The Gray Man

Author: Mark Greaney

Series: Gray Man #1

Publisher: Berkley

Release Date: September 29, 2009

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who doesn’t love a good action-packed story?

The Gray man is a legend in the assassin world.  Maybe more of a myth with his reputation.  He is the best at what he does.  Gets in, gets out, and no one knows he was even there.  But how did he come to be?  Once with the CIA, but then burned with a kill order, no one has been able to find him again.  But when they hear of an impossible hit that took place, they all know it was him.  But now his handler seems to have sold him out to save his family.  Will the Gray Man be able to stay under the radar?  Or will those who have been seeking him out finally have their chance to tie up loose ends?

First and foremost, this was a great story packed with action throughout that never let up.  It’s a quick read that I decided to try before I watched the movie.  The characters were pretty typical in their roles and the story flowed as expected.  One of the things that bothered me the most throughout the book was the different ways that the author continued to refer to the Gray Man.  Using his first name, last name, and Gray Man interchangeable, often in the same paragraph, became really tiresome.  Between action scenes, there was also quite a bit of telling the reader what is going on rather than showing the reader what is happening.  There is quite a bit of strong foul language throughout the book, which is understandable based on the characters, but sometimes a little over the top.  But enough of writing mechanics, it was still a fun read that made me like an assassin and hate a lawyer, so you can’t say that happens with every book.  This has piqued my interest enough to continue with the series!  As for the movie that I have watched as well, there are quite a few key scenes from the book that have been used in an alternate plot/story line developed by the screen writers.

Clean Air

Author: Sarah Blake

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Release Date: February 8, 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What a great take on climate change with a dystopian twist!

Throughout the years, there has been disaster after disaster after disaster.  Wildfires, floods, and earthquakes ravaged the earth, but no one expected the one disaster from the trees that killed many of the people.  The trees decided to express so much pollen that people couldn’t breathe.  Those that were trapped outside never had a chance.  People huddled in the hospital sealing off the outside to protect everyone from the pollen.  But people evolved and created new sealed houses with automated vehicles for transport to keep everyone safe.  Until a new threat emerged. 

Izabel has grown into a state of mediocrity with her family.  She lost her mother just before the pollening and found purpose helping people, but she eventually settled down with someone she met and they had a kid.  While he works from home as a robot operator and their daughter Cami goes to school, Izabel tries to find happiness in old news apps and isolation chambers, but struggles to find purpose.  When one of the houses in their town is slit open one night, all the occupant’s die, causing the first murder in several years.  This shocks the town to its core and sends several families to put in transfers to new locations.  The it happens again.  And again.  The most shocking part is that when Cami sleeps, she has conversations with someone that knows where the serial killer is, but who would believe them?  One night while on a ride, Izabel comes across the killer as he has just cut open the protective seal of a house.  When she tries to help the family, Izabel finds herself in a whirlwind of activity that she never anticipated.

This has unexpectedly become on of my favorite books for the year.  I’ve always enjoyed the dysptopian genre, but it has become quite predictable over the years.  I’m glad to see such a unique take with Clean Air.   From the premise of the book to the characters, I loved it all.  I was hooked from the beginning and just had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen.  There wasn’t really a slow moment throughout.  Izabel is an interesting main character who has had some bad experiences and seems to have lost her purpose, which I think is a lot more common than people realize.  I loved tagging along with her to try and figure out the mind of the killer.  I do think the ending could have been developed a little more, but who knows, maybe this could be a series? 

There is some language throughout the book that would make it more appropriate for mature audiences, but it didn’t take away from the story.  I recommend this to readers who enjoy stories about climate change and those who enjoy the dystopian genre.

Q&A with Melanie Dobson

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of more than twenty historical romance, suspense, and time-slip novels. Five of her novels have won Carol Awards; Catching the Wind and Memories of Glass were nominated for a Christy Award in the historical fiction category; Catching the Wind won an Audie Award in the inspirational fiction category; and The Black Cloister won the Foreword magazine Religious Fiction Book of the Year. Melanie is the former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and owner of the publicity firm Dobson Media Group. When she isn’t writing, Melanie enjoys teaching both writing and public relations classes. Melanie and her husband, Jon, have two daughters and live near Portland, Oregon.

What inspired the storyline and characters in The Winter Rose? Are any based on real historical figures?

I used to teach at George Fox University, a school in Oregon founded by the Religious Society of Friends, and had the privilege of learning about Quaker history there. The characters and storyline for this novel are a culmination of research and personal experience, and while The Winter Rose isn’t based on the life of one historical figure, Grace—my Quaker heroine in Nazi-occupied France—was inspired by women like Mary Elmes, Alice Resch, and Marjorie McClelland who cared for children during World War II through the American Friends Service Committee.

