Monday, October 10, 2022

Review: The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin

by Madeline Martin
Release Date: July 26, 2022
2022 Hanover Square Press
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1335426918
Audiobook: B09SK56G8T
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Ava thought her job as a librarian at the Library of Congress would mean a quiet, routine existence. But an unexpected offer from the US military has brought her to Lisbon with a new mission: posing as a librarian while working undercover as a spy gathering intelligence.

Meanwhile, in occupied France, Elaine has begun an apprenticeship at a printing press run by members of the Resistance. It’s a job usually reserved for men, but in the war, those rules have been forgotten. Yet she knows that the Nazis are searching for the press and its printer in order to silence them.

As the battle in Europe rages, Ava and Elaine find themselves connecting through coded messages and discovering hope in the face of war.
My Thoughts
The Librarian Spy was an interesting story told from the perspectives of two women, one gathering intelligence in Lisbon, and the other becoming more involved in the Resistance after the disappearance of her husband.  I thought the author did a good job showing the different lives of the two women as they worked to bring down the Nazi machine, and I thought the contrasting perspectives, one starving while one has plenty of food, was extremely well-written.  And as there are not a lot of stories focusing on women in Lisbon during this time period, having a story set in neutral Lisbon is always welcome. However, I did feel like Ava's story lost its strength as the story progressed, and I actually preferred Elaine's story line.  
First of all, I did enjoy the character development of both these women, but I will admit that I think Elaine's development was much stronger. However, I must qualify this by saying that character development is not one of the strengths of this book, and it was sometimes hard to distinguish between the two women, so when I say I enjoyed their growth it means they went from being completely naive to at least having some semblance of common sense. Elaine was actually the worse one of the two in the beginning, having little to no knowledge of the Resistance and how much was involved, especially considering how many people in her life were involved.  And to be honest, she was a bit entitled and selfish, only caring about her husband and what was happening to him, often asking people to put their lives on the line without really understanding what that meant. In short, I could have done without the melodrama. I just wanted to smack her at times, but I also wanted to smack those around her for not really making her understand the danger she was in as well as those people with which she was now involved.  It took quite a while for her to really realize how dangerous things were around her and the awful situations from which people had escaped.  And then she goes against orders to do something dangerous, and while it worked out for her and what she was hoping to accomplish, it put everyone else in danger.  And though I still didn't fully like her in the end, I did admire her for her courage, and her work ethic, even if some of it was foolish.

I did have high hopes for the Ava story line; and although I liked her character, I did feel like there wasn't as much growth involved. It amazes me that the US Military would send people with so little information or so little training to do a job like this.  I liked the contrast of Lisbon to Lyon as it really makes it clear how much the people in France are suffering, although there were some moments that showed how challenging it was for people in Lisbon as well.  I did think it didn't quite go far enough to explain the difficulties in Lisbon and instead of focusing on Ava's growth as a spy, it seemed to focus more on her being rescued all of the time by a mysterious stranger, naturally a man.  If the US Military didn't have a problem sending Ava to Lisbon, I would imagine she would have some skills or be capable of learning some espionage on her own, but that was kind of glossed over.

Which leads me to the plot. The author covers a lot of material in this book, jumping back and forth between Lyon and Lisbon. To be honest, I think this was one of the weaknesses as there was enough material here to have two separate books as Lyon, gosh, the story there is awful to begin with, a lot of which was overlooked.  And the human suffering in Lisbon was glossed over as well, except for a couple of incidents, while the author focused more on the glamorous part of the espionage, a world in which our heroine was totally out of her depth.  The overall impact of the story was lessened because of this.  I should have been horrified by the events in Lyon as I know what the 'butcher' did to the Resistance fighters there, but I wasn't. 

The Librarian Spy had plenty of action, and there were a lot of moments that I enjoyed, but it was also full of cliches and melodrama, something I could have done without. I did appreciate the amount of research that went into this book, and could feel the hunger and despair of the people during this time period, especially in Lyon, but I don't think the author went deep enough to describe the fear in Lyon during the reign of the 'butcher', nor do I think it was complex enough.  To be honest, I think I was expecting more depth to the characters and to the story, but in reality there is nothing that really made it  stand out in a field that is completely saturated with this type of work.