A Deep, Dark, Stunningly Atmospheric Work

Note from Kate: A few years ago, I was asked to look at a draft novel and give the author some advice. That author was Drew Yanno and the book was In The Matter of Michael Vogel. I was impressed. Advised. And the book was published. Then I was asked to look at his second novelThe Smart One. John Clark looked at it, too, and we were completely blown away. I found it a “can’t put it down” page turner that left me stunned by his talent. I hope you’ll grab the book after you read about Drew, and be as impressed as I was.

Meet Drew Yanno:
Drew Yanno was born and raised in upstate New York and received both his undergraduate and law degrees at Syracuse University.

After serving a clerkship in Albany, New York, Drew joined a large law firm in Boston where he worked for several years before founding his own firm. Throughout his time as a lawyer, Drew also taught law in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.

In 1993, Drew began writing screenplays. Two years later, his screenplay, No Safe Haven, was purchased by Universal Studios after an eight-hour bidding war. Following that, Drew went on to write a number of screenplays, both on spec and for hire.

In 2000, Drew founded the screenwriting program in the Film Department at Boston College where he taught for eleven years.

In 2006, his book The Third Act: Writing a Great Ending to Your Screenplay was published by Continuum International Publishing Group. In 2012, his second book Idea to Story to Screenplay: a Workbook for Writing the First Draft of Your Screenplay was released as a Kindle e-book.

In addition to writing, Drew has worked as a script consultant for a number of writers, producers and directors, including Will Smith and Overbrook Entertainment.

In the Matter of Michael Vogel was his first novel. His latest thriller is The Smart One.

What inspires you to write?
I don’t know if inspiration is the right word. I have just always wanted to write. When I was a boy, I read all the time and was fascinated by the notion that someone could actually write an entire book, especially a novel. After becoming a lawyer, I experimented and wrote a couple of novels, just for the exercise, to see if I could do it. After having done that, I knew that I would eventually do it for real. In the meantime, I happened to get approached to write a screenplay, and following some success in that area, I was able to leave the practice of law and write full time. I also was approached to teach writing, which only further reinforced my desire to write. In all that time, I have written and will continue to do so, in some form or another.

Tell us about your writing process.
As a screenwriter, I was most definitely an outliner. Nearly every successful screenwriter outlines before writing a script. Because of the structure of Hollywood films and the limited number of pages/time you have to tell a complete and rich story, you simply have to plan ahead. You have to know where you’re going before you can even begin the script. In many ways, it’s like a lawyer preparing for a trial. You need to tell a story and manage the outcome.

On the other hand, I do no outlining at all when writing a novel. I find it a much more freeing form of written expression. While I might have some idea of where I might be headed when writing a novel, I trust the writing to lead me to “discover” the story. All the magical moments in a novel happen without planning, at least in my experience.

I don’t create or use character sketches. I take notes as I write and might jot down ideas about my characters that I will want to use later on or to remind myself of something about a character for continuity sake, but no sketches.

Your latest book is The Smart One. Tell us a little about the book and where the idea for this book came from?

It’s a modern-day thriller set in the northeast, although the story takes the main character halfway across the country and back. It’s really a story about identity and who we are, told through the voice of an unnamed narrator who is struggling with some failure as he has grown older. I can’t really tell you where the idea came from without giving away a few surprises in the book, but suffice it to say that with both this book and my first, I sort of followed the advice of Stephen King in his wonderful book On Writing and took two separate ideas and combined them.

Many writers struggle with the process of translating an idea into a written story. What is your process?

Well, with screenwriting, there is almost always outlining, as I mentioned before. When I write a novel, I simply start with an idea and just let the story take me for a ride. In The Smart One, the first 30 pages or so came to me all at once and not much changed from the first draft to the last. And it set me off on a road to discovery. I kind of like the feeling of not knowing where I’m going, figuring that if I don’t know, the reader is unlikely to have any idea.

How much is your process influenced by your law background? By your screen writing background?

