Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Book Review of The New Recruit by Jill Williamson

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Mission 1: Moscow

Forced to choose between military school and a Christian spy organization, skeptic Spencer Garmond signs on with the Bible geeks. But before he even boards the plane for Moscow, Spencer realizes this is no Bible club.

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. 

Series: The Mission League (Book 1)
Genre: Spy Adventure Thriller
Publisher: Enclave Publishing (December 19, 2013)
Page Count: 422 pages

The New Recruit differs a lot from Jill's other books. It has a slight supernatural element but certainly not as much as I've read in her other stories. I prefer more speculative myself, but I decided to give this book a shot since I won it in one of her giveaways. One thing that's very creative about this book is that's formatted like you're reading spy reports so it makes it all feel more real. 

What I liked:  The plot was interesting. I've been on mission trips before so this reminded me a lot of the one I took to France, especially with the warning for pickpockets. It makes sense that a Christian spy league would use that as a cover. Adding in the Christian spies gave it a thriller feel. Some instances had me tense like the encounters with the Bratva, Spencer's dreams, and the climax, but nothing really jerked me in emotionally. 

The whole Mission League sounds interesting, but I didn't fully get the importance of them in this book. The intercessors seemed like they had potential with the predictions, but I would have liked more direct supernatural conflict.There wasn't much included besides possible demonic activity, prophetic dreams, and a possible angel so I'm still trying to see where the specialized situations for this organization come in. Perhaps in the other books. I liked all the spy tools though. Those were cool. 

Spencer is a neat character. Though instead of just being a typical basketball jock, he has a bit of a nerd side with his liking for computers and video games. He has a very unique voice which is always important for a first person story, though sarcastic like most first persons in YA novels. I like that he has an implied shady past so that gives a bit more intrigue for him. From just the first few chapters you get know him pretty well like that he's unsatisfied with his life and he's fearful about getting sent to military school. I also like that he struggles with an addiction which isn't commonly done in CBA YA and it's nice to see that written about. 

I related to him in a lot of ways. One thing is that he wasn't sure about all happy joy stuff he's witnessed Christians displaying. I'm a Christian, but I'm not as hyped up as everyone else. I'm more serious with my faith than oozing happiness, and I get how the oozing happiness can be a bit of a put off. Though I'm still not sure exactly what made Christianity so off-putting to him originally. I wasn't sure if it was just what he witnessed or something in his past scarred him against it. 

There is a very large cast of characters in this book. Spencer's grandma is an interesting woman. Her appearance is unique and reminded me of visiting some old folk's homes. Spencer's best friend, Kip, and Kimbal seem interesting, but you don't see too much of them except in the beginning. Ryan seems all right from what I saw of him, but a bit typical. 

The agents in training are diverse, but I got them mixed up a lot. Nick is a typical rival for Spencer with the uniqueness of being a preacher's kid. Jake and Isaac I forgot about their existence often, but they seemed nice when they came into the spotlight. Gabe I wasn't sure about at first, but I grew to like him. Isabel was an all right crush, but I hope Spencer leans more toward Beth. I like her a lot. She was my favorite character in the story. I wish she was in it more. Arianna is an over-the-top Christian girl. Mission-Ari is a very, very appropriate nickname. She ... well ... I'll talk more about her later.

Another thing that's really cool about this book is all the different accents: Spanish, French, and Russian. I liked how Jill made them so easy to recognize without mangling the words too much so it's too distracting. It's a fine balance.

The book also goes into the point of view of a seemingly random Russian kid named Pasha who is being manipulated by a woman named Anya. At first I was like, "Soooo the point of this is what?" But later in the story it weaves in nicely. Anya is really creepy, but she wasn't as intimidating to me as I felt like she could have been. She was a decent villain, but I hope she's expanded on more in the rest of the series. 

Many lines made me laugh like Spencer thinking, "The prettier the girl, the less I function as a normal human." or "Must. Not. Murder. Teacher's. Son." or "Mr. S stayed glued to me like glitter on a VBS cross, though."

