The Mystery of Hollow Places

posted by: February 9, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Mystery of Hollow PlacesRebecca Podos' debut novel The Mystery of Hollow Places is a combination coming-of-age story and atmospheric mystery. Imogene has always loved reading detective books, especially the ones written by her dad. When he disappears in the middle of the night, leaving behind only one cryptic clue, Imogene decides to start sleuthing herself. The clue points her toward her absent mother, a figure she only knows from fairy tales spun by her father at bedtime. In order to find him, Imogene is convinced she must find out the true story behind this woman who vanished from their lives so long ago.

 

As a mystery aficionado, Imogene draws on the skills she has picked up from novels over the years to try and solve her case. Her dad’s first best-seller becomes her how-to manual as she tries to figure out the fine art of private investigation. Along the way, she references dozens of fictional detectives which fans of the genre will enjoy. The fast-paced plot is set against a chilly, snowy New England backdrop, perfect for a good mystery story.

 

In the hands of a lesser writer, it could become a fun, noir-flavored mystery, but Podos creates a novel with depth. Imogene is forced to start rethinking who she thought she was in the light of the truths she uncovers about her missing parents, both of whom battle mental illness.

 

Podos hooks readers with a suspenseful mystery, but what makes this book so memorable is her beautiful style and Imogene’s endearing first person narration. Aside from missing parents, Imogene still has to navigate awkward interactions with the boy she has secretly adored forever, fights with her best (only) friend and procuring gas money for her illicit investigation. There is nothing trite or saccharine about Podos’ handling of love, loneliness and the struggle toward self-discovery. Imogene is real, funny and absolutely endearing. 
 


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The Dogs

posted by: December 31, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover of The DogsIt’s nighttime, the lights are off in your living room and you see your frightened mother standing there in the darkness peering out the window. Your mom clutches her phone and calls the police because she thinks, no, she knows that the man inside the car parked across the street from your home is the same man who’s been tracking you down for years. He has found the both of you. So, your mom tells you to “Get your things,” because you’re moving for the fifth time. Well, that is exactly what Cameron Weaver, a teenage boy, and his mom experience in Allan Stratton’s psychological thriller teen novel, The Dogs. Oh, and the maniac that is stalking Cameron and his mom, is his dear ol’ Dad.
 

Cameron’s mom rents a new place that is 800 miles away. They move into a creepy, dilapidated farmhouse way out in the country in a town called Wolf Hollow. On Cameron’s first day at his new school, he hears rumors that his house is haunted. This is not good news for Cameron because he tends to imagine things. Ever since he and his Mom started running away from his Dad, Cameron has become more fearful and prone to having nightmares. The worst part is that his nightmares feel real because he never experiences the waking up part. Cameron’s new environment has a negative effect on him because he begins to hear strange noises, such as dogs howling. He starts to see and converse with a young boy named Jacky McTavish, who lived in the same house decades ago. By the way, Jacky may or may not be dead. No one really knows what happen to him, except maybe the mysterious property owner, Art Sinclair, who used to be Jacky’s best friend. When Cameron learns that a murder occurred at his house back in the early 1960s that involved Jacky, Jacky’s parents and a pack of dogs, he starts his own secret investigation to learn what really happened to Jacky. As Cameron gets deeper into his investigation, he finds himself getting into trouble. Furthermore, he and others start to question his sanity.
 

For those who are looking for a psychological thriller with a bit of mystery, I definitely recommend that you get your paws on The Dogs. The writing is splendid—Allan Stratton sure knows how to set the tone and lure you into the story. 
 


 
 

The Last Good Day of the Year

posted by: June 16, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Last Good Day of the YearIn Jessica Warman’s new teen mystery, The Last Good Day of the Year, 7-year-old Samantha is startled to see a man dressed as Santa Claus enter the basement of her home while her parents host a New Year’s Eve party upstairs. When he abducts her little sister, Turtle, Sam is paralyzed with fear. She thinks she can identify the man as her older sister’s boyfriend, Steven, and she does to police.

