what I’m reading: red sparrow by jason matthews.

I’m not going to lie. I put this book on hold because I wanted to read it after seeing the movie that came out this year starring Jennifer Lawrence. I was surprised at how popular this book and its sequels are – there was a really long hold time at the library. I put the book on hold when the movie came out in March and the e-book just became available to check out.

The two main characters in Red Sparrow are Dominika Egorova and Nathanial Nash. Dominika was a prima ballerina until her career was sabotaged by a jealous dancer in the company. Desperate to find a way to provide for her mother, Dominika is approached by her uncle, a high-ranking intelligence officer, who offers her a position in Russia’s spy network. But her uncle has his own agenda and forces Dominika into becoming a Sparrow, operatives who are trained to seduce their targets. Underestimated by her colleagues, Dominika learns to use her wits and body to get what she wants.

Nate Nash is a CIA officer who is the handler of a Russian spy, code-named MARBLE. When a planned meet-up goes wrong and MARBLE is almost discovered, Nate is exiled to Helsinki. Russian intelligence knows there is a spy leak and knows Nate is involved somehow but does not know the identity of MARBLE. Dominika is sent to observe and seduce Nate to see if she can figure out who the mole is.

I enjoyed this book. I found it to be an intriguing spy novel with covert operations, clandestine meetings at safe houses, and a lot of sneaking around. It’s a book where you don’t know who you can trust, but that just makes the story all the better.

Did I think Red Sparrow was a great and fantastic book? Not really. There’s a lot of sexism and stereotypes. At times I wondered if I was reading a book written in the 1950s. I also felt some of the sexual content was a little over the top and I found myself rolling my eyes. The author is a former CIA agent which is evident in all of the terminology and surveillance techniques in the book. But while the author is superb at writing these spy depictions, his skill at writing romance and sex scenes leave a lot to be desired in my opinion.

The best and most random part of this book may be the recipes. Each chapter ends with a recipe for a food or dish that was mentioned in the previous chapter. There are a lot of mentions of food and eating food in this book and I found myself trying to guess which meal would show up as the recipe.

The movie Red Sparrow does a fairly good job of following the book. There are some differences in the book and the movie and, as usual, the book goes more in depth. I found that I understood more of what was going on in the film since the book explains some things that are not clear in the movie.

Like I said – for the most part I enjoyed this book and I’ve already put the next 2 books on hold at the library.

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what I’m reading: let me lie by clare mackintosh.

Anna Johnson’s parents committed suicide last year. Her dad jumped off a cliff and several months later, her mother jumped off the same cliff. Anna has been struggling to go on when, on the anniversary of her mother’s death, she receives a card in the mail that suggests her mother did not commit suicide but was killed. What is Anna to do?

The first part of this story was a bit slow but then I was pulled in. I don’t know if I’ve been reading too many psychological thrillers lately but I find it’s getting difficult to read them because I’m always looking for the twist, I’m always trying to figure out what really is going on. I read every sentence with skepticism and question every remark and action characters make.

Of course there was a twist in this book and I was on the lookout for it, which perhaps hindered my enjoyment of the book because I kept waiting for that twist and revelation to show up.

But what I really loved in this story was the way the author depicts human emotion. All of the emotions that Anna feels as a new mother, combined with her feelings of anger and sadness at her parents, really put an intriguing touch on an otherwise boring character.

My favorite character may have been Detective Murray Mackenzie. He is technically retired but works as a civilian at the police station and is the one on duty when Anna appears with the card about her mother. I found his personal story to be quite compelling; his wife is mentally ill and struggles with depression and it’s those human emotions (again) that drew me in.

what I’m reading: the girl before by rena olsen.

The Girl Before was my bookclub’s latest book read and I have to say I was not a fan. Everyone else seemed to like it, but I thought this book was terribly boring.

Clara’s life is devastated in an instant – the police knock down her door and invade her house, arrest her husband Glen, and take her children. Clara is sent to a women’s institution where she is questioned by the police. Despite the continued interrogations, Clara refuses to tell the police about her former life before the police raided her home, her husband Glen and their family, or her in-laws.

