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 As Gigi grew more devout and adopted some Muslim customs that Rose considered outdated; rather than addressing it with Gigi, Rose silently stewed, waiting for her little sis to ‘come to her senses’.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

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Book Review: Mind Games by Shana Silver @shanasilver @SwoonReads /@MacmillanUSA @XpressoTours

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Mind Games
Shana Silver
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication date: August 27th 2019
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult

A teen programmer at a school for geniuses must join forces with a boy she can’t remember to stop a hacker from deleting their memories in Shana Silver’s action-packed YA debut, Mind Games.

Arden sells memories. Whether it’s becoming homecoming queen or studying for that all important test, Arden can hack into a classmate’s memories and upload the experience for you just as if you’d lived it yourself. Business is great, right up until the day Arden whites out, losing fifteen minutes of her life and all her memories of the boy across the school yard. The boy her friends assure her she’s had a crush on for years.

Arden realizes that her own memories have been hacked, but they haven’t just been stolen and shared… they’ve been removed. And she’s not the only one: her mysterious crush, Sebastian, has lost ALL of his memories. But how can they find someone who has the power to make them forget everything they’ve learned?

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Just imagine if all your memories could be saved so that you could enjoy them time and time again. The fear of Alzheimer’s would be lessened and you could choose which memories you want to relive and when. Is that a great idea or is it perhaps at least a little creepy?

Then take it a step further and the creepiness really comes into play. Arden is an exceedingly bright and talented girl surrounded by other students almost as intelligent and creative as she is—this is, after all, a school that focuses on STEM—and she has figured a way to hack into the HiveMind, which happens to be her father’s brilliant creation. Arden sells memories to people who don’t own them and, while this may often be relatively harmless, at times it leads to some pretty unacceptable results. Let’s say, for instance, that Amy is in competition with Brad on a test and Brad buys Connie’s photographic memories of the book that’s the subject of the test. Not fair, right?

Then Arden gets her comeuppance, you might say, when some of her own memories suddenly disappear and her friend Sebastian is in an even worse way. These memories aren’t just temporarily missing, they’re actually gone and, oddly enough, Arden’s and Sebastian’s collaborative senior project seems to be involved. They can’t actually remember the project but the more they look into what it was about, the more ominous the truth becomes.

There’s a twist resolution that I couldn’t quite buy into but, on the whole, I had a good time with Mind Games and I’m interested to see what Ms. Silver does with The Con Code, coming out next year.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

About the Author

Rachel Shane (writing as Shana Silver) studied creative writing at Syracuse University. She’s been a computer animator, an e-book creator for a major publisher, and now works as a Project Manager in digital and TV advertising where she enjoys telling people what to do. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, young daughter, and the characters she dreams up.

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Book Reviews: Overturned by Lamar Giles and The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke @LRGiles @Scholastic @HistoriaFrankie @JollyFishPress

Overturned
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-81250-4
Hardcover

I am always seeking books that will immediately intrigue ‘my’ students. Many times, I’ve been sucked into a suspense-filled, action-packed, heart-pumping mystery…surrounding a subject they could not care less about. Aptly, of course, young adults are not the intended audience—I am.

But.

Young adult readers deserve thrilling books.

Mr. Giles seems pleased to provide. And now, I may be the only person looking forward to school starting. I cannot wait to share Overturned.

The setting: the very casino where 16-year-old Nikki Tate works…as well as resides, stimulates the reader’s senses. At a blush, that life-style—for a high-school student—sounds kinda fabulous. And it was. Once.

Without her dad around to run things, the responsibility falls straight through her mother’s trembling fingers into Nikki’s own hands. She can handle it. Has to. Knowing, with her whole heart, that her father is not capable of murder doesn’t keep him off death row. Someone has to support the family—not just the three of them; the trusted and treasured employees of Cosmos matter, too.

Otherwise, she would never consider running her own after-hours, under-the-table card games. Which were not really a big deal. There’s only one human better at poker than Nikki and he’s not here right now. Gavin may still be in his teens, but his bulk makes him the perfect bouncer. Maybe he has a few butterflies when her invitations are extended to some shady characters, but Nikki knows she’s got this.

Until something even odder than the initial arrest and murder charge. New evidence, and an attorney more than pleased to represent Mr. Tate, appears. Conviction overturned and Mr. Tate is head of his casino once again.

Nikki’s delight with his return was fleeting. She once believed he was always there when she needed him. Now, his presence is so far past smothering, she seethes when they share the same space. Determined to make up for the lost time, and hoping to find the sweet, happy Babygirl he remembers; her dad dives deeper into her life.

Although Nikki doesn’t see it at first, Mr. Tate is not as angry as he is horrified and frightened by what he finds. As dad works diligently to get his daughter out of the quick-sand she doesn’t know she’s standing in, Nikki consistently (albeit unintentionally) blocks his way with a combination of teen-age infatuation and obligatory rebellion.

