Friday, December 9, 2022

Where the Truth Lies

Title:
  Where the Truth Lies
Author:  Anna Bailey
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  198215716X / 978-1982157166

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The roar of the bonfire is hard to distinguish from the sound of the trailer-park boys and the schoolgirls who holler and dance in the shadow of the Tall Bones"

Favorite Quote:  "Guilt is a hard body to bury, no matter how many times you might claim God forgives you. You let some things fester long enough, they grow teeth and claws and crawl their way back to the surface again."

Reader beware:  This book features themes of physical and emotional abuse as well as violence, drinking, drugs, and more. It is dark!

This book was also published under the title Tall Bones

In the beauty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains lies the small town of Whistling Ridge. In this small town lies hate, discrimination, abuse, and murder. The darkness belies the beautiful setting.

A young girl disappears without a trace. The book deals with what happens next and also goes back to the events of the past that lead to the disappearance. The past and the present come together to provide the answer of what happens to Abigail.

Amongst the characters are Abigail's family - father Samuel, mother Dolly, older brother Noah, and younger brother Jude. The family covers up secrets of its own - secrets that are not quite as secret as they think for evidence of abuse is everywhere. Fear keeps them pretending otherwise. The town knows and does nothing.

Then, there is Emma, Abigail's best friend. Emma's ethnic heritage makes her stand out in this community. It also makes her the target of prejudice and hate. Abigail's disappearance adds guilt to that burden for Emma was perhaps the last person to see Abigail, and she left Abigail against her better judgement. The town knows and propagates the hate.

Finally, there is Rat, a young man who is yet another outsider in this community. As someone different, he too is the target of prejudice and of suspicion. Again, the town knows and feeds into the hate.

The darkness of this book is embedded into the characters themselves. "I know we've all got that fantasy of telling the people who hurt us just how much it hurt, but most of the time they're not even sorry, and then what? You're just going to be pissed off for the rest of your life?"

Each character seems to also accentuate a certain stereotype rather than develop into a multi-dimensional individual. It also appears that the book expands unnecessarily to include every trigger stereotypes. As such, the story does not develop for me. The impact scatters, and even the victims in the book end up not relatable or likable. In a world becoming more and more polarized along stereotypes, a book that pulls on the ideas creating that divide, for me, is a challenge to get through.

The plot is also more about the emotional ramifications of what led to Abigail's disappearance and of the ripples and seismic changes that disappearance results in. It is less about "thriller." This is a depressing and dark story, and it is nothing of what I expect from the title or the description. I walk away, completely not the reader for this book.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, October 31, 2022

the_atmospherians

Title:
  the_atmospherians
Author:  Alex McElroy
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1982158301 / 978-1982158309

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The men were outside my building."

Favorite Quote:  "Just because you're not sick ... doesn't mean you couldn't be healthier."

Two childhood friends - Sasha and Dyson - open a camp. Read into that - form a cult. The name is The Atmosphere. The members are men. The purpose is to rid the men of their toxic masculinity - define that how you will! "We'll call it The Atmosphere ... The men will be Atmospherics. It's a film term. Another word for extras:  people who provide the atmosphere and stand in the background. What better aspiration for men? To cede power, the spotlight, to let others speak, let the action continue without them."

The book gets more specific. This is about not all men but rather about white men in particular. "Over the past year, more and more me - always white men - had been hording together unprompted to perform mundane social activities. There was no way of telling how a man horde would act once it formed." I find that specificity not needed and shifts the focus to a racial issue rather than the patriarchy that many may understand.

Why? The purpose is entirely self-serving. Dyson is a failed actor. Sasha achieved success as an internet personality specializing in wellness for women. Unfortunately, responsibility for the tragic outcome of an online interaction is laid at Sasha's door. She stands to lose everything. This venture becomes an escape and a way to perhaps salvage her reputation. So, the clearly self-focused goal belies the altruistic purpose of reforming men and society. It make the whole idea harder to buy into.

The ideas of internet influencers, troll, masculine toxicity, and retreats to relearn are clearly picked from today's headlines. There are some truths to be found in this premise. I wanted to like this book for those truths, particularly the influence of social media on so many.

