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What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love? One woman struggles to choose between her honor and her heart in this enthralling espionage drama that deftly hops between New York and West Africa. It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working i What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love? One woman struggles to choose between her honor and her heart in this enthralling espionage drama that deftly hops between New York and West Africa. It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working in an old boys' club. Her career has stalled out, she's overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she's given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic, revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Thomas is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving over the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she's being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent. In the year that follows, Marie will observe Thomas, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American. Inspired by true events -- Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa's Che Guevara” -- this novel knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you've never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice.


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What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love? One woman struggles to choose between her honor and her heart in this enthralling espionage drama that deftly hops between New York and West Africa. It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working i What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love? One woman struggles to choose between her honor and her heart in this enthralling espionage drama that deftly hops between New York and West Africa. It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working in an old boys' club. Her career has stalled out, she's overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she's given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic, revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Thomas is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving over the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she's being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent. In the year that follows, Marie will observe Thomas, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American. Inspired by true events -- Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa's Che Guevara” -- this novel knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you've never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice.

30 review for American Spy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sydney

    This book felt like a missed opportunity. It was such an interesting premise, I went into it with high hopes. Then it committed the fatal error of being boring. The framework of the book--the way the narrator is telling the story in a journal for her sons--didn't work for me. The writing style ended up being far too reflective, with not enough immediacy. I just felt like there was far too much telling and way too little in the way of showing. Plus there were lots of details in the plot that I fe This book felt like a missed opportunity. It was such an interesting premise, I went into it with high hopes. Then it committed the fatal error of being boring. The framework of the book--the way the narrator is telling the story in a journal for her sons--didn't work for me. The writing style ended up being far too reflective, with not enough immediacy. I just felt like there was far too much telling and way too little in the way of showing. Plus there were lots of details in the plot that I felt were insufficiently explained or just made no sense. Our main character is supposed to be brilliant--so why could I see things coming from a mile away when she couldn't? Seriously, we are given no evidence in this story to justify her supposed brilliance. Anyway, I give it two stars because at least I felt compelled to finish it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Read By RodKelly

    Solid 3.5 There are great things here: a complex protagonist who's a black FBI agent embroiled in a case that becomes more dangerous and violent as time passes. The author explores how sexism affects the main character her at the work place, and also delves into the complicated experience she had growing without her mother, to name a couple of the major themes in this novel. But overall, the novel suffers from lack of narrative momentum. It's slow going and ineffective at keeping up the suspensefu Solid 3.5 There are great things here: a complex protagonist who's a black FBI agent embroiled in a case that becomes more dangerous and violent as time passes. The author explores how sexism affects the main character her at the work place, and also delves into the complicated experience she had growing without her mother, to name a couple of the major themes in this novel. But overall, the novel suffers from lack of narrative momentum. It's slow going and ineffective at keeping up the suspenseful atmosphere it captures so well at the beginning.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is the last of the Camp TOB books for the Tournament of Books and I thought it was pretty good. It is largely set in Burkina Faso and Martinique, two countries I have not yet had the chance to read books from, and I always enjoy learning more about places. Despite the alternating time periods and the fact that it is a spy novel, it's a pretty slow burn. I set it aside a few times to read other things but was ultimately glad I came back to it. And I loved the ending. ETA a few quotations: "I c This is the last of the Camp TOB books for the Tournament of Books and I thought it was pretty good. It is largely set in Burkina Faso and Martinique, two countries I have not yet had the chance to read books from, and I always enjoy learning more about places. Despite the alternating time periods and the fact that it is a spy novel, it's a pretty slow burn. I set it aside a few times to read other things but was ultimately glad I came back to it. And I loved the ending. ETA a few quotations: "I can't run the risk of caring too deeply about too many people. The result is that I've never had very many close friends, but have always excelled at being an acquaintance." "He laughed. 'I don't like to say what I've read. That's how you disclose the most about yourself. I never make notes in a book or underline passages either. That's even more revealing.'" "You don't owe them anything. You give them what you want to give them. But it's easier if they think you're one of them. It's easier to work from the inside. That's what I try to do. I've been a spy in this country for as long as I can remember." 2nd ETA: Thanks to Amy B. for sending me your copy. Watch for a shoutout on the podcast. ;)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Books on Stereo

    A mid-tier spy narrative that quickly loses steam after its neck-breaking opening sequence.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shawna

