Book Review: Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters
by Ivy Ruckman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s suspense

Inspired by an actual event in Nebraska in 1980, when multiple twisters ravaged one town in a meteorological anomaly, 12-year-old Dan Hatch must protect his baby brother and tornado-newbie best friend Arthur, as both of his parents are gone when the tornado comes.

I read this book when I was younger, but only remembered a few details. I really enjoyed it even as an adult. It’s realistic to how kids were back in those days, off riding their bikes or swimming in the local water hole during the summer, especially in a smaller town like this. No cell phones, no video games, and then they went home in the evening to watch Happy Days, which is a little before my time, but I still appreciate the overall feel the author paints of life in the early 80s, when this book was written and set. I also thought that, while the descriptions of the devastation caused by the storm aren’t necessarily vast and detailed, they felt realistic to someone like me who’s never been in a tornado but has seen the aftermath in pictures or videos. And most likely toned down due to being a book for kids.

There were not a whole lot of characters, but I liked the ones that were around much. Dan’s feelings about his little brother throughout were pretty real for a kid his age who had been an only child until the age of 12. Arthur provided an interesting foil in multiple ways. The elderly neighbor Mrs. Smiley and her part in the story made me smile (no pun intended). My only complaint is that I would have liked to know how Officer Kelly ended up. But overall, the book was an exciting, suspenseful read that I think would be great for kids around age 10-12.

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Book Review: Trace of Doubt

Trace of Doubt
by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

After fifteen years in prison, Shelby Pearce is ready to start her life over. But as a convicted murderer, allies are hard to come by, especially since there’s still the question of $500,000 that she’s suspected of stealing at the same time as the murder. Denton McClure, who’d worked the embezzlement case as a rookie agent, is sure she’s guilty and is determined to prove her guilt and uncover the cash. As he gets to know her, though, he begins to doubt what he’s known as fact for 15 years. And it looks like he’s not the only one who’s out to find the money.

This is the second DiAnn Mills book I’ve read, and though I quite liked the other one, this one was a miss for me. I think that mostly boils down to the author’s writing style, which I don’t remember being quite so distracting for me during the other book I read. In this book, though, I often found myself confused by what thought or emotion was being portrayed in a scene, unable to quite grasp the meaning in the author’s choice of words. In many scenes, dialog felt unnatural or stilted, or even felt as though the characters were not having the same conversation as each other.

I did like some of the characters, though mostly secondary ones. Shelby was written well for the bulk of the book, but I didn’t connect with her as much due to my own very different personality as anything. By the end, though, I realized she was actually pretty terrible at making good decisions. Denton was confusing and a little unbelievable in his drive to prove her guilt, letting the search for $500k control/ruin his life. As the mystery of who is targeting Shelby since she’s been released from prison is revealed, as well as why, the premise of her confessing to murder and going to jail becomes less and less believable to me. I won’t give any spoilers, but it mostly goes back to what I said above about Shelby making terrible decisions.

I struggled with consistency issues in various places and with a couple of antagonists that were fairly one-dimensional. I did, however, like the theme about redemption that was brought out more by the secondary characters that were willing to look past Shelby’s history and give her a chance to start over as much as anything. I really dislike giving this low of a rating to any book, and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those books that makes me wonder if I got a different version than everyone else. Please check out other reviews for different opinions, as most of them are positive so far, if you’re interested in the synopsis and/or genre.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: September 7, 2021

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Book Review: Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi suspense

When Ryland Grace wakes up and finds himself on a spaceship with 2 dead roommates and no memory of who he is, why he’s there, or how he got there, he certainly never expected to find out he’s on a mission to save the earth. As his memory falteringly returns and he discovers he may not be as alone as he thought, he will tax his abilities—both physical and mental—and his ship to give humanity a fighting chance.

I haven’t been as captivated by a book as I was by this one in a long time. I read it in 2 days, which is at least half the time I’d normally read a book of this length, because I was so enthralled and just kept wanting to come back to it. The story was creative, the characters were engaging, and the math and science were…well, they were math and science. I zoned out a few times when it got a little over my head and scanned the text for the spot where the point would be made. Those moments didn’t bother me, thoughI just nodded and moved on.

The story tends to go back and forth between the present time on the ship and the recent past back on Earth. The past scenes serve to show both us and Grace why he’s way out in space. Even when the reader thinks they know everything necessary from that time (or at least thinks they can infer it), there’s a little more to know. Personally, I liked the past scenes as much as the present. It was interesting to see Weir’s take on what could happen if catastrophe were looming and humanity was forced to work together or be wiped out.

