Spies & lies

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
3 terms:
twisty, quick, clever

Think: Gone Girl. Then add international spies.

And that’ll
give you this tantalizing little espionage thriller—a book I challenge you not
to race through.

story has the highest number of lies-per-page of anything I’ve read in recent
history. The thing’ll keep you guessing.

set-up is this: a man and a woman—ex-lovers—meet for dinner, some years after
the woman left the CIA, where they had both worked as spies. So they’re both
adept at the lying, spying game, but wow! it gets pretty intense there. As they
talk about the old days, this isn’t your usual story of exes reliving the past.

And the
book is short—just 304 pages. So if spy books aren’t exactly your thing, you’re
only in for a short time, and it’s totally worth it.

and betrayals and surprises and “Who’s
the good guy here?” 

Perfect for a stormy summer day. 

Sinfully good

Original Sin by Beth McMullen

By far, this is the funnest book I’ve read all year. It’s even got zippy cover art and everything.

Lucy Parks Hamilton isn’t really named Lucy Parks Hamilton. Neither is she really named Sally Sin, but that really was her code name when she worked as a spy for a CIA-like agency that tracked down weapons of mass destruction.

And now she’s a stay-at-home mom. …who drops her 3-year-old son Theo at preschool, only to keep the preschool under surveillance the entire time he’s there. Apparently old habits die hard.

And so do rogue spies who turned.

Lucy/Sally’s old nemesis, Ian Blackford, was a master spy until he went to the dark side and became a deadly arms dealer. (Dude’s also deadly handsome. And has a habit of kidnapping Sally for kicks.)

And now he’s resurrected himself from the dead, so Sally’s old boss visits her to recruit her to lure Blackford. And it ain’t so very easy to balance motherhood and espionage…

Lucy/Sally can kick some serious you-know-what, and she’s also a darn good mom. It’s a charming combo.

Readers of Janet Evanovich will find that Original Sin is not as over-the-top with the humor or bizarro situations, but it has the same light touch.

And I suggest this nonfiction pairing, which, to me, feels like an even better read-alike: Lindsay Moran’s Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy. Moran worked for the CIA, and her book is a hoot.

The good news for us is that Original Sin feels like it’s going to be the first of a series. I can’t wait for more.

One of the things I can’t read about

The Jackdaws by Ken Follett
Here’s what I was wondering throughout this audiobook: Can I really count it, in good faith, as a “book I’ve read” if I skipped about 5 tracks of the CDs? Because I had to skip 5 whole tracks in order to avoid hearing scenes of torture (which I completely can’t handle as a reader/listener*). That’s a lot of torture, guys.
If I’d’ve known, I’d’ve picked a different book for the genre study, but I got partway in (and this already was my 2nd choice book, so time was a-wasting) and then discovered that one of the main characters was a Nazi who specialized in “interrogation.”
The plot: A team of women spies have to sneak into a Nazi stronghold to take out the phone system in the days before D-Day. A tough, but (of course) beautiful, woman named Flick leads the team, which runs into all kinds of horrible obstacles. Blah blah blah.
So I already knew I couldn’t handle torture scenes, but I’ve learned from this book that I really just don’t like Ken Follett. His characters seem flat to me, and I’m not all that jazzed by the plot.
Same thing with Night over Water, which I read some years ago.
Yeah, I know The Pillars of the Earth is said to be his best work, but you won’t find me reading it. I am moving on…

* Other things I can’t read about: prison, mental institutions, medical procedures, cruelty — especially cruelty to children (the first time I started a Harry Potter book, I had to put it down — that cupboard under the stairs was too much), and animals dying. I also detest “heartwarming.”

Real Short Re-Cap: The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story by Robert Baer and Dayna Baer

I adore husband-and-wife dual memoirs. When I discovered All’s Fair: Love, War, and Running for President by Mary Matalin and James Carville many years ago, there was some seriously blissful reading happening.

And here, we got spying going on, so what’s not to like?

Actually, this is the kind of book that could look promising as all heck and then crash and burn.

But it didn’t happen. (You were worried there for a minute, though, weren’t you?)

The authors both have engaging writing styles, plus a great story, so this thing has the power to keep a person reading straight through to page 143 before getting up from her chair to get more coffee. (true story)

Historical Romance Bonanza!

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig
So this is a cool thing. I’ve been sort of reading (actually listening to) some historical fiction novels.
Sort of.
Because… the books in this series (which begins with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation) actually start in the present, but then launch back into the past via the coming-alive of the research done by Eloise, the main-character-in-the-present-day. (She’s having a conflict/flirtation with a guy named Colin, who’s a British chap descended from one of the spies she is researching. Lots of Romantic Tension.)
The story-in-the-past is thoroughly entertaining and is the main focus of the book. It’s all about British spies during that nasty war England had with France back during the Jane Austen days—and about the romance those spies each had with a strong-willed woman (each also a spy, kind of).
It’s light stuff, even though there are some moments where things get all action-packed. These puppies are heavier on the romance than on the espionage, and I think it’s good.
I think I liked this second book even better than the first in the series, which is always a wee thrill.
In the first book, I was certain I had the plot all figured out early on, but I Did Not. (Love that!) This, the second book, also has a who’s-the-secret-spy question, but it felt a bit more homey because it was set in England rather than France. I liked that.
So I’ve been getting in the car and hitting “Play” straightaway and then not driving too awful fast, because I didn’t want to have to leave the story behind. Not too shabby an endorsement, eh?
And I’ve got the third book (The Deception of the Emerald Ring [dear heaven, I love that title—it reminds me of my Nancy Drew days!]) all queued up and ready to go…