Based on the description, it is intended as satire. For me, the key to satire is the ability to interject enough reality so as to be recognizable and perhaps even relatable. Unfortunately, for me, the book chooses to highlight items in a direction that I find not helpful. Focusing on a gender and a race highlights divides and promotes the extensions of damaging stereotype. In the current divisive and divided atmosphere of our nation, it is, for me, not funny. Clearly, my sense of humor and that of this book lie in two different directions.

Unfortunately, I find neither the characters nor the story engaging.  Likable characters are not a necessity to a great read. However, engaging characters and/or an engaging plot are. Unfortunately, for me, this book holds neither. Having read the entire book, I do not feel like I understand Dyson or Sasha or really care about their outcome. As far as the plot, the book focuses more on the characters and on building the world of the The Atmosphere. It is challenging to follow what happens or why even up until the very end.

Sadly, I find myself walking away from the book, clearly not the reader for it.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives

Title:
  The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives
Author:  Kristin Miller
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1524799521 / 978-1524799526

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Pain is the first thing I remember."

Favorite Quote:  "If you're going to be two-faced, at least make sure one of them is pretty."

A small gated community of the rich and famous in the hills of San Francisco is home to the trophy wives.  Brooke Davies is the newest wife to join this community. She is a mystery writer married to a man 22 years her senior. She lives in a world of mansions and private jets for her husband Jack is that kind of rich. Erin Kent is a news anchor married to a plastic surgeon and is on a quest to keep her marriage. Georgia St. Clare is the Black Widow, for she has outlived two husbands and is now on number three. Although nothing was ever proved, many believe that she had a hand in the deaths of her first two husbands.

These are the secrets these three women come to know about each other. As you might suspect, there are many more they choose not to share. The fact that the book tells the story from the perspective of these women causes some of their secrets to be slowly revealed and in a way that they come forth to the reader before being revealed to the other characters. That is fun in allowing the reader to be a voyeur to this situation and to watch the drama  unfold.

This book is unbelievable - the plot and the characters. There are no consequences for the abuse and the murders that takes place in this book. From the ending of the book, it is clear that there are not likely to be any consequences. In a serious book, I might wish for some balance. However, this story is so over the top that it is possible to completely let go of reality and go along for what proves to be a fun almost comical ride. I don't know that this is the intent of the book, but it works for me. 

The ending is a twist that I, for one, do not see coming. Again, in a book I might follow as a serious story, I might not excuse all the things that happen. In this one, it is one more convoluted twist that makes up the farce of this book.

Although I have never watched a Desperate/Real Housewives show (nor do I think I ever could), I imagine this book creates the same environment. After having read it, I am wondering what led me to choose to read it. A Desperate/Real Housewives vibe is definitely not my TV or reading genre of choice. I suppose I expected a book that developed some depth into the characters and the relationships - marriage and friendship. This completely does not but ends up an entertaining, fast-paced ride to follow.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Woman of Intelligence

Title:
  A Woman of Intelligence
Author:  Karin Tanabe
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1250231507 / 978-1250231505

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Only one word cut through the noise of a New York afternoon."

Favorite Quote:  "In my world, anything that isn't impossible is possible."

Katharina Edgeworth is an unhappy wife and mother. She is married to a rich, successful physician and is a mother. She is educated and multi-lingual. Prior to her marriage, she worked as a translator for the United Nations. After marriage and motherhood, she leaves that behind. It is the 1950s, and her role as a wife, mother, and housewife superimpose themselves on all else that she is. Is it a sign of the time and place? Does she allow it to happen?

She loves her husband. She loves her children. At the same time, she feels trapped and stagnating. "I think the problem is that I'm not happy. So I'm not happily married." That is a powerful emotion and one, perhaps, that people can relate to. Choosing a path - even one you love - can at times trigger a longing for the path not taken. Unfortunately, with this character, the focus is so completely on this regret that the character ends up appearing completely self-absorbed and not likable. She appears to dwell completely in her unhappiness.

