Well, it's the first of the year and I thought it would be good to start this year off with a review. My list of "to-read" books has grown, as has my list of "to-review" books, and I have simply fallen behind! But I foresee good things for this year. The 1rst day of 2013... positively anything could happen! Since school's gotten out (and even though life has been crazy-hectic-weird in the last few weeks) I have read several books and have started work on SOTD again, even though my writing life had previously been stuck for months on end. I consider that a sign of good things to come. :D
So here is my review! :)
"The New Recruit"
The Mission League
Mission #1: Moscow
These guys mean business.
Stumbling onto a case involving a gang of homeless boys, a chilling tattoo, and the always beautiful Anya Vseveloda, Spencer struggles to find the faith needed to save the Mission League from enemy infiltration.
This book, for me, was intriguing from the get-go. I wasn't sure at first what I would think of it... I love speculative fiction of ALL kinds, but there is a special place in my heart for anything Fantasy, and sometimes I find myself getting skeptical of other types of fiction. I should know by now to put that skepticism aside. lol! And I was reminded that I should do this more often as I read through Jill's book.
"The New Recruit" is a mission report, told mostly through the eyes of Mission League agent-in-training, Spencer Garmond. Spencer is a non-Christian, basketball-loving, wannabe tough-guy who lives with his Grandma and goes to a Christian school only because he's made to. He doesn't buy into any of the lovey-dovey faith and prayer stuff that a lot of the other kids at his school believe in. No, Spencer believes he's one of the few at his school who actually "get's" the real world and what's happening in it. But when Spencer gets himself into yet another fight after school, his Grandma gives him an ultimatum: join "the Mission League", an organization of Bible-loving churcher missionaries who "pretend" they're all spies ... or go to military school.
The last thing Spencer wants to do is go to Military school... not if he has any chance of upping his basketball game and preparing to play college ball. Spencer decides to join the League, if only to get his Grandma off his case, but he soon finds out that the kids in the Mission League aren't nearly as soft as he thought they were. In fact, this organization means business. And not only does Spencer soon realize this, but he also learns that his long-lost parents were in the League as well... and so was his Grandma.
When Spencer joins the team for a training trip to Moscow Russia, he accidentally stumbles across a case involving the ever stunning Anya Vseveloda, a girl that he's been having strange dreams about for years. Spencer has never believed in spiritual warfare, or in the prophetic meanings of dreams, but he can't deny the fact that there's something weird going on with Anya. First of all, how could he possibly dream about someone he's never seen before? And second, why does Anya sometimes speak perfect English and other times choose to use a broken Russian accent? And why does he get the cold-creepiest whenever he looks her in the eyes? Strange too, is the tattoo that Anya wears on her arm - a maze in the shape of a yo-yo with a star in the middle. Spencer's new Russian friend, Pasha, shares the same tattoo. It looks cool, but there's some chilling mystery behind the symbol, and as the story progresses, Spencer begins to find it harder and harder to deny that there just might be something behind all this faith and prayer stuff after all... and that demons just might be real too.
I loved the voice of this story. It's told in first person, but I felt that the character stayed true to his nature. Knowing that the author herself is a christian, I figure it must have been a bit difficult to write from the POV of a very skeptical non-believing 15 year-old boy... especially using a modern day setting. Spencer never slipped out of character, but the reader could feel the change of heart and mind as the story progressed... it almost felt as if I was learning and realizing things right along with Spencer, not as if I was watching him learn it all for himself. Jill was able to hit on a lot of the questions that young teens have these days concerning Christianity, and she also addressed the different approaches that some Christians take in evangelizing. My two favorite examples have to do with the characters Arianna and Gabe.
Arianna had a tendency to be pushy and preachy, always in Spencer's face about the fact that he was a non-believer. She was only trying to help, but she didn't know how to go about it properly, and as Spencer said to her at one point: "Arianna, you can't make me your clone. The more you try to, the more I want to push you off the balcony. Just be my friend. If you can't do that without nagging me every second, I don't want to be yours."
The way Spencer explained it to her is probably the best I've heard it put in ages. Of course she was only trying to help him, but nobody likes to be pushed around and told how wrong they are all the time because they don't believe the same as somebody else. That's partially why politics get so bad these days. ;) If Arianna had just tried to be Spencer's friend before she tried to push him into a "religion", he might not have fought so hard against her urging.
