Book Reviews

I give every book a chance, because I believe we can learn from anyone’s story.


A Time for Penance by Robin Storey

A very creative tale that leaves the reader with an important lesson in self-reliance. With a taste of the supernatural, this dark psychological suspense novel made me simultaneously feel sympathy and disgust for the main character. This woman has everything taken from her (sometimes very much through her own actions), yet keeps on going. There is a message to this book – one of many actually – do not lose your identity in someone else. Also, stay away from cocaine.

At times very disturbing and dirty, the author does a magnificent job of sucking the reader into the story. The main character’s grim journey becomes your own, her missteps leading you further down a spiral staircase to potential ruin. From the moment I started reading this book, I could not put it down……

That said, I think I’ll go watch a Disney movie now.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock

Isn’t it amazing the things we don’t do simply because we think we can’t do them?
I have been trying to find this book for years now. I had this vague memory of reading a book when I was in elementary school – the problem was, the only memory I had was a very fuzzy recollection of a children’s book about a very small dog – it was a poodle in my memory – something about gemstone eyes, and flying. I couldn’t remember if the dog flew, or why flying was even part of my memory and how it fit in to the story. So I did searches online and found this book. I wasn’t altogether convinced it was the right one, but I purchased it for my kids anyway. After reading it, I am happy to say that I have solved the mystery of the flying miniature dog with gem eyes of my distorted memory!

This is a wonderful tale for young readers (and adults like me). Very imaginative, original and timeless. A must read for all!

The Mighty Jungle by John Bercaw

When danger approaches, sing to it.

I had to remind myself numerous times throughout this book that it is a work of fiction – it is that realistic! While I’ve never been shot down in the jungles of Vietnam, I HAVE lived in Thailand and can vouch for the array of creatures and dangerous, even brutal, conditions that Mr. Bercaw describes. I almost feel as though I may have picked up a few survival tips while reading this book!
With wonderful, descriptive writing and concise language, this book is a true page-turner, and moves very quickly. As with Mr. Bercaw’s first book, A Pink Mist, I found the writing fascinating and hope there is a number three in the works.

The Crouching Beast by Frank Boccia

A testament to the vastness of the human spirit.

I was amazed by the detail in this book! Mr. Boccia transports the reader into his experience in Vietnam, leaving one feeling as if they were there and became acquainted with the many different personalities that he so deftly describes. I found the personal interactions and dialogue to be very authentic and chuckled often at some of the personality that was so clearly displayed.

The stories about Westman and Logan, in particular, touched my heart. I won’t give any of it away, but it moved me and really put a face on a war that I had previously only learned about in college.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again – there is nothing like reading about these men’s experiences to put your own life struggles into perspective. I would recommend everyone read books such as this one to get a glimpse of what hardship and honor really is.

“…There are more damn ways to get killed around here.” The book spares no gory detail of the bloodshed and death of the war. I did not realize and found it quite disturbing that so many of the deaths during the Vietnam War were due to “friendly fire”. So many young men lost… Who knows what they could have gone on to do with their lives.

Mr. Boccia eloquently states, “Thank you, if You do exist, for allowing me the privilege of knowing these men.” This book is not only the story of a battle fought now long ago, but it is the story of the transformation of a man.
I thank YOU, Frank Boccia, for allowing ME the privilege of getting to know these men, even if only to read about them in a book.

Warrior Patient by Temple Emmet Williams

A subject I genuinely never thought I would enjoy reading about – the story of a man’s journey through the treatment of his prostate cancer and his ensuing medical issues. Mr. Williams managed to make an unpleasant subject very humorous and entertaining. I found myself giggling madly (while also somehow cringing) at many points in the book – and that was certainly not something I would have expected upon purchasing it! After reading some of the horrible health experiences that Mr. Williams has suffered through with such grace, I am reminded not to take my health for granted. The book has plenty of life lessons in it, and should be read by anyone dealing with the crazy world of medical issues (a world in which we all will participate at some point in life).