Overturned by Mr. Giles is absolutely every single thing I wish for when I want to wow ‘my’ students with a Book Talk.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

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The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure
Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-239-6
Hardcover

I don’t know if Ms. Durkin and Ms. Cooke colluded to create a tiny tome that would call to all; from the self-dubbed non-reader to the basic bookworm, but that’s exactly what this groovy graphic-novel does.

Filled with fascinating facts, in the same way a teeny car contains a multitude of clowns, this was a particularly pleasing read for me. An at-a-glance timeline from 5,000 BC through 30 BC took up only a tiny portion of a page, but was packed with information. I had no idea that Egypt was divided and reunited so many times! Nor could I have fathomed the complicated process of turning papyrus into paper.

The “novel” is in the narration. The Histronauts, a quirky crew, complete with a cat, needed an indoor activity on a rainy day. Their museum visit morphs into an adventurous Egyptian exploration. As the kids take in the sights and ask amazing questions, I am completely captivated, learning about ancient Egyptians and their way of life. And if all of that isn’t enough, there are even activities through-out. From making jewelry to flatbread or simply solving puzzles, these were engaging additions.

I believe that reluctant readers will enjoy this because of the tantalizing trivia and the graphic-novel-format seems to be more appealing for shorter attention spans. I think avid readers will be reeling from the intriguing information. I was totally into it. And truly, who knew there more than 2,000 ancient Egyptian gods? Or that music was such an imperative part of their lives?

The Histronauts also embark on a Roman adventure and I am already looking forward to joining them.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Review: T-Minus by Shannon Greenland @SEGreenAuthor @EntangledTeen @XpressoTours

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T-Minus
Shannon Greenland
Published by: Entangled Teen
Publication date: August 6th 2019
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult

A terror with no answer needs a girl with no limits.

I am the daughter of the first female POTUS, and today is about to become the longest day of my life…

24 hours—that’s how much time I have to save my mother before terrorists assassinate her. But now my father and brother are missing, too. This goes deeper than anyone thinks. Only someone on the inside would know how to pull this off—how to make the entire First Family disappear.

I can’t trust anyone, so it’s up to me to uncover the conspiracy and stop these madmen. Because little do they know, they picked the wrong person to terrorize.

My name is Sophie Washington, and I will not be a victim. No one, I repeat no one, is taking me or my family down. But the clock is ticking…

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Once I got past the rather eyebrow-raising premise of this book and let myself go with the flow, so to speak, I had a good time watching Sophie fight back when the unthinkable happens to her family. What makes her story so intriguing is that her family is the First Family, not your everyday family in the local neighborhood. To say the stakes are much higher is not an overstatement.

Mind you, Sophie isn’t entirely alone in her fight against whoever the bad guys are. In fact, a strong and very appealing element here is the connections among Sophie’s friends and, of course, her family. Trust is in short supply among the people who are supposed to protect her family but she reaches out to the teens in a special training program that she believes she can count on.

As you might expect in an action adventure tale, the potential outcome is high risk as is the level of tension and the pace is unrelenting. Occasional flashbacks gave me a few moments to calm down just a little and I appreciated that although perhaps they occurred a little too frequently. There are plenty of false leads and red herrings along the way but I have to say the ending held some surprises (that’s a good thing) as well as satisfaction,

With today’s attention to domestic terrorism, this story packs an especially vivid wallop, whether it’s realistic or not. Sure, an attack of this type on the president and her family is less likely than an attack on a school or food festival but the point is that literally nothing is beyond possibility when extremists have an agenda. Frightening stuff, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

About the Author

Things you should know about me: I write novels! Some have won awards. Others have been bestsellers. Under Shannon Greenland (my real name) you’ll find spies, adventure, and romantic suspense. Under S. E. Green (my pen) you’ll find dark and gritty fiction about serial killers, cults, secret societies that do bad things, and whatever else my twisted brain deems to dream up. I’m on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I also have a website and a very non-annoying newsletter where you can keep up to date with new releases, free stuff, and my mild ramblings about my travels. I have a very old and grouchy dog. But I love him. My humor runs dark and so don’t be offended by something off I might say. I mean no harm. I live in a small Florida beach town, but I’m most often found exploring the world. I eat entirely too many chips. I also love math!

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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:

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Book Review: Remember Me by Chelsea Bobulski @ChelseaBobulski @The_FFBC @FeiwelFriends

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Title: Remember Me
Author: Chelsea Bobulski
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Genre: Young Adult Horror

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Purchase Links:
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Remember Me
Chelsea Bobulski
Feiwel and Friends, August 2019
ISBN
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In this eerie and suspenseful YA, a teen girl discovers what connects her to the hotel she calls home as horrifying visions lead her to the truth.