 

Ten years later, Turtle’s body has never been found and Steven sits in jail, convicted of her murder. Sam’s family returns to the house where their nightmare took place. Her older sister, coping with a broken marriage, has been acting strangely. Now, a new little girl in a town not so far away has gone missing. Sam has started to question whether or not she was right in pointing the finger at Steven all those years ago.

 

As the story alternates between the night of Turtle’s abduction and 10 years later, Warman weaves an unsettling tale of one family’s tragedy and its far-reaching implications — not just for those closest to the victim, but for an entire neighborhood. As old neighbors try to rekindle their long-dormant friendships, secrets emerge from that night, leaving Sam, with the help of her childhood best friend Remy, to sift through the clues that may lead her to the truth about her sister’s disappearance.

 

Fans of April Henry’s The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die or Chris Crutcher’s Period 8 will enjoy this mystery with its sharp twists and turns.


 
 

Bone Gap

posted by: April 29, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Bone GapLaura Ruby’s Bone Gap is a beautifully told story that teen and adult readers alike will enjoy. Finn O’Sullivan and his older brother Sean have lived in the town of Bone Gap by themselves since their mother abandoned them a few years before the novel begins — that is until Roza appears as if by magic. After a nasty storm, Finn finds Roza, a Polish immigrant, hiding in a bale of hay in their barn. Roza is clearly hurt, but refuses to explain how or give any other information about herself. The brothers let her stay with them, and eventually she becomes like another member of the family, helping around their farm and becoming a well-liked member of their small town.

 

A year later, Roza is kidnapped, and Finn, the only witness, can’t give a good enough description to help police find her kidnapper. To add to his problems, no one believes that the distractible, “moon-faced” boy is actually a credible witness. Despite their apprehension about Finn’s claims, it turns out that he is correct — Roza has, in fact, been kidnapped by a terrible man who refuses to let her go. Roza tries her best to escape from captivity, but she can barely understand the place she’s being held, let alone escape from it. Meanwhile, as Finn investigates Roza’s disappearance, he becomes engrossed in a relationship with the prickly Priscilla, who only wants to be known as Petey. Petey, an odd-looking, self-conscious girl who is ridiculed by her classmates, believes that Finn’s obsession with finding Roza stems from romantic feelings for the missing girl.

 

Bone Gap alternates between the perspectives of Finn, Roza and Petey seamlessly. Ruby has woven a story that is wholly unique and utterly engrossing. Finn, Roza and Petey are each characters that the reader won’t want to leave behind when they close the book.

 


 
 

Vanishing Girls

posted by: April 14, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Vanishing GirlsLauren Oliver’s latest novel Vanishing Girls, is told from the perspective of two sisters: Nick, short for Nicole, and Dara. Nick and Dara have always been close — that is, until the accident that leaves Dara with a nasty scar and the sisters emotionally distant. Vanishing Girls is a mysterious novel filled with suspense and a bit of romance.

 

The story begins before the accident that ruins their relationship when Nick is simply worried about her party-girl younger sister. However, it quickly jumps to after the accident when their lives have fallen to pieces. After living with her father for a few months after the accident, Nick moves home with her mother and Dara again. Dara, however, does whatever she can to avoid Nick, staying in her room all day and sneaking out of the house at night. Meanwhile, their mom forces Nick to work at the local amusement park, Fantasy Land. There, Nick reconnects with her former best friend and Dara’s ex-boyfriend, Parker. As Nick falls into the routine of work, her friendship with Parker picks up where it left off before the accident. But when Madeline Snow disappears, followed by Dara a few days later, Nick investigates the suspicious disappearances and learns that her sister had more secrets than she thought — secrets that may connect her to Madeline Snow.

 

Vanishing Girls is a suspenseful story that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Fans of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will enjoy this new novel from Lauren Oliver.


 
 

Secret Society Intrigue

posted by: March 25, 2015 - 7:00am

The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie HallThe first in a planned trilogy, The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall is the start to a fast-paced thriller series that readers won’t be able to put down. When the book begins, Avery West is a fairly typical teenager, with the exception of the all-too-frequent moves she and her mom make for her mom’s job. However, when Jack Bishop shows up at her high school and asks her to prom, her whole life changes in a way she never would have expected.