    DNF - 1/3 of the way through. I really wanted to like this book, I just couldn't read it. Thank you to Edel Weiss for the advanced copy. I now notice that all of the other reviews are just a summary of the story line, and not about the actual book itself. I appreciate that the author was trying to do something different - she is using a narration where the protagonist is telling a story to her twin boys. The problems come in when the story will go on for a few pages, and she is talking to people DNF - 1/3 of the way through. I really wanted to like this book, I just couldn't read it. Thank you to Edel Weiss for the advanced copy. I now notice that all of the other reviews are just a summary of the story line, and not about the actual book itself. I appreciate that the author was trying to do something different - she is using a narration where the protagonist is telling a story to her twin boys. The problems come in when the story will go on for a few pages, and she is talking to people in one story line, then just randomly uses words like "you" to talk to her children, while she is in the middle of talking in the past to another person. I was constantly confused as to if we were in the story, or if she was talking to her children. She would interchangeably talk about characters referencing them in different ways - Grandma, mom, her real name, it was just a mess. It is possible that there is some distinction (page breaks, different font, something) in the physical book that is not there in the ARC. I hope so. The story line sounded great, I think it would have been awesome if she would have just told the story, and left out the first 20 pages, and the back and forth timeline.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    This has the worst opening paragraph: first person point of view that manages to make what should be a tension-filled moment into a myopic moment of tedium. I unlocked the safe beneath my desk, grabbed my old service automatic, and crept toward my bedroom doorway, stealthy until I was brought to grief by a Lego Duplo that stung the sole of my foot. I hobbled the rest of the way to the door and crouched behind it. I have no interest in subsequent insights this individual might have. Duplo, really? This has the worst opening paragraph: first person point of view that manages to make what should be a tension-filled moment into a myopic moment of tedium. I unlocked the safe beneath my desk, grabbed my old service automatic, and crept toward my bedroom doorway, stealthy until I was brought to grief by a Lego Duplo that stung the sole of my foot. I hobbled the rest of the way to the door and crouched behind it. I have no interest in subsequent insights this individual might have. Duplo, really? I get regular death Legos, but Duplo is what gets you. Those rounded edges are killers. After attempting to read the first page of this book multiple times I'm just going to set it aside without rating because while I have no qualms about rating a book I DNF, not getting past the first page seems a little harsh to me. I'm having a fluffy day.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    This is a delightful twist on the spy thriller. More to come.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    There are many spy novels out there but the best are novels that capture the CIA’s nation destabilization efforts in a compelling and eye-opening new way. Kudos, then, to Lauren Wilkinson, whose protagonist is Marie Mitchell, a black woman whose parents are a Harlem-born cop and a Martinique-born, FBI-operative mother. Whip smart, congenitally wary, and unable to tolerate deception, Marie is a character unlike others that readers like me have met before. After not “playing the game” properly at th There are many spy novels out there but the best are novels that capture the CIA’s nation destabilization efforts in a compelling and eye-opening new way. Kudos, then, to Lauren Wilkinson, whose protagonist is Marie Mitchell, a black woman whose parents are a Harlem-born cop and a Martinique-born, FBI-operative mother. Whip smart, congenitally wary, and unable to tolerate deception, Marie is a character unlike others that readers like me have met before. After not “playing the game” properly at the CIA, she is given a proposition while on probation: go to the African country of Burkina Faso and use all her wiles to win over its handsome and charismatic leader, Thomas Sankara (a man who really existed and was regarded as an African Che Guevara). Sankara has passionate ideals yet his policies are beginning to sway towards authoritarianism. And that is all I’m going to say here about the plot. There is much to love about this book. First, it straddles genres – it’s indeed a spy thriller but also a romance story and a glimpse into messy family dynamics. Written as a confessional to her young twin sons, it’s also a guidepost into what a “good American” should really mean. Marie’s duality – identified as a black woman in America and as an American in Africa – also enriches the story. While some of the other characters are slightly on the one-dimensional side, the main characters really shine. 4.5 stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chavelli Sulikowska

    “the first moment you meet someone are precious, because the data on them is plentiful, and your own subjectivity is yet to interfere…” I felt sceptical starting this debut novel. That it is applauded by Obama on the cover prompted me to persevere beyond the initial pages which I didn’t find particularly inspiring. I think Wilkinson will mature into a successful author, and as a first novel it was a strong effort. The story is engaging and the language is fluent, though a bit conversational. It i “the first moment you meet someone are precious, because the data on them is plentiful, and your own subjectivity is yet to interfere…” I felt sceptical starting this debut novel. That it is applauded by Obama on the cover prompted me to persevere beyond the initial pages which I didn’t find particularly inspiring. I think Wilkinson will mature into a successful author, and as a first novel it was a strong effort. The story is engaging and the language is fluent, though a bit conversational. It is set over several time frames, flitting back on forth, but narrated solely by the central character Marie, aka the American spy. Without revealing too much of the intrigue, the novel is set between the US, Burkina Faso and Martinique. The unusual choice of locations made the story particularly interesting and refreshing. This is not exactly a spy thriller of Le Carre calibre, but nor can we expect as much from a new author endeavouring to cut her teeth. Where it fell short – it lacked the nail biting suspense and realism necessary to make this a really believable story – something that great spy thrillers rely on. For me, the plot was largely predictable from early on and I didn’t favour the memoir-reflective style narration of Marie to her two sons. Plus a spy would never document their true history on paper, particularly if they wanted to secure the safety of their family. The aspect I really didn’t like was the sudden and inexplicable love interest Marie developed with her target – it was just completely outside what I had been led to believe was her tough, no nonsense, professional character. This was really out of place and significantly undermined the integrity of the plot. All this aside, I am sure Wilkinson has a promising future – as long as she adopts the right style to her choice of subject and ultimately decides what kind of writer she wants to be.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nicole O