A great writer, Mr. Williams brings the reader in to his experience with brilliance. I am left in awe of his strength and ability to overcome such tremendous health obstacles – he is truly a warrior. Here’s to your continued good health Mr. Williams!

How to Get Rid of Stress in 7 Days and Live Your Life in Balance by Jonny Nile

One tip that I read recently that I have found helpful in life is to read something (or watch/listen to something) inspirational or motivational in the morning. Something quick, something that doesn’t require too much time, but that gets your day started right. I follow this advice as much as is practicable for a mother of two small children, and find it gets my mind right for the remainder of the day. This is a good, quick read that offers tips on how to rid your life of stress. Written in clear, simple language, the advice can be incorporated into anyone’s busy life. I like the tip about breaking goals on your to-do list into smaller tasks in order to eliminate the stress that comes with being overwhelmed by huge responsibilities. Also, tagging habits is an interesting and useful tip to try to put into practice. This book reminds us to be humble and to reflect on our small place in the universe in order to put our daily stresses into perspective.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Self-Love Solution by Julian Lawrence

One tip that I read recently that I have found helpful in life is to read something (or watch/listen to something) inspirational or motivational in the morning. Something quick, something that doesn’t require too much time, but that gets your day started right. I follow this advice as much as is practicable for a mother of two small children, and find it gets my mind right for the remainder of the day. I like the practical, seven day breakdown of steps to take that the author gives the reader to help eliminate negativity and self-doubt from their life. The author gives some suggestions of visualization techniques that I found helpful – especially interesting to me was the one that incorporated circus music in the exercise. I appreciate the clear, simple tone of the writing. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to improve their life.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Bringing a Product to Market From Your Home by Gary Bronga

This is a great book for beginner entrepreneurs. Mr. Bronga offers clear and concise advice on how to bring a product to market at a low cost. I appreciated his straightforward writing style that did not waste my time. The book quickly answered many questions that I had. Mr. Bronga speaks from experience and with a humble style in which he admits his own beginner mistakes in order to save the reader the pain (and cost) of doing the same.
In my post-CIA officer life I am able to pursue new interests on which I previously could not focus – and armed with Mr. Bronga’s advice I hope to navigate this new world of business creativity successfully.

The Four Agreements, A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz

Empowering.
This book will hit home with many people. The first agreement is one I believe we all struggle with – to be impeccable with our word. How true it is that we all put spells on each other with our words, positive or negative. I know that I have had more than my share of negative spells put on me! The author offers some very timeless wisdom and lays out some clear advice that should we all follow, surely we could change the world. Perhaps the most important realization that I took from this book was that we can all program our minds to shape the way that our lives turn out. I only regret that I did not read this book years ago!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This is the type of book that I would like to give as a gift to all of my dearest friends. Dr. Kalanithi’s writing spoke directly to my heart and made me feel as if I knew him personally – as if I had an emotional investment in his treatment and hopeful recovery from a horrible disease. His bravery in the face of this disease was nothing short of inspirational.
As someone who has always been fascinated with diseases and all things medical, this book satisfied the curiosity that I felt, even as a child. (A curiosity only hindered by an aversion to needles and a tendency to faint while in the presence of someone having even a minor procedure, or even discussing one.) I was enthralled with Dr. Kalanithi’s descriptions of his work as a neurosurgeon, sometimes feeling a little faint at the images his descriptions brought up in my mind, and completely blown away by his courage and devotion to helping people in the face of terminal cancer.
His explanation of the joy that his newborn daughter filled him with brought me to tears. What strength it took him to write this book while dying.
Dr. Kalanithi was taken from the world at far too young of an age, but he left us an incredible gift in this book. If ever you find yourself looking for some perspective on life, give this book a read – you will find yourself forever changed.

