Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Expats - TLC Book Review

The Expats by Christ Pavone
Crown Publishers, 2012

Format?  Hardback
Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours
FTC Disclosure:  I received a complimentary copy of The Expats from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.  However, the following review and the opinions within are mine and offered without bias.

Why?  I'm particularly interested in female CIA operatives, spy stories, government secrets, etc. honestly because of the fantastic show "Homeland."  When I read the synopsis of The Expats, I knew I wanted to give it a go.

Cover? the cover is what drew me into The Expats in the first place...female spy and international locations in the background.

Title? I'm going to be honest here...While I've heard and seen the word "expats" a bazillion times, I had to look the word up just to make sure I completely understood the connotations.  The word is used frequently within the story and I somehow convinced myself that the definition must have something to do with secrecy of some kind or government work, etc.  On the contrary, an "expat" is just someone who is living or working in a country other than the one they grew up in.  
Ahem. Learned a new vocabulary word.

I was reminded of? "Homeland" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" mostly, but a few times my brain thought about Gone Girl just because of this husband and wife who haven't been completely honest with each other about some really important things.

What Now?

The publisher is generously offering one copy of The Expats to one of my readers!  Just leave your name, blog address and email in the comments section and you're entered!  I'm going to start leaving Giveaways open for a couple of weeks at least and make one announcement and shipment at the beginning or end of each month. 

Golden Lines

The last time she'd worn a scent had been in college, a tiny bottle given by an aspiring boyfriend as a Valentine's present.  But perfumes were habitually eschewed in her line of work: they were noticeable, identifiable, memorable, traceable.  All the things she didn't want to be.  (48)

Much later, Kate realized that Chicago should have been her first clue. (48)

Unless someone had tampered with her car, and for example installed a battery-operated GPS transmitter in the hollow under the supple gray leather of the passenger seat. (104)

She's now become convinced that she will indeed find what she's looking for.
That duplicitous bastard.  (113)

Kate shared with many of her CIA brethren a lifelong disdain for the feds who reported into the Hoover building.  The animosity between the spies and the cops was almost entirely irrational, born from the political considerations of the men who'd run both agencies, distrusting one another, playing poorly in the sandbox, vying for the attentions of the succession of dads who'd lived in the mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. (133)

"Okay," she said.  "I have a strange question: is it possible they're after me?" 
Kate waited, but he didn't elaborate.  "How do you know?"
"Because if anyone was after you, it'd be us," Hayden said.  "It'd be me." (137)

Kate was never going to understand the extent to which men were stupid. (274)

She shook her head: no, this wasn't true.  Or was it?  Kate had never imagined that Dexter might know everything about her.  But tonight, for the first time, she had doubts.  Because Dexter was much more clever, much more deceptive, and much more devious than she'd thought possible.  She'd been wrong about him, all these years.  How wrong? (283)


Kate is an ex-CIA operative, trying to make a life out of being a stay at home mom while her husband's IT/banking career seemingly takes off.  A quick move out of the country and her husband's new, secret job send up Kate's alarm bells, however, and she begins to dig.  Like a colored scarf being drawn from a magician's hat, Kate is shocked to find that the secrets go much deeper than she anticipated.  

What I Liked

Vivid descriptions of the locales...Luxembourg, Paris, Switzerland...all areas of Europe I hope to be able to visit one day.

Even though the time switches changed and confused me some, I do very much appreciate even a spy novel like this one keeping me on my toes.  

Just enough of an inside look at the lives of FBI agents and CIA operatives to intrigue me even more than I already was.  

I appreciated the attention the author (who is a man) gave to the idea that Kate would find being a full time mom not quite as stimulating as her previous profession.  These descriptions and Kate's feelings as well as her inability to completely let go of her former operative suspicions and investigative behaviors, felt right on to me.

Kate's secrets - especially the one secret that torments her.  The life of a spy is many times romanticized.  Not here.  

The intricacies of Dexter's work...especially once all the explanations have been gathered.  Whoa Nelly.  
My bubble was burst a little though after reading Pavone's Acknowledgments where he offers a disclaimer about the "completely fictional nature" of his descriptions of cyber-hacking as well as specifics about the CIA.  Dangit.

