The Spy and The Traitor Review

The Spy and The Traitor by Ben Macintyre takes place a year after Alexander Litvinenko, a former agent for Russia was poisoned to death in 2006. Once again the world was captivated by another former agent, one that happened to be a double agent, fighting for his life. Only this time, the act did not happen on Russian soil but took place on United Kingdom soil.

Oleg Gordievsky was living in Surrey, England and leading a quiet life. He had assumed a new name, but it was not enough to hide him from the Russians. He too was poisoned and was acutely aware that he had been marked for assassination as a result of work he did decades earlier.

As a young man, Gordievsky led the life of a double agent working in London as the KGB bureau chief. While performing his role for the KGB, Gordievsky was revealing Russian secrets to the British Government. The information he passed along was so sensitive that even top government elected officials did not know his true identity.

Gordievsky’s life Retold

The publication of Macintyre’s The Spy and The Traitor takes a detailed look into Gordievsky’s and retells his escape from the Soviet Union in the 80’s, and it is only now that we understand the true meaning of the Gordievsky file.

The cases of recent poisonings have reminded people that while the cold war is officially over, it continues to battle on. The beginning of the cold war began over 70 years ago after Igor Gouzenko defected to Canada and shared Soviet secrets shortly after the end of WWII. Gouzenko defection revealed the Soviet had built a network of agents throughout the Western world. In the 60’s another double agent defected to Russia and information shared resulted in the destruction of England’s own spy network and the death of other spies. It also resulted in England out for revenge, and that is where Oleg Gordievsky entered the picture.

His life amplifies the distrust that is common among other countries, even those that share common ground and interests. The British kept secrets from the Americans, the Americans kept secrets from the British, and that led to America taking counterintelligence measure in an effort to figure things out.

Aldrich Ames, the head of counterintelligence for America, was an acting Russian double agent, and that led to the identification of Oleg Gordievsky and his eventual demise. The book provides content about his early professional career while in Denmark, and the decision to forego the Russians in favour of the British.

Macintyre provides old-fashion journalism to track down all those involved in the case, spoke with each and recounts statements that made with respect to events as they happened. For spy lovers, this is a must read that is not only exciting but enlightening as well.

The Woman in the Window by A.J Finn

After seeing rave reviews of the novel is like the iconic “Gone Girl” which combines the highlights of old ligature and new. I had to give this novel a fair shot, and I’m still a bit undecided if I enjoyed it.

First, the book synopsis;

A woman named Anna Fox lives alone in New York City classic brownstone. Though, before this, she had a happy husband and daughter who after a having to deal with her acute agoraphobia, an anxiety-related disorder, caused a rift between the family and ultimately – the husband and daughter left. Nowadays, Anna spends her days chatting with strangers on the internet, drinking and watching movies, as well as almost creepily keep too many tabs on her neighbours. However, after a new family moves in and Anna misses her own, she suddenly realises that the Russell’s may be more malicious than one originally thought.

Just from that, this book sounded to be interesting, obviously inspired by Gone Girl, tale of personal issues combined with mysterious neighbours. In all honesty, this novel starts off like a Gone Girl knock off with the classic protagonist who is locked at home, doesn’t have a considerably normal social life, and enjoys sticking her nose into her neighbour’s personal lives. Along with that, the set up is on the lackluster side as it goes through a rundown of who the Russell’s are, Anna’s past life with her own family, her issues, her childhood therapy sessions, and constant emphasis’s being put on the ominous and shady tenant who is residing in the basement.

Predictability Turned into Twists and Turns

While the novel did start off as being predictable, it does start taking a turn and entering the realm of mystery as one of the movies that Anna is watching are events that are happening in her real world – if that makes sense. While it reads better than trying to explain, that twists are well done. At times, however, it is overshadowed by Anna’s own dialogue of constant self-gaslighting.