Nell Martin is moving again, this time to the Winslow Grand Hotel, built in 1878. As Nell is settling in, strange things begin to happen. Doors lock of their own accord, writing appears on bathroom walls–and most horrifying of all–visions of a dead boy permeate her waking life. Thinking it was her mind playing tricks on her, she soon finds the past and the present colliding as she learns horrific details of a murder that happened at the hotel in 1905 involving a girl named Lea.

Nell and a mysterious bellboy must relive that day in hopes of finally breaking a curse that imprisons them both. And Nell discovers what truly links her to the history of the Winslow Grand Hotel.

Old houses and hotels make for good hauntings and that’s what Nell discovers when she and her dad move to the Winslow Grand Hotel, a huge Victorian posh resort, the largest hotel her dad has ever worked for. Before they even walk through the lobby door, Nell’s uneasiness turns to near-panic and for no good reason as far as she can tell. Her dad’s somewhat precarious health is her main concern but this new feeling is different.

More than a hundred years earlier, another young girl, Lea, was a guest in this same hotel and dealt with a situation far removed from anything Nell has ever, or will ever, encounter. Lea’s father is intent on marrying her off to a man she barely knows, an heir to a fortune that will return Lea’s family to financial prosperity. Much like Nell, Lea experiences a sense of dread upon entering the hotel and coming events will take her down a path of heartache.

Several days after reading this book, I’m still not quite sure what I think about it. It’s a tale that offers interesting characters but the plot is fairly derivative—not totally surprising because haunted hotel/house stories are frequently based on the same concept. Also, I understand why this is labeled as horror but I really think that’s too heavy for Remember Me and it could more accurately be called a gothic mystery. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, just my personal observation. At any rate, while I didn’t find anything particularly exciting or surprising about Remember Me, I do think it’s an enjoyable way to while away a few hours.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

About the Author

Chelsea Bobulski was born in Columbus, Ohio, and raised on Disney movies, classic musicals, and Buckeye pride. She’s always had a penchant for the fantastical, the stories that teach us there is more to this world than meets the eye. She has a soft spot for characters with broken pasts, strange talents, and a dash of destiny in their bones. After graduating from The Ohio State University with a degree in history, she promptly married her high school sweetheart and settled down in Northwest Ohio with her notebooks and daydreams and copious amounts of chocolate. THE WOOD is her debut novel.

Author Links:

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Book Reviews: Parkland by Dave Cullen and Wild Midnight by Kelsey Abrams

Parkland
Birth of a Movement
Dave Cullen
Harper, February 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-288294-3
Hardcover

This book is not about the tragedy on February 14th, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Instead, it is about all that the student activists accomplished in the following year and how they did it. I felt like I’d followed this story pretty closely, but I was stunned by some of the things I learned. And those things are the reasons I want people to read this book.

I think most folks will be as shocked as I was to find out how ATF background checks are conducted, and why it is that way.

I was floored by all that these students accomplished over one summer and I was delighted to see their efforts to include other young activist groups that were not receiving the same media attention, such as Black Lives Matter, BRAVE & The Peace Warriors.

As expected, being familiar with Mr. Cullen‘s work, Parkland is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Honest, yet hopeful and inspiring.

I simply had to share this with “my” students. I took it in this week, and donated my copy to their classroom library. There was so much interest, I’m going to add a couple more copies soon. Everyone that wishes to read Parkland should have that opportunity.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

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Wild Midnight: An Emily Story
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-157-3
Trade Paperback

It should not surprise me when a Juvenile Fiction book pulls me in and holds my attention almost as tightly as a well-written, true-crime testament. And yet, when my reading of Wild Midnight: An Emily Story by Kelsey Abrams was rudely interrupted, I was absolutely more annoyed than I should have been.

Admittedly, I picked it up planning to savor it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Second Chance Ranch series, so reading the last book seems bittersweet. But, I got so caught up in Emily’s quest to acquire a mustang there was no way I was going to stretch it out.

After careful research and a fruitful family meeting, Emily’s parents agreed to apply to participate in the upcoming auction of free-roaming horses, recently rounded-up. Approval was not a surprise, the Ramirez family’s commitment to rescuing animals is well-known in this part of Texas and Mrs. Ramirez is the go-to veterinarian for the area. However, caring for the critters currently residing on their ranch is expensive. Emily had only a small budget and was easily outbid.

Understanding the emptiness after seeing your dream horse slip through your fingers, her oldest sister, Natalie, promises to help Emily find the perfect equine partner. It is not enough. Emily’s heart is so broken that even Chandler the Emu cannot lift her spirits. But, when she’s invited to visit the mustangs at a near-by ranch, it is possible that a beautiful, black beast and a persnickety stable-hand can help her heal.

I loved the feel of adventure and action as humans attempt to encourage wild horses to acclimate. Also adrenaline-pumping: matter-of-fact preparation for an approaching storm, while potential danger pulses through the air. Softened by a sweet, strong young lady, this is a stellar story.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2018.