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In the grand spy-tale tradition of John le Carré comes this shocking thriller written with insider detail known only to a veteran CIA officer.

In present-day Russia, ruled by blue-eyed, unblinking President Vladimir Putin, Russian intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the post-Soviet intelligence jungle. Ordered against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a young CIA officer who handles the Agency’s most important Russian mole.

Spies have long relied on the “honey trap,” whereby vulnerable men and women are intimately compromised. Dominika learns these techniques of “sexpionage” in Russia’s secret “Sparrow School,” hidden outside of Moscow. As the action careens between Russia, Finland, Greece, Italy, and the United States, Dominika and Nate soon collide in a duel of wills, tradecraft, and—inevitably—forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but those of others as well. As secret allegiances are made and broken, Dominika and Nate’s game reaches a deadly crossroads. Soon one of them begins a dangerous double existence in a life-and-death operation that consumes intelligence agencies from Moscow to Washington, DC.

Page by page, veteran CIA officer Jason Matthews’s Red Sparrow delights and terrifies and fascinates, all while delivering an unforgettable cast, from a sadistic Spetsnaz “mechanic” who carries out Putin’s murderous schemes to the weary CIA Station Chief who resists Washington “cake-eaters” to MARBLE, the priceless Russian mole. Packed with insider detail and written with brio, this tour-de-force novel brims with Matthews’s life experience, including his knowledge of espionage, counterintelligence, surveillance tradecraft, spy recruitment, cyber-warfare, the Russian use of “spy dust,” and covert communications. Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Red Sparrow is a masterful spy tale lifted from the dossiers of intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Authentic, tense, and entertaining, this novel introduces Jason Matthews as a major new American talent.

434 pages, Hardcover

First published June 4, 2013

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About the author

Jason Matthews

10 books1,564 followers
Librarian's note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in clandestine collection of national security intelligence, specializing in denied-area operations. Matthews conducted recruitment operations against Soviet–East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets. As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and counterterrorism operations. He lives in Southern California.

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5 stars
17,313 (32%)
4 stars
20,717 (39%)
3 stars
10,563 (20%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,705 reviews
Profile Image for Heather Fineisen.
1,158 reviews112 followers
July 10, 2014
While I was reading this, I kept going back to my Goodreads account and looking at the reviews, perplexed, but coaxed to keep reading. I finally came to the conclusion that this is one of those books that appealed to most, but not to me. Dominika is a training to be a Red Sparrow, a Russian female seductress agent, and she also has the gift of synthesia, or seeing colors in an aura around people that reflects their spirit, a mood ring sort of thing. Promising. Where the author lost me is the sexual content which I found ridiculous. I am not a prude, I even enjoy a titillating sex scene of many variations. Dominika masturbates with her grandmother's amber hairbrush, and then there is a recipe for Beet Soup. Dominika has a lesbian sex encounter at Sparrow School and here's a recipe for a Cuban Sandwich from the airport. Dominika has a fake orgasm worth of When Harry Met Sally and we can make crepes. (I may have some of the recipes out of sequel, but you get the idea.) Each chapter is followed by a recipe. And the women have sex like blow-up dolls. I even went back to the reviews thinking, oh, I bet women readers did not go for this, but they did. I could find no glaring trends to support my own conclusions. Just my own lonely opinion that this is ridiculous from my own female point of view. So, I say skip it and read a Ludlum or Le Carre. There you will find sex and substance.

A copy of this was provided by the publisher.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,839 followers
June 17, 2018
A recipie for Red Sparrow

- 1 cup of Cold War
- 2 tablespoons of espionage
- 5 cubes of chopped suspense
- In a sauce pan in simmer a handful of double agents and several pinches of government secrets. After 15 minutes, slowly stir in the Cold War, espionage, and suspense.
- After it thickens, pour in to a baking dish, sprinkle traitorous crumbs over the top and bake for 1 hour.
- Serve with a side of sex and a glass of revenge.

I thought this book was fantastic! It is not an action packed spy thriller. It is more of a cat and mouse chess match. The suspense and stakes are high throughout and it kept me guessing. I don't think there was a second I wasn't on the edge of my seat.

If you love spy thrillers, cold war drama, and anything else of that ilk, this is definitely the book for you!
March 28, 2021

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DNF @ 72%

When I saw the trailer for Red Sparrow (2018), I almost guffawed because as I watched, I could almost hear T.T.L.'s "Deep Shadow" playing in the background - it looked just like another Hunger Games trailer if the Capitol got a major downgrade and President Snow became Evol Russian Jeremy Irons. Still, I was intrigued because the idea of a "Memoirs of a Geisha"-esque rags-to-riches spy romance with sex, scandal, and espionage called out to my trash heart and said, "Nenia! Nenia! This book is for youuuuu!"

Because, you know, I have to read the book first.

Now that I've read the book, I'm no longer sure I want to watch the movie. RED SPARROW is a bad book. When women say that men can't write convincing female characters, this is the type of book that they are talking about (you know that infamous "breasted boobily" meme?). Dominika is devoid of personality. She's a beautiful ball-busting hard-ass who's good at sex and has a temper... and that's about the extent of her personality: sex, rage, snark.

Oh, and speaking of sex, this book has one of the most bizarre sex scenes I've ever read. The heroine masturbates with the handle of her hairbrush, and it's pretty gross how it's described. o_O


Dominika starts off the book as a beautiful ballerina but her classmates are jealous and injure her foot on purpose. This is where the first character inconsistency rears its head because we're told that Dominika is violent, temperamental, and vengeful, and yet when she has the power to destroy the two classmates who injured her, she does nothing. NOTHING. She just takes it like a b*tch.

Now that her career is at an end, she basically is stuck living at home with her parents. But then her father dies and it's just her and her mother, who have nothing, and that's when her evol uncle comes in and says, "Hey, Dominika, looking hot, hey wanna do a favor for me? Favor is spelled H-O-N-E-Y-T-R-A-P, by the way, and hey, what a good looking apartment this is... IT WOULD BE A SHAME IF SOMETHING HAPPENED TO IT." So Dominika agrees to sleep with this rich Russian tycoon, only to see him assassinated before her very eyes and be dragged back before her uncle.