As a lawyer, I always try to think of how the law affects many things in our life and so that has to be true with any character in the book. That said, I try to research (if necessary) and make sure it all makes enough sense, at least for the average fiction reader, although maybe not a Supreme Court justice or law professor. As for screenwriting, there are two main things. First, film is a visual medium, so when you write screenplays you quickly learn to write visually and try to make the reader “see” the story. I just do that out of habit now, as much for me as for the reader. The second thing is a bit of a drawback. Screenwriting is all about economy – saying the most in the fewest words. That’s not always a good thing in a novel, so I constantly walk the line between wanting to maintain a healthy pace, but also making sure I’m providing enough detail (and rich enough detail) to capture the reader’s imagination and get that reader to trust me as a storyteller.

As a reader, I was fascinated, in both of your books, by your amazing ability to control the tone of the stories. Can you talk a bit about this, and perhaps give an example?

I’m not sure I can give an example except by saying what I did in both stories. I had such a clear idea of who the narrators were that I could hear their voices in my head and I always strived to stay true to them. In my first book (In the Matter of Michael Vogel), one of the three narrators is a twelve year old boy, and I always had to be mindful of just how sophisticated and worldly he should be. He couldn’t sound too adult. At the same time, he was described as being pretty smart and so that gave me some leeway. Luckily, it was part of the story so it didn’t feel artificial to me, and hopefully the reader as well. In The Smart One, the narrator is also “smart,” but he is in a professional rut and questioning himself to a large degree. He was never going to be jolly, and I pictured him as someone who has trouble with emotions. That helped me to maintain a certain tone throughout the story.

What advice would you give other writers?
I’m hesitant to give unsolicited advice, but I guess this qualifies as solicited. My biggest bit of advice to writers is to read. Sounds simple, I know, but I actually know some folks who claim to want to write novels, for instance, and yet they don’t read novels. That’s kind of insane to me. I think writers should read everything, but in particular, they should read what they hope to write. For example, if you want to write romance, read romance novels. If you want to write Young Adult, you better read a lot of Young Adult.

I’d also tell them to stick with it if it’s what they really want to do. Nobody succeeds on their first try or with their first draft. If it’s what you want to do, continue to write until you get there. You will get better and success, in some form or another, will come.

I know that the journey to publication has been a frustrating one for you. Can you talk a little about that journey, and your decision to try indy publishing?
With the first book, after about two years of seeking agents and having them tell me how great the book was but that they just wouldn’t be able to sell it, I finally just took matters into my own hands. And I’m happy I did. I have been blessed with some very nice reviews, including one from Kirkus, so I guess the agents were kind of right about the great part.

With the second, I had an agent who tried to get it published with the large, legacy publishers. Over the course of that, we had some disagreement about how the story should end, and after doing it her way and not getting an offer, I rewrote it the way I wanted it to end and went the independent route again. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened (or still might happen) with a marketing department and budget behind the books, but in the end I decided I simply needed to satisfy myself and be true to the stories I wanted to tell.

What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think the stigma of self-publishing and independent publishing has pretty much vanished. It’s much more of a meritocracy now. The market, not some publishing executive somewhere, now decides what the public wants with respect to reading for pleasure. Obviously, there are advantages to being published by a traditional publisher. However, there are just as many advantages to having control over one’s material, both in its creation and its marketing.

I believe both models will co-exist for a time. However, the more reticent the traditional publishers become about taking chances on authors and material, the more that the independent and self-published authors will rush in and fill that void. The demise of the big box book retailers seems to signal an inability for them to dominate the market as they once did. Eventually, the ability to publish outside the traditional model with success will have to have a toll and may even lead to the extinction of traditional publishers, although I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Again, the market will decide. And with new outlets to help generate word of mouth and global connectedness via the internet, it will be easier for smaller books and newer authors to be discovered. It’s already happened. Sites like Book Goodies and others like it are leading the way on that. I, for one, am grateful that they exist.