Another unfortunate aspect of the book is that the other characters, to me, are just as one dimensional. The husband is a handsome, successful physician wrapped up in his career. The in-laws are unsympathetic. Even the child embodies the essence of a tantrum-throwing toddler who needs discipline and boundaries which are not forthcoming. Another character introduces the conversation of an interracial relationship, but that thread never develops any depth either.

The plot of the book is that, all of a sudden, a man from her past enters the picture and she finds herself recruited for the FBI! Unfortunately, the way in which this happens and the speed in which this happens is, for me, unbelievable and does not ring true. Katharina is instantly willing to put her family at risk - a risk to life that a government operative may face and a risk to life that rekindling an old romance may engender. That does not seem the mark of a woman of intelligence. The fact that the FBI would recruit someone off the street and immediately put them in a high risk situation rings completely false.

That aspect of the plot also becomes complicated with many characters and connections and events that take a while to untangle and become clear. Despite its billing as a thriller, this book is a very slow read.

I appreciate the question around which this book is based. What compromise does a woman make between  independence and a career and home and family? The reality is that the discussion continues even today and definitely more so in the context of women than men. Despite the progress made, this decision arises and is faced time and again. Everyone hopefully finds an answer that works for them. It is nevertheless a decision, and there is nevertheless a path not taken.

Although the character and story was not for me, this conversation is what I take away from this book.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Personal Librarian

Title:
  The Personal Librarian
Author:  Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2021. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0593101537 / 978-0593101537

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Old North bell tolls the hour, and I realize I'll be late."

Favorite Quote:  ".. all I've ever wanted for my children was the opportunity soar, no matter their heritage, and to live a life of meaning. That has been my fight. But in our current society with our current laws, it's enough that you succeed, that you are able to follow your passion in your work, that you leave a legacy that will benefit the multitudes - one day, even the colored multitudes."

This book does what I love best about historical fiction. It introduces me to a history I might never otherwise have learned. It tells a story that keeps me turning pages beginning to end. It sends me on a search for the actual history that underlies the fiction.

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the Morgan Library in New York City. It is like discovering a secret treasure trove. Currently, it is a museum and research library. It began in 1890 as a private library of Pierpont Morgan and was build adjustment to his New York home. It was not until 1924, eleven years after Pierpont Morgan's death, that the library was opened as a public institution by his son, JP Morgan Jr.

On the Morgan Library website under the "about" section appears a name - Belle de Costa Greene. She served the Morgan Library for forty three years. She was first recruited by Pierpont Morgan as his personal library. After his death, she remained on in that role as the library transitioned to JP Morgan. She also served as the first director as the library transitioned into a public institution. She was instrumental in amassing the collection, transitioning it into a public resource, and building around it programs that continue to this day.

This book is the story of Belle De Costa Greene. Her career achievements as a woman at that point in history are an amazing enough story. What is even more amazing is the personal story of the woman. Belle De Costa Greene was born Belle Marion Greener. She was the daughter of the first Black graduate of Harvard College. Her father was an educator and an activist for racial justice. When her parents separated. Belle's mother moved the children to New York and changed their surname to Greene. She described their heritage as Portuguese and lived as white in what was a racist and segregated society.

It was perhaps this fact that allowed Belle to get the job she did. Yet, this dichotomy in her life was always a challenge in so many ways. There was always the obvious fear of being found out. There was the separation from family for what purpose would a white, Portuguese family from New York have in getting together with an African American family from Washington DC. Beyond, there was the constant struggle of denying a part of who she was. "I realized that to achieve one dream, you had to forsake your core identify. Changing your name is easy. Changing your soul is impossible."

Yet she did - for her entire life leaving an unmatched legacy. "One day, Belle, we will be able to reach back through the decades and claim you as one of our own. Your accomplishments will be part of history, they'll show doubtful while people what colored can do. Until that time, live your life proudly."

This is the story of this book, beautifully told and beautifully rendered. I am so glad this fiction told an engaging story and even more led me to this amazing history.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Codebreaker's Secret

The Codebreaker's Secret
Title:
  The Codebreaker's Secret
Author:  Sara Ackerman
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2022. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778386880 / 978-0778386889

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Summer 2022 historical fiction blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The ocean is far more than water."