    I was initially drawn to this book due to its unique plot and strong female protagonist. It's a fictional story rooted in historical truths, and so I figured this book had great potential (similar to what Marlon James did with A Brief History of Seven Killings). Unfortunately, this novel fell short for me. The story is told both in flashbacks and to her sons in the form of a letter/journal, which presents the author the opportunity to really delve into the character development. Instead - at the I was initially drawn to this book due to its unique plot and strong female protagonist. It's a fictional story rooted in historical truths, and so I figured this book had great potential (similar to what Marlon James did with A Brief History of Seven Killings). Unfortunately, this novel fell short for me. The story is told both in flashbacks and to her sons in the form of a letter/journal, which presents the author the opportunity to really delve into the character development. Instead - at the the end of the book, rather than wondering what the future holds for each of the people introduced within its pages, I was left wanting to know more about the inner workings of each of the characters. So much more could have been done when it came to fleshing out the backgrounds of Marie's sister, mother, and lovers. Overall, the strengths in this book lie at the core of the story being told, especially from the perspective of a black woman in a male dominated field during an era of grave social injustices and civil unrest. However, this book could have and should have been a lot longer, if only to give the author a chance to flesh out the characters and let their stories be told. I'm especially upset at the way the novel ended. I understand that at times authors want to leave their readers wanting more, but it was so anti-climactic that I almost wanted to throw my kindle at the wall. Regardless, I recognize that this is a debut novel, and despite my gripes with this book, I'm looking forward to seeing what else this author has in store.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    I feel like I was sold a 6 for a 9. This book has been marketed as a thriller/mystery. It's not. It's closer to historical fiction and I definitely feel that the marketing influenced my final opinion. The story feels like a diary entry, which it kinda is, but this is no something I was aware of going in. I found myself skipping over parts because I just wanted it to be over. The novel feels more introspective than action or plot driven. While I love a character driven story this one feels, unpol I feel like I was sold a 6 for a 9. This book has been marketed as a thriller/mystery. It's not. It's closer to historical fiction and I definitely feel that the marketing influenced my final opinion. The story feels like a diary entry, which it kinda is, but this is no something I was aware of going in. I found myself skipping over parts because I just wanted it to be over. The novel feels more introspective than action or plot driven. While I love a character driven story this one feels, unpolished. Marie doesn't change as the story progresses, she went in like a fried dumpling and came out like a Johnny Cake. One of my biggest peeves was how they embodied Thomas Sankara. I do believe that there were attempts to "humanize" him, but we get the sense that he is an adulterer who "gave up" towards the end. Quite frankly, this does not sit well with me. Had the book focused more on America's efforts to destabilize Communism across Africa it would have been a much tighter read. Instead, what we got was a whiny American who ended up way over her head. Would not recommend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jiny S

    This is best story I’ve ever read that gives black women a voice as a marginalized minority in society. It is also one of the best spy books on my shelves. The storytelling is coherent, cognoscible, and not to mention heartpoundingly intense. Throughout the narration, political ideologies permeate both the protagonist’s personal life and the on the world’s stage that she is involved in as a result of her job. She has to make so many decisions. What is right or wrong that’s not black and white. W This is best story I’ve ever read that gives black women a voice as a marginalized minority in society. It is also one of the best spy books on my shelves. The storytelling is coherent, cognoscible, and not to mention heartpoundingly intense. Throughout the narration, political ideologies permeate both the protagonist’s personal life and the on the world’s stage that she is involved in as a result of her job. She has to make so many decisions. What is right or wrong that’s not black and white. Where do you draw the line when you are at the edge of a colossal movement, and when you are so minuscule in comparison that the boundaries are pixelated in different shade of grey? You have to appreciate how wise the protagonist is. While she knows what she wants, despite the myriad obstacles in her way stemmed from her ethnicity and gender, she won’t compromise her principles when temptation comes along. She’s willing to work hard to reach her goals, but on her own on terms. That’s not easy: she has to be piercingly astute and have a strong sense of rectitude and integrity. That combination, is utterly admirable. This is a strong story, told from from the voice of a strong woman. Although it is a fiction that describes someone who is important to touch the lives of people important enough to start movements and those movements important enough to change the world- the agencies, the struggles, and the emotions are complete believable. The storytelling is rich, coherent, and not afraid of digging deep into messy ideological issues that require extensive excavation.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bri

