Book Reviews: A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib and Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson @SaraBLarson @Scholastic @rajiahassib @VikingBooks

A Pure Heart
Rajia Hassib
Viking, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-525-56005-0
Hardcover

The Gubran family led a normal, content life in Cairo. Rose and Gigi were, to Rose’s thinking, the best friends that sisters are meant to be. There would always be quarrels, but nothing to break their bond. Even as they age, pursue further education, broaden their horizons with new people and ways of life; they would surely stick together.

Thinking back, though, maybe Rose hadn’t been so supportive. Or remotely open-minded. As Gigi grew more devout and adopted some Muslim customs that Rose considered outdated; rather than addressing it with Gigi, Rose silently stewed, waiting for her little sis to ‘come to her senses’. Perhaps if she’d attempted to understand—sincerely—they may never have agreed, but neither would they have grown apart. Maybe.

Younger siblings seem to live in someone else’s shadow, making self-discovery slightly more difficult. Delving deeper into her religion may have been the best way for Gigi to create her own light. She can almost understand why her parents essentially ignore the changes they have to see in her, but Gigi is stunned when her family makes no effort to understand her disappointment and dismay with her elder sister.

First, Rose decides to marry an American. To leave Egypt for the United States. She took his last name. Her sister should be “Dr. Gubran”, as she’s always dreamed. Proudly bearing the name of the family that supported her throughout, not the surname of some folks from West Virginia.

Unless…

Did Rose make those allowances for love? That, Gigi can understand. She, too, has chosen the love of a man, but over objections from her parents and friends. Gigi may not have made the best choice, but she doesn’t know that yet. Instead, she simply sees similarities between her love-life and Rose’s. She was pleased to, once again, have something in common.

Happiness for herself is short-lived. She feels sad for Rose, who doesn’t know about this connection. Gigi envisions sharing the secret she’s carried alone for years.  She must mend her relationship with Rose. She knows the perfect place to start. The American brother-in-law will be staying with her family while he is conducting interviews in Egypt for an upcoming article. Gigi vows to go above and beyond to assist him.

That is the decision that will ultimately change all of their lives.

Reading Rajia Hassib‘s A Pure Heart is like watching a moonflower unfurl, as dusk darkens, until the almost-iridescent, snowy-white bloom is wide open against the pitch-black night.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2019.

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Dark Breaks the Dawn
Dark Breaks the Dawn #1
Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06869-6
Hardcover

Dark and Light were meant to exist independently, yet harmoniously. This provides and maintains balance for the world. Only, the rulers of Dark want more. They are determined take away the magic of Light and have waged war.

That very war has already taken Princess Evelayn’s father, and is currently keeping Queen Ilaria away from home. But (finally) the day of Evelayn’s 18th birthday arrives. The “18th” being of upmost importance as the ability to access full power has proven dangerous when wielded by immature beings. Evelayn has been impatiently awaiting this day since the moment she found out that the “more” she craved was not just possible, but promised.

So, that’s a pretty big deal, but there is something that pushes its way past the magic thing. The queen has promised to return for Evelayn’s special day. Even though the trip will take her from the frontlines, where she has been battling alongside the kingdom’s best soldiers.

And herein lies my first favorite thing: Royal Court receives pampering and protection during normal, every-day activities only. When it is time to fight, no one is expected to be more ferocious and fearless than the leaders.

Having always taken her physical training seriously, Evelayn can more than hold her own in a fight. And, the princess of Light has mastered the mask—the stoic expression that is to reveal nothing of her thoughts or feelings. Albeit not always employed, she is also able to perform her duties with the courtesy and politeness expected by her parents. Yet, she is nowhere near ready to replace her mother; Evelayn can’t even shift.

As day breaks, Evelayn awaits the arrival of her full power and her mother, while Dark prepares the grand finale. Step one being to kill Queen Ilaria.  Without the conduit, the people of Light will not be able to access individual powers.

The magic may be restored. It’s just a small matter of Evelayn becoming Queen, performing the requisite ceremony with her high priestesses, then accessing and redistributing. In three days. If it doesn’t go down, exactly right, in that tiny time window, there is an opportunity for Dark to steal the magic for themselves.

Ms. Larson is not afraid to hit the ground running (really) in her magic-filled-fantasy, Dark Breaks the Dawn. I may not have fully understood everything at first, but that couldn’t keep me from franticly flipping pages to find out what’s next. Just as the big picture was coming into view, I smugly ‘figured out’ how this tale would end.

I was wrong. Now I’m off to find a copy of Ms. Larson’s Bright Burns the Night because I haven’t had nearly enough of this world.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2019.

Book Review: ASP of Ascension by BR Myers

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Title: ASP of Ascension
Series: A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #1

Author: BR Myers
Publisher: Fierce Ink Books
Publication Date: July 21, 2015
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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ASP of AscensionASP of Ascension
A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #1
BR Myers
Fierce Ink Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-927746-62-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Nefertari “Terry” Hughes has three rules for surviving high school:
#1 Don’t attract attention.
#2 Don’t get involved.
#3 Don’t make trouble.