Now the writing. The description is really good. Jill does well to set each scene. The detail on a guy's frayed jeans really made me get a good picture of a character. One of my favorite things about Jill's writing is she points out little details that really jerk you in. Spencer and Pasha's character arcs were good and it was neat watching them both change throughout the story. 

There were many themes in this novel, good lines, and discussions. I liked how they showed that bad experiences can pave ways for good things to happen like Spencer's experiences allowing him to relate to Pasha or Sveltana's tough past touching Spencer. 
Beth ate the soggy roll in one bite, dimples forming in her cheeks as she chewed. “It’s funny how people say they don’t believe in God but blame Him when something bad happens. He never gets credit for all the good days, just blamed for the few bad ones. That’s how I was.” 
I leaned forward and stared Beth down. “But God could’ve saved your mom, kept that car accident from happening. How can you be okay with that?” 
“God made the world. He made me.” Beth plucked a strawberry off my tray. “Look at this thing, Tiger, all these little seeds. It’s amazing. I don’t have a clue what God’s up to. I can’t make a strawberry. If God wants my mom in heaven, who am I to say no? He made her. She belongs to Him, not me. Besides, what would I have to say to you if she were alive? Me, raised by my dad and three brothers? I’d be a different person if Mom had lived, playing with dolls and getting manicures. That’s how God works. Our pain can help others.”
The ending was decent and left some questions to pave the way to sequels. 

What I didn't like: Now we get to the less than good stuff. 

I feel like the writing was lacking in places. The prose was a bit choppy and I found some typos.

The user name "db666" seemed painfully obvious.

Spencer's nicknames got confusing and I couldn't tell who people were like with Mr. Chess and Mr. S. To this day I'm not even sure who Mr. Chess was. Some words that Spencer used like "tomes" and "vexed" seemed out of Spencer's voice. I also didn't get why people told him he was misusing his gifts because he doesn't have a relationship with God.

The characters could have been better. I couldn't get to know most of them and I forgot most of them existed a lot of the time. Priere was a bit of a stereotype. Some of their Christian behavior seemed honestly sappy and I was totally with Spencer. I'm not like that around my Christian friends.

I hate to say this, but Arianna. Drove. Me. Nuts. I couldn't stand her. I cringed whenever she showed up on the page. She was so ... preachy, a wimp, and sometimes just plain creepy. I say creepy because she wanted to force people to do the "right thing" and that just disturbed me. She was way, way overdone. I was happy when Spencer told her off. I would have done it weeks before he did. Later on she apologizes for her behavior with Spencer, but that still didn't make her any better in my eyes.

The ending disappointed me in one aspect. I'll try to keep this as vague as possible, but instead of Spencer finding a way out, he was saved and he gets in trouble for all he did. I wanted to see him conquer his foes, not have people sweep in and get him out.

Content Cautions: The book is pretty clean. There is drug use, smoking, some mild violence and implied swearing. I'd rate this at PG.

I know this is one of Jill's favorite books, because it's the first she's ever written, but honestly I thought it was my least favorite of hers. So unfortunately, it's only going to get three stars from me.

About the Author:
Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms and the award-winning author of several young adult books including the Blood of Kings trilogy, Replication, the Mission League series, and the Safe Lands trilogy. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children and a whole lot of deer. Visit her online at her blog, where adventure comes to life.
You can find her on her website, FacebookTwitterPinterest and Goodreads.

Check out my interview with Jill!

Check out some of my reviews of her other books!
The Blood of Kings: From Darkness Won
Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into A Published Novel
The Safe Lands: Captives
The Safe Lands: Outcasts
The Safe Lands: Rebels

If you enjoyed this review, you can find more over on the Book Reviews tab of click the link. :)

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  1. I've been seeing this book pop-up here and there, and I was curious to see a review of it. I'm REALLY picky when it comes to Christian fiction because most of it is just too sappy for me. This sounds like it has potential, and I'm intrigued about the whole Christian spy thing. I might give it a try!

  2. I'm the same way. It is a pretty good book. :) I have some other good Christian novels for review too. Jill's are some of the best. ^ ^ I highly recommend Steven James and Bryan Davis too. Have you read any of their work? Thanks so much for commenting!