City of Ghosts & Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Genre: Middle grade horror
Secondary genre: fantasy/paranormal
Format: hard back, audio
Series: Cassidy Blake vol. 1 & 2
CW: child death
Rep: mixed race
Ratings: 5/5 & 4/5

Cassidy stand in between the living and the dead. When she was eleven, she nearly drowned and was saved by a ghost. Now, a year later, the ghost is her best friend and she continually finds herself facing situations and people that shouldn’t exist–at least not in this time, on this plane.

Just to make things better, her parents are paranormal investigators. When they are offered a chance to film an international show about hauntings, they decide to take Cassidy–and by extension, the ghostly Jacob–with them. Now the Blake family is traveling the world in search of it’s most haunted locations.

Book one is set in Edinburgh, where Cassidy meets Laura, a half-Indian girl who is also stuck “in between.” Laura teaches Cassidy more about her powers and how to use them–both the good and the bad. But Laura’s help might not even be enough when Edinburgh’s most dangerous spirit sets her sights of Cassidy.

All I can really tell you about book two is that it deals with the catacombs of Paris, and involves an extremely powerful poltergeist.

I really liked this series. I love Cassidy and her quirky family. Jacob is a sweetheart who tries so hard to keep Cass on the straight and narrow, but it doesn’t usually work. She’s a clever girl who keeps getting herself into dangerous situations, but she’s always trying to help people, and she’s very brave.

I loved these books and really look forward to a third book in the series.

If you love history and a good ghost story, you’ll probably love these books, too.

Pretty Little Killers by Daleen Berry

Genre: nonfiction crime
Secondary genre: contemporary history
Format: audio
CW: violence, drug use
Rating: planchet-4

What drives two teenage girls to commit murder?

Even more shocking, what would drive them to stab their best friend over a dozen times?

This book delves into the disturbing case of Skylar Neese, a teen girl who vanished in 2012. She was missing for five months before one of her best friends finally confessed: Skylar was murdered the same night she went missing.

Starting with the background of how the girls met and the society they grew up in, the story tracks the three girls as they finish middle school and start high school, and the complex and warped turns their relationships take. Could the crime have been prevented? If people had been more willing to come forward, or paid more attention, would Skylar still be alive? If the police had been more careful, would her killers have been caught sooner?

It sounds strange to say I “enjoyed” this book, but it was a very compelling read, and extremely thorough.

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

Genre: Detective/Police fiction
Format read: ebook
Series: Rizzoli & Isles vol 9
Content warnings: violence, racist slurs, child abuse, violence against children
Rep: Asian American (multiple)
Rating: planchet-3

I started reading this series ages ago because of the tv show, though the two are vastly different. Since then I’ve fallen out of love with the show, and I think my love for this series has pretty much run its course, though this was a really good book. It just failed to grip me.

When an apparent hit woman turns up dead in Boston’s Chinatown, Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case. Working with ME Maura Isles, her partner, Dave Frost, and newcomer Detective Tam, the team set out to track down who the woman is, who she’s after, and how it all connections.

What they uncover is a 19 year old apparent murder-suicide in a Chinese restaurant. But further digging shows it might not be as straightforward as all that. But with the closed-off nature of Chinatown, how can Rizzoli get anyone to talk about it?

The story in this was great, but I’m just not crazy about the characters anymore. I’ve never liked the book version of Rizzoli very much, and Maura isn’t much better. If you are fan of female-centric detective stories, then I do definitely recommend the series–I think it’s up to 12 books and counting?–I’m just not in love with it anymore, sadly.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth

Genre: Cultural Anthropology
Format read: Audiobook
Rep: Scandinavian (various)
CW: Ethic based humor
Rating: planchet-4

We have all heard that the Scandinavians are the happiest people on earth, the most satisfied. They have the best healthcare, the best education, etc, etc. They’re even experimenting with a guaranteed universal income.

But is it all true? Is the grass really greener, the snow really whiter? What’s it really like to live in this mysterious cluster of quite, frost-bitten countries with their absurdly high taxes?

Michael Booth is a sarcastic British ex-pat, with a Danish wife. The two of them live in Amsterdam, which Booth uses as a jumping off point to visit Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland.

In this book he looks and the good and the bad about each of these countries, and the personal freedoms citizens have given up–willingly or unwittingly–for the level of security they enjoy in their homelands, poking fun at the bad, including age-old rivalries and stereotypes, and celebrating the good.