What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print

Author Home Page Link
Link To Author Page On Amazon

Your Social Media Links



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What We’re Reading

What We’re Reading

From time to time, it’s fun to check in with our writers and see what they’re reading, Here is what some of us are reading during this gloomy, snowy, yes, we’re sick of it, Month of March:

Lea Wait: I’ve just finished binge-reading all of Christina Baker Kline’s novels.  Several years ago I fell in love with her ORPHAN TRAIN: two interwoven stories, one of which is about a woman who’s history is tied to the Orphan Trains, which I knew quite a bit about. Baker Kline brought history together with a contemporary story —  set in Maine – and it really worked. My copy’s been sitting on my “books to emulate and learn from” shelf in my study. I pre-ordered her A PIECE OF THE WORLD, which was just published, and I wasn’t disappointed. Her interweaving of the lives of three real people – Andrew and Betsy Wyeth and Christina Olson – was even better than I hoped, capturing Maine and the frustrations and hopes of those whose lives are outside the norm. Now totally captivated, I went back and bought copies of Baker Kline’s first four books … two of which (DESIRE LINES and THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE) are also set in Maine. (The other two are SWEET WATER and BIRD IN HAND.) Two of these books (SWEET WATER and DESIRE LINES) contain secrets that must be unearthed, although neither is a conventional mystery. I enjoyed all six of her books. They are well-written and realistic, and “got” the different Maines portrayed. But – A PIECE OF THE WORD is still my favorite. I’m going to read it again very soon. This time more slowly.

Kathy Lynn Emerson: I have the great honor to have been asked to give a quote to fellow MCW Jessie Crockett for the first book in her new series w/a Jessica Ellicott. I’ve just started MURDER IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE, set in England in 1920. It features two female sleuths, one English and one American and I can already tell you that my blurb will be glowing. As for other reading, my interest in sixteenth century women has me dipping into Susan E. James’s WOMEN’S VOICES IN TUDOR WILLS, 1485-1603: AUTHORITY, INFLUENCE AND MATERIAL CULTURE. That probably sounds like a slog to most people, but it’s full of fascinating trivia and, of course, fodder for situations in future historical mysteries. On a lighter note, I’ve read a couple of new cozies, Miranda James’s TWELVE ANGRY LIBRARIANS and Sheila Connolly’s CRUEL WINTER.

Kate Flora: Despite making a resolution to do more reading, I haven’t been. So, for our current vacation, I bought a kindle so that I could carry books with me everywhere, and read more easily in sunlight. And I used a program called “Overdrive” through the library to load it with books. As part of trying to understand the current national divide, I read Hillbilly Elegy, about a guy with West Virginia and Ohio roots who became a marine and then went to Yale Law School. A fascinating sociological study of his rural, blue-collar extended family. Just before that I read A Man Called Ove, by Frederik Bachman, which was so charming I immediately read another of his books, My Grandmother Asked Me to tell You She’s Sorry. Now, because I heard him interviewed on NPR, I’m reading the Bruce Springsteen autobiography. Then I’m going to read some Lee Child, followed by White Trash.

Susan Vaughan: I’m reading Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman. I was thoroughly caught up in her first thriller, Rage Against the Dying, also with Brigid Quinn, a retired FBI agent and now doing private investigations. She’s old enough to have the wisdom of experience and still strong enough to take down a threat. This story has me riveted as well. It just might keep me up at night. Here’s a little of the back cover copy: Brigid Quinn has seen more than her share of psychopaths. She is ready to put all that behind her, building a new life in Tucson with a husband, friends, and some nice quiet work as a private investigator. Sure, she could still kill a man half her age, but she now gets her martial arts practice by teaching self-defense at a women’s shelter. But sometimes it isn’t that simple.

Jessie Crockett: Currently I am reading The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown, Borrowed Time by Roy Hattersley and everything I can get my hands on by new-to-me mystery writer Sally Spencer.

Dick Cass: I’ve just started the Ava Lee series, Ian Hamilton’s wonderful series about a Chinese lesbian forensic accountant who travels the world collecting on bad debts. A kick-ass heroine and some crazily convoluted financial schemes that rival the best long con stories I know. Start with The Disciple of Las Vegas—I’m currently halfway through the Wild Beasts of Wuhan and happy to know there are at least five more to go. Also reread the Dutch crime novelist Janwillem van de Vetering’s The Maine Massacre, part of his series involving the Dutch constabulary solving murders, this time on the coast of Maine.

Jen Blood: I’m reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and listening to This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate.

Barb Ross: I just finished Garden of Lamentations by Deborah Crombie. Spoiler alert: I loved it. Now I’m reading The Bertie Project, the latest in Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series. Not a mystery, but I love these gentle, funny books.

