Posted in book reviews

Formula: Another H.E.L.L. Ranger Thriller

Formula: Another H.E.L.L. Ranger ThrillerFormula: Another HELL Ranger Thriller by Gina Fava
Published by Gina Fava on November 15, 2018
Source: the author

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In Gina Fava's new international crime thriller, Formula, the highly-anticipated sequel in her HELL Ranger series, Formula One champion and covert agent Devlin Lucchesi and his HELL Ranger crew return to the Monte Carlo Grand Prix to win big, and a rival racer is fatally poisoned at the finish line. Devlin and the HELL Rangers suspect tainted grappa. They investigate Aurora Vineyard, set atop a hotly contested aquifer in the Italian Dolomites.

Threatened by extreme water rights activists and cut-throat industry competitors, CEO Erika Aurora, dubbed “the Bloodsucker” by the industry, hires Devlin and his crew to hunt down her company’s usurper. The cases intertwine. Devlin deduces that the Aurora siblings may be tangled in a bloody power grab. Things heat up fast when the killer begins targeting the estate’s sibling owners one-by-one.

Soon it becomes clear that a thirst for control and revenge is quenched only with a poison formula derived from the vineyard’s secret family recipe. The stakes soar when the formula’s lethal reach extends to the thousands gathered at a Palio horse race in Siena, including Devlin’s son, and to the world leaders of a global water summit in Verona. Devlin must risk everything to hunt down the killer and halt a poisonous calamity that threatens worldwide ramifications.

I received this book for free from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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My Review:

Formula starts off at such a fast pace that I really wondered how it would be possible to sustain the momentum throughout the whole novel. I quickly found out…

There’s a dead race car driver in the beginning and then bodies just keep dropping. And not just insignificant side characters, but main characters are constantly in danger – they’re being shot at, poisoned, blown up – you’re constantly in a state of panic, wondering “who’s next?”

So the pace of the novel isn’t going to let you down if you’re looking for fast-paced suspense.

I also really enjoyed “the suspects.” The sibling owners of the Aurora Vineyard were interesting and fun to read about, as were the rest of the supporting characters and the vineyards competitors.

Unfortunately, it let me down in some other areas. Some of my mystery/thriller pet peeves are, admittedly, a little petty. But they are mine to own and I came across a few of them in Formula.

I had a hard time keeping up with all the different members of the H.E.L.L. Rangers crew. The main character, Devlin, was easy. He’s the leader of the Rangers, his best friend is Lupo, his “father” is Scotti, his son is Marcello. Outside of that, I had to keep going back to figure out “who’s who” in their crew.

Since Formula is the second book in the H.E.L.L. Rangers series, I’m pretty sure my confusion came from not reading the first book first. While Formula was a good read on its own, it’s obvious it’s the follow up to another story and I often felt like I was missing something from not having the knowledge of the first book. Because of that, it was hard to stay focused sometimes.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but at times, there was SO much happening, that it seemed too far-fetched. The Aurora Vineyard is plagued with a lot of vandalism and protests so the owners are obviously used to such intrusions. But it seemed odd that police aren’t called in when people are shot at? I mean, it was just too convenient that everyone was okay with not involving the local authorities. (That’s probably just a pet peeve of mine, though.)

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On a side note that has very little to do with the book… The phrase “particular set of skills” was used multiple times, and every single time I read it, I pictured Liam Neeson in Taken. (It’s an awesome movie. If you haven’t seen it, you should!) So basically the main character, Devlin, became Liam Neeson in my head, and no amount of description to contradict that image could undo it.

There is a “romance” that is supposed to be developing between Devlin and one of the Aurora owners, Erika. The whole thing felt forced and I had a hard time understanding it even being a thing at all.

A huge pet peeve of mine is when I figure out the “mystery” in a mystery/thriller novel way before it’s revealed in the story. This happened to me in Formula and, although I was really enjoying the novel up until the point the “whodunit” was revealed, it was a real let down for me.

