Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Everything Belongs to Us: A Novel by Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Everything Belongs to Us: A Novel.  Yoojin Grace Wuertz. Random House Publishing Group. February 2017. 368 pp. ISBN #: 9780812998542.

Two girls and two boys experience personal and national change in 1978 Seoul, South Korea.  Jisun and Namin couldn’t possibly be more different.  Jisun comes from an important family in business and she has easy access to money and all the privilege that comes with her father’s power.  Namin comes from a poor family, is studying to become a doctor so that her family will eventually be free from poverty.  The country is now in a campaign to work hard and make the country prosper economically.  That means all must conform to the long hours of work for meager wages; the novel opens with a group of women protesting these conditions.  However, in a random moment of rebellious action, they strip themselves of blouses and bras, not realizing their act removes them from the role of honest protest and instead earns them a scandalous repetition.  Jisun’s father attempts to have guards watch her every moment but that attempt fails to stop her doing what she wants.  What she’s not prepared for is how other protestors now scorn her for her privileged status after she was removed from jail while others had to undergo penalties and social ostracism.  Namin at first is delighted to become a friend of Jisun but their relationship evolves with Namin’s realization about status and the personal cost of privilege.

Jisun and Namin then meet Samin and his mentor, Juno.  We first meet Samin being forced to carry out ridiculous actions for Juno who has a sadistic streak.  Juno knows everyone who is important in the elite group called The Club and initially Samin would do anything to gain entry to this esteemed circle.  However, Samin gradually also evolves, through his encounters with Namin, to an independent thinker. 

The plot is simple but the way Wuertz depicts the emerging personalities of these four characters is exquisite and mesmerizing.  Their lives clearly parallel the changes South Korea is experiencing as it moves from a dictatorship to a form of social democracy.  These characters experience questions about personal desires and independence that must find a place within a society that clearly prizes working together for the common good.  At the same time, wealth is not a guarantee of security and these characters as well must find a vision and place within that same society to live a meaningful life per the new standards and vision.

Everything Belongs to Us… is compelling historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Gunmetal Gray - A Gray Man Novel by Mark Greaney

Gunmetal Gray: Gray Man Series #6.  Mark Greaney. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2017. 512pp.  ISBN#: 9780425282854.

The Gray Man is not an agent to be trifled with, for sure!  He’s been out of action for a while but now has been called on a very, very dangerous mission.  A visit to Hong Kong and connections by some Chinese agents immediately alerts him to the fact that the Communists are very much interested in and desiring to control his new assignment.  He finds his friend, Donald Fitzroy, being held in captivity after failing to capture Fan Jiang, a master computer hacker.  The job is now Court Gentry’s mission. 

Fan Jiang is not just any hacker.  He is a computer genius able to break into government programs and go even deeper, to figure out how hackers get in and figure out to hack the hackers’ program.  The rest of the novel plays out the chase to capture Fan Jiang and includes Court Gentry’s relationship with the head of a Russian spy mission bent on the same goal of capturing Fan Jiang.
Court Gentry is a brilliant tactician and warrior who can destroy any number of the enemy threatening his life and limbs.  Thus fierce, brutal, decimating battles follow, causing the reader to feel the intense stress despite innately knowing the outcome.  There is a growing romance and growing costs in each step of the war for this is an outcome that will affect the governments of America, China, Vietnam, and Russia.

All in all, for those who love the international spy thriller, this is adventure and mystery at its best!  Nicely crafted, Mark Greaney, with some twists and turns that even the most knowledgeable fans won’t predict!

Ashes by Steven Manchester

Ashes. Steven Manchester. The Story Plant. February 2017. 272 pp. ISBN#: 9781611882421.  

Two brothers, Jake and Tom Prendergast, who couldn’t possibly be more different, are about to take a life-transforming journey!  But first we meet them individually.  When we first meet Jake, he’s giving a “scared straight” speech to a bunch of juvenile delinquents.  The reader wants to think it’s all a bit of a stretch, but it doesn’t take long before we know he’s speaking about what he’s seen as a security officer in an adult prison.  No, it’s definitely not pretty!

Tom is a college professor who is annoyed to find out his father has died. The reader wonders immediately about what has elicited such disdain! 

Both brothers are called to their father’s lawyer’s office, only to hear the father is leaving them an envelope they may not open until they travel cross-country to spread his ashes.  If they refuse, they get nothing.  But then nothing is what their father always gave them, nothing but grief that is.

The journey is bittersweet indeed as Jake and Tom insult each other through half of the journey while they reminisce about their brutal father who wasn’t just happy at beating them but had to see blood to make him happy. Sadist extraordinaire!  But then the continuous clashes start to slightly alter as they find themselves reminiscing about their childhood and then later about their experiences as husbands and fathers. 

These interspersed tender moments begin to open the brothers toward each other, along with some very funny scenes as Tom gawks at his brother’s humongous appetite and Jake gapes at Tom’s snooty tastes in food and wine. There’s a lovely ending which the reader must experience without a spoiler and which almost makes one want to read it all over again!

Steven Manchester is great at presenting a simple plot but his real gift is on depicting the variations of temperament in characters in such a wonderfully moving manner.  One gets to know and love his characters no matter what the ups and downs of the conflict between them.

Finely crafted contemporary fiction once again, Steven Manchester – a MUST read that deserves the widest possible audience!

I See You by Claire Mackintosh

I See You.  Claire Mackintosh. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9781101988299.

Zoe Walker is traveling on the crowded London subway when he sees a photograph in the newspaper that looks just like her.  It’s a creepy feeling, indeed, as she has no connection with the website.  She shows it to her family and they think the picture is her but might not be as it has a grainy quality.  Meanwhile she’s dealing with her family, particularly a partner who thinks her son should pay rent and contribute to the family finances as he’s 22 years old and other minor issues. 

We are then introduced to Kelly, a detective demoted to a police officer who has a bad work history that she is trying to overcome by proving herself in her new job.  Her biggest problem is that she tends to react on instinct and that’s not always the brightest or safest way to perform.  Assaulting an alleged criminal is a no-no that has left Kelly with a hot-head reputation.

The next day Zoe sees a different woman’s picture in the same classified ad section and wonders what’s going on.  As time passes, we also have italicized messages from a voyeur who is taking pictures of women with a very set purpose; the messages are creepy and make the reader tense with anticipation of some crime soon to be committed.

So, the plot moves forward alternating between the mundane, everyday thrills and tussles of life and these photos of different women appearing in the daily newspaper.
Suspicions begin to form around Zoe’s acquaintances, even those who have been very good to Zoe and her family.  No spoilers here.  Suffice to say that the last portion of the novel is stunning as we discover who is behind these pictures – and a murder – and why.

Claire Mackintosh has crafted an interesting mystery that bounces between some boredom over the simple family discussions and the chilling fear elicited over who is clearly a dangerous stalker!  Nicely done, Ms. Mackintosh!