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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Giveaway

$25 Amazon gift card

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Book Review: Under the Shadows by Gwen Florio

Under The Shadows
A Lola Wicks Mystery #5
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5053-8
Trade Paperback

We’re all creatures of habit and the older we are, the more ingrained those become. Lola Wicks spent much of her adult life being independent and free to follow her instincts into dangerous locations as an investigative journalist. It took her late husband Charlie, who was a member of a Montana Indian tribe and a county sheriff, years to wear her down and marry him. Part of those wearing down years involved the birth of their now eight year old daughter, Margaret.

When Charlie was killed, smothering a bomb planted by eco-terrorists, while they were on vacation in Arizona, the unexpected wave of grief was so strong and unexpected that Lola found herself not only shadowed by Charlie’s ghost, but so distraught that she couldn’t take care of herself or her daughter. Her best friend, Jan, along with the Aunties (women elders of the tribe) did an intervention.

The result isn’t something Lola is initially willing to consider. The Aunties and Jan will care for Margaret while Lola goes to Salt Lake City where Jan has arranged for her to do a story on foreign adoption by Mormon couples for a church owned publication. Everyone’s hope is that the challenge, the geographic change, and the threat of losing her daughter to the Montana social services department will provide the kick in the rear she needs to return to the ranks of the living.

What Lola alone knows is that her nails-screeching-on-the-blackboard hold on sanity is being held together by industrial strength pain pills, sometimes the only thing that allows her any sleep and relief from Charlie’s ghost. They also compound her gradual distancing from caring and life.

No sooner does she arrive in Salt Lake City and gets off on the wrong foot with her new boss by almost sleeping through her initial meeting, than she discovers that Trang, now called Frank, the Vietnamese teen adopted at age ten, has been arrested and accused of the murder of his girlfriend’s mother. Since it was his hockey stick that cracked her skull, although her death was the result of a vicious slash across the woman’s throat, nobody seems interested in looking for an alternate suspect.

What this major upset in plans does do is start a faint rekindle of the spark that used to drive Lola’s investigative instincts. After she’s bought Vicodin from a nervous teen in a sketchy downtown park, nearly had her own throat cut, realized a smell from her own youth is attached to someone who might be the real killer, made friends with the accused teen’s girlfriend, discovered just how strange and inflexible Mormon culture can be around certain social issues and nearly been thrown in a Vietnamese jail, you, the reader, are feeling a bit like you just got off a wild carnival ride.

While many elements of the story are straightforward mystery plot items, what sets this apart are the intensity of Lola’s grief, how that has spread to impact others and how much secrecy and deceit occurred long before Lola ever landed in Salt Lake City. It’s part of a series, but can be enjoyed a lot without having read any of the others by Gwen Florio.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2019.

Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: This Is Not the End by Chandler Baker

This Is Not the End
Chandler Baker
Hyperion, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-4847-5024-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

If you could choose one person to bring back to life, who would it be?

Seventeen-year-old Lake Deveraux is the survivor of a car crash that killed her best friend and boyfriend. Now she faces an impossible choice. Resurrection technology changed the world, but strict laws allow just one resurrection per citizen, to be used on your eighteenth birthday or lost forever.

You only have days to decide.

For each grieving family, Lake is the best chance to bring back their child.

For Lake, it’s the only way to reclaim a piece of happiness after her own family fell apart.

And Lake must also grapple with a secret–and illegal–vow she made years ago to resurrect someone else. Someone who’s not even dead yet.

Who do you need most?

As Lake’s eighteenth birthday nears, secrets and betrayals new and old threaten to eclipse her cherished memories. Lake has one chance to save a life…but can she live with her choice?

What an impossible choice Lake has, knowing she can bring her dead best friend or boyfriend back to life but not both. Can you imagine the pressure that comes with that, never mind the twist of having promised her one resurrection to someone else? At first blush, having the technology to allow a resurrection seems a remarkable opportunity but perhaps it really isn’t. Think about it…how would you select one person if you’ve had multiple losses leading up to your 18th birthday?

Lake has a tremendous sorrow, no doubt, but how is it possible that she could feel an almost instantaneous connection with a guy she just met? That budding romance didn’t sit right with me but I still have a lot of empathy for Lake because she’s a nice girl who cares, a very normal girl, and I wanted her to find some kind of resolution that gives her comfort. Lake’s brother, Matt, is another compelling character, not always in a good way but his bitterness is understandable, and the dilemma he causes for Lake gives this story a strong sense of the ethics involved in some of our medical and scientific advances. It also lets us see how Lake has been a sort of second-hand citizen in her own family, certainly something that would affect anyone’s psyche, especially considering the plan her parents have in mind. In the end, can whatever choice she makes please anyone, including herself?