Her uncle, in case you haven't figured it out by now, is a Soviet Spy-type who's in cahoots with Putin, King Evol himself. So he tells Dominika, "Hey, thanks for the favor, niece, you'll keep your mouth shut and say nothing of this to no one, right? And oh, it would be a shame if you made me mad and something happened to you and your hot bod..." So of course, Dominika agrees to be his spy, and after completing her basic training (where she is almost raped by one of her classmates and treats him to an eye-gouging with a shower spigot), he sends her to Sparrow School, or what Dominika affectionately calls "Whore School" and what I have termed Honeytrap Academy, LLC.

At Honeytrap Academy, women are turned into sex!spies by watching nightly porn videos and observing live models go at it, and then having sex with men that the Academy just so happens to have lying around while their spymasters videotape it and then the videos are played back in front of the whole class while their spymaster teachers offer up critiques. One of the girls isn't into this at all and comes to Dominika of all people for comfort, which turns out to be the pretext for an exploitative, fetishy lesbian love scene where the hairbrush once more makes an appearance (o_O). In the video trailer, I noticed that the school is co-ed. In the book they are separate and the boys go to something called Raven School and seem proud of their work, and not at all ashamed (gross).

After Dominika graduates from Honeytrap Academy she gets sent out to spy and of course all of her new coworkers do nothing but make comments about her body and ridicule her for going to "Whore School." This is LITERALLY all the interaction she has with the dudes in her book. Slut-shaming.

She ends up getting this dude named Nate to spy on who works for the Americans and is involved with a really deeply-entrenched Russian spy called MARBLE. Her creepy spymasters keep pressuring her to sleep with him (as they do with all her other targets, because that's all she's good for), but oh no, she gets kind of close to Nate and for some reason decides to out herself and defect, and then she and Nate are in love and fighting against the evol Russian spiez, dun dun dun.

That's about the time that I stopped reading.

The plot literally sounds like a bodice ripper and since I like bodice rippers you would think that I'd be all over RED SPARROW like white on rice but I couldn't get over Dominika's utter lack of agency and the way she's objectified by every man in the book, or the fact that Nate kind of feels like a self-insert of the author (and even kind of sounds like a younger version of him based on that author photo I saw on Goodreads). Heinlein's books gave me that vibe, and I got a similar vibe with this book, and maybe that's me reading too much into it, but I didn't like it. It felt weirdly voyeuristic.

Also, these sex scenes are 80s bodice ripper bad. Check it out:

Dominika felt a sudden, excruciatingly sweet expansion, and the moonlight was rocketing around behind her eyelids, and she hoped he could keep her heaving body from blowing away like a piece of paper. She felt the hollow rush expand inside her, and then a rogue wave rose up from the deep, bigger than the others, hanging, curling, and she said, "Bozhe moj," from way back in her throat, and a white-eyed state of grace rolled through her like the wind bends a wheat field (224).

Not to make this a gender thing (I'm totally making this a gender thing) but how come bad sex scenes are ONLY called out when women do them? This is just as bad or worse as FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, and yet the dudes who are so quick to bash romance are awfully silent on this quarter. You could even argue that the hairbrush scene is almost as bad as the tampon scene, & just as phallic.

Also, two more WTF things about this book. Food plays a heavy role. Each chapter mentions some kind of food and then there's a recipe for the dish at the end of each chapter. The first time it happened, I was like, "Oh, what's this?" And then it kept happening. Every chapter, new recipe. That's something I'd expect from a cozy mystery and not a dudelit spy-thriller.

The second WTF thing about this book is that Dominika has synesthesia - music and words make colors, which helps her memory (this is actually true, because you do remember things better when they are encoded in multiple pathways with multiple associations) and at first I thought that was neat, but the author USES HER SYNESTHESIA AS A PRETEXT TO GIVE HER PSYCHIC POWERS. That's right. Dominika is a synesthete who can read goddamn auras. That's right. She sees colors around people's heads that indicate their moods. Which ties into the title, I think, because not only does Red mean communist, for her red means anger - she is a furious little sparrow.

An angry bird, if you will.

Funnily enough, I've been told that the psychic powers bit was omitted from the movie. I wonder why.

RED SPARROW is an awful, awful book. It's like someone decided to cross THE HUNGER GAMES with THE DA VINCI CODE, but also wanted to add a lot of weird sex and power games, with a dash of The Americans and some X-Meny stuff too, because why the hell not? The beginning was interesting in a trashy read sort of way, but then the book got dull with the spy lingo and kept finding more sharks to jump over and I decided I was done. Why this is popular, I have no idea.

I leave you with this meme:

Bless you, scottbaiowulf. And fuck this book.

P.S. I started skimming pretty heavily so I apologize in advance if I got any of the finer details wrong.

1 to 1.5 stars
Profile Image for Bibi.
1,282 reviews3,263 followers
April 28, 2018
*Random thoughts*

So happy that I persevered to the end, considering that nothing actually happened. Not a damn thing that wasn't predictable or contrived.
CIA, FBI, Russian FSB, espionage, red sparrows-Russian secret agents who learn the fine art of seduction and sex, ubiquitous food recipes(why?), double agents, a lot of spy-speak, and countless acronyms.

Additionally, our protagonist- Dominika- is a synesthete (the ability to see auras depicted as colours) which to me is a very interesting concept except, sadly, Matthews never fully utilised this plot device in any meaningful manner.

That said, I reckon the movie will condense the repetitive narrative while ramping up the action sequences. My advice? Wait for the movie and skip the book
Profile Image for Madeline.
775 reviews47k followers
February 26, 2020
Looking for a story of romance and adventure in exotic European locations, written by a former CIA operative, and featuring delicious recipes?

Then I highly recommend My Life in France by Julia Child
Profile Image for Jade Saul.
Author 1 book52 followers
May 23, 2022
Red Sparrow is a spy novel with romance told from Dominika pov a Russian girl who gets trained as sparrow an seductress now Intelligence officer assigned to work against Nate a CIA operating within Russia. The narrator did an awesome job with the characters. And the plot was Really good. I can't wait to read the next two in the series awesome spy series
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,828 followers
April 11, 2016
Maybe we Americans were just a little bit hasty when we said that we won the Cold War? ‘Cause it’s seeming more and more like that we were really just leading at halftime.

