Amy’s May 2022 Reads

Only one 5-star review this month, but once again, Ruta Sepetys takes the top spot.

I Must Betray You
by Ruta Sepetys

Please remember that when adversity is drawn out of the shadows and recognized, we ensure that human beings living under oppression—past and present—know they are not forgotten. Together, we can shine a light in dark corners of the past. Together, we can give history a voice.—Ruta Sepetys, I Must Betray You.

Ruta Sepetys’s latest novel is set in Romania in 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe, but tyrannical dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who has been in power for twenty-four years, still governs by isolation and fear. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

When Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police, they force him to inform on his friends and family to save his grandfather. He risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. Cristian himself, is betrayed… but by whom?

This was an extraordinary book. In fact, every book I have read by Ruta Sepetys has been extraordinary. She writes about teens for teens, and although her novels are considered young adult, they are perfect for every reader over fourteen. As usual, her writing is brilliant and masterful, soul-searching and heart-wrenching.

Her research is expansive; she gathered it through archives and personal interviews, and she sheds a bright light on another dark period in history (She has also tackled WWII and the Spanish Civil War). The short, tense chapters are told in Cristian’s voice interspersed with frightening interrogation reports from the secret police. It’s hard to imagine a life of constant surveillance, fear, and hunger during the waning days of communist Romania and Sepetys made me feel like I was there. The author’s note is as good as the book. Wow! I Must Betray You had a profound impact on me, and I highly recommend it. 5 stars.

Published Date: February 2022
Genres: Historical fiction, young adult
Read-alikes: Walls by Laura Elliott, Under the Iron Bridge by Kathy Kacer, The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron

 

Until Leaves Fall in Paris
by Sarah Sundin

“Not everything God created is useful, but it’s all good. He didn’t have to create beauty, but he did. He didn’t have to create color, but he did. He didn’t have to create music, but he did. None of it useful. Then he created us in his creative image with the ability to make beauty and color and music. It might not be useful, but it’s good.” ― Sarah Sundin, Until Leaves Fall in Paris.

When the Nazis march toward Paris, American ballerina Lucie Girard buys her favorite English-language bookstore to allow the Jewish owners to escape. The Germans make it difficult for her to keep Green Leaf Books afloat. And she must keep the store open if she is to continue aiding the resistance by passing secret messages between the pages of her books.

Automotive engineer and widower Paul Aubrey, who is also an expat, wants nothing more than to return to the States with his little girl, but the US Army convinces him to keep his factory running gather military intelligence from his German customers. As the war rages on, Paul offers his own resistance by sabotaging his product and hiding British airmen in his factory. But to carry out his mission, he must appear to support the occupation—which does not win him any sympathy when he meets Lucie in the bookstore.

When Lucie and Paul meet, they are smitten. Lucie falls in love not only with him but also with his adorable daughter. But she backs off when she hears Paul is collaborating with the Germans. But is he?

I took part in a weekend writer’s seminar years ago and had the pleasure of being classmates with Sarah Sundin. It certainly took me long enough to read one of her books… she has sixteen of them! Until Leaves Fall in Paris has a unique premise: a ballerina turned bookseller who aids the resistance during WWII. It has an interesting story arc, characters with whom I could identify, and a great writing. Plus… much of the story takes place in a bookstore, one of my happy places! I’m not a big fan of romance novels, but I was sucked into this book from the get-go, and Sarah never relented. One thing I appreciate about this book is that Sundin focuses references her Christian faith sparingly, which gives it crossover appeal to all fans of historical fiction.

I have read dozens of books set in Europe during WWII and several in France more specifically, yet I found this one to be unique. Well done, Sarah, well done! 4.5 stars.

Published Date: February 2022
Genres: Christian historical fiction, historical fiction, Christian romance
Read-alikes: The Socialite by J’nell Cieaiwlaki, Lana’s War by Anita Abriel, The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron

* Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.

 

Life Flight
by Lynette Eason

Penny Carlton and FBI special agent Holten Satterfield have been on a few dates, but have secrets they don’t want to share. She is the daughter of a famous actress and served time in a juvenile detention center. Holt’s sister is in prison for murdering her husband. If their relationship is to move to the next level, they’ll need to be honest.