Favorite Quote:  "Failure was a given. Accept that and you'd won half the battle."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

Like Sara Ackerman's other books, the history of this book is of WWII and of Hawaii. The separation between the history and the fiction is explained in the author's note. Station Hypo - the Dungeon in the book - was a real office of classified work during the war. Over 10,000 women worked around the county as codebreakers and translators in support of the war effort. Operation Vengeance to target a Japanese admiral was a key event in the war in the Pacific. There were Nazi spies and those who collaborated with them. In the 1960s, Laurance Rockefeller did indeed open the Mauna Kea Hotel.

From this history, the book builds a two timeline story - one of the war and the 1940s and one of the opening of the Mauna Kea Hotel in the 1960s. Also like Sara Ackerman's other books, the main characters are women, and the 1940s story follows the pivotal role women played in the war effort. 

In the 1940s is Isabella or Izzy. She is a codebreaker, trying to establish herself in a world of men. She is also a sister on a pilgrimage to view the world as her brother saw it before he died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her story is one of work, of friendship, and of romance. Primarily, though, it is of the friendship and of her strength. That strength is depicted in her work, in her proficiency in chess, and in her courage in standing up and speaking out.

In the 1960s is Lu. She is Hawaiian born and raised. She calls the mainland home, as she chases a career as a journalist. An assignment to cover the opening of the hotel brings her home. Her journey is one of self discovery and of identifying what she stands for and what she wants out of life.

One connection between the two timelines - Matteo Russi - is clearly set out. His character is an interesting one for it touches on the traumas of war and the scars - both seen and unseen. The book makes a very specific point about the importance of telling his story and those like it to remove the stigma of those scars and to ensure that veterans such as Matteo Russi receive the support and resources to heal. Their service ensures our freedoms and must be honored.

In both timelines, there is a disappearance and a mystery. The book is a quick read that keeps me turning pages. What keeps me reading is not the mystery but the characters. The other connections between the two timelines and the mysteries become clear to me much before the reveal in the book happens. No matter for the discovery by the characters is part of the story. 

This is the third Sara Ackerman book I have read. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

About the Book

A brilliant female codebreaker. An “unbreakable” Japanese naval code. A pilot on a top-secret mission that could change the course of WWII. The Codebreaker's Secret is a dazzling story of love and intrigue set during America’s darkest hour.

1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own.

1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawai'i to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller's newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack.


About the Author

Sara Ackerman is a USA TODAY bestselling author who writes books about love and life, and all of their messy and beautiful imperfections. She believes that the light is just as important as the dark, and that the world is in need of uplifting stories. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.

Buy Links

BookShop.org
Harlequin
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Social Links

Author Website: https://www.ackermanbooks.com/
Facebook: @ackermanbooks
Twitter: @AckermanBooks
Instagram: @saraackermanbooks


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Librarian Spy

The Librarian Spy
Title:
  The Librarian Spy
Author:  Madeline Martin
Publication Information:  Hanover Square Press. 2022. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1335427481 / 978-1335427489

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and HTP Summer 2022 historical fiction blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes the things we hold inside of us need to be let out. No matter where you are or who you're speaking with."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

The title - libraries and spies - draws me to this book. As a reader, I absolutely believe in the power of books to heal and to make a difference. Many histories and stories tell of the role booksellers and libraries played during World War II. This book adds to that canon.

However, although one of the main characters is a librarian, the story is not really about libraries or  books. Ava is recruited for the war effort because of her literary and linguistic background, but this book is definitely more about the "spy" than the "library." She is recruited to gather newspapers and publications to send back to the United States as intelligence. This includes the papers and journals surreptitiously published by the Resistance.

Only once does the book touch on the power of stories. "Though small, Ava knew the importance of those stories. They were a friend in a foreign, lonely place, a liberation of one's mind from the prison of circumstance, an escape from life's most brutal blows."

The other interesting thing about the title is that it highlights only one of two main characters. Many stories use a two character approach to the narrative, sometimes separated by place, sometimes by times, and sometimes by both. In this case, both Ava and Elaine/Heléne are living through the war. Ava is from the United States but serving in Lisbon. Elaine is in Lyons, France in the heart of the Occupation. I am unsure why the title highlights only one of them although the cover features both, and the narrative alternates chapters between their two perspectives.