The book goes back and forth between the past and present – Then and Now. ‘Then’ is Clara’s life growing up and meeting and marrying Glen. ‘Now’ covers the present and the time that Clara is in the women’s institution. Clara’s past is slowly untangled as we learn about her life growing up with Mama and Papa G. She doesn’t understand why Glen has been arrested and why the police keep asking her all these questions.

There are 2 main reasons why I didn’t care for this book:

1. The book goes back and forth between Then and Now. What I found annoying was that each Then/Now part is only about 2-3 pages before it switches back. It was a bit jarring, like when you watch a movie and the scene keeps changing to a completely new scene after only 1 or 2 minutes. I found myself reading and thinking I’m in the past, I’m in the past, nope now I’m in the present, in the present, and now I’m back in the past. I recognize that telling a story in the past and present is a good technique that authors use, but here it was annoying and I just wish the author had made the scenes longer as I kept getting pulled out of the book.

2. Nothing happens. A huge part of the Now section in the book involves the police interrogating Clara about Glen and his family. Predictably, Clara stays quiet and doesn’t answer any of their questions. The problem is that this same scenario is repeated for over half the book. I was reading this on my Kindle I got to over 50%, probably more like 65%, before Clara finally did something and started answering the police’s questions. It was just the same, repetitive, boring scenes over and over. The rest of the book is just Clara telling the police what they want to know and getting them information. Seriously, over half the book is the police trying to get Clara to cooperate with them and her saying no.

I didn’t feel there was a lot of suspense in this book because I figured out what was happening within the first few pages; there was no real reveal for me. I thought Clara had the capability to be an interesting character but she was too frustratingly naïve, even when the truth about Glen was right in front of her.

On a side note, I looked this book up in Goodreads to add to my books and there are tons of books that begin with “the girl before”. What’s the deal? What are they all before of?

what I’m reading: into the drowning deep by mira grant.

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” about mermaids. All contact was lost and when the ship was finally located, it was deserted. The only sign of the crew was bits of found footage that showed the crew being slaughtered by some sort of mermaid-like creatures. Most people wrote the footage off as a hoax, but there are those that believe the footage is real. Now, a new crew and boat has been assembled. Their mission – to go back to the Mariana Trench and discover what happened to the Atargatis. For Victoria Stewart, this might be the only chance she has to figure out what really happened to her sister all those years ago.

This book combines horror, science, and humor, and I really liked it. There is a huge cast of characters, and I thought they all brought something interesting to the story. There are big game hunters brought on board to hunt the mermaids, media personalities to report on everything that is happening, security, doctors, and of course scientists. There are many different types of scientists, as well as plenty that I had never even heard of before. The story is told from a variety of view points and I liked reading about the story from the different characters.

The science plays a large role. This book is science fiction and is filled with a plethora of scientific “facts”. I’ll be honest – I don’t know how much of the facts in this book were real. But I kept reading like it was all real. The facts just made the story all the more compelling.

There’s a lot of tension in the book. Mainly because the characters are trapped in the middle of the ocean on a boat and have nowhere to escape to. You know something is going to happen, but you don’t know what it is. This isn’t a book that wonders if mermaids exist. We, as the readers, know that they do. We are just waiting until the characters in the book figure it out as well.

I don’t know much about the author but I have to wonder what her background is. It wasn’t until I was finished reading the book that I realized there is a prequel that explains exactly what happened to the Atargatis.

what I’m reading: memory man by david baldacci.

Memory Man was my book club’s latest pick. Everyone loved the book; it was a great read.

After being violently injured in a football game, Amos Decker was left with an unbelievable side effect – a photographic memory that ensures he will never forget anything. It’s that memory that made him a great police detective, and it’s that memory that hasn’t let him forget the tragic murder of his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law. Since that horrific night, Amos left his job and his home and ekes out a simple living as a private investigator, living out of a motel. More than a year later, Amos is pulled back into the police world when a horrific event occurs that becomes linked to the murder of his family. In order to find out the truth of what happened, Amos must revisit that night and brave the memories he cannot forget.

