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Kill It With Fire by Marianne Bellotti (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hrs.
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Kill It With Fire: Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones) by Marianne Bellotti, narrated by Katie Koster, is an audiobook I read to prepare for an interview with the author for work. So this review will be a bit unusual. Bellotti’s book is about modernizing technology, but not for the sake of getting the latest and greatest. Her book is about enterprises taking a careful look at their current operational systems, which are the backbones of many businesses today, and determining how best to maintain, upgrade, or modernize them for current business needs and the future of the business.

I found this audio to be at times engaging and circular. There are arguments made early on that are reiterated later in the book, which makes sense when you consider this is a business focused book making an argument for interdisciplinary teamwork in the world of technology that focuses on ensuring technology is not only maintained but evolved over time to meet future business needs.

Bellotti offers a lot of wonderful advice on how to work to modernize systems without burning down the entire place and starting over from scratch. Like she says, technology that is doing the job most effectively is the best option for the business, but for that technology to be at its best, it also needs to be updated and maintained.

Kill It With Fire: Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones) by Marianne Bellotti, narrated by Katie Koster, is a good resource for businesses trying to get a handle on the latest systems and options out there while still ensuring their business hums along as effectively as it can.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Marianne Bellotti is a software engineer and relapsed anthropologist. Her work focuses on how culture influences the implementation and development of software. She runs engineering teams and teaches other people how to tackle complex systems. Most of her work has focused on restoring old systems to operational excellence, but she also works on the safety of cutting edge systems and artificial intelligence. 

Finding Me by Viola Davis (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs.
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***trigger warnings for those who have suffered sexual abuse or child abuse***

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis, narrated by the author, is what I want in a memoir every time – not simply name dropping or a recounting of events, but an in-depth look at one’s life and all its dark corners and bright lights. I want it to be reflective, and I want it to ring true. I want to hear everything that a person believes makes them who they are today. Davis brings that and much more.

I have loved Davis as an actor for so many years. When I see her name on the list, I’m watching that movie. She is that powerful and phenomenal, and now I can see why. She’s one of those actors who has the innate ability to channel the past and mold it into her roles and provide her characters with motivation, but she’s also a keen observer of people around her and their emotional and physical struggles.

I did not know that Davis grew up in Rhode Island! I lived in Massachusetts, but like 20 min. from the border of Rhode Island as a girl. When she talked about places, I knew where she was. That made this a not-so-great treat because I was completely unaware of the horrors there, but I was a kid…most of us don’t notice those things.

What I loved is that she stays true to the woman I believe her to be, pulling no punches about discrimination or racism or even sexism in the Hollywood business. Her story is a story for all Black women who struggle with perceptions of others and who they are. I want all women to feel loved for who they are, not who we perceive them to be.

She is very candid about the abuse, molestation, and more that occurred in her childhood and the effects that it had on her as an adult. Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis is one of the best memoirs I’ve listened to in a while, and I highly recommend this one. I cannot tell you how riveting this was, you need to experience this for yourself.

About the Author:

Viola Davis is an American actress. The recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The cover of The No-Show by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Evanna Lynch, Heather Long, Kathryn Drysdale, and Luke Thompson, is misleading. O’Leary’s latest is not a ron-com; it is far more serious. Each of these women — Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane — is stood up on Valentine’s Day by Joseph Carter. The narration shifts between the three women, which makes it very hard for listeners and readers to like Carter very much. Jane is a pushover, and Siobhan is a strong woman on the outside, but Miranda is too busy trying to be one of the guys.

***I would warn those who have been harassed at work or by a professional in a partnership-type situation that this book could have triggers for them.***

This book was a long and winding trail through Joseph Carter’s love life. These three woman all play a role in his life, with two of them helping him to heal. What I didn’t enjoy was the manipulative nature of this plot and the cover image. This was not comedic at all, and the relationships here are very off-kilter. It’s almost like the author wanted us to hate Joseph from the start, only to try and redeem him through the voices of these women. I felt icky about the whole book. I preferred the side characters more than the protagonists.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary is not at all what I wanted or expected in this book. I feel manipulated by the plot and the timelines and that doesn’t leave me with much to like about the book. The peripheral characters are great, but they are not in it enough to make this much better. I did like when Miranda gets her happy ending, but I could have cared less about the others.