Modern Russia with Vladimer Putin running the show is essentially the Soviet Union with a better public relations department, and the old spy games between their Foreign Intelligence Service and the American Central Intelligence Agency are back with a vengeance. Young and ambitious CIA officer Nate Nash is the Moscow handler of a highly placed Russian code-named MARBLE. When a planned meeting goes sideways Nash manages to save his asset, but he blows his own cover so badly in the process that he’s exiled to Helsinki where he sulks about the setback his career has suffered. Russian intelligence knows it has a leak and is desperate to find it so they send junior agent Dominika Egorova to see if she can pry loose the name of the mole from Nash.

Dominika was a talented ballerina as well as a true believer in the new Russia. She is also secretly a synesthete who sees sound as colors as well as auras around people that clue her into their mental state. When her dancing career was derailed she is sucked into the spy business by her uncle who promises her position but really sees her as just a beautiful woman that he can whore out for his own purposes. Despite how her uncle uses her and the bureaucracy that thinks she only has value on her back, Dominika manages to earn a place in the intelligence service with her brains and will as she nurses hidden grudges at the way the system has treated her. After Nate and Dominika meet, a delicate dance of manipulation begins, but who is recruiting who?

I’m a big fan of FX’s The Americans as well as currently being surrounded by a bunch of Russian consultants at the office. I’m convinced they must be secret agents running honeypot operations because there’s just no way that many good looking people are a representative sample of the Russian population. (Or I’m just jealous that they’re making us American office drones look like jeans wearing mole-people by comparison. Seriously, if the Cold War is really kicking off again, I’m putting my money on them.)

The point is that I was in the mood for a good spy vs. spy novel, and this one delivered. It won the 2014 Edgar Award for best first novel, and the author Jason Matthews is reportedly a former CIA officer who had over 30 years of service. The book is filled with the kind of details about spy operations that just feel authentic, but it never devolves into a Tom Clancy-style recitation of hardware and proper procedures because it’s got plenty of human drama as well.

Dominika is the engine that runs the rest of the book. She’s an intriguing character because of the anger and frustration she feels as someone who just wants to be permitted to do her job but is constantly used and humiliated by brutal men of limited imagination. The only false note to her is that it feels like Matthews wrote her synesthesia as giving her almost telepathic abilities when it comes to reading people. Why couldn't she just be smart and institutive instead of using a neurological disorder as a way of making her ‘special’? It’s becoming an overused fictional trope these days.

Another minor nitpick is that Matthews uses a gimmick of having the characters constantly eating or preparing food and then putting the recipe for what they had at the end of a chapter. This was kind of a neat touch at first, but after a while it felt like he was really straining to find new dishes to shoehorn into the action. Also, (This spoiler does not give away the ending but does involve a major character introduced halfway through the book.)

Still, none of my complaints seriously hurt my enjoyment of the book which was filled with great characters playing tense spy games for high stakes.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,154 reviews1,694 followers
May 29, 2023

Nome in codice: Red Sparrow.

Sono d’accordo con il critico del NYT Charles Cumming: inserire Putin tra i personaggi di questo romanzo è un errore, in qualche modo ne mina la credibilità – come lo sono le ricette gastronomiche a chiusura di ogni capitolo, meno l’ultimo, sia perché smontano la suspense sia perché la ricetta più leggera è pari a diecimila calorie.
È vero però, proprio come scrive Charles Cumming, che questi sono errori marginali.
L’errore vero è tutto il resto, a cominciare dal considerare questo romanzo un buon libro, un notevole debutto narrativo, dal premiarlo, dal recensirlo con entusiasmo.
A me ha fatto rimpiangere Le Carrè, e Ambler. Ma anche perfino Forsyth, o Follett. Il che la dice lunga sulle capacità di Jason Matthews.

Ne faranno un film e sono certo che sarà migliore del romanzo, anche se non c’è più Fincher a dirigerlo e chi ha preso il suo posto a Fincher non è paragonabile: ma il cast è buono. Rimpiango l’abbandono di Rooney Mara, attrice che prediligo, però Jennifer Lawrence non è seconda a nessuna.

Leggendo questo malloppazzo, mi sono chiesto se John Wayne l’avrebbe amato. Penso di sì: gli umori non gli sarebbero alieni, il passero sarà anche rosso (il titolo originale è Red Sparrow), ma i berretti sono sempre verdi, che più verdi non si potrebbe. USA über alles.

Nome in codice: Nikita.

Il tutto è permeato da una discreta dose di maschilismo, che non guasta mai. Eppure anche James Bond interpretato da Daniel Craig è diventato più attento su questo aspetto, meno biecamente sessista.
Maschilista anche se la protagonista femminile, Dominika, è in pratica un supereroe, o meglio, una super eroina, in quanto il suo potere di vedere auree di colore intorno alle persone, e da qui interpretare l’essenza dei comportamenti altrui, anticipare le mosse di chi le sta intorno, sa tanto di dono magico.
A me sembra kryptonite, invece Matthews lo chiama sinestesia. Una conditio sine qua che a me è parsa davvero risibile, in assenza della quale la storia non sta in piedi. E comunque, alla donna tocca sempre giustificare la sua capacità, la sua bravura, in qualche modo ‘alieno’.

La spia americana prende in giro quella russa ricordandole l’Afghanistan, e la spia russa invece di rispondere ‘Perché, voi invece, che avete fatto in Afghanistan, dov’è che vi ha spedito Bush?’, gli rinfaccia il Vietnam! Eppure il romanzo è ambientato pochi anni fa, le guerre di Bush sono recenti.

Nome in codice: The Bride.

I personaggi sono in numero impressionante, come è facile prevedere dato il tipo di storia e data la mole del volume: a ciascuno è dedicato il racconto di chi sono e da dove vengono, le loro vicende personali – pagine e pagine pressoché inutili perché nulla aggiungono alla psicologia degli stessi, alla loro personalità, che rimane confinata a una piatta bidimensionalità tendente alla monodimensione (la larghezza).

Le banalità, i cliché sono tanti, a cominciare da questa sintesi di Roma:
Roma era tetti ocra e marmo luccicante sotto il sole eterno.
La situazione peggiora quando arrivano gli spaghetti con la bottarga di muggine, che viene considerata più buona del caviale russo (ma hanno davvero mai sentito l’una e l’altro?), e Matthews dice che la pasta arriva traboccante olio e intingolo.
Chissà poi perché a Roma si firmano petizioni per salvare le botteghe storiche, chissà perché a noi ci sembra di essere invasi da pizzerie al taglio, paninoteche e negozi d’abbigliamento, e invece lo scrittore americano a Monti vede solo panettieri e falegnami.