    Ah, where to even start with this book? With an intriguing and original subject, American Spy examines the life of a Black woman spy from the US who’s sent to essentially ruin the government of Burkina Faso during the Cold War. The perfect opportunity to delve into imperialism, anti-Blackness, and Black American identity during the 80s....YET! Lots of people who gave this book not-so-good reviews were put off by the narrative style, which I thought was original and interesting. I loved that the Ah, where to even start with this book? With an intriguing and original subject, American Spy examines the life of a Black woman spy from the US who’s sent to essentially ruin the government of Burkina Faso during the Cold War. The perfect opportunity to delve into imperialism, anti-Blackness, and Black American identity during the 80s....YET! Lots of people who gave this book not-so-good reviews were put off by the narrative style, which I thought was original and interesting. I loved that the novel is a love letter to Marie’s sons, whom she may not see grow up if the US govt catches her. My biggest issue with this book is that there are no strong opinions about anything. I suppose it’s the nature of a spy to be facetious and have no integrity, but I couldn’t get down with Marie AT ALL. I found her naive about the role of the FBI and CIA in destroying governments and ending lives abroad...like...what did you think they’ve been doing this whole time? Girl! That’s the whole reason why you work for the FBI! All Marie will definitively say about her political ideology is that she is anti-communist. She uses this to justify both murders of Black Panther party members by her employer AND the infiltration of BF’s government. Yet she looks down on the people she pays to “snitch” on these anti-imperialist movements. Oh jeez. BUT THEN! Maria falls in love with the “authoritarian dictator” of Burkina Faso (in a swift week) and, upon being instructed to seduce and destroy him, refuses to do so and now hates imperialism. She wants her sons to “love fiercely and freely,” which allegedly what being a good American is all about! I thought the most promising part of this book, which Wilkinson miserably failed to flesh out in a satisfying way, is the relationship between Marie and her sister, Helene. After all, that’s why Marie became a spy. Though I suspect neither of these women ever had an idea what being a spy for the US govt would entail, instead preferring to believe a childhood fantasy. This book had such a great premise, and the writing is engaging, but I...wanted more. What *actually* happened to Helene?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katie.dorny

    This was a 3.5/4 star read for me. I can’t believe it’s not on others people’s radar! I really enjoyed meeting Marie and getting inside her mind. We travel with her through childhood, her adolescence and everything that shape her into her current federal agent she is. Moreover, she is the only black woman in the 90’s at her office and that is really explored by the author in an uncomfortable but compelling way. It’s eye opening and at first I thought it was a bit too simply narrated for me, but th This was a 3.5/4 star read for me. I can’t believe it’s not on others people’s radar! I really enjoyed meeting Marie and getting inside her mind. We travel with her through childhood, her adolescence and everything that shape her into her current federal agent she is. Moreover, she is the only black woman in the 90’s at her office and that is really explored by the author in an uncomfortable but compelling way. It’s eye opening and at first I thought it was a bit too simply narrated for me, but then I realised I was learning as the protagonist was and that I was being lead down a path I really enjoyed. None of the characters here are really what they seem, the grey area of America and it’s morality are really well explored. I hope Marie gets the ending she wants.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I listened to the Audible narration of “American Spy”, written by Lauren Wilkinson and narrated by Bahni Turpin. Turpin’s performance is excellent providing a wide range of voices and accents. This is a spy thriller combined with a bit of historical fiction. The narrator of the story, Marie Mitchell is telling her story for her twin boys. As the story opens, Marie narrowly escapes an assassin’s bullet while her four-year-old boys are sleeping. She flees to Martinique with her sons, where her moth I listened to the Audible narration of “American Spy”, written by Lauren Wilkinson and narrated by Bahni Turpin. Turpin’s performance is excellent providing a wide range of voices and accents. This is a spy thriller combined with a bit of historical fiction. The narrator of the story, Marie Mitchell is telling her story for her twin boys. As the story opens, Marie narrowly escapes an assassin’s bullet while her four-year-old boys are sleeping. She flees to Martinique with her sons, where her mother lives. Marie is a spy with ties to the FBI and CIA. She is penning a letter to her boys, explaining her life and how she got there, in the event that she dies before they are old enough for her to explain her life. Also, she adds snippets of wisdom and hope for their future. The story alternates between now (1992) and her upbringing in Queens (1960’s) and her work for the FBI (1980’s). She was raised by her father in NYC. He was a police officer and raised her to be no-nonsense yet wary. Her work with the FBI was fraught with sexism and frustration. She was good enough to recruit for the FBI, but the good ‘ole boys wouldn’t provide meaty assignments. Enter the CIA and a chance to do some undercover work. She’s to get close to Thomas Sankara(a real President of the Burkina Faso) so that the USA government can interfere with that nation’s politics. Her story is interesting, full of the complexities of being a spy. It’s a family story, explaining to her son’s her atypical family dynamics. What separates this spy/suspense story is the perspective of race and gender in the spy world. It’s a solid debut novel.

