Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

Here's another fantastic read that I pulled from my pile!
In itself, it is a fun and satisfying middle-aged-man Cloak & Dagger story, but the layers of spy fiction fan geekiness push it over the top into the CAN'T MISS THIS category for fans who just can't get enough of Le Carre, Furst, Fleming et al.
Bill Cage, a 53-year-old former international journalist, current reluctant PR hack, divorce, disappointing dad, and beloved only son of former State Department employee Warfield Cage, gets the chance to live out the plots of his favorite spy novels. But when real danger strikes and he realizes how much he has to lose, is playing the game still worth it?
A mysterious note referencing favorites in the spy genre kicks it all off. Soon Bill is leaving Georgetown to revisit Cold War sites from his childhood. There are book codes, clues leading through deliciously old-world bookshops, microfilms from the KGB, and tons of references to spycraft's golden era.
Great drama, great character, and also great that even though there are some very thrilling scenes, some of the major cruxes of the story have wonderful psychological depth.
Watch for Litzi, a competent, smart femme who doesn't necessarily need to be fatale to be completely magnetic.
Perhaps best of all is the full bibliography at the end. I made a two-page wish list in my reading journal just from that.
The drink of this book: whiskey, neat. But also vodka, slivovitz, red wine...

I think readers who enjoy this might also try Pavel & I by Dan Vyleta (a spy thriller set in post-WWII Berlin, with loads of twists and turns), Restless by William Boyd (a 1970s mother-daughter story in London intertwined with mom's shenanigans as a spy in WWII) and-- a bit more of a stretch, but there's something about the deep reading, the family ties, and the layers of fiction-- The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (a contemporary drama about a son, his conman father, and the undiscovered Shakespearean play that won't let them go). 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowdrops by A. D. Miller

I finally got around to reading this Man Booker 2011 shortlist title, and I'm so glad I did. I usually like Man Booker shortlisters, I often like a book set in Russia, several customers had read and recommended it, so I was a little worried about it living up to expectations. Phew-- what a relief that it completely sucked me in with its sharp writing, suspenseful storytelling, and completely evocative and atmospheric style.
This contemporary novel is told as Nick/Kolya's confession to his fiancee before their wedding. It chronicles a London lawyer's fourth and final expat year in the depraved but beautiful, captivating yet horrifying Wild Wild East of Moscow, where bribes are necessary for everything, who you know could make or break you, and people really might do the unthinkable.
Miller doles out pithy and clever descriptions as well as heartbreaking statements about midlife, ambition, and love. The emotion is powerful and fascinating.
From the beginning, we know that a corpse has been uncovered near Kolya's flat. ("Snowdrops" are, in addition to flowers, corpses that are discovered after the snow melts in Russia.) This lends a sense of suspense and lurking danger throughout the story.
But the story is not a murder mystery; it is a love story, a story of intrigue and manipulation, and a business cautionary tale.
I found this well-written and gripping, if rather bleak. Bundle up, pour yourself some cocoa with a shot of vodka, and hunker down for a read-in-one-sitting winter's indulgence.
For more about Snowdrops (and to find it at an indie bookstore near you), click here

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Zany, quirky, and enigmatic-- a very fun and unusual adventure.
This novel reads like a combination of Neil Gaiman, Alan Kurzweil, and Gail Carriger.
Joe Spork, a clockmaker, is in his 30s-- a quiet, kind, concentrated type of man. He runs the old clock shop his grandfather Daniel started in London. Joe worries about paying his taxes on time and treating women with more respect than his loutish friend Billy. He tries very hard to distance himself from the legacy of his dad, Mathew, a gangster who ran the secret underworld Night Market.
Joe gets snared in intrigue when Billy introduces him to client Edie Bannister, an old woman with a bad-breathed, blind pug named Bastion (who gets interior monologues from time to time). Edit has Joe work on repair jobs, including a clockwork device that is part book-- and part world-changing mechanical beehive. This is the Angelmaker, aka Apprehension Machine.
The story goes back and forth between the present-day troubles Joe has with government types and creepy religious/craftsman fundamentalists and Edie's youth (her special agent training, heroic transgender-disguised rescue, bonus baby elephant...).
There is a lot of the bizarre in the plot, and I'm sure I missed some of the twists and turns, but I enjoyed the quirky characters an over-the-top adventure. Perhaps my favorites, aside from Edie's training days above the  steampunk codebreaking train the "Ada Lovelace", were the scenes with Mercer Cradle, lawyer extraordinaire, and the smart and sexy Polly. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

'Tis the Season!

Without my usual retail holiday work, the season has kind of snuck up on me this year. Luckily, the Random Acts of Reading blog gave me a gift-giving prompt this month.
Read how I responded to, "What book do you want to give this year? What book do you want to get?" here.
What book would you love to get this year?