Nome in codice: Atomic Blonde.

Matthews sparge a piene mani, nel senso di tastiera, gemme di umorismo involontario come questa che segue:
- La telefonata servirà anche a fare un po’ di disinformazione, capisci cosa intendo?
- Sì, dezinformaciya.
- Esattamente


Altro momento linguistico scelto a caso:
- Hren, cazzate!
E uno si chiede se le lezioni d’inglese di Giacomo (di Aldo, Giovanni e ) nelle vesti di Mr Flanagan siano poi così diverse.

Aggiungo perle, secondo me di grottesco involontario:
Li guardava torvi. L’orlo del vestito tremava insieme al suo corpo. “Ricomponiti. Non perdiamoci in chiacchiere”.

L’editore divide i gruppi di vocali con gli accapo e la lingua italiana si agita (nella tomba?).

Ogni tanto, finalmente, Matthews si ricorda di aver lavorato nella CIA per 33 anni (sua moglie per 34) e regala i momenti migliori.
E il meglio è in certi dettagli, cui purtroppo Matthews dedica troppo poco tempo: i pedinamenti, le perlustrazioni, gli appostamenti…
Oppure nel trattamento inflitto a Diva nel sotterraneo della prigione – e non perché io sia un sadico maniaco, ma perché sono i momenti in cui Matthews dice qualcosa di non scontato, in cui viene fuori la sua esperienza e conoscenza diretta della materia - per esempio, nel caso specifico, gli armadi di legno nei quali la rinchiudono durante gli spostamenti lungo i corridoi, da una parte all’altra della prigione, se sta per passare un altro prigioniero, il tutto avvisando dell’incrocio pericoloso con dei cicalini – i prigionieri non devono mai vedersi, un modo per fiaccare ulteriormente il morale del detenuto.

Ciò nonostante, io, che se non si fosse ancora capito, sono un romantico senza speranza, sono arrivato in fondo alle 500 e passa pagine di banalità simili con voracità per sapere come sarebbe andata a finire tra l’uomo e la donna (niente nomi, evitiamo spoiler), se l’amore, o il sesso, o la ragion di stato, quale avrebbe vinto.
Adesso lo so. E passo oltre.

Ecco, a marzo esce il film in sala: Jennifer Lawrence appare perfetta nella parte. La regia è di Francis Lawrence, nel cast Joel Edgerton, Matthias “Prezzemolo” Schoenaerts e Jeremy Irons.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,606 reviews24.8k followers
December 8, 2017
This is the first in the Red Sparrow trilogy of which a film with Jennifer Lawrence is set to be released in 2018. Jason Matthews brings all his experience of being a spy with the CIA to bear in this well plotted espionage thriller. His descriptions of the workings of the American and Russian intelligence agencies bear all the hallmarks of the politics, paranoia, intrigue, quandries and motivations that shape the organisations. Set in the contemporary world of Putin's Russia, Matthews portrays the world of spies that suggest the Cold War may well be over, but it is business as usual, and in practice so little has changed, although Putin's PR spin is significantly slicker. Dominika Ergova is a synesthete who has had her career as a ballerina trashed, and thanks to the machinations (and exploitation) by her uncle ends up as a struggling state intelligence officer pushed into becoming a trained sparrow, a spy who seduces.

Nathanial 'Nate' Nash is a CIA operative and handler of a major Russian asset, MARBLE, when everything goes wrong. He manages to save the asset, but not himself as he ends up in Helsinki bemoaning the stalling of his career ambitions. The Russians are determined to find the mole, and use Dominika for that purpose. Dominika is seething mass of rage and resentment over the limited visions and brutality of the men who have power over her. She is more than capable of independent thinking, and is no biddable and easily controlled woman. Nate and Dominika end up having a sexual affair which seems to have little future. This is a story of sex, betrayal, deception, double dealing, and a myriad of twists as the American and Russian spy agencies, erstwhile enemies, go up against each other in their efforts to find the moles in their own sides.

Each chapter ends with a recipe. The biggest weakness of the novel is Matthews portrayal of the American and Russian sides as too black and white, with the Americans as the good guys and the Russians as evil. Otherwise, it is a great espionage read that is tense, gripping and compelling. I am really looking forward to seeing the movie! Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for an ARC.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,730 reviews12.8k followers
June 7, 2018
With all the hype this series has received, I thought it best to try the first novel in the trilogy, to see if it meets my expectations. Jason Matthews has not disappointed, with his knowledge of the topic and ability to transmit ideas onto the page. Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Nash has been working as a CIA operative to handle an important mole within the Russian Government. No one seems to know who it could be or how much information the Americans have garnered, but Russian President Putin is enraged and wants this person found. Feeling some of the heat, the CIA takes the opportunity to move Nash out of the region and resettles him in Helsinki. Meanwhile, the reader learns all about Dominika Egorova, whose past as a ballerina ended with a freak accident. Pulled into the Russian Intelligence sphere by an uncle who works as a senior official within the SVR (the KGB’s modern-day cousin), Egorova is targeted for a high-stakes game to retrieve the needed information from Nash. Sent to a ‘Sparrow School’, Egorova is turned into a seductress, where sexpionage is the name of the game. Her skills will be useful if she can lure the mole information from Nash while focussing her attention on his weaknesses. After crafting a chance encounter within the Finnish borders, Egorova begins laying her honey trap, but Nash is not taking the bait, at least not in the way she suspects he should. Instead, Nash sees a potential to turn Egorova to the Americans and have her feed additional information to the CIA. Tensions build and Egorova makes a decision she feels will benefit her in the long-run, but sours the relationship with her SVR handlers. Forced back to Russia, Egorova is presumed ‘handled’ in some dank prison, while Nash returns stateside with some valuable information; there is a Russian mole within the American intelligence community that could compromise everything. The race is on to find this mole before too much can be handed over to the Russians, while also continuing to protect their own information pipeline. Egorova has reported some of her news to SVR officials and seeks another chance to finish the work she’s started. With two moles and significant blowback to come, the American and Russian Intelligence communities are fighting to gain the upper hand in this post-Cold War world. Two agents, doing what they do best, may end up shaping the final outcome of this explosive game of espionage. Who is playing for whom... that’s anyone’s guess. Matthews shows how his past as a CIA official can help shape this gripping thriller that opens every conceivable door for the reader to push onwards. A trilogy that is sure to impress many, especially those who love a traditional novel of spy games. Highly recommended to those with the patience and interest in deep-rooted spy novels, a la John Le Carré!

