Tag Archives: Mystery

The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands

The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands. September 5, 2017. Aladdin Books, 532 p. ISBN: 9781534405233.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.7; Lexile: 610.

Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this third novel of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series.

Wherever Christopher Rowe goes, adventure—and murder—follows. Even a chance to meet King Charles ends in a brush with an assassin.

All that’s recovered from the killer is a coded message with an ominous sign-off: more attempts are coming. So when Christopher’s code-breaking discovers the attack’s true target, he and his friends are ordered to Paris to investigate a centuries-old curse on the French throne. And when they learn an ancient treasure is promised to any assassin who succeeds, they realize the entire royal family is at stake—as well as their own lives.

In the third heart-pounding installment of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series, Christopher, Tom, and Sally face new codes, puzzles, and traps as they race to find the hidden treasure before someone else is murdered.

Sequel to: Mark of the Plague

Part of Series: The Blackthorn Key (Book 3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Underage drinking, Murder

 

About the Author

Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, a business consultant, and a teacher.

His website is kevinsandsbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

The Assassin’s Curse Reading Group Guide

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Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta. October 10, 2017. Candlewick Press, 421 p. ISBN: 9780763691646.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Debuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. All theaters have their ghosts, but death is another matter. Death is exactly what Zara Evans encounters when she comes to the Aurelia Theater. New to professional theater, Zara has nevertheless been cast as Echo in the Greek tragedy Echo and Ariston, a role she’s always coveted. The legendary—and difficult—director Leopold Henneman, who claims to have visions, helms the production, and he demands excellence, something that’s easier said than done when members of the cast and crew start dying and people start saying the theater is haunted. As tragedies, both onstage and off, roll through the Aurelia, Zara grows close to Eli Vasquez, the assistant lighting designer. The two girls’ friendship blossoms into romance, and for Zara, it’s a light in a world that grows darker by the day: curse or no curse, there is something wicked in the Aurelia. With timeless, literary prose, Capetta spins a tale that is haunting indeed. Part love story and part mystery, this eerie offering studded with intriguing, secretive characters is beautiful and strange.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
What do you do when all your dreams come true? What happens if those dreams have a nightmarish edge? Capetta explores the consequences of soured dreams in her latest.When 18-year-old Jewish Zara is cast in her dream roll of Echo in a Broadway production of the Greek tragedy Echo and Ariston, she believes all her hopes are falling into place. It seems even so when she falls unexpectedly for 19-year-old Latina lighting designer Eli (short for Eliza). Yet, amid the thrill of the stage and new romance, signs of cracks in the facade begin to appear. Almost as soon as she arrives in New York City to begin rehearsals, mysterious deaths begin to occur, and eventually Zara herself is in danger. Capetta deftly shifts the tone of the third-person-limited narrator in each chapter to highlight the distinct personalities and motives of the main characters. The style tries to balance the novel between a literary romance and a psychological thriller, occasionally faltering. The suspenseful plot can become tangled in metaphor, hampering the action, especially at the climax. Nevertheless, this tale will appeal to older teen audiences and likely some adults who enjoy their thrillers steamy, with more than a dash of romance.A twisted tale of theater, conspiracy, and romance that, like its protagonist, sometimes struggles with a minor identity crisis. (Romantic thriller. 14-adult)

About the Author

Amy Rose Capetta studied theater at the Stella Adler Studio as a teenager before spending four years in a Shakespeare troupe. Echo After Echo is her first book with Candlewick Press.

Amy Rose Capetta lives in Michigan. Her website is amyrosecapetta.com.

 

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. September 5, 2017. Sterling Children’s Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781454923459.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.5; Lexile: 700.

Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 5-8. A move to dusty, distant Arizona forces 13-year-old Aven to leave her familiar life and friends behind. Don’t yawn: Bowling takes this overworked trope and spins it into gold with a skein of terrific twists. For one thing, Aven was born without arms, so the new environment—a decrepit Wild West theme park—poses special challenges. For another, thanks to loving, funny adoptive parents who have raised her to be a “problem-solving ninja” (“I’m so flexible, it would blow your mind,” she boasts), readers may repeatedly forget, despite reminders enough, that Aven is (as she puts it) “unarmed.” Moreover, when the dreary prospect of having to cope with the looks and questions at her new middle school sends her in search of an isolated place to eat her lunch, she finds and bonds with Conner, who is struggling with Tourette’s syndrome and has not been so lucky with his parents. Not only does she firmly enlist him and another new friend in investigating a mystery about the theme park’s past but, taking Conner’s involuntary vocalizations in stride (literally), Aven drags him (figuratively) into an information-rich Tourette’s support group. Following poignant revelations about Aven’s birth family, the author lets warm but not gooey sentiment wash over the close to a tale that is not about having differences, but accepting them in oneself and others.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
Born without arms, white “problem-solving ninja” Aven Green can do almost anything with her feet instead—even solve a mystery. “Now that I’m thirteen years old, I don’t need much help with anything. True story.” Aven’s adoptive parents have always encouraged her independence. She’s never felt self-conscious among her friends in Kansas, playing soccer and guitar and mischievously spinning wild yarns about losing her arms. But when her father suddenly gets a job managing Stagecoach Pass, a run-down theme park in Arizona, tales of alligator wrestling can’t stop her new classmates’ gawking. Making friends with Connor, a self-conscious white boy with Tourette’s syndrome, and Zion, a shy, overweight, black boy, allows her to blend in between them. Contrasted with the boys’ shyness, Aven’s tough love and occasional insensitivity provide a glimpse of how—and why—attitudes toward disability can vary. While investigating the park’s suspiciously absent owner, the kids discover clues with eerie ties to Aven. The mystery’s twist ending is somewhat fairy-tale–esque, but Connor’s Tourette’s support-group meetings and Aven’s witty, increasingly honest discussions of the pros and cons of “lack of armage” give the book excellent educational potential. Though much of this earnest effort reads like an after-school special, its portrayal of characters with rarely depicted disabilities is informative, funny, and supportive. (Fiction. 9-13)

About the Author

Dusti Bowling grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, where, as her family will tell you, she always had her nose in a book. Dusti holds a Bachelor of Psychology and a Master of Education, but she eventually realized that her true passion was writing. The Day We Met, her self-published YA novel, has sold over 20,000 copies. She currently lives in Carefree, Arizona, with her husband, three daughters, one bobcat, a pack of coyotes, a couple of chuckwallas, several rattlesnakes, and a few herds of javelina.

Her website is www.dustibowling.com

Teacher Resources

Insignificant Events in the Life of  a Cactus Discussion Questions

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Backfield Boys by John Feinstein

Backfield Boys by John Feinstein. August 29, 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux, 353 p. ISBN: 9780374305925.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 840.

In Backfield Boys, renowned sports journalist and New York Times–bestselling author John Feinstein tells a thrilling story of friendship, football, and a fight for justice.

Freshman footballers Jason Roddin and Tom Jefferson are a perfect pair: Jason is a blazing-fast wide-receiver, while his best friend Tom has all the skills a standout quarterback needs. After summer football camp at an elite sports-focused boarding school, the boys are thrilled to be invited back with full-ride scholarships.

But on day one of practice, they’re shocked when the team’s coaching staff makes Tom, a black kid, a receiver and Jason, a white kid, a quarterback. Confronted with mounting evidence of deep-seated racial bias, the boys speak out, risking their scholarships and chances to play. As tensions ratchet up with coaches and other players, Tom and Jason must decide how much they’re willing to lose in a conflict with powerful forces that has nothing―and everything―to do with the game they love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination, Mild sexual themes, Racism

 

Video Review

 

About the Author

John Feinstein is the author of more than thirty books, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers A Season on the Brink and A Good Walk Spoiled. He is also the author of numerous kids mysteries. His first young adult mystery, Last Shot, won the Edgar Allen Poe Award. John also works for The Washington Post, The Golf Channel, Sirius XM Radio, and Comcast Sportsnet.

Her website is jfeinsteinbooks.com.