RATING: Couplet

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs
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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, begins in school with Georgina, who is voted most likely to succeed, struggling to stay just popular enough and not as popular as other kids in her class. When her teacher realizes she is not trying as hard as she should, she pairs her with Lucas McCarthy, who sits in the front of class and is incredibly quiet. They soon fall in love over literature and Wuthering Heights. While they are clearly smitten and spend every moment together, neither makes an effort to be public with their love or share their relationship with their parents.

Fast forward to when they are adults, they meet again at a newly renovated pub where Georgina is the barmaid and Lucas is the owner. For 12 years, she’s moved from job to job and man to man since school; is it because she lost her father to an unexpected death or is there something more? Top it all off, Lucas doesn’t seem to remember her at all, which signals to her that their relationship was not that memorable.

Everything begins to unravel when her new employer offers space for writing competition about moments of shame. Georgina has been harboring a big secret from everyone and trying to blame all that is wrong in her life on the wrong thing. Unless she strives to deal with her past, her life will plummet even further.

This is the first book I’ve read written by McFarlane, and I wasn’t disappointed by the character development, pacing, or story. Georgina’s boyfriend at the start of the novel, Robin, will make you so angry and fed up with her, but clues throughout the book will have you cheering her on as she strives to put him off and keep him away. Her friends are quirky and definitely British, but they are loyal. Her roommate is a bit gruff, but her advice redeems her. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, is not as fluffy a read as I expected, but it was certainly worth it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels. It’s Not Me, It’s You is her third book. She lives in Nottingham, with a man and a cat.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs.
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The Switch by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones, finds Leena Cotton agreeing to swap lives, computers, and phones with her grandmother, Eileen Cotton, in Yorkshire. The swap has Leena stepping back from her cutting edge technology and fast-paced life, while Eileen is stepping into her first London adventure. The title and the swapping of lives seems like it would be comical and funny, but like other O’Leary books, there’s much more to the story. Leena and Eileen are just two of the people affected by the death of Leena’s sister. Both have been living their lives by rote, while Leena’s mother has fallen apart a number of times, struggling with the loss of her daughter and the absence of another. Eileen has been there for it all, trying to hold her daughter together, without interfering too much.

I loved Eileen’s story of navigating online dating long after her divorce from her cheating husband, and Leena’s time in her grandmother’s shoes reignites her passion for event planning and connecting with other people in the community. Leena has to learn that she can rely on others and feel the emotions she’s been bottling up, while Eileen needs to find her own life and passions. These two are more alike than they think. The narrators did a fantastic job of differentiating between the characters, bringing life to the emotions the two women feel, and navigating the interactions of O’Leary’s characters, making them feel real.

I love that O’Leary tackles heavy topics in her books, while still making them fun reads with some comic moments. The Switch by Beth O’Leary will not disappoint. I loved the older people in Yorkshire and their interactions from the busybody to the woman who is at her husband’s beck and call. The city people that Eileen meets run the gamut, including a cat fisher. There’s a lot to juggle, but O’Leary does well to keep every story line on track.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs.
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The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune, Tiffy Moore is a woman who has been chucked out of an apartment she shared with her boyfriend Justin. She’s got a small budget, so she has few options that don’t involve horrible conditions or strange alternatives. One alternative is to share a flat with Leon, a hospice nurse who works nights. They would need to share the one bed, but they would be in it at different times. Tiffy works day shift as a book editor, so she’d have the place on weekends and at night during week.

How can this be romantic or comical, if Tiffy and Leon never meet? They do start communicating about the mundane doings of apartment sharing through post-its notes on the fridge, tables, etc. Leon is a man of few words, and Tiffy is the opposite — she’s effusive and chaotic.

***Trigger warning for sufferers of abuse***

This is not a light-hearted comedy alone; there are deeper issues dealt with, and yes, in a quicker timeline than normally would happen. Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend may have left her for another woman he plans to marry, but she is more than gun-shy when it comes to other men. She’s so consumed by everything Justin ever said about her, she can no longer just be herself without second-guessing or putting herself down. It’s clear something about her relationship with Justin wasn’t right. You find out later in the book.

Leon, meanwhile, is not without his own troubles. He’s dating Kay who clearly doesn’t think he spends enough time with her, which is why she’s all for the flatshare and having him on weekends at her place. He is consumed with work, finding the long lost love of one of his patients, and freeing his wrongly accused brother from prison. Leon may be quiet and mild-mannered, but he has a busy schedule.