Considering the extent of my knowledge of Nordic countries was limited to the Kirsten books I read as a child and a single subtitled movie about Kristina of Sweden, I basically went into this book blind, and honestly that just made it more enjoyable. I’ve added a couple of unexpected places to my travel wish list. If you are curious about how a polite, socialist society works, then this is definitely worth a read.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Genre: YA Contemporary (Well, historical, now. 1990s)
Format read: audiobook
Content Warnings: mental illness/depression, mentions of abuse, rape, suicide and drug use.
Rep: LGBT, mental health
Rating: planchet-3

When we talk about mental health rep in YA, up until just a few years ago The Perks of Being a Wallflower was held up–is still often held up–as the best or only example.

Thankfully, we have more options now.

Charlie is starting high school. And through a strange set of circumstances that are never really explained, he decides it’s a good idea to start writing letters to someone who doesn’t know him, telling them his deepest, darkest feelings. 🤨

A few days into the school year, this shy, quiet kid makes friends with a group of seniors, and is drawn into a much more mature world than he expected. This is perhaps best illustrated when he reads a poem to all of his friends. It’s very obviously a suicide note, but the subtext goes completely over Charlie’s head, leading to several moments of very awkward silence in the middle of a party.

It’s hard for me to describe a plot for this book, because it feels more like a series of smaller stories that are interlinked; a slice-of-life book about a 15 year old boy.

The thing about this book is that the one theme running through it all is that all of the kids are abused in some way–emotional, physical, psychological. Which is important to show, but I would have like to see one person with normal, healthy relationships.

Which is another thing–Charlie’s relationships with his friends struck me as very odd. He’s often a passenger, rather than an active participant, though he does mention in his letters he’s trying to fix that. But it still felt like the power balance between him and his two best friends and his eventual girlfriend is way off.

The book put me in mind of My So-Called Life, which makes sense as it deals with a lot of similar issues in the same time period. It also made me think of The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider.

I think, more than anything, this book highlighted how much things have changed in the last *mumble mumble* years. At the time this book came out, I wasn’t even in elementary school yet, but so many things that were normal and acceptable back then are no longer viewed that way, like the toxic masculinity surrounding Charlie at home, and the behaviors some of the characters exhibit.

I still have divided feelings about this book, so it’s hard to give it a proper rating, or even to decide if I should recommend it. I think there are a lot of important things in this book, but I also think that we can do better.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: audiobook
Rep: POC (asian), mixed race
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before vol. 2
Rating: planchet-3

After faking a relationship for several months in book one, Laura Jean and Peter are finally, officially, a couple.

However, their obstacles are not over yet. They have definitely succeeded in making Peter’s ex jealous–as evidenced when spreads a video of Peter and Laura Jean making out in a hot tub on a school trip. Despite their best efforts to get the video taken down, it keeps showing up in unsurprising places, leaving Laura Jean humiliated.

When she gets a response to her one missing letter from the previous semester, she rekindles a friendship she thought was gone forever. Peter, however, is jealous. Worse, he can’t understand why Laura Jean gets so angry when he spends so much time with his ex–and then lying about it.

With their fledgling relationship on the rocks, Laura Jean escapes into her volunteer work at a local retirement home, where the ladies are always happy to see her, offering advice on dealing with boys, and are more than willing to set her up with their grandsons.

When one of those grandsons shows up unexpectedly, sparks will definitely fly. But will they be romantic, or just friction?

The Laura Jean books are so cute and sweet. I do have a bit of a problem with some of the things in them–like the jealousy issues, and the fact that apparently Peter’s “best quality” is his face.

This book delves a lot into Laura Jean’s insecurities with sex and her attitudes about it. At times I think it got a bit obsessive, but maybe that’s just because I’m not sixteen. Personally, I think Laura Jean can do better than Peter, though he was very sweet in the way he tried to protect her in this book.

While this isn’t my favorite series, it does evoke some of the feelings I got from Fangirl, which is one of my favorite contemporaries of all time. I guess I have a soft spot for insecure teenage girls.

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: hard copy
Content warning: extreme diets
Rep: POC (S. Korean), mental illness (anxiety)
Rating: planchet-4

Lucky is a K-Pop superstar, and she’s 48-hours from her career skyrocketing into entirely new territory: she’s about to debut on an American late-night now, an honor few Korean pop stars see. If all goes well, she’ll go from being one of the most popular solo artists in a tiny country to being an international hit.

