Cover ArtRed. Written by Alison Cherry. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  The author of this book has incorporated an unusual and intriguing twist into her tale.  The story is set in a town that values redheads above all others.  In order to have any social ranking at all, you must be a vibrant redhead – and strawberry blonds need not apply!

The protagonist, Felicity St. John, has finally reached the age at which she can participant in her town’s annual beauty pageant. This is the very competition that her mother had won years before, and has been preparing her for since she was a little girl.  The trouble is that someone has discovered a long-hidden secret of Felicity’s and is threatening to reveal it to the world unless Felicity agrees to meet all of the blackmailer’s demands.

This novel is quite a page-turner, but due to language of an adult nature and sexual situations, I would recommend it for a more mature audience, grades 10 and up.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 10-12

I’m Glad I Did

I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil, Soho Teen, 2015. ISBN: 9781616953560. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

I'm glad i did

Take yourself back to 1963 (if you’re old enough…I was 15). Justive (JJ) Green was born to write songs, but can’t get her lawyer parents or her in-law-school older brother to believe her passion. They expect her to follow the family script and become one, too. When her parents issue an ultimatum-get a summer job in a week or she’ll be filing in mom’s office next week, she gathers her courage and applies for an intern position with Good Music, a song publishing company in the same building where her disgraced uncle (her mom’s brother) Bernie has an office. When she starts losing her courage in the elevator, she confides in Nick, the elevator operator, including telling him who her uncle is.
While she does well singing her two compositions during the interview, she’s told that her style isn’t modern enough. Convinced she’s failed, JJ returns home, resigned to the eventuality that she’ll have to follow the family script. When she gets a call telling her she’s been hired, her elation turns to suspicion that Nick might have spilled the beans to her uncle. It’s true, but despite her initial anger, JJ’s soon immersed in the action and intrigue of the song publishing world, even creating the melody and some basic lyrics to a song she hopes will catch her boss’s ear.
What follows is an excellent YA historical mystery that weaves her attraction to Luke Silver, a guy her age with emerald eyes that writes lyrics which seem to meld perfectly with her notes, as well as her friendship with a cleaning lady, Dulcie Brown who was once a top singer before drugs pulled her into the gutter. Dulcie loves JJ’s music and they form a fast friendship that is headed toward helping Dulcie make a possible comeback Together, JJ and Luke have to convince the cops that Dulcie’s death wasn’t suicide, navigate the prejudices of the times and decipher the disturbing evidence that Luke uncovers as he sorts through his late father’s (a contemporary of JJ’s uncle Bernie) papers.
This is a fascinating and extremely well-crafted story, one that teens who like history, romance or music will welcome with open arms. Cynthia Weil’s background as a song writer really helps make this book sound authentic. I highly recommend it for all school and public libraries.

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

Summer On The Short Bus

Summer On The Short Bus by Bethany Crandell. Running Press Kids, 2014. ISBN: 9780762449514. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

summer on

Cricket is the epitome of the self-absorbed, spoiled and insensitive teen. Her mom is dead and her dad has indulged her way too often. Too bad she’s unwilling and unable to appreciate any of her life realistically. When she goes too far with a party at the stable, it’s the final straw for Dad. He confiscates her credit cards, cancels her summer trip to Maui with her best friend and signs her up as a counselor at Camp-I-Can in the Michigan woods.

On the way there, driven by her father’s personal assistant (Dad has gone to Spain for a while), she wallows in self pity and imagines the horror of being around teens too lame to have a life. What if it’s a fat camp, she wonders as the trees get thicker and the cell phone bars disappear.

Rainbow, the woman running the camp seems to know more about her than she should, but Cricket is so wrapped up in herself that she doesn’t catch this for a while. Instead, she becomes totally freaked out when she discovers that most of the campers have Downs Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy. Between trying to come up with escape plans and opening her mouth to say the worst possible thing at the worst possible time, Cricket does a stellar job of upsetting people while making herself miserable.

