Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

red sparrowIf you thought the cutthroat deep espionage of the Cold War ended when the Berlin wall came down, you would be wrong. Enter Jason Matthews’ 2013 spy novel Red Sparrow. Set in modern day Putin’s Russia, where prison camps still exist and one wrong move will sentence you to disappear to a Siberian basement and endure unending inhumane torture tactics, a world still very much entrenched in obsession with clawing back the Soviet glory days and competing with the great enemy (USA), the story follows the beautiful young Russian Dominika Egorova, a would-be ballerina who becomes a spy when her dance career is thwarted by injury. Dominika’s Uncle, a desperate-to-prove-himself ex KGB member, assigns her to train at Sparrow school, where she trains to be an expert in sexual and romantic espionage. Her eventual target: Nate Nash, an American CIA operative who is vulnerable to Russian recruitment only after making a series of career tarnishing blunders. Unbeknownst to Dominika, Nate is assigned to recruit her to be a double agent for the CIA. What transpires is a thrilling, fast paced journey through Europe and New York. Matthews really knows the spy world: he used to be a CIA operative himself. In Red Sparrow, he has created a twisting, turning, suspenseful and incredibly well written spy novel that hooked me from page 1. Though it is fiction, the subject matter taught me a lot about the current tension between the US and Russia, and helped me to understand much of the reason behind many of Russia’s decisions. The characters were fully fleshed out and interesting; the choices they make over the course of the novel kept me on the edge of my seat. It did not surprise me to see that the book has been made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton.  If this isn’t enough to sell you on it, there is a delicious traditional Russian recipe at the end of every single chapter. (Submitted by Mandi)

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Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

medicine walk

A beautifully, sparely written novel about a young man and his estranged father, who find themselves on a final walk together. Franklin Starlight, an Ojibway teenager, knows next to nothing about his family, or his past. Along comes (returns) Eldon, his alcoholic absentee father, who takes Franklin on a last “medicine walk” to try and reconnect and finally share Frank’s history.

This was so beautiful. There are no saccharine, overtly emotional scenes. Richard Wagamese writes with careful expertise, and we share so much with these two characters without having too much unneccesary actual dialogue. Nature plays a great and important role, calming and vast, giving the Starlight men a world to disappear into.

This is a story about making mistakes, finding forgiveness, and moving on. There are no pleading excuses from Eldon, no righteous speeches from Frank. The themes of loyalty, family, love, and finding peace within yourself are all here, and explored beautifully. I look forward to reading more of Wagamese’s titles. (Submitted by Veronica)

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Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

molokaiIf you’ve ever been a member of a book club, you would know that it’s rare when everyone gets to like the same book. Usually,  there are opposing opinions. Not with this book! A dozen of people gave it 4 stars out of 5. Impressive! We thought it was well written, easy to read, interesting, based on historical facts which allowed us all to learn something new or expand what bits and pieces we already knew.

The novel focuses on the leprosy epidemic of late 19th and early 20th century  in Hawaii. The disease was little understood at the time and was spreading so much that the government naturally decided to quarantine the sick. However, the quarantine part was rather radical. People with disease were sent away to an island and that was their doomed, last destination since there were no effective treatments available. Even more disheartening is that children were treated the same as adults – they were sent away too, torn away from their families. The main character in the book is Rachel Kalama. She gets to be sent away when she is 6 years old. The story follows her life, as she grows up, and faces various challenges. The ending is not all ‘cakes and roses’, but it’s not bad at all and you are left in a positive mood regardless of a heavy subject. (Submitted by Mariya)

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

the rosie project

I forgot the last time I read a book and laughed so much. The Rosie Project sure made me smile and chuckle more than a few times. The main character, Don Tillman, has an Asperger’s syndrome – a condition that is pretty much permanent in one’s life and clearly not a laughable matter. However, once you meet Don and get to know his way of thinking and his approach to life, you begin to ease a little and think- things are not that bad for Don, actually he seems like he figured out life better than most people. Don adores order, rules, predictability and it’s easy to label him as rigid and control-loving. But, he is also a nice, smart, talented, kind, and caring person.

Fun begins when Don decides to seriously look into his “Wife Problem” (he is in his late 30s and single) and this is how the “Wife Project” gets underway. Don Tillman, being a scientist (geneticist to be exact) approaches the love aspect of life fully prepared, with scientific research and measurements. Find out what happens next! (Submitted by Mariya)

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If you fall in love with The Rosie Project, read The Rosie Effect afterwards!

 

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

h-is-for-hawk-cover

Enjoyed reading this book of nonfiction, which has three story-lines. The first storyline involves the author’s lifelong fascination with the sport of falconry, and how she comes to own and train a goshawk named Mabel. The book is also a memoir of grief: MacDonald makes the decision to purchase and train Mabel as she deals with the sudden death of her father, which leaves her lost and unmoored. Yet another storyline is a sort of mini-biography of TH White, the author best known for writing The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone. As well as these Arthurian novels, White wrote a work of non-fiction titled The Goshawk about trying and ultimately failing to train a hawk. MacDonald writes about White’s tortured life, and how his own struggles and shortcomings impacted his efforts to train his hawk. You’ll enjoy this if you like literary fiction or non-fiction, memoirs, or well-written nature writing. (Submitted by David)

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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

me-before-youMe Before You has an unusual twist which really saves the novel from being another redundant Jane Eyre-Cinderella type of story.

Louisa Clark is a simple girl with down-to-earth expectations of life. She is from a working class family, living in a little town. At a first glance, she is unremarkable, except for her peculiar tastes in fashion. However, when you get to know Lou, you see that she has such a vibrant personality: her liveliness, optimism, perseverance, and kindness can fuel the universe for years to come!

William Traynor is a handsome, successful, daring, witty, and rich young man.

Lou and Will would have been a cliche-perfect romantic pair. But, here is where the author takes matters into her hands and writes an unexpected destiny for the couple. Will ends up in a road accident that leaves him a quadriplegic. Ironically, that’s when the beauty of the story kicks in.

After you are done with the book, borrow a movie! Still want more? Get the sequel – After You.

Surrey Libraries have them all: the book, the movie, and the sequel. Just drop by your local branch! (Submitted by Mariya)

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Image result for the martian bookI was told to read The Martian by outside sources which initially made me resist the idea (as did the imminent movie and general dislike for mass consumption Sci Fi novels).  This was a mistake. By far my favourite read of 2015, The Martian exceeded my expectations. Told through the voice of Mark Watney, a sarcastic Botonist/Astronaut/General Fix-it Man, the reader is swept into a survival story like none before: survival on Mars! Mark Watney is abandoned on Mars after a sandstorm separates him from his crew. He must employ his considerable skills to survive and possibly make it back to earth. Andy Weir manages to combine plausible science and edge of your seat drama to write this compelling tale.  The constant cliff hangers and hilarious wit of Mark Watney made this not only a read all night book, but also a read twice in one week book! (Submitted by CB).

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