“Try Not to Breathe”

by Holly Seddon

(Ballantine Books)

Holly Seddon’s first novel, “Try Not to Breathe,” delivers the high-quality thrills and intriguing characters that readers demand in the best of psychological thrillers.

Amy Stevenson was a young woman with a boyfriend. One day she made a horrible decision and ended up in a coma. The culprit was never caught, but her family and friends were scarred and damaged due to the lack of answers.

Fifteen years go by. Alex Dale, a disgraced reporter, is researching patients in vegetative states when she discovers Amy lying in a hospital bed. Alex has lost everything she holds dear, including her marriage and a prestigious job, due to alcohol, and she sees Amy as a path to redemption and an opportunity to make news by tracking down the truth behind what happened to Amy all those years ago.

As Alex continues to visit Amy in the hospital, she begins to think of her as a friend. She starts to ask questions, and while some are forthcoming with what they know, others refuse to talk to Alex about the past.

Secrets and confronting past mistakes are the building blocks that Seddon uses to great effect from the first page. While the trend in publishing these days tends to be the unreliable narrator, “Try Not to Breathe” is a breath of fresh air. It’s rare that the reason the story works so well is the characters and the compelling mystery rather than some gruesome crime or shocking incident that is unbelievable. Uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time, the emotional ride Seddon delivers is worth the time and investment.

— Jeff Ayers

“The Battle for Room 314”

by Ed Boland

(Grand Central Publishing)

No longer content to support from behind the scenes, Ed Boland takes the admirable, if naive, move from a comfortable career in the nonprofit world to the front lines of education: teaching.

While the former executive thoroughly prepares himself financially and academically, nothing readies him for the onslaught of chaos he encounters upon stepping inside a New York City high school.

Grad school doesn’t equip him with best practices for navigating the behavioral issues of a teenage member of the Bloods. No one explains how to team with parents working two jobs. And while he thought harassment for being gay was a pastime tucked away in his own school days, he now faces new tormentors in the form of the students he’s trying to help.

The students come from homeless shelters, group homes, distant relatives’ couches and even the subway. Armed with zeal, Boland attempts each day to connect with youth facing poverty and endless uncertainty. He never paints himself a hero, rather shares his failings generously when his own education and passion leave him short on immediate solutions.

Boland seamlessly ushers readers into his stressful world and keeps them there. Readers will ache for him when students turn in blank worksheets, laugh when he tries to control his classroom using phrases he imagines “a real teacher would say,” and furiously turn the pages to find out what the next school day holds.

With skillful storytelling, self-deprecating humor and swiftly paced narratives, Boland’s vulnerability will lure readers from the first scene.

— Christina Ledbetter

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