Basically, I thought Formula was an okay read, but it’s not something I’ll be re-reading. I’d recommend it for fans of cozy-ish mysteries with a touch of procedural flare (and Liam Neeson).

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Posted in book reviews

Loving Day by Mat Johnson – Book Review

Well, I finally got to check Mat Johnson‘s Loving Day off of my “To Be Read” list!
Loving Day is funny, serious, light-hearted, deep, uplifting and slightly offensive all at the same time… Basically, I loved it!
It’s a satirical story about Warren Duffy, a biracial man who recently divorced overseas, and has come back home to Philadelphia following his father’s death in order to sell his father’s house — a possibly haunted, possibly condemnable, most definitely flammable, mansion in the ghetto. He’s not home long before finding out he has a “casually racist” teenage daughter named Tal. Despite his outward appearance of a white man, Warren views himself as black and really acknowledges only that side of himself. When Tal (who may have more problems than Warren himself does) comes to stay with him, he somehow manages to get involved in a cult/school filled with teachers and students struggling with the same identity issues.
As an incredibly light-skinned mixed chick who grew up in a very white neighborhood in West Virginia, this book hit home on so many levels! I struggled with race, identity, and where I “belonged” all through my childhood and Loving Day captured a lot of that in Warren and Tal’s journey. This is probably the first book I’ve read that seems to perfectly hit on what it’s like to be bi-racial in America.
As a child, I was in a school system where there were never more than three bi-racial students (including me) all through my elementary, junior, and high school years. The number of black students could be counted on my fingers. I was a bit of an outcast… too white to be accepted by the black kids and too black to ever be accepted by the white ones either. Somehow, the other mixed kids didn’t seem to have it so bad. It was in high school that I realized it’s okay to be mixed, as long as you look black… If you’re skin is so light that most people passing you on the street assume you’re white, the assumption is that you can’t be trusted.
So I already knew I was going to love this novel by the second page, when I read:

I’m not white, but I can feel the eyes of the few people outside on me, people who must think that I am, because I look white, and as such what the hell am I doing here? This disconnect in my racial projection is one of the things I hate. It goes in a subcategory I call “America.” … I hate that because I know I’m black. My mother was black — that counts, no matter how pale and Irish my father was. So I shall not be rebuked. I will not be rejected.

Warren Duffy, at the beginning of Loving Day, was dealing with some of the same emotions I felt as a child.
As the novel goes on you meet some hilarious, truly lovable characters that help him on his journey to come to terms with and define his own identity, instead of allowing others to define it for him. Just when you think you’ve got the supporting cast in this book figured out, you learn something new about them you’re suddenly seeing them differently. (I’m dying to tell you all about them, but I want you to read the book and… well, spoilers! So if you read the book (or have already read it) shoot me a message and let’s talk about One Drop, Roslyn, Spider, Sunita, or Tosha!?!?!)
It’s hard to find a book that deals with such tough, emotional issues as Loving Day does (race, death, surprise parenting, etc.) and manages to have you laughing throughout, but somehow Mat Johnson pulls it off.
As far as ranking goes… I’m torn between a 4 and a 5 so I’m saying 4.5. My hesitation on a straight 5 is because it was hard to read the terms “mulatto” and “Oreo” so many times. I’m aware that’s because of my own past negative experiences and it’s hard for me to see the words in any way other than racist… even when they’re not specifically being used that way. I’ll definitely be reading it again in the future though!

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I don't even know what to believe anymore. (Lies that Bind Us Review)

I hate liars.
Being a Christian, I’m supposed to be all about the love and oozing the warm and fuzzies for all of humanity.  But when it comes to people who can’t seem to tell the truth to save their lives… pure, unadulterated, loathing  I struggle with the “love them as you love yourself” thing.
Why I decided to read Andrew Hart’s (aka A.J. Hartley) Lies that Bind Us despite hating the main character, a pathological liar named Jan, before I even began reading the book… no idea.  (Probably because it was a free book and sounded semi-interesting).

