Category Archives: Book Reviews

Goodbye August!

I am so glad August is over. I’m not a fan. No offense to those of you with August birthdays, it’s nothing personal, I just find August to be terribly long and boring. It’s still super hot where we live and school starts in early August these days (at least in the last couple of places we have been), so summer vacation comes to an end. With the average temperature where we live ranging from 99 to 108 (sometimes 115!) degrees every day the weather is not conducive to outside activities with small children.

In my mom life I’ve come to look forward to fall, with its cooler temperatures and string of birthdays leading into the holiday season. I used to hate the holiday season – back when I lived on my own so far from my family. I spent many a Thanksgiving and Christmas alone, wishing for the time to pass, first in the D.C. area and later in South Florida. Of course in South Florida that loneliness was accompanied by a beautiful beach view from every window of my condo, and the constant sound of crashing waves, and maybe a bottle of scotch…. But I digress….

How times have changed. I look forward to the holiday season now – I guess having young children does that for you.

Anyway, I have a few projects that should be wrapping up before the end of this year. One is the release of my first full-length book since Single in the CIA. This latest book, a spy thriller full of humor, is set to release in October. Mission: Stand Down is the result of a compromise with the CIA. Apparently it is very controversial. After many appeals, I am very excited to have the green light to publish this one.

Many of you know that I have a page on this site where I post book reviews. Lately I’ve had some authors and publishers send me free books to review, and I’m very flattered by the attention. I only wish I had more time to read – but rest assured, I will get to reading all of them. Soon I will be adding children’s books to my reviews to go along with my CIA officer-turned-Mom brand. Most likely I will stick to “vintage” children’s books – ones I read as a child or were out when I was a kid.

All in all it has been a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of year for me. I have a couple more surprises up my sleeve that I was hoping to reveal before the end of 2017. Due to the constant roadblocks I’ve encountered this year I’m not so sure they will all be realized by December 31st, but I’ll keep trying.

There’s always next year, right?

#wakemeupwhenseptemberends

Your Freedom of Speech…

Be very thankful for your freedom of speech, don’t ever take it for granted.
Below is a book review that I wrote for Barry Meier’s book, Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran. As you can see, it has been heavily redacted by the CIA. While I realize I signed a secrecy agreement when I went to work for the Agency, at the time, at just twenty-nine years old, I never imagined that one day I would be writing books about my experience. It is obviously not ideal to have to send everything I write through the Publications Review Board at the CIA. It adds an extra hurdle to the writing and publishing process and stifles some of my creativity, not to mention it can be frustrating and time consuming. For the most part, I feel they have been pretty fair with me, though sometimes it seems like the criteria for what is considered “classified” changes depending on what day it is. There do not seem to be strict standards that apply to everyone, regardless of whether you are Hillary Clinton or Valerie Plame. I have not seen a lot of consistency in the process. Sometimes I struggle with the question of whether to make a fuss and try to appeal their decisions, but then possibly incurring the wrath of the people who work there, thereby affecting the publication of my future books. I have to believe that they have good reasons for redacting certain words. Even though a sentence itself may not be classified, I hope that the redaction of those words was done with the intention of protecting a life – in this case Bob Levinson, who disappeared from his wife and seven children in 2007.

Please note that 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.

EXCERPT FROM MY INTERVIEW WITH FRANK BOCCIA, AUTHOR OF THE CROUCHING BEAST: A UNITED STATE’S ARMY LIEUTENANT’S ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE FOR HAMBURGER HILL, MAY 1969.

In honor of author Frank Boccia, who passed away last week, I am re-posting an interview I did with him last year. He was a great man, and I appreciated his honesty and that he took the time to speak with me about my first book, Single in the CIA. Frank’s book, The Crouching Beast: A United States Army Lieutenant’s Account of the Battle for Hamburger Hill, May 1969, is available on Amazon, and other places books are sold. He will be missed.

Frank: You write well, economically, clearly. As a professional author, I appreciate that kind of writing.

I can see why the book might have made the CIA squirm a bit, but considering the bad press they get I suppose they’re used to it. And, yeah, the waste of money is disturbing, but then the entire government does the same. I know. I had two separate and brief periods of employment with Uncle Sam and spent most of the time shaking my head.