 

What should be a happy moment in her school year is turned upside down when Jack reveals that her absent father's family is incredibly powerful and a part of a secret society, the Circle, that dates back to the time of Alexander the Great. Avery learns that the Circle controls many of the world’s governing bodies and has extreme power in other areas as well, which she witnesses first hand. She’s whisked away to Paris, and the Circle shuts down Prada so she can shop by herself for an afternoon. As Avery learns more about her family background and the secret society they’re a part of, she is drawn even deeper into the Circle’s lore. Meanwhile, Jack begins to realize Avery’s importance to the Circle, leading the two on a whirlwind, worldwide adventure.

 

The Conspiracy of Us is filled with mystery, suspense and romance. Maggie Hall has created a story that will delight readers looking for a new thriller. Check out Hall’s Pinterest account for a fun board of inspiration for the fashion and travel locations for the series.


 
 

Between the Covers with Amy Zhang

posted by: September 9, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Falling into PlaceHigh school author, Amy Zhang’s first book Falling into Place is filled with twists and turns, taking readers inside the head of high school student Liz Emerson and some of her closest friends. Liz is an unlikable character, a mean girl who has decided that she is going to take her own life, making it look like an accident by driving off a cliff. The book goes back and forth between before and after the crash, unravelling the mystery of what led Liz to such a drastic choice. Before starting Zhang’s book, read what she had to tell Between the Covers about her first novel.
 

Between the Covers: The book shifts back and forth between before and after Liz’s crash, how did you handle writing a book that shifted in time so frequently?
Amy Zhang: Lots and lots of outlines. I drew diagrams and color-coded and made charts before I started writing, I did it again while I was writing, I did it before I revised, I did it after I revised and revised again. The last chart had something like seven colors on it for all of the different “time zones” of the book, and it reached from ceiling to floor when I hung it up.
 

BTC: Liz is such a complex character, where did you draw your inspiration for her struggles?
AZ: I guess when I thought of Liz, the characteristic that stood out was her loneliness. One of the first things I saw when I first began outlining the book was the image of her sitting in her closet on the night before her suicide attempt, and that isolation is what made me understand her. You’re always isolated as a teenager. You feel alone in your thoughts, as though you’re the only one to ever think, really think—you’re afraid to have the opinions you’re developing and you’re afraid to share them. You also feel sort of isolated in time, because you’re not thinking about consequences. You only exist in the moment. I think high school can be one of the loneliest places in the world. For me, being alone was sort of at the heart of Liz’s character, and her other struggles all stemmed off of that in some way. Liz, Kennie and Julia were all hiding some really serious issues, but it was pretty easy for me to relate because it was my reality. I think a lot of parents would be shocked if they knew what their kids were really going through every day, and what they feel the need to hide.
 

BTC: Were you able to draw on your experiences in high school to write about Liz’s high school experience?
AZ: Definitely. The scenes that stand out are Liam’s, which were especially hard for me to write. My school has this horrible tradition of voting people on to dance courts as jokes, and I remember sitting in class and hearing courts announced and just kind of wincing every time. And how do you stop something like that? I was pretty average in high school—I was never really bullied, and I hope I never bullied anyone like Liz did. I had great friends and great Amy Zhangteachers, but up until junior year or so, I never really thought about the fact that I sat around a lot. I watched a lot of crap happen and I didn’t do much to stop it, except push a pencil around, and Falling into Place is an apology for that.
 

BTC: What is your writing process like, as a younger writer who’s still in school?
AZ: Late nights, early mornings, and enough coffee to drown out desire for sleep until the book is done. I write a lot during summer, and, um, during school. At least half of my notes for Falling into Place were scribbled in the margins of my physics notebook. I guess it really just comes down to making a schedule and sticking to it. I have a jar of chocolates on my desk to bribe myself when I need to — one piece per thousand words!
 