A little about the book…

Basically, Jan and some friends are on a reunion vacation to relive a trip they had taken five years ago in Greece.  The group includes her ex-boyfriend, Marcus, and their friends Simon and Melissa (a wealthy couple who organize the whole trip), and Kristin and Brad (a TV star and a real estate professional).   Jan and Marcus are the outsiders of the group.  Jan works in a retail store that sounds a lot like Walmart and Marcus is a high school history teacher.  When Jan gets to Crete, there is another woman joining them, Gretchen, and no one except Simon and Melissa know why she’s even there.
The book goes back and forth between Jan being locked up in a cell somewhere with no idea how she’s gotten there, and the play-by-play of the trip as she tries to recall what happened prior to waking up a prisoner.   She learns a lot about herself and comes to terms with some hard truths about the past (in more ways than one) as the book goes on.

A little about what I thought…

In general, I really enjoyed the story.  It was super interesting and kept me guessing the whole time (which I happen to love while reading a novel).  I felt as if I knew the characters and went through everything with them (which I also happen to love).  Generally speaking, when a book gives me those two things, I’m raving about it to everyone that’ll listen!  Unfortunately…
I was a little put off by the opening of the book, and not just because the main character lies about almost EVERYTHING.  There seemed to be too much description and not enough story over the first few chapters.  Oddly, dispersed between the over describing were places that I felt could have been flushed out a little more.  Thankfully, this wasn’t something that happened throughout the entire book and once I was past the first 3 or 4 chapters I could barely put it down!
Most surprising to me was that I actually found myself relating to Jan!  Despite being a pathological liar, she is actually quite sympathetic and you can’t help but love her.  I saw myself in her as she rode to the villa after arriving in Crete:

I was sitting with my carry-on in my lap, which felt ridiculous and uncomfortable.  The car was huge, and I could have easily tossed it into the back seat or the trunk, but now I was belted in and had been there for so long that turning around and trying to get rid of it felt stupid for reasons I couldn’t explain.  So I sat with the bag in my lap and my arms around it, like it was one of those under-seat float cushions the flight attendants had told us about…

What can I say?  I’ve got a soft spot for people who are just as awkward as me!
Lies that Bind Us is actually a little scary in that it had me thinking about 1) just how well do I really know my friends and 2) just how vulernable am I when we’re hanging out together???
So here’s my incredibly condensed review:
On a scale of 1-5, I’d give Lies that Bind Us a 3.5.  It’s a great story with compelling, likable characters, but I was pulled out of the book too often to give it a 4 and since I can’t see myself ever reading it again, it’s definitely not a 5.  I would recommend it as a “should read” with the warning that it’s one of those books you’ll need to get through the first few chapters before you find yourself enjoying it.
I’d love to hear from you!  If you’ve read Lies that Bind Us, what did you think?  If you haven’t, are you put off by the idea of a pathological liar as a main character?  

Posted in book reviews

When God Made You – a review

When God Made You – a reviewWhen God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner, David Catrow
Published by Waterbrook Press on February 28, 2017
ISBN: 1601429185
Pages: 48

YOU, you... God thinks about you.God was thinking of you long before your debut.

From early on, children are looking to discover their place in the world and longing to understand how their personalities, traits, and talents fit in. The assurance that they are deeply loved and a unique creation in our big universe is certain to help them spread their wings and fly.

Through playful, charming rhyme and vivid, fantastical illustrations, When God Made You inspires young readers to learn about their own special gifts and how they fit into God's divine plan as they grow, explore, and begin to create for themselves.

'Cause when God made YOU, somehow God knewThat the world needed someone exactly like you!