As an EMS helicopter pilot, Penny is used to high-stress situations, but being forced to land on a mountain in a raging storm with a critical patient tests her skills and nerve to the limit. In the ensuing days, Penny finds herself under attack by an escaped serial killer. When news reaches Holt, he comes to her rescue. It will take all he and Penny have to catch a killer—before he catches one of them.

Not corny like a lot of Christian fiction; it’s just fiction without all the sex and swearing. Life Flight was a high-octane suspense page turner loaded with close calls and a sweet romance. Some of the writing was contrived, however, and the word choices were sometimes inappropriate. For example, Penny kept using “hurl,” an odd choice for her character. I supplemented the book with audio, which I thought was robotically narrated. The male voices were terrible. This was my first book by Lynette Eason… I’ll check out the next book in the series. 4 stars.

Published Date: January 2022
Genre: Christian fiction, Christian romantic suspense, Christian thriller
Read-alikes: Night Fall by Nancy Mehl, A Secret to Die for by Lisa Harris, Lethal Exposure by Elisabeth Rees, Airborne by DiAnn Mills

*  Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. The opinions are my own.

 

The Light We Left Behind
By Tessa Harris

Beginning in 1940, the Trent Park estate outside London housed captured German Luftwaffe pilots to extract military information. The rooms of the house were equipped with hidden microphones to MI19 operatives could listen in on their conversations.

In 1942, it became a prisoner-of-war camp (the Cockfosters Cage) for German generals and staff officers. They were pampered with delectable meals, fine wine and whisky, and luxury accommodations in hopes they would lower their guard and converse openly about military intelligence. The British Germany’s military capabilities, weaponry, war crimes, and the resistance movement. Among the 109 German top brass held at Trent Park were generals Otto Elfeldt, Ferdinand Heim, Gerhard Bassenge, Friedrich Freiherr von Broich, Heinrich Eberbach, Georg Neuffer, Dietrich von Choltitz, Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke, Hans Cramer, and Ritter von Thoma, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, and Admiral Walter Hennecke (the man in charge of all sea defenses for Normandy, France).

Such is the backdrop for Tessa Harris’s new historical novel, The Light We Left Behind. In 1944, psychologist Maddie Gresham is sent a mysterious message ordering her to report to Trent Park. It will be her job to gain the Nazis’ trust and coax them into giving up information. When Max Weitzler, a Jewish refugee, also arrives, Maddie is stunned. The two had met and fallen in love in Germany before the war. She’d held onto hope that he had escaped the Nazi threat. But their love must remain a secret. When there’s a shocking death at the mansion, Maddie realizes that not everyone at Trent Park is on the same side.

The Light We Left Behind is a fascinating twist on women’s wartime efforts in England. I’d never heard of MI19, a section of the British Directorate of Military Intelligence during WWII, and their role at Trent Park makes for a gripping emotional novel about love, sacrifice, and betrayal. It was well-paced and features an intelligent, courageous heroine. 4 stars.

Published date: December 2021
Genre: Spy thriller, historical fiction
Read-alikes: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff

* Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.

 

The Night She Disappeared
by Lisa Jewell

Tallulah and her boyfriend, Zach, both nineteen, are going out on a date, leaving their infant son with her mother, Kim. Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits. The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah’s friends, who tell her she was last seen heading to a house party in Surrey, England called Dark Place. She never returns.

A year later, Sophie Beck, a mystery writer, is walking in the woods near the boarding school where her boyfriend works as a head-teacher when she sees a hand-lettered cardboard affixed to a tree that reads: “DIG HERE.” What she finds there has Sophie and Kim joining forces to search for the truth.

This was my first Lisa Jewell novel. Crazy, right? She is the New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels that have sold over ten million copies, and somehow, I’ve missed her. Well, The Night She Disappeared was a great introduction to her work. Her riveting twists sucked me in and never let go. It was ingenious! Highly recommended for mystery lovers. I enjoyed both the print book and the audio. 4 stars.

Publication Date: September 2021
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Read-alikes: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda, Windhall by Ava Barry, A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw, Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia

* Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.

 

Steel Fear
by Brandon Webb, John David Mann

In Steel Fear, combat-decorated Navy SEAL Brandon Web and award-winning author John David Mann come together to share a high-octane thriller about murder on an aircraft carrier.

The moment Navy SEAL sniper Finn sets foot on the USS Abraham Lincoln to hitch a ride back to the States from the Persian Gulf, it’s clear something is amiss. When crew members disappear one by one, what at first seems like a random string of suicides soon reveals something sinister: there’s a serial killer onboard.