  16. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    What initially attracted me to this book were two things—the artful, vibrant cover and the title. I’m not a fan of genre spy novels like Bourne Identity, but prefer when the spy content is linked to something deeper and more thematic, such as in Mailer’s HARLOT’S GHOST, DeLillo’s LIBRA, and, more recently, Lea Carpenter’s RED WHITE BLUE. Not that all good spy novels have to have intellectual heft, but in order to engage me, I want to feel something personal in the pages. And this is a genuinely What initially attracted me to this book were two things—the artful, vibrant cover and the title. I’m not a fan of genre spy novels like Bourne Identity, but prefer when the spy content is linked to something deeper and more thematic, such as in Mailer’s HARLOT’S GHOST, DeLillo’s LIBRA, and, more recently, Lea Carpenter’s RED WHITE BLUE. Not that all good spy novels have to have intellectual heft, but in order to engage me, I want to feel something personal in the pages. And this is a genuinely personal novel—written as a letter of love from a mother to her sons. Wilkinson’s debut novel contains nuggets to chew on--a black American woman, Marie Mitchell, working as a spy for the Feds during the Cold War, who is also a single mother trying to protect her young twin sons. Moreover, her international espionage in Africa is teamed with a tale of romance and universal themes of family. In fact, this is mostly a story of family and trying to protect the ones you love, but it adds a few adrenaline touches of adventure. And don’t read the cover blurb—it gives way too much away! As the novel opens in 1992, Marie encounters a violent incident in her home, forcing her to take her boys and escape to Martinique to live with her mother. Afterwards, she decides it is important to recount her life history and the years leading up to this moment, so that her boys understand not only the racial and gender divide in this country, but also her choice of profession—why she got involved in working for the FBI and her decisions afterwards. More importantly, she wants her sons, William and Tommy, to possess esteemed ideals and live courageous lives, and to help make America a place that they are proud to live in. She often explains to them why she made certain decisions, and presses upon them, through her writing, the mistakes, regrets, and no-regrets of her life. If you’ve never heard of Thomas Sankara, the charismatic president of Burkina Faso from 1983-1987, you will come away from this book feeling like you’ve met him and reached into his heart. Marie was persuaded to keep tabs on him in Africa, which led to some of the most poignant events and adventures of her life. I think she wanted to teach her boys not to gauge an ideology superficially, but to evaluate people as individuals. She also desired that Tommy and William understand her, and her family, and their flaws. “Throughout my life, the most consistent way I’ve revealed who I really am is through the men I’ve chosen to love.” The narrative has many page turning events, and it is peppered with literary and poetic allusions along the way. At times, it did stall with redundancies that felt extraneous, but Wilkinson was in charge of her narrative and didn’t flounder much. I felt rewarded at the end, despite a few over-the-top action scenes and somewhat predictable ones. Yet, for a debut novelist taking on what she did, she impressed me with her radiant and organically flawed characters. Most readers will be on edge wanting to know the truth of what happened to Marie’s sister, Helene, as well as Marie’s tense relationship with her mother, Agathe. And we want to know the outcome of Marie’s story. “In spy stories, the question of what becomes of a spy’s cover after it’s no longer needed is rarely discussed. But we were still there. We still existed.” Readers will be inspired and satisfied with Wilkinson’s portrayal of her characters and the thrust of her narrative. Perhaps a few of the characters are out of central casting, but her portrait of the Mitchell family—the tragedies, revelations, and ultimate endurance, were vivid and memorable. My gut instinct tells me this will eventually be made into a cable TV prestige series. But whatever happens, I look forward to Wilkinson’s next book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    La Tonya Jordan

    The beginning of this book drags. After the first 100 pages, it starts to get interesting. I like Marie and Helene characters. The complete idea of black women spies is captivating. For Marie to live out Helene dream of being a spy to make the world a better place to live is the fantasy. She later found out she was only being complicit in making the world more unsafe with the United States of America's blessing. She takes this disappointment and starts a journal to leave for her twin son's in ca The beginning of this book drags. After the first 100 pages, it starts to get interesting. I like Marie and Helene characters. The complete idea of black women spies is captivating. For Marie to live out Helene dream of being a spy to make the world a better place to live is the fantasy. She later found out she was only being complicit in making the world more unsafe with the United States of America's blessing. She takes this disappointment and starts a journal to leave for her twin son's in case she is killed. The journal speaks to her most intimate thoughts and feelings. To sum up her entire life and hope is simple, she wants her two boys to be better than she. I adored how she would refer to her twin boys as one entity. It made the reading all the more interesting. A Good Read. Quotes: They could either follow bureau policy or they could uphold the law. They weren't always the same thing. I realized that Ross had said he'd never been to Burkina, which meant he'd lied to my face. And although I prided myself on my ability to detect deceit, I hadn't picked up on it. The guide had a gap between his front teeth and was also armed, carrying a rusted hunting rifle that must've been just for show; it couldn't possibly have stopped a charging elephant.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rincey

