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review 2019-06-09 10:30
Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman
Night of the Twisters - Ivy Ruckman

When a tornado watch is issued one Tuesday evening in June, twelve-year-old Dan Hatch and his best friend, Arthur, don't think much of it. After all, tornado warnings are a way of life during the summer in Grand Island, Nebraska. But soon enough, the wind begins to howl, and the lights and telephone stop working. Then the emergency siren starts to wail. Dan, his baby brother, and Arthur have only seconds to get to the basement before the monstrous twister is on top of them. Little do they know that even if they do survive the storm, their ordeal will have only just begun..





When a tornado warning goes into effect for the small town of Grand Island, Nebraska, twelve year old Dan Hatch and his best friend, Arthur, don't take it all that seriously... at least, not at first. They figure tornado warnings are not uncommon for the area and usually little to nothing scary comes of it, so all they'd have to do is plunk down to a movie and calmly wait it all out. Little did they know, this particular night would be one for the record books. In just a matter of hours, the citizens of Grand Island find themselves center stage in one scary story of survival against the elements.


The story opens retrospectively, with Dan recounting the events of that traumatic day that ended up killing four people and injuring nearly 140 more in the span of just three hours. Looking back, Dan remembers all the little things can could now be viewed as precursors to the coming disaster: the day turning nearly pitch black early on in the afternoon, phone lines beginning to malfunction, lights flickering. Arthur and Dan are hanging out at Dan's house, being typical young boys enjoying time away from school, when they are both soon separated from their families. With Dan's parents away checking on neighbors and other nearby family members, Dan and Arthur are left alone in the house with Dan's baby brother, Ryan. Once Dan realizes the storm is undeniably headed their way, he grabs his brother and everyone heads to the basement bathroom to huddle in the shower, hoping they survive the tornado passing over the house. 


The boys survive, climb out of the house rubble to discover virtually the entire town has been leveled and they have no clue where any of the rest of their family members may be. They head out walking, hoping to run into someone. Before long, they run into Arthur's sister, Stacey. With one more in their group, the kids set out to try to locate their parents.


Set during the Carter administration era, this middle grade novel offers a steady amount of action for young readers, as well as plenty of heart. With the trauma of natural disaster now in their memory banks, these kids get a tough lesson in what really has true, deep, non-monetary value in life. The plot itself also provides a minimal, entry-level education on what hardships one can possibly expect after surviving a natural disaster.


I figured then that nothing else mattered. You can do without all kinds of things --- your house, your bike, your room, a whole city of people --- if you have the ones you love.


This story sounded vaguely familiar once I started reading it. A quick internet search reminded me that this had been given a film adaptation (by the same name) in the 90s and the story itself was loosely inspired by an actual event, also dubbed Night of the Twisters, when seven tornados actually did touch down in the town of Grand Island, Nebraska one night in the 1980s.

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review 2019-02-26 03:50
Chosen People by Robert Whitlow
Chosen People - Robert Whitlow

During a terrorist attack near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a courageous mother sacrifices her life to save her four-year-old daughter, leaving behind a grieving husband and a motherless child. Hana Abboud, a Christian Arab Israeli lawyer trained at Hebrew University, typically uses her language skills to represent international clients for an Atlanta law firm. When her boss is contacted by Jakob Brodsky, a young Jewish lawyer pursuing a lawsuit on behalf of the woman’s family under the US Anti-Terrorism laws, he calls on Hana’s expertise to take point on the case. After careful prayer, she joins forces with Jakob, and they quickly realize the need to bring in a third member for their team, an Arab investigator named Daud Hasan, based in Israel. To unravel the case, this team of investigators travels from the streets of Atlanta to the alleys of Jerusalem, a world where hidden motives thrive, the risk of death is real, and the search for truth has many faces. What they uncover will forever change their understanding of justice, heritage, and what it means to be chosen for a greater purpose.






During a terrorist attack near the Western Wall area of Jerusalem, Gloria Neumann sacrifices herself to save her four year old daughter. Though the daughter survives, she is left disfigured and requiring psychological therapy in the aftermath.


Later, in Atlanta, Georgia, lawyer Hana Abboud is contacted with an offer to possibly represent the family of Gloria Neumann. Under the US Anti-Terrorist laws, Gloria's husband would like to pursue a lawsuit. Hana teams up with Jewish lawyer Jakob Brodsky and Arab investigator Daud Hasan to find justice for the family. Though adult Hana identifies as Christian, she has a personal connection to this case because she had a Middle Eastern upbringing and studied law at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


If you're familiar with Robert Whitlow's novels, you likely know he's pretty much the John Grisham of the Christian Fiction genre. No surprise then when I tell you that there is a heaping helping of legalese in this story. The plot gets an extra layer of complexity as well with Whitlow incorporating discussion of international laws.


Personally, I struggle with Whitlow's writing style. His writing reads a little dry for my taste, so I often have a hard time connecting with characters. This books was no exception, though I will say that Sadie, the little girl, was a very cute character to get to know. The adults though.... a little stale. While the topic was a decent one to write a novel around, I felt the scenarios the characters were put in were often a little too contrived, their reactions to their environments or experiences even a little silly at times.


