Rock and a Hard Place

Rock and a Hard Place by Angie Stanton, Harper Teen, 2013. ISBN: 9780062272546. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


This is a briefer review than usual. I liked the characters and most of the plot. At times it got a bit too melodramatic and plot shifts were sometimes more abrupt than necessary. Still, I enjoyed it enough to start reading the sequel right after finishing this.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Baseball’s Best

Baseball’s Best. Written by Jennifer Rivkin. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

The best players in baseball are highlighted in this first volume of a four part series (Baseball Source).   Avid sports fans and other interested  readers will enjoy learning about gifted athletes, including: Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kersha, Buster Posey, Mike Trout and Derek Jeter.  Along with uncovering why these ball players are considered so great, readers will be able to analyze the player’s stats and learn facts about the player’s rise to fame.

Each one of these books offers an abundance of pictures, interesting facts and passages written in large, easy-to-read texts.  This four part series makes a nice addition to any sport fan’s private library and it is a good choice for elementary and middle school media centers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Grade K-3, Nonfiction

Take Back The Skies

Take Back The Skies by Lucy Saxon. Bloomsbury, 2014. ISBN: 9781619633674. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

take back

Imagine a young lady in a world that has both futuristic and archaic elements. That’s where Cat lives. Her mother, the loving parent, is sick most of the time, while her father, who is extremely cold and authoritarian, orders her around like a slave. He’s about to marry her off to a man she despises when she decides to escape by dressing as a boy and sneaking onto one of the sky ships at the docking area.

To complicate matters, there’s a war that has been going on for seven years that has decimated the army so much that thirteen year olds are now being conscripted. When Cat is discovered on a smaller freighter, it’s by a boy named Fox who is about her age. Cat learns that the crew are smugglers, but they bring food, medicine and needed goods to the poor on her world as a way of helping them survive as opposed to making a big profit. She soon finds herself feeling that the crew is more like a family than anything she’s ever experienced before. She also discovers that she has an aptitude for fixing and maintaining mechanical devices, something that’s very handy on a small vessel.

As she and Fox gradually realize how strongly their mutual attraction is, they work with the crew to expose the sham and lies behind the alleged war and the conscription which has nothing to do with an ongoing battle. The book ends in a rather shocking way. While having a lot of promise, the book falls quite short for several reasons. First, some situations get resolved so easily that they detract from the overall tension necessary to maintain the plot. There are inconsistencies in the overall world building that, while not detracting hugely from the story, do disrupt the overall flow. Finally, the ending isn’t one that sat well with me because it seemed quite out of character with everything Cat had done before it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

What You Left Behind

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi, Sourcebooks Fire, 2015. ISBN: 9781492614401. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

what you left behind

The teen years aren’t easy to navigate and honesty is often an elusive part of them. Ryden loved Meg beyond belief and thought they’d have something special, just like he believed he’d get a soccer scholarship to UCLA. Then several things happened. Meg got pregnant and refused to have an abortion, or even more importantly, have her next round of chemotherapy which might have saved her life. She died on the operating table while their baby girl, Hope, was being delivered via a C-section.

Now Ryden’s life is completely different. He’s a single dad, in deep grief over Meg’s death and struggling to hold everything together. He’s not about to let go of his soccer dream, even though money, time, a job and the demands of a baby are overwhelming.

He’s obsessed with learning who his own father is because he thinks that finding that out will somehow make him a better dad. Still, he has an amazing mother who supports him and helps care for Hope without trying to smother or control him.

When Meg’s sister Mabel, finds one of her sister’s journals with a list of three names in the back (hers, her sister’s best friend Alan, Ryden’s) with a checkmark in front of her name, she reads it and realizes that Meg must have left it for her to find and give to Ryan. When she does and he reads it, his perception of Meg and their relationship starts to change in unsettling and painful ways.

Complicating his life is an attraction to Joni who works with him at Whole Foods. She’s fun and things click between them. However, Ryden can’t get it together to tell her about Hope.

What happens as Ryden tries to find the missing journals, almost loses Joni and does lose some other important things, make for a story that’s impossible to put down. He has to grow up and it’s both painful and joyful to watch as it happens. I’ve read Jessica’s other books and like this, they’re compelling and amazing reads. While there is some strong language here, it’s appropriate and the quality of the story and its subject matter trump any concerns about profanity. I’d strongly encourage any school or public library to add this book to their collection

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Granddaddy’s Turn: A journey to the ballot box

Granddaddy’s Turn: A journey to the ballot box. Written by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein. Illustrated by James E. Ransome. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

This is a touching story set in the South during the Civil Rights Era.  This picture book describes the first trip an African-American boy and his granddaddy take to the ballot box.   As much as one would like the story to have an idealistic ending, the plot is actually quite complex and realistic.

Stylistically, this story is somewhat reminiscent of Patricia Polacco’s work. in that the storyline revolves around an important, compelling issue (voting rights).  There are engaging, true-to-life characters and a heart-felt ending that is meaningful (though not necessarily happily-ever-after).

I really enjoyed the telling of this story and would recommend the book to anyone seeking to teach young children about this key aspect of the Civil Rights journey in America.