One Night in Tehran by Luana Ehrlich

This is a great spy thriller – not just your average spy thriller though, it has some interesting twists that make it pretty original.
I found the main character to be incredibly likable. Titus Ray has the type of personality I would have loved to run across in my days at the CIA. Actually, I probably did meet one person like him, but that is a story for another day – or, I should say, another book – (mine). In all seriousness, I related to his inclination to be a loner. Ms. Ehrlich writes very skillfully about the inner workings of the Agency and gets some of the attitudes and personalities just right. On more than one occasion while reading this book I wondered if she had perhaps once been a CIA officer herself!

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I struggled to write this review because the book was so good! This at times heartbreaking story was incredibly hard to put down. Two lives intertwined by fate and loss, the author takes the reader into the lives of Mariam and Laila as we witness the deep bond that forms between them through miserable circumstances. The characters were so well-developed that I felt like I knew them personally, and had to remind myself that they are fictional.
If you want to feel grateful for what you have, pick up this book. It shines a light on the abysmal way that women were (and I’m sure still are) treated in countries like Afghanistan. At times it is maddening, and I was angered by the injustice of their circumstances.
No words that I could write would do this book justice. Just read it.

Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn? by John le Carre

This is a dark little tale that gives the reader a taste of le Carre’s writing. After reading this I know that I will be reading more of his work.

Sex and the Single Mom by Nancy Jo Sales

When I first chose to read this, I did not realize that it was an article about Angelina Jolie. I was initially drawn to it because the title intrigued me. I found the insights into a younger Ms. Jolie very interesting. Written when she only had one adopted child, pre-Brad Pitt, it gives a window into her world and is a good, quick read.

Blackwater Lake by Maggie James

This is a great, quick read for anyone who loves thrillers. I found it especially interesting how the author tied the hoarding of the main character’s mother into the story. I suppose it is a strange thing to find fascinating, but as someone who has known many hoarders in her life, and perhaps, during a more unhappy period in her own life, once been a bit of a hoarder herself, I guess the subject interests me.
Maggie James has gained a new fan!

My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

What an amazing story and what an amazing woman Elizabeth Smart is to have lived through this awful nightmare and emerged so poised and strong. She is a true inspiration. It sickens me to know that human beings like Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee exist in this world.
I remember following Elizabeth Smart’s disappearance when it happened, and I recall exactly where I was and what I was doing when she was found. Her story has always fascinated me.
Reading Ms. Smart’s book, I lost hope in humanity. I only regained a semblance of hope once I read how well she is doing now, and how she is using the awful things that happened to her to help others. I just wish that no one in the world ever had to go through these types of experiences.
As depressing as Ms. Smart’s story was, I was inspired by her strength of faith and the end of the book was uplifting.

Now, excuse me while I go read something lighthearted….

The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver

What a cute and funny story! If you find yourself in need of some light reading, this is the story for you. The not-so-hidden meanings made me giggle and I loved how it is written as a fairy tale. Very charming.

Verse in Arabic by Birgitte Rasine

Ms. Rasine writes beautifully. I was truly transported into this story and felt myself wanting to solve the mystery as much as the main character did. I love how the author also gives the reader some insight into her mind with her explanation of how the story came to be.
The author never fails to capture the imagination with her beautiful prose. I look forward to reading more of her books in the future!

Daddy’s Hobby: Behind the Smile – The Story of Lek, A Bar Girl in Pattaya by Owen Jones

This is a unique book that gives the reader a view into the perspective of a Thai woman working in the Pattaya bar scene. Having spent some time myself as a child living in Thailand, and visiting Pattaya on vacations, I was fascinated by this story. As a child, I was not exposed to the seedier side of Pattaya, and thankfully had no clue about it. I only saw the beautiful side of the beach community, with its yacht clubs and sailing lessons.
The stories in the book remind me of the many tales I would hear from my male counterparts in the CIA, who had almost all gone to Thailand to experience the “local talent”. In fact, at times it seemed like it was a prerequisite to success for the male officers to have experienced the sex industry in Thailand. And yes, my experience is recent, even with the threat of contracting HIV.
At times I wondered if Craig, Lek’s love interest, was actually Archie from my own book. The thought made me cringe and laugh at the same time.
Although there were points in this book where I felt like I needed to take a shower due to the descriptions of some of the sex acts, I found the story kept my attention and I rooted for Lek to realize her dream of marrying a foreigner and escaping the Pattaya bar scene.

