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 As Gigi grew more devout and adopted some Muslim customs that Rose considered outdated; rather than addressing it with Gigi, Rose silently stewed, waiting for her little sis to ‘come to her senses’.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: 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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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

$25 Amazon gift card

Enter here.

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Book Review: The Storm Over Paris by William Ian Grubman

The Storm Over Paris
William Ian Grubman
Dupapier Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-732-61000-2
Trade paperback

A prologue and an epilogue that take place in 2000 in New York City bookends what is an exciting addition to the literature of the Holocaust. The rest of the story is set in Paris, beginning in April of 1942 where the Rothstein family has run a prestigious art gallery for several generations. They’ve handled the Rembrandts, the DaVincis, the Caravaggios. The very best of which the invading Nazis are looting for their own.

Mori Rothstein’s life, and that of his family are in jeopardy because they are Jewish. The only thing saving them, for a while at least, is because Hermann Goering is collecting (stealing) the most precious paintings for Hitler’s art museum and he needs Mori’s expertise. For a time, Mori’s connections and knowledge will keep him and his family alive, but time is running out. He and his sons must be not only brave, but clever if they are to save any of the paintings as well as their lives.

The writing is excellent, the setting of 1942 Paris well depicted, and as the pacing picks up to an exciting conclusion, the tension swells exponentially. The characters are well-fleshed out, including those you are sure to hate. A fascinating read for those who like historical adventure set in that time and under those circumstances.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

An Anonymous Girl
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-13373-1
Hardcover

Imagine your life as a giant freewheeling gear. At times, it spins freely and isn’t meshing with anything. At others, it meshes with one, or several other gear-lives. The majority of the time, those meshing instances are benign, often interesting, but very seldom result in terrifying, confusing, or life changing encounters. What happens when one involves all three?

Jessica Ferris already carries around guilt, anger and shame. She’s never told her parents the truth about what happened to her younger sister who has brain damage and requires almost constant supervision. She’s never dealt honestly with what happened between her and a New York producer that has taken up residence in the back of her mind. She worries constantly about money for reasons she’s unwilling to share with her small circle of friends. She has to hustle every day to make all the appointments as a professional make-up artist for well-to-do clients through her contract with BeautyBuzz. When she looks at her future, it looks dim and fuzzy.

Then one of those life-gear moments happens, she fills in for a friend at an appointment to be screened for a psychological testing project. While the odd questions raise a red flag, the possibility of getting ahead financially is too strong, so she continues after confessing that she filled in for her friend.

Her admission isn’t a deal breaker for Dr. Shields, a wealthy and somewhat icy female psychologist. As Jessica gets pulled further and further into the complex web woven by the doctor, she’s initially dazzled by the amount of money dangled before her, not to mention the hint that Dr. Shields might be able to get her soon to be unemployed and broke dad a new job.

By the time Jessica’s at a point where she can hear warning bells, she’s not only stuck in the doctor’s web of manipulation, she’s also realized that she’s been involved with the woman’s husband and if any word of that gets back to Dr. Shields, the possible consequences are too scary to imagine.

I can’t reveal more without spoiling the rest of this book, but consider this, At some point, everyone is suspect, there are multiple layers of duplicity, you can’t trust anyone, Jessica has to walk a tightrope to stay reasonably safe and sane, and the twist at the end is a dandy. If you enjoy psychological thrillers that read like a tilt-a-whirl and are extremely edgy, then this is your kind of book.

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

Book Review: Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-5387-4846-6
Hardcover

First I have to confess I am a big fan of Harlan Coben. His latest book RUN AWAY is a complex tale about the Greene Family who live in New York City. Simon Greene and his wife Ingrid have three grownup children, Paige, Sam and Anya. Simon runs a financial company and Ingrid is a Pediatric Surgeon.

Life had been fairly normal until Paige, away from home attending Lanford College, became involved with a man named Aaron Corval, a drug addict. Stunned at the changes in their daughter, they tried to intervene, but Paige refused to listen and to their horror, left college with Corval and became an addict.

Months have passed and now, unbeknownst to his wife, Simon has been trying once again to find Paige with the intention of persuading her to leave Corval and enter rehab. A tip takes Simon to Central Park where he does find Paige, but Corval confronts him. A fistfight ensues and while Paige escapes, bystanders call the police. Simon is arrested.

A month later Aaron Corval is found brutally murdered in a run-down apartment in Mott Haven, The Bronx. The police pay Simon a visit. When he asks about Paige, thinking she might be a possible suspect in Corval’s death, he learns she is missing. Simon and Ingrid decide to check out the apartment where Corval was killed in the hope of finding a clue to where their daughter might have gone. They find no trace of Paige but as they leave they are confronted by a couple of armed drug dealers and in the contentious exchange Ingrid is shot.

Meanwhile we are introduced to two new characters, Ash and Dee-Dee and quickly realize they are killers, working their way through a list of people they have been hired to kill. While there seems to be no connection between the victims there is a strange and eerie logic to what they are being paid to do.