    3.5 stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    After fending off an attempted assassination, former FBI agent Marie Mitchell flees with her young twin sons to the Caribbean island of Martinique, where her mother lives. She begins a letter to her boys, "I'm writing this to give you honest answers to the questions I hazard to guess you'll ask while you're growing up. I'm writing it all down here just in case I'm not around to tell you." The letter takes the reader back through time to chronicle Marie's childhood in Harlem, her career as a Fed After fending off an attempted assassination, former FBI agent Marie Mitchell flees with her young twin sons to the Caribbean island of Martinique, where her mother lives. She begins a letter to her boys, "I'm writing this to give you honest answers to the questions I hazard to guess you'll ask while you're growing up. I'm writing it all down here just in case I'm not around to tell you." The letter takes the reader back through time to chronicle Marie's childhood in Harlem, her career as a Fed at the tail end of the Cold War in the 1980s, to present day 1992, where she finds herself a target after her involvement in a coup to overthrow the president of Burkina Faso. American Spy is a spy novel in the old school tradition of Graham Greene and John Le Carré -cool, mannered, character-driven. The opening sequence is the novel's only real action scene. Debut novelist Lauren Wilkinson is far more interested in emotional intrigue and intellectual investigation. Marie Mitchell is not only the rare woman to make her way into an old boy's club, she's black. American Spy is as much a political thriller of American race and gender as it is a Cold War exposé. Marie is bumping up against a ceiling of racism and sexism in her New York field office, pushing papers, an ignored bureaucrat, when she is recruited by the CIA. The mission is to undermine the Marxist leader of the west African nation of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara. Marie and Thomas meet cute at the U.N and begin an affair. But it's not a typical honey trap mission for Marie- she has fallen in love with the charismatic leader. Eventually she travels to Burkina Faso and we witness history: Thomas Sankara was a real man and the story of the overthrow of his government is based on actual events. Wilkinson packs a massive amount of story into this poised, restrained novel. Much of Marie's reminiscence centers around her sister, Helene, who was also in the intelligence community, and the mystery of her death. American nationalism and moral ambiguity also play central roles, as Marie questions the undercover operation that finally pulls her from the wings to center stage. Despite its complexities and nuances, despite Wilkinson's confident, graceful writing, I was left largely unmoved by the story itself. There was a distance that never really allowed me to know or understand Marie, and I found whatever romance may have existed between her and Sankara rote and passionless. The thread of her sister's mysterious death was left hanging, and the ending came so quickly, I kept turning back pages to see what I'd missed. Even Marie told the story of the coup from a distance- she wasn't there for its final acts. Still, this is a remarkable, thought-provoking, original novel and an astonishing debut. Highly recommended. 3.5 stars rounded to 4.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Revised Review 10/2018: 4 Stars Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing me an advance copy of this book. I greatly appreciate the opportunity and below have provided an unbiased review. Marie Mitchell is an FBI agent who while extremely qualified, is consistently passed over for high profile assignments. When you work for the FBI in the 1980's, you're living in a man's world. While buried in paperwork, she is left to wonder when her opportunity will come. One day, she is approached by Revised Review 10/2018: 4 Stars Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing me an advance copy of this book. I greatly appreciate the opportunity and below have provided an unbiased review. Marie Mitchell is an FBI agent who while extremely qualified, is consistently passed over for high profile assignments. When you work for the FBI in the 1980's, you're living in a man's world. While buried in paperwork, she is left to wonder when her opportunity will come. One day, she is approached by the CIA to take an assignment in West Africa, where she is asked to get close to the young President and help the United States advance their interests over a budding Communist ally, Marie accepts the mission, but unexpectedly falls for her mark and so begins a story of complexity that only a talented author such as Lauren Wilkinson could tell. While things have improved today in some instances and definitely on paper, there still exist the subtle ways women face constant discrimination. Whether it be that women are consistently underestimated, second guessed, "mansplained" to, etc. So it doesn't take much stretch of the imagination to put myself in Marie's shoes, trying to push against the current of the good ol' boys club, where she outmatches her supervisor and colleagues in intelligence and skill. How Marie's strengths and weaknesses are used against her are interesting to watch unfold. I enjoyed this book and not only felt that it was very well written and researched, but was unique in its category. Having the main character be a black woman and the setting of the story take place outside of Europe or the Soviet Union was a way to set this apart from many other Cold War era spy novels. Marie is a complex character who has many flaws, but that only makes her more interesting. My one criticism, which prevented me from giving the book a higher rating was the ending. I don't want to give anything away, but for me it left too many things unresolved.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kym Moore

