The Inn Between


The Inn Between
Marina Cohen
Roaring Brook Press
March 2016
Advanced Reader Copy courtesy of NetGalley

Quinn and Kara are best friends who have been through a lot together but now Kara’s family is moving a thousand miles away. Quinn is making the drive with Kara and Kara’s parents and brother from Colorado to California as a kind of extended goodbye when they stop for the night in an off-the-beaten-path hotel, the Inn Between. The hotel is a beautiful old Victorian mansion that seems bigger on the inside and has an overly cheerful staff and no phone line to the outside. After their first night at the Inn Between strange things start to happen – Kara’s parents disappear, Quinn thinks she hears and sees her little sister, Quinn nearly drowns in the hotel swimming pool, and on and on. Things get downright scary when Quinn and Kara accidentally take the elevator to the basement. What is really going on at the Inn Between? This young middle grade book has just enough creeps and suspense to satisfy young mystery fans but at its heart is a story about friendship and knowing when to let go. Pitch-perfect pacing, tight storytelling, and a few twists and turns make The Inn Between an addicting, cover-to-cover-in-one-afternoon kind of read.

Read Alikes

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand




Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
July 2014

Oscar Drai, a restless boarding school student, spends his free time wandering the neighborhoods of Barcelona until one of his outings leads him to the dilapidated mansion of Germán, an old widower and former artist, and his daughter Marina, who Oscar quickly befriends. After that all his spare time is spent with this odd family. On a walk through a graveyard one day, Marina and Oscar see a woman dressed in all black, face hidden, who leaves a single rose on a grave with a black butterfly engraved in it, same as she does on the last Sunday of every month, according to Marina. Curiosity gets the better of them, and they follow her, which leads them to an abandoned greenhouse full of uncanny dolls and a photo album that sets them off to solve the mystery of a by-gone era that was fueled by money, jealously, and the pursuit of eternal life.

This book is a translation of a book originally published in Spanish. The cover calls Marina “A Gothic Tale” and the story delivers in atmosphere, creepiness, and the supernatural. It makes me wish I had read it on a gloomy October day to maximize the effect. The setting – run-down mansions, abandoned movie theaters, hidden courtyards, the sewers below Barcelona – really add to the creep factor. I’ve never been to Barcelona, but if it is as dark and twisty as this book makes it seem, I am going to have to check it out some day. The best thing about this book for me, however, were the back stories of the various characters Oscar and Marina meet as the mystery unfolds. Each major player in the mystery is quite the storyteller, filling the teens in on a piece of the sinister history of which the teller has been a part. The last few chapters continue after the mystery is solved, and while they expose another more quickly resolved secret, they don’t move at the pace of the rest of the story, causing a bit of a drag at the end.

I liked this book so much that I’m looking into Zafón’s other books. He has two trilogies that are also translations and also set in Barcelona. They all sound as mysterious and broody, so I may have to pick one up soon.

TL;DR – If you like Gothic romances, horror, mystery, or Barcelona, read this book, ideally in the month of October on a gloomy day. Beware black butterflies.

This book reminded me of: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (middle grade); Drood by Dan Simmons

What’s the rhythm, Langston? Blue Balliett’s Hold Fast


Hold Fast
Blue Balliett
Available March 2013

How can a bicycle accident, a Dutch diamond heist, an old Langston Hughes poetry book, and some librarians launch a hard working, hard dreaming family on the South Side of Chicago into homelessness and a search for their missing father? Blue Balliett has the answer in her surprisingly ambitious new mystery Hold Fast.

Balliett tackles much heavier subject matter in Hold Fast than she did in the Chasing Vermeer series that made her into a household name in mysteries for children. Not only does she tackle issues and the experience of homelessness, she also writes against race. She is a white woman writing about a black family living in South Side Chicago, a neighborhood with areas of extreme poverty, and the success with which she portrays the Pearl family (at least to this white girl!) speaks both to her writing ability and her research. I also appreciate the smart, virus and resourceful character she has created in Early Pearl, the main character and heroine of the story. Not nearly enough middle-grade chapter books have characters of color, let alone ones as worthy of admiration as Early, though at times she can be a little too good to be true.

Even more rare than non-white protagonists is characters that are homeless. My librarian heart cries out for more books that say “Hey kids, guess what! Some people have real problems!” You know, problems beyond unrequited crushes or falling in love with a vampire/angel/ghost/werewolf. Even I learned something from this book about living in a shelter, desperately looking for a job, trying to figure out who will watch your kids even if you do get a job, and the list of terrifying things I never want to experience first-hand goes on. Thank goodness some of us only have to live that nightmare from the safe distance of books.

The layout is also somewhat avant garde as children’s books go, with chapters opening with dictionary definitions of the chapter names – many of them onomatopoeia – and a line-drawn symbol representing the same word. The symbol reappears throughout the chapter. If this sounds weird or confusing, that’s my fault for trying to describe it. I suggest you grab a copy of the book to kook at if you get a chance…or just take my word for it that it’s kinda cool, if a tad gimmicky.

My librarian heart also fell hook-line-and-sinker for Balliett’s references to classic literature (the title comes from Langston Hughes’s poem “Dreams”), the importance of reading, the Chicago Public Library, and word play at all socioeconomic levels. I don’t want to ruin anything by saying to much about the public library’s role in the mystery, but let’s just say I enjoyed, with some skepticism as to the mechanics, the library being the center of some intrigue and excitement. Storytime at my library can get crazy and all, but it can’t compete with missing persons, jewel heists, and questionable HR decisions.

To be honest, I don’t read many mysteries, but I may have to start if I can find others that combine the heart, smarts, and library love that Blue Balliett has packed into Hold Fast.

Buying it for the library?: I already did!
Recommending it to: boys and girls grades 5-8