Book Review: Everything I Knew to be True by Rayna York

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Title: Everything I Knew to be True
Author: Rayna York
Publisher: Toad Tree Press
Publication Date: May 12, 2019
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction

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Purchase Links:
https://linktr.ee/rayna.york

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Everything I Knew to be True
Rayna York
Toad Tree Press, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-9990951-0-9
Trade Paperback

From the author—

It was never easy for Cassie and her mother, struggling to make ends meet in their tiny apartment in The Bronx, but they had each other and that was enough. When her mother dies suddenly from an aggressive form of cancer, Cassie is forced to finish high school in California while living with the wealthy family of her mother’s closest friend—a women she never knew existed.

Living with the Stantons is the complete opposite of what she’s used to—the massive house, a father figure, and Cody, the spoiled, insanely good-looking son with the bedroom across the hall.

Broken with grief and struggling to fit in, Cassie meets Mila, a female powerhouse that helps her cope with a hidden past, the overwhelming present, and a shared experience no one should have to endure—a nightmare they both thought was over.

Warning: Although this book is classified as Young Adult, the author recommends it for mature readers due to explicit language.

Being a teenager is hard enough but how much worse must it be when you’ve lost your mom, the only parent you had, and then get shipped off to people you don’t know in a place that’s so different from your home? Cassie is—was—a normal teen but now she doesn’t even understand what “normal” is.

I had so much sympathy for this young girl who is faced with more upheaval than anyone can take gracefully and then even more is piled on when Cassie learns about secrets in her mom’s past that affect her directly. She’s lucky, though, that her mother’s friend and her family are so caring and that they welcome her into their home, offering it to her for her own.

While heartache and troubles certainly run through this story, I thought it was much more than that. It’s also a story of a girl’s psychological and emotional growth and how the people around her can make such a journey one that’s buffered by compassion. Nicely done, Ms. York!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

About the Author

Rayna York grew up with hippie parents that liked to adventure, so being the new kid was always a challenge. Where change was the norm, books were her constant–a way to escape. As an adult, many careers came and went, but writing has always been her passion. Everything I knew to be true is her first published novel.

Author Links:

Website // Goodreads // Facebook // Instagram

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Book Review: Surviving Doodahville by Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen

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Title: Surviving Doodahville
Authors: Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen
Narrator: Rebecca Roberts
Publication Date: May 24, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Southern Fiction, Romance

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes

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Surviving Doodahville
Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen
Narrated by Rebecca Roberts
RMSW Press, May 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the authors—

The summer of 1983 – the era of big debt, big hair, and big dreams. Seventeen-year-old Kassandra Lawson is excited about starting her senior year of high school. She has a crush on a local hunk, and her best friend, valley girl extraordinaire Liz Hendricks, insists on helping her snag the hot guy – for sure!

July starts out uneventful for Kee and her parents. Her father, Kevin, is a partner at a CPA firm, and her mother, Gail, works as a secretary at the police department. The small family lives an idyllic life in sunny Hacienda Heights, California.

1983 also brings upheaval and strife for the Lawson clan. A death in the family forces Kevin and Gail to make the painful decision to pack up and move to Kevin’s hometown of Daltville, Arkansas.

Each faces daunting challenges adapting to their new life. Gail and Kee aren’t quite sure they can handle the culture shock. They encounter social and racial issues they never faced on the West Coast, strange food, weird dialects, odd customs, and wicked secrets that have the potential to destroy their family.

More than just a coming-of-age story, Surviving Doodahville explores family bonds, racial barriers, and just how much a person is willing to sacrifice for others. The tale is full of humor, action and a touch of mystery, making it a fun romp into the past.

Well, dagnabbit. I made it all the way to the last chapter with nary a sniffle and then I turned into a near-sobbing wretch 😉

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Rising high school senior Kee and her parents are living the California dream so when circumstances lead Gail and Kevin to decide to move to Daltville, Arkansas, she’s devastated and pretty sure life is over. Then again, fate has a way of making one take a second look and Kee soon thinks her parents’ betrayal doesn’t hold a candle to another pair of betrayals.

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Off they go to what can only be called a stereotypical Southern backwoods town complete with racism, secrets, years-long feuds, overblown morality…and a tremendous amount of charm and possibilities. Kee soon finds that high school in this redneck town isn’t entirely terrible and her small family can help bring about some major changes.

