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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50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany by Steven Pressman

50children

This is a true story about a very small group of people who decided to rescue 50 Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939-legally. The idea came from someone who was the head of a Jewish fraternal society in Philadelphia. He proposed that this society could rescue 50 children from Nazi occupied Germany and escort them to the USA where they could be fostered (both physically and financially) by other Jewish families until the rest of the children’s family could immigrate to the USA.  This size of group, coming from Germany, all children, had never been done before. The enormity of this quest was not fully realized as political (both German and American), religious, and emotional barriers all had to be overcome. Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were the people to head up the American Calvary to rescue 50 children, and in doing so, potentially rescue 50 German families as well.  Constant worries about visas, health concerns, language differences, as well as taking these children from living parents and other siblings, weighed heavily on the Kraus couple’s mind. This book reads like a suspense novel where time is ticking away and you never know when things are going to change.  Take a read and find out if there was a happy ending! (Submitted by Jamie)

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Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936

mary_astor_purple_diaryThis book caught my eye because of the cover; yes I judge books by their cover. The author, Edward Sorel, is a cartoonist, illustrator, and caricaturist whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and many other magazines. Given his career he chose to do an illustrated biography on the actress Mary Astor after a serendipitous find while renovating his New York apartment in the 1960’s. I found it refreshing to read a bio where the author intersperses his subject’s life with anecdotes of his own; it gave a context to both. The fact that he illustrated it was icing on the cake. Many of the scandals we hear about in the entertainment field now are nothing new, it appears they have been around since there are been actors on stage – just a play being reworked and put back on view again for a new generation (Submitted by RZW)

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Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

StargirlYoung Adult book, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli transports you to the fictitious town of Mica, Arizona. The narrator, Leo Borlock, attends high school and leads a very ordinary life just like all of his classmates. The normal lives of these students are shaken up when eccentric home school student, Stargirl Caraway, transfers and captivates the entire student body with her unusual antics. While at first the students are fascinated by her, they quickly turn on her when her peppy demeanour causes her to cheer for the school’s rival basketball team and she becomes a traitor. When the students start to shun her and anyone who is close with her, Leo is forced to decide on whether he will side with the students and once again live a normal life, or stand by Stargirl’s side and defend her non-conformity.

 

This is one of my favorite reads, especially in bad weather, because of the way Spinelli transports the reader into the hot Sonoran desert, where cacti grow tall and Stargirl spends her time exploring, meditating, and conversing with the wise paleontologist, Archie, and his dying cactus, Senor Saguaro. The characters are also a huge factor in my enjoyment of this novel because of their many layers and quirks. The theme of the book deals with the student body’s herd mentality and their reaction to someone who is different, which is always a relevant and relatable topic. This is a beautifully written story, packed full of desert imagery and meaningful life lessons, perfect for any age. (Submitted by DC)

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New York Times Bestseller, Parents Choice Gold Award Winner, ALA Top Ten Best Books Award winner, Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year

Sequel – Love, Stargirl