Elaine's story - the one of Occupation, Nazi atrocities, and loss - is the more emotional one. Portugal at time is neutral in the war. Ava, though emotionally involved and instrumental in Elaine's story, is still one step removed. Based on the title, I do leave wondering if I see something different in the story than what is intended.

Ultimately, it does not matter what the intent is. The story is a compelling one of courage and of a common cause that unites people whose paths may never otherwise cross. Although I have read much fiction surrounding World War II, each new story introduces me to another aspect of that history - both the atrocities committed and the sacrifices and courage of ordinary people. I have never before read one set in Lisbon. So, I learn the role Lisbon and the Portuguese coastline plays in the war efforts of the Allies.

Make sure and read the author's note at the end that explains the research done and the historical basis behind this fiction. Per the author's note, Ava's character is that one someone who may have been. The creation of Elaine's character is influenced by the little known historic figure of Lucien Guezennec. Again, this leads me back to the original question about why the title focuses on Ava. Regardless, the story keeps me reading from beginning to end, and the history is one I am glad I learned.

About the Book

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Bookshop in London comes a moving new novel inspired by the true history of America’s library spies of World War II.

Ava thought her job as a librarian at the Library of Congress would mean a quiet, routine existence. But an unexpected offer from the US military has brought her to Lisbon with a new mission: posing as a librarian while working undercover as a spy gathering intelligence.

Meanwhile, in occupied France, Elaine has begun an apprenticeship at a printing press run by members of the Resistance. It’s a job usually reserved for men, but in the war, those rules have been forgotten. Yet she knows that the Nazis are searching for the press and its printer in order to silence them.

As the battle in Europe rages, Ava and Elaine find themselves connecting through coded messages and discovering hope in the face of war.

About the Author
Madeline Martin is a New York Times and international bestselling author of historical fiction novels and historical romance. She lives in sunny Florida with her two daughters, two incredibly spoiled cats and a husband so wonderful he's been dubbed Mr. Awesome. She is a die-hard history lover who will happily lose herself in research any day. When she's not writing, researching or 'moming', you can find her spending time with her family at Disney or sneaking a couple spoonfuls of Nutella while laughing over cat videos. She also loves travel, attributing her fascination with history to having spent most of her childhood as an Army brat in Germany.

Excerpt

April 1943
Washington, DC

There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books. The musty scent of aging paper and stale ink took one on a journey through candlelit rooms of manors set amid verdant hills or ancient castles with turrets that stretched up to the vast, unknown heavens. These were tomes once cradled in the spread palms of forefathers, pored over by scholars, devoured by students with a rapacious appetite for learning. In those fragrant, yellowed pages were stories of the past and eternal knowledge.

It was a fortunate thing indeed she was offered a job in the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress where the archaic aroma of history was forever present.

She strode through the middle of three arches to where the neat rows of tables ran parallel to one another and carefully gathered a stack of rare books in her arms. They were different sizes and weights, their covers worn and pages uneven at the edges, and yet somehow the pile seemed to fit together like the perfect puzzle. Regardless of the patron who left them after having requested far more than was necessary for an afternoon’s perusal.

Their eyes were bigger than their brains. It was what her brother, Daniel, had once proclaimed after Ava groused about the common phenomena—one she herself had been guilty of—when he was home on leave.

Ever since, the phrase ran through her thoughts on each encounter of an abandoned collection. Not that it was the fault of the patron. The philosophical greats of old wouldn’t be able to glean that much information in an afternoon. But she liked the expression regardless and how it always made her recall Daniel’s laughing gaze as he said it.

They’d both inherited their mother’s moss green eyes, though Ava’s never managed to achieve that same sparkle of mirth so characteristic of her older brother.

A glance at her watch confirmed it was almost noon. A knot tightened in her stomach as she recalled her brief chat with Mr. MacLeish earlier that day. A meeting with the Librarian of Congress was no regular occurrence, especially when it was followed by the scrawl of an address on a slip of paper and the promise of a new opportunity that would suit her.