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Romance and friendships blossom in Surviving Doodahville but, at times, I couldn’t help feeling a kind of superiority that these Californians exhibited towards their new neighbors. It was a bit like Kee, Gail and Kevin were the shining examples for goodness and light and that Daltville could only be lifted from its darkness by these more enlightened transplants. Still, a number of the townspeople were good solid citizens and very likeable indeed so I didn’t think the “preaching” was overdone. Truthfully, back in the early 80’s, a lot of what is wrong in Daltville was also wrong elsewhere and still exists today. Now, as in those days, good people matter and can make a difference.
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Side note: The cover is very appealing but I’m puzzled by the sign that reads “DooDah Ville”. Which is correct, DooDah Ville or Doodahville?
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Rebecca Roberts is new to me as a narrator and I was impressed by her performance. Ms. Roberts has a very pleasing tone and does accents/dialect really well. Most of all, she’s believable as a teenaged girl and she added a great deal to my enjoyment of this book.
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Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

About the Authors

Award-winning and International bestselling author, Ashley Fontainne, is an avid reader, becoming a fan of the written word in her youth, starting with the Nancy Drew mystery series. Stories that immerse the reader deep into the human psyche and the monsters lurking within us are her favorite reads.

Her muse for penning the Eviscerating the Snake series was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Ashley’s love for this book is what sparked her desire to write her debut novel, Accountable to None, the first book in the trilogy. With a modern setting to the tale, Ashley delves into just what lengths a person is willing to go to when seeking personal justice for heinous acts perpetrated against them. The second novel in the series, Zero Balance, focuses on the cost and reciprocal cycle that obtaining revenge has on the seeker. Once the cycle starts, where does it end? How far will the tendrils of revenge expand? Adjusting Journal Entries answers that question—far and wide.

The short thriller entitled Number Seventy-Five touches upon the dangerous world of online dating. Number Seventy-Five took home the BRONZE medal in fiction/suspense at the 2013 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards.

The paranormal thriller entitled The Lie won the GOLD medal in the 2013 Illumination Book Awards for fiction/suspense. A movie based on this book, entitled Foreseen, is currently a feature film available on video-on-demand from Amazon.

Ashley delved into the paranormal with a Southern Gothic horror/suspense novel, Growl, which released in January of 2015. The suspenseful mystery Empty Shell released in September of 2014. Ashley teamed up with Lillian Hansen (Ashley calls her Mom!) and penned a three-part murder mystery/suspense series entitled The Magnolia Series. The first book, Blood Ties, released in 2015 and was voted one of the Top 50 Self-Published Books You Should Be Reading in 2015 at http://www.readfree.ly.

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Lillian Hansen is the proud mother of Ashley Fontainne and a grateful daughter of parents who raised her to love and respect the principles upon which America was founded. Lillian is the granddaughter of a brave young woman who immigrated to the United States from Denmark at the age of 18 without speaking any English, who built a career, a family, and became a proud U.S. Citizen.

Lillian values the diverse, life-enriching experiences squirreled away in her memory banks and is fond of all four-legged critters, especially cats. Lillian lives in Arkansas and Surviving Doodahville is her third novel.

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About the Narrator

After a career in finance, Rebecca Roberts became inspired to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an actress. Her ingenuity and ardent desire brought her to voice-acting which has rapidly grown into her thriving audiobook narration and production company, Atlantis Audio Productions. She has narrated and produced over seventy audiobooks for indie authors and major publishing houses. Rebecca delivers her stories with a mature and intelligent style characterized by a believable tone, and versatility in creating memorable and individual characters with her various accents and vocal qualities. In short, she narrates with her whole heart. Rebecca is a native Floridian, proud mother to three sparkling children, and wife to the man of her dreams.

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Book Review: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis

Crow Mountain
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House, June 2016
ISBN: 978- 0-545-90407-0
Hardcover

Sixteen year old Hope lives in London with her extremely feminist, scientific researcher mom. She has very little contact with her actor father who took off with his pregnant co-star around the time Hope was born. Mom is extremely controlling…Of Hope’s schooling, her diet, what she can do, pretty much everything.

When Mom heads off to do an ecological study on a Montana ranch, one of the few remaining unspoiled ones that practices environmentally friendly ranching, she drags her daughter along, even though Hope wants to stay in London and be with her friends.

Crow Ranch has been in operation since the 1870s and run by the same family. When a handsome young man, Caleb, the owner’s son, meets Hope and her mother at the airport in Helena, she feels an immediate attraction, but her shyness keeps her from saying anything. When they stop in Fort Shaw and the local sheriff harasses Cal, as he prefers to be called, while hinting to Hope about unsavory behavior in Cal’s past, it’s her first inkling that there’s trouble ahead.