Suspicion falls on Finn, the newcomer to the ship who is being sent home in disgrace, after a failed mission in Yemen—the details of which he doesn’t remember. He has a sense that something he missed contributed to civilian deaths. Finding the killer offers a chance at redemption… if he can stay alive long enough to prove it isn’t him.

Steel Fear was unputdownable, an electrifying ride that had me glued to the pages long after my lights should have been off. Full of fast-paced action, this nail-biter really had me guessing… exactly what a thriller should do. Because one author was a Navy SEAL, the story was authentic. It wasn’t a novel written by someone who simply researched what happens on an aircraft carrier. I could have never lived on one—the idea of sleeping in a coffin-sized berth was a deal breaker. Talk about claustrophobia! Besides the well-drawn protagonist, Finn, there was a great cast of supporting characters with weighty backstories. This would have been a 5-star read, but the cursing was over the top. The f-bomb was dropped 73 times, but that’s not what bothered me. If Christian swearing (using the Lord’s name in vain) is offensive, this book isn’t for you. 4 stars.

Published Date: July 2021
Genre: Thriller, military thriller, techno-thriller
Read-alikes: Jack Reacher by Lee Child, Water Memory by Daniel Pyne, The Fear Within by J. S. Law, The Bronze Fog by Arthur Denis Clift, Carrier by Tom Clancy

* Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.

 

On a Night of a Thousand Stars
by Andrea Yaryura Clark  

New York, 1998Wealthy Argentinian diplomat, Santiago Larrea, is hosting a soiree with this wife and 21-year-one daughter, Paloma, to celebrate his appointment as Argentina’s ambassador to the United Nations. When a party guest makes an intriguing off-handed remark about her father’s university days, Paloma is determined to learn more about his life in the years leading up to the military dictatorship of 1976.

When the family travels to Buenos Aires for Santiago’s UN ambassadorial appointment, Paloma is determined to learn more about his life in the years leading up to the military dictatorship of 1976. Through her sleuthing she becomes attached to student Franco Bonetti, an activist member of H.I.J.O.S. — a group whose members are the children of the Desaparecidos, the estimated 30,000 people who were forcibly disappeared, tortured, and murdered by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance during the “Dirty War from 1974 to 1983”

The novel’s dual narrative shifts between Paloma’s 1998 quest to uncover her father’s past to Santiago’s life in the 1970s and the choices he made as a young playboy law student leading up to the coup. The history depicted in this novel is important, and the author clearly conducted extensive research to bring it to light. I knew little Argentinian history prior to reading On a Night of a Thousand Stars. Unfortunately, I was never emotionally invested in the characters or the storylines, although I will say the one set in the past was far more engaging. The dual narratives were confusing because of their multiple love matches. In the end, I just didn’t like the writing. This is Clark’s debut, and I’ll give her another try if she writes another book. 3.5 stars.

Published Date: March 2022
Genre: Historical fiction
Read-alikes: House on Endless Waters by Emunah Elon; The Memory Stones by Caroline Brothers; The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter.

* Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my  own.

 

Rock Paper Scissors
by Alice Feeney

Things have been wrong between Mr. and Mrs. Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away in the Scottish Highlands, it might be just what their marriage needs. Neither was picturing spooky Blackwater Chapel, a dilapidated, freezing cold, converted stone chapel, complete with hidden passages, a crypt, a bell tower, and mysterious locked doors.

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts—paper, cotton, pottery, tin—and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their ten-year marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

Adam is a sought-after screenwriter who has made his fortune adapting Henry Winter’s bestselling novels for the screen (Think Stephen King). Amelia works at a dog rescue center. Talk about opposites attracting!

Rock Paper Scissors has a fascinating premise. Adam has a psychiatric condition called prosopagnosia and cannot distinguish facial features on people… even himself. At industry shindigs, he counts on his wife to run interference, so he knows who he is talking to. The writing is refreshingly simplistic; the author just tells the story without too much flair. Her chapter titles are inventive, perhaps an unusual facet to mention in a book review, but I really enjoyed them.

So here’s the thing about me. I am a chicken, a scaredy-cat, a sissy, which means I read this psychological thriller with wide eyes. There were plenty of plot twists—some downright terrifying, other tame and predictable. It was hard to get used to the author using “they” or “their” for singular pronouns. Doing so would have precipitated a lot of red ink from my college professors. Times have certainly changed.

