Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine / Doubleday / Bantam)

ClevelandK-NeedToKnowUSA fast-paced, gripping spy thriller

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, CIA analyst Vivian Miller uncovers a dangerous secret that will threaten her job, her family — and her life. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her — her job, her husband, even her four children — is threatened.‎

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

This novel received a lot of pre-publication buzz. Russian sleeper cells infiltrating the CIA; movie rights sold to Universal Pictures, with Charlize Theron attached; and lots of praise from other thriller and mystery authors. All of this during a political environment characterized (in part) by Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So, with expectations high, I’m glad to report that Need to Know exceeded my hopes. A gripping novel that I devoured in two sittings. Continue reading

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Review: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BATMAN and THE JOKER (Bantam/Transworld)

WorldAccordingToBatman&Joker

BATMAN

Written by Daniel Wallace | Illustrated by Joel Gomez & Beth Sotelo

Experience the world through the eyes of the Dark Knight, as Batman shares the secrets of his relentless battle against the villains of Gotham City.

Filled with insight on everything from his tragic origin story to invaluable crime-fighting tips, this fully illustrated book sees the World’s Greatest Detective give budding heroes all the advice they need to take on villainy wherever they find it.

THE JOKER

Written by Matthew K. Manning | Illustrated by Joel Gomez & Beth Sotelo

Enter the Joker’s twisted world as the Clown Prince of Crime shares his deranged worldview, revealing his skewed perspective on everything from life in Arkham Asylum to battling Batman.

This series of short, heavily-illustrated guides to the worlds of comic heroes and villains is a lot of fun. They’re very quick reads, and serve as excellent introductions, one-stop reference books and curios for fans new and old. Each of the books has a number of extra inserts and removable items — such as Arkham Asylum note cards (the Joker’s is amusing), Robin’s facemask, Post-It Note annotations from Dr. Arkham in the Joker’s book. In the Batman book, you’ll read about his equipment and world (include explanations of the most notable/stranger items in the Batcave), very brief descriptions of the key villains in the Rogues Gallery. The Joker’s book is appropriately zanier and more twisted, with riotous colours and scribblings from the mind of the demented clown. It’s a fun pair of books. I think they’d work as great stocking-stuffers for the Batman fan in your family. Readers already familiar with the characters may prefer one of the graphic novels or collections, though.

***

Bantam Press/Transworld have also published The World According To Spider-Man (review) and Wolverine (review).

Mini-Review: “The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar” by Martin Windrow (Bantam Press)

WindrowM-OwlWhoLikedSittingOnCaesarAn endearing memoir of one man and his owl

When author Martin Windrow met the tawny owlet that he christened Mumble, it was love at first sight. Raising her from a fledgling, through adolescence and into her prime years, Windrow recorded every detail of their time living together (secretly) in a south London tower block, and later in a Sussex village. This is the touching, intriguing and eccentric story of their 15-year relationship, complete with photographs and illustrations of the beautiful Mumble. Along the way, we are given fascinating insight into the ornithology of owls – from their evolution and biology to their breeding habits and hunting tactics. The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar is a witty, quirky and utterly charming account of the companionship between one man and his owl.

This is a book that doesn’t require much of a review. It is an endearing, amusing, and also moving account of an editor’s life and experiences as the owner of an owl. An interesting, short book.

“Perched on the back of a sunlit chair was something about 9 inches tall and shaped rather like a plump toy penguin with a nose-job. It appeared to be wearing a one-piece knitted jumpsuit of pale grey fluff with brown stitching, complete with an attached balaclava helmet. From the face-hole of the fuzzy balaclava, two big, shiny black eyes gazed up at me trustfully. Kweep, it said quietly.”

Windrow recounts his various experiences with Mumble (and the short tenure of his first owl), and there are so many moments that bring a smile or even laugh, as he recounts the rather cat-like affections and mannerisms of his pet owl. (Indeed, Windrow says owls are basically cats with wings). To avoid cute-overload, the author alternates some chapters of his experiences with more informational chapters – for example, one on the biology of owls, one (really interesting) chapter on their place in folklore and mythology, and so forth.

A quick read, that will make you smile and also tug on your heartstrings, The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar is an enjoyable book. It perhaps could have done with being a bit shorter: the anecdotes have a slightly repetitive quality about them, without ever losing the obvious sense of affection Windrow felt for his pet and companion. A different book to what I normally read, it was nevertheless a quick and endearing diversion.