Bruce Robert Coffin: I just finished an ARC of Vaughan Hardacker’s latest thriller, Wendigo, for the purpose of giving it a blurb. An enjoyable read that I found to be a cross between William Kent Krueger and Stephen King. Currently, I’m engrossed in Autumn Imago by local author Bryan Wiggins. Wiggins’ book is a blend of strained family relationships, memories of better times, and the beauty of Baxter State Park.

Maureen Milliken: I can’t read mysteries, at least fiction, when I’m writing one, and since writing my third book in the Bernie O’Dea mystery series is taking soooo lonnnngggg (a blog post for another day), that’s quite an issue. But I CAN read non-fiction mysteries, and this week I’m reading two books about the Martha Moxley murder, GREENTOWN by Tim Dumas, which I first read when it first came out in 1998. He’s updated it quite a bit and added a lot, including the arrest and conviction of “Kennedy cousin” Michael Skakel. I also have on tap CONVICTION to finish off this week, by journalist Len Levitt and investigator Frank Garr. Levitt was hired by the Greenwich Time newspaper to do an in-depth investigation and story on the murder in 1982, then they took almost eight years to publish his story.

Martha Moxley

Why my interest? Well, aside from the fact I’ve always been interested — Martha Moxley was only a few months older than me when she was killed in 1975 and it’s a case that’s so 1970s in so many ways — it’s going to be the topic of the Crime & Stuff podcast I host with my sister, artist Rebecca Milliken. We’re recording the episode the night before you read this and it drops next weekend. It’s not my only research, but I like to be thorough, and know what I’m talking about.

And what aren’t I reading but should be and wish I was? I bought Elinor Lipman’s ON TURNENTINE LANE a few weeks ago, and have yet to get to it. She’s one of my favorite authors, but I want to be able to take the time to enjoy it.

Vaughn C. Hardacker: Just finished two by Dennis Lehane: THE DROP and WORLD GONE BY (the third in the Coughlin Trilogy). I’m also reading a couple by Carl Hiaasen, SKINK and CHOMP. If you like whacky adventure tales with an environmental message and equally wild and crazy characters but haven’t read Hiaasen you don’t know what you’re missing. A quote from the New York Post blurb for CHOMP: “Only in Florida–and in the fiction of Carl Hiaasen–does a dead iguana fall from a palm tree and kill somebody.”


Brendan Rielly: I just finished reading Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, an Israeli writer. It’s a suspense novel and is her first novel published in the U.S.. Neurosurgeon Eitan Green is living a wonderful life. Successful, married, two kids. Then, while driving late one night, he hits and kills an African migrant and flees the scene. But the migrant’s widow was nearby and can identify Green. She shows up at his house to tell Green that he now works for her, providing medical care to other migrants. But her motives are less than pure–she’s charging the migrants for his services. Oh, and Green’s wife is the police detective investigating the migrant’s killing. Oh what a tangled web we weave….NPR did a nice piece on it here.

John Clark: Just finished a great YA book that’s part of my Thursday Blog this week. It’s called Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller. Almost finished with a New Adult title called Because of Low by Abbi Glines (New adult is my newest guilty pleasure)

Brenda Buchanan: I’ve been on an Irish/Scottish/British crime fiction kick for a while. Ann Cleeves’s THIN AIR, the sixth in her Shetland series, was terrific. The same must be said for Tana French’s most recent, THE TRESPASSER, though you need to be patient because this particular tale of the Dublin murder squad unfolds slowly.  I’ve also been reading my way through Deborah Crombie’s wonderful series featuring Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. I’m up to NOW MAY YOU WEEP (2003). When we head to Ireland next month I feel quite certain I’ll tuck a nice, dark Ken Bruen into my suitcase to read while I’m there. PURGTORY, I think, because I love Jack Taylor and though we won’t visit Galway this trip, we’ll be close enough.

Closer to home I thoroughly enjoyed William Kent Krueger’s MANITOU CANYON, flew through Michele Dorsey’s terrific PERMANENT SUNSET and am now in the middle of Ingrid Thoft’s IDENTITY.  A few months ago Chris Holm’s compelling and terrifying RIGHT RIGHT HAND kept me awake at night, in a good way.

