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)
This book came to my attention a few years ago but I didn’t have a chance to read it until now. I really liked it and I’m torn between being sorry that it took me so long to get to it and glad that I finally did.
It fits into so many categories, historical fiction, romance (I use this one cautiously), and a mystery though it isn’t classified as one. Notice I didn’t say it was a ghost story but it is loaded with atmosphere especially as it takes place in 18th century Cambridge, England. The author shows a cloistered, mostly male, world of the academics which was political, religious and blasphemous mix, but he also offers a glimpse into the life of the people who serve that world and the Cambridge of that time. I can’t wait to read more of this author’s works. (Submitted by Renee)
A new pleasure I have recently discovered is reading books by different gender life partners writing together. I’ve explored books in Speculative Fiction, which includes Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Writing soft Sci-Fi are my new all-time favourites, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Having discovered their Liaden Universe stories last spring, I’m on my third read of my favourites of their books now, and most of my Christmas presents were their books! The intricate world building adds layers to stories which are coming of age stories, romances, space operas, and adventures. Fledgling, Necessity’s Child, Dragon in Exile, and Alliance of Equals are books available at Surrey Libraries which you can use to enter the series. The first book they wrote begins The Agent Gambit, which is available through Inter Library Loan.
On the Urban Fantasy side, Ilona Andrews is a pseudonym for another female-male writing partnership. Kate Daniels is a hard core merc with magic in her blood and a past to run from. World-building and adventure are again fantastic, and the romance is balanced with self-discovery and an appealing cast of secondary characters. Magic Bites is the first book in this series. (Submitted by Rebecca O.)
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!
From the first page, I was hooked. I liked it so much I actually read it aloud so others would also want to read it. I like the short chapters and Elan’s use of language. This book has it all, time travel, romance, family dynamics, all tied up around what would happen if an event in the past was changed by the main character. The main character doesn’t have to wonder if he is living in the wrong timeline. He knows he is. After all, he was the one who messed it up. Read this book to find out why our reality is not like the Utopian future that the 1950s predicted. (Submitted by Deanna)
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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.