Whatever it was, she doubted it would fit her better than her position in the Rare Book Room. She absorbed lessons from these ancient texts, which she squeezed out at whim to aid patrons unearth sought-after information. What could possibly appeal to her more?

Ava approached the last table at the right and gently closed La Maison Reglée, the worn leather cover smooth as butter beneath her fingertips. The seventeenth century book was one of the many gastronomic texts donated from the Katherine Golden Bitting collection. She had been a marvel of a woman who utilized her knowledge in her roles at the Department of Agriculture and the American Canners Association.

Every book had a story and Ava was their keeper. To leave her place there would be like abandoning children.

Robert floated in on his pretentious cloud and surveyed the room with a critical eye. She clicked off the light lest she be subjected to the sardonic flattening of her coworker’s lips.

He held out his hand for La Maison Reglée, a look of irritation flickering over his face.

“I’ll put it away.” Ava hugged it to her chest. After all, he didn’t even read French. He couldn’t appreciate it as she did.

She returned the tome to its collection, the family reunited once more, and left the opulence of the library. The crisp spring DC air embraced her as she caught the streetcar toward the address printed in the Librarian of Congress’s own hand.

Ava arrived at 2430 E Street, NW ten minutes before her appointment, which turned out to be beneficial considering the hoops she had to jump through to enter. A stern man, whose expression did not alter through their exchange, confronted her at a guardhouse upon entry. Apparently, he had no more understanding of the meeting than she.

Once finally allowed in, she followed a path toward a large white-columned building.

Ava snapped the lid on her overactive imagination lest it get the better of her—which it often did—and forced herself onward. After being led through an open entryway and down a hall, she was left to sit in an office possessing no more than a desk and two hardbacked wooden chairs. They made the seats in the Rare Book Room seem comfortable by comparison. Clearly it was a place made only for interviews.

But for what?

Ava glanced at her watch. Whoever she was supposed to meet was ten minutes late. A pang of regret resonated through her at having left her book sitting on her dresser at home.

She had only recently started Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and was immediately drawn in to the thrill of a young woman swept into an unexpected romance. Ava’s bookmark rested temptingly upon the newly married couple’s entrance to Manderley, the estate in Cornwall.

The door to the office flew open and a man whisked in wearing a gray, efficient Victory suit—single breasted with narrow lapels and absent any cuffs or pocket flaps—fashioned with as little fabric as was possible. He settled behind the desk. “I’m Charles Edmunds, secretary to General William Donovan. You’re Ava Harper?”

The only name familiar of the three was her own. “I am.”

He opened a file, sifted through a few papers, and handed her a stack. “Sign these.”

“What are they?” She skimmed over them and was met with legal jargon.

“Confidentiality agreements.”

“I won’t sign anything I don’t read fully.” She lifted the pile.

The text was drier than the content of some of the more lackluster rare books at the Library of Congress. Regardless, she scoured every word while Mr. Edmunds glared irritably at her, as if he could will her to sign with his eyes. He couldn’t, of course. She waited ten minutes for his arrival; he could wait while she saw what she was getting herself into.

Everything indicated she would not share what was discussed in the room about her potential job opportunity. It was nothing all too damning and so she signed, much to the great, exhaling impatience of Mr. Edmunds.

“You speak German and French.” He peered at her over a pair of black-rimmed glasses, his brown eyes probing.

“My father was something of a linguist. I couldn’t help but pick them up.” A visceral ache stabbed at her chest as a memory flitted through her mind from years ago—her father switching to German in his excitement for an upcoming trip with her mother for their twenty-year anniversary. That trip. The one from which her parents had never returned.

“And you’ve worked with photographing microfilm.” Mr. Edmunds lifted his brows.

A frown of uncertainty tugged at her lips. When she first started at the Library of Congress, her duties had been more in the area of archival than a typical librarian role as she microfilmed a series of old newspapers that time was slowly eroding. “I have, yes.”

“Your government needs you,” he stated in a matter-of-fact manner that broached no argument. “You are invited to join the Office of Strategic Services—the OSS—under the information gathering program called the Interdepartmental Committee for the Acquisition of Foreign Publications.”