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2019-02-03 10:50
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
The Double Bind - Chris Bohjalian

When Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography, spending all her free time at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies, Laurel discovers a deeply hidden secret–a story that leads her far from her old life, and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.





Laurel Estabrook is just nineteen when she is attacked while riding her bike in a local park in Vermont. Her unidentified assailants jump out of a dark colored late model van, intent on causing her serious harm. Laurel fights for her life and manages to escape but not without scratches, bruises, one broken finger and plenty of emotional trauma. Somehow in the middle of the scuffle she also manages to memorize the van's license plate, so it's not long before her attackers are in custody. It turns out one guy has a job as a personal trainer and owns a gym marketed toward professional body builders. This guy also has been tied to other assault and rape cases, something his partner had no idea about. 


Laurel gradually comes back from her trauma, does her best to rejoin society but her experience unfortunately did scar her with PTSD and agorophobia. She decides to give up biking, taking up swimming instead. During one of her outings, Laurel meets Katherine Maguire, the founder / director of the local homeless shelter, decides to start volunteering there. Through her volunteer work she meets Bobbie Crocker, a former professional photographer, now homeless and schizophrenic, working to get into subsidized housing. When Laurel looks through some of his photography work, the novel's big mystery begins to kick in. She notices that of all the celebrity photos in his collection, not one seems to directly credit Crocker's name. Laurel starts working through this mystery to distract her from the days when her PTSD symptoms are at their worst. But then there is one surprising photo that shakes her to her core --- a photo of the house where Laurel grew up. She begins to develop a theory about Crocker, something that may surprise readers in the way it links him to a famous couple within classic literature (in a unique but confusing way). 


Note: "Double Bind", in simplistic terms, is a psychology reference that notes damaging effects of contradictory information / explanation / instruction. In the case of parenting, if bad enough, it's theorized that the child on the receiving end can potentially develop schizophrenia in such an environment. Double Bind the novel uses this idea to play with the idea of "nature vs. nuture".


It's not a perfect novel, but it got some things right enough to keep me reading. As far as the mystery end goes, much of Laurel's line of thinking I found to be pretty reaching. What captured me as a reader were the themes of mental illness / PTSD & the effect on normal life routines, and the topic of homelessness. Being someone who both battles mental illness of my own and has been on staff of homeless shelters, comparing my own experiences to those posed here at least held me to the story that much ... but in general, I was struggling to remain invested through the second half of the book. 


A couple of the things that did stand out to me, though:


* Having the character of Crocker be inspired by a real photographer and then incorporating the real photographer's work (photos) throughout the novel was a cool touch that brought a more personal level to the story. 


* I loved Marissa and Cindy, David's small daughters  -- can't help but cheer for young Marissa's already established pronounced empathy as well as her BS detector ... but David's quiet but pervasive, almost martyr-ish "she's lucky to have me" attitude toward his relationship with Laurel low-key bugged me. 


I keep trying with Bohjalian... and while I did certainly like this one at times... I've yet to be really wowed by one of his novels. 

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review 2019-01-27 21:09
I am Apache by Tanya Landman
I Am Apache - Tanya Landman

A young woman seeks to avenge her brother's death by becoming an Apache warrior — and learns a startling truth about her own identity. After watching helplessly as Mexican raiders brutally murder her little brother, fourteen-year-old Siki is filled with a desire for vengeance and chooses to turn away from a woman's path to become a warrior of her Apache tribe. Though some men, like envious Keste, wish to see Siki fail, she passes test after test, and her skills grow under the guidance of her tribe's greatest warrior, Golahka. But Keste begins to whisper about Siki's father's dishonorable death, and even as Siki earns her place among the warriors, she senses a dark secret in her past — one that will throw into doubt everything she knows. Taking readers on a sweeping and suspenseful journey through the nineteenth-century American Southwest, Tanya Landman draws on historical accounts to imagine the Black Mountain Apache as a tribe in a fight for survival against the devastating progress of nations.





Siki, a fourteen year old Apache girl, witnesses the murder (by decapitation) of her four year old brother during a Mexican raid. Set on avenging his death, she sets out to become an Apache warrior. Siki vows to use her brother's spear to kill his murderer. The tribe notes how unusual it is to allow women to train to be braves, but it is later decided to let her try. She will need to complete four missions to be eligible for warrior council. The fourth mission puts her between a rock and a hard place, as she is forced to choose between honoring wishes of the Chief or the loyalty of a true friend.


To become a warrior, first must one learn to observe and supply the needs of others. This is the way of the Apache.


Geared toward a YA audience, I Am Apache is a solidly entertaining introduction into YA Historical Fiction. Author Tanya Landman writes in clear, straightforward prose while also developing a strong sense of Siki's environment. We learn of beliefs, customs and maybe just a touch of Native American feminism, as Siki breaks through traditionally male ranks. It's fun to be in on Siki's thought process, not to mention her intelligence and dedication to training, as she outwits cocky warriors during her missions. I also loved the student - teacher banter between Siki and Golhaka (reminded me a bit of Mulan and Li Shang).