Understandably, there are not a whole lot of characters in this book, especially those that are given much “screen” time. There’s Grace, of course, who may know more than seems reasonable for his past, but I enjoyed the book enough to not be bothered by it. He’s got a cheesy sense of humor and a determination that doesn’t preclude him from having moments of doubt. Fortunately, he has a counterpart through much of the book who spurs him on when he’s ready to give up, and vice versa. Rocky, along with the friendship that develops between Rocky and Grace, is certainly a highlight of the book. There’s not a whole lot more I can say without giving at least minor spoilers (though odds are pretty good if you read other reviews you’ll be spoiled anyway, as many people don’t see the explanation of Rocky as a spoiler…and maybe it’s not, but I’d rather be cautious). There are so many times when the interactions between Grace and Rocky made me laugh out loud. It’s so great! Also, the endingnever saw it coming!

The question that seems to be on most people’s minds is whether or not this book is too similar to Weir’s first book, The Martian. There are certainly some similarities, but the plot is very different. Whatney’s main conflict is simply survival, then if possible a return to Earth. Grace’s main conflict is to do the science to figure out how to save Earth, and…well, for a while, at least, that’s pretty much it. They’re really only similar in that they’re both one man working alone in space. Some will say that Grace is a copy of Whatney. I have read The Martian once and seen the movie twice, so I don’t think I know it enough to speak to that. They approach problems and science the same way, so I guess there’s that. I also want to mention, for those who are curious, that there is way less language in this book than there was in The Martian. Grace himself only uses “fake” swear words, so the only real language comes from the past scenes, and it’s considerably light. Some might be interested to know, however, that this book takes an evolution-as-fact approach to the universe, evolution being a very heavy topic in the latter half or so of the book. It’s very common for sci-fi to be written with that worldview, but it is pushed pretty heavily. Overall, though, I highly recommend this book to anyone who even remotely enjoys sci-fi books.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred

Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #8
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian suspense

While enjoying a ride in his Uncle Rex’s small aircraft, a near-miss in the air leads to injury for both Jay Cooper and his uncle. Uncle Rex is knocked unconscious, and a head injury leaves Jay without sight. The plane is still flying, but with no pilot and a dwindling supply of fuel, how long will it stay aloft? And will they be able to land safely?

Like book #4 in the series (Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea), this book involved no archaeology or supernatural elements—this one didn’t even have any kind of mystery—and was simply a race against time to save one of the Cooper kids from catastrophe. This book was also quite suspenseful, as Jay had to learn not to rely on what he felt and instead rely on what he was being told by those who were more knowledgeable than he, and more importantly, had more information. While typing that last sentence, I literally just realized the parallel to our lives in that situation. Sometimes sensations Jay felt made him think the plane was turning a lot more than it was, and he couldn’t see to verify those feelings. Various other people at different times were outside of the aircraft, could see more clearly what it was doing, and relayed that information to Jay. He had to trust them to be correct, in order to help save his own life, rather than rely on instincts and feelings. What a parallel to how we live our lives paying attention to our own instincts and feelings, when we are much better off relying on God, who knows infinitely more than we do and knows what’s best for our lives (and the lives of those around us)! And indeed, the biblical theme of trusting God, even to the point of submitting to Him if He chooses not to save one’s life, is strong in the story.

I really liked how immersive the story is, in regards to those flying the planes, the air traffic controllers, and other related things. In a way, it seems like Jay does very little, other than follow instructions from others, but I think his mental struggle and what he does from inside the plane while unable to see were still a good part of the story. I might have liked something a little more closely related to the overall theme of the series as the final book, but it was a good book on its own. I’m really glad I listened to the audiobooks read by Peretti himself for the 2nd half of the series—he certainly adds drama and excitement in his reading. This book, and the overall series, are good for the age group (pre-teen through teens).

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Book Review: Rabbits

Rabbits
by Terry Miles

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, suspense

There’s a game that may not really be a game. Players aren’t supposed to talk about it, at least not in specific terms. They call it Rabbits, and playing involves finding patterns in the world around you, coincidences or even discrepancies. Follow the clues and try to win, because winning means unimaginable rewards that no one knows for sure exist, just like no one knows for sure who the winners of the first 10 iterations of the game were. A man named K has been obsessed with the game for years, so when he’s approached by a man rumored to have won in the past and told that something is wrong with the game, and it’s up to K to fix it before the next iteration begins or the entire world is in danger, of course he has to try to help. But will he be too late?