Fortunately, she’s spoiled, but not unable to open her eyes and slowly discover how self-centered she really is and how, despite their being so different, the campers begin to grow on her. Of course, having a thing for good looking and caring Quinn, her fellow counselor certainly helps. By the time she’s on the hook to do the final with-parents-watching talent show, her way of looking at life, her family and the teens has undergone a major and very positive change.

It’s a bumpy, often painful ride, but the discoveries she makes end up being pretty rewarding. This is a very solid book about attitude change, family dynamics and what’s really important in life. I liked it a lot and recommend it as an addition to all school and public libraries.

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

The End of the World as We Know It

The End of the World as we know It by Iva-Marie Palmer, Hot Key Books, 2014. ISBN: 9781471402531. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

the end of the world as we know it

Sarabeth Lewis is smart but far from a popular teen. In fact, she has a journal that has mostly entries about things that she’ll never do or experience. Her twin brother Cameron is the opposite, extremely confident and popular. When she receives an invite to Queen Bee Teena McAuley’s annual biggest party of the year, aka the Casimir Pulaski Weekend Party, She knows she probably got it because Teena has the hots for her brother. Even so, she decides why not go. At least she’ll be less bored and have something to write about. Little does she know that Teena has an ulterior motive. The same is true for straight arrow Evan, stepson of a local minister who is pompous and a complete blowhard. Then there’s musician and druggie Leo who hooked up with Teena countless times over the summer, even though they’re about as opposite as they could get.

As each one arrives at the party, Teena cons them into going down to the huge basement which has a keypad and swipe-card lock. She plans to leave them down there for a few hours while the party is in full swing, but when she tries to get Evan to descend the stairs, Leo and Sarabeth are at the bottom. She’s angry and Leo’s holding the rarest and most expensive bottle in her father’s wine collection and is threatening to open it. Teena panics and by the time she realizes that she left the card in the lock, the door closes, she’s trapped with three angry classmates.

When Leo and Teena fight over possession of the rare wine bottle, he lets go and it crashes to the floor. The resulting explosion seems to be way more that any of them expect from a lousy bottle of wine. By the time they realize that something horrible has happened upstairs, everyone else at the party is either in bits and pieces or has disappeared, while the house is pretty much destroyed.

It’s a real challenge to get out of the basement, and an even bigger one to navigate around their mangled friends. Most of the cars are also destroyed, but the embarrassing pink van that Sarabeth got stuck driving to the party is intact. They head out, intent upon trying to find someone they can tell about the horrible mess that was Teena’s house a short while ago. Leo, who is a lot smarter than most think (Sarabeth had already figured that out as a result of them both being in the school orchestra), tells the others that aliens have invaded Earth, something he’s been expecting for a while. The others scoff until a horrific purplish creature with razor claws attacks them. End of disagreement about alien invasions.

What happens for the remainder of the book is funny, tightly crafted and entertaining as all get out. The Sarabeth, Leo and Evan have to learn how to get past being mad at Teena, learn to cooperate and figure out who is attracted to whom. All this while trying to decide what happened to everyone else in town and how to defeat the nasties, while rescuing the rest of the population. This book, if made into a movie might be described as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes meets Mall Rats. It’s witty, has a great plot and there are scenes, like the one at Toys R Us, that are brilliant. I really hope this book gets picked up by a lot of public and school libraries because it’s such a neat read.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Science fiction

Invaded: An Alienated Novel

Invaded: An Alienated Novel by Melissa Landers, Hyperion, 2015. ISBN: 9781423169499. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Do not read this until you have read Alienated. You might enjoy and understand this book, but you would be cheating yourself mightily. This picks up immediately following Cara and Aelyx’s flight from Earth to the ship just ahead of the angry mob that was intent upon killing Aelyx. As it opens, he has returned to Earth in an attempt to quell the anti L’eihr rioting and try to complete negotiations to create a cooperative agreement between the worlds.

Meanwhile, Cara finds herself not only trying to adjust to the new world’s religion and government, but deal with the ache caused by separation from the guy she loves. Nothing is easy for either of them. Aelyx has to deal with his own feelings of separation, while trying to come across as friendly and ‘human’. That would be hard by itself, but he also finds that there are those who are determined to kill him. In between dodging poisoned food, bombs and bullets, he has to navigate the subtle and confusing pathway of romance between two species that may share genetic material, but have evolved emotionally in totally different directions.