Blowback by Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett

I can honestly say that this is the first true spy thriller I have ever read, which may sound odd coming from a former CIA officer. It was entertaining, as this type of book should be, and I believe I will include this series in my future reading lists.
The relationship between the main character and her “inside” officer boyfriend is straight out of my real-life experience in the CIA – though we were both low-ranking officers and my experience is heavily redacted from my own non-fiction book.
I couldn’t help but giggle at the image of the twenty-somethings I knew in the Agency filling the main character’s role – toting guns and risking their lives to save the world from a nuclear arms dealer. The real-life images are much less physically fit specimens who considered eating salmon an exotic experience. That said, I appreciated the book as a work of fiction; it was fun and it kept my attention.

Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran by Barry Meier

Please note that this book review has been heavily redacted by the Central Intelligence Agency. The length of the black lines does not accurately reflect the amount of text that was removed from my original book review.

This is an excellent book about the disappearance of Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent            . This story hits close to home for me, as I was working at the CIA when Mr. Levinson vanished. A lot of the details in the book bring back old memories,            . At the time, I was new to the office I was working in,            . Years later, while posted on a field assignment, I attended a meeting with Senator Bill Nelson. I watched as Senator Nelson asked the very puzzled group about Mr. Levinson. All of the officers in the group were completely bewildered by the inquiry,            . The meeting left me with a very bad taste in my mouth.
Reading this book left me saddened by the disgraceful way that Mr. Levinson’s case was handled by all of the agencies involved.            
The book reads like a spy thriller, including intricately woven webs of deceit and a cast of characters seemingly straight out of a Hollywood film.            
I also truly wish that the story had a happy ending.

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

I discovered this book while researching successful books and series that have been made into movies or television shows. I found the writing to be great for adults and children, and I could picture reading this series with my children in years to come. While it is a sad tale, it is also inspiring to read the ways in which the recently orphaned children never give up. Fast-paced and entertaining, I will definitely continue on with this series!

The Jaguar and the Cacao Tree by Birgitte Rasine

The perfect combination of history, mythology, culture and chocolate! This book is a magical tale of a young boy who experiences the adventure of a lifetime in the rainforest of Guatemala. I loved the descriptive language and had to appreciate and admire the amount of research that clearly went into writing this book. A story for young and old, get ready to be taken into a colorful world where you will rediscover the wonders of nature. I can’t wait to follow Max on his next adventure!

A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran by Reza Kahlili

This is truly an amazing book. The author takes the reader through some really horrific experiences – from the torture and rape of virgins prior to execution in Evin prison, to witnessing the stoning of a young woman – this book kept me thinking a long time after I had put it down.

Mr. Kahlili has successfully interwoven his personal, childhood experiences in Iran into the story of how a tyrannical regime completely distorted a seemingly promising revolution that he himself believed in deeply. He tells the heartbreaking story of three lifelong friends, torn apart by their very different political views. Having worked for the CIA myself, although at a later period in time, I recognize some of the same feelings of disillusionment that Mr. Kahlili expresses at certain points in the book. However, while most of the CIA officers the author was exposed to seemed to be confidence-inspiring, my experience was more akin to his with Andrew, albeit less intelligent versions of Andrew. I found the book to be horrifying, depressing, and heartwarming all at the same time.

I highly recommend that everyone read this book.

The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi

There are some books that I feel I simply cannot do justice to in a review, so I choose to pick out and highlight a few passages that really speak to me. This is what I have done for The Drowned and the Saved.