A combination of guilt, frustration and anguish over all that has happened to his daughter and wife (who is still in hospital), drives him to attend Aaron Corval’s funeral in the faint hope he’ll unearth a clue to where Paige is hiding. He gets an opportunity to talk to Corval’s step-mother at the bar she runs but learns little. But when he is approached by a woman who turns out to be a Private Detective looking for a missing young man they discover both Corval and the missing man were both adopted. Can this be the connection that will unravel the mystery?

This is indeed a twisted tale but at no time did I lose focus or interest in what was going on. As always the author did a commendable job of juggling the different story lines as they sped toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, April 2019.

Book Review: The Beethoven Conspiracy by Thomas Hauser

The Beethoven Conspiracy
Thomas Hauser
Tor Books, December 1985
ISBN 0-812-50451-8
Mass Market Paperback

A detective team of an older experienced New York cop, Richard Merritt and his young partner, Jim Dema, are confronted with a triple murder outside Lincoln Center. The three victims are young, unidentified and all have been shot to death. The case explodes when their identities are revealed along with their talents. All three are rising stars in the classical music field and missing from one is an expensive violin worth upwards of $300,000.

The detectives begin with little or no knowledge of the classical music but intense interviews and library research gradually elevates Richard Merritt’s level of understanding to useful levels. After many interviews, he meets Judith Darr who is instrumental in helping Merritt navigate the intricacies of the inflammatory case. Along the way the author has inserted sizeable quantities of the history of Beethoven and his era. It is cleverly and engagingly written and only adds to the richness of the narrative which gradually draws the reader in.

The writing is crisp, the pace appropriate for this kind of thoughtful detective novel. The violence is tastefully presented with the right kind of impact.

The novel is rich in context, both in New York and Salzburg and will satisfy readers of historical and detective fiction.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Trimmed to Death
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #15
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-9985317-6-2
Trade Paperback

This is a series I’ve been enjoying ever since the author came to our store and, if I recall correctly, met with one of our book clubs. Nancy may have also participated in a big mystery authors gathering we hosted but I honestly am not sure about that and my records from back then are gone, burned up in a computer surge. At any rate, we go back to at least 2000 or 2001 and I haven’t missed a book since. There’s a reason for that—these are really good books with a protagonist I like a lot and, unlike some amateur sleuths, Marla Vail has a brain.

This time, hair salon owner Marla has entered a baking contest at a farm festival and joins in a scavenger hunt during the wait for the judging. As you might expect, Marla finds a body in the strawberry field, a competitor in the contest. Naturally, she’s compelled to investigate, especially after a friend asks her for help. Fortunately, her husband, Dalton, is tolerant of her stepping in even though he’s the investigating detective.

As Dalton says upon seeing the body, “Good God, Marla. Not another one.” Not a surprising comment after so many bodies over the years but at least he’s used to Marla doing her sleuthing thing 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Bono
The Amazing Story of a Rescue Cat Who Inspired a Community
Helen Brown
HarperCollins/ABC
ISBN 978-0–7333-3804-5
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-4607-0797-5
Ebook

Look at that cover—is that not just about the cutest cat you ever saw? Of course, that’s what I say about pretty much any cat I see, especially rescues, but there’s something about Bono that really catches the eye, right?

Helen Brown has written about cats before or, rather, cats and her own life, telling tales about how these little beasties have influenced her and made her life so much more complete. This time, Helen was talked into fostering a cat for just one month while visiting New York City but Bono turned out to be not at all like the sweet, docile sweetie she envisioned; instead, Bono was an opinionated, demanding guy with special needs, badly in need of a forever home.

Needless to say, Bono and Helen develop a fierce fondness for each other and their story is one of love and the search for Bono’s forever home. I cried and I smiled and fell in love with this beautiful Persian as I’m sure you will.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Darkest Before the Dawn
A Sgt. Windflower Mystery #7
Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-988437-13-2
Trade Paperback

There’s something about Canadian police procedurals that really appeals to me and I can’t really put my finger on it. Sure, I love the whole idea of red-jacketed Mounties on their grand steeds—who doesn’t?—but those guys don’t show up all that often and most of the procedurals are with cops and detectives that could just as easily be found in Phoenix or Cleveland. I do know one thing and that’s that Canadian police procedurals tend to have a gentler tone, easier on the psyche than many American books of the same subgenre.

Now, as it happens, Sgt. Windflower really is a Mountie based in a small village in Newfoundland. Even tiny towns in remote places have their issues with crime and, not surprisingly, this one is also dealing with the dissatisfaction of its youth. Still, life is pretty pleasant until Winston and his colleagues are faced with a a rash of violence and financial crimes and he starts looking into potential connections to the Dark Web.

On the whole, Darkest Before the Dawn and, I believe, the whole series, is a feel-good kind of story. Sgt. Windflower and his family, including Lady the Collie, have a happy life. Winston, a member of the Cree tribe, has dreams that he ties to his First Nation status and sometimes interprets in his criminal investigations and those investigations are good puzzles. At the same time, we get to spend a lot of time with the family and with Sgt. Windflower’s fellow officers, not to mention the townspeople. All in all, this was an exceedingly enjoyable read and I intend to go back to the beginning of the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.