After getting over this, the novel continues own and begins to spiral down the path of mistrust to the int where Anna is constantly doubting her memories and previous actions after the realisation that she is truly alone. Plus, once Anna finally decides to go to the police, her seemly never-ending pile of wine and perception drugs fairs to be one of the biggest reason why they aren’t truly believing her story, even though the danger of the entire situation is steadily rising.

Despite the personal touches of Anna’s personality, this novel truly does read as another knockoff to a combination of Gone Girl as well as The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins. Though if you can get that mindset out of your head and read it as its own piece of work, then you can truly enjoy unearthing the layers of mystery of Anna and her dangerous neighbours.

On the upside, this novel isn’t just filled with constant talk of the neighbours. At points, you can see Anna’s motivation to grow and finally get outside of her apartment again. At one point, she even makes the effort to leave – which leads to a conversation with a neighbour and a night filled with drinking wine and playing chess with them. Overall, I’m going to have to give this novel 4.5. Seeing the mystery unfold as well as personal growth from Anna makes it a fun read – but the clear inspiration from other books is a bit too noticeable.

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

To say I am terribly behind on my reading for my own Shadowhunters Countdown Reading Challenge would be an understatement. I’ve also been distracted by the Shadowhunters TV show on Freeform which I love but it’s quite different from the books which most fans did not expect and are not happy about. I kind of like that it’s different. I don’t know everything that’s going to happen before it happens.

Before I review City of Ashes, here is the book description:

Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

In this breathtaking sequel to City of Bones, Cassandra Clare lures her readers back into the dark grip of New York City’s Downworld, where love is never safe and power becomes the deadliest temptation.

I loved parts of this book and hated parts of this book. It’s really hard to review it properly without giving away spoilers though. I will keep them as minor as possible.

The way the Shadowhunters deal with Valentine is just so different than in The Infernal Devices series. In The Infernal Devices, they were more about offense. Let’s get the bad guy before he gets us kind of outlook. It seems like the Shadowhunters in The Mortal Instruments are more laid back. They prefer to have a good defense and get the bad guy when he comes after them.

My biggest complaint about the book was Cassandra Clare kept the sibling attraction still going. Jace seemed pretty okay with getting it on with his sister. Can I just say ewwwww? I love a forbidden romance as much as anyone but I have my limits. Fortunately Clary was wise enough to say no even though she wanted to (which still had an ick factor). Although I can’t help but hope they really aren’t brother and sister and do end up together.

Unfortunately I read a spoiler about what happened to Simon before reading the book. (Hint: He’s not a mundane anymore!) I was really annoyed that Clary kept blaming herself for what happened. In all honesty, I’m annoyed by the Clary character in general. I just don’t find her likable but I can’t explain exactly why. Maybe it’s because she’s just so one dimensional. She wants to save her mom, but what else does she want in life? She wants Jace but can’t have him. So I guess maybe that’s two dimensions?

What keeps me reading is all the mysteries surrounding Jace and Clary origins…but do not, I repeat, do not Google anything! I just visited Shadowhunter’s Wiki and accidentally got some huge spoilers in the series. Although I admit the spoilers do make me want to read the rest of the books even more, these were things I would have rather found out as I read the series.

Another thing I disliked about the book is that Valentine summons one of the most powerful demons to do his work. How much more powerful could Valentine possibly get without unleashing the entire legions of hell? I wish they would just take him out already.

But I will keep reading because I want to know where Simon fits into Clary’s world now. I want to know if Clary and Jace’s mother wakes up and finds out she has someone in love with her. I want to see Magnus and Alec get together. The second book was written much better than the first so I expect the books to improve as I go on. I gave City of Ashes .

The Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I enjoyed the story but didn’t like Jane much so I don’t know if I will finish the series.
First the book description:

Which is more unlikely? Meeting a single, straight, reasonably attractive, willing-to-commit man? Or discovering a secret cache of magic books? For good-girl Jane Madison, neither has a shot in hell of coming true — until the day she finds a hidden room!

Yep, that’s all of it from Goodreads. I’m so used to seeing three paragraph book descriptions that it’s strange to see a three sentence blurb.

