Category Archives: Fiction

A Madness So Discreet

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis, Katherine Tegen Books, 2015. ISBN: 9780062320865. Reviewed by John R, Clark, MLIS.


If ever there was an innocent victim, Grace Mae would fit the description. Older daughter of a wealthy and prominent Boston family, she finds herself pregnant (by her own father)and locked away in an insane asylum. She’s to remain until after the child is born, then return home where she’ll be expected to act as though nothing happened. The experience has left her so shocked, she’s ceased speaking.

When her voice returns during a violent outburst, she’s banished to the dark cellar where she befriends a brilliant but insane doctor. It’s that friendship that saves her as he convinces another doctor to spirit her from the asylum after her death has been faked instead of performing a chilling operation.

They flee to a far more humane asylum in Ohio, where she settles in as a mostly mute inmate and the doctor treats the patients. However, he has a fascination with criminal psychology and solving murders. Grace’s sharp mind and observation skills make her the perfect assistant.

How a young woman who has experienced such treatment with literally no recourse, given the times, could find some sense of peace and meaning makes the story very compelling. To go into more detail might spoil what is a riveting and intense tale. Yes, it’s dark and there is violence, but both are integral to the story. Teens and adults who like mystery and historical fiction with riveting characters will enjoy this book a lot.


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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Runaway Egg

The Runaway Egg written and illustrated by Katy Hudson, Random House, 2017. ISBN: 9780553523195. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


A fine example of getting a message across while entertaining early readers. Little chick is asked by Mother Hen to watch his unhatched baby brother while Mom goes on an errand. Chick agrees, grumpily, as he can’t imagine what the deal is about watching an egg. He dozes off and wakes not long after to see legs sticking out of the egg. What follows is a madcap chase through the barnyard areas where other animals live as Chick desperately tries to catch up with the egg that has legs.

Older siblings will enjoy the colorful chase while (hopefully) absorbing the message that they’re important and can help in the care of younger brothers and sisters.

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Filed under Fiction, Preschool

Don’t Kiss the Messenger

Don’t Kiss the Messenger by Katie Ray, Entangled Publishing, 2017. ISBN: 9781544236797. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

dont kiss

What happens when a traumatic accident creates an emotional prison you believe will hold you forever? That’s CeCe Edmonds’ reality. She and her mom were hit by a drunk driver when she was little and the resulting scar that runs from her forehead to the corner of her mouth is what she believes everyone sees first. Maybe, but someone completely unexpected is able to see the amazing person behind it, although neither realizes it at first. Football quarterback Emmett Brady has his own locked away pain, in his case, the death the previous year of his dad.

When they meet, as literature critique partners, neither can imagine where that meeting will lead them. CeCe’s a star volleyball player and when her new transfer teammate Bryn DeNeuville, catches Emmett’s eye, Bryn panics. She’s never had to talk intelligently to a guy she likes. After coercing CeCe into texting and emailing Emmett while pretending to be her, things become an awkward mess. The more CeCe and Emmett go back and forth, the more they realize how they spark each others passions, but only one knows who the players are.

Emmett loves music as much as football and is struggling to create an original song for his performance class. Guess where the inspiration comes from? Watching the whole convoluted situation unravel, in part thanks to some wise and quirky secondary characters, makes for a very enjoyable read. This sits on the edge between YA and NA romantic fiction and is equally appropriate for either collection in a library.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Stealing Kevin’s Heart

Stealing Kevin’s Heart by M. Scott Carter, Roadrunner Press, (November 13, 2012). ISBN: 9781937054069. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

Stealing kevins Heart

Alex and Kevin were the unlikeliest of best friends, one nerdy, artistic and Jewish, the other burly and a jock. They bonded when Kevin’s family moved into the house next to where Alex lived, sharing chicken pox, teen insecurity and jokes as they grew older. A year ago, they got motorcycles. One fateful day, Kevin talked Alex into skipping and going biking. Alex watched as a drunk driver hit Kevin’s bike and he died.