Gabe, on the other hand, became Spencer's friend first... best friend, actually; almost like a brother. In fact, Gabe considered Spencer to be like his brother. Yes, Gabe made mistakes several times, and some of his actions were misunderstood by Spencer which brought about problems, but ultimately Gabe's goal was first to become a friend, and then to let their friendship do the evangelizing I don't even know for sure if Gabe realized that this was his approach. However, as the story progressed, it was Gabe's walk with Christ and the peace and security Gabe found in that walk that Spencer first started to think about. He considered the other members of the team too, but Gabe's example was more prominent. And it was Gabe's example that Spencer decided to follow when he went to talk his Russian friend, Pasha, into leaving his life on the streets and returning to his family.
At the end of the story, Spencer is still a non-Christian who loves basketball, but we can see the change that has been worked in him by joining the Mission League. Though Spencer is still skeptical, he's starting to understand that there is definitely more to the "religion" of Christianity than he ever thought. In fact, he's starting to see beyond the tag of "religion" to understand that Christianity is actually a "relationship". Though he's still unsure of himself and what the whole Christian-thing is really about, he makes the decision to start researching some of the stuff he's been told about in his Bible (the one his Grandma made him keep)... and perhaps church isn't such a terrible idea after all. There's definitely something behind all the talk about prayer, because without the intercessors at the Mission League, he's pretty sure he would be dead or something worse with all that he's been through in Moscow... and then there's the thought of demons. He never really believed in them before, but after his dealings with Anya, his perception definitely changes. With the end of the book comes the promise of more adventures with the Mission League in which readers can hope to watch Spencer's perspective on Christianity evolve and develop while readers also enjoy high-action and suspense. :D
I make it a point in most of my reviews not to harp on grammatical errors and typos. After all, all books have typos and I don't like putting down a good story for something insignificant. "The New Recruit" is most definately a good story -- even a GREAT one -- but at this moment in time, it is also chock-full of typos. Not necessarily in the dialogue -- a lot of the dialogue, especially once the Mission League entered Moscow -- was written in such a way that readers would hear a Russian accent as they worked their way through the book. Most of the typos I found were out of dialogue, in the meat of the story itself. These included accidentally miss-spelled words, missing words, a name spelled one way here and another way there, and even at one point the use of a character name before we were actually introduced to the character.
The typos, however, are my only real con. The rest of the book was pretty well done, so I hope that my mention of this doesn't turn anyone away from this read. It's definitely worth reading. The story itself is excellent. :D
I've noted that in other reviews of this book, readers (especially male readers) were slightly perturbed with the idea that Spencer seemed to "hit on" every girl in the story. This is something I didn't actually understand. As I was reading the story, I noted that Spencer made a note of each of the girls in his group, and that he had an attraction towards only two of them... Beth and Isabel. Most of the time he was annoyed with Arianna and tried not to be associated with her as much as possible, why Jensina just sort of lingered in the background. He found Isabel to be extremely attractive, looks-wise, while he found himself drawn to Beth not only for the fact that she was pretty, but also because she was strong and athletic in ways that he also wished to be. At one point in the story he noted that a Russian deaf girl, Svetlana, was extremely beautiful, but he admitted to himself that nothing would probably ever come of his attraction to her.
Now, I know that many of the male readers had made notes of these interactions in an unfavorable way when they wrote their reviews, but as an older sister with brothers in Spencer's age-range, I can honestly say that this actually happens more often than even boys may realize. With Spencer being a non-Christian, he didn't quite have the morals that the other Christian boys had in his group, and so looking at girls like this was less shameful to him than it might have seemed to be to, say, Gabe or one of the other male agents-in-training. My brother interacts with pretty girls his age in much the same way, even though I know for a fact that he doesn't realize that anyone else notices... especially the pretty girls he's trying to "woe". (It's actually kind of funny, I think... watching him try like that. ;D)
So all in all, I didn't find anything wrong with the way Spencer acted around the females his own age in the Mission League. They may not have shared his outlook on things, or even realized that he was thinking of him in a romantic way at all. (I know I have a tendency to be blind to those sort of things, and only realize that "oh hey! That boy seemed interested in me..." after my sister tells me so later.).
Just thought I'd mention it. :D
I received this book for Christmas, and was so glad that I did! For those of you wondering, yes, that map of Moscow in the middle of the book is one that I did. :) It was a lot of fun, but difficult too, as I had never tried to create a map based on an actual city before. I'm used to doing more Fantasy-map type stuff. ;D
I was not required to write a good review for this book, but I definitely give it 4 out of 5 stars. It's a book worth reading, so if you haven't yet, you should totally look into it! :D
Until next time my friends, God bless, Happy writing, and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! :D