Jane is a librarian at a historical library. She’s completely obsessed with one of her patrons who she refers to as her Imaginary Boyfriend. Even when they finally get involved she keeps calling him this. I’m pretty sure Klasky wrote Imaginary Boyfriend about a hundred times. Did I mention Jane is in her twenties? No one over the age of 14 should ever use the phrase Imaginary Boyfriend, especially a grown adult.

One day Jane finds out that her salary is getting cut. She freaks out to her boss that she can no longer afford her rent and her boss shares that there just happens to be a livable home behind the historical library that no one has been in for like a hundred years. But the electricity and all the plumbing still work. Uh huh.

Jane moves in and discovers a fully stocked room full of magical books and supplies that belonged to the previous owner. Instead of being excited like a normal person she completely freaks out. She’s completely terrified like there’s serial killer in the room. Finally after relaxing a bit, she reads a spell and awakens Neko, her familar, a gay man trapped in a cat statue who is part cat. I loved the character of Neko. Was it a little unbelievable that Jane would be cool with the insta live in gay best friend? Yeah but he’s a staple trope in chick lit, so…

The book was fun and funny for awhile as Jane does various spells and hijinks ensue. Jane is all “I don’t know if I want to be a witch and learn magic” which is frankly completely unbelievable. It’s not like she had to give up anything to do it. At one point it seemed like she was giving up because it was just too hard.

At the same time as all of this happens Jane learns that her mother really isn’t dead from her grandma. This aspect of the plot wasn’t bad, it just did not fit in with the I’m-suddenly-a-witch plot. I think if this part of the plot has been eliminated it would’ve made the book much better and not as long. It was absurd that this book was 426 pages!

What is even more absurd is Jane decides to invite her Imaginary Boyfriend to her family reunion after only two dates. No one in their right mind invites a man to meet their parents after two dates much less stay the entire weekend to meet the extended family. Since Jane barely knows her Imaginary Boyfriend she starts lying to everyone in her family about the details of his background. This plot trope has been done to death in sitcoms. To read about it in a paranormal chick lit was just unforgivable. Up until the lying I could tolerate Jane but I didn’t outright hate her.

In the end, Jane does mature some and sees the errors of her ways but you have to get through 400 pages before that happens. I would expect a far more mature character from an imprint of Harlequin. I suppose in all fairness I will give this series another chance and read the second book. However this book only gets . I will say I’ve been imagining some pretty great Neko meets Magnus Bane fanfiction in my head.

Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand

I was happy to read the second installment of the Winter Street series. This is one crazy family. This review does contain spoilers because it is hard to review it without them. First the book description:

Another Christmas on Nantucket finds Winter Street Inn owner Kelley Quinn reflecting on the past year as he writes a holiday letter to friends and family. Though the year has had its share of misfortune and worry, the Quinns have much to celebrate. Kelley, now single, at least is on better terms with his first wife Margaret, who is using her celebrity to lure customers to the inn in record numbers. Their son Kevin has a beautiful new baby, Genevieve, with the Inn’s French housekeeper, Isabelle; and their daughter, Ava, is finally dating a nice guy–her devoted colleague, Scott. 

Now the Quinns are looking forward to celebrating Genevieve’s baptism, welcoming Isabelle to the family, and enjoying the cheer of Nantucket’s traditional Christmas Stroll. But just when a peaceful family gathering seems within reach, Kelley’s estranged second wife, Mitzi, shows up on the island after souring on her relationship with the inn’s former Santa Claus. Soon Kelley isn’t the only Quinn entertaining a surprise guest from Christmases past as lovers old and new gather beneath the mistletoe. With jealousy, passion, and eggnog consumption at an all-time high, it’s going to take a whole lot more than a Christmas miracle to get the Quinns–and the inn–through the holidays intact.

Do not read on if you do not want spoilers!

Overall the story seemed mostly like a game of switching partners. This was my biggest criticism of the book. It’s like Elin just decided to disassemble the new couples that formed in Winter Street and put them all back together again.