The guilt and grief of losing his best friend overwhelmed Alex, so much so that he cut himself off from the world, gave up on school and scared his family. Scared them so much, they forced him to go from his home in Stillwater to a wilderness camp for troubled teens in southwestern Oklahoma.

The last thing Alex expects to meet is someone like Rachel. She’s sweet and insightful, doesn’t seem depressed and won’t let him blow her off. The more he’s around her, the harder it is for him to stay angry and sad. When her evil ex-boyfriend, Danny, attacks her, Alex discovers them and fights Danny off. It’s a turning point in his painful journey back to life.

Readers will figure out early on what the unspoken connection between Kevin, Alex and Rachel is, but that hardly matters. Watching the two teens connect and figure out what they mean to each other is the important part. Teens who have suffered a devastating loss, like a really nice romance or who like stories with strong emotional components are going to like this one a lot.

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

In a Perfect World

In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Simon Pulse (May 23, 2017). ISBN: 9781481479882. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

in a perfect world

Caroline Kelly is pumped for the summer between her junior and senior years of high school. She’ll be working at Cedar Point Amusement Park with her best friend Hannah and should have plenty of time to spend with her boyfriend of three years, Oliver.

Everything changes in a heartbeat when her mother gets a long desired opportunity to open an eye clinic in Cairo, Egypt. Since Dad works a two week on, two week off schedule on an east coast barge, there’s no way Caroline can stay put, so it’s off to Cairo, not only for the summer, but for her senior year. Doing so means breaking up with Oliver as well as losing her best friend, at least temporarily.

Despite understanding her Mom’s need to do this and having a solid family behind her, the change is really hard at first. Caroline’s upset and often angry at the way men look at her on the street and the language difference, not to mention the extreme heat and poverty, are unsettling. She’s also required to be driven most places by Mr. Elhadad, the man hired by her parents. When he becomes ill and is temporarily replaced by his teen son Adam, Caroline not only has an intriguing new opportunity to explore Egyptian culture and history, but realizes that despite language and religious barriers, there’s something real developing between them.

Reading how that plays out, especially against the political and family backgrounds makes this not only a mesmerizing experience, but one that does an impressive job of portraying how teen attraction can work in a sea of opposing forces. Trish Doller does a great job of exposing readers to a different culture and the challenges spending time in it poses, not only for Caroline, but for her family. It’s darn good romance that also allows readers to absorb cultural differences and challenges without preaching or overselling. It’s an excellent choice for school and public libraries.

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

Alex, Approximately

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Simon Pulse (April 4, 2017). ISBN: 9781481478779. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Can a love of movies be enough to sustain a romantic relationship? That’s part of what alternately thrills and scares Bailey Rydell. She chose to stay put with Mom when her parents divorced, but after a year watching her mother and step-father fight, she’s ready to brave moving to the California coastal town Dad now calls home. It doesn’t hurt that Alex, her online crush and fellow movie geek lives in the same town, but Bailey’s a bit of a coward. She’s afraid of meeting Alex in person, so she makes the move without telling him.

Dad insists she get a summer job, so she ends up working at the Cavern Palace, a mansion and cavern turned into a tourist trap. Dad also provides a restored Vespa scooter for her to get around town and to work. Her job comes with some interesting people. There’s surfer Porter Roth, a security guard that irritates her from day one, Grace her feisty co-worker in the ticket booth, and an elderly hippie named Pangborn who grows on his younger co-workers.

Meanwhile, Grace is going back and forth online with Alex, stalling about confessing she’s already in town while trying to sleuth him out in her free time. As her relationship with Porter goes from irritation to connection and then to attraction, her guilt about confessing to Alex grows.

It’s pretty easy to see where the story is heading early on, but that doesn’t matter because readers are along for the ride and it’s a dandy one. This is a fine book for romance-loving teens.