I really enjoyed this book. The character of Amos Decker is an interesting and complex character. I loved that he is flawed and not a typical protagonist – he is overweight and out of shape, he has no tact, and doesn’t care what most people think. His memory makes him incredibly brilliant, as he is able to rewind and replay any event he has experienced since his football collision. He’s extremely curt and blunt and it takes a while to warm up to Amos, but I enjoyed the character.

I found this book to be a quick read, as I could not stop turning the pages. I found myself reading at random times because I would get sucked in. I would read on the bus to work and then would get angry when I was at my stop because I had to stop reading and I wanted to know what happened. I was constantly on the edge of my seat.

Memory Man is the first in a series and sets the basis for an interesting series. Without a doubt, I will be continuing reading.

what I’m reading: white bodies by jane robins.

From a young age, Callie has been obsessed with her twin sister Tilda. Callie spends her time watching and observing as Tilda grows up to be an actress while Callie spends her days working in a bookstore. When Tilda invites Callie over to meet her new boyfriend Felix, Callie is struck by how neat, tidy, and domineering Felix is. Callie watches as Tilda seems to stop eating, stop acting, and does everything that Felix tells her.

Callie becomes even more worried when Tilda shows up with bruises on her arms. Convinced that Felix is hurting Tilda, Callie joins an internet support group for controlling men where she becomes friends with some of the anonymous women posting on the forum. But when one of the women is killed by an abusive man and then Felix turns up dead, Callie begins to doubt herself and soon starts to wonder if Felix was murdered.

I’m sitting here, thinking of what I want to say about this book. On the one hand, I didn’t like any of the characters and I didn’t connect to anyone in this book. The characters were unreliable, creepy, and I didn’t understand anyone’s motivation. The central premise of the book revolves around Tilda and Callie’s strange twin/sister relationship. Callie is odd and a bit too obsessed with her sister. I found myself cringing at most of the things she did and conclusions she would jump to. We don’t learn much about Tilda, as we only see her through Callie’s eyes and how she interacts and speaks with Callie. Tilda’s motivations were always unclear and I didn’t really understand either her or Callie.

On the other hand, I thought the overall plot was creative and it kept me reading, despite the lack of character development. There’s a nod to “Strangers on a Train” and I felt that the mystery surrounding Felix’s death was really intriguing.

I would have liked a longer ending. I think that if there were more explanation, the characters would have seemed more real. Additionally, although the mystery was solved at the end, there were a couple of minor plot points that weren’t resolved which bothered me. This book may have been just a little too peculiar for me.

what I’m reading: nightblind by ragnar jónasson.

Nightblind is the next book in the Dark Iceland series and takes place 5 years after the events of Snowblind. Ari Thór Arason is a policeman in the town of Siglufjörður, a remote fishing village in Northern Iceland. His old partner has since moved south to Reykjavik and a new policeman has taken his place. When the new policeman is murdered during a routine patrol, Ari Thór worries that he could be next.

The Dark Iceland series consists of six books, all of them published in Icelandic. While Nightblind is not technically the 2nd book in the series, it is the 2nd book to be translated into English. Since the events in the first book, Snowblind, a lot has happened to Ari Thór. His girlfriend has moved to the city and they have a son together. He is no longer the new guy in town and is more confident of himself and as a police officer.

This book had a bit of a different tone than the last. The Arctic winter is closing in but there wasn’t that since of darkness and isolation that I felt in Snowblind. Unfortunately, I also wasn’t as invested in the murder. There were a couple of subplots about some of the other characters that I felt were way more interesting.

Additionally, the story is interspersed with journal entries from a psychiatric ward patient. It’s not clear until the end who the patient is or what connection they have to the story, but I was definitely more interested in that sub plot than in figuring out who killed the other policeman.

This book was fairly short, a little more than 200 pages, which surprised me. I am enjoying reading about this northern Icelandic village.