The synopsis of this book (which is better written than mine above) really intrigued me. I loved the idea of a mysterious game with the entire world—universe, even—as the playing field. Unfortunately, the book was mostly just bizarre and repetitive and lacked the real punch and follow-through I was looking for. I read the book pretty quickly, not because I was excited and caught up in it, but because I was confused and a little frustrated and wanted to push to get to that place where everything is explained and suddenly makes sense. Sadly, that moment never happened.

After the possible former winner approaches K and tells him that he has to fix the game, the story mostly consists of the same format repeated over and over–K (and sometimes his friend Chloe too) researches/digs/looks for clues, hits a dead end and gives up, suddenly has a revelation that generally comes one of two ways—either someone randomly gives him a clue or he just happens to see a random item in the room he’s in that makes him think in a new way—then is off digging again before hitting that next dead end. During this repetitive meat of the book, K is remarkably knowledgeable about almost everything he needs to know to solve these things. He has to look up one or two things, but for the most part, he’s versed in movies, music, & books (foreign and domestic), art, architecture, and constellations. No real reason is given for him having all of this knowledge (he has an eidetic memory, but he’d still have to have been exposed to a lot), and to make it worse, the fellow-sort-of-player that is helping him through all of this, Chloe, never really has the surprising and sudden knowledge at just the right time.

K has a lot of strange things happen to him throughout the course of this book, and Chloe often asks him if he’s okay. Even after he’s admitted to her some of the mind-bending things that he’s seen, he still inevitably lies to her when she checks on him and tells her he’s okay. Literally every time, it’s, “I’m fine,” with almost no variation. And then there’s the heavy language throughout the book. Even when I was in high school, I knew that people who liked to drop the f-word into every other sentence didn’t have much in the way of a vocabulary. Apparently that is the case with every single character in this book, without even the allowance for the possibility that anyone they meet along the way may not talk the same way that everyone else does. I don’t read a lot of books with heavy language like this, but never before have I gotten to the point where it felt like the author was an 11-year-old who was out of hearing of his parents and cussing just because he can. That’s what this made me feel like.

(Warning, this paragraph contains some minor spoilers.) Even with everything I’ve said above, I probably would have given the book a little higher of a rating if it weren’t for the utter lack of a payoff in the end. There’s this science presented in the 2nd half of the book that was pretty baffling to me, but I was hanging in there, doing my best to understand just enough to see how the plot paid off. I’m not sure how much of what didn’t make sense to me was due to my lack of understanding of this kind of thing and how much was due to the author sort of hand-waving some of it, but I was hanging in there. Then we get to the end and…all of that, all of the science and urgency, is just…brushed off. We’re presented with 2 new theories about what’s been happening, and then the book ends with no real answers and with everything I was doing my best to understand is just thrown out the window. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a book wasted the time it took me to read it more than this one did, and the only reason it’s 2 stars is because I really do think the idea is good, the beginning was good, and I’m sure a lot of work was put into writing and editing this book.

As for whether or not you might like it…if you’re a major gamer, into fringe culture, or know anything at all about the darknet, you really might like this book. It reminded me of Ready Player One, in that there were quite a few references to movies, music, and games, a lot of it vintage. And like RPO, a lot of it was completely unnecessary. A major setting in the book is an arcade, and when a character just happens to be leaning on a game cabinet, I don’t need to know what the name of the game is unless it’s going to matter to the story. On the other hand, my husband would probably love to know because he spent a lot of time in arcades as a kid (he also liked all of the references in RPO more than I did). So definitely make the decision for yourself, if this book sounds interesting. You can also check out other reviews at the link below.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: Prophet

Prophet
by Frank E. Peretti
read by Cameron Beierle

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense

News anchor John Barrett just wants to live his life in peace, without his over-zealous Christian dad causing problems. Or his estranged son making him feel guilty for how he does his job. Or his co-workers skewing the news to promote their worldviews. But all of these things come to a head when his dad dies under mysterious circumstances. With the help of a fellow reporter, his own son, and a number of other people along the way, John is determined to get to the truth.

This is a classic Peretti book that I had never read before. I was a little hesitant going into it, because as much as I love Peretti, I know that some of his theology in the past has been a bit questionable to me as I’ve gotten older. And while I’m not sure that modern prophets exist, it was still a very interesting take on what it might be like if they did. I really liked the way that the different threads came together, in true Peretti fashion, but to be honest, in the end, I’m not sure the prophet angle was necessary. 