“We were able to understand very well, then, that on the great continent of freedom, freedom of communication is an important province. As with health, only the person who loses it realizes its true value. But one does not suffer from it only on an individual level: in countries and epochs in which communication is impeded, soon all other liberties wither; discussion dies by inanition, ignorance of the opinion of others becomes rampant, imposed opinions triumph…
“Intolerance is inclined to censor, and censorship promotes ignorance of the arguments of others and thus intolerance itself: a rigid, vicious circle that is hard to break.”

“They speak because (as a Yiddish saying goes) ‘troubles overcome are good to tell.’ Francesca tells Dante that there is ‘no greater sorrow / than to recall happy times / in misery,’ but the contrary is also true, as all those who have returned know: it is good to sit surrounded by warmth, before food and wine, and remind oneself and others of the fatigue, the cold and hunger.”

“There exist countries in which freedom was never known, because the need man naturally feels for it comes after other much more pressing needs: to resist cold, hunger, illnesses, parasites, animal and human aggressions. But in countries in which the elementary needs are satisfied, today’s young people experience freedom as a good that one must in no case renounce: one cannot do without it, it is a natural and obvious right, and furthermore, it is gratuitous, like health and the air one breathes. The times and places where this congenital right is denied are perceived as distant, foreign, and strange.”

“…it is part of our difficulty or inability to perceive the experience of others, which is all the more pronounced the more distant these experiences are from ours in time, space, or quality. We are prone to assimilate them to “related” ones, as if the hunger in Auschwitz were the same as that of someone who has skipped a meal, or as if escape from Treblinka were similar to an escape from any ordinary jail. It is the task of the historian to bridge this gap, which widens as we get farther away from the events under examination.”

“Yet, in every case, one can see that it is never the most oppressed individuals who stand at the head of movements: usually, in fact, revolutions are led by bold, open-minded leaders who throw themselves into the fray out of generosity (or perhaps ambition), even though they personally could have a secure and tranquil, perhaps even privileged life.”

“How securely do we live, we men of the century’s and millennium’s end? And, more specifically, we Europeans? We have been told, and there’s no reason to doubt it, that for every human being on the planet a quantity of nuclear explosive is stored equal to three or four tons of TNT. If even only 1 percent of it were used there would immediately be tens of millions dead, and frightening genetic damage to the entire human species, indeed to all life on earth, with the exception perhaps of the insects…
“The threat is different from that of the 1930s: less close but vaster; linked, in the opinion of some, to a demonism of history, new, still undecipherable, but not linked (until now) to human demonism.”

Murder is Misunderstood (Bad Mothers Club #1) by Heather Horrocks

Cute and fun is how I would describe this book. Before I read this book, I never knew what a “cozy mystery” was, and now I’m hooked. The author does an excellent job of describing her characters – she made me feel like I knew them. I found Becky to be quite lovable and the book accomplished just what this type of book should – entertain!

Tweeker Parade by Philippa LeVine

Definitely “Captured the Funny”!
I actually learned a lot from reading this book. It was disturbing, yet funny, to learn so much about the world of a tweeker. This book also gives some good insight into what the job of a DEA agent is really like. Ms. Levine even manages to make her time at headquarters entertaining, and I found myself seeing many correlations between her experience there and mine at CIA Headquarters. It is nice to read about someone who really loved their job and had so much passion for it. And, by the way, I loved the swearing!

Perfect on Paper: The (MIS)Adventures of Waverly Bryson by Maria Murnane

A great pick-me-up kind of book!
This is such a cute story. If you are having Sex and the City withdrawals, I think it can fill the void. I particularly loved Waverly’s clumsy moments. The San Francisco references were awesome – and quite accurate. Overall, it was a great light read with a nice message.

