The Inn Between

InnBetween

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

NaNoReadMo: We Were Liars

liars

We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Delacourte Press
May 2014

Growing up, Cadence Sinclair Easton spent summers on her grandfather’s private island in Cape Cod where each person in the Sinclair family – the grandfather and his three daughters – has his or her own home. Cady roamed the island with her two cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and friends and eventual love interest, Gat – a crew known as “The Liars” – visiting the houses, hanging out at the beach, and watching her mother, aunts, and grandfather get drunk and bicker about money, real estate, inheritance, and broken marriages. For two years following her 15th summer, she has not been allowed to go back and is suffering from debilitating migraines and amnesia. She knows something happened that last summer on the island but the combination of memory loss and painkillers for her migraines leaves her unable to piece together what happened. When she returns to the island to rejoin The Liars, things seem like they might go back to normal, but as Cady starts to remember what happened in that 15th summer, she knows nothing can be the same again. Because of the first-person narration by Cadence, the reader comes to the realization along with her, an ending that will make you question everything you just read and compel you to turn around and reread We Were Liars, looking for hints.

I read this book after being a big fan of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, but other than being about rich New Englanders (which, as a Bostonian, I feel I can especially appreciate), the books have very little in common. We Were Liars feels so dark right from the beginning, and while you can’t put your finger on it, something always feels a little off. It makes sense since we are getting the story from the point of view of an obviously ill, overprotected, and wholly unreliable narrator. Seriously, Cady might be the most questionable narrator I’ve ever read.

Cady’s family is not the kind of endearingly quirky rich people that Frankie’s family is; the members of the Sinclair family are pretty awful people actually, from the racist grandfather all the way down to the bratty kids so protected by money that they can’t even contemplate the consequences of their actions. They remind me of this quote about the Buchanans in The Great Gatsby – “They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they made” (chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby).

We Were Liars has been optioned for a movie. They have only just recently announced who would be adapting the movie script that E. Lockhart wrote based on the book, so there is no telling how long it will take to come to the screen. I can’t wait to see the sets – the island, the houses, the Cape!

Read alikes:

Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

NaNoReadMo: The Thief

thethief

The Thief
Megan Whalen Turner
HarperCollins
December 2005 edition (originally published in 1996)

The king of Sounis’s magus – his closest advisor – believes he knows the location of a mythical stone, Hamaithes’s Gift, that will grant its owner sovereignty over the neighboring kingdom of Eddis. Lacking the skills it will take to retrieve the stone, the magus chooses Gen, a known thief who is in the Sounis dungeons for stealing the king’s signet ring. Gen can earn his freedom back if he is successful in getting the stone; if he doesn’t, it is back to the dungeon. Gen, the magus, and a few companions set off, crossing treacherous terrain and pretty much bugging the crap out of each other. They reach the location where the stone is rumored to be – a temple to the Greek-esque pantheon of gods in this world that is hidden by a river and very rarely accessible. Gen only gets a handful of tries at a couple hours each in terrible conditions. The scenes in the temple are pretty suspenseful, so you’ll have to read it yourself to find out if he is successful. Either way, in the end it turns out the only thing more mysterious than the stone is Gen himself.

For better or worse, The Thief has several hallmarks of classic high fantasy – an epic journey by an unlikely band of companions, indulgent setting descriptions of dramatic landscapes, vaguely medieval kingdoms, mystical polytheistic religion, and the possibility of magic or, at the very least, divine intervention. While I like this style of fantasy to a point, but it also has its drawbacks, particularly when it comes to kids. It takes a long time to get to relatively brief bursts of action, which are broken up by a lot of word building and description. The Thief also has the Tolkein-like feature of keeping the story going long after you think the main plot has ended. It pays off in the end but can make the book feel like a drag in the final 50 pages or so. Fast-moving, plot-driven fantasy like the Percy Jackson books and even the super deep world of Harry Potter have mostly put high fantasy for children out of vogue with young readers unless they are very advanced or very patient readers. But if high fantasy is your jam, The Thief is the real deal and there are three more books in the series.

Read alikes:

Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander
The Dark is Rising 
by Susan Cooper
The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King