But I’m left with a question that I hesitate to ask, but must. First, let me make clear that I am not making a moral judgment here; I would be the world’s most egregious hypocrite if I did, because I was an executive in a major corporation and there was a period when I was the Barry or Archie — well, no; not Archie. I could never reach his level of weird hypocrisy — or Jarod. I’m ashamed of it now, but back then — well, there were a lot of attractive women in our company. So, if anything what I did was much less ethical. A young clerk and a middle-aged exec is not a fair match.

So… the question is, how did you come to bare all that you did? I don’t mean for its affect on the Agency, or even your partners — no matter that you changed their names (I know you did because I was forced to change a lot of names in my account, or the lawyers would have hissy fits and massive heart attacks) many of your former colleagues will know who the men were — but so what? They probably did anyway. No, I’m thinking only on how it affects YOU. Did you hesitate at all, for that reason? I understand that this is probably an embarrassing topic, but, you must have known your father and his colleagues and friends would read it. I sat and thought about that after I read the last paragraph.

Regarding his book, The Crouching Beast: Many have remarked on how intimate and revealing some of my passages are, showing things that weren’t necessarily attractive in my character. I wrestled with that, but in the end decided that if was going to be honest, and write about my comrades as I did, then I had to write about myself, warts and all. Again — no moral stance here. Call it vulgar curiosity, or, as I think of it, a professional writer’s research. I will thoroughly understand if you don’t wish to answer, or if you send me a blazing dart filled with names — all of which I’ve been called before, probably deservedly — and suggestions for my future address.

I will say it took courage to do what you did. Sort of like charging a machine gun nest. After the first step it’s too late to back out.

Shelly: To answer your question – I really don’t find anything that I exposed in the book embarrassing… In today’s world, what I wrote is practically a child’s cartoon. I think at the end of the book I clarified that I was never a victim in the situations I was in, I was merely along for the ride. I was actually just as bad as the men I talk about in the book (and I’ll add that Barry and I are still friends). They don’t have a name for the female equivalent of a womanizer… But that’s what I was! I think the book actually delivers a good message in the end – it shows that no matter how much BS you deal with and how dreadful your life can seem (as it did in the Fall of 2011), things can completely change in a very short span of time. Because of the risk I took leaving the Agency my life became 100% better. I am now living happily with a young son, happily married, and doing things I never could – with the help of my book sales! I think the book is more of a triumph than something to be embarrassed about. And as you know, as a writer, you cannot hesitate or censor yourself if you want to write well. I struggled with censoring myself quite a bit while writing it – I left out A LOT of really bad behavior – both on my part and others. That’s the stuff that might actually embarrass me. But, I also know that I wouldn’t be afraid to write a sequel to Single in the CIA, which could include some of the worst behavior that I left out this time around.

And don’t worry, I am not offended by your question at all!!! Hey, I am a 40 year old woman now, whose book is doing well considering the obstacles I have (friends who don’t know how to use the internet, friends who are afraid their CIA cover will be blown if they purchase the book, etc). I’m not easily offended – I kept reading your question over and over trying to figure out what you think might actually offend me!! I can’t find anything. Trust me, the book could have been WAY more intimate – I went light on the sex stuff. I’ve had so many people tell me that I needed to put MORE of the sex in the book – they said it wasn’t sexy enough.

Regarding the changing of names – yes, I did that – but that is more because when you work for the Agency we all get pseudonyms. So half the time we didn’t even know each others’ real names!

In closing, all of the “douche bags” in the book have contacted me since its publication, and none of them are mad about what I wrote – except Archie. But, like I’ve said before, if you don’t want someone to write about your bad behavior one day, don’t act like a douche bag!

The good news – I’ve apparently got a huge following of certain officers in the CIA. Some of them have thanked me for “bringing it all together” for them. They are coming to grips with the idea that they may not be able to get another job when they leave the Agency – their professional life is a big black hole, more so than mine, and they are squirming now trying to figure out what to do if and when they jump ship. Most will stay there until they can retire, living very unhappy lives, because they are, in a sense, prisoners to the Agency.

Thank you for saying it took courage to write it! I always have been a risk-taker, and also a pretty blunt person. Not everybody recognizes that, but I am also a very misunderstood person. That’s ok with me.

Book Review, 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!

Some Wisdom for the New Year…

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!

Book Review, 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!

A Great Book to Honor Our Veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, I’m re-posting my review of A Pink Mist by John Bercaw. Thank you for your service!
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.

My Review of 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!!

My Review of A Pink Mist by John Bercaw

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.

View all my reviews