The Secrets We Kept

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott is an adult historical fiction novel set during the Cold War.

In the midst of the Cold War, the CIA believe that the only way to fight the Russian regime is by changing ideology through literature. In the hopes of smuggling Doctor Zhivago, a radical book according to Russian standards, past the Iron Curtain, the agency recruits two secretaries, out of the typing pool to help achieve this end.

Sally Forrester, is glamorous, charming and seasoned spy who proved herself during WWII. Irina is a new recruit, pulled off the street for her ability to go unnoticed in a crowd. Sally trains Irina in the ways of female spies and the two create a close bond.

Alternating between Sally, Irina, the typist, and Olga Ivinskaya’s–the inspiration for Doctor Zhivago’s Lara–narrative, we follow a story of intrigue, rebellion, subterfuge and more.

This is the story of four very different types of women and their roles during the Cold War. Sally is a veteran and the sparkle of the agency has begun to fade; Irina is new an excited to be more than just a muted typist; Olga is a mistress to Stalin’s favorite author, and the typists are silent observers. Each of these women have a different perspective, a different roll in the novel and it was interesting to see how they intersect.

This was an OK book for me. I wasn’t dying to finish it but it was interesting to learn all these tactics about the CIA before it moved to Langley. I loved that many of the quotes were pulled right from redacted reports. And being a librarian, fighting a war with books is totally up my ally.

I did find the conclusion of the novel to be set at a much quicker pace than the rest of the novel, which bothers me more with historical fiction than other genres. It just wrapped up too quickly for the amount of build up there was.

Not a bad read but not one I found myself thinking about much after-the-fact. This one gets 3 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is an adult fiction book that follows two characters as they are forced to migrate from their homeland.

In a country on the cusp of civil war a man and a woman meet. Independent Nadia and reserved Saeed form a bond amidst the coming chaos that is both intimate and escalates quickly. Soon the two must band together to survive the unrest roiling through their city.

As conditions in their home worsen, Saeed and Nadia hear whispers of doors, doorways that can take you far away… for a price. With no good choices available to then, Nadia and Saeed take one of these doors, leaving their old lives, their old selves, behind. What the future holds, no one knows.

One of the things I loved about this book was the narrative. We have this almost, observational narrator, who is telling the story as if watching it unfold. I think this is great because you get this feeling of being on the outside looking in and not being a migrant myself, this is what I feel like I should be feeling. Definitely helps to reinforce the narrative.

The story itself is more metaphorical than magical. You have these dark doorways that transport you somewhere else, be it good or bad, but these doors aren’t magical, they are metaphors for the migrant experience. Nadia describes being changed as one pushes through the door, being both exhausted and elated, regretful and relieved. Nadia and Saeed enter these doorways looking for a better life but never sure of if what they find will be better or worse than where they are coming from.

I thought the transition Saeed and Nadia went through in this story both heartbreaking but also a bit beautiful. They were able to stay together through the hardships and yet they were able to realize how they have changed and what it meant for them as a couple. There was no bitterness, no hatred or betrayal.

This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Great Alone

The Great Alone is the latest book by best selling author Kristin Hannah.

In 1974 the Allbright family moves to Alaska looking for a fresh start. Leni, Cora and Ernt have been constantly on the move since Ernt returned from Vietnam, a POW with a drinking problem and a temper. With another lost job in the books, Ernt decides to take the family to Alaska–the final frontier–to start over.

Thirteen-year-old Leni doesn’t balk at the prospect of Alaska but she is also weary of what the long nights and seclusion will do to her already hot tempered dad. But what Leni longs for more than peace for her family is to find a place where she belongs and she hopes Alaska will be that place.

Totally unprepared and ignorant, the Allbrights’ must rely on hard work and the kindness of their neighbors to prepare for the long winter ahead. But as the weather begins to change, so does Ernt. The man who seemed to revive in Alaska begins to slip back into the darkness and Leni so begins to learn that a temper isn’t all her father has.

Will this family of three survive the wilds of Alaska or will the fractured pieces of them tear them apart and the town along with it?

This is the second book I’ve read by Hannah–the first being The Nightingale. I enjoyed the wild beautiful descriptions, the hardships of being homesteaders and the Call of the Wild of it all. Witnessing this family being both built up and torn down from both the inside and outside in this setting was enticing. It was definitely a read that kept me wanting to read.

