Thank the gods of mystery and mayhem, Stevie Bell is back! Spoiler alert: If you have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Stevie, she is the shining detective star of four previous mysteries: Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stair, The Hand on the Wall and The Box in the Woods. While you CAN read Nine Liars as a stand alone, your reading experience would be much enhanced by starting with Truly Devious and reading your way through all of Stevie’s preceding marvelous misadventures in investigation (which I have had the great fortune to review elsewhere.) In this fifth offering, Stevie is morosely schlepping her way through senior year at the eclectic Ellingham Academy, trying to work up enthusiasm for anything other than detective work. What makes matters worse is that her brilliant boyfriend David is studying abroad this semester in England, leaving Stevie not only bored but a little bit heartbroken as well. That’s why she jumps at the chance to visit him for a week of cultural study in London, which naturally also includes getting involved in a double-murder cold case. (MJ fans will recognize the familiar London backdrop as the setting for her supernatural series, Shades of London) When David’s friend Izzy implores Stevie to look into a double axe murder that took place while her aunt, along with her eight artsy college friends, were staying in famous British country house back in 1995, Stevie can’t resist. After all, “Once you start thinking about murder by axe, you tend to keep thinking about murder by axe.” Soon she is embroiled in a web of lies and deceit as she slowly realizes that the murderer is among the seven surviving friends. Can she identify the killer before they strike again? This latest addition to the series is just as absorbing and intriguing as its predecessors, as each one more firmly establishes Stevie Bell as the reigning YA sleuth of the century! As you can tell, I’m a BIG fan and I know you will be too after checking out Nine Liars from you local library or bookstore.
Category: Nail Biters
Teen Psychological Thrillers
Family of Liars by E. Lockhart
In 2014, this book by criminally awesome mastermind E. Lockhart came out and I was blown away and unable to reveal a single thing, because to say anything was to spoil everything. Now the prequel to this book has come out (or will come out May 2022) and I am AGAIN blown away and AGAIN, can say very little because this deliciously nasty little package is just one big SPOILER. What I can say is that if you loved Liars, you will love this. What I can say is that this prequel delves into the teenage pasts of Cady’s mom (Penny) and her two sisters (Carrie and Bess) and that this story is eldest sister Carrie’s. What I can say is that Sinclair family’s curse didn’t start with Cady and likely doesn’t end with her either. Here in Carrie’s story of where it all began to go so wrong there is love, madness, corruption, addiction, loyalty, fear and doubt. So much doubt. Carrie will tell you “On the outside, I am gray-eyed and butter blonde…I have the confident walk and good shoulders of an excellent softball player…I fix my sister’s problems. Those are the qualities anyone can see.”
“But my insides are made of seawater, warped wood and rusty nails.”
Now an adult, Carrie is tormented by what happened the summer she was seventeen, when she met a gorgeous, careless boy while still in mourning for the person she loved best. Her entire life has been colored by the secrets created and the betrayal committed that summer, secrets that can never be told and betrayals that can never be forgiven. Once you see the tragic connections that tie Cady and Carrie’s stories together, you can never unsee them. These are lies that bind.
Run, don’t walk to pre-order this monstrous gem that’s coming your way 5/3/22.