A year after the accident that left her crippled and took her mother’s life, sixteen-year-old Terry just wants to keep her head down and survive her new high school. When she catches the eye of cute basketball star Zach — who happens to be the boyfriend of mean girl Allison — all hopes of flying under the radar are gone. 

She is thrust even further in the spotlight when Fraser, the editor of the school newspaper, learns Mr. Hughes is the renowned archaeologist overseeing the new Egyptian display at the museum, which is rumoured to include Cleopatra’s sarcophagus. Fraser’s research leads to the fifty-year-old mystery of a girl who vanished while on a school trip to to the museum along with an artifact that may be Cleopatra’s asp.

When Mr. Hughes falls into a coma and his co-worker claims it’s the curse of Cleopatra, the stakes become too high for Terry to ignore. Terry must work with Fraser and her new candy loving friend Maude to find out what happened fifty years ago in hopes of saving her father before time runs out.

When I was a kid, I spent years dreaming of being an archaeologist. Much later, I had the chance to do some traveling and the time I spent in Greece, and especially Egypt, made me wish I’d followed through on those dreams and, to this date, Egypt is still my favorite place to visit. Because of my fondness for the place, the people and the history, I’m always drawn to books featuring Egypt in one way or another (and, yes, I’ve consumed the Amelia Peabody series more than once).

ASP of Ascension offers all that and, as a bonus, takes the older reader like me back to high school days while it’s also a window on those halls of angst and joy and so many other emotions for the readers who are still there. Terry herself is really appealing, and very believable, as a girl who has suffered much damage, physically and emotionally, and just wants to slide through school as unobtrusively as possible. I felt for this girl. Add to that a perfectly wonderful pink-haired sidekick/BFF named Maude and an energetic school newspaper editor named Fraser and the sleuthing team is complete. Oh, and let’s not forget Zach, the hunky jock who’s atypically a pretty nice guy and is just as appealing as the rest of the crew.

Solving the mystery of what happened 50 years ago and what’s happening with her dad now is a fun and slightly fluffy read with a bit of supernatural stuff going on and I thoroughly enjoyed this first in what I hope will be a long-running series. If not, that’s OK since things are resolved quite nicely and I think readers from middle grade to old age will enjoy Nefertari’s adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

About the Author

BR MyersI write YA, appreciate a design in my cappuccino, love shopping for vintage jewelry and dream in color. Coming from Nimbus Publishing, my contemporary coming of age novels, BUTTERFLIES DON’T LIE (SEPTEMBER 15,2014) and GIRL ON THE RUN (Fall 2015). from Fierce Ink Press, ASP OF ASCENSION (July 2015).

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Book Review: Dying for the Past by TJ O’Connor and The Egyptian File by Janis Susan May

Dying for the PastDying for the Past
A Gumshoe Ghost Mystery #2
TJ O’Connor
Midnight Ink, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4206-9
Trade Paperback

First of all, the detective is dead. He’s the ghost of a cop, shot in the previous book, which I am about to read because I really enjoyed this one.

Oliver “Tuck” Tucker attends the charity ball organized by his widow at Vincent House, during which someone shoots a mysterious guest dead. Chaos ensues, of course, as wealthy guests panic and someone steals the donations. Tuck’s old partner and his troops fight to bring order. No one saw the shooter. No one even knows if the corpse was the target, as his wife received two threatening letters–or said she did. Tuck’s investigating when he’s pulled into a time-warp by Vincent Calabrese, the dead gangster who previously owned the house. “Bring me the book, or else,” Vincent says, and the chase is on.

What is the book? Who has it. Does it have anything to do with the murder? Tuck needs to find out.

Tuck doesn’t know why he’s a ghost, or why his widow Angel and his big black lab, Hercule, can hear him. So can Bear, his old partner, though he won’t admit it. Tuck does know that if he must, he’s willing to die again to protect his wife and his friends. With threats both normal and paranormal, with old family secrets exploding and old crimes coming to light, this book careens from surprise to surprise. It’s suspenseful, it’s funny, it’s well worth reading.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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The Egyptian FileThe Egyptian File
Janis Susan May
Sefkhat-Awbi Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-941520-08-6
Trade Paperback

An exotic locale, a desperate art expert and a handsome Egyptologist star in this story of romantic suspense from Janis Susan May. Melissa Warrender was estranged from her father for years, so when he offered her a partnership in his Manhattan art gallery, she leapt at the chance to work with him. He was a specialist in antiquities, she in seventeenth and eighteenth century European paintings.

Melissa receives a phone call which sounds like her father, telling her to retrieve a mysterious file in Cairo. But how can this be—she buried her father months ago. Is he alive, or is someone playing a trick on her? She does not realize that she is targeted both by her father’s rival in the antiquities business and an international task force set up to catch smugglers.

David El-Baradi is a professor of Egyptology in London, currently in Cairo to help the task force. He goes undercover as a taxi driver to help Melissa evade the murderous son of her father’s rival. Melissa’s file turns out to be a message written in hieroglyphs, and David convinces her that he is an underemployed scholar who can help her. But on their trail is Gerard Thenardier, son of her father’s rival and her former lover.

It’s an Indiana Jones-type adventure, with a steamy romance thrown in. The author dedicates the book to Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), author of the Amelia Peabody series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.