I did sort of feel like I was reading two separate books about halfway though, however. Once we did that four year time jump, the narrative felt like it changed for me. We went from a damaged family, dealing with the elements to more of a Romeo and Juliet meets Call of the Wild. Although, the family was still a large focus of the book the larger focus became Leni and her forbidden relationship. At this point in the book, a new narrator was also introduced and Leni’s wasn’t the only voice we heard. I still enjoyed this part of the story and had to know what happened but I remember thinking that the tone of the book felt different from the first half.

Overall, I like this book and feel like it could have some real merit for a book club. Because of the shift in tone, I am giving it a high 3.5 stars.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan is an adult fiction novel that would probably be considered a thriller or whodunit.

No one in Lydia’s life knows much about her past and that is just the way she likes it. Lydia has spent her whole adult life running from a violent childhood horror. She has carefully crafted this life of books and acquaintances and has cut out all other reminders of her past, including her father.

When Lydia finds one of the bookstore’s eccentric regulars, hanging dead from the the bookstore’s ceiling, she finds herself caught up in the mystery of his death. Drawn into the deceased Joey’s life, Lydia finds a photograph of herself as a child in his pocket and her carefully crafted life starts to unraveled.

Now Lydia must uncover clues about Joey’s life by unraveling secret messages left for her in cut up books bequeathed to her upon his death. But the clues only lead to more questions. Why did Joey commit suicide? What does he know about Lydia’s childhood? And what ghosts from her past will Lydia have to face in uncovering the truth?

This was one I picked up solely because it had the word bookstore in the title. Yup, I can’t help myself–take note publishers. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the book was actually a bit of a thriller, not my usual genre but one I like to get to occasionally.

First, can I randomly gripe about a few things… What type of bookstore–thriving in this day and age, that is not a chain–is open past midnight, has multiple floors, and has a staff of what seems like it is in the double digits? And in Denver, Colorado to-boot. I know I am being picky but I’d love to know if the author based the bookstore off of a real one.

Now that I am done with that, this wasn’t a bad read. I wasn’t overly invested in the characters but it did keep me guessing until about halfway through the book, which I generally consider a successful thriller. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt and I wondered about what became of some of our side characters but for the most part the loose ends were tied up.

I did really like this idea of the BookFrogs; bookstore regulars who aren’t necessarily homeless but are regulars and fixtures in the store, each with their own eccentricities. I would have loved to glimpsed a few more of them throughout the story, as they were each unique and wonderful.

This book was fairly middle of the road for me. I would recommend it to my patrons but it was neither great nor a bad read. This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a realistic fiction novel about a curmudgeonly old man who is given a second chance at life. Ove is your typical surly old man–he believes rules are rules and right is right. Ove follows strict routines, has strong principles and is known for having a bit of a temper.

Ove’s structured life is turned on it’s head when a family of four moves in next door and constantly interferes with his plans to join his wife. Dented mailboxes, pregnant busybodies, broken windows, stray cats and more slowly thaw this grieving widowers hard heart.

A Man Called Ove is an entertaining tale of neighborly love and moving on.

This is a book someone from my book club recommended to me and one I’ve heard about a lot working in the library. When recommended, all they told me was that this is a book about an old man who is constantly getting interrupted while trying to kill himself. And that’s actually a pretty apt description. Ove is ready to join his dead wife but wants to do it right, he isn’t desperate to kill himself and is constantly saying something along the lines of “can’t a man die in peace,” when he gets interrupted.

Ove is your typical grouchy old man, if to the extreme. Everyone knows that one old guy who is stuck in his ways and wants you to “keep off his lawn!” This story has archetypal characters and relatable themes. Although, I will admit that it took me forever to realize the story took place in Switzerland–the constant referral to “kroner” didn’t do it for me.

I’ll admit, I am an old soul but probably a bit young to fully appreciate this one. An older audience probably sees some of themselves or their parents in Ove. I didn’t know my Mom’s parents and my Dad’s mother passed away when I was young. So I don’t have much to compare Ove to and yet he was still this typical grumpy old man that I could see roaming the neighborhood and enforcing the “rules.”

This was a light read that will be comforting in its familiarity to many readers. This one gets four stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-