Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Mission Critical: A Grey Man Novel (Series #8) by Mark Greaney

Mission Critical: A Grey Man Novel. (Grey Man Series #8). Mark Greaney. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2019. 528 pp. hb.; ISBN: 9780451488947.

Courtland Gentry, the Grey Man, is back in action but not the way he planned.  Returning to Washington by orders of his CIA boss, Suzanne Brewer, he’s relaxing in his seat on a plane landing in Luxembourg when some obvious-looking goons drag a man onto the plane, a man whose head is covered by a black bag.  It turns out the plane heads to England but not with the prisoner. Upon landing in the U.K., a heavy gun battle ensues, shooting up the plane and killing several of the prisoner’s guards.  Court of course gets involved and attempts to follow the van holding the escaped prisoner. There the business begins.  It turns out the prisoner knows pivotal information about a mole in Langley.

Meanwhile a Soviet woman, Zoya Zakharvoa, who has turned to become an American spy is being held in a safe house while she is being prepped to be an agent in a top-secret program run by the CIA.  One night the safe house is attacked by assassins, with many deaths occurring; but Zoya manages to escape.  She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with and no one in possession of sanity would attempt to capture or mess with her in any conceivable way. 

On another note, another plot is moving forward, directed by Zoya’s father, the former head of the Soviet GRU but now operating under an anonymous name.  His plan is motivated by personal reasons and has nothing to do with Russian affairs or Russian authority. The plan involves a North Korean scientist with her own fanatical agenda which she plans to carry out with a biological event. 

The plot about the “mole” at CIA gets quite complex and riveting.  It turns out several characters are being obviously followed.  But the real question is “Who is the mole?”  Too bad these characters are innocent or have personal matters they fear exposing. 

The violence of this novel is ongoing and intense beyond words.  Court or Gentry is very good at his job but unfortunately gets physically hammered by a Godzilla-sized character – several times.  Add to the fact that there are many surprises in these pages that aren’t mentioned in this review.

Eventually, Court and Zoya meet, with some interesting chemistry developing between them.  Court is a highly skilled and objective guy who has more heart in this novel in the series.  He’s a good guy in a very bad world!

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see this story scripted into a thriller/espionage movie.  Mark Greaney is a talented writer who knows how delineate a multi-layered plot with interesting characters that keeps readers glued to the page and at the end wanting more!

Nicely crafted, Mark Greaney – a novel to satisfy crime thriller and international spy fans galore!

The Secret of Clouds: A Novel by Alyson Richman

The Secret of Clouds: A Novel. Alyson Richman. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2019. $16.99; pb, 384 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490773.

Katya is an aspiring ballerina and Sasha a student scientist when they first meet.  They marry after living a tumultuous life in Kiev and emigrate to the United States.  Sasha suffered a major injury which curtailed her ballet career, but the birth of Yuri transformed their lives in so many ways. Years before their meeting, there was a nuclear disaster at Chernobyl which authorities claimed was no big deal.  However, it turned out that the winds carried that radiation throughout all of Europe.  Many Russians enjoyed the outdoor air at that time which was abnormally warm for mid-April.  Katya was one of them and years later was distraught that that air she had absorbed was responsible for Yuri’s birth defect, a leaky tricuspid valve and abnormally-sized heart.  Yuri was both a timid and sickly child for years and had to be monitored constantly.  Katya incessantly worried over Yuri but Sasha had a more scientific and positive viewpoint about his son’s health issues.

This then is the story of Maggie, a young teacher who is very connected to her students and loves to be creative about language arts writing.  She agrees to tutor Yuri at his home since he is too ill to come to school.  At first the chemistry is zero but gradually sharing his passion for baseball becomes the centerfold of their growing relationship. The creation of a journal/storybook provides pages and pages of Yuri’s expression of what is important to him.  No spoilers here but suffice to say that Yuri’s reflections on Maggie’s assignments become the highlight of his life, with no room left for false games or lies.

Yuri’s openness and honesty changes Maggie’s personal life as well as she finally chooses to move from one stagnant relationship to a life-giving and creative connection.  Yuri then finds a peer who also loves baseball and becomes a best friend. Katya and Sasha also learn to relax and cherish their son’s growth and happiness.

The finale to this heartwarming story is tender, heart-wrenching and full of life-giving hope.  This is a novel with innumerably endearing scenes that will remain in your thoughts and heart forever!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Winter Sisters: A Novel by Robin Oliveira

Winter Sisters: A Novel. Robin Oliveira. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2018; hb, 432 pp.; ISBN: 9780399564260.

Albany, New York, 1879.  David and Bonnie O’Donnell walk to work after their children, Emma and Claire, leave for school.  It’s an ordinary February morning with light snow in the air, and Bonnie reminds David they have a dinner to attend at the Sutter-Still home.  As the morning progresses, a fierce wind and heavy snow becomes a catastrophic blizzard to the point where no one can see a foot in front of their direction.  Tragedy follows!

David and Bonnie die in the blizzard, but Emma and Claire literally disappear.  A massive search conducted by Dr. Mary (Sutter) and Dr. William Still, whose endeavor fails to produce even the slightest inkling of where the girls could be.   Meanwhile, the story briefly switches to a highly skilled musician, Elizabeth Fall, whose passion for music very quickly becomes intense dislike in Paris, France where she has been under the mentorship of a supposed Master violinist.  When she learns of the blizzard disaster, she immediately leaves for America.

The missing girls are eventually found but their story becomes a source of division, suspicion and a trial in which prosecutors seem out to destroy their account and attempt to destroy Dr. Mary Sutter, who takes care of prostitutes, an unseemly use of her medical skills in the late 1800s that immediately mandates social stigma.

The beauty of this book involves the integrity of caring people who pursue justice for all in the face of formidable opposition.  Those who are rich or possess political power are trusted for all the wrong reasons which will eventually be exposed.

Emma and Claire begin the process of PTSD from their phenomenal experience.  Bonnie O’Donnell’s last words to Emma were to take care of her sister, and the only positive outcome for her is she can clearly say that she honored this promise to her mother.

Winter Sisters: A Novel is a fine mystery and carefully crafted story which keeps the reader fully engaged.  It’s also a satire of injustice and cruelty which can make or break a person and at the least leaves shades of vulnerability that can be overcome.  Highly recommended historical fiction!