My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

ARC Review: City of Spies by Mara Timon


Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

LISBON, 1943. After escaping from Nazi-Occupied France, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay, codename Cecile, receives new orders: she must infiltrate high society in neutral Lisbon and find out who is leaking key information to the Germans about British troop movements. As Solange Verin, a French widow of independent means, she will be able to meet all the rich Europeans who have gathered in Lisbon to wait out the war. One of them is a traitor and she must find out who before more British servicemen die.

Complications arise when 'Solange' comes to the attention of German Abwehr officer, Major Eduard Graf. As they get to know each other, she struggles to keep her lies close to the truth.

But in a city that is filled with spies, how can she tell who is friend, or foe?



When I read the description for City of Spies, by Mara Timon, I got very excited.  It's an historical fiction set in neutral Portugal during WWII.  At it's center is a female SOE agent named Elisabeth who is a literal femme fatale.   I've read several books lately about these SOE agents recruited during the war.  The level of danger they willingly welcomed is hard to fathom, which is why I find novels about them so fascinating.  With the intrigue of spies, rich expats and threats from all sides, this novel was an exciting page turner, and highly entertaining.


What I Liked:


Strangely, I have recently set my sights on visiting Portugal as my first big trip post pandemic, so I was really happy that the setting was in Lisbon.  It's 1943, and in theory, Portugal is supposed to be neutral, welcoming both Allied and Axis sympathizers.  But the reality is that the government seems to sway to whichever side is winning the war at any given time.  This makes it a tricky political climate for the rich expats living there.  The book only hints at the local unrest of the ordinary citizens.  But, it's the motivation for the tight control the government has over everyone.

Historical Details:

I especially loved the details of clothing, and the lack of technology in 1943 Portugal.  As a spy, Lisbet (Elisabeth) has an array of  disguises and I loved all the details about how she was able to make herself look like a variety of different people. Using wigs, changing outfits, and even using pads inside her cheeks helps her to become different people.  Because Lisbet has this background, she take special notice of how others dress and can glean all sorts of information from details such as how worn a person's shoes may be, or how they carry themselves.

Due to the time period (and the distinct possibility of phones being tapped), the character used various methods of communication that was indicative of the time.  Letters, dead drops, and secret code were used by the spies to pass along information.  But what struck me was how people could easily lose track of loved ones in the chaos of a war.  How do you locate someone who isn't listed on a public record?  If a family member disappears while you have to evacuate, will you ever be able to reconnect?


There are plots, conspiracies, and hidden agendas that make this a very complex story.  Add to this an array of people who are not what they seem to be, and this becomes a novel that keeps the reader enthralled.  As Lisbet navigates Lisbon high society, she has to decide what side each person is on.  She can't trust anyone.  But, using disguises, safe houses, and her training as a spy,  Lisbet finds ways to get useful information to the British.  She is always just on the edge of being discovered.  This tension is what makes the book so fun.


What I Was Mixed About:


While I was glad that the main plot point in the book was resolved, the book didn't answer many questions.  I hope that this means that this might be the first book in a series.  But when I checked on Goodreads, there was no mention of a sequel.  This was a frustration.  



Release Date:  September 17th, 2020

Author:  Mara Timon

Publisher:  Zaffre

Genre:  Thriller

Page Length:  453 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A tense spy thriller set in WWII Lisbon.  Highly entertaining.


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2022 Reading Challenge

2022 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 7 books toward her goal of 96 books.


80% 80% 200 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge
clean sweep 2017

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