O’Leary really writes quirky characters so well. Tiffy is someone you can imaging bubbling up you life and bringing color to it, while Leon is that introspective friend who overthinks but always has great advice. Her plot enables Tiffy and Leon to lead separate lives, even as they fall into like with each other. The comic set of side characters also keeps things unpredictable. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune, is one to read if you don’t mind a little heavy stuff mixed with your romantic comedy.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary (audio)

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Audible, 10+ hrs.
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The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Josh Dylan and Eleanor Tomlinson, has the makings of a light, fun romantic read, but there are dark edges of depression, alcoholism, and sexual assault that make this a more serious novel than expected. Dylan and Addie fall in love/lust over a summer in France where she works as a caretaker of her friend Cherry’s villa and Dylan, a poet, is a rich man’s son who is looking for himself abroad. Immediately, I was drawn to the character of Dylan because he’s a poet and lines of verse come to him out of no where and he struggles to remember them, all the while he’s falling for Addie. They have broken up because in the present, they haven’t spoken in a few years, but they are headed to Cherry’s wedding and end up carpooling.

Dylan and Marcus have been friends for ages, but it is clear that something happened in their relationship as well because Marcus is “trying” to be better. As the novel unravels, it is clear that the relationship between Addie and Dylan was colored by the presence of Marcus. I really enjoyed the dynamics at play between Addie and Dylan (working-class, family girl and upper crust boy trying to distance himself from his father even though he still relies on family wealth) and the interplay with Marcus who seemed so much like a puppet-master of Dylan at times.

While in the present, crammed in a Mini with Marcus, Addie’s sister Deb, and random acquaintance of Cherry’s Rodney, Addie and Dylan are forced to confront their past, why they broke up, and whether the love they both have for each other still is enough to move forward with. There’s some hilarity when traffic stalls their travels or their car breaks down, but overall, there are some deep issues afoot.

What bothered me was how glossed over Marcus’ role in their relationship was until the end. At no point did Dylan try to see things from Addie’s point of view, while she bent over backward to be understanding of his connection to Marcus, even though she wasn’t really privy to why they were so tight in the first place. The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary is a good novel, I just wish there had been a little more background earlier on about Marcus and Dylan’s relationship and a little more awareness on Dylan’s part that Marcus didn’t always have his best interests at heart.

RATING: Quatrain (really 3.5)

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

Accusing Mr. Darcy by Kelly Miller (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 13+ hrs.
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Accusing Mr. Darcy by Kelly Miller, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is part romance and part murder-mystery in which Mr. Darcy becomes accused of compromising/attacking Elizabeth Bennet! How can that be? Elizabeth Bennet is visiting her cousin Rose at the Kendall Estate, and Mr. Darcy has come to stay with his friend Nicholas. The husband and wife team of Rose and Nicholas may have ulterior motives for bringing their Elizabeth and Darcy to their home, but it is not to bring them together in matrimony.

Rose has talked up Captain James Kendall to Elizabeth and vice versa, hoping to make a love match between them. Meanwhile, Nicholas has invited several young ladies for Darcy to consider, even as he acknowledged that Darcy erred in his response to Elizabeth at his wedding. Darcy sets about to apologize to her for his friend’s sake, and the road to love is set in motion.

A murder in the Kendall neighborhood causes concern, but when one of the guests is attacked, a former Bow Street runner is called to solve the matter. A budding romance is hampered by the watchful eyes of investigators and men posted to ensure no one else is attacked until the culprit is caught. Miller has paced this novel well, and Elizabeth and Darcy are able to not only overcome miscommunications and prejudices but also work together and learn what it truly means to be partners. Even in a few short weeks, they have found they have more in common than not.

Stevie Zimmerman is as always a stunning narrator. She does well differentiating between the many characters and articulating the scenes to build tension and ensure readers are captivated. Accusing Mr. Darcy by Kelly Miller, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is full of romance, sweet moments, and mystery. A definite winner.