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co, vol. 1) by Jonathan Stroud
Harry Potter meets Scooby Doo in this delightful romp through ghost-ridden London, that was originally published in 2013, and that I took much too long to pick up. In this alternate universe, London is besieged by ghosts, both benign and malevolent, that disrupt everyday life and require constant supernatural maintenance. These tenacious shadows can only be dispatched by young folks, who have both the imagination to see them and the physical capability to do whatever it takes to vaporize them. Enter Anthony, Lucy and George, otherwise known as Lockwood & Co., a three- member, teenaged “psychic investigations agency” who make up in style what they lack in numbers. In this introductory volume, Lucy and Anthony bungle a tricky assignment, which leaves them in monstrous debt and almost out on the street. Luckily (or perhaps not) they are enlisted by a well known and wealthy iron magnate to cleanse his famously haunted country house of ghosts. This job is so big it would not only wipe our their debt, but also allow them to grow their small but scrappy business. But why does this titan of industry want them instead of one of the more established agencies? Too worried about the bottom line to wonder, Anthony, Lucy and George take the case. After all, they just have to make it through the night, and their bill is paid. But what awaits them on the other side of the Red Room door just might have Lockwood & Co joining the ranks of the restless dead before they even have a chance to lay down their salt circles! This rollicking tale is full of fun wordplay and genuine scares. And if you fall for Lockwood & Co, there are four more books in the series, enough to distract you all mask-wearing-summer long.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Jane McKeene, daughter of a white woman and a black man, is learning the fine art of zombie killing at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls in Baltimore County. Ever since the dead rose up at the Battle of Gettysburg, the States quit fighting each other and began fighting the revenants. The government then created “combat schools,” where black and brown-skinned teens are taught etiquette and sword play in order to become dutiful “Attendants” for wealthy white families and protect them from zombie attacks.Â Jane is thisclose to graduating with honors and returning to her beloved home in Kentucky, when she and her arch frenemy Kate Deveraux are forced to take on a “special assignment” in the wild, uncivilized western frontier. There they learn that the fragile national peace wrought by the bloody efforts of their peers and comrades is in serious jeopardy, and that zombies are actually the last things they should be afraid of. With all of this going on, Jane has absolutely no business falling for two boys who couldn’t be more different. But the heart wants what the heart wants, as they say, and if Jane survives the rapidly amassing zombie herd, she’ll have decide which boy (if any) gets her still-beating ticker. If I sound cagey or mysterious, that’s because it’s almost impossible to write about this compulsively readable alternate history series opener without giving away the secrets at its core. Ireland spins a page turning tale, while also weaving in lots of subtle and not so subtle allusions to our country’s past and present problems with race, power and corruption. Wielding her fictional pen like a critical sword, Ireland scrutinizes and excoriates the real fake science intended to dehumanize black people, the real boarding schools that were set up to “civilize” Native American children, and how Reconstruction morphed into Jim Crow after the Civil War. Readers who come for the zombies will stay for the sharp social commentary and gleeful skewering of stereotypes. Dread Nation is KILLER.
I Am Still Alive by Kate Marshall
Oh my gosh, do I love a good survival story! I mean, real life-and-death kind of stakes where scrappy, puny humans fight against a totally uncaring landscape full of sharp, cold, wet or poisonous obstacles that are either passively or actively trying to kill them. But let’s be clear–I have no desire to start a fire with sticks and moss or skin a squirrel myself.Â I just want to read about it from the warm coziness of my couch while drinking tea and munching Cheetos. And it’s totally possible I chomped my way through an entire bag of toxic orange goodness while breathlessly turning the pages of Kate Marshall‘s terrifying tale of endurance and retribution.
Sixteen year old Jess Cooper’s single mom is dead–killed in the same car accident that screwed up Jess’s leg and mangled her face. Jess has no choice but to join her absentee dad, a man whose been off the grid for most of his life and all of hers, in the deep Canadian wilderness. She’s determined to take the first plane she can wave down back to civilization. But that’s before the bad men show up looking for their buried loot. And, you know, murder her dad. (No spoilers–this is all revealed relatively quickly in the first few chapters!) Now all Jess had to do is stay alive long enough to plot her revenge when the men return. But it won’t be easy. Her bum leg makes getting around nearly impossible, she knows next to nothing about living wild, and before they left, the bad men burned her dad’s cabin, along with all his food and supplies, to the ground. Armed with just a few tools she rescued from the ashes and her father’s trusty dog Bo, does Jess have any chance of surviving the brutal Canadian winter? Like a bloodier, more emotionally wrenching version of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet or Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, I Am Still Alive marries unrelenting suspense with surprisingly compelling tips on ice-fishing and bad-man-trap setting. I was completely hooked, and you will be too when Alive comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you July 2018.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Will’s older brother Shawn was shot and killed two days ago: “Blood soaking into a/T-shirt, blue jeans, and boots/looks a lot like chocolate syrup/when the glow from the streetlights hit it./But I know ain’t/nothing sweet about blood.” Reeling with anger and grief, Will attempts to follow the unspoken Rules of his neighborhood: 1) No crying. 2) No snitching. 3) Revenge. ‘They weren’t meant to be broken/They were meant for the broken/to follow.” Â While his mother sleeps, Will sneaks out of his apartment with his brother’s gun, determined to hunt down the person who killed Shawn and close the circle of vigilante justice. But Will finds his mission delayed when the elevator annoyingly keeps stopping on each floor. His irritation quickly turns to confusion and fear when he realizes exactly who is getting on the elevator with him. In a kind of bizarro, Dickens Christmas Carol scenario, Will is visited floor by floor by the spirits of folks in his life who have died from gun violence–from his school yard crush to the father he never knew. Trapped in the elevator and surrounded by death, Will has to decide by the ground floor if he’s still ready to trade in his future in order to avenge his brother. This suspenseful nail-biter of Â a novel is written entirely in free verse, which makes it move at the speed of lightning while also giving dreadful pause on each page. Rising YA star Jason ReynoldsÂ (who’s just been long listed for the 2017 National Book Award) has penned a provocative page turner about family, tradition and the cycle of violence that will stick in your throat and lodge in your heart for days to come. Landing in a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2017.