    It took me a minute to get past the flow of the opening narrative until I realized that Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI was basically writing a journal to her sons, chronicling the ebb and flow of her life personally, her relationships and the deception behind her undercover work in a shady task force. I felt bad for her and her sister Helene when their mother walked out on them when they were young and their father raised them. Even though I have yet to read the spy novels b It took me a minute to get past the flow of the opening narrative until I realized that Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI was basically writing a journal to her sons, chronicling the ebb and flow of her life personally, her relationships and the deception behind her undercover work in a shady task force. I felt bad for her and her sister Helene when their mother walked out on them when they were young and their father raised them. Even though I have yet to read the spy novels by John le Carré (David John Moore Cornwell), I liked how the author's mention of this British author of espionage novels was woven into the storyline of her sisters narrative. I suspected when I read on page 129 who the father of Marie's children was. I thought she'd slept with President Thomas Sankara during his visit to New York, but she didn't sleep with him then and she actually got pregnant when she was on a mission in his country. I was floored when Marie uncovered the vicious plot Slater and Ross had planned for her, to set Thomas Sankara up and to assassinate him. She, of course, was really going to be the dreaded sacrificial lamb. But once Marie figured out that Slater and Ross had ulterior and sinister motives at her expense, she flipped the script. I believe she changed for self-preservation, and to avenge her sister Helene's death and that of Thomas Sankara. Robbie, an old boyfriend comes back in the picture and he vows to protect Marie since it seems like there is a bounty on her head. I can see a sequel coming from the way this novel ended. Thanks, Lauren!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lata

    I enjoyed this a lot. Part spy story, but also so much more, with essentially a giant letter to main character Marie’s sons framing this story. This book has so much going on in it, as Marie describes different periods of her past to her sons, explaining how she got to where she did. There are complicated family dynamics, the experience of growing up terrified of a nuclear war, the dual nature of the judicial system based on one’s skin colour, being sidelined and constantly diminished at work fo I enjoyed this a lot. Part spy story, but also so much more, with essentially a giant letter to main character Marie’s sons framing this story. This book has so much going on in it, as Marie describes different periods of her past to her sons, explaining how she got to where she did. There are complicated family dynamics, the experience of growing up terrified of a nuclear war, the dual nature of the judicial system based on one’s skin colour, being sidelined and constantly diminished at work for being a woman, the American government’s propensity to meddle in and destroy other countries’ governments, the lack of oversight on US-employed security/intelligence contractors and their greed, and motherhood. Phew! I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough to describe how much is going on in this story, which reads quickly and has interesting things to say while its complex main character relates her experiences.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    DNF at 20%. I wanted to love this--the blurb sounds amazing--but I was too bored by the time I quit to have patience to get to the actual story. There was too much time spent on the main character's childhood and early life, and no real plot had yet emerged. I DNF ruthlessly and usually don't have a lot of patience for books that don't suck me in pretty quickly, but based on other reviews it seems likely this book will be rewarding for readers who are more patient than I am. *I received a free AR DNF at 20%. I wanted to love this--the blurb sounds amazing--but I was too bored by the time I quit to have patience to get to the actual story. There was too much time spent on the main character's childhood and early life, and no real plot had yet emerged. I DNF ruthlessly and usually don't have a lot of patience for books that don't suck me in pretty quickly, but based on other reviews it seems likely this book will be rewarding for readers who are more patient than I am. *I received a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I really enjoyed this twist on the typical spy novel. I loved Marie and her story. I didn’t really know much about the actual history so I I had to do some googling. Well written and engaging. Definitely recommend.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katie Long

    Set during the Cold War while the US was engaging in troubling covert operations to stop the spread of Communism in West Africa. The description (and of course the title) makes it sound like a spy thriller, and to a certain extent that’s what it is, but that was the least interesting part to me. What engaged me the most was Marie’s voice and perspective as a Black woman in white man’s profession. The way she is cautious and plays along when she needs to, but never allows the people who underesti Set during the Cold War while the US was engaging in troubling covert operations to stop the spread of Communism in West Africa. The description (and of course the title) makes it sound like a spy thriller, and to a certain extent that’s what it is, but that was the least interesting part to me. What engaged me the most was Marie’s voice and perspective as a Black woman in white man’s profession. The way she is cautious and plays along when she needs to, but never allows the people who underestimate and try to use her, to break her.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel | rach.b.reads