The exception is Ava who is going back and forth between  Nathaniel and Scott. She basically cheats on Scott because she’s jealous of him helping out another woman who was injured. This was beyond ridiculous and immature. Ava seems to be so insecure as a woman that it’s sickening.

The main reason I read this series is to find out if soldier Bart will be found and returned home. Of course he will but Elin is torturing us until the end. This book does give more information about what happened. I like the story of Bart being held as POW but it makes the book series rather depressing to read at Christmastime.

I also want to know if Jennifer will sober up or if her pill addiction will escalate. Again, I liked this storyline but it’s not something that I want to read in a Christmas book.

I hate having to wait a whole year to find out how this series ends. The last book won’t come out until later this year. This series is truly a soap opera but this second installment was more tightly written then the first. I was leaning towards four stars but settled on three because of the tired musical romantic relationships.

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

I heard that Nicholas Sparks’s new novel was a thriller. So when I saw this in the 7-day express section of my library I snatched it up. It kept me hooked until the end.

First the book description:

Colin Hancock is giving his second chance his best shot. With a history of violence and bad decisions behind him and the threat of prison dogging his every step, he’s determined to walk a straight line. To Colin, that means applying himself single-mindedly toward his teaching degree and avoiding everything that proved destructive in his earlier life. Reminding himself daily of his hard-earned lessons, the last thing he is looking for is a serious relationship.

Maria Sanchez, the hardworking daughter of Mexican immigrants, is the picture of conventional success. With a degree from Duke Law School and a job at a prestigious firm in Wilmington, she is a dark-haired beauty with a seemingly flawless professional track record. And yet Maria has a traumatic history of her own, one that compelled her to return to her hometown and left her questioning so much of what she once believed.

A chance encounter on a rain-swept road will alter the course of both Colin and Maria’s lives, challenging deeply held assumptions about each other and ultimately, themselves. As love unexpectedly takes hold between them, they dare to envision what a future together could possibly look like . . . until menacing reminders of events in Maria’s past begin to surface.

As a series of threatening incidents wreaks chaos in Maria’s life, Maria and Colin will be tested in increasingly terrifying ways. Will demons from their past destroy the tenuous relationship they’ve begun to build, or will their love protect them, even in the darkest hour?

Rich in emotion and fueled with suspense, SEE ME reminds us that love is sometimes forged in the crises that threaten to shatter us . . . and that those who see us for who we truly are may not always be the ones easiest to recognize. 

Geez, I don’t think that description was long enough.

I always worry a bit when an established author tries a new genre but Sparks did a great job here. Some of his fans aren’t too happy. If you are one who hates thrillers or crime dramas I can understand why you didn’t like this book. (Although it does seem he touched on the thriller genre in The Guardian as well where a stalker also kills a dog. Yes a dog gets killed in this book too.)

While it was a solid effort at a thriller it wasn’t perfect. The first 200 pages reads like a contemporary romance then suddenly switches to a thriller. Sparks doesn’t mesh the two styles together well.

Also there wasn’t enough build up of suspense. The scene where Maria’s home is trashed would have been better before the stalker confronts her not after. The story would have been better if Sparks had put small but subtle tension in the first 200 pages. Like Maria feeling she’s being watched or noticing her stuff moved around.

It was hard for me to believe Maria was in her thirties much less a lawyer. She seemed so immature to me in her speech and mannerisms. It kind of irritated me that she was so passive. Both Colin and her best friend seemed to always have to fight her battles for her. It was impossible for me to imagine her being tough enough to be an assistant DA.

However, I really liked Colin despite his horrible habit of saying okay to everything. I love underdog stories and a bad boy, bodybuilding, tattooed fighter is exactly my type. I especially liked how he turned his faults into strengths and it’s what helps him be the hero. Although I think he should change his major from teacher to criminal law because he showed he’d be an excellent detective.

The twist at the end of the book really pulled the whole story together. The mystery of who was stalking Maria kept me reading to the very end. My rating is .