What I Didn't Like

There were teasers throughout the story that while kept me reading...but tended at times to be obvious or give up too much information at once.  

There were a few times where it was obvious what was going on...even Kate was being duped...especially by two coincidental "friends."  But, somehow even Kate, the ever alert, CIA operative missed those clues.  Really?  Kate eventually figures out most of the twists and turns of the overall plot...but it never occurred to her that it was strange that Julia insisted on retrieving her cell phone from Kate's car alone?  Even though it was raining, and this particular incident was at the beginning of the story, this was obvious to me.  I felt it was unrealistic that Kate would miss this and a few other clues like this.

The timeframe switches also reminded me of Gone Girl, and especially at the beginning, I got a little confused and had to backtrack.  I never really grew comfortable with the switches.  I appreciated that the "Today" sections were actually in a different font than the rest of the story, but the two other back and forth time switches were difficult to decipher sometimes.  I read this book as a thriller and found myself having to backtrack more than I usually would.

At the end, when Kate is putting the pieces together, there are parts of the story that the reader can figure out where Kate got them, but then there are other parts that the reader just has to trust Kate's acumen.  I didn't feel like the reader was given enough info to piece together all the puzzle or see the connections that Kate eventually does...even after she explains it.

Julia - I strongly disliked this character from the very beginning.  I wasn't sure why, but of course, it all comes out in the end.  

The ending.  Julia, especially.  Am I supposed to believe that after juggling years of deception and manipulation that all of a sudden she becomes meek and mild?  This didn't ring true for me.

Overall Recommendation

The Expats is a quick (I read it pretty much in two afternoons) spy/thriller novel, and even though I poked a few holes in it above, I still liked it.  

The Author

Chris Pavone

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, January 22nd:  Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, January 23rd:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, January 24th:  My Bookshelf
Friday, January 25th:  The Blog of Litwits
Monday, January 28th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Tuesday, January 29th:  Literally Jen
Wednesday, January 30th:  Peppermint Ph.D.
Thursday, January 31st:  BookChickDi
Friday, February 1st:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, February 4th:  She Treads Softly
Tuesday, February 5th:  House of Crime and Mystery
Wednesday, February 6th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, February 7th:  A Bookworm’s World
Friday, February 8th:  Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Monday, February 11th:  Book Addict Katie
Tuesday, February 12th:  Jenny Loves to Read
Wednesday, February 13th:  Crime Fiction Lover
Friday, February 15th:  Dolce Bellezza
Monday, February 18th:  Reviews by Elizabeth A. White

Monday, January 28, 2013

All That I Am - TLC Book Review

All That I Am by Anna Funder
Harper Perennial, 2011

Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of All That I Am from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.  However, the review that follows and the opinions within are all my own and offered without bias.

Cover? I think the two people on the cover are Ruth and Toller...I'm guessing because of the depth of sadness apparent on the woman's face.  I would expect the man's face to be more grieved as well, but he wanted to protect Ruth in a way and understood completely that they together had loved one person (Dora) with everything they had.
The cover fits...but it's not the best I don't think.  I've seen several other covers, and I like the Kindle cover shown below the most.

Title? I don't think any of us knows the true meaning of giving all that we are...until we have to.  These brave men and women who refused to follow blindly and tried to warn the rest of the world of impending danger should never be forgotten.

Reminded Me Of?  Ok, do not laugh.  In Mary Poppins, Mrs. Banks sings her suffragette song, including the following lyrics:

From Kensington to Billingsgate 
One hears the restless cries!
From ev'ry corner of the land:
"Womankind, arise!"
Political equality and equal rights with men!
Take heart! For Missus Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!

Why? I've said it before, and I'll say it again...I'm a lover of history.  My brain just can't be satisfied as long as there's more to learn.  And, oh, is there more to learn.  