    I'll start by saying that this book wasn't great. I wanted it to be, but it was not. However, it gets 3 stars for me for some really refreshing originality. One of the reasons I was so excited to pick this book up in the first place is the unique premise. It's the 1980s, and Marie is a black female FBI agent with a troubled past and big ambition. She's not really getting anywhere in her FBI career and ends up working for the CIA in Africa, trying to de-stabilize an authoritarian, Communist gover I'll start by saying that this book wasn't great. I wanted it to be, but it was not. However, it gets 3 stars for me for some really refreshing originality. One of the reasons I was so excited to pick this book up in the first place is the unique premise. It's the 1980s, and Marie is a black female FBI agent with a troubled past and big ambition. She's not really getting anywhere in her FBI career and ends up working for the CIA in Africa, trying to de-stabilize an authoritarian, Communist government. What more could I possibly want?? The book opens a bang, with a really intense scene where we see Marie as this amazing fighter, fending off an intruder and protecting her children. Maternal bad-assery? I was immediately hooked and could not wait to find out more about Marie and her work as an agent and spy. Unfortunately, the character quickly falls apart for me, as we go back in time and see Marie making these wild decisions that aren't really explained. She makes a senseless move that intentionally threatens her career in the FBI, gets involved with the CIA even though she doesn't want to, and makes major, life-changing decisions based on her feelings for someone (supposedly a deep love, although I never saw any proof of that). I guess I felt like the character of Marie was really let down by a lack of real motivation for any of these actions and for the way that her love story makes her a simpering idiot (UGH, a real pet peeve of mine). The book also had some issues with pacing and narrative drive. The whole novel is framed as journal entries addressed to her twin boys, which was an interesting decision (interesting as in, not one I would have gone with.) The addresses to "you" frequently took me out of the narrative as I was constantly trying to remember who she's actually talking to. If her children played a larger role in the story, maybe it would have made sense, but they were not much beyond this narrative device. I think most of the issues I'm highlighting are coming from the fact that this was a debut work - I think there is still work to be done by this author, but if she improves her narrative structure and character development, and continues bringing interesting premises like this one to the table, I will certainly be interested in reading what she does next.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Taryn

    I’ve never gotten into spy novels because I don’t really want more alpha white male energy in my life, but THIS spy novel is about a black woman working undercover in the 1980s! Now that I can get behind. Marie is sent to Burkina Faso to undermine the Communist leader Thomas Sankara, but her goals get clouded when she gets to know the man behind the image. The book is written as a letter to her children, which is a really effective device, and I swear I couldn’t tell from one page to the next wh I’ve never gotten into spy novels because I don’t really want more alpha white male energy in my life, but THIS spy novel is about a black woman working undercover in the 1980s! Now that I can get behind. Marie is sent to Burkina Faso to undermine the Communist leader Thomas Sankara, but her goals get clouded when she gets to know the man behind the image. The book is written as a letter to her children, which is a really effective device, and I swear I couldn’t tell from one page to the next where anyone’s loyalties lay or who was going to double cross whom.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karen (idleutopia_reads)

    Immersing myself into the world of American Spy was an experience unlike any other. It was thrilling from beginning to end. I loved the tapestry of words that Lauren Wilkinson created. She had me hooked from the beginning with her story of a suburban mom who one night gets attacked in her own home and kills the intruder. So begins a story that takes us towards an escape and flashes back to tell the story of Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s pulled into an intricate web Immersing myself into the world of American Spy was an experience unlike any other. It was thrilling from beginning to end. I loved the tapestry of words that Lauren Wilkinson created. She had me hooked from the beginning with her story of a suburban mom who one night gets attacked in her own home and kills the intruder. So begins a story that takes us towards an escape and flashes back to tell the story of Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s pulled into an intricate web that puts her on the path of Thomas Sankara, the charming Communist leader of Burkina Faso. I was fascinated by the spy thriller aspect of this story and by the history I glimpsed of Burkina Faso. Lauren Wilkinson does such an amazing job in showcasing the thrall of Sankara and why he rallied so many people around him. I found myself falling for his ideology and having to pull back and see how easy it would have been to follow his charm. You could tell that this book was very well researched. The way it paints the United States is a harsh truth that we have all come to realize about this country. The way it insidiously makes its way into a country’s dynamics and works behind the scenes to shake them. The other aspect that were just so brilliantly executed in this novel were its themes on race, identity, misogyny and family dynamics. I just couldn’t put this book down. There were so many times that I fell in love with how Wilkinson tethered words to feelings that seemed to completely resonate with the emotion they were attempting to showcase. There was such deep respect for her characters in this novel and the journey we were allowed to visit was one I was incredibly grateful to be a part of. I will leave you with a quote from Sankara taken from this amazing book, “But it’s not enough to discuss things. We are the elites. We can’t just talk about human rights, while we conveniently forget that we condemn thousands of children to die because we couldn’t agree on the best policy to help. Or in my government, if we can’t agree on a pay cut so that a little clinic out in the country could be built. Those kinds of choices make us part of the international complicity of men of good conscience.” Please read this amazing debut from this brilliant writer. I can’t wait to read more of her work. . . Thank you to Negalley and Random House Publishing for the free copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. Thank you to Lauren Wilkinson for sharing this book with us. It is definitely a historical fiction/spy thriller at its finest.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Heather Fineisen

    Centers on the backstory of a black female spy and how she ended up in the present time with a threat to her and her twin boys. The book is really strong and well written until the end when action gets lively but the storyline putters. This is a debut author to keep an eye on. Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    3.5 stars. As promised, this is a spy novel driven less by plot and more by character. It's unique and interesting and I want so many more books like it in the world. For this specific story and me, we didn't quite see eye to eye because I wanted *more* character. I wanted to get deeper into who Marie was and how she felt. But I'll be looking for more from Wilkinson.

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