New in Nonfiction: Spine-Tingling True Spy Stories

If you find spy stories thrilling and captivating, the Abbot Public Library has recommendations from our newest collection additions.

Our previous post on nonfiction spy stories introduced brilliant British historian and writer Ben Macintyre. His series of books on 20th century espionage were very highly regarded.

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy is Ben Macintyre’s newest book, very much anticipated by his numerous readers and fans. It is a story of the most celebrated female spy (alias Agent Sonya), who had worked for the Soviet Union. Her long (1907-2000), very effective espionage work, full of many accomplishments, and her colorful personal life make her an excellent subject for a nonfiction spy thriller. Ben Macintyre has excelled at creating a narrative centered around this very complex and extraordinary person. You can find a review in The New York Times here. Reserve a print copy for Curbside Pickup or check it out in ebook format on Overdrive.

Atomic Spy: The Dark Lives of Klaus Fuchs by Nancy Greenspan is a biography of one of the most infamous spies of the Cold War, another true-life story of a spy who belonged to the same ring as Agent Sonya. 

A brilliant scientist and a Nazi fighter, Klaus Fuchs immigrated to Great Britain and soon joined the atomic bomb research project… at the same time handing the materials over to the Russians. Unlike previous biographies of Klaus Fuchs, Greenspan’s book features a biographical account of a very complex character, portraying him as a passionate person with very strong ideological beliefs that motivated him to share secrets with Cold War enemies of the British and Americans. Very well researched due to access to numerous German, British, and American archives, as well as Fuchs’s correspondences, the story, full of tension, captures readers entirely. Here is The New York Times review.

In addition to spies, the library also owns books on American spymasters and the Intelligence Agency itself, their accomplishments and failures:

Dead Doubles: The Extraordinary Worldwide Hunt for One of the Cold War’s Most Notorious Spy Rings by Trevor Barnes is an incredible story of the CIA and the British Intelligence Service cooperation in cracking the most damaging spy ring of the Cold War in the 1960s. Barnes uses tools and his skills as a fiction writer to make this real-life story as fast-paced and compelling as fiction.

The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War: A Tragedy in Three Acts by Scott Anderson, war correspondent and writer, is a story of the spying world during WWII and, later, the Cold War, through the eyes and lives of four remarkable, very talented American spies who helped shape the earliest CIA operations. Read The New York Times review here.

The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future by Chris Whipple is a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of the CIA recounted through the actions of its directors. The book is well-documented and based on interviews with every living CIA director. It delivers an informative history of the agency, describing how it works and what the director’s job is.

Reflecting on some of the operational failures, the author proposes some reforms to improve the agency’s performance. Here is a NYT review.

As always, these books can be reserved through the library, either in print or digital format, and sometimes both. 

Digital downloads are available through Overdrive/the Libby app with your library card. 

To obtain a print copy, please carefully read the instructions for Curbside Pickup.

Nonfiction Beach Reads

With the arrival of summer, and warm, sunny weather settling in, the beach seems to be calling. Of course, no trip to the beach is complete without some beach reading: something entertaining, captivating, and enjoyable.

Traditionally, summer reads are mostly fiction, but some real-life nonfiction stories could be even more engaging and compelling than any fiction.

True-life spy stories are just one of the examples of very entertaining beach reading (check out the previous post, Spies Among Us), especially if they have been written by British historian and brilliant writer Ben Macintyre. A collection of books on espionage in the 20th century by Ben Macintyre is superb and captivating reading; these are books that you will not be able to put down until the end.

Lives of celebrities (check our previous post, Celebrate Celebrities) is another entertaining subject; you might be curious to read one of the celebrity memoirs, enjoying their stories told in their own voices. 

Could a biography of a politician be entertaining? Pelosi, by Susan Ball, is a recent biography of Nancy Pelosi, a politician and current House Speaker, that seems to be entertaining and full of anecdotes, while at the same time offering an admiring account of the politician as the greatest legislator of our time, who is committed to truth and justice. The book is very well regarded and very well reviewed in The New York Times.

Samantha Irby, humorist and essayist, called one of the most entertaining but poignant essayists of our time, started out as a blogger. Now, she has three very well reviewed books of essays under her belt, one of which was bought for development into a TV series. 

In her essays, she writes about very personal topics, such as poverty, blackness, failed relationships, struggles with chronic disease, eating too much junk food, spending too much time with her cat, watching too much television, and more. She uses her sense of humor to deal with life that sabotages and impairs her every step.

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audiobook

In her latest book Wow, No Thank You, which came out just a couple months ago, she applies her naughty sense of humor to subjects that cover everything from love and marriage to the art of “detachment parenting” of her two white stepchildren. The review in NYT assessed the book, and the author, very highly. The book is available in audio format, as well. 

All titles are available through Overdrive/Libby with your library card.

So grab a blanket, and enjoy a perfectly relaxing sunny day at the beach!