But Lucky can’t manage the enthusiasm everyone else has for the show. She’s supposed to be grateful, but as she sits in her hotel room after another exhausting show, it occurs to her that as much as she loves singing and performing, her passion for being “Lucky”, the pink-haired, 5’10” phenomenon known for her thigh-high silver stiletto boots, has waned in the past several years. Everything is routine.

It starts out as a simple quest: a hamburger. Shouldn’t be too hard to find at 11pm in one of the busiest cities in the world, right? Lucky sneaks past her handlers and security and out onto the lively Hong Kong streets. But one thing she doesn’t account for are her anxiety and sleeping pills kicking in at just that moment, leaving her dazed and apparently drunk, sleeping on a bus.

Jack, a Korean-American photographer who has been living in Hong Kong since high school, finds Lucky passed out on said bus. He doesn’t recognize her at first, but can’t seem to leave the poor drunk girl wandering around in her hotel slippers alone. Afraid she’ll run into trouble, he tries to take her back to the hotel but instead ends up following her around the city as her drugged brain leads her from one shiny object to another.

When she finally passes out for good, he takes her back to his apartment so she can sleep off whatever is in her system. It’s then that Jack, who moonlights for a tabloid, realizes “Fern,” the drunk girl he picked up on a city bus, is really Lucky.

Both of them are looking for escape. Once their paths cross, adventure follows as Jack shows sheltered Lucky around the city he calls home.

I loved every single page of this book. It helps that I’m a big fan of K-pop myself, and there was a lot of the culture behind the media in just the first few pages: the expectations to be grateful, to work hard, to always be perfect, both in appearance and behavior.

If you were a fan of the Laura Jean series, this is a good step up, straddling the line between YA and New Adult (the romance is light and doesn’t go very far; I’m referring more to the age group NA is aimed at). If you’ve ever questioned your path in life, then this is a must-read.


Slam! by Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish

Genre: sports
Format read: graphic novel
Series: Slam! vol 1
Rep: POC (multiple)
Rating: planchet-4

**This review contains spoilers**

In this graphic novel series, 2 very different young women try out for their local roller derby league and become best friends.

I loved the concept, and the artwork, which is well done and uses a somewhat limited color pallet.

Jen is a grad student with her life all worked out. Maisie is just coming out of a bad breakup and looking to get back on her feet and rebuild her confidence. The two of them meet at try outs and instantly hit it off. By the time selections are made, even their cats are good friends! (It’s super cute.)

But just as derby is helping get Maisie back in control of her life, Jen’s starts to spin out of control. On separate teams, they start seeing less and less of each other. It finally blows up on the track.

This story of friendship made me smile from beginning to end. I did think the story telling was a bit choppy, but that might have been because of the way it was published (I don’t know if this was originally a graphic novel or if it came out in issue format or as a webcomic). I did like the story and I loved the way they came back together in the end.

If you’re into derby, or just looking for more female-centric comics, then this is definitely one you should check out.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: audiobook
Content Warnings: mental illness/suicidal ideation (triggering)
Rep: POC (Turkish), mental illness
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains spoilers**

Okay, I’m just going to lay it out this: In this book, 2 depressed teenagers make a suicide pact because they both want to die, but are scared to do it alone.

I knew this book dealt with mental health, but that’s basically all I knew about it going in.

Aysel’s father ruined her life when he got arrested for murder two years ago. Now her entire Kentucky town hates her for what he did.

Even more, Aysel hates herself. Her father suffered from mental illness (it’s implied to possibly be bipolar disorder, but ever specified; he was undiagnosed until his arrest), and Aysel feels herself capable of the same erratic and violent behavior. With no future ahead of her she determines to end her life before anyone can get hurt. Ignored by her mother and her step family, friendless, she feels the world is better off without her.

Online, she meets Roman, a boy her age from the next town. The two of them set a date for the act. Roman holds his cards close to his chest, unwilling to divulge much of his life or why he wants to die so badly. But in order for their plan to work, the two of them need to convince his mother that he’s “better,” reaching out and making friends so he’ll be able to get out of the house when the time comes.

And that’s all I’m willing to write about the plot. As someone who has struggled with depression for most of her life, and long periods of suicidal thoughts and self harm, this book was triggering to read. At times, I thought the rep was really good–depression has manifested differently for each of them; sometimes as sadness, lethargy, numbness, or anger. No one ever judged their sadness or deemed it unworthy.

