Holding Smoke – By Elle Cosimano

Holding Smoke Rating:

Note : I received an ARC of this book via Veronica’s blog giveaway. Do check out her lovely blog here.

Synopsis2John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time for two murders but he wasn’t the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke’s new home and the only one he believes he deserves.

But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they’re asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn’t care that the “threads” that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin-that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name. 

Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink’s help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he’s willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for.

My review I havent read too many YA books which just have that slight touch of paranormal. The few I have read recently have been disappointing especially a couple of them which are about mind-body-soul because the book somehow ends up reading like religious fiction instead of what was promised in the synopsis. Thankfully, Holding Smoke not just lives up to what is promised in the cover blurb, but also exceeds it by miles.

No aspect of the book threatens to eclipse the other – the murder mystery complements beautifully with the human stories of the inmates. That’s a rarity in mystery books with a sizeable secondary cast – where sub-plots often tend to test your patience and make you question their need. But here, you actually do enjoy and empathize with everyone – with all their background stories that have been added cleverly into the book through Conlan’s paranormal power. I loved all the prison scenes, there was no unnecessary amped up melodrama but yet it is so effective – whether it is the counseling sessions or the power play in the yard. I feel like this is probably one of the biggest strengths of the book – to never lose sight of the fact that this is a juvenile rehab and NOT an adult prison. No matter how “hardened” they might be because of the circumstances, their vulnerabilities as teens are always bubbling beneath the surface.

I loved how we got the background story of how Conlan ended up in the detention center. The author takes her time to build it up gradually – whether it is the details of the fateful day or nuggets from his earlier difficult years with his abusive father. Conlan’s life is a template of childhood degraded, a present devalued and a future lost – A future that had a college degree and a well-paying job.  This is also the story shared by a lot of characters at the center. Of course, if you are lucky you might have an empathetic warden or a counselor taking an interest in you and reinforcing the belief that you can finish your education and making something of your life once you get out. But no inmate seriously believes it.

There is no romance in this book. What Conlan and Pink have between them is more of a strained-friendship-with-romantic potential and that’s a good thing because both have a lot of things going on in their individual lives. Pink is practical and gosh – just so gutsy! Not some wannabe badass. Conlan initially seeks her out because he needs her help but later does start valuing her and respecting the life she leads. He also feels like he is losing out on someone important to him when turns her away at one point in the story. Despite his feelings for her, I liked how Conlan never turns reckless in using his paranormal ability just to meet her.

I really liked the murder mystery though I guessed the “who” halfway through the book. But I think it is more due to the fact that I have gotten pretty good at guesswork than anything else. I couldn’t guess the “why” though. I also liked all the red herrings the author used and explained in the final pages. The only issue I had is probably the presence of another girl – Vivian – in the story. I felt like the book didn’t really need her. I think any other existing character(s) could have contributed whatever she did to the story. But it is a pretty minor gripe and well, I understood why she was there once I read the Author’s Note in the end. (Do read that once you finish the book!!! You will find some great personal insights there.)

There is an epilogue that I felt was not required. I got my closure even without that. Well, with or without the epilogue, it was such a bittersweet conclusion and an immensely satisfying one.

[ARC Review] Dodgers – By Bill Beverly


Note : I received this ARC from the publishers via the Reading Room (https://www.thereadingroom.com/) giveaway program. Thank you Penguin Random House (Crown Publishing)!

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Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger. It is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East’s hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.
Written in stark and unforgettable prose and featuring an array of surprising and memorable characters rendered with empathy and wit, Dodgers heralds the arrival of a major new voice in American fiction.

My Review:
The story starts off on a pretty intriguing note – We are introduced to East, who is only fifteen and running a crew comprising other teenagers, all tasked with keeping watch outside a crack house and alerting its members in the event of an approaching police raid. East is employed by his uncle Fin, who owns many such houses, and when the house that East is supposed to watch, is discovered and raided, Fin sends East on another mission. East agrees, in an effort to redeem himself. He soon discovers that he is in for a very long roadtrip, and a harrowing one, from LA to Wisconsin, with his half-brother Ty, UCLA dropout Michael and a tech geek Walter.
The book is pretty descriptive and detailed in a lot of ways; in terms of how street gangs are run, the hierarchy and people. It was so unsettling to see boys who should be in school, being so comfortable and exposed to such a world. Ty sort of freaked me out, he seemed to be someone totally closed, cold and ruthless .. I had to keep reminding myself that he is just a thirteen year old kid! Beverly was pretty effective in communicating the ugly, cruel existence and reality of some lives, and how it is practically impossible to turn around or change their financial situation, especially with absent, irresponsible or weak parents. And then on the other side, you have the slightly older boys, Michael and Walter, who seem to be throwing away all the good things they have; choosing to make money this way than live honest crime-free lives.
There was one particular chapter, early on in the book, when my heart went out to East. We get a glimpse into the house he has to go back to, where he has spent his early years, with his mom and Ty. It is dirty, unkempt, the kitchen is empty, with ants scrambling and cold half-cooked eggs being the only thing available to eat. His mom seems to have shut herself off to what exactly her boys do out there in the real world, meekly takes the money handed by East, and tells him as goes out again “I know you ain’t in no trouble. My boys ain’t”. I also liked all the reflective bits where East is thinking back and wondering just what happened between him and Ty and whether there was a particular phase they drifted apart, or did any sort of kinship ever exist at all.
Despite some moments like these which stood out for its blunt and raw exposition, it just wasn’t enough. The descriptive and detailed narrative of East’s journey, both literal and metaphorical; ended up being this book’s weakness more than its strength. I found the pace too slow with a lot of repetitive and drawn out moments. I think I would have liked to see more of Ty, and more conversation between Ty and East. Michael irritated me as much as the boys, Walter was okay. Now that I look back, I can appreciate the book’s originality in terms of prose and narrative, but as a reading experience, by the time I finished the book, I was as exhausted as East was by the end of his LA-to-Wisconsin roadtrip.