A lot of behind-the-scenes views were shown of the news station, as well as political ads for the state’s governor who was running for re-election. I thought I might find some of that tedious, but for me, they really added to the feel of the story. I did listen to the audiobook, though, so I don’t know what it would have been like if I’d been reading (maybe no different). I also appreciated the way that John often saw real life through the lens of making the news show, because it’s his whole life and how he relates even to his own son.

Though the book was published in 1992, it was very timely to what’s going on in our world, proving that the question of truth in politics and in the media is nothing new. Some of it was a little disturbing, to be honest, because I fully believe that this kind of thing does happen in real life. I’m really glad I took the time to read this book and didn’t just pass it off as old and outdated, like I thought about doing.

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Book Review: Sadie

Sadie
by Courtney Summers

read by Rebecca Soler, Fred Berman, & Dan Bittner

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA suspense, drama

Sadie’s life was already an unhappy one, her main bright spot being her little sister Mattie, whom she practically raised. But then Mattie dies, and some time later, Sadie decides to do what the police can’t–track down Mattie’s killer. This leads Sadie on a road trip to find the man she knows is responsible. Three months later, a radio personality is asked by Sadie’s surrogate grandmother to find the missing Sadie. He follows her trail and turns the investigation into a podcast.

It was really difficult to rate this book in the end, because it was dark and disturbing, but also unique and interesting. Sadie’s perspective is shown in first-person, present tense as she travels from town to town looking for her sister’s killer. The podcast is shown in a script format–West McCray (the radio personality) explaining to us what he finds, and also interviewing people along the way.

Before I get any further with my review, I feel a content warning is in order. There are certain things that are treated very carefully–pedophilia, drug abuse, and murder. There is also a lot of language. I started out listening to the audiobook, because it was highly recommended, given that the podcast sections are presented like a real podcast. However, I had to switch to a format where I read Sadie’s portions myself and listened to the “podcast” parts, because Sadie’s portions are so heavy with language, I couldn’t stand listening to it. I can handle it in text better, because apparently I tend to mentally bleep out those words. But I also didn’t care for the person who read Sadie’s part, because she sounded angry all the time, no matter what she said. Simply describing a room, she was angry. It was a bit much. So the joint format worked well for me.

One of my favorite things about the book, which I started out thinking would make it boring or repetitive, was McCray’s follow-up on things we’d already seen Sadie do. Because he trailed her 3 months later, we were able to see the aftermath of some of her actions. And the way McCray got caught up in her story added a comforting human element the rest of the story seemed to be lacking–not because other characters were heartless or didn’t care, but because the circumstances just didn’t lend to them being very kind, compassionate, etc.

The book being YA leads me to warn that if you’re thinking of allowing your teenager to read it, read it first. The language alone may put off a lot of people. However, I do think the book is worth reading–I just know I wouldn’t let my daughter read it as a teenager.

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Book Review: Don’t Keep Silent

Don’t Keep Silent
Uncommon Justice
#3
by Elizabeth Goddard

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Romance, suspense, Christian

Don't

Investigative reporter Rae Burke’s sister-in-law has a secretive and troubled past, so when she disappears, Rae knows it won’t be easy to track her down. However, with the help of former DEA agent Liam McKade, with whom Rae once had a relationship, Rae refuses to give up. Though they are both professionals, it still won’t be easy to put their past behind them, especially since Rae once ruined Liam’s career and almost got him killed. Can they battle bad guys, nature, and their own issues to find Zoey?

This was yet another time when I can’t help but wonder if I read a different book than everyone else. Maybe I’m just far more particular. But while I liked the setting and appreciated some of the characters, overall I had a lot of trouble with this story, especially in the plot and writing style.

I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but many times, it felt like the author had an outline of things she wanted to have happen in a scene and just sort of threw them together. One paragraph would have 2-3 different, unrelated topics in it, lacking any kind of transition. Conversations didn’t make sense half the time, either because the characters sometimes seemed like they were not having the same conversation as each other, or because the dialog was stilted in general.

As the mystery unfolded, I tried to get involved. The plot itself was decent for most of the story, but the revelations at the end were convoluted and nothing you wouldn’t expect from the set-up. There were some incredible coincidences that I think the author tried to give good reason for, but they fell flat for me, most likely due to how complicated things got. It didn’t help that I felt like I was missing half the story. I know this is book 3 in a series, and I do wish I’d read the first 2 before diving into this one, but I’m pretty sure that the parts related to Rae & Liam’s history weren’t in a previous book. I would have liked more explanation there.