Cara has her hands full as well. Not only is she dealing with a completely different culture, but the whole planet is different, more shades of gray and brown that the rainbow of colors back on Earth. While some teens at the school are friendly, more are hostile and she must tread carefully to avoid some nasty traps set to incriminate her. Then there’s the small matter of Aelyx’s pet who resents her presence so much that he sneaks in and pees on her pillow.

When Cara is nearly hit by something that falls from the sky, she knows that what she saw wasn’t the meteorite everyone else insists it was. Coupled with strange goings on at the school, this propels her into digging into L’eihr history to see if she can figure out what actually happened thousands of years ago and whether some kids at the school aren’t what they seem.

This is an excellent second book with great romantic tension, not only between Cara and Aelyx, but some new characters as well. While most everything is nicely wrapped up by the end of the book, there’s ample room for another one. This (and the first book) are terrific choices for both school and public libraries. Teens who like well crafted science fiction with a healthy dose of romance will grab this in a heartbeat.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Science fiction

The Witch at the Window

Cover ArtThe Witch at the Window. By Ruth Chew. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. Initially published in 1984, I found this book to be stylistically unappealing.  The black and white illustrations are old fashioned, and the author’s choice of words, as well as the tone of the story, really date the book, but not in a desirable or charming way.

After reading it, I noticed that this is a “Stepping Stone Book” so it likely that a new reader may get some sense of satisfaction from being able to get through the 2-4 page chapters, but I must confess I had a difficult time doing so.

When I thought the story was about to get interesting (a witch peers in the children’s window, with her nose against the glass), the author fails to press this advantage. The witch takes on the form of a hovering bird and the story seems to stall. I wouldn’t recommend this book to most young readers because it suffers from a lack of any real excitement.

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Filed under Grade K-3

Nuts to You

Cover ArtNuts to You. Written by Lynne Rae Perkins. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. This somewhat slow moving, (albeit charming) tale of squirrels creates a wonderful reading experience. When Jed is snatched by a large bird, initially everyone (himself included) gives himself up for lost, that is until he is able to wriggle free and lands in another area of the forest, a place that he has never seen before.

Fortunately, TsTs (pronounced by creating two tongue-clicks) sees Jed fall and sets out with her friend Chai to rescue him. Along the way, they experience environmental danger, intrigue and adventure. Will the squirrels be able to find their friend before it is too late?

Young readers will enjoy this highly descriptive tale, told from the point-of-view of squirrels.  The black and white illustrations are lovely, funny and engaging. This a good read for those who have moved just beyond “beginners” chapter books and are looking for something a little more substantial. Time well spent!

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade K-3


Cover ArtPostive. Written by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

This book tells the compelling story of Paige Rawls and how the knowledge of her HIV condition virtually changed her middle-school years overnight. She went from being a popular, socially active student who loved school to a target of school bullies, not the least of which was her best friend.

The author tells a brutally honest tale of how bullying nearly destroyed her, and her journey back to a healthier place.  This book would be a perfect choice for a guidance-lead book club, or as part of a school media collection on “bullying”, because it invites teens to voice their own views on the matter, and/or to reflect on how people’s lives can be negatively impacted by these sorts of distructive experiences.

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

Find Me

Find Me by Romily Bernard, Harper Teen, 2013. ISBN: 9780062229045. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

find me

Wick Tate’s life has been pretty much a train wreck. Her father is a fugitive drug dealer and scammer who physically abused her and her younger sister Lily. Her mother couldn’t deal with things and killed herself by jumping from a building four years ago. Wick has learned not to trust anyone because she’s been let down too often. She deals with stress by hacking, a skill her father and his scary partner in crime, Joe taught her. In fact, she’s so good that she’s making money digging into various internet sources for women who believe their husbands and boyfriends might be cheating on them. Wick’s saving as much as she can so she can take Lily someplace safe.