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The Dire King by William Ritter

The Dire King by William Ritter. August 22, 2017. Algonquin Young Readers, 352 p. ISBN: 9781616206703.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

The fate of the world is in the hands of detective of the supernatural R. F. Jackaby and his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook. An evil king is turning ancient tensions into modern strife, using a blend of magic and technology to push the earth and the otherworld into a mortal competition. Jackaby and Abigail are caught in the middle as they continue to solve daily mysteries in New Fiddleham, New England—like who’s created the rend between the worlds, how to close it, and why the undead are appearing around town.

Sequel to: Ghostly Echoes

Part of series: Jackaby (Book 4)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Video Review

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
A paranormal private investigator and his clever companion make a last stand against the forces of chaos in this fourth and final book. As an assistant to eccentric detective/seer R.F. Jackaby, Abigail Rook experiences magic, mysteries, and romance. A “lady of science and reason” who accepts the supernatural, Rook prizes her madcap American adventures over her comfortable yet confining British childhood, but she finds her new home threatened by war. As a wave of racist attacks turns their whimsical house at 926 Augur Ln. into a cryptozoological asylum, Jackaby, Rook, and resident ghost Jenny Cavanaugh take a new case and uncover a bigger conspiracy. Hunting mythical talismans, the trio discovers the veil between the mundane world and that of the Annwyn (fae) weakening and the Unseelie armies of the Dire King gathering. Jackaby is a delightful supernaturalist Sherlock, but Rook carries the story, narrating with dry wit, alliteration, and an appreciation for the absurd; faced with war, bureaucrats, and a diabolical life-sucking machine, Rook frets about a potential proposal from her Om Caini (lycanthropic) swain, Charlie. Ritter sets his story in a geographically nonspecific, slightly steampunk 1890s New England port city. It’s helmed by a trio of white protagonists but offers a pointed and timely message about pluralism and the value of bridges over barriers. A humorous, energetic, action-packed, and magical conclusion. (Fantasy. 12-adult)

School Library Journal (August 1, 2017)
Gr 7 Up-The fourth and final book in the series sees Abigail Rook, Jackaby’s assistant, take the lead in this preternatural mystery. Previous familiarity with the characters is advised but is not necessary to follow the plot. In 19th-century New Fiddleham, New England, a mysterious threat from the ostensibly dead Dire King endangers everyone when the veil between this world and the fairy world, Annwyn, threatens to fall. Jackaby and Abigail are joined by a multitude of supernatural creatures, including Miss Rook’s shape-shifter boyfriend Charlie and housemate/ghost Jenny who is working on her ability to become corporeal with somewhat mixed results. The group ventures between worlds trying to figure out if the Dire King has returned, or if someone has picked up his mantle. Mayor Spade has also declared war on supernatural creatures; no one is safe in this fast-paced tale. The main characters struggle in battle and with figuring out what their future holds, which leads to an unpredictable conclusion. Though the overall plot is a fairly straightforward whodunit mystery, twists and turns provide for action-packed pages. Events that have been heavily foreshadowed throughout will come to fruition in a satisfying ending that offers tantalizing hints of the characters’ fortunes. This will most appeal to series fans and those who enjoy teen detective novels like A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro or Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star. VERDICT A strong purchase where the series is already popular.-Rebecca Greer, Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative, FL

About the Author

William Ritter is an Oregon author and educator. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark. The Dire King is the fourth and final book in his acclaimed New York Times bestselling Jackaby series.

His website is rwillritter.wordpress.com

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13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. October 3, 2017. Flatiron Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9781250123855.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Natasha’s sure that her friends love her. But does that mean they didn’t try to kill her?

Natasha doesn’t remember how she ended up in the icy water that night, but she does know this—it wasn’t an accident, and she wasn’t suicidal. Her two closest friends are acting strangely, and Natasha turns to Becca, the best friend she dumped years before when she got popular, to help her figure out what happened.