Tell us about some of the core themes of The Winter Rose. How do you hope these themes will resonate with and challenge your readers?

Beauty in brokenness was one of the most important themes in The Winter Rose. I was hoping to demonstrate the French concept of brocante—salvaging items that someone else trashed, then restoring and repurposing them in their brokenness for something new. I wanted to show how God can heal the most painful of wounds, restore complicated relationships, and through the incredible power of forgiveness and prayer, use the nicks and gashes and ultimately redemption in our stories for good.

Who did you write this book for?

I wrote The Winter Rose for readers who love to learn about history and enjoy being inspired and challenged through fiction. Part of this story was poured straight out of my heart for moms who’ve had a child they love turn away from their faith and family. My hope is that the heartache and eventually redemption among my fictional characters will encourage parents to never stop praying for their kids.

What was one of the most surprising things you discovered in your research for this novel?

Usually I travel to my main settings to research my novels, but with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to go to France or even to the American Friends archives in Philadelphia. People were incredibly generous with their time and resources to get me the information I needed for this story. The AFSC archivist answered my many questions, digging through files from home and forwarding them to me. The president of the American Synesthesia Association, Carol Steen, spent a significant amount of time on Zoom to help me build my synesthete character of Marguerite. During our time together, I was surprised to learn that synesthesia has been recognized in Europe for more than a hundred years. Carol also educated me on the artistic talents of those who see words, numbers, or emotions in vibrant color.

Then our Zoom world gave me the opportunity to connect with a Jewish gentleman who was rescued by Mary Elmes in 1942 and hidden in France for the remainder of the war. I was tremendously honored that he would share his story with me. While visiting a location and interviewing in person is ideal, it was a blessing in this strange, difficult season to find others willing to help me compile all the factual information needed to write The Winter Rose.

Which was your favorite character to write? Which one was the most challenging to write?

I had several favorite characters! Marguerite was a super fun character to write with her ability to see emotion in color and her passion to paint what she saw on the chateau walls. I also liked writing from the perspective of Louis who had been wounded deeply as a child and was living a lie in his later years. What a relief for me, as the author, to be able to offer him the gift of restoration. I was going to say that the perspective of Grace, my historical protagonist, was challenging to write, but Addie, the heroine in my contemporary story, who was even more challenging. I changed her backstory several times as I tried to understand where she came from and what happened to her deceased husband. While it stretched me as a writer, I was so pleased in the end with how Grace and Addie overcame the trauma from their pasts and fought for those they loved.

Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?

Right now I’m working on a series of books for younger readers called The Magic Portal, and it has been pure joy for me to brainstorm with my daughters to create these fairyland books.I’m also preparing to write a time-slip novel about a girl named Poppy who was lost a hundred years ago in the Thousand Islands of New York.

Daughters of War

Author: Dinah Jefferies

Publisher: Harper Collins

Release Date: November 16, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great start to a new WWII historical series!

In rural France, three sisters live together in an old stone cottage during one of the most tumultuous periods of history.  Helene is the eldest and works as a nurse with the village doctor.  Elise is the typical rebellious middle child and dedicates her time and efforts to supporting the resistance through her café in the village.  And Florence, the youngest, is seemingly naïve and dreams of when France will be free again while cooking and gardening.  But one day changes everything.  Florence brings a German deserter home the same day that the resistance asks them to house an injured Allied spy.  The sisters realize that the trail of one or perhaps both of their guests will eventually lead an enemy to them, but they have no idea which one!

This is a terrific story set amidst war-torn France in 1944.  It’s a bit hard to believe that three unwed women, sisters at that, would be pretty much left to their own devices during this time, but the storyline bodes well for each of them.  Needless to say, there is plenty of betrayal, heartbreak, and loss throughout the pages that will resonate with many readers.  Overall, I probably connected with Elise the most, but I am a middle child as well.  The setting of the village and meadows made it easy to paint a mental picture and the supporting characters brought out the best of the story.  The family secret is devastating to the sisters’ given the potential circumstances, but they will weather through it.

I didn’t initially realize that this was going to be a series, which makes me quite happy since I was a little perturbed with the loose ends left at the ending.  Hopefully they will be tied up in the future!  There is some foul language scattered throughout the pages, but not overdone.  There is also a graphic rape scene as well as a couple other sex scenes that may make some readers uncomfortable.  I recommend this book for mature audiences.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Almost Mortal

Author: Christopher Leibig

Publisher: Koehler Books

Release Date: May 1, 2016

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A legal thriller with a supernatural twist!