It doesn’t take long for Cal and Hope to start talking and become very aware of their growing mutual attraction. After he shows her the room above the barn where she can hide out from her mother, Hope discovers a diary written by a girl named Emily who was on her way to an arranged marriage in San Francisco via Portland Oregon, by stagecoach in the early 1870s. She’s fascinated by the story and takes the diary with her the following day when she and Cal head off through back country roads in the national forest on a trip to get Cal’s mother who has been caring for her sister in law following a broken bone. They’re also hauling a horse trailer as they’re to bring back a couple horses.

At this point, the book begins to alternate chapters between Hope and Cal following a scary accident, and diary entries telling the story of Emily and the mysterious young man she first sees outside her hotel room in Helena, as they encounter an eerily similar fate. To say more might spoil the plot, but I can say that first off, I bought this immediately following my reading of her other book City of Halves, which is equally stellar.

This is an excellent book, part adventure, part love story, part historical fiction and a book that forces you to keep reading because of the tension and uncertainty facing both couples. It’s one that deserves a place in many libraries, both school and public. If you like it, read her other book, City of Halves.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, June 2018.

Book Review: The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

The Shadow District
The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers #1
Arnaldur Indridason
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, November 2017
ISBN:  978-1-250-12402-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  In the debut of a new series from international mystery giant Indridason, the murder of a woman in Reykjavik during WWII becomes a piece in the puzzle of a contemporary killing.  A retired detective named Konrad remembers the earlier murder from his childhood, and is surprised when, assisting in the case of a 90-year-old man who was smothered in his bed, he comes across clippings that the old man kept of the murder.  It happened in ‘the shadow district,’ a rough neighborhood bordered by the National Theatre where Konrad grew up. But why would someone be interested in that crime now?  Alternating between Konrad’s unofficial investigation and the original wartime police inquiry, The Shadow District depicts the two investigations, separated by decades, discovering that two girls had been attacked in oddly similar circumstances.  Did the police arrest the wrong man all those years ago?  How are these cases linked across the decades?  And who is the old man?  A deeply compassionate story of old crimes and their consequences.

And that this surely is.  This newest standalone from Mr. Indridason will resonate with his many readers, as it did with this reviewer.

The contemporary murder is that of a young woman of about twenty, the body discovered by a local Icelandic woman and her lover, found in a box in a doorway of that same National Theatre in the Shadow District.  The investigation is headed by Konrad and Marta, a young woman with whom he had worked in the CID, and they immediately realize the similarities between this murder and the wartime killing, the two victims and the circumstances of their murders being so similar.  The ensuing tale is riveting, in this author’s distinctive style, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: One S’More Summer by Beth Merlin

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Title: One S’more Summer
Series: The Campfire Series #1

Author: Beth Merlin
Publisher: Ink Monster LLC
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

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Purchase Links:

Electronic

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

Paperback
Coming June 27th

Barnes & Noble // Indiebound // Amazon

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One S’more Summer
The Campfire Series #1
Beth Merlin
Ink Monster LLC, May 2017
ISBN 9781943858200
Ebook

From the publisher—

For twenty long years, Gigi Goldstein has been pining away for her best friend’s guy. She knows it’s wrong and it has to stop, but she hasn’t been able to let go ever since they all met on the bus to summer camp back when they were 7 years old. The same week that her best friends finally announce their wedding date, Gigi loses her high-profile design job. With all of her dreams unravelling, she runs to the last place she remembers being happy.

Taking the Head Counselor position at Camp Chinooka, Gigi hopes to reclaim the joy she felt as a camper, but the job isn’t all campfire songs and toasting marshmallows. Gigi’s girls are determined to make her look bad in front of the boys’ Head Counselor—the sexy but infuriating Perry—and every scrap of the campground is laced with memories.

When Gigi finally realizes she can’t escape the present by returning to her past, she’s forced to reexamine her life and find the true meaning of love. But will she be able to mend fences and forgive herself before she loses her one real shot at happiness?

I admit it, my head was turned by a book cover. When I saw this, I couldn’t help flashing back to all the years my family went tent camping, not to mention my Girl Scout years and all the summers I went to one camp or another. I didn’t need any other incentive to read this.

(I also have a strange compulsion to watch movies set at camps.  Hmm….)

Gigi’s first day as head counselor really brought back memories of the camp I went to as a thirteen-year-old except for one thing: Gigi makes it sound like getting rid of head counselors was every campers dream, every year. I never experienced anything like that; rather, all the hostilities and machinations were directed at other campers. Oh, well, this is chick-lit at it’s core so I just ignored the things that didn’t really matter to the central story.

