Book Reviews

Engaging Holding Smoke

NetGalley delivers digital galleys, often called advance reading copies, or ARCs, to professional readers and helps promote new and upcoming titles. Professional readers–reviewers, media, journalists, bloggers, librarians, booksellers and educators–can join and use NetGalley at no cost.” Netgalley is a special section of my book discussions where I post reviews of the digital books I read through this service. It’s quite amazing the gems you can find. I’ve yet to regret reading a book, even if I don’t like it…

Holding Smoke

John Conlan is serving time for two murders at a juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, that of his English teacher and another boy who caught him at the scene. “Smoke,” as his reputation has nicknamed him, trades in information, information he obtains by leaving his body at night and ghosting around the area spying. When he meets Pink he starts to believe he may be able to figure out who really killed his teacher.

His back history was quite superior in its execution. I really loved the relationship with the teacher and how she was scared to take the natural next step. How bold and brave of her! I loved the deal with the books and how he held onto them until the end. Even his connection to Pink allowed him to tell us about the teacher in such an organic way. And the explanation made sense about his ability and I loved the flashbacks that explained it all!

I didn’t know if I would like his astral projection ability or not but I loved how the author showed us how it works and I found it incredibly inventive how John used it to help himself in the Y. I loved how he met Pink and her initial reaction to having his hang around her. Really the entire setup was really well done, tight while also establishing the story elements that would carry the future plot. I loved the two guards that would seriously effect John’s life and that we got to see the Warden and his daughter intersect with the story. The other boys in the Y were well setup and while some like Ben were rather contrived I also felt like it was totally possible. For them to be in the same cell made sense as John defended the boy initially, logically the Warden would see pairing them up as a good thing.

John and his narrative though really made the story for me. All good plot aside, if a character, especially a teenaged character feels contrived or shallow it makes for a ho-hum story. I totally bought into John and his back history. I got that he was a bit hardened and uncertain who he could and should trust and if by doing to he’d really make a mess of things. I loved how everything that happened felt like it happened through his eyes and whether telling or showing didn’t really matter (but let me say much of it was showing!) I really was quite a superior narrative.

The mystery should have been really obvious to me but really it wasn’t. Since John himself was just following the clues it felt really organic for me to make the same mistake he did. Since I guess the twist most times this was particularly a happy point to me! You could totally put together the mystery though yourself. Several character references should have come in to play and alerted the reader! I liked how both Pink and the Warden’s daughter came to intersect with the story. I do wish Pink had played a bigger part but John was in prison and she was working. Really it was quite balanced as far as secondary character usage and having enough points to not feel thin!

As far as the end, end goes I’m not really a fan. The epilogue was really odd and John’s choice was totally at odds with what should have happened. Still I understand that the author didn’t want to tie everything up with a neat little bow. We still got a happy ending in my mind with how things ended up with Pink! And I like that John talked to the Warden about his daughter’s worries. I didn’t penalize my rating due to my disagreement with the end because really it could have happened that way. John had a history of not making the best choices but simply reacting the best way he could in the moment. I can appreciate that he kept true to his character all the way to the end!

BOTTOM LINE: A great light is shone on the juvenile prison system in a very engaging way!

Thanks to NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for removing the archive date so I could download it!!


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