Sam Young is an emerging criminal defense attorney that only takes cases from the public defender’s office.  He’s good at his job, but he knows it is because of these minor psychic abilities that he has developed.  Those that work with him just know that he knows when he says something is going to turn out a certain way.  When a nun named Camille Paradisi contacts him regarding the identity of a serial killer on the loose, who regularly comes into confession, things begin to take on a different turn.  Camille wants to protect her priest and gives Sam an anonymous journal that she believes was written by the serial killer.  As Sam reads the journal, he begins to discover there is more to Camille than meets the eye, as well as himself.

Most of this book entails building the world and setting up the characters for this story.  The premise of the book is very interesting and there is plenty of both courtroom drama as well as supernatural experiences.  Readers will need to pay attention to really understand what is going on with Camille and Sam as it becomes especially important in the next book.  Basically, it feels like this book was pretty much just written to set up the second book in the series.  Readers will need to start with this one to get the background to make the second book really fall into place. 

There is a lot of foul language throughout the book as well as multiple implied sex scenes, though nothing is graphic.  This book is recommended for mature audiences.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Winterborne Home for Vengeance & Valor

Author: Ally Carter

Series: Winterborne Home #1

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Release Date: December 29, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Ally Carter has crafted a fabulous adventure for young readers that will keep them turning the page and engaged in a great story.

April has bounced from one foster home to another after being left by her mother at the age of two. After a trip to the museum when she sees an emblem that resembles one her mother left her that is on a key she keeps around her neck, her life gets even more complicated. The museum catches fire when she is there, and she doesn’t remember how she got out of the museum. Now, April is taken to a new home, a big creepy mansion that is home to a group of other orphans. April feels out of place; in her mind she isn’t an orphan, her mother is coming back for her. The longer she is at Winterborne Home, the more confused she gets with secrets behind closed doors and one secret leads to another. April and the other kids must work together to solve the mysteries in front of them before they all lose the home they have come to love.

Ally Carter can now be added to my list of favorite children’s authors. Winterborne Home was a fun, engaging mystery that will leave kids wanting more and more of the story to read. To me, this is the best kind of story, especially for kids as it contains so much mystery and young characters that learn to rely on each other when they have been alone for so long. This is the first Middle Grade novel Ally Carter has written and I am so excited to see what all she comes out with next. Her writing these characters was spot on, April and the other kids are written with the perfect mannerisms and characteristics of the age they are portraying. Each one has unique characteristics that makes them stick out, Sadie is an inventor, Tim a charmer, and Violet is shy but has just the right thing to say at exactly the right moment. Young readers will find a character they can relate to whether they are a boy or girl, adventurous or more introverted, either way there will be relatable aspects to the story for everyone. I read this so I would know if it would be a good fit for my ten-year-old son and even though the main character is a girl I know he will still love the story. I recommend this to young readers eager for an adventure and getting ready to get lost in the pages.

The Love Note

Author: Joanna Davidson Politano

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 20, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Willa Duval dreams of becoming a doctor, despite the fact that in 1859 the world says women should be wives and mothers. After rejecting four proposals, she makes a deal with her father that she serve successfully as a nurse on her own or she marry. Driven by a lost love letter found in the nook of an old desk, she is drawn to Crestwicke, an old mansion she visited as a child. Upon arrival she finds she will be acting as nurse to the ornery matron of the home, Gilda Gresham. On a mission to find the author of the note, Willa’s duties double. Once the note is misplaced and begins wreaking havoc on the residents of the home that Willa feels she must fix. Willa finds friendship and strength through her nursing efforts. Reunited with childhood friend, Gabe, Willa discovers her purpose and possibly even love. Willa is able to not only nurse Mrs Gresham, she also helps heal broken relationships within the home.

This book reads like a classic novel. I felt it reminiscent of “Jane Eyre” and “ Anne of Green Gables”. It is beautifully written. There were many times that i wished I had a pencil to underline lines that spoke to me. The characters were well written and the setting descriptive. The plot kept me intrigued and I wanted to keep reading. The conclusion was satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Burden of Proof

Author: Davis Bunn

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: November 3, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Bunn continues to show why he’s a master at crossing sci-fi into other genres with this new legal thriller!

Ethan Barrett has been handed a death sentence by means of skin cancer.  His reflection on his life is anything except to be proud of.  He regrets his selfish decisions that have caused hurt to so many others.  His late brother’s widow unexpectedly finds him one day while he is making his final kayak paddle in Cocoa Beach, Florida and offers him an impossible, yet alluring offer.  As a neuroscientist, she can match his brain wave frequency that will have the effect to transport his consciousness back in time to a certain point where he will be able to pick up at that point in time with his future knowledge, giving him the chance to save his brother.  The only catch is, he will die, both at the present time and shortly after he transitions to the past.  With nothing to lose, can Ethan alter the course of history?

