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July 21, 2021

A Woman of Intelligence by Karin Tanabe ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

I read a lot of WWII historical fiction but I have been trying to branch out a bit more. Another time period I really like is the Cold War era when it pertains to espionage. A Woman of Intelligence spans the 1940s and 1950s and the main character is the perfect person to be an FBI informant ferreting out communists. I had to read it.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free audiobook was provided for an honest review.

A Woman of Intelligence
July 2021; Macmillan Audio; 9781250802279; audio (13h15m), ebook, print
historical fiction

Most of the Cold War spy novels I read are more thriller than historical fiction. Also, they feature male characters and are set overseas. From the title, you know that A Woman of Intelligence has a female lead character. But that isn't all that sets it apart from my typical read. It is set in the U.S. and it is more women's fiction rather than a thriller. I watched The Americans so all this just made me want to read this book more.

It started out a little slow as the characters are introduced. Katharina "Rina" worked as a translator at New York City Hall during the war and later at the United Nations. She enjoyed the single life that seemed a bit more wild than what you would have thought for the 1940s. Then she met a pediatric surgeon from a prominent family who was, at least partly, attracted to her because she wasn't the high society woman that his mother kept wanting him to marry. They had a whirlwind romance that was typical of that time period. She kept her job for the first years of her marriage knowing when she became pregnant she would have no choice but to quit.

The injustices women faced in the 1950s will enrage you but they also serve as the catalyst for Rina becoming an FBI informant. And this is when the story picked up as tensions build. The tension between Rina and her husband - she has to keep him from finding out what is doing as well as manage his "disappointment" in her as a wife and mother, the tension between her handler as well as the danger of being an undercover informant with a communist organization.

I originally gave the book 4 stars at Goodreads when I first finished it because of the slow start but now that it has been a couple of days and I have a bit of book hangover, I think it deserves 5 stars.

Seriously, I'm having trouble starting a new audiobook because I don't want to leave behind Tanabe's characters. There is a small glimmer of hope that I might get to revisit these characters in the future. The ending felt more like the closing of a chapter rather than the end of the story. It doesn't end on a cliff-hanger instead it is "life goes on". And it is the reason I have hope that we will one day see more of that life. 

The audiobook was really good too. Jennifer Jill Araya does a wonderful job. The story isn't told in a completely linear manner. There are some flashing back to Rina's days at Columbia and the United Nations but I didn't have any trouble making the jumps. 

Usually, I don't have trouble taking a break from the audiobook I'm listening to. I usually need the mental break, but that wasn't the case with A Woman of Intelligence. I was frustrated each time my phone's battery ran down and I would have to put it on the charger because I didn't want to put the book down. (I wish the Netgalley app was available on other devices so that I could just change devices when one needed to be charged as I do with other audiobook apps.) If you aren't sure you like audiobooks, I recommend giving this one a try as hearing the story read gives it a sense of intimacy - like you are listening to a friend.

If you are a fan of historical fiction or women's fiction, then this is a book you will want to read.

And totally on a side note - I couldn't help but be jealous of all the dresses she had that had pockets!

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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