Betrayal is a core element here and we see that certain people are, or were, not what they seemed, and the misperceptions that plague us all played a huge role in this very intriguing story. Those misperceptions lead to some very surprising twists, a fitting way to bring everything to a close and, all in all, I found This Is Not the End to be a most interesting and engaging tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

Riding Chance
Christine Kendall
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-92404-7
Hardcover

Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alisha, a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alisha’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player, Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alisha, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Shorts Reviews: Half-Life by Tina Ferraro and The Last Second by Robin Burcell

Half-LifeHalf-Life
Tina Ferraro
Leap Books, March 2015
ISBN 9781616030261
Ebook

From the publisher—

Half a life is not worth living.

Probably not a good idea to take advice from your dead twin sister. High school sophomore Trisha Traynor and friends have played the Halloween mirror game for years, the one that’s supposed to show a glimpse of the guy they’ll marry. But no one’s ever seen anything.

Until tonight—when Trisha is gob smacked by the candlelit arrival of her long-deceased twin sister, instead of her crush, Kirk Maxwell.

In a voice and vision that only Trisha can hear and see, Chessie claims to be back on a compassionate journey. Trisha fears she’s gone nuthouse crazy. But she nonetheless follows the instructions Chessie outlines in their nightly conversations, until she finds herself stepping across some ethical lines, and probably ending all chances with Kirk.

When a sisterly showdown ensues, resulting in the shattering of the mirror, Chessie’s gone again, and a heartsick Trisha sets about righting her recent wrongs. That is, until she stumbles upon the real reason Chessie had come back and the most important glimpse yet that the mirror could never predict.

One thing really struck me about Half-Life that doesn’t often happen with books, young adult or otherwise. I connected with Trisha in a major way because she and I had a lot in common if you just forget the facts that she doesn’t actually exist and that there is about a 50 year spread going on. Pah! Minor details! Now, I didn’t have a twin who died as a young child and I’ve never seen a ghost in a mirror or anywhere else but I was a 14-year-old girl when I had my first kiss and my first boyfriend and, my goodness, the memories and the feelings of my 14-year-old self all came flooding back.

Trisha’s home life is just shy of normal. Her mom has never been able to come to terms with Chessie’s death so Trisha, her little brother and her dad all have to tiptoe around her, not even daring to talk openly about Chessie. That all makes it even more critical that the rest of Trisha’s life—school, friends, potential boyfriends, etc.—stay on an even keel. Unfortunately, her BFF, Abby, has pretty much dropped her because she has a boyfriend and a neighboring schoolmate is pressuring Trisha to do something she knows is wrong. Oh, and what is she going to do about those two guys, the DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous) Kirk and Chadwick, and her ghostly sister?

Half-Life is a sweet story with a little bit of intrigue and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is my introduction to Tina Ferraro‘s work and I just may have to try some more 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

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The Last SecondThe Last Second
Robin Burcell
Witness Impulse, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-2273734
Ebook

From the publisher—

Covert agent Zachary Griffin and FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick are sidetracked from an ongoing investigation to follow up on a potential lead. In a small Arizona border town, gunrunning and drug trafficking into Mexico are a part of the landscape—but not when they’re orchestrated by an officer in uniform. At least that’s the story told to agents Griffin and Fitzpatrick.

But the dirty cop is now missing, and his sister says he’s innocent, a victim of a corrupt police department. She is convinced they set him up to take the fall, then killed him, and she can prove it—with help from a highly unusual witness. Suddenly an open-and-shut case seems anything but, and the clock is ticking as Griffin and Fitzpatrick take on an entire police department in a deadly match that could go up in smoke at the last second.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of Robin Burcell‘s books, not because I didn’t want to but just because I have a mountainous TBR that never gets any smaller. Anyway, I’m very glad that I picked up this short story because it reminded me of how much I really do like Sydney and Zach.

At first, the case seems to be relatively simple: a dirty cop, Calvin Walker, working with the Mexican cartels, might be the person who can lead Sidney and Zach to the head of the operation, a gunrunning ex-CIA agent named Garrett Quindlen. Trouble is Calvin has disappeared and may be in possession of a lot of explosives. Finding him is problematic until they hear about a special witness named Max.

I really enjoyed this story. As short as it is, Ms. Burcell has packed a good deal of action and suspense into this reminder that this is an author well worth reading. I hope that, by the time I catch up on her work, a new book will be coming out, either in this series or Kate Gillespie’s or, what the heck, something entirely new 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.