So, fun fact about me, I’m a huge fan of quantum mechanics research dealing with string theory and time alternation, so this book was right up my alley.  It wasn’t completely originally as Blake Crouch published Recursion last year, which had a lot of the same replaced consciousness perspectives, but I was glad to see that Bunn took this in a different direction and pushed it more into a legal thriller than medical based.  He doesn’t get too detailed in the science, so the average everyday reader will enjoy the story without getting too bogged down in the whole science of things like some geeks so as myself thrive on. 

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the theme of the prodigal son compared to Ethan.  It is a progressive retelling for sure, but he is able to realize his past for what is was and when given the chance, make amends and return to the family that he loves with forgiveness even when he doesn’t deserve it.  It has a resounding theme of treating others with kindness and truthfulness while not being selfish can cause a completely different relationship between people.  High recommended read for the end of the wacky year of 2020!

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Ignite the Sun

Author: Hanna C. Howard

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: August 18, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A perfect YA fantasy for readers that enjoy magic, romance, adventure and so much more!

Siria Nightingale has only ever heard tales of the Sun.  In the world she lives in, she has never seen the sun, it is only a legend. A witch known as Queen Iyzabel has shrouded the kingdom in shadows claiming it will protect her subjects from the dangers of the light. Even though she has never known the sun or light, Siria has always felt uneasy in the darkness and shadows. After years spent at academy, Siria is chosen by the queen to have a special spot at the Choosing Ball. What she doesn’t know is that she along with the others selected are suspected of being the long-lost Sun Child. Only the Sun Child can break the darkness and bring back the light to the kingdom. Siria along with the rebels sent to watch over her and help her try to save the kingdom and Ignite the Sun.

In Ignite the Sun, I felt Siria was the perfect protagonist. She grows throughout the story and comes into her own by the end. Her arc as a main character was truly enjoyable to read and follow along with. Readers watch as she starst the story as a young, impressionable woman ready to do anything to please the queen, until she learns the truth of her life and all she has believed to be the truth is a lie. The more she learns, the greater we see her grow as a character. She has her flaws, nothing in the story tries to paint her as the perfect person, and she embraces her flaws and learns to grow despite all that is placed in her way. Not once did I lack the ability to visualize setting or characters, Howard did a fantastic job painting a picture with words that readers will easily be able to follow along and enjoy. Readers that enjoy the mythological aspect of stories will be pleased with the history of the kingdom and how the dark came to overtake the light. This is a great story for Young Adults to read dealing with hate, bullying, teasing, and how to come into your own skin and be proud of who you are, even if it isn’t who you expected. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy fantasy, mythology, and hope for a life better than imagined for.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Mountain Laurel

Author: Lori Benton

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: September 1, 2020

Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Rich historical setting combined with flawed characters seeking redemption make this a can’t miss for genre lovers!

Ian Cameron never planned to set foot again on his uncle’s plantation in North Carolina.  But in 1793 after his cabinet making apprenticeship doesn’t go as planned, he makes the journey back again.  He feels he must put his past behind him and become the man to take over the plantation after his uncle passes.  Upon his arrival, he quickly learns that he doesn’t fit the preferences of his new aunt and her daughters.  Then he meets Seona, a light skinned young lady who is very artistic.  He’s very taken by her, but there is a small problem.  She is enslaved to his uncle.

Seona remembers the last time Mister Ian was at the planation.  She has never forgotten his pale flax hair color and he was one of the first pictures that she drew.  She has continued to draw but keeps it a secret to keep her and her family safe.  When Ian discovers her talent, he encourages it and even offers her the use of his cabinet making shop to continue to develop her drawing.  Can Seona put her trust in Ian?  Somebody who might own her one day?

This is the first novel that I’ve read by Lori Benton and I find it hard to believe that I haven’t come across her works before.  She has tremendous talent for developing rich historical scenery that pulls the reader into the story so that they are walking in the setting rather than reading about it.  She also develops deeply flawed characters that easily give readers the ability to connect with many of them.  Even the supporting characters quickly find a way into the reader’s mind so that they are often left wondering about them. 

This book is written during a difficult time in our country’s history that continues to make the forefront of today’s headlines.  The historical accuracy needs to be read by people so that it’s not sugarcoated into a feel-good story.  This book also deals with the poor treatment of people during the time, even concerning rape.  It will undoubtedly be difficult for some to read, but it is worth it.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.