Category Archives: Agent Annie

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

Though The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom might be a great book for young adults new to the spy/espionage genre, it wasn’t unique enough to capture the interest of our spy-loving adult reviewers.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

TitleThe Cruelty
Author: Scott Bergstrom
SeriesThe Cruelty, Book 01
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 by Fiewel & Friends
Genre: YA Thriller
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s Description: When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

The best line in the book The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is in the very first chapter when the main character, Gwendolyn, pulls a book out of her backpack and tells us, the reader,

“It’s a novel with a teenage heroine set in a dystopian future. Which novel in particular doesn’t matter because they are all the same. Poor teenage heroine, having to march off to war when all she really wants to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love. Paper worlds where heroes are real.”

This is echoed two hundred some odd pages later when Gwen, now called Sophia, who is in real danger from the Czech mafia, says “Damn my luck, having to go off to war when all I want to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love.”

That about sums up what’s wrong with this book: it pretends not to be formulaic but follows the same pattern as all spy/espionage novels. This could have been written by James Patterson, Lee Child or Robert Ludlum and I really wouldn’t have noticed the difference. The author simply puts a 17-year-old girl in the role of the main character and, unfortunately, this doesn’t lend itself to believability. The only training this teenager gets is about a month from an Israeli spy, and she totally eludes and ultimately defeats criminals in several European countries included the “dreaded” Czech mafia and kills several of their number through a variety of methods?

I also really didn’t think that The “Cruelty” itself, which the author tries to describe as an internal “thing” rising up in Gwendolyn and taking over her more sane (regular) self, was well defined. He mentions it a few times as “wanting to get out” or “taking over” but I don’t think he spent enough time on her internal struggle. It felt really ho-hum when Gwen had to make difficult choices, like murdering someone in cold blood!

I give this book a 3 for being too much like other books I’ve read in this genre and not having enough of what the title featured.

Percy Procrastinator says…

For me, as a forty-four-year-old long interested in thriller/spy/espionage novels, this was a tough read. I didn’t read it all, either. At about the halfway point, I realized that I had read this story before by some other author. It’s not that it was bad; it just wasn’t good enough to pull me in. I don’t know if it was because it’s geared toward young adults or if I have just read and seen too much of this kind of story.

The setup is quite good. It was easy for me to believe that Gwendolyn could become a spy. She knows languages and had gymnastics, so had some of the rudimentary skills needed. It wasn’t luck that had her know several ex-spies, people who could set her on the path to find her father. I was happy that she got a month of training and even a test so she knew if she could do it.

Reading about her training was interesting to me to see which way the author would have Gwendolyn go. And once she made her choice, I knew how the rest of the story would go, again from decades of reading these kinds of novels. I just wasn’t interested enough in reading this particular story. I skimmed through several chapters of her meeting people, going up the chain and following the leads. I can easily see how this would be a great introduction for someone to these kinds of novels. It’s just not for me.

Finally, I will say that the ending left me a bit disappointed. I read the final ten percent of the book and I don’t think I got the payoff I wanted. The twist didn’t surprise me and the ending left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

I give the book a three. It might deserve a four because it handles the subject matter well, but I can’t be the one to give it that rating.

Other recommendations…

Advanced teen readers could probably jump right into the Alex Cross, Jason Bourne, and Jack Reacher thrillers, or go with the classics and give the original James Bond novels a try. Unfortunately, those all have male protagonists. For female protagonists, here is a list of 9 Best Thrillers with Strong Female Protagonists.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter by J.S. Drangsholt

Professor, wife, and mother Ingrid Winter is sent to a conference in Russia, where all her mental anxieties push her into some crazy antics.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

ingridTitleThe Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter
AuthorJ.S. Drangsholt
Series: stand-alone
Publish Date: March 1, 2017, by Amazon Crossing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Purchased via Kindle First

Publisher’s DescriptionIngrid Winter is desperately trying to hold it all together. A neurotic Norwegian mother of three small children and an overworked literature professor with an overactive imagination, Ingrid feels like her life’s always on the brink of chaos.

Her overzealous attempt to secure her dream house has strained her marriage. She’s repeatedly reprimanded for eye rolling in faculty meetings. Petulant PTA parents want to drag her into a war over teaching children to tie their shoes. And an alarmingly persistent salesman keeps warning her of the potential dangers of home intrusion.

Clearly she needs to get away. But Russia? Forced to join an academic mission to Saint Petersburg to promote international cooperation, Ingrid finds herself at a crossroads while drinking too much cough syrup. Will this trip push her into a Siberian sinkhole of existential dread or finally give her life some balance and direction?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter by J.S. Drangsholt is a careening ride through the stream of conscious of a neurotic, anxiety-riddled woman. I read this book so fast because the narrator’s anxiety was so strong you just couldn’t step away from it. If the author’s hope was to give you a glimpse as to how anxiety makes a person say or do crazy things, she hit the mark, but man, I never want to be that immersed in it again.

badge3v4Outside of the good writing of conveying what Ingrid was thinking and feeling, I wasn’t a big fan of this story. It seemed kind of boring as far as the action goes or the main character’s relationships. Not much really happened. I think the promotional material from Amazon’s Kindle First program didn’t really convey the true nature of this book and I was disappointed. I appreciated getting a early opportunity to read it, but I would have never spent money on this book. I did however suggest it to a relative that enjoyed Where Did You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple and I would be interested to see if they liked this book. I personally can only give this book a 3.

Other recommendations…

Here are some other novels with anxious main characters: A Stranger on the Planet by Adam Schwartz, Planetfall (sci-fi) by Emma Newman, Daffodil Dancing by Jean Jardine Miller.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

“In this literary masterwork, the author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in indigenous culture.”  –from Goodreads

laroseTitleLaRose
Author: Louise Erdrich
Series: stand-alone
Publish Date: May 10th 2016 by Harper
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Narrator: Louise Erdrich
Source: Purchased in audio

Publisher’s DescriptionNorth Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.