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you’re a teenage girl, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, Slur against mentally disabled people

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Becca and Tasha were childhood best friends, but now, in sixth form, Tasha is the ringleader of a trio of popular mean girls Becca dismissively calls the Barbies. Yet when Becca hears that Tasha is in the hospital after being revived from near drowning, she goes to see her former friend. Oddly, Tasha now wants to reconnect with her, even confiding in Becca that she suspects the Barbies are complicit in Tasha’s brush with death. The intrigue unfolds through a third-person narrative that alternates with snippets from therapy sessions, text conversations, news reports, and Tasha’s diary entries. Although the tone and vocabulary of these narrative voices could be interchangeable, it’s a device that facilitates some dandy plot twists. Pinborough gets the overwrought drama of teen friendships right, capturing both Becca’s intense feelings and her keen intelligence as she struggles to make sense of a string of seemingly unrelated tragic events. Readers drawn to the kind of debauched chicanery made popular in novels such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012) will tear through this edgy thriller.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
Tasha doesn’t remember the circumstances following her near drowning, so she enlists Becca’s help in investigating whether foul play was involved.Tasha’s the undisputed queen of the trio of sixth-form girls known around school as the Barbies for their focus on appearances and their general mean-girl behaviors. So it’s surprising that it’s Becca, Tasha’s former best friend, ostracized years ago for her weight, whom Tasha gathers to her side after the drowning. That a near-death experience might cause Tasha to re-examine her friendships seems plausible, especially considering the suspicious behaviors of the other two Barbies, Jenny and Hayley. Transcripts of the girls’ text messages even reveal—to readers—that Jenny and Hayley are far from real friends to Tasha. This initially detracts from the suspense as readers will quickly decide Jenny and Hayley are guilty. But soon Becca and Tasha’s investigation into the world of white, middle-class teen insecurities, betrayals, manipulations, sex, and drug use becomes darkly fascinating on its own. Characters’ desperation for attention lead them to accept treating others badly as the cost of winning Tasha’s affection (or at least avoiding her scorn). And when another student’s sudden death prompts Becca to take the investigation in a surprising new direction, the mystery’s tension ratchets up again. Red herrings lead to a satisfying conclusion in this British import. (Mystery. 14-18)

About the Author

Sarah Pinborough is the award-winning, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes was praised by Stephen King, Joe Hill, Harlan Coben, and The New York Times Book Review, among others. 13 Minutes has been optioned by Netflix.

Sarah lives in London. Her website is www.sarahpinborough.com

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The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill. Februaryr 7, 2017. Blink, 352 p. ISBN: 9780310758389.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Violence, Criminal culture

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 6))
Grades 9-12. Piper Sail, 18, lives in the choicest area of 1924 Chicago, but that doesn’t stop her best friend from disappearing. That event causes headstrong Piper to throw off her socialite trappings and get down and dirty, combing the seedier parts of the city as she tries to discover what happened to Lydia. Because this is almost as much a romance as it is a mystery, Piper has several able fellows hovering about: a police detective, a baseball player, and a journalist. There’s a good, solid mystery here, but the many subplots (Piper’s family situation; her acquisition of a dog; the inner workings of the Chicago underworld) sometimes intrude, and the Roaring Twenties setting seems more affect than effect. But Piper is a strong, sharp heroine, and her abilities—from stretching the truth to often foolhardy bravery—prevent her from being a paper doll. Fans will note that the final pages indicate Piper will have a future seeking out Chicago’s “underbelly.” So more chances to solve another mystery: who’s the right guy for her?

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2016)
A debutante eschews convention to investigate the suspicious disappearance of her best friend.With her bobbed hair and plucky attitude, Piper Sail pushes boundaries, but she isn’t quite a flapper. Living in 1920s Chicago with her brother and father—a powerful and wealthy attorney—the white teen has enjoyed a life of privilege alongside her best friend, Lydia LeVine, also white and the daughter of an affluent doctor. Lydia suffers from devastating seizures, which her father dismisses until they occur publicly. When Lydia suddenly disappears, Piper, unable to quietly sit by with her hands folded, launches her own investigation. Soon the spirited ingénue finds herself entrenched in a dark web of secrets, speak-easies, and Mafiosi, and everyone—from Lydia’s family to their hired help (including a black housekeeper with distressingly stereotyped speech patterns) to Lydia’s employer—seems like a prime suspect. Aided by a handsome young detective, Piper plunges herself further into the case, going undercover in an effort to bring Lydia justice, which leads Piper to face some hard truths about her society life. After a somewhat slow and stiff start, readers will be rewarded for their patience as tensions grow and red herrings abound. Morrill has a keen eye for historical details and setting, making Jazz Age Chicago Piper’s invisible yet omnipresent sidekick. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last case for this strong and admirable female sleuth to solve. A mostly well-crafted historical whodunit. (Historical mystery. 12-16)

