Saturday, December 7, 2019

Mystery meets fantasy for the middle-grade reader in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL

HALLIE EPHRON: Up to now, my favorite children’s story set in a hotel has been ELOISE - all about a cheeky 7-year-old who lives in New York City’s Plaza Hotel. Now there’s another wonderful children’s book set in a hotel - the posh Sanborn House Hotel in London. In it there’s a mysterious fourteen-year old boy who lives on a floor that may or may not exist, and a sister and brother try to figure out what’s going on. 

Sounds intriguing, right? The book is called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL, and it’s my sister Amy Ephron’s middle-grade fantasy novel (with brilliant covers by Jennifer Bricking and magical interior maps and scary creatures bu Vartan Ter-Avanesyan). 
It's the third in a fabulous series, but the books can be read in any order. This time Amy’s poaching on my territory: it’s also a mystery.

Looking for a holiday present for a budding mystery reader, a middle-grade boy or girl in your family? This one's a winner. 

Welcome Amy! The hotel. The mysterious fourteen-year old boy. London. A curious glass marble. Shadows that pass outside windows and vectors of the marble that seem to pass through walls. Please, tell us about how you came up with some of the wonderfully original ideas that are in this book, and how it turned into a mystery.

AMY EPHRON:  This is the third in The Other Side series, where Tess, whom I think of as a remarkable heroine (although she does jump in sometimes without thinking about what might happen next) and her brother Max, who’s younger and much more methodical and logical (although even he admits it’s sometimes hard to be logical especially when they go to England...) go to visit their Aunt Evie at a posh hotel in London.  

It’s Christmas and after a freak snow storm in London (which global warming gave me after I wrote it) and a visit to watch the snow fall in Hyde Park, Tess is charmed by a 14-year old boy having tea in the dining...except that no one else can see him....

By itself, almost, the book turned into a puzzle, a mystery.  As Tess unlocks the secrets of The Sanborn House and the story of the mysterious boy named Colin, whose last name is also Sanborn (just like the hotel) and who also, if he exists at all, seems to live there all year round...

The hash tag is #unlockthesecrets and Tess has a funny history of getting herself and Max into situations that are almost impossible to get out of, but if and when they do, they heal the hearts of the people they’ve interacted with, as well as their own.

I call them a modern-day mash-up of an old-fashioned children’s book. They’ve been reviewed as standalones and kindly compared The Secret Garden or an Edgar Eager book.  

Tess is a modern (and old-fashioned) super-hero, from feats of aerial ballet to a real (or imagined) dance with the stars, or a crazy flight down an orange path of vectors on the other side of the wall, not to mention excellent horsemanship!  She comes to the fore to rescue them from seen and unseen dangers in all three of The Other Side novels...but they are mysteries because she has to in all cases figure out how and why!

The Other Side of the Wall is the one that really unfolded as a mystery -- as Tess has to figure out what happened in the Sanborn House so many years ago to understand what’s happening now and what she has to do to fix it or at least to try...  It was lovely to be able to also write in period as well as in contemporary times, in the same novel, as what appears at first to be a 20’s costume party on the 8th floor (the floor Max insists didn’t even exist the day before) may turn out be in fact a step back in time.....but time travel, it turns out, may be a precarious thing.  

These books also have an intentional subset of rules: no guns, no explosions.  The dangers are real but also existential and there will never be any version of a hand-to- hand battle or combat in that way.  Just a curious amount of magic, a back story that has to be revealed and changed, whether it’s in the past or in a different space of time, and a real danger if they don’t get back in time, or even get back at all.    

Real mysteries, which my sister Hallie taught me, are often best as an emotional roller coaster (read her the new book: Careful What You Wish For and you’ll see what 
I mean.)  And the emotional undercurrent in The Other Side of the Wall -- the perceived and unperceived loyalties and flat-out deceptions, were an amazingly rich field to write, imagine, and explore.  

Thanks to all of you at Jungle Reds for welcoming me into your extraordinary mystery corner. 

HALLIE: The book is flat-out terrific, and it's definitely an emotional roller coaster.
One thing I especially love about The Other Side Series is that they're adventures with siblings. I've always love books about siblings... Starting with Hansel and Gretel. Anyone remember the Twins books? Or Meg Murry and her little brother Charles Wallace, or Lucy and Edmund Pevensie in the Narnia books. 

Why do siblings make especially good characters for fantasy/adventure books with a touch of mystery?