The two girls are living with Todd and Bren, a financially successful couple who are unable to have children. Lily feels comfortable, but Wick’s naturally distrusting of everyone. That sense is exacerbated by the stealthy nighttime visits to their home by a cop named Carson. Wick tells Lily he’s after their dad, but worries that he knows about her hacking skills and is trying to bust her.

When the diary of Wick’s former friend Tessa shows up on her doorstep after Tessa supposedly committed suicide by jumping from a third story ledge, the words “Find Me” are written across the cover. Numerous pages are missing, but when Wick starts reading what is there, she begins to suspect that Tessa might have been murdered by someone older that she was having an illicit relationship with.

When Wick starts using her hacking skills to find out who left the diary and who Tessa was involved with, she is surprised by not only who left the diary, but what else that person tells her. Then, her classmate Griff, who is her computer lab partner, starts helping her as well as falling for her. Trusting him is hard, letting herself believe he really likes her is harder. When her father reappears and forces her to help with his latest scam, Wick gets another surprise, but it pales in comparison to the one when she begins to unravel the web of concealment Tessa’s abuser created.

Romily Bernard does an above average job of creating false trails as you are pulled along by Wick and Griff as they try to figure out who the bad guy is. The ending is a dandy one that had me flipping pages at warp speed. I’ve already ordered the sequel. This is an excellent choice for school and public libraries that like to add quality mysteries to their teen holdings.

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

The Geography of You And Me

The Geography of You And Me by Jennifer E. Smith. Poppy, 2014. ISBN: 9780316254779. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

geography of you

I was thoroughly entranced by the author’s first book, The Comeback Season, when I read it seven years ago. I had high hopes for this one after reading This Is What Happy Looks Like last year. I am pleased to report that I wasn’t at all disappointed by this book. In fact, I read it in one afternoon and it left a smile on my face as I imagined where the two main characters were going in the future.

Lucy, youngest of three children, has lived on the 24th floor of a New York high rise all her life. Her father is a high powered banker and he and her mother travel abroad frequently. In fact they’re overseas when Lucy gets stuck in an elevator during a massive power outage. Trapped with her is Owen, a year older, who recently moved to NYC from Pennsylvania when his grieving dad has been offered the position as building superintendent by a cousin. Lucy had noticed Owen coming and going over the previous week and had formed an initial opinion. However, being trapped in a dark elevator lends a bit of magical intimacy to their face to face meeting.

Their conversation leads to a spark of attraction that builds once they’re freed. Lucy has never seen stars, so Owen, who ‘borrowed’ his dad’s keys and made a copy of the one that let him access the roof, takes her up there and they end up talking most of the night.

When she wakes, he’s gone and, as the day goes on, she realizes how much she hopes to see and talk to him again. This possibility is made quite difficult when the power comes back on as her parents insist that she fly to London so they can be certain she’s all right. Meanwhile, Owen’s father, who had gone to Coney Island to leave flowers at the place where he first met Owen’s mom who died in an auto accident a year ago, had to walk almost the entire way back and is both dehydrated and exhausted. In fact, he’s so wiped out that Own has to do most of the repair work on the pumps in order to get adequate water flowing again.

It would be easy for both teens to dismiss their night together as a fun, but one time thing, but as hard as it seems to do otherwise, both of them can’t let go of what might happen if they could meet again. Unfortunately, Lucy’s father gets a promotion to Edinburgh, while Owen’s dad loses his job when a loose valve lets water leak all over the basement of the building. He and Own take off in their old car, heading west, hoping to find a little peace and a new job.

At first, Owen and Lucy keep in touch through quirky messages on postcards, but whenever he tries to send her an e-mail, he freezes up. Distance takes its toll and both of them find someone they initially think might fill the void created after that night.

How they come to realize that no one else is going to fill the need or satisfy the hunger that has been building for each other, coupled with how they finally get back together makes for a dandy and totally feel-good love story. This is a great book for any library that cares about offering teens a great reading experience. It’s also a perfect read for anyone who believes that a chance meeting can become something that just might last a lifetime.

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