Happy Pride! – Nonfiction and True Stories of the LGBTQ Community

Celebrate and commemorate the LGBTQIA+ Pride Month with the library’s resources and a curated reading list. Here, you will find books on the tumultuous history of the LGBT+ community’s struggle for equal rights, its disappointments and victories; you will learn about the evolving perspectives on homosexuality, and about pivotal events in the LGBT+ movement. 

All books are free and accessible through Overdrive/Libby:

A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski, winner of the Stonewall Award in nonfiction, covers the entire LGBT+ history from 1492 (!) to the present. Based on primary cultural and historical sources, the author shows how the American culture affected the LGBT+ experience, and how the LGBT+ experience shaped the cultural and societal history of the country. The starred review calls it “equally intellectually rigorous and entertaining.”

The Stonewall Reader, edited by New York Public Library, came out last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the epoch-making event in the fight for equality in the LGBTQ movement that began in the early hours of June 28, 1969. A collection of first accounts, diaries, and periodic literature that came from LGBTQ magazines and newspapers in the library’s archives, the book carefully chronicles the tumultuous fight for LGBTQ rights from five years leading up to through five years following the riots. The book was named one of the best books of 2019 on the subject.

The Stonewall uprising of 1969 was pivotal in the history of the LGBTQ+ community, and marks the start of the Gay Liberation Movement. Before Stonewall is a 1984 documentary about the LGBT community in America prior to 1969, decade by decade, and events that led to the Stonewall uprising.

A companion documentary, made fifteen years later in 1999, After Stonewall captures the lives of the LGBTQ community after the event through the end of the century.

You will find these documentaries in hoopla, free of charge and accessible at any time with your library card.

We Are Everywhere by Matthew Riemer is another book that came out in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The book is a photographic history of the LGBTQ+ movement and features the turbulent history of queer activism from its start at the end of the 19th century in Europe to the present. The book contains more than 300 images from various photographers and archives.

The Deviant’s War by Eric Cervini is the story of resistance and a secret fight for gay rights that started more than a decade before Stonewall. Franklin Kameny, a brilliant astronomer working for the U.S. Defense Department, was fired on suspicion of being a homosexual, like so many men and women before him. He fought back.

The book demonstrates a huge intellectual role that Kameny played in the gay liberation movement that triggered fundamental social changes in the post-war America.

Very well-researched and brilliantly written, the book received starred reviews in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

How to Survive a Plague by David France is another story of civil activism, this one taking place during the AIDS epidemic. It is a social and scientific history of AIDS, and a story of the AIDS movement and its activists who took their salvation into their own hands. Not only did their work expedite drug development, but it also transformed the entire medical system and cardinally changed the direction of the movement.

Prior to writing the book How to Survive a Plague, journalist David France created a documentary with the same title. The film received numerous awards and became the 2012 Academy Award nominee in documentary feature.

Spies Among Us

Spy thrillers – books and movies – are compelling, entertaining, and spine-tingling. The genre is extremely popular and has gained numerous fans. If you are among them or just curious why other people find the genre so captivating and enjoyable, try some of the titles from this list of suggestions.

If you have a subscription to Prime Video, you may have seen The Americans, a spy series released by FX Network that ran for six seasons. It’s a spy thriller about two KGB agents – a married couple – posing as Americans during the peak of the Cold War in the early 1980s. Although watching all six seasons of the show is a serious commitment, the series is well-written and masterfully done, keeping the viewer’s unabated interest up until the very last scene. 

The story is very realistic, and there are no James Bond-esque characters or elements. There are no cartoonish villains or superheroes either; the characters are complex and multilayered. Even though the struggle between the good and evil is definitely present, it all makes the series a very compelling and gripping affair to watch. 

If you enjoyed this series, try the following items from Abbot Public Library’s digital collection.

On the book front, let us introduce the works by the British historian, biographer, and author Ben Macintyre. His books about espionage in the 20th century – all of them superb – made various bestseller lists and collected numerous literary awards.

Though he writes nonfiction, his true-life spy stories read like fictional spy thrillers: written in a suspenseful tone, they are fast-paced, captivating, and impossible to put down until the end.  

Deep and thorough research is the foundation of Macintyre’s writing, and enables him to put characters in full social context, providing many real-life details pertaining to the time and place of the event, and making his stories fascinating and compelling.

The Spy and The Traitor is a thrilling real-life spy story about the events that took place in the USSR at the peak of the Cold War (the same as the setting for The Americans, mentioned above).

The story is about a high-ranking KGB operative (and double agent) Oleg Gordievsky, who not only successfully worked for MI6 for many years, but also managed to successfully escape to London right on the brink of his exposure.

Macintyre’s amazing sharp eye for detail and talent for observation help him describe thrilling scenes, such as spy’s escape route, and capture a reader’s interest even further.

Another story about a double agent, this time the narrative centers around the famous Kim Philby, a high-ranking MI6 operative also secretly working for the KGB for over 30 years, and who managed to safely escape to Moscow at the last moment.

