American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (Book Review)

American SpyAmerican Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: spy-vs-spy, history, africa, in-the-news, fictionalized-history, not-quite-a-romance, politics, racism, sexism

I’ve never been great about keeping up with world events, although I’ve gotten kinda (depressingly) better with the arrival of Der Trumpenfuhrer and my own fucking country mucking things up even more than they already are. So, while I had heard of the Republic of the Upper Volta, I had no idea it is now officially named Burkina Faso, and I certainly knew nothing of “Africa’s Che Guevara” and the coup d’état of 1987.

Multiple timelines work well here. The story opens when former FBI agent Marie Mitchell narrowly escapes a hit attempt and flees her home in the U.S. with her young sons to her mother’s home on Martinique. Between “current” (1992) events and flashback to the events of 1987 in Africa, Wilkinson makes strong use of the second-person voice as Marie writes a journal-style letter to her young sons, explaining her decisions, her ideologies, and her hopes for them, while preparing for her own final and personal mission to put it all to bed for good.

Do not mistake this for a spy thriller. There are no microchips embedded into human flesh, or agents desperately scrambling into an airplane as it’s lifting off the runway, and therefore I’m guessing it’s actually a lot more realistic than, say, The Bourne Identity.* To me, it read like the political and diplomatic story of an actual historical event at the heart of the Cold War with a “what if” added to it. The tensions of racism, sexism, family issues, and the mystery of a lost loved one add in to make an engrossing read with a strong, smart protagonist.

*I have not actually read any of the Bourne books, and after reading a few reviews, I’ve decided that I will not read them, since I enjoyed the three Bourne movies (and love me some Matt Damon).** I also see I’ve never actually read anything by Robert Ludlum at all  and I think I must amend that.

**I know there were actually five Bourne movies but I do not intend to watch the last two; reference Matt Damon’s own joke about “The Bourne Redundancy.”

I’ll also be reading Lauren Wilkinson’s next book, as I enjoyed this debut.

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In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (Book Review)

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I walked across the snowy plain of the Tiergarten—a smashed statue here, a newly planted sapling there; the Brandenburger Tor, with its red flag flapping against the blue winter sky; and on the horizon, the great ribs of a gutted railway station, like the skeleton of a whale. In the morning light it was all as raw and frank as the voice of history which tells you not to fool yourself; this can happen to any city, to anyone, to you.” — Christopher Isherwood, Down There on a Visit

Bookshelves: history, wwii, nazi-hate, current-social-issues, investigative-journalism, jewish-history, germany, sleep-with-the-light-on, non-fiction

Either you already know how bad trump is or you don’t want to know, so I’ll skip the rant. I did, however, make my highlights in this ebook public, which I seldom do. Read what I’ve highlighted at the Goodreads link below, if you want to see the obvious similarities between Hitler and the Nazi regime and our present administration and Dur Trumpenfuhrer. And keep in mind this book was published well before our current presidential debacle.

In the Garden of Beasts tells of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, with a lot of focus on his daughter Martha and her string of Nazi boyfriends, from his posting in 1933 until Hitler’s brutal consolidation of power with the Night of the Long Knives (Nacht der langen Messer, or Operation Hummingbird) in 1934.The book is not as gripping as either Isaac’s Storm or Dead Wake, and that is likely due to the angle from which it’s written. We see events through Dodd’s eyes, a man who seems woefully unqualified and shockingly ineffectual at whatever he might have been trying to accomplish. The action in the book felt quite passive to me, atrocities snowballing all around while everyone-not-a-Nazi is helpless and nobody listens to Cassandra. It’s easy to forget that Hitler may have been stopped before the horror was fully realized, had any other powers including the United States, Britain, or France taken a hard stance. And it’s easy to see how easily we can slide into a cesspool just like it if we’re not careful.

And what did it all come down to, at least for America? You got it–money. Germany owed a lot of money to rich and influential Americans, so God forbid we stand up to a fascist killer and his “Jewish problem,” because then Germany might get pissy and default on their American loans.

Fucking money. Fuck money. Fuck Hitler, fuck Nazis, and fuck trump and all his evil minions too.

Click here to see my review on Goodreads, with e-book text highlights.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Book Review)

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me, this book was kind of like when you splurge on a high-end chocolate bar and stash it for later, only to forget about it, and then you stumble on it later and you’re ridiculously happy at the treat you hid from yourself. This was the first non-Harry Potter book that J.K. Rowling published and I hesitated to read it, because I knew it wasn’t Harry Potter, and I adored Harry Potter, and I didn’t want to be disappointed.

