August 25, 2013

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

In present-day Russia, ruled by blue-eyed, unblinking President Vladimir Putin, Russian intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the post-Soviet intelligence jungle. Ordered against her will to become a "Sparrow," a trained seductress, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a young CIA officer who handles the Agency''s most important Russian mole.

As the action careens between Russia, Finland, Greece, Italy, and the United States, Dominika and Nate soon collide in a duel of wills, tradecraft, and-inevitably-forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but those of others as well. As secret allegiances are made and broken, Dominika and Nate's game reaches a deadly crossroads. Soon one of them begins a dangerous double existence in a life-and-death operation that consumes intelligence agencies from Moscow to Washington, DC.

Occasionally I like to change up my reading routine with a good spy thriller. Enter Red Sparrow; the debut effort from Jason Matthews who is a 33-year veteran of the CIA. Red Sparrow is not filled with action sequence after action sequence but it does not need this to completely engage the reader. I love Ludlum's Jason Bourne series like everyone else but Red Sparrow is at another level. More similar to le CarrĂ©'s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Psychological, crafty, multi-layered. There is superior characterization, a grittiness and bleakness to the writing.

The author is very patient at evolving the story of the main characters. You are given a lot of information about the business of spying, the relationships, tensions and twisted motivations of the characters and none of this description is superfluous or boring. There are jewels of tradecraft language sprinkled throughout. As a reader the story felt to me like looking through a telescope sharply in focus.

Red Sparrow was immersive, compelling, undeniably honest and chilling. The book's summary does not do this novel justice. If you are attracted to spy thrillers, this novel is worthy debut into the genre and a must read. I also recommend Red Sparrow to those who have an interest in American-Russian relations and politics.

My Rating: 4.5


June 17, 2013

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Whoever dares to seek the firebird may find the journey—and its ending— unexpected.

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes sees images, glimpses of those who have owned it before. It’s never been a gift she wants, and she keeps it a secret from most people, including her practical boss Sebastian, one of London’s premier dealers in Russian art.

But when a woman offers Sebastian a small wooden carving for sale, claiming it belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There’s no proof. Sebastian believes that the plain carving—known as “The Firebird”—is worthless. But Nicola has held it, and she knows the woman is telling the truth and is in desperate need of the money the sale of the heirloom could bring.

Compelled to help, Nicola turns to a man she once left and still loves: Rob McMorran, whose own psychic gifts are far greater than hers. With Rob to help her “see” the past, she follows a young girl named Anna from Scotland to Belgium and on into Russia. There, in St. Petersburg—the once-glittering capital of Peter the Great’s Russia—Nicola and Rob unearth a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption . . . an old story that seems personal and small, perhaps, against the greater backdrops of the Jacobite and Russian courts, but one that will forever change their lives.

Have you ever read a book and thought after finishing it that the work embodied everything a work of fiction should be? That was The Firebird for me. I have read all of Susanna Kearsley's previous novels so maybe I am a bit biased. Its not often I read a book and get totally lost within it. (In a previous occupation I was a copy editor so I'm used to picking apart inconsistencies and finding errors.) The Firebird perfectly encapsulates its intention, to be a superior work of timeslip fiction.

I never thought Susanna Kearsley could out do herself either but with The Firebird she does. The present day main characters are Nicola Marter and Rob McMorran. (Although not mentioned anywhere in the novel, Rob McMorran was the boy Robbie who had special paranormal gifts in Kearsley's novel The Shadowy Horses.) The Firebird is a sequel to the historical characters in The Winter Sea...and both stories have connections to each other on multiple levels, although The Firebird works well as a standalone read. I would get frustrated with Nicola's character at times for not being stronger...and at Rob's character for not pushing Nicola enough...but then you understand their motivations at the end. Plus Anna's story in the historical part of the novel has a very satisfying conclusion to the historical events in The Winter Sea.

The story unfolds so naturally that the surprises leave you feeling wonder at Kearsley's cleverness of revealing information. I had just reread The Winter Sea and I was still caught flat-footed at times as The Firebird unfolded. Anyways its hard to discuss the story without revealing spoilers, so I think its best if you read the story yourself!  Highly recommended for adult reading. Must read for Kearsley fans. This book will make you want to read her entire backlist, which I highly recommend as well.

My Rating: 5.0


Related Links
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

January 26, 2013

Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer

Beautiful Deborah Grantham, mistress of her aunt''s elegant gaming house, must find a way to restore herself and her aunt to respectability, preferably without accepting either of two repugnant offers. One is from an older, very rich and rather corpulent lord whose reputation for licentious behavior disgusts her; the other from the young, puppyish scion of a noble family whose relatives are convinced she is a fortune hunter.

Max Ravenscar, uncle to her young suitor, comes to buy her off, an insult so scathing that it leads to a volley of passionate reprisals, escalating between them to a level of flair and fury that can only have one conclusion...

I so love Georgette Heyer!! I have read almost all of her "romance" and historical offerings now.  Faro's Daughter is a much shorter story with more angst and passion, less sweetness compared to her other novels. The hero and heroine try to get the best of each other with misunderstandings along the way. Also the heroine is a faro dealer in her aunt's gambling room, not the stereotypical life of a gentlewoman for that period of time.

Highly recommended for Heyer fans and a great book to start with as a first Heyer read. 

My Rating: 5.0


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Six Georgette Heyer Mini Reviews
Powder and Patch

January 15, 2013

Deeper than the Dead by Tami Hoag

California, 1985-Four children and young teacher Anne Navarre make a gruesome discovery: a partially buried female body, her eyes and mouth glued shut. A serial killer is at large, and the very bonds that hold their idyllic town together are about to be tested. Tasked with finding the killer, FBI investigator Vince Leone employs a new and controversial FBI technique called "profiling", which plunges him into the lives of the four children-and the young teacher whose need to uncover the truth is as intense as his own. But as new victims are found, Vince and Anne find themselves circling the same small group of local suspects, blissfully unaware that someone very near to them is a murderous psychopath...

I have read most of Tami Hoag's novels and I'm not sure why I waited so long to start reading her Deeper than the Dead/Oak Knoll series. All three books are now out in paperback.

I do love a good thriller, especially with a sliver of romance. Tami Hoag, in my opinion, surpassed all her previous efforts with Deeper than the Dead. What makes DTTD so chilling and unique are the POVs from the four children who came across the dead body in the park. There are a great cast of characters, which include the parents of the children, and we get to briefly see their POVs as well. Identifying the villain is not so easy. The story has been edited very well and is the perfect length.

The main thing to know about DTTD is that its set in 1985, before DNA testing and technology became prevalent...even before behavioural profiling became standard procedure in serial killings. The 80s setting feels very authentic. I find the story even more interesting when compared to all the technological advancement we have today.

Bar none: this is a perfect thriller and great start to the Oak Knoll series. The second book is Secrets to the Grave, the third Down the Darkest Road.

My Rating: 4.5