The author’s attempts at suspense fell flat, usually because information seemed to be given sorely out of order. Rae convinces Zoey’s mom that she’s able to help, so Zoey’s mom opens up to her…but then only after being pressed for more info does she mention that the primary suspect has recently been announced dead?! This is just one example of strange or contradictory situations I noted throughout the book.

The book is billed as Christian, but it’s barely that. The main characters give silent, single-sentence prayers every once in a while, pleading with God for other characters to be all right, but that’s about the extent of it. I have no idea what either of them believe, or if they actually trust the God they’re seeking help from.

I really don’t like writing reviews like this, and I certainly wish I’d enjoyed the book more. Based on other reviews, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re interested in this type of book, you should still check it out. Though I’d strongly recommend starting with book 1, as there are things about Liam’s family that are mentioned in this book with no context, and the other two books are about his brothers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Final Chance

Final Chance
by E.B. Roshan

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Suspense, drama

Preen has just fully accepted that her husband, Rama, died at the hands of a rival militia, in the tumultuous city of Dor. But a late-night phone call with her husband’s voice on the other end prompts her to travel to the war-torn city, where she used to live with her husband and daughter. What follows is a dangerous journey that will force Preen to relive unpleasant memories and test old loyalties.

This is a difficult book to rate, and a difficult review to write. I didn’t really know what I thought of it as I was reading it, and I’m not sure how I feel about it now, over a week after finishing it. This is not to say that the story is bad, nor the writing. More that I didn’t feel much draw to the characters and had no real understanding of the theme or purpose of the story.

The biggest thing that I took away from it was a sadness for the Tur people who were being evacuated from Dor and forced to live in a refugee camp. The fact that they didn’t even seem to have a complaint about their living conditions seems to say that either they have already been living in terrible conditions so long that they’re used to it, or that their lives in Dor was so terrible that the camp was an upgrade. I’m not entirely sure which, but it still made me sad, considering that, though the setting was fictional, the situation is entirely too real.

The book is novella-length, so there is not a lot of depth in the world-building or characterization. On the former point, I wasn’t bothered at all. Once I got used to the melding of modern and primitive, I appreciated the way the author used it in the story. There were some allusions to culture and customs that made the setting feel real. For various reasons, I imagined the story to be taking place somewhere around the Middle East, but again, that is not specified. Regarding the characters, the history between Preen and Rama is basically empty. If I was meant to feel much at all about their relationship and whether or not Rama is alive, it’s very difficult when I know almost nothing about them.

I think the story is worthy of a good rating, but in the end, I think I am not quite the right audience for it. I’m not sorry I read it, however, and because my review may not be entirely helpful, I definitely suggest checking out what others have to say.

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Self-Publishing Spotlight: Hope Is a Dangerous Place

Do you like…

  • …small towns with dark secrets?
  • …mysteries about missing people from 75 years ago?
  • …teenage sleuths?
  • …stories where the setting is as much a character as the people?
  • …seeing revival?
  • …tornadoes?

If you answered yes to 1 or more of these questions, consider checking out Hope is a Dangerous Place.

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Jim Baton believes revival is coming to America. This is what it might look like–

Seventy-five years ago, fifteen-year-old Hope McCormick disappeared. To remember her, the newly incorporated town was named “Hope.” When high school friends Kelsey and Harmonie begin looking into this unsolved mystery, they discover that someone will do anything to make sure the town’s secrets never come to light. Which neighbors are allies, and which face masks a violent enemy? And what will it take for their struggling town to fulfill its original destiny of hope?

About Jim Baton: Jim Baton (pen name) has spent the last 20 years living in the Muslim world, where he’s been involved in a variety of peace and reconciliation activities including interfaith dialogue, training elementary through university students in peace principles, and bringing Christians and Muslims together to pray.

Jim also speaks internationally on the peacemaking themes he’s presenting through the thrillers he writes. These books contain a depth of understanding regarding the roots of the Christian and Muslim conflict, how to bring healing to Abraham’s broken family, how to combat terrorism with non-violence and love, and how to become a true peacemaker.

Hope Is a Dangerous Place was self-published by Jim Baton in February of 2020. It’s available on Kindle, where the price has been discounted for the month of April, and as a paperback. You can read reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. Or see my review here.