Next on my to-read list is Chris Bohjalian’s THE SLEEPWALKER and Barb Ross’ ICED UNDER, which has been out since December, but like the last caramel sea salt chocolate in the box, I’ve been saving it up.

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Weekend Update: March 18-19, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Kate Flora (Tuesday), Barb Ross (Wednesday), Dorothy Cannell (Thursday) and Jen Blood (Friday). On Monday, we will have a group post on What We’re Reading.


In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

Bruce Robert Coffin will be appearing at the York Library, 15 Long Sands Road, York, ME on Tuesday, March 21st at 7 pm.

Reminder: You’ll find many of us Maine Crime Writers at the Maine Crime Wave on April 22. For more information and to register, click here.


An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora


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Where Do Ideas Come From?

Over the past sixteen years I’ve made a lot of appearances as an author. I’ve spoken to kindergarten students and senior citizens, other writers and “pre-published” authors, library patrons, school groups, conferences, festivals …. a lot of people, in a lot of places.

And when it comes time for questions (my favorite part of presentations) one question always comes up:  “Where do you get your ideas?”

Of course, I’m tempted to say “They’re on special, this week only, at Wal-Mart. Aisle five.” But I don’t. Because whoever is asking the question is serious.

But there’s no easy answer. To start, authors get ideas from their own lives. I write the Shadows Antique Print mystery series because I was an antique print dealer for 35 years. My protagonist in that series wants to adopt an older child. I adopted four. But, on the other hand, I’ve never solved a crime, or found a body, or taught in a college or opened an antiques mall. Maggie Summer, my protagonist, has done all of those things. So I researched a lot of situations she could be involved with.

When I started writing the Mainely Needlepoint series, I needed to come up with all new characters and a new location. Angie Curtis spent ten years in Phoenix, Arizona — a city I’ve visited perhaps a dozen times,  where one of my daughters attended college, and where a nephew-by-marriage and his wife live now. Now Angie’s home is Haven Harbor, a town similar to many small Maine seaports, from Belfast to Searsport to Boothbay Harbor.

For each book in the series I’ve pulled some plot details from “real life” — mine or other people’s.

A body was really found in a freezer in a storage locker in Maine a few years back. (Twisted Threads.)

I’ve always been drawn to old, neglected and forgotten, homes, especially Victorians — like Aurora, in Threads of Evidence. And I was a drama major in college, studied improvisational theatre in New York City, and was once married to a comedy writer who worked with well-known comedians and actors. So, creating famous actress Skye West was an easy leap.  Skye’s son Patrick is an artist: so was my mother, and so is my husband. I’ve spent many hours at art galleries and openings.

My own home is the Marie Antoinette House that was owned by the Clough family, and which is where an early piece of needlepoint is found in Thread and Gone.  Mary Queen of Scots might have been a distant relative of mine, and I knew her story well. She also ended up in my book.

When I was a child I saw a man who lived alone on a barren island off the coast, rowed into town occasionally for supplies, and who rarely spoke with people.  I was fascinated by him then, and his story (or lack of one) stayed with me through the years. I created Jesse in Dangling By a Thread to give that man I’d seen as a child a back story and a purpose.

Australian Sarah Byrne is an antique dealer in Haven Harbor because the real Sarah Byrne is an Australian who won naming rights to one of my characters in a Bouchercon auction. I knew some day I’d have to explain what brought Sarah to the coast of Maine. As a long-time adoption advocate, I’m drawn to adoption and foster care situations, and children who need rescuing. Several years ago I happened to find a movie on Netflix called Oranges and Sunshine, about the horrible “child migrant” program which took children from England and transported them to Australia and other countries. I knew immediately that somehow Sarah was connected with that program, and further research showed me how that could be. Tightening the Threads, which will be published in ten days, is Sarah’s story, about her longing for family, and her quest to discover her roots. And, since it’s a mystery: what happens after she finds them.

Thread the Walls, to be published next October, brings actress Skye West back to Haven Harbor from her movie set in Edinburgh (which I have visited), along with some of her show business colleagues.  The weather, the food they eat, the way they celebrate Christmas (minus the requisite murder, of course) are all very familiar to me.