The Other Side of the Wall
It's Christmas break and Tess and Max are in London, staying at the posh Sanborn House with their Aunt Evie. As they wait for their parents to arrive, there is an unusual snowstorm that makes the city seem as if it's caught in a snow globe. Perfect weather for an adventure in Hyde Park. But when Max, Tess, and Aunt Evie leave to search for a cab, they find a horse and carriage and driver curiously waiting for them at the curb. And that's just the beginning...

Soon Tess is charmed by a mysterious boy named Colin who lives at the hotel all year round--on the 8th floor. But Max is sure the elevator only had 7 floors the day before. And how come everyone at the hotel seems to ignore Colin? Things seem to get stranger and stranger. There's a 1920s costume party in Colin's parents' apartment. A marble that seems to be more than it appears. And a shadow that passes mysteriously by Tess and Max's hotel window.

Tess wants to figure out what's going on, but finds only more questions: Is it just a coincidence that Colin's last name is Sanborn, the same as the hotel? Why does the cat's-eye marble look eerily similar to the crystal at the top of their hotel room key? And, most importantly, what happened in that hotel one Christmas long, long ago?

In this mysterious story sprinkled with holiday enchantment, Amy Ephron transports readers into the magic of London at wintertime, where it's just possible that what seems imaginary is real, and your wishes might come true.

Amy Ephron lives in Los Angeles. Her new book "Carnival Magic" the continued, startling, sometimes magical adventures of Tess and Max is a bestseller and was featured in "Teen Vogue," tagged as a standalone, "Parade," "Story Monsters, inc," "The Jewish Journal," etc. It has been nominated for an American Library Association award, The Grand Canyon Award to be announced in 2020. A companion to "The Castle in the Mist," (the intro to Tess & Max and their Aunt Evie,) was an Amazon Best pick, a B&N pick, and claimed a nom for a SCIBA award.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Try To Remember

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Is it snowing where you are? We were BURIED, earlier this week, But hey, it’s New England. But you know, if bet if I took a little whiff of that orange gel Bain de Soleil, I might be transported.  And when I wear the ivory leather jacket I got in Florence—well, I am back on the Ponte Vecchio.

Our dear Carol Pouliot has been thinking about what conjures her favorite memories. See if you agree.


First of all let me say how thrilled I am to be here with the wonderful Jungle Red Writers. A sincere thank you to Hank Phillippi Ryan for inviting me to stop by today.

In the midst of the holidays and most of the country already in the grip of winter weather, summer vacation is a fond memory. But . . . we do have our souvenirs.

The French verb se souvenir de means “to remember.” That is exactly what our travel treasures are. They elicit those carefree times, when we pack away our everyday problems and pack our suitcases instead. Now, when we gaze on the shells that we picked up on the beach, we hear the roar of the ocean, feel the heat of the sun on our skin, and smell the salt in the air. When we uncork that special bottle of Bordeaux and unwrap the brie or camembert, we are transported back to the Paris métro and its signature aromas of garlic, Gauloises, and wine. And when we don the cherished baseball cap, we can still hear the crack of the bat and the cheering fans; we can practically taste the hot dogs.

When I was sixteen, I went on a school trip to New York City. It was the first time I travelled without my parents. I was thrilled beyond expression to be in this most glamorous and exciting of cities. During our visit to the Museum of Natural History, I saw things I never imagined existed. My mind exploded with curiosity about archeological digs, ancient cultures, foreign lands, and dinosaurs! I still have the souvenir I bought in the gift shop. It’s a tiny bronze statue of a rooster, Pre-Columbian in design. I have had this statue on my desk for over 50 years. Every time I look at it, I am back in that place, in that time. I can smell the crisp spring air mixing with the diesel fuel from vehicles crowding the streets and the pretzels sold on every other corner. I hear the blaring horns, squealing brakes, and shouting people. I feel alive.

We all have our favorite things to bring back. People collect salt and pepper shaker sets, rocks and shells, t-shirts, mugs, and refrigerator magnets. Many of us purchase an addition to a personal collection. I’ve collected statues of owls since I was a freshman in college. I usually buy one unique to the city or country I’m visitingsculpted from lava rock, hand-painted ceramic, blown glass, carved wood. For years, I bought a purse in every foreign city I visited. Yes, some women like shoes, I go for the leather bags. 

And since I never lost that yearning for exotic locales and archeological digs, I have a small collection of things I’ve picked up off the ground: a piece of limestone from the Great Pyramid at Giza, a tiny bottle of sand that I scooped up in the Sahara Desert, a black volcanic rock from the Minoan eruption of Thera, a stone from Mycenae, and one from Troy that I like to think dates back to 1300 BC. 