With this book now a major motion picture and the final novel recently released, I have heard much about it, as it appears all over Goodreads. I thought it high time to take a look to see if it might be for me. While the beginning was a little dense, I had to remind myself that I am not one who normally reads well-crafted spy novels, which seek to forego the superficial banter and develop over time, enriching the reading experience. As I pushed onwards, I found myself drawn to both Nate Nash and Dominika Egorova, two players from different spheres whose dedication to the cause cannot be discounted. Matthews does well to create elaborate and intriguing backstories for these two—particularly Dominika’s synesthesia—as well as meshing them together in a dance that can only have significant consequences. I found myself very interested in the ‘training’ undertaken by Egorova, sure that this sort of ‘Sparrow School’ is more common than it might seem. While many readers may be familiar with the idea of a honeypot mission, Matthews pushes this out of the sweaty sheets and pillow talk, turning the entire undertaking into a slow and methodical game of chess, with two countries staring one another down, unsure how much they know of the other’s game plan. Additionally, the creation and development of the two moles keeps the reader hooked, as they watch both individuals undertake their respective positions and extract the needed information to pass along. Who will be caught and at what price? The story is fabulous and develops slowly, but never loses the momentum through a strong narrative and believable dialogue. Matthews has done well to personalise the story with insider bits that promote a story that rests on a foundation of fact (or does it?). The reader need not feel they are being spoon fed yet another America vs. Russia novel of high-stakes and back alley stabbing, but rather a methodical understanding of the world of espionage with results dependent on the risks undertaken. With the uncanny use of recipes embedded at the end of each chapter—usually related to the food mentioned in the earlier narrative—Matthews shows that he has a lighter side and can lure the reader in through their stomachs as well as minds. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the next novel, hoping that the development is as exciting as what Matthews developed here. I can see why there was so much hype... Matthews knows his stuff and has the literary awards to show for it.

Kudos, Mr. Matthews, for a stellar debut novel. This series could really have some serious potential to win over many who have not yet developed a love for high-caliber spy novels.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
Profile Image for Esteban.
116 reviews6 followers
September 2, 2013
I very nearly despaired of finishing this book a couple of times.

In one review they compared this book to John Le Carre, I don't think so! That was the MAIN reason I picked it up and gave it a go.

So slow, so boring, so full of words that said almost nothing. Sometimes you get a book very rich in words which tells a rich story, this was not the case, it gave me the impression of the author's infatuation with his capacity to link words in sentences, then in paragraphs, pages, chapters and so on.
And the russian! Words in russian in every page, all the time, for everything, so exhausting. The heroine is introduced as being fluent in various languages, one of them english, yet she always had to resort to russian to say a specific word or phrase, so not so fluent I guess. So the author speaks russian then, and wanted to give us some ambiance, not for me you didn't.

The story is common, there is absolutely nothing to make it stand out from any other glamourous spy story, far fetched, slow, repetitive, boring, wordy.....

Profile Image for Kat.
Author 8 books353 followers
June 23, 2022
Wow, this is SO detailed and amazing. If you love books about spycraft and CIA work, you will appreciate the complexity and detail of Jason Matthews’ RED SPARROW, which is told from the pov of Dominica, a Russian girl who is trained as a “sparrow” or Russian intelligence officer who will spy and run honey pot operations, seducing her targets and gathering information, and Nate, a CIA officer who had been in Moscow managing informants until one day he is nearly caught and his cover is blown. She is sent to extract information from him. He is told to develop her as an agent. But are real feelings starting to form?

This is just a really cool book, especially if you ever loved the TV show “The Americans” and questions of real or not real. Long, complex, and with an interesting array of emotions that keep you invested in seeing what comes next. And I just loved Dominica and Nate! So many twists and turns as this winds its way towards the end. Definitely reading the next book in the series!
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,418 followers
September 8, 2015

Think the Cold War is over? Think again.

I'd always had somewhere in me (I mean, really, who doesn't?) an interest in Soviet history and everything Red Army, KGB, Iron Curtain, and Gulag. It's one of the greatest stories ever told after all -- the rise and fall of a mighty and murderous political and geographic monolith that aggressively absorbed many nations and languages and religions into its insatiable machinery in a quest for ultimate global supremacy. A nerve-wracking Cold War entrenchment would prove a constant counter-balancing act with the United States to see which would emerge the most super of two superpowers -- while the rest of us could do nothing but watch with bated breath to see whether one or both would destroy the world in a conflagration of nuclear annihilation. Good times.

While it seems like those old Cold War threats and anxieties are in the past, lost to the annals of history and diminished by Soviet collapse, I would venture that there remain a fair number of Russian politicians who think otherwise. Dig a little deeper into Putin's presidency and you will find a shocking (or perhaps not that shocking at all) amount of old-school Soviet corruption and megalomania.

And that's what gives Red Sparrow its sense of urgency and authenticity. The author doesn't really have to exaggerate or sensationalize his modern spy game between CIA operatives and Russian SVR agents. It's happening. In point of fact, it never stopped. Names might have changed, there might be a veneer of civility and legality over the top of it all to shine it up for a new century, but in a lot of important ways it's the same shit different day.

Author Jason Matthews isn't writing out of his ass either. He's been in the spy game for over three decades and served in multiple overseas locations performing clandestine acts and participating in recruitment operations.

Reading about spy games as they are unfolding in this century is definitely thrilling, though at times because it requires so much description it's easy to become mired in the details. Many times while reading the action, I longed to be watching it instead. Spy games are extremely visual by their very nature -- so I did feel that some of the book's potency and terror was lost in the amount of dense prose required to put the reader in that place.