Gigi is frustrated with her life and that made her a little frustrating to me because she is a bit of a whiner but I totally understood her. When you get right down to it, Gigi is running away and hopes to find solace in the place that was the beginning of her friendships with two very important people. Jordana and Jamie are memorable characters (in a good way) but the developing relationship between Gigi and Perry is what it’s all about and Perry is a delight. It was fun to see these two work their way through their pasts so they can maybe find the future.

I love the way Beth Merlin never quite tells it all so I kept wondering when I would find out more. That’s a great way to hold my attention and adds a touch of chick-lit style suspense. You could almost call this a mystery. Nah, not really, but…. I also appreciated that romance is certainly present but it isn’t the be-all end-all. Instead, Gigi coming to terms with herself and her life is what’s really important. Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

About the Author

Beth Merlin has a BA from The George Washington University where she minored in Creative Writing and a JD from New York Law School. She’s a native New Yorker who loves anything Broadway, rom-coms, her daughter Hadley, and a good maxi dress. She was introduced to her husband through a friend she met at sleepaway camp and considers the eight summers she spent there to be some of the most formative of her life. One S’more Summer is Beth’s debut novel.

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Book Review: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie AsterThe Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
Scott Wilbanks
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-4926-1246-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Annabelle Aster has discovered a curious thing behind her home in San Francisco–a letterbox perched atop a picket fence.  The note inside is blunt—trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!—spurring some lively correspondence between the Bay Area orphan and her new neighbor, a feisty widow living in nineteenth-century Kansas. 

The source of mischief is an antique door Annie installed at the rear of her house.  The man who made the door—a famed Victorian illusionist—died under mysterious circumstances. 

Annie and her new neighbor, with the help of friends and strangers alike, must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and somehow already did.

I’ve never been a true fan of magical realism in my reading maybe because I have a more “literal” mind. I suppose, in a way, that’s why I enjoy the mystery genre so much, being focused on a search for truth. On the other hand, I adore dark fantasy so maybe I’m offbase about my usual meh feeling towards magical realism. I just know I generally don’t like it enough to finish a book because I get distracted and bored by the flighty storylines and the, well, weirdness. All of which begs the question—why did I want to read this one?

Truthfully, I was drawn in by the lovely cover and by the description because I like the premise of communication between two time periods (and this reminded me of a favorite movie, “The Lake House”). Also, there’s a murder (see, there’s my mystery element). So, I raised my hand to volunteer, so to speak, and I’m very glad I did.

Mr. Wilbanks has a sure touch when it comes to characterization. Each of the main characters—Annie, Elsbeth, Christian, Cap’n, Mr. Culler, Danyer—is so vividly drawn that I felt I actually knew them. It’s all in the details, such as Elsbeth’s bitter loneliness wrapped up in her no-nonsense attitude and her willingness to accept what’s right in front of her even when she doesn’t understand how it can be. In just a few words, the author paints a picture of her that’s so compelling, you just have to keep reading. Then there’s Christian who stutters badly around everyone except his best friend, Annie, and who has gaping holes in his memory but he also sees what Annie sees through her magical door.

As for the murder, I’m not going to say a word beyond this—getting there is all the fun.

So, will I give magical realism more of a chance in the future? I honestly don’t know but, if I do, it’ll be because that unknown author has the same kind of whimsical, funny, entertaining way of telling a story as Scott Wilbanks…and I’ll read whatever he puts forth next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

An Excerpt from
The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Lister

ONE
Pray for Me, Father

May 16, 1895
San Francisco, California
Mission Dolores Basilica

Randall—­

I’ve not forgotten our quarrel, but I’m asking you to put that aside for the sake of scholarship and the friendship we once shared. You were right, I fear. I meddled in something beyond my understanding.  The time-­travel conduit works—­I’ve shaped it as a door—­but not, I suspect, by science or my own hand. You are the only person who won’t think me paranoid should I put words to my suspicion. Something slumbers within it. Something with designs of its own.

Words have power. You know that better than anyone. And I am beginning to suspect the ones the shaman spoke—­and which I foolishly copied into my journal’s companion piece, my codex—­were an invocation.

Please come soon, I beg you. Or don’t come at all. And if you don’t come, then pray for me, Father. Matters are coming to a head, and my instincts say this will not end well.

David Abbott

Cap’n—­adolescent con artist extraordinaire, picker of any lock, leader of Kansas City’s notorious sandlot gang, and unofficial mayor to all its throwaways—­plucked a wilted lettuce leaf from her hair as she peered through a break in the pile of rubbish where she was hiding.