...warriors must know and understand all the tasks of the tribe lest they should ever need them: they must stitch and sew and cook as well as any woman, as indeed the women of our tribe must shoot a bow and use a knife as deftly as a man.


For such a short story, Landman successfully takes her readers through the gamut of emotions:


* Humor : Scenes discussing a love of coffee

* Strength: Siki's skills with hunting, Golhaka commenting, "I would not want her for an enemy."


* Tension: The darkness that surrounds the rivalry between Siki and star warrior Keste

* Romance: Siki's good friend Dahtet (female) hiding deeper feelings for her

* Sadness: Learning that survivors of raids were not allowed to bury their dead but instead expected to just walk away, never look back.


A strong read all around! It's actually inspired by the true story of Lozen, a female warrior who rode beside Geronimo as one of the last truly free Apache. Her mother had been killed in a raid similar to that of Siki, her brother just ten months old. Lozen's father was killed when an Apache party attempted a retaliation ambush on the Mexicans. 


Lozen was eventually captured by the US military, dying of TB while in confinement in 1889.

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review 2019-01-12 10:12
The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware

Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…






Travel writer Laura "Lo" Blacklock is struggling with overwhelming anxiety since a strange man broke into her apartment and assaulted her. When her boss is hospitalized, an opportunity arises for Lo to fill in for her on a travel assignment aboard the "luxury cruise liner" Aurora. Lo is to be a passenger on the ship's maiden voyage and write of the experience, the accommodations, and the finale event involving a viewing of the Northern Lights while exploring the Norwegian fjords.


It takes 5 chapters for Lo to even get anywhere near a dock, let alone ON the boat. Once on the boat, the reader is made to suffer through pages of boring dinner conversation that we really didn't need to be there for. The way the characters interact with each other in this novel brought to mind low-budget murder mystery dinner theater. Once that fizzles out, we go back with Lo to her cabin, where she drinks, mopes about her life, and passes out. She starts up in the middle of the night, nerves on edge. Unable to get back to sleep, she tries to read. From there, we are asked to believe that Lo was able to hear a sound described as "the scrape of paper against paper" over the hum of the ship's engine AND the roll of ocean waves. Lo looks up, sees a body go overboard. Once she reports what she saw, the novel turns into an actual whodunit, though it poses the question of whether an actual death occurred or are we dealing with the hallucinations of someone who chose to mix alcohol with antidepressants? (One line that gave me an honest LOL moment: Lo casually saying "I really need to stop drinking mid-week." Not sure why that tickled me so much, but it did!). Who knew so much would ride on one little pink and green tube of Maybelline Great Lash!



Image result for Maybelline Great Lash

The book is divided into eight parts, the end of each part offering a snippet of text messages, emails, social media posts, or newspaper articles, all indicating a break in communication somewhere. Gradually hints pile up that while Lo is on this trip, her communications are not reaching friends and family (and neither are theirs to her), leading them to believe she's gone MIA.


What a confusing mess this book turned out to be! It started out promising enough, but not enough time was spent on relevant character or plot development, too much placed on forgettable minutiae. I'm still a little confused as to what kind of boat the Aurora is supposed to be? It's first described as "a boutique super luxury cruise liner" with ten cabins ... okay, but what is that... like a yacht? Later in the book it says the Aurora is "more like a large yacht than a small cruise liner" WTH IS THE DIFFERENCE? Pardon me, I'm not in the boat world lol.



Though this was marketed as one of the must-read thrillers of its publication year, I felt no thrills, chills, suspense, nothing while reading this. Not a one. Flatline. There's a few little interesting revelations in the end, but even there, there is much that relies on already established techniques / ideas within this genre.


Lastly, let's talk about Lo. Lo was just too much. You want to give her credit in the beginning because she just went through a trauma, but man is she just all-around unlikeable. Though she seems to have a pretty low perception of herself, simultaneously she can also be wildly self absorbed. And WHINY. OMG, so whiny! Then she'll feel bad, so then comes the flood of apologetic behavior... followed by bursts of lashing out later. Then the cycle resets. Exhausting!



Related image


As a journalist, she's lazy as all get-out. She even tells the reader herself, “For a travel journalist I’m worryingly bad at geography.” You know, that could be easily remedied if you gave a damn. Nope, instead we get her posing questions regarding this suspected murder to cruise guests and crew, only to follow up -- when they ask "why do you ask?" -- with a "doesn't matter". You get 'em, Poirot.


And is EVERY MAN in this story an enemy to Lo?! Those breathing exercises she keeps attempting clearly aren't doing much for her. I've suffered assaults worse that what happens to Lo here and even I'm able to very easily interact with the opposite sex on a daily basis without assuming every single one of them is a shady mofo out to ruin me. You don't condemn the entire group for the dishonorable actions of a despicable few!


My favorite part of this entire book was the raised texture on the watery cover! Fun trick I found, if you run your fingertips across it, it actually does kinda make a sound similar to the ocean! Reading experience saved! (You're welcome.)

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