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
Tourist. Traitor. Psychopath. Spy. Who is Jule West Williams? A steely-eyed orphan who fought her way into the Ivy League with nothing but grit and determination? AÂ heartbroken teen who just wants to be loved and accepted? Or a master manipulator with no conscience who will stop at nothing to secure her future?Â Only YOU can decide in E. Lockhart‘s brand new, topsy turvy tale of love, murder and betrayal.
As soon as Jule met Imogene, they were instant BFFs. Jule admired Imogene’s refusal to accept labels, and Imogen adored Jule’s stories of her hard-luck past. Imogene had money, and Jule had none, but that didn’t matter because benevolent Imogene always paid. But then Imogene asked one too many questions, Jule lied one too many times and suddenly, their fairy tale friendship was through. How will Jule survive without Imogene, or more specifically, Imogene’s generosity? With a lot of planning and a little luck, maybe she won’t have to…
This innovative thriller that starts at the end, and ends at the beginning, is exquisitely executed. Each meticulously plotted detail leads the reader deeper and deeper into a dizzying labyrinth of truth, lies and shocking consequences. As one of the fortuitous few who got to lay my eyeballs on this super advance copy, IÂ was giddy with anticipation and fear at each turn of the page, and finished the whole stunning thing in one long, delirious sick day home in bed. “Fraud” may be in the title, but this provocative puzzler is destined to be a bona fide hit! Mark your calendars for September 2017 so you can be among the first to read one of the most remarkable YA novels of the year. Too long to wait? Then try these other satisfying stories of slippery secrets and delicious lies.
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
Che’s sister ten-year-old Rosa isn’t like other little girls. She’s not afraid of anything, not heights or strangers or big dogs. She thinks it’s funny when someone gets hurt. She doesn’t make friends, she uses them. She wonders what it would feel like to kill something bigger than a bug. Che knows this because he is the only one Rosa confides in. Che is tired of listening to Rosa’s constant lies. He’s tired of trying to anticipate what terrible thing she might do next. But mostly he’s tired of his parents pretending nothing’s wrong. Because something is very wrong with Rosa. And now that their family has moved to New York City, Rosa has a whole new world to explore, new friends to exploit, new lies to tell. Che just wants to focus on boxing and getting a girlfriend, but he’s afraid to leave Rosa alone. Che tries again to tell his parents that Rosa isn’t right. But they just don’t want to hear anything bad about their darling, blue-eyed daughter. Now Che can only watch helplessly as Rosa’s deadly new plans unfold, and pray that she doesn’t target him next! Justine Larbalestier’s chilling modern take on The Bad Seed is utterly unputdownable. I downed this intense characterization of psychopathy in a little under 24 hours, and I have no doubt you’ll do the same when you snatch up this suspenseful tome about the terrifying toxicity of family secrets at your local library or bookstore!
Watched by Marina Budhos
Naeem has run out of choices. Failing out of school and picked up for shoplifting with a bag of weed in his backpack, the Muslim teen is forced to turn informant for a pair of detectives looking for terrorists nests in the vibrant, immigrant NYC borough of Queens:Â “I love Queens. I love its smells, its layout. Maybe because its so big and prairie flat, the wild moody sky overhead. The blocks start to spread, stretching to all these other neighborhoods–Corona, Woodside, Flushing, Bayside. On and on the borough stretches. Northern Boulevard, pas the frayed silver flags of the car dealers, the jagged skyline of Manhattan rises like some wrecked and far-off city, a jagged Kryptonite kingdom, comic-book surreal.”At first Naeem feels awkward, sure that everyone can see right through what he’s doing. But soon he is dipping in and out of internet cafes and neighborhood mosques like a pro, checking browser histories on public computers and making small talk with the imams who wonder where this new bright young volunteer suddenly came from. He discovers he has a talent for making himself seen, yet not seen: “The best thing about being a kid at the back of the room is you’re already a spy. You know how to fake it. The other guys who are…involved could never do what I can. I’ve got all the moves, the feints, the angles. I know how to rearrange my face, make it attentive…Half listen while a camera coolly spools inside my head.” He’s even making enough money from the dubious enterprise to enroll in summer school and boost GPA. But Naeem still feels guilty spying on his own community. Â Even though he tries to tell himself he’s one of the good guys, it gets harder and harder, especially when the detectives ask him to focus in on an old friend. No Naeem has to decide which side he’s on and who’s using who. Because nothing about this situation is what it seems. Author Marina Budhos has penned a richly atmospheric read full of vivid neighborhood descriptions Â and complicated character motivations that couldn’t be more relevant as this brutal xenophobic election season comes to a close. This nuanced depiction of surveillance and profiling is a timely must-read for anyone who’s ever felt targeted or anyone who’s ever considered themselves safe from become a target. In other words, all of us.
Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl
“It must be complicated, being a person with a conscience.” Fifteen year old Morgan is “cold.” She doesn’t know what it’s like to put herself Â in someone else’s shoes, because the only feet she’s ever cared about are her own! That’s why when her parents finally get fed up with her self serving ways and decide to send her to a boarding school for “troubled teens,” Morgan makes a break for it. She meets a girl named Janelle at the airport who looks a lot like her, give or take a few pounds. She convinces lovelorn Janelle, who’s being sent to live with her rich aunt and uncle in order to separate her from her bad news boyfriend, to switch identities. With Janelle off in a love nest, Morgan is free to skip boarding school and take her place. Then the games really begin, as Morgan successfully convinces Janelle’s family that she is their niece, while running scam after scam that soon line her pockets with rolls of cash. But nothing good lasts forever. Morgan knows that sooner or later her parents or the real Janelle are going to show up feeling pretty angry and looking for answers. Does she have what it takes to pull off one last big con and head off in the sunset for fresh hunting grounds? You may not like Morgan, but you’re sure to be rooting for her by the surprising end of this snappy thriller.Â The plot is preposterous, but that’s precisely what makes it so much fun. Think Harriet the Spy meets The Grifters (I know I’m dating myself here, but trust me, they’re CLASSICS.) Coming your way this August, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered to get you through the dog days of summer.
Snow Job by Charles Benoit
It’s the middle of winter in 1977 upstate New York, and seventeen year old Nick has decided he’s OVER being a burnout banger. So he ditches his pot-smoking friends, trades in his ratty concert tees for a shirt and tie and memorizes his new mantra: STAND OUT. STAND UP. STAND BY. STAND FAST. When his best friend makes a break for Florida, he makes a tentative plan to join once he has the cash. He starts logging serious hours at his crappy convince store job, but at a minimum wage of $2+ an hour, he’s hardly making any bank. Just as it looks like his beach dream may not come true, he is seduced by a Joan Jett look alike named Dawn who convinces him to dip back into the druggie world for one last big score. If Nick can pull it off, he will make enough for both he and Dawn to ride south into the sunset. Can he convince Dawn’s unstable drug lord boyfriend to trust him long enough to steal his stash AND his girl? This slow-burning thriller is full of twists and tension, with a setting that really captures the white 1970’s in rural/suburban America. I felt like I knew Nick and his crew pretty well, as they resembled the guys I stood next to at the school bus stop and watched trade cigarettes in the art and shop rooms at school. If you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, check out these 1970’s film gems about being a kid and teen back in the day and read SNOW JOB when it hits the library and bookstore shelves March 2016.
Sweet by Emmy Laybourne
Laurel should be grateful that her best friend Viv’s wealthy dad footed the bill for the two of them to join the SOLU luxury cruise. After all, the producers of the brand new sweetener promise that anyone who sprinkles it on their cereal will drop 5% of their body weight in the first week, and even though Laurel has come to terms with her size 14 jeans, Viv is convinced that they both need to lose at least a dress size. So Laurel agrees to go, even though she secretly thinks that she and Viv look just fine the way they are. Soon they are partying with the likes of Tom Fiorelli, a hot teen celebrity spokesperson who wants to become the next Ryan Seacrest, and downing SOLU like water at every meal. Well, at least Viv is. Laurel is too seasick to eat anything for the first few days and by then, it’s clear that SOLU works, maybe a little too well. Laurel notices that within hours, Â all newly thin Viv wants to eat is SOLU. In fact, the fake sweetener is so addictive that soon everyone that has been eating it craves more. And when there isn’t any more, they begin to turn on each other in order to get their fix–in blood. The only ones who remain sane are those who never developed the craving, including Laurel, Tom and a few smart crew members. Now it’s up to them to ditch the cruise and warn the world that the greatest weight loss drug ever created has fatal side effects. There’s only one problem: the passengers are hungry. And the chance that Laurel and Tom will escape the ship with their lives is slim to none. But they have to try, because when it comes to SOLU, slim is better than DEAD! This highly entertaining dietary horror story manages to be compulsively readable while also imparting serious messages about identity, body image and the drug industry. If you like humor/horror mashups like Scream or Shaun of the Dead, then you will devour SWEET. Skip the latest dystopian blah blah, THIS should be the first book to grace your beach bag this summer. Get ready to become addicted when SWEET comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2015.