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

Riding Chance

Riding Chance by Christine Kendall, Scholastic Press (October 11, 2016). ISBN: 9780545924047. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alicia a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alicia’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player. Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alicia, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

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

The Bad Boy Bargain

The Bad Boy Bargain by Kendra C. Highley, Entangled Publishing (November 14, 2016). ISBN: 9781682813355.

bad boy

Secrets, everyone has them, but for Kyle Sawyer, they’ve become so many and so involved, it’s almost impossible to unweave and get past them when he finds a reason to do so. That reason is singer and ballerina Faith Gladwell. After being dumped and lied about by her crass and shallow boyfriend, she’s desperate to cut a deal with a hot guy and fake-tarnish her reputation. When Kyle is hired by her mom to redo their back yard, he seems like the perfect guy for the job.

Trouble is, between their growing attraction and his web of fake badness, getting there isn’t easy. Wrapped around her starring in Oklahoma and his two loves-baseball and landscaping, this becomes a really nice love story that reads fun and fast.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Robin Palmer, Speak (June 27, 2013). ISBN: 9780142412503. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

Corner of Bitter

What happens when the draining and unnatural role you’ve had for years is pulled from under you. Meet sixteen year old Annabelle Jackson. She had to assume the role of parent when her actress mother grabbed numerous psychoactive prescription drugs and crawled inside the bottle. Since then, Annabelle has had to run interference, check to see whether bills are paid and cringe every time her mother appears in public under the influence. This doesn’t leave any leeway for boyfriends or hobbies, leaving her life pretty bleak. When Mom’s arrested for DWI while driving the wrong way on a major California highway, it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Mom ends up in rehab, Annabelle in utter humiliation. Her fancy friends dump her, she alternates between anger and depression and, just when she thinks things couldn’t get worse. She learns that their financial manager killed himself after blowing all their assets. Goodbye fancy home and the questionable freedom of her parent role, hello cheap apartment and Mom suddenly trying to run her life.

Things look pretty bleak until Annabelle convinces her mother to audition for the role of an alcoholic college professor. Mom’s angry, but when she gets the role, it’s perfect and the chemistry between her and the leading man, even though he’s sixteen years younger, is off the charts. When she’s dragged from L.A. to upstate New York for the shooting, Annabelle is resentful until meeting Matt. He’s an art student who is struggling with creative block. Their mutual attraction is sweet and intriguing, but he has his own secret issue. Meanwhile, Mom’s co-star and Matt push her to do something with her secret passion, photography.

What follows meeting Matt and the budding romance between Mom and her leading man makes for a magical read. I particularly like how the author wove recovery, especially Alateen, into the story. They’re done in a very realistic way. Teens who love secrets, romance and family dysfunction with a happy ending will really like the story.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Whisper If You Need Me

Whisper If You Need Me by Dina Silver, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 12, 2015), ISBN: 9781517189082. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

whisper if

Julia Pearl has major trust issues. She’s never gotten over the awful night when her fashion model mother came home disheveled and she witnessed the shouting match resulting in her father telling her mom to leave and never return. That was five years ago and she still has no satisfactory explanation. In addition, her mother messed with her head with a constant litany of warnings about what disasters might befall Julia on a daily basis.

Her father remarried a woman who had two children younger than Julia. While she likes them, she feels distanced from them and is unable or unwilling to trust her stepmother’s attempts to connect. It didn’t help her feelings of disconnection when she had a breakdown following Mom’s exile. Julia refused to go to school, certain some dire accident would befall her on the school bus. She’s been home schooled ever since, further fueling her isolation.

This summer, however, Dad and Stepmom put their foot down and she’s going to a summer camp for several weeks. No cell phone, no calling home, nobody to run in and bail her out. She falls asleep on the bus and has to be woken by Jack, nephew of the somewhat incompetent and mean (to Jack), owner of the camp. Julia might not sense them, but sparks fly between the two immediately. Since Jack is 19 and a counselor, any fraternization between them is forbidden.

You know right from the minute Jack sees her that they’re destined to be a couple. Getting there, however involves restraint on his part, Julia deciding to explode her comfort zone and make a new friend in zany free-spirited Emma, while accepting the challenge to sleep alone in the woods as part of a special wilderness program.

Watching her grow and learn to trust people, surviving a nasty prank by a jealous rival and finally learning what happened to her mother, make this a stellar blend of romance and coming of age. It’s definitely a worthwhile addition for school and public libraries.

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