“You’re not spies,” Marie Alves’ new boss tells his trainees in the Interdepartmental Committee for the Acquisition of Foreign Publications, the cumbersome name for a government intelligence agency. But she is going to be a spy, and Akron author Alan Hlad’s fourth historical novel “The Book Spy” is her story.
Maria, the daughter of photojournalists, lives in New Jersey and commutes to her job at the New York Public Library, where she works transferring newspapers to microfilm. Despite the title, her job has little to do with books. Her mother was killed while covering the Spanish Civil War; her father works as a freelancer.
In May 1942, Maria’s co-worker tells her that he’s been accepted into the new program and will be stationed in Europe to obtain and microfilm foreign publications. Maria expresses interest, but Princeton alumnus Roy tells her that the program accepts only Ivy League graduates; Maria, with a master’s degree from Berkeley, is offended and begins an unsuccessful campaign to join the team. Finally, with a combination of duplicity and audacity, she is accepted.
In neutral Portugal, Tiago Soares runs a bookstore that is mostly a cover for his operation providing forged and altered documents for Jewish refugees. He tries to persuade his grandparents to leave their vineyard in France, where they hide escaping Jews in the barrel-aging caves. A pro-German official comes by now and then to search the shop and threaten Tiago, becoming increasingly menacing.
Maria’s cover story is that she’s collecting publications for the Library of Congress, “preserving records of the present world crisis.” And if she should just happen to find directories of German munitions factories, that would be so much better. Again: “You are liberators, not spies.”
When Maria and Tiago meet, each inspires the other to more daring missions. Maria defies her orders to get involved in the highest reaches of Nazi establishment. Those readers interested in history may see one of the major events coming, but there are others that will come as surprises.
“The Book Spy” (376 pages, softcover) costs $16.95 from Kensington. Hlad’s other books include “The Long Flight Home,” about the Allied War Pigeon Service, and “Churchill’s Secret Messenger,” about a typist recruited for a sabotage operation.
“Just Kidding: Surviving the Chaos of Family Life” is a collection by Gail St. Hettrick of Columbiana, who contributed twice-weekly columns to the Youngstown Vindicator; one every week was about her family.
The columns are undated, but in the first, the oldest of her four sons is 12 and the youngest is 2; By the end, the oldest has moved to Columbus and the youngest is 17, with Hettrick reminiscing about the thousands of lunches she has packed over the years.
Most of the stories are two or three pages long, on topics like teaching the boys how to drive, watching them play in the mud instead of swimming in the pool, her astonishment at learning the exchange rate for the items she packs in their lunches (egg salad for kiwi, Oreos for absolutely anything).
Many are sentimental, with Hettrick contemplating birthdays and holiday dinners in the house the family is about to sell, and a preschooler’s crush on a classmate. Two columns on the children’s lemonade stands, some six years apart, are almost duplicates.
“Just Kidding” (156 pages, hardcover) costs $28 from online retailers. Gail S. Hettrick now works for WKBN-TV in Youngstown.
Tuscarawas County Public Library (Bolivar branch, 455 W. Water St.): Kelli Argento reads from her storybook “Wayne the Warrior,” 10:30 to 11 a.m. Monday.
Hudson Library & Historical Society: Biologist Danielle Clode talks about “Koala: A Natural History and an Uncertain Future” in a Zoom event at 7 pm Monday. At 7 pm Tuesday, Susanne Dunlap (“The Paris Affair”) talks about “The Portraitist: A Novel of Adelaide Labille-Guiard,” a fictionalized biography of Marie Antoinette’s official portraitist in danger during the French Revolution. At 7 pm Thursday, botanist David Gibson discusses “Planting Clues: How Plants Solve Crimes,” including examples of how evidence like leaves and pollen can help detectives. Register at hudsonlibrary.org.
Twinsburg Public Library (10050 Ravenna Road): Cookbook author Sara Bir (“Tasting Ohio,” “The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook”) talks about the process of making a cookbook, from proposal to publication, followed by the 50-Book Challenge launch party, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Register at twinsburglibrary.org.
Lakewood Public Library (15425 Detroit Ave.): Case Western Reserve University history professor John J. Grabowski, author (with photographer Lauren R. Pacini) of “Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens: A Landscape of Diversity,” talks about the 33 separate gardens devoted to a culture or nation, 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Music Box Super Club (1148 Main Ave., Cleveland): Terry Pluto joins the Cleveland Stories Dinner Parties series, talking about “Vintage Cavs: A Warm Look Back at the Cavaliers of the Cleveland Arena and Richfield Coliseum Years” and his many other sports books, 7 pm Thursday. Dinner is $25; the lecture is free. Go to musicboxcle.com.
Email information about books of local interest, and event notices at least two weeks in advance to BeaconBookTalk@gmail.com and email@example.com. Barbara McIntyre tweets at @BarbaraMcI.
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