Palace of Treason

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash, #2)Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book feels very much like a continuation of the first book, Red Sparrow. Even the recipes are continued at the end of each chapter. The title is a slang term for the Kremlin. It could possibly stand alone, but I would recommend reading in order. The first book was brilliant. This one feels not as tightly plotted. Some of the quirks of the characters, like Dominika’s synesthesia, are interesting, but this time around it seemed to have no bearing on the plot or her actions. Likewise, her ability to see the ghosts of dead friends. If there is a point to this, perhaps it will come out in the third book. Strong on characterization, insider knowledge, pacing, and humor. Warning for some readers – there is graphic sex and torture, and the action can be quite chilling at times.

Book description: Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service despises the oligarchs, crooks, and thugs of Putin’s Russia—but what no one knows is that she is also working for the CIA. Her “sparrow” training in the art of sexual espionage further complicates the mortal risks she must take, as does her love for her handler Nate Nash—a shared lust that is as dangerous as treason. As Dominika expertly dodges exposure, she deals with a murderously psychotic boss, survives an Iranian assassination attempt and attempts to rescue an arrested double agent—and thwart Putin’s threatening flirtations.

 

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After You

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to Me Before You is every bit as good. But don’t expect it to be like Me Before You. Lou has changed. Will’s death left a hole in her heart that money and travel has not healed. Jojo Moyes gives us an unflinching look at love and loss, and how sometimes it takes a devastating accident, and to have our world turned upside down before we find how to move on. I loved all the zany characters and all their faults. I have half a mind to read everything else Jojo Moyes has ever written…

Book Description: Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started. Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

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Orphan Train

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another winner. Perhaps a bit too good to be true, happy-ever-after, but who cares? We all need a good Hallmark movie of a book now and then. My great-grandmother was sent to Canada at age 6 as one of the “Home Children” so this is a topic that interests me.

Book Description: Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both. Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

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The Land of Dreams

The Land of DreamsThe Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first book in the “Minnesota” trilogy, this won the Riverton Prize for best Norwegian crime novel in 2008 and was named by Dagbladet as one of the top twenty-five Norwegian crime novels of all time. My three-star rating probably reflects my fatigue for current reading projects and book club books, and it’s time to read something just for fun! Although written by a Norwegian, the author spent two years living on the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is a brilliant evocation of the people, history and culture of the area. So 5 stars for atmosphere. The style I think is typically Scandinavian – spare, dark, and haunting. It’s as much a psychological study as it is a murder mystery. The pace drags and gets bogged down in details from time to time. If you don’t live in Minnesota, the details of history and geography could be boring. We learn far more about Lance and his conflicted life than anything to do with the murder. And, as the final line shows (“This is just the beginning, he thought.”), nothing is resolved by the end of the book. If you really, really like atmospheric noir and conflicted narrators, this is probably a great book and you’ll go on to read the other two. I want something different now.

Book Description: The grandson of Norwegian immigrants, Lance Hansen is a U.S. Forest Service officer and has a nearly all-consuming passion for local genealogy and history. But his quiet routines are shattered one morning when he comes upon a Norwegian tourist brutally murdered near a stone cross on the shore of Lake Superior. Another Norwegian man is nearby; covered in blood and staring out across the lake, he can only utter the word kjærlighet. Love. FBI agent Bob Lecuyer is assigned to the case, as is Norwegian detective Eirik Nyland, who is immediately flown in from Oslo. As the investigation progresses, Lance begins to make shocking discoveries—including one that involves the murder of an Ojibwe man on the very same site more than one hundred years ago. As Lance digs into two murders separated by a century, he finds the clues may in fact lead toward someone much closer to home than he could have imagined.

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I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was fascinated to learn more about the young girl, Malala, who gained the attention of the world when her fight for girls’ education made her a target of the Taliban. She tells of her family, her school friends, her drive to be at the top of her class, her father’s dream to build a school, her love of her homeland (the Swat Valley of Pakistan), her faith in God/Allah, and enough history and politics to understand her story. I was fascinated by her description of the Buddhist statues left by earlier settlers before the Muslim country was created, I laughed at her telling how she and her friends would play “Twilight” – from the books (and DVDs) about vampires, I got angry about the senselessness and violence of the Taliban agenda, I cheered at her courage and resilience, and I am sad that she and her family had to find a new home in Britain. One child, one teacher, one book, one pen – yes, it can change the world.

Book Description: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The audiobook contains a PDF file of the photos in the book.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford NovelSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford Novel by Jan Karon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m giving this 4 stars, but only because it’s an opportunity to revisit a beloved place, and old familiar characters. If you haven’t read the other Mitford novels, you may want to start at the beginning. This book is a bit rambling and doesn’t really go anywhere in particular. No crises to overcome, no dramatic conversions, no big miracles – just catching up with our characters as they get on with life in a small town, where people DO take care of each other, and where prayer is the solution to everything. This is Mayberry RFD for the 21st century. I especially enjoyed the thread of Father Tim working at the bookstore. Not all is resolved in the end, so I’m sure there will be more books to come.

Book description: After five hectic years of retirement from Lord’s Chapel, Father Tim Kavanagh returns with his wife, Cynthia, from a so-called pleasure trip to the land of his Irish ancestors. While glad to be at home in Mitford, something is definitely missing: a pulpit. But when he’s offered one, he decides he doesn’t want it. Maybe he’s lost his passion. His adopted son, Dooley, wrestles with his own passion—for the beautiful and gifted Lace Turner, and his vision to become a successful country vet. Dooley’s brother, Sammy, still enraged by his mother’s abandonment, destroys one of Father Tim’s prized possessions. And Hope Murphy, owner of Happy Endings bookstore, struggles with the potential loss of her unborn child and her hard-won business. All this as Wanda’s Feel Good Café opens, a romance catches fire through an Internet word game, their former mayor hatches a reelection campaign to throw the bums out, and the weekly Muse poses a probing inquiry: Does Mitford still take care of its own?

Red Sparrow

Red SparrowRed Sparrow by Jason Matthews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4 1/2 stars. Not my usual genre, but I enjoyed this a lot. This is contemporary Russia under Putin, told with all the insider knowledge of a former CIA operative. We follow the careers of two young people – Nathaniel Nash with the CIA and Dominika Egorova with the SVR trying to recruit each other, a CIA mole looking to find and train his replacement, a senator’s wife who is a Russian mole, and a ruthless Russian assassin. The characters are fascinating, and even minor characters are well developed. Dominika is a synesthete who can read emotions by the colors around people. The author certainly knows his stuff. My eyes glazed over a few times from all the acronyms, and the procedural details. He also clearly loves food, and describes meals in great detail. Somewhat incongruously for a thriller, there are brief recipes given at the end of each chapter, and I found myself trying to guess what the recipe would be as I listened to this audiobook. I will definitely be looking out for the next book in the series with Nash and Dominika.

Book description: State intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the cast-iron bureaucracy of post-Soviet intelligence. Drafted against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress in the service, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a first-tour CIA officer who handles the CIA’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception, and, inevitably, a forbidden spiral of carnal attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s most valuable mole in Moscow. Seeking revenge against her soulless masters, Dominika begins a fateful double life, recruited by the CIA to ferret out a high-level traitor in Washington; hunt down a Russian illegal buried deep in the US military and, against all odds, to return to Moscow as the new-generation penetration of Putin’s intelligence service. Dominika and Nathaniel’s impossible love affair and twisted spy game come to a deadly conclusion in the shocking climax of this electrifying, up-to-the minute spy thriller.