Leave a comment

Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade K-3, Historical Fiction, Picture Book

Dead Ends

Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange, Bloomsbury, 2015. ISBN: 9781619630802. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

dead ends

Take two teen boys and add Down Syndrome, anger management issues, missing fathers and some pretty darn good dialogue, coupled with a ton of geography-related riddles and what do you have? The short answer is this book, but the more complete answer is you have an often funny, very appealing story about Dane and Billy who happen to live across the street from each other. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different. Dane is a high-achieving guy who has no clue who his dad is, has serious anger problems and he’s one detention away from getting kicked out, losing any chance of going to college and landing in the alternative program where most of the ‘crash and burn’ kids are. Billy, who just moved across the street with his angry and secretive mother, has Down Syndrome, but can hold his own when it comes to perverse logic or arguing. While he’s scared of other kids who have started to bully him, Dane’s angry attitude doesn’t seem to faze him in the slightest.

When the staff member in charge of discipline notices that Billy has attached himself to Dane, or at least is following him to school, he offers Dane a deal: Be Billy’s escort (read bodyguard) and as time progresses, detentions will magically disappear from his record. While Dane’s far from wild about the deal, something about the way Billy can turn things around when they’re arguing, leads to grudging respect and an odd sort of bond. While he’s adamant that he has no desire to learn who his father might be, he’s talked into helping Billy decipher the clues his dad left in an atlas. Billy’s convinced that if they can solve all of them, they will find his father.

Things get even more interesting when a waify, skateboarding girl named Seely who has not one, but two dads, neither of which are biologically related to her, enters the picture and starts helping them with the puzzles. It doesn’t take Dane long to start realizing that she’s unlike any girl he’s ever met and that there’s some attraction growing on both their parts.

It takes a crazy road trip as well as some bonding between Dane and Billy’s mothers to start the truth about Billy’s dad coming to the surface. By the end of the book, most readers will feel like they were sitting in the back seat during the ride. This is a neat and different look at bullying, how kids get to that point and what happens when they start looking in the figurative mirror. This is another book that deserves a place in most libraries where providing good real-life issue fiction for teens is important.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Share It!

Share It! Written by Azza Sharkawy. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin

This series focuses on the scientific method. It includes four different volumes: Observe It, Question It, Predict It, Share It.

In Share It, young readers will discover how to record and share observations about natural phenomena.  Readers will discover why scientists share, how to accurately display data through diagrams, bar and line graphs, charts, using sequence charts and venn diagrams, as well as how to write like a scientist and present one’s findings.

The book includes large photographs, bold print, large font, and short passages – ideal for budding young scientists.

The series is written at a guided reading level of L.

Leave a comment

Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade K-3, Nonfiction

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes, Dial, 2015. ISBN: 9780803740709. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

sacred lies

Imagine that your father’s addicted to gambling what little money he makes on horse races and your family lives in a dumpy trailer. When you’re five, a slick-talking preacher comes along and the next thing you know, your family is part of a secretive and very paranoid commune in the wilderness. This is how Minnow Bly’s life has gone, but things for her get much worse.

When this book begins, she’s in juvenile detention, the commune has been burned down, she’s suspected of having a part or knowledge of who killed the cult leader. Worst of all, she has no hands. They were chopped off by her own father under orders from the cult leader when she rebelled. Pretty awful lot in life for a teenager.

Told mostly in flashbacks and dialogue between her and an FBI agent who offers her a deal if she tells him who killed the cult leader, as well as her growing friendship with her cell mate Angel who is tough as nails, this is both bleak and seductive as you find yourself reading on to try and understand how and why someone would treat a young girl like this. When she tells what happened to her younger sister, you really get an insight into the level of insanity that surrounds cults like the one she was in. This isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a happy book, but it’s a really gripping and well done one. It reminds me of the YA Edgar nominated All The Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12


Snapshot by Angie Stanton, Harper Teen, 2013. ISBN: 9780062272560. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Second book in the series about three brothers who are teen rock stars, finds the youngest brother Adam hoping to disguise himself well enough to have a chance to be himself at a two-week photography camp. It works, but for a very short time. Lone enough, for things between him and Marti to become interesting. She’s been raised by her grandmother because her own mom is an unreliable drug addict. Her dad is a famous rock star, but he, too has failed her so often she wants nothing to do with him.

The romance between Adam and Marti is fun to follow, but like the first book in the series, I found some things overemphasized and a plot twist or two over the top. Still, I enjoyed the book and read it in one evening. It’s a good one for teens who like love stories, especially ones with a famous character as a protagonist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

The Stars Never Rise

The Stars Never Rise by Rachel Vincent, Delacorte Press 2015. ISBN: 9780385744171. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

stars never

No father, a drunken abusive mom and a society gone crazy and run by a church claiming to be the answer to the horrific worldwide wave of soul possession by demons. Add in a school system that’s more brainwashing than education, little choice about your life and the fact that for reasons that make almost no sense that same church decided you were inferior and sterilized you. This is the reality facing Nina Kane. The thing that she’s holding onto (I wouldn’t really call it hope) is her possible acceptance into the church as an acolyte with eventual full membership.

When her younger sister shares a shocking secret and their mother goes completely crazy, Nina’s fragile plan for the future is shattered. At the same time, a group of shadowy teens who claim to be real exorcists of demon souls and who tell Nina that the church is lying. Nina makes a quick decision to trust them. It doesn’t hurt that one of them, Finn, has eyes that pull her in and make her feel things she’s never experienced before.

The fast action, very dark and scary world and the secrets surrounding both Finn and what the church is REALLY up to make this a must have book for libraries where dystopian and paranormal fiction fiction is popular with YA readers and adults who love good YA fiction.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Supernatural