But, despite all these beautiful and intriguing objects that I’ve picked up or purchased, my number one souvenir continues to be the photographs I’ve taken. Years ago, I established “My Dining Room Wall,” a display of framed 8x10 photos that I’ve taken. When I return from a trip, friends and family ask, “What’s the new dining room wall picture?” It’s become a conversation starter. The space gets crowded so I rotate them from time to time. I also print out all the best shots and keep an actual, physical album with the pictures pasted in and captions under each. Old school but I love it. 

In Threshold of Deceit, the 2nd book of my time-travel mystery series, 21st-century Olivia Watson travels back to 1934 to spend some time with Depression-era cop Steven Blackwell. As a former reporter, Olivia is a news junkie. She can’t wait to get lost in the local newspaper shop and buy as many newspapers and magazines she can get her hands on. Those and a stack of comic books, to feed her inner child, will be her souvenirs from that incredible trip.

So, Dear Readers and Jungle Red Writers, what are your favorite souvenirs? What do you look for and hope to bring home from a trip or vacation?

Let’s do a give-away. Every comment is entered to win a copy of Threshold of Deceit, A Blackwell andWatson Time-Travel Mystery.

HANK: Oh, this is great! And your dining room wall is such a great idea! Like a room sized photo album. I have little trinkets from all over—including lots of elegant stationery from hotels in Florence and Milan. I should use it, but I can’t bring myself to. Matches. And postcards! And shells. And a billion little soaps. And little bath gels from Paris. How about you reds and readers? What are your favorite souvenirs? And Carol, why owls?

About the Author

A Francophile at age 11, Carol Pouliot dreamed of getting her passport and going to Paris. After obtaining her MA in French at Stony Brook University, she headed to France for her first teaching job. She taught French and Spanish for over 30 years in Upstate New York. She also founded and operated an agency that provided translations in over 24 languages. Carol is the author of The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery series, which includes Doorway to Murder (Book 1) and Threshold of Deceit (Book 2). When not working on her series, Carol can be found reaching for her passport and packing a suitcase for her next adventure. Find Carol at


On a sunny spring day in 1934, local lothario Frankie Russo is murdered in broad daylight. It seems no one saw anything, but things are not always what they seem in this small New York town.

Tackling the investigation, Detective Steven Blackwell discovers Frankie’s little black book, a coded list of dozens of flings, affairs, and one-night standsand a solid motive for the widow. Soon, what appeared to be a straight-forward case gets complicated. A witness goes missing, a second body turns up, the victim’s cousin disappears, and an old flame surfaces. Faced with conflicting pieces of evidence, lies, and false alibis, Steven creates a psychological portrait of the killer. He realizes he’s looking for someone wearing a mask. But the killer is not the only one in disguise. 

Two months ago, Steven came face-to-face with 21st-century journalist Olivia Watson when time folded over in the house they share80 years apart. They’ve experimented within the safety of its walls and proven Einstein was right: there is no past, present, or future. All time exists simultaneously. Now, Steven and Olivia test the boundaries of time travel, risking the exposure of their secret. Olivia travels to Steven’s time, where she is embraced by the community, unaware of who she really is. She unwittingly falls in with Steven’s main suspect, putting her life in jeopardy.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

In The Heights

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Have you been to Brooklyn?  Part of my darling family lives there, and my agent, and SO many friends, and relatives of friends—it seems like such a small world!
Our dear friend of the Reds Triss Stein—we are always so thrilled to see you, dear Triss!—knows Brooklyn inside out. It’s her muse and her inspiration—and her new book reveals that In The Heights—well, let’s let her tell it!

In The Heights

In many ways, big bad Brooklyn is really a collection of small towns. After four mysteries set in different neighborhoods, and capturing (I hope) their diversity, I realized I had never written one about Brooklyn Heights, where I used to live.

That first apartment was tucked under the roof of an elegant 19th century town house. My roommate and I put our mattresses on the floor in the center of the room, because at the edges, the bedroom ceiling sloped all the way down to the floor. Through the tiny kitchen window, if we twisted just right, we could glimpse the bridge. At night, we heard the boats on the East River.

We loved it.

Truman Capote had lived down the street to the right. To the left, there was a serious witchcraft shop. WH Auden, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee had shared a house nearby. Across the street, there was a dorm for Jehovah’s  Witnesses employed at  their nearby headquarters. With their short haircuts and boring clothes, they were easy to pick out in that era of flowered bell bottoms.