***And there’s a horse named Serena!***

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Award-winning author Kelly Miller writes Austenesque Regency romances. Her four published books are “Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley,” a “Pride & Prejudice” fantasy, winner, Royal Dragonfly Book Awards and Indies Today Book Awards; “Mr. Darcy’s Perfect Match,” a “Pride & Prejudice” variation recommended by the Historical Novel Society; “Accusing Mr. Darcy,” a “Pride & Prejudice” romance/mystery, winner, Firebird book awards and Queer Indie Awards-Ally Division; and “A Consuming Love” a “Pride & Prejudice” novella. Look for “Captured Hearts,” a variation of “Persuasion,” to be released in early 2022. Ms. Miller resides in Silicon Valley with her husband, daughter, and their many pets.

1932 by Karen M. Cox (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 7+ hrs.
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1932 by Karen M. Cox, narrated by Elizabeth Grace, is set during the Great Depression when economic turmoil upended so many lives and many lost their fortunes. The Bennets are not immune, as Mr. Bennet loses his professorship, forcing the family to leave their comforts of Chicago for Meryton, Kentucky, and Mrs. Bennet’s family farm. The family farm is quite an adjustment, with no bathroom indoors and a farm that hasn’t been very productive.

The Bennets set to work about getting the house in working order. William Darcy, owner of Pemberley, the largest farm in the county, however, has a rich and charmed life where everything is just as he likes it, until the new neighbors force him to take a harder look at his well-ordered life. When he meets Elizabeth Bennet, he is swept up in feelings he is unready for, but he’s unable to express himself in a clear way.

Cox clearly knows these characters well, and she develops them in believable ways for this time period and given the economic circumstances. Darcy is still the caring and somewhat prideful man we all expect him to be, but he’s definitely still a gentleman. Elizabeth is still a willful and spirited woman who wants to help all she loves. The more modern times do lend itself to a little more liberal storyline, especially where Georgiana is concerned.

1932 by Karen M. Cox, narrated by Elizabeth Grace, is a delight and Wickham is even more trying in this modernized story. I loved the dynamic between Elizabeth and Darcy in Cox’s story. I loved that they had to navigate their marriage without understanding that they are “in love.” Don’t miss this Depression-era story.

About the Author:

Karen M Cox is an award-winning author of five full-length novels: 1932, Find Wonder in All Things, I Could Write a Book, Undeceived, and Son of a Preacher Man. She also contributed short stories to several anthologies, including The Darcy MonologuesDangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes and Gentlemen Rogues, Rational Creatures, and Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl.

Karen was born in Everett WA, which was the result of coming into the world as the daughter of a United States Air Force Officer. She had a nomadic childhood, with stints in North Dakota, Tennessee, and New York State before finally settling in her family’s home state of Kentucky at the age of eleven. She lives in a quiet town with her husband, where she works as a pediatric speech pathologist, encourages her children, and spoils her granddaughter.

Channeling Jane Austen’s Emma, Karen has let a plethora of interests lead her to begin many hobbies and projects she doesn’t quite finish, but she aspires to be a great reader and an excellent walker—like Elizabeth Bennet.

None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hours
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None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney, narrated by Christine Lakin, Maxwell Hamilton, Zach Villa, and Jake Abel, was a recommendation from LittleMissStar and it was a thrilling ride. Emma Lewis and Travis Bell are recruited by the FBI to conduct interviews of convicted juvenile killers and provide insight and advice on cold cases.

What these teens are initially unaware of is an active case that has the FBI chasing their tails. A serial killer is on the loose and targeting teenagers. Lewis has to face her fears as a survivor of a serial killer herself, but to do that, she’ll have to face teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson, the man who killed Bell’s father, and learn what he knows about this new killer. Her demons, however, are the greatest allies she has.

Marney has taken the twisted connection between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs and created a teenage version of that relationship, complete with the defiance and angst that teens carry when they are still trying to find their way in the world — serial killer or not.

None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney is a wild story with FBI analysis, detective work, interviewing of serial killers, and interplay between teens and killers. Marney is deft in her world building and her character development. The pacing is on target, even if I figured out the killer before we got to the final scenes. The narrators are fantastic.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Ellie Marney is a NYT and internationally bestselling author of crime fiction. Her titles include the Aurealis-winning None Shall Sleep, White Night, the Every series – starting with Every Breath – and the companion novel No Limits, White Night, and the Circus Hearts series, starting with Circus Hearts 1. Her next book, The Killing Code, an intense mystery about female codebreakers hunting a serial killer against a backdrop of 1940s wartime Washington D.C., will be released in September 2022.