I couldn't help think about FX's brilliant spy drama The Americans and how it handles drops and communiques, late-night rides, expedient kills and ruthlessly efficient body disposal (all the more impressive since it's done using 80s technology and employing an array of epic wigs). After three superb seasons I'm truly addicted, especially to the rich emotional depth that simmers beneath its layers of intrigue and counterintelligence techniques.

So yeah, watching this stuff tends to be way more awesome than reading about it. The author overcomes this handicap by introducing a great cast of characters to act as our portal into the twisty, exciting narrative, giving us people to care and worry about. The stakes are high in these cat and mouse games that aren't games at all of course. One wrong move and you're dead, your body likely never to be found. I will definitely read the second book in this series, if only to tide me over until The Americans return in January.

Two quick nit-picky thoughts:

1) What the hell is up with all the recipes appearing at the end of every single chapter? That became a bit annoying only because I really didn't see the purpose, and some of them made me hungry, which would make me stop reading in order to run for the refrigerator.

2) Dominika is a kick-ass female lead, I really like her a lot, but I wish she didn't have those extra sensory capabilities because it felt like cheating. Couldn't she just be kick-ass, full stop, with a really well-tuned social and emotional intelligence to read people, rather than something that's almost paranormal/supernatural?
Profile Image for Meredith (Slowly Catching Up).
794 reviews12.4k followers
June 20, 2015
Captivating spy novel with some romance mixed in. I highly recommend. I can't wait to read the Palace of Treason.
Profile Image for Kon R..
236 reviews102 followers
February 9, 2022
A solid tit for tat spy novel between the U.S. and Russia. There was no immediate world-ending danger and that was refreshing for a book of this kind. It felt realistic as two world powers tried their best to out smart one another to gain an advantage over their enemy. The characters were enjoyable and there were a decent amount of twists to keep things interesting. I will definitely be continuing this series.
Profile Image for Tim.
2,133 reviews200 followers
August 31, 2018
The first third of this trilogy has a few good plots and assorted misses. The end of this first trill is wanting....as in wanting to be better. 6 of 10 stars
Profile Image for Darren Greninger.
Author 1 book
July 20, 2013
Awful Writing and No Command of Fiction Craft

I abandoned this book after 90 pages. I don't care if the plot eventually improved; the writing is terrible. For one, there is a lot of needless description. He describes plateware and names the fancy cologne a character is wearing. Who cares? Don't waste my time with the research you did on trivial nonsense. He even describes an airport terminal as containing shops and restaurants. Really? Why waste words on describing an airport? We all know what they look like. I don't need to be told they have shops.

Second, he's using omniscient POV, which is not a good choice for a first-time author. It's a POV that requires restraint or else the reader will get whiplash from jumping around in different characters' heads. And that's exactly what the reader gets--sometimes he jumps back and forth between two characters' POVs on the same page.

There is also a lot of needless description of cuisine--probably so he can include a recipe at the end of each chapter. No one cares. Stop forcing every chapter to have a food scene.

Perhaps I've been spoiled by reading good writers and avoiding genre fiction, but if this is what passes for acceptable craft in genre fiction, then count me out of genre books.

The author needed a professional writer to collaborate with--someone who could take his plot ideas and tell the story in a compelling, economical way. I wish I could get my $11.04 back.
Profile Image for Sam.
112 reviews6 followers
March 4, 2018
A few things I know, deep down in my heart, after reading this book: Jason Matthews has a throbbing boner for the CIA and all its most boring operational procedures. He really hates female Democrats. He also definitely, definitely based the character of Nash on a highly idealized version of himself.

The "debates" between Dominika and Nash are so blatantly pro-America propaganda that it verges on laughable.

They continued squabbling in the apartment after dinner. ... "Corruption, repression, imprisonment. Soviet behavior is the default, it's strangling democracy in Russia." "You almost seem pleased to repeat the list," said Dominika. "I suppose there is none of that in America?" "Sure we have our problems, but we don't let dissidents die in jail, or murder political opponents."

Okie, dokie, Nate. Because we definitely haven't tortured prisoners (both foreign and domestic) and let them die in jail in highly-publicized scandals multiple times over the past decade! No, siree!

And don't get me started on those useless recipes. For fuck's sake, if you're going to go to all the trouble of destroying any narrative realism and tension by ham-fistedly forcing a food scene into every single chapter and then putting a recipe at the end of every single chapter, at least provide details enabling me to make the goddamn recipe! How much creme fraiche, you asshole? How long in the dutch oven?

I don't even know where to fucking start with Dominika (or should I say Mary Sue-viet?). Let's run down the list:

-Stunningly talented ex-ballet dancer, whose career was tragically cut short by the bitter jealousy of a less-talented female rival, leaving Dominika crippled? Check.
-So hot that when she's stripped down at "whore school" (fucking hell, did I just type that?) to be evaluated by a group of creepy dudes, the only thing they can find to criticize is that she's too skinny? Checkerooni!
-So driven by her passionate sexual urges that there's a scene where she literally masturbates herself with her grandma's heirloom hairbrush in time to LIGHTNING?! CHECKKKKKK.
-A synesthete who can see people's intentions as colored auras, giving her damn-near omniscience? You bet your sweet ass that's a check. (I guess there are no nasty yellow auras anywhere amongst the CIA ranks; only Russians are nasty betrayers! Also, they're often portly and they do a lot of leering!)

You can tell that Matthews thinks he's really created this super empowered, bad ass lady spy character and it would sort of make me sad for him if it weren't all so fucking gross and retrograde.

When Dominika's tit LITERALLY POPS OUT during the (totally anti-) climactic fight between the eeeeeevil stabby stabber Matorin and Dominika/Nash, I almost stopped reading, even though I only had about 40 pages left to go after that. It wasn't enough that she was fighting in sexy black lace lingerie and Nash was ogling her straining butt muscles as she wrapped her BALLET DANCER (did Matthews mention she's a former ballet dancer?) legs around Matorin. No. The scene just wouldn't be effective without a rogue boob.

I skimmed the final chapters and feel that I missed nothing of substance or interest. I'm dumber for having read this book. I award it no points and may God have mercy on Jason Matthews' soul.
June 25, 2020
Oh-kay... By now I would've though I've seen pretty much everything that is there to haunt a hapless reader: unthrilling thrillers, books written badly enough to read them aloud for dare, mangled histories and fiction gone bonkers. But nope, that's not all. Here goes a new one: a boooring spy novel.