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
“Reeve was the most special thing that every happened to me. Now I’m just an apathetic, long-haired girl who doesn’t care about anything but my own grief.” Jam Gallahue loved a boy named Reeve. Now he’s gone and Jam can’t figure out how to live her life without him. So her parents have sent her to the Wooden Barn in Vermont, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers,” in hopes that a new environment will shake Jam out of her depression. But Jam isn’t very optimistic. “…supposedly a combination of the Vermont air, maple syrup, no psychiatric medication, and no Internet will cure me. But I’m not curable.” Then Jam attends her first Special Topics in English class, an exclusive elective with only five members taught by the mysterious Mrs. Quenell. She learns they are going to study Sylvia Plath, another long haired girl who suffered from depression and wrote a now classic book about her experience called The Bell Jar. She learns that each student is required to keep a special journal that the must turn in to Mrs. Q by the end of the semester. The last thing Jam wants to do is record her misery. But when she opens the pages and begins to write, she finds the process to be transformative…in more ways than one. She discovers her classmates are having the same experience, that the journals have become portals to another world where they can fix the issue that brought them to the Wooden Barn and in that moment, forget their current problems. But one by one, they each painfully come to understand that it is impossible to live in the past if they ever want to move forward. Jam is the last one to learn this lesson, and when she finally faces her fear and loss, the results are both devastating and enlightening. Critically acclaimed adult author Meg Wolitizer has penned a strong, spare, magically real YA novel about the power words and books can have over despair that will no doubt inspire a wave of new interest in the prose and poetry of Sylvia Plath.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Three sisters left alone for three days in a wintery cabin, each visited by a mysterious stranger who lures them into the snow. A beautiful young bride who makes a grisly discovery in the walls of her new husband’s grand house. A jealous man who commits murder in the dark of the forest and then is visited by the victim of his crime. These are a few of the deliciously creepy, folklore-gone-wrong stories written and illustrated by the incredibly talented Emily Carroll. Â Mostly inked in red, black and a chilly cobalt blue, these graphic vignettes about love, death and revenge ooze with tension until they quietly detonate, usually in a silent moment of terrifying realization or a shocking splatter of crimson blood. Though I have read through the collection over half a dozen times by now, I just can’t stop poring over the gorgeously gory pages in fear and fascination. This assemblage of gothic-themed dread is a boon to my YA horror peeps who are always looking for a good literary scare, and to any nervous reader who’s ever been convinced that they just missed being snatched on the way back to bed by the something that lives under it. Because as the fanged shadow warns Red Riding Hood at the end of her journey through the forest, “You must travel through these woods again & again…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…but the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” Here’s hoping that the wolf never gets lucky and you relish these darkly delightful tales as much as I did. Want a taste of Emily Carroll’s disturbing visions? Read this interactive horror story and try not to shiver uncontrollably at the end.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
You know when sometimes you discover that amazing book that is ALL THE THINGS? Mystery? Check. Romance? Check. Family DRA-mah? Check. Unexpectedly awesome, never-saw-it-coming ending? Check, check! I wish I could tell you more about this book about a girl, her two cousins and the love of her life. But to say too much about this story of a family slowly rotting from the inside out because of greed and fear would be a great disservice. You should get the chance to savor this delicious narrative of privilege, love and madness on a private island for yourself. Suffice it to say that it contains shades of King Lear, Wuthering Heights and The Virgin Suicides. That the small, perfect characterizations: “Bounce, effort, and snark.” “Sugar, curiosity, and rain.” “Ambition and strong coffee” will have you pulling out your own writer’s notebook to follow the pattern. That not only people but HOUSES in this story have their own personalities and strange little quirks. That the plot rug is pulled out from under you the minute you think you understand what is going on. And try not to scream when I tell you this terrific little tension filled package is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2014.