym class when rain starts to fall. Her perfectly and intentionally straightened hair goes into its natural Afro state. Gossip starts, bullies taunt and her dad whips her for revealing her secret. The town has kept somewhat segregated and still holds a white prom separate from a black prom. After a “bullying Maddy” video goes viral, some students want to prove that the town isn’t racist by holding one prom, all inclusive. After a horrible joke and an even worse prank, Maddy’s true powers come out, practically decimating the town.
Extremely similar to Stephen King’s Carrie but with added racism. 4 stars.

Ethnicity:
Mostly white with black minority
Violence:
R for Father beating Maddy with a belt, baton beating skull, bloody mist, man shooting himself with gun, explosion, body parts missing and bodies scattered.
language:
R for 100+ swears, including 35 f-bombs.
Mature content:
PG-13, alllusion of sex with no details
Liles/dislikes:
Kenny fell in love with Maddy too conveniently and easily. Maddy’s so powerful but she stands by doing nothing, holding Kenny’s hand the entire time, while Officer Ross beats Kenny with his baton.
Also, the comment made that lumps all American citizens into people that don’t understand or are dumb is rude but partially true: “Comprehension is key, and that hasn’t exactly been mastered by the citizens of this country”. Overgeneralization but that does show the high extent of racism in the book’s community.
The build up of suspense was what I liked the most.

These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

A fantasy full of conflict!

A thief, Abriella, breaks into the vault of a man who became rich from selling females into prostitution. She only steals enough to carry so he won’t notice it’s missing. On her way home, Brie (Abriella) stops at a friend’s home to pay for the contract her daughter has just signed with the rich man. She did this to get medicine for her mother. Now Brie doesn’t have enough money to pay her rent to Madam V., her greedy, horrible aunt who makes Brie and her younger sister Jas live in a basement storage room. Brie and Jas also have to slave away taking care of the house and two spoiled cousins. When Jas is sold to the Fae King, Brie travels through a portal pretending to be one of the many human women wanting to marry the Fae Prince Ronan. She meets an intriguing Fae male that keeps showing up wherever she goes but then she’s caught by the king and finds out he took Jas as bait to get Brie’s help. The king wants Brie to steal artifacts from Prince Ronan’s court. She sees Sebastian where she never thought she would and runs from him because she’s surprised and angry. Once she comes to terms with who Sebastian really is, Brie realizes that she can use it to her advantage in finding the relics and getting Jas back. She does care for Sebastian and feels guilty for using him. The intriguing Fae male is Finn and she works with his group to stop the king. They help her with the shadow magic she has. Brie feels trapped and alone throughout the story because she doesn’t know if she can trust anyone but she perseveres to get Jas safe again.
I enjoyed reading this book because of Brie, the main character. She’s strong, resilient and will do anything to save her sister. The conflicting two main male characters make the story interesting, especially since they’re both vying for Brie’s attention. 5 stars for this fantasy full of conflict!

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor

Family and friends above all!

The prologue pulled me right in! Two sisters are trying to get an interview for jobs at the Hotel Magnifique. Jani watches over her younger sister Zosa, since she’s the only family she has left. Their mother died several years ago. Jani wants to go back to their homeland and they need money to travel there. Hotel Magnifique is stopping close by and Jani talks Zosa into interviewing for a job. Secrets surround the hotel and once they’re part of the workforce, they’re separated. Jani is desperate to find her sister and when she does, she’s horrified at how Zosa is being treated. Jani also digs for the truth about how the hotel is run and who’s in charge. Alistair is the lead magician but he’s hiding much and will do anything to protect what he’s gained. Danger builds and mysteries are cracked wide open as Jani tries to save her sister and eventually everyone that’s been used by Alistair for his greedy goals. Family and friends above all, 4 stars!

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye

Jam-packed with action!

A young woman is searching for evidence of her mother in unmarked graves. Sloane knows that the Nightwalkers are responsible for her mother’s disappearance and she wants the proof. She’s caught by a Nightwalker and attacked. She unleashes her Scion power to save herself and burns him to ash in the process. Her identity as a Scion has to be kept secret or the rulers will kill her. She runs home to her grandfather, Baba. He has news that one of her friends ran from the draft and was killed because of it. Now three more people will be sent draft letters. She’s one of them, along with her best friend Teo. Teo has saved money and planned for the two of them to run if they are drafted. He shows Sloane his plan but she knows he’ll get killed if they run. To get him to drop his plans, Sloane threatens to turn him in. He walks off. Sloane is drafted, along with her bully Malachi. Malachi hates Sloane and wants revenge on her because she accidentally killed his family in a fire that she started. As the story continues, Sloane discovers secrets about her mother, finds possible allies and learns that not everyone is as they seem or appear to be. She also has to lose some of her humanity and empathy to sacrifice and do her part in becoming a hardened soldier. So many surprises and twists pop up in this book, making it a fast-paced read that’s also jam-packed with action and acts of violence. Sloane’s world is brutal and she makes some horrible choices to stay alive. 4 stars!

The Rumor Game by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra

A cautionary tale!

A prime, fictional example of the harm rumors can do.
Bryn caused an accident out of anger and jealousy. The high school students have treated her harshly in person and online. She’s relieved when rumors start online about other students and their lives because it takes the attention off of her. She wants to use this chance to make things better. The story has much to learn from, such as never accepting food or drinks from anyone at a party because others might not be trustworthy; stay aware and alert at a party so you know what’s happening; photos can be taken out of context just like words, so don’t trust everything you see online; and there’s more than one side to every story. Full of diverse characters and very realistic, The Rumor Game is a cautionary tale. 4 stars!