BUT. My problem comes about 3/4 of the way through the book. And this is where the spoilers start.

As their partnership turns into friendship, Aysel starts to fall for Roman. When she finally realizes this, suddenly she wants to live again. All of a sudden she realizes her family has been reaching out to her the whole time. She signs up for a science program at the encouragement of her teacher.

She doesn’t reach out and meet new friends, or form tighter bonds with her family. Her annoying sister is still super annoying and rude. She has one heart-to-heart with her mother that somehow fixes all the tension and distance that has been between them since Aysel was a year old and her mom walked out and remarried. Aysel becomes convinced she can use her love to save Roman’s life.

This is a prime example of a character being “saved” by “twue rrove.”


I hate it when this happens in fiction. This is not how depression works. It’s not how love works, either. Yes, it’s important to feel loved. To have connections. But it doesn’t suddenly fix everything or make depression go away overnight. While I did like Aysel and Roman as a couple, the whole situation just pissed me off.

Up to that point, I would say the book had good rep for mental health, but the ending means I can’t rate this book higher or recommend it for those suffering from depression.

As for the Turkish rep…Aysel is 1st generation Turkish-American. Her father was a murderer, and her mom walked out and has done everything she can to distance herself from her roots. The only thing recognizeably Turkish about Aysel and her upbringing is her name.

Realistic? Yeah. I know there are a lot of people who have come to the US with the intention of shedding their past wholesale. But is this good rep? As a white woman born to a family that has largely been in the US since the 1600s, I’m not the one to make that call. If you’ve read this book, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

From Twinkle With Love by Sandhya Menon

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: audiobook
Rep: POC (multiple ethnicities), mixed race, LGBT
Rating: planchet-4

Twinkle is a self-described wallflower–a “groundling.” While she has trouble stringing two words together at school, she dreams of one day being a filmmaker. Alas, her youtube channel has a total of seven subscribers–four of them are porn bots, and three of them are accounts her grandma created because she kept forgetting her password.

In addition to directing movies that change lives, she also dreams of joining the “silk feathered hat” group at school, the group of popular kids that includes her crush, Neil, and her former best friend.

When someone suggests she make a film for the school’s annual summer event, Twinkle isn’t keen on the idea until Sahil–Neil’s twin brother–offers to help. A certified film critic, he knows how movies are made and plots work, and together they hatch a plan to create a gender-bent Nosferatu film to showcase at the big event. The film will be seen not only by the people with money and influence in the area, but also news crews, college scouts, and others that have the potential to change Twinkle’s life. Unless she gets a full ride, her chances of going to film school are non-existent; her family just can’t afford it.

Luckily, Sahil has the passion, talent, and cash to get the ball rolling on the film, and the two of them are soon working closely. So closely, in fact, that Twinkle’s crush starts to shift from one brother to the other.

But Twinkle has a secret she can’t tell Sahil: She suddenly has a secret admirer, and he shares and  initial with Sahil’s brother, Neil. Considering the deep rivalry and hurt separating the brothers, it would crush Sahil if he found out.

This is the second book by Sanhya Menon I’ve read, and I love her work. From diverse casts to quirky family members, she brings life as an Indian American teen into living color. For me, growing up in Super White, Nowhere, Ohio, it’s a drastic change from both how I spent my formative years and what I read now, and I love it.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book came near the end, and was relatively minor:

As things start to get rocky, as they tend to do near the climax of any book, Twinkle handles some situations poorly, and has to apologize to her friends and family. In each and every case, she apologizes very casually, and then the other person accepts the apology and offers their own for doing whatever they did wrong in the same situation. This happened with both teens and adults.

Should the world work this way? Absolutely. Does it? Hell no. Part of me wanted to see just one person snap back at her, especially since one of those apologies felt very out of character to me. Usually when I find myself apologizing to someone, they take it as their due and don’t offer any sort of apology in return, even if they were also wrong or behaved badly.

Yes, I am probably surrounded by assholes. But I also just found it really unrealistic that  a group of teenagers would be that forthcoming. But that’s just my own opinion of the situation, and it could certainly be taken as an aspirational sort of thing, to show the way people should behave.

Regardless, though, I am definitely looking forward to getting my hands on Something about Sweetie.