About the Author

Stephanie Morrill is the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920’s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair.

She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. Her website is StephanieMorrill.com

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Seriously Shifted on Amazon

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Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

Elizabeth & Zenobia by Jessica Miller. September 19, 2017. Harry N. Abrams, 208 p. ISBN: 9781419727245.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 3.8; Lexile: 670.

Abandoned by her mother and neglected by her scientist father, timid Elizabeth Murmur has only her fearless friend, Zenobia, for company. And Zenobia’s company can be very trying! When Elizabeth’s father takes them to live in his family home, Witheringe House, Zenobia becomes obsessed with finding a ghost in the creepy old mansion and forces Elizabeth to hold séances and wander the rooms at night. With Zenobia’s constant pushing, Elizabeth investigates the history of the house and learns that it does hold a terrible secret: Her father’s younger sister disappeared from the grounds without a trace years ago.

Elizabeth and Zenobia is a wonderfully compelling middle-grade story about friendship, courage, and the power of the imagination.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Eerie content

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 4-7. Elizabeth’s best friend Zenobia (others might claim she’s imaginary, but she’s vividly real to Elizabeth) is utterly convinced there’s a ghost at Witheringe House, and she’s determined to use all her divining skills to find it. Elizabeth is terrified at the prospect, but she joins the hunt anyway, especially after mysterious pages of a fairy tale about a magical kingdom of plants appear in a book only at midnight, and she learns about her father’s late sister, Tourmaline, who disappeared from Witheringe House at age seven. Elizabeth and Zenobia’s polar-opposite personalities make the mood pretty playful at the beginning, but debut author Miller keeps the story certifiably eerie, thanks to a creepy gardener, weed-choked hedge maze, and mutating wallpaper in the abandoned nursery. As Elizabeth gets braver and more insistent on finding Tourmaline, Miller amplifies the wondrous-yet-weird elements of Witheringe House until they snowball into ghastly, creeping nightmares. Her spare, evocative language and direct sentences contribute to the suspenseful pacing, particularly toward the end, when the Plant Kingdom gets truly invasive. Comical characters, ghost story tropes, and a lively pair of intrepid protagonists help keep this spooky novel from getting too scary, and Bryksenkova’s faux-naïf illustrations contribute. Fans of Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest (2015) will appreciate this similarly atmospheric, haunting tale.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Debut novelist Miller concocts a blend of Gothic horror and spine-tingling mystery. Elizabeth feels lonely and forgotten when her father moves her to his ancestral home, Witheringe House, after her mother abandons the two of them. At least best friend Zenobia has come along, though with her contrary nature, Zenobia is not exactly a comfort. She’s also not exactly real. That is, not to anyone except Elizabeth. Aussie Miller sets her tale in the gauzy nebulousness of the early 20th century, delivering a stunning slow burn full of creepy atmospheric tension and heartbreaking loneliness. The back-and-forth dialogue between Elizabeth and her imaginary companion is laced with tension—give and take—illustrating the tumultuous extremes of Elizabeth’s psyche. Add a family nursery and wallpaper gardens in which the plant life appears real, a family cemetery, plus an alter ego in search of spirits from beyond and an ending as unpredictable as the beginning or middle—and what readers get is a fascinating tale that feels like Edgar Allen Poe, revisited. Miller’s painstaking crafting of language and attention to atmospheric detail create a clever story where nothing is as it seems. Drawings reminiscent of Gorey and references to gloomy classic poetry add beguiling texture. Eerie and dazzling—a perfect book for a dark and stormy afternoon or a favorite graveyard reading spot. (Horror. 9-13)

About the Author

Jessica Miller is a children’s writer and PhD student from Brisbane, Australia. She currently lives in Germany. Elizabeth and Zenobia is her first novel.