BTC: Who are some of your influences as a writer?
AZ: Music is a pretty heavy influence on my writing—before I start a project, I put a lot of effort into tailoring a playlist. For Falling into Place, it was a lot of Bon Iver, Imagine Dragons and Keane. For my current project, I actually have two: one of classical music, and one of mostly Birdy, Regina Spektor, Iron & Wine and Vincent James McMorrow.
 

For Falling, though, I think my biggest influence was the death of a classmate during my junior year. For my grade in particular, I think that was the moment we started realizing that we weren’t invincible, and all of the emotions from that were very influential while I wrote the book.
 

BTC: This is your first book; do you have anything else planned?
AZ: I’m currently working on a project tentatively titled This Is Where the World Ends, which is about a boy who’s obsessed with apocalypses and a girl who’s trying to make the entire world fall in love with her.


 
 

To Be Young and a Liar

posted by: July 11, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for We Were Liars"My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman. I live in Burlington, Vermont, with Mummy and three dogs. I am nearly eighteen. I suffer migraines. I do not suffer fools."

 

So begins and ends E. Lockhart’s new book We Were Liars. Yet, by the end, the reader will have a much clearer perspective on the narrator's words. Cadence is part of the powerful and distinguished Sinclair family of New England. Every summer, the extended families vacation on their private island, each family set up in their own beautiful house. Idyllic? There’s been an unchallenged stoicism to the Sinclair family, but modernism with its myriad of issues is breaking to the surface: divorce, debt, addiction, the welcoming of outsiders — and the family hasn’t handled it well.

 

Then there’s Cadence herself. Every summer, she has been with her two cousins – Mirren and Johnny, later joined by Gat, the nephew of one of her aunt’s new husbands. They became known as “The Liars” for the trouble they caused as a group. But something happens on the island at the end of Cadence’s 15th summer, something of which she has no recollection, except that she almost drowned. Plagued by health issues, she doesn’t return until her 17th summer. She tried to reach out to her cousins and friend during her absence but heard nothing. No one else will talk about what happened that year, or what led up to her near death. Everyone tells her she must remember herself. Slowly, she recovers memories of her life that summer and puts pieces together to reveal a much darker family history. By the end, she will be face-to-face with grief and the full horror of events.

 

Told with beautiful poetic lyricism and sparse wording conveying rich description, this book shouldn’t be overlooked by adults or book clubs. Rife with character introspection, family dysfunction and mystery layered with fractured reality, in its final pages, We Were Liars packs a powerful punch. 


 
 

Gray Skies

posted by: January 30, 2014 - 9:19am

When you are harboring a sinister secret, who better to hear the confession than a convicted murderer on death row? In Annabel Pitcher’s new teen novel, Ketchup Clouds, that’s what British teenager Zoe is doing as a cathartic way of telling what happened when she became romantically involved with two brothers and ultimately was responsible for the death of one of them.

 

To sort out her thoughts and feelings, Zoe begins writing to Mr. Stuart Harris, who killed his wife in a jealous rage and is awaiting execution in Texas. Through a series of letters, Zoe (which is not her real name) chronicles her seemingly typical teen drama of the previous year. There was rising tension at her home, due in part to her father’s unemployment and her mother’s control issues. At a party, she met an amazingly unique guy, Aaron. What she didn’t realize until later was that Aaron was Max’s older brother – Max being the guy she is semi-enthusiastically dating. As the story progresses, her true feelings about Aaron and Max and the series of events leading to Max’s death come to light, as do some missing pieces of her family’s history. Suspense builds as Stuart’s looming execution date coincides with the anniversary of Max’s death.

 

Pitcher’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, was highly acclaimed for its down-to-earth approach to a unique premise, and in Ketchup Clouds she likewise employs engaging, candid writing to solve a compelling mystery: Why does Zoe feel she’s to blame for Max’s death? A refreshingly honest character with a unique outlook on the world, Zoe will resonate with teen and adult readers as someone struggling toward resolution after long internalizing her fear and guilt.


 
 

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