(I did, however, read the Cormoran Strike–and you will never convince me that’s not the coolest name ever–whodunits Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith, and I really enjoyed them.)

So I finally picked this one up, and I am suitably impressed. Many reviewers found it slow-paced, and I suppose it is, but it sucked me in and I tore through it in two (slow) work days. It’s not highly dramatic, no; it’s not chock-full of suspense or horror. It’s not a murder mystery, despite the death in the opening chapter. It is a brilliant character sketch with all the real-life grit of Peyton Place together with dark humor and a smidge of satire, not just of a large cast of widely differing and deeply complex people, but of an entire town. Humans and town both hide secrets and flaws, jealousies and fears, dreams and desires, abuses both inflicted and endured, all of which are stirred into the pot of a suddenly open seat on the parish council, and which come to a boil in a delightfully bittersweet brew of schadenfreude.


Bookshelves: suburbia, satire, grittiest-reality, schadenfreude, alternating-povs, dark humor, brit-lit

Hard as it is to imagine, there is more to life than Hogwarts

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: twisted-fairy-tale, futuristic, sci-fi, dystopia, ya, cover-love

This book was #6 and #27 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with a robot/AI/cyborg character and a book set in a city that has hosted the Olympics, respectively. Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella featuring Cinder the cyborg, set in Beijing at an unspecified time in the future.

I chose this back in December 2019 but didn’t read it until the Covid-19 pandemic had the U.S. tight in its grasp. Dystopia; sign me up. Futuristic/sci-fi/cyborgs; cool. Reimagined fairy tale; I love those. This cover; swoon. A plague; I can definitely relate. But a plague we are actively researching, tracing, and are working hard to protect people from?!? Sorry, I don’t know how to suspend that much disbelief. Not the book’s fault, and maybe a bit prescient.

Now I’m going to sound like a crabby old lady, and so be it. Here comes the “in MY day…” In MY day, books were better edited. If I found a typo or grammatical error (that wasn’t a colloquialism and therefore intentional), it was diary-worthy. The ones I found in this book included, and I paraphrase, “Her eyes surpassed Kai as she looked across the room” and using “treatise” instead of “treaty,” more than once. I do not think those words mean what you think they mean, with a nod to Inigo Montoya.

Those things aside, this wasn’t bad. The world is well-imagined and the original fairy tale is well-twisted. I found the contrivances and characters’ actions to be a bit juvenile at times (stamping one’s foot in anger is kinda three-year-old) but it is a YA book, so, okay. It gets lots of extra points for being something my brain could escape into during these anxious and uncertain times, which is something that several other, more “literary,” books have been unable to do. It was what I needed when I needed it.

The biggest disappointment for me is that it doesn’t stand alone with its cliffhanger ending. I may or may not continue with the series.

Find a great escape with me on Goodreads

Redshirts by John Scalzi (Book Review)

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the executive suites where I used to work, there was a woman who was often in the lunchroom at the same time I was. We enjoyed discussing various things, mostly the books we were reading. Then came the day I commented on the desirability of universal health care for the U.S. She looked at me in horror and said, “Oh, you’re a SOCIALIST?” And that was that. From then on, she avoided me. Because, you know, wanting sick people to get the care they need without ending up homeless makes me a totally evil person.


Months later her company downsized, she took a severance offer, and moved to Arizona (where they have some weird-ass politics that might suit her better than liberal Seattle). I was pretty surprised when she gave me a gift as she left, a book that I like but already own.* I mean, I thought she hated me. I used the gift receipt to exchange it, and got Redshirts, which I’ve been meaning to read forever but you know how it is: so many books, so little time.

I absolutely LOVED this book.

backspace meme

Star Trek crew in red shirts always get killed + this meme = this book. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s science-y and time-travel-y, but nothing terribly heavy–a fun and thought-provoking read. And I don’t understand why so many reviewers bitch about the codas. I loved the codas.

So, thank you, Dawn. I do miss our lunchtime book chats, even if you are a Trumpette. For that reason alone I’m not sure you would also like this book, but I sincerely wish you well.

*Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, which I also recommend.

Bookshelves: sci-fi, funny, the-shit, pop-culture, outer-space, time-travel

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