Ellie’s books are published in ten countries, and have been optioned for television. She’s spent a lifetime researching in mortuaries, talking to autopsy specialists, and asking former spies about how to make explosives from household items, and now she lives quite sedately in south-eastern Australia with her family.

Will by Will Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 16+ hrs.
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Will by Will Smith, narrated by the author, is a phenomenal memoir about his family, his rise to fame, his will to be the best rapper and movie star, and his struggles with emotions. Narrated by Smith himself is like a trip and Audible has me at go when the music of these icons is included for listening. Smith still has those rapping chops — don’t think he doesn’t. But even with his struggles, it is clear that he’s in a place where he is still projecting a little bit of that personal, rather than actual self that he seems to be still searching for. After all, this is a memoir that he hopes will entertain and sell a lot of books.

There were things I already knew in this book from the Fresh Prince Reunion and from conversations during Jada Pinkett’s Red Table Talks. But I will say this, it is clear from Will’s point of view that he does what he does because he loves his family and he wants to give them the life that he didn’t feel like he had, but what he failed to see is that they are not him — they have different needs and desires. Even with Jada, he clearly wanted to create memories as he believed they should be — much of what he does is to create cinematic movies of his memories. He wants to will things into being to reach some sort of ideal. Jada, for her part, clearly loves him and all his faults, but she failed (at least from what I could tell) to express her wants/needs/desires in a way that he heard her and acknowledged them.

But this book is not about just his relationship with Jada. Like many creatives, there are visions we want to achieve and sometimes they work as we see them and sometimes we need to adjust to how those visions can actually be achieved. Gigi, his grandmother, was a wise woman. She believed in being kind and helping others no matter what, and this is something Will took to heart. You can see that in how he helps his friends, family, and even strangers get a leg up and achieve their own dreams, but one piece of advice from his mother that he forgot to embody was only speaking when it improved on silence.

Will clearly loves to talk and joke, but there is something that scares him about silence. This can be traced to those memories of domestic violence by his father against his mother. He stood in silence as his mother was hurt by his father – that inaction shaped him into the boisterous, charismatic clown he is.

Will by Will Smith is vulnerable, reflective, and harsh as Smith examines his past, present, and future. Like many of us who seek to be better and learn from mistakes, he is still on that journey. Is there stuff for the gossip rags? Yes. Will it be exploited? Probably. But was this journey cathartic for Smith and the reader? Definitely. We’re all deeply flawed, and Smith shows us that even our flaws can be channeled to make ourselves successful at least financially, but is that enough? Or should we be learning to adjust our lives and lead richer experiences with those we love?

RATING: Cinquain

Red Widow by Alma Katsu (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible: 10+ hrs.
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Red Widow by Alma Katsu, narrated by Mozhan Marnò, is a thriller but from a female CIA analyst’s point of view. Don’t let the word “analyst” make you think this is all data focused because it isn’t.

Lyndsey Duncan, the so-called human lie detector, is called into CIA headquarters by Eric Newman to investigate the murder of a Russian asset and a potential mole within either U.S.-based CIA or its Russian counterpart agency. She is warned to stay away from the widow, Theresa Warner, who is obviously the mole referenced by Katsu’s book title. For me, the story is not about the hunt for the mole, but about the clandestine agency’s backstabbing, infighting, lack of loyalty, and agents’ expendability. It’s about the high-wire act that agents dangle on every day, attempting to protect our freedoms and stave off attacks and other horrible events.

The narrator of Katsu’s book is fantastic with all of the voices. Each character is well fleshed out and discernible in conversations and interactions. I loved the narrator. I loved that this book showcased female protagonists, but the story was a bit too predictable, which I chock up to reading too many other spy novels and police-based books. It’s hard to surprise me with twists and turns in these kinds of books. One other thing that bothered me, is that Lyndsey is slow to realize she’s a pawn. I felt like she was smarter than that. We all have flaws and blindspots, and perhaps that is what trips up Lyndsey in this novel.

Red Widow by Alma Katsu, narrated by Mozhan Marnò, is a spy thriller I wanted to love, but I just ended up liking. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth reading because it was, and I hope this is a genre that Katsu continues to explore, though I admit I prefer her horror and paranormal books.

RATING: Tercet