The youngest child of his best friend, Pete Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools, and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister” Maggie welcomes him as a co-conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.

But when a vengeful man with a longstanding grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.

Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

This is definitely not one of Erdrich’s better books. It is still filled with many stories and complex characters, but I didn’t feel that she wove the past and the present together strongly. I enjoyed learning the history with the chapters of the early years with Native Americans being forced to attend boarding school, but the ramifications of those years weren’t really brought to full light in this story. I liked the imagery of the first LaRose being pursued by a bodiless head and then the 2 boys, Romeo and Landreaux thinking they had been caught after they ran away because they saw the head of their school headmistress. When I was listening to it, I thought for sure there would be more imagery or something that would make these heads significant. That wasn’t the case.

I also don’t feel that I was that engaged with any of the characters. The author chose to move between several as first person voice, but in this case, I think it made it difficult to really bond with a specific character. I also thought the relationship between Emmaline and Father Travis came out of nowhere. Father Travis’ passion was brought forth throughout the story, but Emmaline reciprocating felt too abrupt.

The main character, LaRose, was supposed to have been the 5th of a line of healers and other than the fact his father gave him away to make up for killing Dusty, I didn’t see how LaRose actually did any healing that was special. Perhaps that’s the point in the story is that the day to day lives of Native Americans are not really that different or extraordinary than the rest of us, but it is the small things and the continuity from one generation to the next that makes everyone special, but I had to really stretch to understand that might have been the point.

badge3v4I did enjoy the author’s narration. She was able to catch the cadence of a Native American’s voice and fluidly went from the first person to narrator which can be difficult. I give this book a 3 since I have read others by Louise Erdrich that are far better.

The Boy from Reactor 4 by Orest Stelmach

Last week, I reviewed The Altar Girl, the prequel to the Nadia Tesla series by Orest Stelmach. Today I continue reviewing the series.

boy-from-reactor-4TitleThe Boy from Reactor 4
AuthorOrest Stelmach
SeriesNadia Tesla, Book 01
Publish Date: March 19, 2013
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Nadia’s memories of her father are not happy ones. An angry, secretive man, he died when she was thirteen, leaving his past shrouded in mystery. When a stranger claims to have known her father during his early years in Eastern Europe, she agrees to meet—only to watch the man shot dead on a city sidewalk.

With his last breath, he whispers a cryptic clue, one that will propel Nadia on a high-stakes treasure hunt from New York to her ancestral homeland of Ukraine. There she meets an unlikely ally: Adam, a teenage hockey prodigy who honed his skills on the abandoned cooling ponds of Chernobyl. Physically and emotionally scarred by radiation syndrome, Adam possesses a secret that could change the world—if she can keep him alive long enough to do it.

A twisting tale of greed, secrets, and lies, The Boy from Reactor 4 will keep readers guessing until the final heart-stopping page.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

The first in the Nadia Tesla series, The Boy from Reactor 4 once again teaches me much about Ukraine, Russia and the aftermath of Chernobyl.

The author, Orest Stelmach, has done a good job of creating a believable and tough female protagonist. I accidentally read the prequel before reading this book so I was more familiar with the main character than if I had started with this book. Stelmach has written 4 total books in the series so far and his writing has definitely improved. This first in the series has so many characters, many of which with unfamiliar names, that I had a hard time keeping track of them but he kept the story moving along and Nadia stayed one step ahead of the bad guys throughout.

badge4v5I was particularly fascinated by the events that took place in the Bering Straights. I know nothing about the area, but the idea of walking between Russian and Alaska is not something I would ever want to face.

I give this book a 4. Simply because I know the author can do better as evidenced by his work in The Altar Girl.

Our reviews in this series…

The Altar Girl by Orest Stelmach

This prequel is a wonderful introduction to the Nadia Tesla series.

alter-girlTitleThe Altar Girl
AuthorOrest Stelmach
SeriesNadia Tesla, Book 0.5
Publish Date: May 1, 2015
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionThe daughter of uncompromising Ukrainian immigrants, Nadia was raised to respect guts, grit, and tradition. When the events around the seemingly accidental death of her estranged godfather don’t add up, Nadia is determined to discover the truth—even if she attracts the attention of dangerous men intent on finding out what she knows through any means possible.

Her investigation leads her to her hometown and to the people least likely to welcome her back: her family.

In this thrilling prequel to the Nadia Tesla series, Nadia must try to solve the mystery surrounding her godfather’s death—and his life. The answers to her questions are buried with the secrets of her youth and in post–World War II refugee camps. What Nadia learns will change her life forever.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

This is the first of the series that I have read. I feel it worked well to read it before any of the others. There are 3 more in the series, which I plan on reading.

The author created characters I could empathize with and really got to their emotional status with regard to their family relationships. I like the main character very much. She is defined by her 1st generation Ukrainian up-bringing but also has that New York City girl grit, too. When a person grows up in a dysfunctional family, those characteristics don’t go away when you are an adult. Orest Stelmach created a very believable heroine.

badge5v5I was intrigued by the historical information about the displaced persons that were basically refugees that fled Russia and ended up in Western Europe at the end of the war but none of the Allied countries wanted to take them in. This was a real eye-opener for me since so much of WWII history is focused on the treatment of the Jews or the starvation of the Russian Army. I particularly liked the detail about the PLAST that Nadia had to undergo as a child in order to be truly accepted into her community.

I also thought the mystery was particularly good and kept me guessing as to what would happen next.

I give this book 5 stars. It’s a great mystery and is an excellent example of the genre.