DNFing so far. I'll be back at some later date!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,730 reviews6,662 followers
February 5, 2018
"Her name was Dominika Egorova. She was a ballerina, an officer in the SVR, a Sparrow trained to bend others’ minds. She loved and was loved in return."
I rarely read spy thrillers, but when I heard Jennifer Lawrence was cast for the film adaptation of Red Sparrow, I put it on my TBR list asap. At first, I almost didn't finish this book. Like I said, I don't typically read this genre and I didn't find myself easily engaged in the writing style. It felt very dry third-person. However, the manipulation, level of action, surprising amount of drama, food (there are recipes!!), culture, unexpected romance, and a strong heroine with a very convenient neurological gift quickly earned my interest and I was easily sold. Jennifer Lawrence will be kickass in the role of Dominika and I'm excited to see how this plays out on the screen.

My favorite quote:
“The long and short of it, Nate,” said Gable later in his office, “is shut the fuck up. We have lots to do. Get to work, for Christ's sake. Stop mooning around. It's like a Jane Austen novel.”

The Red Sparrow Trilogy includes the following installments as of February 2018:
#1-Red Sparrow
#2-Palace of Treason
#3-The Kremlin's Candidate
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,692 followers
February 5, 2018
The next generation of spy-turned-spy novelist is here. Joining Graham Greene*, Somerset Maugham*, Ian Fleming, John le Carré*, James Church, (and maybe -- if my suspicions are correct -- Robert Littell and Olen Steinhauer too), Jason Matthews shows most interesting spy fiction is actually written by former spies/intelligence officers.

While not close to being a great espionage novel (using recipes to separate the chapters seems a little overcooked and trite), the Red Sparrow shows a lot of potential for a debut novel. When the novel gets away from acrobatic sex and ethnic food and instead sticks with spy craft, agent development, mole detection, etc., it actually holds up well.

It isn't exactly spy literature, but it is a fun and diversionary summer read that mixes a low brow Bond (sexy vixens and almost absurdly wicked villains) with more high brow Smiley (complexity of motivations and opacity of belief). This mixture could have almost sunk the novel, but Matthews nearly pulls it off.

* NOT close to their level of writing. No. No. No.
Profile Image for kartik narayanan.
735 reviews205 followers
March 15, 2018
Read the review of the Red Sparrow Trilogy at my blog

Red Sparrow is an okayish spy thriller. The best thing is its sheer authenticity and 'grounded-ness' of the day to day clandestine operations similar to the way the Pike Logan books feel authentic in their action due to Brad Thor's background. While I am no spy (or am I?) or spec ops warrior (maybe?) and cannot obviously vouch for the authenticity, Jason Matthews and Brad Thor communicate this feeling of realism that other authors in the genre, who have not been in the field, cannot communicate.

Anyway, barring this and the usual ‘who can you trust’ and ‘who is working for whom’ plots, this book does not have anything else going for it. I found the demonisation of the Russians and Putin to be quite puerile and a bit hypocritical. The villains follow the usual tropes - skilled manipulator, sadistic killer etc. Additionally, the character of Natasha Romanoff Dominika is quite strong and tends to stick in your mind, more-so than other characters.

Don't believe all the denials though- Red Sparrow is best described as a mature version of the Black Widow.
Profile Image for Megan Hoffman.
174 reviews280 followers
March 7, 2018
This is a tough one - on the one hand I actually really did enjoy the story, but on the other hand it was kind of a tough one to get through. When it comes to illicit affairs, strategizing on who can screw the other harder, and that flavor of crazy drama - I am THERE for it. But to be totally candid with you, I feel like that drama was there in this book but it was taken away from by endless "intelligence" talk. I know this is a story of espionage and how the agencies go about their business, and on the surface it probably does that very well. But for the average reader that cared more about the drama than the inner workings of government intelligence, it just didn't resonate with me.

Should you buy it? I'm gonna have to go with probably not on this one unless you're looking to read it before seeing the movie or you're really, really into how government spying works.

Profile Image for Paul.
171 reviews54 followers
April 10, 2021
This one started out with much potential, and it turned into almost two books (not two stories). One book actually captured the characters and began a decent progression into their psyche. The second was way too clinical in its attempt to explain the art of spying. Unfortunately the latter was way longer than the former. And the character development was lost. Ending with no (or very little) connection with the main protagonists. I have no desire to read the next one.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,960 reviews485 followers
March 10, 2019
A possible candidate for book that took me by surprise.

Originally published in 2013, this contemporary spy novel features the perfect cat and mouse game between a Russian agent and an American CIA officer. This book was the definition of "pulse pounding " It was pure enjoyment just to kick back and spend time with Dominika and Nate. I loved their easy banter and also the steamy scenes between the two of them. Seriously considering the rest of the series.

This has also been turned into a 2018 film starring Jennifer Lawrence (love her films) and Joel Edgerton ( who I adored in 2016's Loving). So I am definitely interested in seeing how they take on the roles of these two fictional characters.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews544 followers
April 11, 2018
I'm going to give this a four for pure entertainment.

Spy novels, thrillers, or books for teens/young adults are reads where my ratings should not be compared with my reactions to more serious literary works...it is like comparing apples with oranges, filet mignon with chocolate.

I confess that the primary reason I read this was because of the new movie release and that it was available as a free audio from the library. That said, I'm also an old fan of the original Tom Clancy books like Red Storm Rising, The Hunt for Red October, and The Cardinal and the Kremlin. I also loved Nelson Demille's stories - The Charm School is a particular favorite. And by coincidence, the hub and I have been watching the series Berlin Station.

Are these novels erudite and deep invitations for soul searching? No, but they're fun. Add to that this author’s interesting details about clandestine work that seem extremely believable, and I had trouble putting this thing down.

This is an espionage story that takes tricky U turns around Moscow, Helsinki, and DC with a few quick stops in other European cities. We have a male and female protag, each on opposites sides of the 'new' Cold War, who of course become enamored of one another. What is a hoot is that we also have Vladimir V. Putin! Yes, we even get to see him without his shirt doing a TRX workout. For those of you who are not gym rats, TRX straps with handles on them are anchored to overhead bars or hooks so that one can do mid-air push ups with body weight as the resistance - it ain't easy, but VVP makes it look that way. He holds a mid-air conversation w a couple guys, and it seems like a stunt he’d pull.

