If 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)
Written in 2007, 5 Centimeters Per Second by Makoto Shinkai, is a Manga novelization of an anime movie by the same name. The manga is illustrated by Seike Yukiko. The story is set in the early 1990’s when cellphones and email have not gained widespread use. This is an important plot device in this tale of unrequited love, missed meetings, and miscommunication.
The protagonist is Takaki Tono who falls in love with Akari Shinohara when they are still in elementary school. The story follows Takaki’s loss of contact with Akari due to it being a long distance relationship and his journey trying to restart their communication and relationship into adulthood. (Submitted by Shane)
To say that Myrtle (“Tilly”) Dunnage had a traumatic childhood would be an understatement. At the age of ten, Tilly is accused of a serious crime and as a result – taken away from her single mother and evicted from the village of Dungatar, the only world she has ever known.
Twenty years later, to everyone’s astonishment, Tilly Dunnage re-enters the lives of Dungatar villagers. On her return, Tilly finds her mother, Molly, to be half mad from all those years of sorrow, loneliness, and poverty; the rest of the village and its residents remain almost unchanged except for the fact that everyone grew up or aged. There is much resentment, hate, and fear directed toward Tilly and her mother. However, Tilly is not a Cinderella type of a girl that would cry away in an attic waiting for some magical intervention; she is quite a character and that combined with her acquired skills in clothing design and sewing – make her a revolutionary ready to ignite some change. Armed with a Singer sewing machine, Tilly transforms people and the world around her. Myrtle Dunnage instigates a fashion revolution in Dungatar which is closely accompanied by revenge directed at those who did her wrong.
Rosalie Ham did a terrific job depicting a little village and its residents, as well as the major background– Australia in 1950s.
Supplement the book with the movie starring Kate Winslet as Tilly Dunnage. Costumes and actors’ play are definitely worth watching (Submitted by Mariya).
I can’t think of a better summer read than David Grann’s 2009 book, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. This is the fascinating, page turning, nail biting true story of Percy Fawcett, a real-life Indiana Jones type adventurer who inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World”, dedicated his life to finding the lost city of El Dorado deep in the Amazonian jungle, and the mystery of what became of him. The task of finding El Dorado is an unimaginably dangerous one; many hundreds have tried, and few have come out of the jungle alive, most disappearing without a trace, even as late as a 1996 expedition where none (of sixteen strong) was ever seen or heard from again. We watch this story unfold through a humorous and unlikely lens: an admittedly out of shape journalist from New York with no experience in the field deciding to go to the jungle and hunt for clues about Fawcett’s journey, 80 years later. Beginning with Fawcett’s early adventuring days hunting down legendary caves filled with gold and jewels in colonial Sri Lanka, to his days “learning how to be an adventurer” in the Royal Geographical Society, and finally to his final days trekking through the Bolivian rainforest, I could not put this book down and it sent me on a series of frenzied Google searches, my mind hungry for more information. I already plan to re-read this book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves a well written mystery with a side of history. (Submitted by Mandi)
You are welcome to borrow The Lost City of Z at Surrey Libraries!
coming soon: movie adaptation – DVD
Me 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.
This DVD documents country superstar Glen Campbell’s final cross country farewell tour before he completely succumbed to his Stage 4 Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This bittersweet documentary is at times heart wrenching, funny, nostalgic, and frightening. If one word to describe this film might be used to summed up this herculean effort it could be “brave.” He played 151 shows over a period of a year and a half, and was still rocking to the end. (Submitted by MB).
What We Do in the Shadows is a spoof mockumentary following the everyday life of four flatmates in New Zealand, who also happen to be vampires. One of the stars is Jemaine Clement (as Vladislav) from the popular TV comedy series Flight of the Conchords. They discuss how they manage to “blend in” with humans and what the main problems with humans are. We follow them as they prepare and go out for a night on the town, and we find out how they joke around and what they find humorous, etc. I particularly enjoyed the individual secret interviews where they complain about each other. Don’t miss watching the extras either as they are a series of hilarious skits about everyday events. (Submitted by Melanie).