There never was a question that this neighborhood could make a great background for a mystery. The question would be which Heights story to choose.

When I did some research, what I learned changed my book.

My plan was to write about the intense fight to create Brooklyn Heights as New York’s very first historic district. Everyone loves a David and Goliath story.  Then I read more about Brooklyn Heights right now. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, it turned out, owned a serious chunk of the neighborhood, and they were selling everything to move upstate. How would that affect everyone else in Brooklyn Heights? Who would miss the Witnesses, with their quiet ways and meticulous building maintenance? And who would say “Good riddance” to what they thought was a too powerful, too secretive cult? And yes, what about those mysterious tunnels connecting their buildings?

This was a current story demanding to be told. But that’s only a theme. A novel needs characters and events to come to life.  I had to maneuver Erica, my historian heroine, over to Brooklyn Heights and give her a reason to investigate a crime. And I needed characters who would be links back to some of Brooklyn Heights’ storied past, and also links forward into the future.

I got lucky. A perfect McGuffin dropped into my lap in the form of a long-lost bronze plaque, a portrait of Brooklyn’s own genius, Walt Whitman. It used to hang on a long-demolished Brooklyn Heights building, marking the site of Leaves of Grass first printing.

I could give Erica a work  assignment.  Off she goes for a scholarly consultation about that plaque. When an angry, elderly woman storms in, it turns out to be Louisa Gibbs, a famous neighborhood activist and an idol of Erica’s.  She is deep in a feud with her neighbors, the Witnesses. She is also still lives in the splendid house her great-grandfather built, a solid brownstone link back to the days when the harbor was full of sailing ships.

Louisa worked for my story, but I needed an antagonist. He turned out to be Daniel Towns, a mild-mannered, Witness manager, an unlikely fighter, an even more unlikely victim, and an absurd possible villain.

But something was still missing. The situation I created was more of a triangle, with the missing side being the anxious property buyer. Given the amount of land and money involved, that would be a big time property developer, not someone who would normally be any part of Erica’s world.

But – ah-ha!- I already had the answer in my fictional world. Her boyfriend is a contractor. He reminds her about a party invitation she had scornfully turned down, at a multi-million dollar apartment belonging to a big developer who wants to get bigger. She doesn’t like the people she meets there, but she now has a connection, and a bonus. I put the elderly founder of this real estate dynasty there and let him brag about how influential he was in the old days. He is a voice of the past.

My further research told me about Brooklyn Heights disastrous fires and about that witchcraft shop. Walks around the neighborhood told me those lovely antique streets are not immune to modern day problems of lost souls. Reading some of the Witnesses own writing on those topics opened up some surprising doors for the story.

There’s more to life, even in Brooklyn, than real estate. There is old love and new, undying feuds and undying losses, and hidden connections between unlikely characters.

 Some memories are hazy and drifting but I could finally use them to tell  a story of the clash of cultures that was Brooklyn Heights fifty years ago.

HANK: Tunnels? Tell us more!  Isn’t it fascinating how stories evolve? How about you, Reds? Any Brooklyn stories?  Let’s hear them!

And a copy of BROOKLYN LEGACIES  to one lucky commenter!
Murder strikes the neighborhoods of Brooklyn—the hip, the historic, and the hood
The search for a lost portrait of Brooklyn's own genius Walt Whitman sends urban historian Dr. Erica Donato into Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood of quaint and charming streets, family names out of history, and spectacular views of the harbor and the world-famous bridge. New York’s first suburb has long weathered political battles about neighborhood preservation and destruction. Is a new one shaping up?
Erica meets an idol, fiery community activist Louisa Gibbs, now locked in a dispute with the Watch Tower Society. One of Brooklyn’s biggest landowners, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are selling off their holdings. Then at a glittering party, Erica meets the threatening Prinzig clan who are trying to buy the Witness’s property adjoining Louisa's historic home.
The discovery of the Society’s Daniel Towns’ body in the Witnesses’ underground tunnels reignites old conflicts. Erica learns Louisa has made bitter enemies in her time while she becomes steadily better acquainted with a collection of characters young and old, sane and not-so-sane, living and dead. They all carry bitter secrets and old enmities.
The beautiful setting only hides them. Can Erica use her research expertise to expose a killer?
About the Author:
TRISS STEIN is a small-town girl who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York City. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident, which she uses to write mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home.