Absolute Truth, For Beginners by Katarina West

What a thoroughly pleasant surprise this book was! Not because I had any doubt about Ms. West’s talent, but because I had no idea what this book was about. I just didn’t grasp what I was in store for, so I began the book with completely open eyes, and quickly became mesmerized with the words I read! It blew me away!
Ms. West creates such likable characters. I commiserated with Elisa – I felt her nervousness and inability to enjoy the company of someone due to feelings of inadequacy… I have also felt the desperation of not being able to let go, of waiting for that one phone call.
I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I will end with saying that I feel like I actually mourned this book when I finished it. That’s how good it was.

The Bhagavad-Gita translated by Barbara Stoler Miller

Since I could never do justice to such an ancient text, instead of doing a traditional book review of The Bhagavad-Gita, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, I thought I would share some wise words from this famous book.

From the Introduction: “Krishna does not condone physical violence. Instead, he identifies the real enemy as desire, due to attachment, an enemy that can only be overcome by arming oneself with discipline and acting to transcend the narrow limits of individual desire.”

“Contacts with matter make us feel heat and cold, pleasure and pain. Arjuna, you must learn to endure fleeting things – they come and go!
When these cannot torment a man, when suffering and joy are equal for him and he has courage, he is fit for immortality.”

“Perform actions, firm in discipline, relinquishing attachment; be impartial to failure and success – this equanimity is called discipline.”

“Self-reliant, impartial to suffering and joy, to clay, stone, or gold, the resolute man is the same to foe and friend, to blame and praise.
The same in honor, and disgrace, to ally and enemy, a man who abandons involvements transcends the qualities of nature.”

From the Afterword – Referring to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“Emerson is chiefly interested in Krishna’s teaching that works must be done without thought of reward and that a person may have a tranquil mind even in activity.”

Happy New Year everyone!

Corrupted by Emmy Yoshida

Romance, drama, intrigue… This book has it all! This book took me on a journey through some of my own memories. I sort of related to Ria, yet I was never that carefree, only wished to be. But this story has it all. While reading Corrupted I experienced flashes of memory of some of the men I’ve been exposed to in my life – though certainly none were as violent as Brad. For those who know what it is like to feel like a caged animal, and love the feeling of triumph, this book is for you. Bravo, Emmy Yoshida!

Snow Kissed Christmas by Bobby Hutchinson

Getting in the mood for Christmas!
Another very cute short story by Bobby Hutchinson. She really knows how to bring you into the story and make you feel like you are actually there. This story is a great holiday read. It teaches you to enjoy the people around you and appreciate what you have.

Carol’s Christmas by Bobby Hutchinson

Take me away, to a place where women had less choices! A very cute story that takes you to another place and time… I loved it. I have often wondered how women in past times dealt with having babies, because, if you have had one, you realize that it frequently is NOT the easiest, most relaxing experience. There is no infant sleeping peacefully in your lap all day as you read a book. Let’s face it, raising a child is HARD, no matter what your circumstance is. This Christmas tale warmed my heart, made me wonder, and that is what a short story should do.

Witchcraft Couture by Katarina West

Wonderful book! I found myself drawn in to the story and sympathizing with the main character – sympathizing with his self-doubt/self-loathing. All of his mistakes felt like my own. Exceptional writing. Not since being a child, reading Stephen King novels, have I found a writer that engages me the way Ms. West does. I will read this book over again and hope that there is another in the future!!

A Pink MistA Pink Mist by John Bercaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic read – I couldn’t put this book down!! As a former student of political science/international relations, I can’t help thinking that this would make great college course reading. Had this been a book in my university curriculum I would have undoubtedly gotten better grades! This book really puts life into perspective. Any time I feel like whining about petty problems, all I have to do is read parts of this book to see how hard life can really be, as it was for soldiers in the Vietnam War. It reminds me of an expression the father of one of my former friends and co-workers at the CIA used to use when she complained about something trifling or had a fear of something. He would say, “How bad could it be? What are they gonna do – shave your head and send you to Vietnam?” Great book.

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