Grace A. Johnson
Review: Unknown by Vanessa Hall
Synopsis: Returning to his childhood home of Russia should’ve been a time of joy, reunion, and happy memories for Gabriel Kelly. Should’ve been...but for the fact that he’d returned to bury his parents. As the days pass, the shadowy circumstances surrounding the deaths of his missionary parents pull Gabe in along with all those around him, drawing them into a world of danger they’re wholly unprepared for.
Man, I am ashamed of myself. I finished this back in August and I’m just now reviewing it in February. (Please don’t kill me, Vanessa. I didn’t mean to, honest.) Fortunately, that means if I had any qualms with this book, I can’t remember them beyond what I jotted down in my journal...and basically everything I jotted down was positive.
I reckon that just goes to show how good of a novel Unknown is.
When I first heard that this was a romantic suspense about ballerinas in Russia and the mob, I could have squealed. Already, Unknown was destined for greatness in my mind. And, boy, lemme tell ya...the ballet aspect was so beautiful. Russia was, as you can imagine, so lovely, and I quite honestly want many more Russian-set novels. And the mob. Y’all who know me well know I love anything even remotely mafia-related.
The entire premise was so engaging and unique—I didn’t want to put this down, and I know I’ll never find another story quite like it. And Hall pulled it all of so well! The action and suspense was so fast-paced and had me gripping the edge of my seat, and the way she paced everything was, well, en pointe! *winks* (I had to throw in a ballet pun. I just had to.) What was especially good was that the plot seemed so realistic and authentic. For example, she didn’t make Gabe a trained special forces officer and give Sophie a nursing license so that they could handle everything thrown at them perfectly—nope, Gabe and Sophie were completely normal people who handled the situations in a normal and realistic manner as pertained to their characters rather than the plot.
I loved that. I love it when I can pick up a suspense and feel genuinely immersed in the story, as if I myself am the one on the run for my life. When the story is about a cop or EMT or some unheard of trained professional something, I simply can’t get into the story. The characters know it all, have all these fancy terms, and do everything according to the playbook instead of coming to life like their own individual people—like real cops, EMTs, and trained professionals are.
So, yes, making the hero a would-be American missionary and the heroine an orphaned ballerina was a smart decision on Hall’s part...not only in regards to the plot, but to the characters themselves.
Gabe, for one, was precious. He was sweet and tender to a fault, but in an authentic way, and I loved how Hall portrayed him. Same goes for Sophie—she was so unique and interesting. Together, they made a rather smashing pair. I’ll admit, the romance was subtle and took second fiddle to the suspense, but not in a way that lacked development or made that subplot (and the characters) fall flat. Nope, there was hot air in both balloons, baby. (Don’t...don’t ask me what that means. I just made it up because…well, just because.)
Of course, the faith elements were *chef’s kiss* absolutely lovely! Both Gabe and Sophie had definable arcs—Gabe in accepting Christ’s call to missions and Sophie to repentance—and their respective journeys were so real and inspiring. You gotta love a story that doesn’t leave out accurately portraying the Christian walk and salvation in Christ!
I’ll be honest, there were a few Calvinist views presented that I didn’t agree with (I’m not a Calvinist...but I’m not Arminian either...long story), and it really bothered me how Hall seemed to totally disregard the Orthodox Christians in Russia. I know Orthodox Christians aren’t Baptists and they don’t do everything just so according to the Southern Baptist’s Guide to True Christianity (please note, not a real guide), but there are Orthodox Christians in Russia who truly believe in God and follow Christ. So even though I totally understand and admire Gabe for standing up for what he’d been taught and for spreading his beliefs, I do think his Russian brothers and sisters could’ve been acknowledged, even in just some small way.
Other than that, have I any qualms? No, no I do not. The story itself was absolutely amazing, which such a vibrancy and flavor that most romantic suspense lack, and such a presence of God that was so touching.
Oh, and have I mentioned yet that Vanessa Hall is a fabulous writer?
Well, she is.
Funnily enough, I can see a similarity between her prose and her sister Kristina Hall’s, and when I started this, I kind of expected the similarity to be stronger (I don’t know why...I guess because they’re sisters and critique partners), but Vanessa’s writing certainly has its own style. (To be honest, you can tell through her blog posts and even her emails how her writing voice differs from her sister’s.) They’re both straightforward and uncomplicated in the way they write, with a decided balance between narrative and dialogue, action and emotion, but Vanessa’s prose has a more descriptive flair to it that fit the characters and the themes rather well, if you ask me!
Technically speaking, not a typo in sight! Gotta love a clean, high quality self-published novel, am I right?
Long story short, romance lovers, suspense cravers, contemporary readers...all of ya, y’all come and read Vanessa Hall’s Unknown! Her debut novel is an epic adventure that caters to almost anyone’s tastes, with a perfect blend of action and romance, a heaping tablespoon of faith and love, and a dash of hope that makes for a lovely read! I dunno ‘bout y’all, but I can’t wait for the sequel, Unworthy!
(Oh, and the next time I procrastinate writing a review, could someone please remind me that these things are literally only a thousand words long and only take me about thirty minutes to an hour to write? Thank you.)
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
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About the Author
Vanessa Hall is an author, musician, and homeschool graduate. Most days, she is reading, writing, or practicing the violin—or trying to find time for all three pursuits. Currently, she is working toward gaining a degree in instrumental music education. Unknown is her debut novel. Above all, she is a sinner saved and held fast by the abounding grace of Jesus Christ.
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