The author finds ways to make the familiar story of Kim Philby captivating, and tries to answer some questions that were not previously researched. One of the questions that the author ponders is what makes people become spies or double agents. What personal qualities does a person possess to enjoy this vocation?

Popular fiction author Daniel Silva has written quite a few spy thrillers. His The Other Woman is a mesmerizing and highly imaginative fictional spy story, based on real people and relationships in the spy world. It also has a connection to one of Macintyre’s books, but it would not do to give away a plot twist.

A couple more true-life spy stories from Ben Macintyre; this time, about WWII-era spies: 

If you are fascinated by the spy thriller genre, Overdrive/Libby and hoopla have a multitude of true-life, as well as fictional, spy stories for you. They are all available with your library card.

And if you enjoy Macintyre’s works in particular, you have something to look forward to: his new spy story, Agent Sonya, will be released in September 2020.

Cyborgs, Assassins, and Stepsisters: YA Cinderella Retellings

When you think of fairy tales, one that may come to mind is the story of Cinderella. It has been told and retold hundreds of times, sometimes in the form of YA novels. In this post, you will find a few of these tales. They feature cyborgs, assassins, comic-cons, and stepsisters. One of them is even true. So if any of these catch your interest, check out the list below and explore a few of the Cinderella retellings we have accessible for you in Overdrive or through Overdrive’s Libby App.

*All descriptions are from the publisher.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (also available as an audiobook on hoopla)

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Ash by Malinda Lo

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Their friendship, as delicate as a new bloom, reawakens Ash’s capacity for love—and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah

A Chinese proverb says, “Falling leaves return to their roots.” In Chinese Cinderella, Adeline Yen Mah returns to her roots to tell the story of her painful childhood and her ultimate triumph and courage in the face of despair. Adeline’s affluent, powerful family considers her bad luck after her mother dies giving birth to her. Life does not get any easier when her father remarries. She and her siblings are subjected to the disdain of her stepmother, while her stepbrother and stepsister are spoiled. Although Adeline wins prizes at school, they are not enough to compensate for what she really yearns for — the love and understanding of her family.

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly (also available on hoopla)

Isabelle should be blissfully happy-she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe… which is now filling with blood.

Isabelle tried to fit in. She cut away pieces of herself in order to become pretty. Sweet. More like Cinderella. But that only made her mean, jealous, and hollow. Now she has a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

Walt Disney Records The Legacy Collection
Fewer tracks on this version
Japanese version

This next book isn’t a direct retelling, more of an inspired-by. The author mentions in an interview that her inspiration for the story was Disney’s Cinderella soundtrack during the fleeing the castle scene. (Click the images or link above to access different copies of the soundtrack in hoopla – the song is titled “The Stroke Of Midnight /Thank You Fairy Godmother” in all of them.) She felt that the music was a bit too dark and intense for the scene and thought that it would fit better if Cinderella was an assassin sent to kill the prince instead, and so the following story was born.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

If you’re interested in other fairy tales, check out our post on Beauty and the Beast retellings!

History: New Books on WWII

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, which ended in Europe on May 7th after Germany’s unconditional surrender, but was not officially over in Asia until September 2nd, when Japan formally surrendered in a ceremony aboard USS Missouri.

For history buffs, military history buffs, and WWII buffs, as well as those wanting to learn more about the previous major historical event that affected the whole world, we created a curated collection of new books:

The latest Eric Larson’s book is about Winston Churchill as the newly appointed Prime Minister in the early days of the war.

Though Churchill is the main character of this story, the book is more about the country and, especially, London and its denizens during the Blitz. The inclusion of witness accounts, taken from the diaries of those who tried to survive the horrors, lend a particularly chilling and poignant tone to the narrative. It’s on the NYT Bestseller List. Accessible as an ebook or audiobook

Sinclair McKay’s book is about the bombing of Dresden by Allied forces, which occurred in February 1945 and is considered one of the most controversial actions during WWII. Was it a war crime against German civilians or a calculated step to a victorious end?

The book was reviewed as “well researched, powerfully written and balanced.”

In the Pacific theatre, a group of five American pilots, inspired and motivated by legendary WWI pilot Eddie Rickenbecker, started a wild race for the title of America’s greatest fighter pilot during combat against the Japanese air force. Read about it in Race of Aces by John R. Bruning.

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ebook format
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Martha Maccallum also writes about the Pacific and its battles, and the heroic and courageous men that fought them. Her book, Unknown Valor, is accessible as an ebook and audiobook.

The Battle of Normandy was the epic invasion by the Allied forces that marked the beginning of the end of war in Europe. Begun on June 6th,1944, it was known as D-Day.

Lately, a number of books were published on the incredible contribution of women to the war effort, and the role they played in the Allied path to victory. These are books about women who became spies and operated in Europe. True stories, based on exhaustive research, all these books gained much praise and became bestsellers.

As always, all these titles are available through Overdrive/the Libby app with your library card. Click the book covers above to access the titles in Overdrive.