All these stories, and the others I’ve written, started with a glint. An idea. A question. A fact. And then I asked a lot of questions (what if? how? why?) and did research to connect the dots and create characters who could ask some of the same questions.

Research is one of my favorite parts of writing (the other is editing) and maybe that’s why I write mysteries: solving a crime requires a lot of questions and a lot of research. Isn’t that what an investigation is?

So,  how do I get my ideas for plots and characters? Our of real life; out of my imagination; and, best of all, from the glint of an idea for a plot and from the characters themselves, who lead me to the story. Not just “what happens next” and “who done it” but why? Because the emotional context of that “why” is the real basis for any mystery.

Thanks for asking!


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Get your YA YAs

John Clark talking about YA fiction. It’s no secret I love the genre and read extensively in it. There are days I discover so many interesting new books, I despair of ever reading them all. My appetite for it is fueled not only by new books from favorite authors, but through discoveries I make when I swap books on www.paperbackswap.com, browsing through the shelves at Bullmoose in Waterville and various websites. One of particular note is YA Books Central http://www.yabookscentral.com/. There I can enter to win books, but equally important, I get to read about ones about to be published that sound really interesting.

For example, if you look at the current giveaways there, you’ll see the following which I put on my get later list:

THE WAY IT HURTS by Patty Blount Release date: August 1, 2017 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire ISBN: 9781492632788

Lost Girls Paperback –by Merrie Destefano January 3, 2017, Entangled Teen ISBN: 9781633756052

Who Killed Christopher Goodman?:Based on a True Crime by Allan Wolf, March 14, 2017, Candlewick Press. ISBN: 0763656135

Sasquatch, Love, and Other Imaginary Things Hardcover by Betsy Aldredge, Merit Press (August 8, 2017) ISBN: 9781507202807

Even the Darkest Stars Hardcover by Heather Fawcett, Balzer + Bray (September 5, 2017) ISBN: 9780062463388

Red Dirt Hardcover by Anna Jarzab, Harlequin Teen (August 29, 2017), ISBN: 9780373212514

The Breaking Light (Split City) by Heather Hansen, Skyscape (April 1, 2017), ISBN: 9781503942684

Here are two full reviews and two short ones I think some of you will like. Two are by the same author and feature the same protagonist. They stand out for two reasons. First, the main character is a strong female teen and in both books, she uses science to solve the crime in a way that makes it appealing and easily understandable, things I’d love to see more of in YA fiction geared for girls.

Short review #1: Daughter of The Pirate King, by Tricia Levenseller, Feiwell & Friends, 2017. ISBN: 9781250095961. Alosa is the daughter of the Pirate King. Raised to be tough and fearless, she’s captain of her own ship with a mostly female crew. When sent by her father to be captured by a rival cutthroat so she can search his ship for a piece of an ancient treasure map, she starts out fine, but soon becomes frustrated not only because the map fragment keeps eluding her nocturnal breakouts from the brig, but because she’s starting to wonder about how she feels toward the younger brother of her captor. Full of great dialogue, twists and turns, as well as a growing awareness that her life isn’t all she thought, it’s a dandy read and begs for a sequel.

In The BoyWho Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears, you have a story that’s akin to being stuck on a hill with no way down while watching a runaway train headed for a collapsed bridge. You can only watch, cringe and hope for a miracle. After Luke Grayson got expelled from the private Washington, DC school, his fed up mom sends him to live with his Baptist minister father and evil stepmother in rural Tennessee. Coping with all the God stuff would be bad enough, but school is just as bad, particularly when he starts being stalked and bullied by football star Grant Parker. Grant can do no wrong in the eyes of townsfolk, but after a freak accident, Luke swaps places atop the social structure at school. How that happened, what goes on inside his mind, as well in reality, make this a very intriguing story.

Death Spiral: A Faith Flores science mystery by Janie Chodosh, The Poisoned Pencil; 1 edition (April 1, 2014) . ISBN: 9781929345007. Faith Flores has the deck of life stacked against her—Unknown father, addict (now dead) mom, fragmented education thanks to constantly moving, a distrust of most people and struggles with self-esteem and trust in general. One of the few things she had to hold onto was her belief that Mom was clean when she died, but when the death certificate states heroin overdose as the cause of death, her world takes a serious hit. Still, there was that scary rat-faced guy who threatened her mom just before she died.