 

Around the Web

Elizabeth and Zenobia on Amazon

Elizabeth and Zenobia on Goodreads

Elizabeth and Zenobia on JLG

Elizabeth and Zenobia Publisher Page

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oaks. August 22, 2017. Dial Books, 493 p. ISBN: 9780803740716.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 770.

It starts with a fire. A diary. A murder.

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t believe that her mother killed herself three years ago. And since her father is about to be executed for his crimes, Molly is convinced that her mother will return to her soon. Finally, the hole in her heart will stop hurting.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with serious girl problems and the most embarrassing seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer…or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly and Pepper are tasked with finding Ava’s murderer, they realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Discussion of suicide

 

Reviews

Booklist (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 9-12. When Ava Dreyman was killed in an East Berlin prison, all she left behind was a diary. Decades later, that diary might hold the truth about Molly Mavity’s mother’s disappearance, but she’ll need the help of Kuwaiti American Pepper Al Yusef to unlock its secrets, and they’ll have to travel all the way to Berlin and back to do it. Oakes’ sophomore novel unfolds in a series of soul-bearing letters (from Molly to Pepper) and lighthearted essays (Pepper’s last-chance assignment to graduate high school), all interspersed with passages from Ava’s compelling diary. Though the middle drags a bit, and the ultimate reveal might be predictable to some readers, Oakes has some brilliant moments—Ava’s mother, a resistance fighter who burns East German buildings, gives fiery speeches about anger, destruction, and power. Molly and Pepper’s lively friendship unfolds with spirited warmth, and intricate connections between their families tantalizingly come to the surface. Packed with dynamic characters, thoughtful writing, and a decades-spanning mystery, this will appeal to readers looking for something off the beaten path.

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2017)
Fire forges historical and contemporary connections among three troubled teens. The three teen narrators could easily star in their own books. Instead, their voices and lives intertwine in an implausible plot full of coincidences and conveniently chatty villains. Rebellious white redhead Molly Mavity writes sarcastic, tense-shifting letters to her friend Pepper, who lies in a coma. Molly, whose arsonist father will soon be executed, is convinced her mother is alive—despite her suicide. Ibrahim “Pepper” Al-Yusef, a Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy and a comic-relief seizure pug, wryly weaves his views on everything from friendship to racism into a series of essays assigned by a long-suffering teacher as a condition of graduation. Both gradually reveal how they followed a stranger’s clues to Berlin in search of Ava Dreyman, a teen from the former East Germany who became an Anne Frank–esque symbol for the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ava, whose diary of resisting the Stasi, escaping to America, and finding romance ends with her murder in 1989, connects Molly and Pepper in a far-flung way. Though Ava’s accounts of oppression are chilling, Pepper’s awkwardness is endearing, and Molly’s grief is brutal, the mastermind’s far-fetched scheme and Molly and Pepper’s improbable stunts in Berlin ultimately muffle the strong voices of all three characters. A convoluted mystery that flavors the darkness of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (2012) with the contrivances of Scooby Doo. (Mystery. 14-18)

About the Author

Stephanie Oakes lives in Spokane, Washington, and works as a library media teacher at a combined elementary and middle school. She has an MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University. Her first book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, was a Morris Award finalist and a Golden Kite Honor book.

Her website is www.stephanieoakesbooks.com

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She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper. June 6, 2017. Ecco, 272 p. ISBN: 9780062394408.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 610.

A propulsive, gritty novel about a girl marked for death who must fight and steal to stay alive, learning from the most frightening man she knows—her father.

Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is shy, too old for the teddy bear she carries with her everywhere, when she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, Nate, fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car. He takes her from the front of her school into a world of robbery, violence, and the constant threat of death. And he does it to save her life.