Now that my girls are older, I rarely get the opportunity to read children’s books.
Okay, that’s a lie…

Image found on Flickr, Linda Jordon

On occasion (aka not so occasionally), you can find me sitting in my library/sewing/writing/soon-to-be-bed room reading Dr. Seuss — out loud.  (Not sure what it says about me that there’s a room in my house with an identity crisis) (Also, in case you weren’t aware…  out loud is the ONLY acceptable way to read a Dr. Seuss book!)
Since my girls are now 17 and 12, there aren’t many children’s books that I’m even willing to read, let alone take the time to re-read over and over again.  (Other than Seuss, obviously.)
For a book to achieve such an honor in my currently WAY overloaded schedule, it has got to be phenomenal.  To be honest, I would have told you such a book did not exist.
Turns out, I was wrong (again). Continue reading “When God Made You – a review”

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We ARE our own worst enemies.

dark matter
Are you your own worst enemy?
In the book Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, being your own worst enemy isn’t just figurative.
This was the first book of Blake Crouch’s I’ve read, and it was amazing!  Jason Dessen is abducted and wakes up in a world very similar to our own, but with major differences.
In the new world, he’s a brilliant scientist with no limits on his potential (or money).  In his “real” world, he’s an ordinary guy who teaches physics at the local college.
He basically has the life and everything he ever dreamed of except for two very important things…  his wife and son.  To get back to his own world, he has to answer some very hard questions and somehow manage to keep his sanity as he goes from world to world where he’s himself, but there’s a “him” already there.  And his wife is his wife in some worlds, but doesn’t even know him in others.  And what about their son?
This book was almost impossible to put down once I got started reading.  It made me ask questions about how well I really know myself and what I would do if put in the same situation.  I felt like I was right there with Jason…  I laughed with him, cried with him, and even had to stop to catch my breath as I ran with him!
Need a new book?  I definitely recommend this one!

Thanks so much to the  Blogging for Books program for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Upcoming reviews:
The Little Paragons by Madi Uram
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis.

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We all have secrets we'd rather not tell…

Does anyone make it through their teenage years without doing at least one thing they regret?  Not the kind of regret from forgetting to turn in a homework assignment, I’m talking about the kind of thing you want to keep hidden from the rest of the world.
If you’re lucky, the mistakes you made didn’t have lasting consequences…
But for everyone of us that screwed up royally and then got to move on like nothing ever happened (hopefully after learning a lesson to avoid repeating the mistake), there’s another of us who is haunted by our choice(s).  Life has been changed forever.  There is no escape.  You can move away for a fresh start, but the secret life left behind will never really let you go.
Tapestry of Secrets
That’s what happened to Perla in A Tapestry of Secrets by Sarah Loudin Thomas.

After keeping her secret for sixty years, “Perla knew she’d been forgiven and redeemed long ago and had thought there would never be a need to revisit her shame,” but she’s worried about her granddaughter, Ella, and realizes that telling what happened back then could help her.
Sounds simple enough.  Just call up Ella, spill the beans, and life is all peaches and roses, right?
Not quite…
Perla suffers a stroke that robs her of speech before she’s able to tell Ella anything.   It’s especially frustrating because Ella decides to stay in West Virginia to take care of her grandmother while she recovers.
Slowly, her ability to talk improves and she’s actually excited to share her secret, but another stroke causes even more problems.
While Perla’s unable to speak, she’s still sharp as a tack!  When a developer comes to town buying up the property all around the church, many members of the small congregation, including Ella, are determined to not let the church go.  But, Perla sees it as a good thing.  After all, “sometimes a good dose of trouble was exactly what folks needed.”
When I started reading the book, I had no idea that it’s actually the third book in the Appalachian Blessings series.  Thankfully, the book easily stands alone and doesn’t seem like a series book at all!
I love the strong female characters in the story and the way there’s constantly something to keep you interested and needing to know what’s going to happen next.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for an encouraging story of love and forgiveness.

I received a free copy of this book from the Bethany House Blogger Review Program.