Her mind spun around to make sense of what he’d just said, but her mouth flew open to offer its own knee-jerk opinion. “That’s quite the mouthful.”

“IDC for short,” he replied without hesitation or humor. “It’s a covert operation obtaining information from newspapers and texts in neutral territories to help us gather intel on the Nazis.”

“Would I require training?” she asked, unsure how knowing German equipped her to spy on them.

“You have all the training you need as I understand it.”

He began to reassemble the file in front of him. “You would go to Lisbon.”

“In Portugal?”

He paused. “It is the only Lisbon of which I am aware, yes.”

No doubt she would have to get there by plane. A shiver threatened to squeeze down her spine, but she repressed it. “Why am I being recommended for this?”

“Your ability to speak French and German.” Mr. Edmunds held up his forefinger. “You know how to use microfilm.” He ticked off another finger. “Fred Kilgour recommends your keen intellect.” There went another finger.

That was a name she recognized.

She aided Fred the prior year when he was microfilming foreign publications for the Harvard University Library. After the months she’d spent doing as much for the Library of Congress, the process had been easy to share, and he had been a quick learner.

“And you’re pretty.” Mr. Edmunds sat back in his chair, the final point made.

The compliment was as unwarranted in such a setting as it was unwelcome. “What does my appearance have to do with any of this?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Beauties like yourself can get what they want when they want it. Except when you scowl like that.” He nodded his chin up. “You should smile more, Dollface.”

That was about enough.

“I did not graduate top of my class from Pratt and obtain a much sought-after position at the Library of Congress to be called ‘Dollface.’” She pushed up to standing.

“And you’ve got steel in that spine, Miss Harper.” Mr. Edmunds ticked the last finger.

She opened her mouth to retort, but he continued. “We need this information so we best know how to fight the Krauts. The sooner we have these details, the sooner this war can be over.”

She remained where she stood to listen a little longer. No doubt he knew she would.

“You have a brother,” he went on. “Daniel Harper, staff sergeant of C Company in Second Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division.”

The Airborne Division. Her brother had run toward the fear of airplanes despite her swearing off them.

“That’s correct,” she said tightly. Daniel would never have been in the Army were it not for her. He would be an engineer, the way he’d always wanted.

Mr. Edmunds took off his glasses and met her gaze with his small, naked eyes. “Don’t you want him to come home sooner?”

It was a dirty question meant to slice deep.

And it worked.

The longer the war continued, the greater Daniel’s risk of being killed or wounded.

She’d done everything she could to offer aid. When the ration was only voluntary, she had complied long before it became law. She gave blood every few months, as soon as she was cleared to do so again. Rather than dance and drink at the Elk Club like her roommates, Ava spent all her spare time in the Production Corps with the Red Cross, repairing uniforms, rolling bandages, and doing whatever was asked of her to help their men abroad.

She even wore red lipstick on a regular basis, springing for the costly tube of Elizabeth Arden’s Victory Red, the civilian counterpart to the Montezuma Red servicewomen were issued. Ruby lips were a derisive biting of the thumb at Hitler’s war on made-up women. And she would do anything to bite her thumb at that tyrant.

Likely Mr. Edmunds was aware of all this.

“You will be doing genuine work in Lisbon that can help bring your brother and all our boys home.” Mr. Edmunds got to his feet and held out his hand, a salesman with a silver tongue, ready to seal the deal. “Are you in?”

Ava looked at his hand. His fingers were stubby and thick, his nails short and well-manicured.

“I would have to go on an airplane, I’m assuming.”

“You wouldn’t have to jump out.” He winked.

Her greatest fear realized.

But Daniel had done far more for her.

It was a single plane ride to get to Lisbon. One measly takeoff and landing with a lot of airtime in between. The bottoms of her feet tingled, and a nauseous swirl dipped in her belly.

This was by far the least she could do to help him as well as every other US service member. Not just the men, but also the women whose roles were often equally as dangerous.

She lifted her chin, leveling her own stare right back. “Don’t ever call me ‘Dollface’ again.”

“You got it, Miss Harper,” he replied.

She extended her hand toward him and clasped his with a firm grip, the way her father had taught her. “I’m in.”

He grinned. “Welcome aboard.”

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