Feeny’s latest novel is a creepy, gothic page-turner fans of the genre will enjoy. For me, it was good, but not great. 3.5 stars.

Published Date: September 2021
Genre: Psychological suspense
Read-alikes: The Island by Adrian McKinty, The Best Day Ever by Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, Tell Me My Name by Erin Ruddy, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks

 

Damnation Spring
by Ash Davidson

Colleen and Rich Gundersen are raising their young son, Chub, on the rugged California coast. It’s 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn’t what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened.

Colleen is an amateur midwife. Rich is a tree-topper, a dangerous job that requires him to scale trees hundreds of feet tall, a job his father and grandfather died doing. Rich secretly spends their savings on a swath of ancient Redwoods and fashions his life to support his deceit. Colleen, who has suffered eight miscarriages and is desperate to have a second baby, challenges the logging company’s use of herbicides that she believes cause the miscarriages and birth defects in the community. Tensions mount as loggers fight for their jobs even though their employer appears to be poisoning them.

You know those shows/books when a character tells a big whopper and continues to build on that lie until he or she is caught? Well, this book gave me anxiety, because I knew in the end the consequences for Rich’s deceit were going to be horrendous.

Ash Davidson’s debut was beautifully and lyrically written. Her descriptions of people and places were impressive; I felt like I was in the community and could see the people and the sites. Here’s a description of one person: “… heavy torso thrust forward like a toad walking upright.” Brilliant!

The author was born in Arcata, California, the epicenter of the Damnation Spring, and she clearly did her research about the era and the challenges facing the logging industry, (albeit she included too excessive minutiae about the processes involved in harvesting timber.) The book also contained fascinating information on the effects of toxins such as Agent Orange. It authentically set in the late 1970s—the clothes they wore, the cars, they drove, the foods they ate. Tab, Coca-Cola’s first diet soft drink was all the rage (discontinued in 2020) and I had plenty of friends who depended on it. Yuck.

Although much of the novel was gorgeous, it was heavy on metaphor and simile, and the multiple narratives didn’t work written in third person. Her overuse of words and phrases was distracting. “Burl bowl” was used 15 times.

In the end, Damnation Spring is about a heart-wrenching clash between environmentalists and loggers that destroyed families and an industry by an author to watch. 3.5 stars.

Published Date: August 2021
Genre: Mainstream fiction
Read-alikes: The Same River by Lisa M. Riddick, The Lowering Days by Gregory Brown, The Overstory by Richard Powers

* Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy of this novel. The opinions are my own.

 

On the Mountain of the Lord
by Ray Bentley, Bodie Thoene

“This is the land where prophecy is fulfilled,” Lev said. “Where the temporary and the eternal meet. Can’t understand the things of today without studying the words of yesterday.”—Ray Bentley and Bodie Thoene, On the Mountain of the Lord.

Submerged in doubt after a brutal car accident ripped his wife, child, and faith from him, Dr. Jack Garrison travels to Israel on a fact-finding mission. When he experiences inexplicable visions within hours of landing, he knows he’s in over his head.

Join Dr. Garrison as he teams up with longtime friend Lev and a dauntless female Israeli Border Police officer to battle a furtive yet deadly enemy. His journey will take him from the city streets of London to the furthest shores of the Mediterranean as he’s forced to confront his doubts and accept the astonishing possibility that he is witnessing an ancient prophecy unfold.

The storyline of On the Mountain of the Lord was fascinating, and I read through the book with delight as Jack Garrison found his faith and discovered his prophetic gifts. In my view, we are living in the very end of days—a perfect time to read this novel. It’s an imaginative modern-day prodigal thriller with well-developed characters and a sweet love story. Brock and Bodie Thoene have written many Christian historical novels and are adept at writing theirs in biblical settings. She wrote On the Mountain of the Lord (book 1 in the Elijah Chronicles series) with prophecy scholar Ray Bentley, and while it was good, it just didn’t have the same punch as some of her other work. 3.5 stars.

Published Date: July 2018
Genre: Christian thriller
Read-alikes: The Timeless Whole Armor of God by J. Yerachmiel, The Faithful One by Michele Chynoweth, Room of Marvels by James Bryan Smith

 

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