Nate made dangerous enemies in prison—a gang called Aryan Steel has put out a bounty on his head, counting on its members on the outside to finish him off. They’ve already murdered his ex-wife, Polly’s mother. And Polly is their next target.

Nate and Polly’s lives soon become a series of narrow misses, of evading the bad guys and the police, of sleepless nights in motels. Out on the lam, Polly is forced to grow up early: with barely any time to mourn her mother, she must learn how to take a punch and pull off a drug-house heist. She finds herself transforming from a shy little girl into a true fighter. Nate, in turn, learns what it’s like to love fiercely and unconditionally—a love he’s never quite felt before. But can their powerful bond transcend the dangerous existence he’s carved out for them? Will they ever be able to live an honest life, free of fear?

She Rides Shotgun is a gripping and emotionally wrenching novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains, and victims. Nate takes Polly to save her life, but in the end it may very well be Polly who saves him.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Murder, Death of a parent

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
When short-timer Nate McClusky kills a member of the Aryan Steel prison gang in Susanville, California, the victim’s brother (who happens to be the gang’s president) sends a death warrant from Supermax—not only for Nate but also for his ex-wife, Avis, and his daughter, Polly. Nate survives his last week in prison but returns home to find Avis dead. Picking up 11-year-old Polly from middle school, he intends to drop her off with a relative until circumstances suggest the only way to keep her permanently safe is to take on Aryan Steel and hit them where it hurts. Polly is at first terrified (and contacts the police) but soon displays an aptitude for crime—she’s her father’s daughter, after all—and decides she wants to be more than just a passenger. Meanwhile, in chapters that read like mid-period James Ellroy, Detective Park searches the bleak and barren parts of California for the girl who now regrets her call for help. From its bravura prologue to its immensely satisfying ending, this first novel (Harper previously penned the short story collection Love and Other Wounds, 2015) comes out with guns blazing and shoots the chambers dry. It’s both a dark, original take on the chase novel and a strangely touching portrait of a father-daughter relationship framed in barbed wire.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
In his first novel, Harper returns to the seamy criminal fringe he explored in his story collections (Love and Other Wounds, 2015, etc.) for a grim yet moving tale about an ex-con’s efforts to protect his young daughter.Meek, intellectually precocious 11-year-old Polly finds her tattooed, heavily muscled father, Nate, waiting outside her school in Fontana, California. Having been in prison for more than half of Polly’s life, Nate has now been granted an early release. Unfortunately, though, the head of the Aryan Steel gang has just put out a call from his prison cell for his gang members to kill Nate, his ex-wife, and their daughter. Polly’s mother is knifed before Nate can reach her, but he takes Polly on the run to evade hit men while planning how to stop the vendetta. His love for Polly overpowers and empowers him, but there is no sentimentality here—he recognizes with paternal pride that she shares his “buried rage.” He trains her to fight, then takes her along when he robs stores and attacks his Aryan Steel enemies. Although she remains attached to her teddy bear, Polly discovers she takes after her badass daddy more than she or he imagined. The novel combines striking images, like Nate’s “gunfighter eyes” and the “old man of a car” he shows up driving, with disturbingly raw violence—a drug mule gutted by a crooked sheriff to get out the merchandise, the same sheriff gouging out an eye. Even more disturbing are the characters’ raw emotions: after witnessing Nate hold an Aryan Steel member’s back against the coals from a barbecue-grill fire until he gives desired information, Polly finds herself smiling. Yet there is a moral core here. Acknowledging that his vengeful behavior is “dumb and selfish,” Nate knows he isn’t good for Polly. And despite her developing toughness, Polly retains her urge to save the innocent. For all the darkness and even ugliness displayed, the characters’ loyalty, love, and struggle for redemption grip the reader and don’t let go.

About the Author

Jordan Harper was born and educated in Missouri. He’s worked as an ad man, a rock critic and a teevee writer. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

His website is www.jordanharper.com

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She Rides Shotgun on Amazon

She Rides Shotgun on Goodreads

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She Rides Shotgun Publisher Page