What Now?  I'm going to search out Funder's first book, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall because I have so much to catch up on.  I've read a lot about Hitler and WWII, concentration camps, etc, but I know very little about the years before and Hitler's actual rise to power.  It was only with my first reading of The Book Thief that I realized there was a population of German people who did not support Hitler.  I am not usually a re-reader, but I will re-read All That I Am.  This is a book a person can enjoy and seek out missed details at least on a 2nd read if not a 3rd.  Seriously.  

Golden Lines

Please don't worry...I won't share all of these with you...but does this photo give you any indication of how much good stuff is in this book??  

I don't need money any more, but I do need to set the record straight.  As sure as I sit here today, Hitler will soon have his war.  (Not that anyone in this country seems to care - his opening salvo, the invasion of Czechoslovakia just weeks ago, has slid down to page thirteen in the New York Times.) (14)

The Kaiser called on us all to defend the nation, whatever our politics or religion.  He said, "I know no parties, only Germans..."  And then he said, "My dear Jews...My dear Jews!"  We were bowled over by our personal invitation to war.  War seemed holy and heroic, just as they had taught us at school - something to give our lives meaning and make us pure. (27)

Our revolution was a brief, post-war flirtation with the utopian left that was bloodily put down and then, with a parallel violence of the spirit, erased from national memory. (50)

"What we couldn't know back then," I continue, "is that on the night right back at the beginning of it all when the workers and soldiers elected Eisner our leader in the huge Mathaserbrau beer hall, the night that he proclaimed the Republic of Bavaria, if we had looked closely among the faces on the bench seats we would have seen in a corner an undistinguished, jowly returned corporal, not drinking, but watching." I tell her how this man seethed at Germany's defeat, denied the Kaiser's responsibility for the war and its loss.  Instead he blamed progressive Jews, pacifists and intellectuals for bringing Germany to her knees - we who had been left to clean up the mess when the government responsible for it fled.
"In 1923, while I was in prison, this man, Hitler, tried to take over Bavaira by force.  He was given a lenient sentence with privileges." (55)

Since I'd joined the Independents I had become used to talk about opposing government measures and proposing new ones, but it was an entirely novel notion to me that the government would lie to the people, even in the most serious of matters, such as sending men to war.  I can remember the shock of this awareness, the feeling of radical aloneness: if we couldn't trust the authorities, who could we trust?  The answer was: us. (67)

"You have twenty-four hours, sir.  You must be outside the borders of the Reich within twenty-four hours.  Or your citizenship will be revoked." (132)

The Reichstag fire and the persecution in its wake had sent fifty-five thousand Germans into exile - some two thousand writers and artists among them.  Several hundred of us ended up in Britain.  An exiled wit joked that we were the "Emigrandezza": the educated political opponents of the regime.  The mass of Jews came later.  There was nothing grand about us, though.  Everyone was dislocated and struggling - without our language, often without money, without readership and with no right to work. (160)

Our English visas also stipulated "no political activities of any kind."  But our lives would only have meaning if we could continue to help the underground in Germany, and try to alert the rest of the world to Hitler's plans for war.  We were being offered exile on condition that we were silent about the reason we needed it. (160)

Hitler might have muzzled the press but we thought that the people, once properly informed, would come to their senses and prefer their freedom. (As it turned out, we underestimated the liberation from selfhood the Nazis offered, the lure of mindless belonging and purpose.) (187)

The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the piece says, is going down there to try to negotiate something for the refugees with the Cuban government.  The US government has gone very quiet.  The Canadians have rejected the refugees outright.  And in Europe, Hitler is making the most of the situation, saying if the whole world is refusing to accept the Jews, how can Germany be blamed for their fate? (200)

What happens to you if you are declared by the powers that be to no longer exist, but persist in doing so? (204)

"There comes to man sometimes a sickness, psychic or spiritual, which robs him of all will and purpose and sets him aimlessly adrift in a longing for death, a longing which lures him irresistibly to destruction, to a mad plunge into chaos." Ernst Toller quote (245)

By nightfall on 1 July more than two hundred associates, acolytes and committed Nazis, as well as independents, conservatives, military men and political leaders, had been slaughtered.  Over a thousand more were under arrest. (258)