Fabian didn’t look so good, she thought, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. He was lying in the mud, his legs bent at odd angles, and was staring down the length of his outspread arm, his mouth opening and closing in a creepy imitation of a fish on the chopping block. She couldn’t make out the words, but it was clear Fabian was telling her to flee.

He wasn’t going anywhere. Danyer had made sure of that. Whether it was a first or last name, Cap’n didn’t know. He just went by Danyer. He was Mr. Culler’s hatchet man, and he didn’t fight fair. Danyer wasn’t interested in fair, though; he was interested in results, and Fabian had failed. Cap’n knew it was a bad idea to let failure go unanswered in their line of business, but she never imagined it would come to this. Fabian was a moneymaker for Mr. Culler, after all.

Danyer towered over him, a granite block with meat-­hook arms, his legs straddling Fabian’s belly. As his boots rocked in the muck, Danyer’s duster swept back and forth across Fabian’s chest. His voice reminded Cap’n of a humming turbine—­deep and dangerous—­as he read from the letter they’d filched. “‘Please come soon, I beg you—­’” Danyer crumpled the paper, lobbing it into the air. It bounced off Fabian’s cheek and into the mud. “Where’s the journal?” He squatted, grabbing Fabian’s chin with his sausage fingers before slapping him lightly across the cheek. “Hmm?”

Cap’n said a quick prayer for her friend and started backing up. But it was too late. She stepped on a stick that lifted a crate at the base of the rubbish heap just a fraction of an inch, and she could only grit her teeth as a tin can toppled from its perch, tinkling down the pile of debris while making a sound like a scale played on a badly tuned piano.

She froze as Danyer pivoted to stare at the pile of rubbish. He turned back to Fabian, speaking warily. “And where’s Cap’n?” he asked. “Where’s your pet pickpocket?” She watched him slap Fabian’s cheek one more time, the muscles in her legs tensing as he turned and started to walk toward her hiding place. Five feet out, Danyer lunged, but all he got hold of was the remaining head of lettuce as she bolted from the mound, racing down the alleyway in a flurry of muslin, freckles, and carrot-­colored pigtails.

Three blocks later, she rounded a corner, waiting. When the crack of the gun echoed down the street, she ducked into a drainage pipe to collect herself. A cockroach crawled over her foot, its antennae waving. Fabian admired cockroaches, she remembered. He said they were survivors. Suddenly, a whimper broke from her throat, and she ground the bug into a mosaic of chitinous shards before huddling in on herself, sobbing. And just as suddenly, she sat upright, her mouth set in a grim line while she ran the back of her hand across her nose.

Tears were for kids, and she needed to make a plan. When Fabian turned up dead, and there was no doubt he would, Danyer would want to tie up some loose ends—­namely her. She wasn’t too worried about that. She knew every hidey-­hole in Kansas City, and the gang would watch her back. She regarded what was left of the cockroach, one of its severed legs agitating as though not realizing the body it belonged to was already dead, and nodded to herself. It was time to put the shoe on the other foot, she decided. Something had to be done about Danyer and his boss.

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About the Author

Scott WilbanksScott Wilbanks graduated summa cum laude from The University of Oklahoma and went on to garner several national titles in the sport of gymnastics. Scott’s husband, Mike, is a New Zealander by birth, and the two split their time between the two countries while Scott is at work on his next standalone novel.

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Book Review: Forgiving Maximo Rothman by A.J. Sidransky

Forgiving Maximo RothmanForgiving Maximo Rothman              
A.J. Sidransky
Berwick Court Publishing, April 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9889540-0-7
Trade Paperback

Wow. What an undertaking. What an accomplishment. This intense detailed examination of several lives on three continents that spans six decades grabs and holds one’s interest immediately. It is in part a tale of the Jewish diaspora in the Twentieth Century, an obscure Jewish colony in the Dominican Republic, the sundering of families, and the support and damage the slavish observance of ancient tradition can bring. It is a tale of resolution of old wounds and new loves. And it is a tale of murder.

Max Redmond is bludgeoned to death in his apartment in Washington Heights. The New York detective assigned to the case is Tolya Kurchenko, whose family left the USSR. In the course of his investigation, he discovers diaries and records that resonate closely with his own estrangement from his father. Tolya’s father wanted him to attend Princeton, not become a cop.

Pursuit of the killer involves racial, religious, political and cultural dimensions. The novel is very well written, the characters are fascinating and the emotions and motivations are real. The story is not a slam bang action pumped thriller. Rather it is a meticulously and carefully detailed examination of several lives, multiple generations and the long-tailed consequences of their random and fateful interactions. This is a marvelous crime novel well illustrating it’s central theme that “Life is indeed too short to make enemies of those we love.”

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.