Fast forward six weeks. Faith is now living with her Aunt T. It’s more stable, there’s real food in the house and her aunt isn’t an addict or unpredictable. Even so, Faith feels edgy and distrustful most of the time. Then things begin to happen that shake her world, leaving her wondering, a lot.

First, there’s Jesse, a new boy in her classes who is passionate, smart, a fount of trivia and not scared off by her hardness. The more he spends time with her, the harder it is for her to keep all her feelings and secrets from him. When she finds a note from her mom’s addict friend, Melinda, asking her to come talk to her (in the same decrepit, creepy neighborhood where Faith used to live), She’s torn, but after blurting an invitation to Jesse, which he accepts, they go to see Melinda, only to find her looking like Faith’s mother and hinting that the two women were involved in something mysterious at the methadone clinic that was treating them.

From there to the scary ending, readers are treated to several story lines that blend together. There’s Faith’s determination to find the truth, her agonizing ambivalence about trusting those who care about her and opening up, the very complex web of secrets surrounding what was happening at the clinic and why a bunch of researchers and doctors were involved, all culminating in a very gutsy act by Faith, Jesse, her friend Anj, along with Anj’s Scottish exchange student boyfriend, Duncan.

This is a dandy mystery with a gutsy and stronger than she realizes female protagonist. Teens (and adults) who like an intelligent mystery with strong teen characters will like it a lot.

Code Red: A Faith Flores science mystery by Janie Chodosh, Poisoned Pencil Press, 2017, ISBN: 9781929345281. Not long after Faith solves the mystery surrounding her mother’s death, she’s noticed for her science skills that were central to doing so. This results in her getting a pretty prestigious summer internship in New Mexico. While it means being away from her boyfriend Jesse, for six weeks, she’s really excited about getting a chance to bond with her inner science nerd. She’s also scared because she knows that Santa Fe is the last place her mysterious father was and that it’s likely he’s still there.

Her new batch of intrigue starts the day she arrives. Still using aloofness around strangers as a defense mechanism, she’s by herself, watching the other interns mingling when a tall and quite attractive guy starts talking to her. Enter Clem, who is not only local, but a violin prodigy, multiracial and knows the sting of an absent parent. He lives with his mother, a nurse, while his father lives in California and has a new family that always takes precedence when it comes to Dad time.

When Clem starts a conversation, two things are quickly apparent, he’s darn good looking and he’s not a jerk. In fact, the more they talk, the more Faith realizes that they’re kindred souls in numerous ways. Still gun shy following how she was perceived while living with her late mother, she has a difficult time sorting out what to tell him and what to hide. Her relationship with Jesse falls into the latter category.

Fortunately her internship sucks her in from the start. She’s working at a startup that’s trying to genetically modify chilies so they repel a pest that’s threatening to destroy the crops so many in the area rely upon for income. Not only does she catch on fast, but she gets her initial assignments done so quickly, she’s given more complex stuff to work on, like gene sequencing and comparison.

Then she learns what happened to her father, followed almost immediately by meeting a person who not only surprises the heck out of her, but changes her life in ways she couldn’t have imagined before coming to Santa Fe. That life change opens up not only new emotions, but huge new challenges.

At the same time, Faith starts wondering about what happened at a party where a girl died from an overdose of Liquid Gold, a hallucinogenic that used to come from the Amazon rainforests and be extremely expensive. It now seems plentiful and cheap. The more she digs, the more she starts wondering if the place where she’s interning has a hidden connection to bad things happening in New Mexico.

This second book builds on Death Spiral, but adds so much more. It continues to involve science in ways that readers will understand because it’s woven in so well and explained clearly. Not only does it allow Faith to grow both intellectually and emotionally, it presents her with several huge life challenges. While few teen girls will ever face as many as Faith does, lots will have to deal with being smart, liking science, figuring out screwed-up families or complicated/confusing attraction to the opposite sex. This book gives readers a look at all of these issues. In addition to being a dandy mystery, it’s a great look at the coming of age process and how family can be defined in many different ways.

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