After the war I came to this sunstruck place.  It is a glorious country, which aspires to no kind of glory.  Its people aim for something both more basic and more difficult: decency. (340)


Dr. Dora Fabian, Ernst Toller, Dr. Ruth Becker and Hans Wesemann are professionals, friends and lovers who are exiled after WWI for speaking out against the rising Nazi regime.  They are not allowed to go home; they are not allowed to receive funds of any kind from home; they are not allowed to have correspondence from home; and most assuredly they are not allowed to participate in any kind of political activities while in exile...or they and thousands like them will be sent home to Them.  Living in constant fear, their small group of pacifists begins an underground effort of their own to get the word out to the rest of the world about Hitler's plans for war.  They sidestep the British government, Scotland Yard and eventually the Gestapo who are on every corner to squash any "problems."  They are eventually betrayed by one of their own, and the events leading up to that betrayal and its deep reaching effects haunt two of the survivors for the rest of their lives.  

What I Liked

My head was spinning with all the information...Google, Google and more Google

pacifist Independent party
The St. Louis, a ship full of Jews escaping Europe for Cuba
German soldiers' mutiny in the North Sea at the end of WWI...the beginning of the Revolution
May 1919 slaughter in the streets of Munich
Ernst Toller plays and writing from prison
gassing of political prisoners before the Jewish Holocaust
espionage by exiled Germans
Germany's Enlightenment Jews
Hitler's effect on women
party politics in German before WWII
political imprisonment to keep ideas of social justice at bay
April 26, 1933 - first Gestapo law passed - "the Fabian amendment"
the Reichstag fire
April 1, 1933 Goebbels warns Germans of the "Jewish spirit"
H.G. Wells involvement with exiled Germans' efforts
German efforts to cross national borders and silence immigrants
Commission of Inquiry into the Reichstag Fire
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Theodor Lessing examination of the irrational in political life
Goring and Goebbels
Sylvia Pankhurst
John of Nepomuk
Hitler's June 30 called "meeting" with Ernst Rohm
Hitler and Goring's List of Unwanted Persons
President Roosevelt's response to the St. Louis
Otto Lehmann-Russbuldt
The Bloomsbury Deaths
Fenner Brockway
Austraila and Jewish immigrants
Nuremberg Trials

I loved that Funder used so much factual information...and quotes from the actual works of Toller, Fabian, and others embedded throughout her story.

Funder's rich descriptions of Toller's depression as well as Dora's liberal use of morphine and then of course Ruth's spiral into oblivion...the accidental as well as the purposeful one later in her life.  I never felt sorry for any of them because they wouldn't have wanted that.  They had jobs to do and they gave everything they were and had to follow what they felt was right even though at times the odds seemed and were insurmountable.  How else could they have dealt with the inevitable damages to their psyche?

The sensitive, yet honest treatment of politics FOR the lower class BY those who had no idea how the lower classes actually lived.

What I Didn't Like

There were times when I felt bogged down.  However, I didn't feel this way because of the writing; I felt this way because of my lack of background knowledge on many of the subjects/people mentioned.  I mean, really, my only knowledge of Sylvia Pankhurst was from Mary Poppins?  Oy.  

Overall Recommendation

All That I Am isn't for the faint of heart.  There's a lot here to consider and think about.  If you're interested in history that's been pretty much swept under the rug...but explains how the heck Hitler was able to mesmerize a nation into blind conformity, then you'll want to spend some time with Funder.  This one is not a quick read though; you need time to digest, google, and think through all the scenarios, people, events, and time to make the connections to the history most of us were taught in school.  
All That I Am will stay with me for a while.

The Author

Anna Funder

Other Stops on the Tour

Wednesday, January 23rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, January 24th: Walking With Nora
Friday, January 25th: Lisa’s Yarns
Friday, January 25th: Kristen’s Book Nook
Monday, January 28th: Peppermint Ph.D.
Tuesday, January 29th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, January 30th: From L.A. to LA
Thursday, January 31st: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Thursday, February 7th: Man of La Book
Monday, February 11th: nomadreader
Wednesday, February 13th: 5 Minutes For Books