Putin isn't the only one taking his clothes off here. Unfortunately, I started my audio of this while driving 75mph en route to the beach with my 15 year old son along. He likes CIA intrigue and stories that involve Russians. The first 20 minutes or so were great for us to listen to together - until a female character described sexual congress with a big hairy slob of an oligarch in detail.

Thanks to driving skills that CIA operatives would envy, I did not swerve off the road in horror but maintained composure as I cranked the volume down to zero. There is a later brothel kind of scene, the introduction of a long handled hairbrush, and more. Very steamy but not in the bodice ripping style.

What else gets steamed up? Clams and shrimp do -with garlic, minced green scallions, cumin, melted butter, and pasta. Food shows up on a regular basis. In a pretty odd little trick, every single chapter ends with a recipe - yes, a recipe - for one of the meals eaten in that section. Very random but kind of cute too.

There are multiple roles for strong females in the story, and that makes The Red Sparrow a nice departure from the old school espionage novels. There are some sly one liners that actually had me snort a little bit, and the laughter - along with the recipes - made me respect that the author doesn't take himself too seriously. The humor was well placed. I noted that this is part of a trilogy, and while the second and third sections might be an enjoyable ride, I will instead track down the movie adaptation with Jennifer Lawrence. Without my 15 year old watching!! #thathairbrush
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews14 followers
December 18, 2015
How to do The Mendacious: Dec 2015

... and Trump is great, Blatter should get the Nobel, so what if we lied about being in Ukraine and such a shame that black box was broken but the economy is doing well...

Description: In today’s Russia, dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the cast-iron bureaucracy of post-Soviet intelligence. Drafted against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress in the service, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a first-tour CIA officer who handles the CIA’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception, and inevitably, a forbidden spiral of carnal attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow. Seeking revenge against her soulless masters, Dominika begins a fatal double life, recruited by the CIA to ferret out a high-level traitor in Washington; hunt down a Russian illegal buried deep in the U.S. military and, against all odds, to return to Moscow as the new-generation penetration of Putin’s intelligence service. Dominika and Nathaniel’s impossible love affair and twisted spy game come to a deadly conclusion in the shocking climax of this electrifying, up-to-the minute spy thriller.

Opening: Twelve hours into his SDR Nathaniel Nash was numb from the waist down. His feet and legs were wooden on the cobblestones of the Moscow side street. It had long since gotten dark as Nate ran the surveillance detection route designed to tickle the belly hairs of surveillance, to stretch them, to get them excited enough to show themselves. There was nothing, not a hint of units swirling, leapfrogging, banging around corners on the streets behind him, no reaction to his moves. Was he black? Or was he being had by a massive team? In the nature of The Game, not seeing coverage felt worse than confirming you were covered in ticks.

Brutally deprived of her calling as ballerina with the Bolshoi, Dominika's uncle Vanya steps in with a job offer that will ensure her mother can keep her apartment after the sudden death of her husband.

A bunch of folk didn't appreciate the recipes, where I did, very much for the first third or so, and as I tap away here my Beet Soup is bubbling away in the pot in the kitchen and smells delicious. My pet peeve #1 was the aura thing, it really grated, and turned the mainly credible story into gimmick. #2 - too long, and if all the recipes and food descriptions were removed it would amount to circa 200 pages.

This is not literature but it is good story-telling by one who knows his spy trade and I can't accuse Matthews of making me loathe Putin and his cronies, I was already there.

When will Mr and Mrs Average Russia get a break - through the centuries it has been consistently terrible for them.

To keep things straight:

MARBLE: in his sixties, major general in the SVR, which was the successor to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the Kremlin’s overseas spies. MARBLE had been in harness for fourteen years.

SVR First Deputy Director: Ivan (Vanya) Dimitrevich Egorov
Alexei Zyuganov (Lyosha)
Dominika Egorova: twenty-five years old, with dark chestnut hair. Niece of Vanya Egorov. The Sparrow of the title.
Dimitri Ustinov: Gangster oligarch
Sergey Matorin: SVR staff officer with the rank of major
V Putin: toxic narcissist

CIA Chief of Station: Gordon Gordoff

NPPD - spy pollen (who knew!)

HELSINKI(where The Game begins)

Tom Forsyth, Chief of Station
Marty Gable- deputy
Tarik - turkish hash house owner
Jaana and Marcus Räikkönen (ARCHIE and VERONICA)

Maxim Volontov, SVR rezident in the Russian Embassy
Marta Yelenova

Melt butter in a large pot; add a chopped onion and sauté until translucent; stir in three grated beets and one chopped tomato. Pour in beef stock, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Broth should be tart and sweet. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and chopped dill.

Slice a twelve-inch loaf of Cuban bread partway through lengthwise and fold flat. Drizzle olive oil on outside and slather yellow mustard inside. Layer glazed ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced pickles. Close and press for ten minutes in a plancha or between two hot foil-wrapped bricks (heat bricks for an hour in a 500-degree oven). Cut in thirds on the diagonal.

Season one cup flour with baking powder and kosher salt. Add milk, egg, and clarified butter, and blend into a smooth batter. Cook a tablespoon of the batter at a time over medium low heat until blini are golden on both sides. Serve topped with red caviar, salmon, crème fraîche, sour cream, and fresh dill.

Caramelize chicken livers, pancetta, and garlic, then deglaze pan with brandy. Hand-chop mixture with parsley, capers, shallots, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil into a coarse texture. Add additional olive oil. Serve on toast with lemon.

Mix and chill compound butter with garlic, tarragon, lemon juice, and parsley. Pound chicken breasts into wafer-thin cutlets. Roll tightly around thumb-sized pieces of compound butter, tie with twine. Dust with seasoned flour, dip in egg wash, coat with bread crumbs, fry until golden brown.

Blanche cabbage leaves, cook rice. Sauté chopped onions, carrots, and peeled and seeded tomatoes until soft, incorporate with the rice and ground beef. Fold cabbage leaves around two spoons of mixture to form large square envelopes. Fry in butter until brown, then simmer for one hour in stock, tomato sauce, and bay leaves. Serve with reduced sauce and sour cream.

Purée red bell and hot peppers with salt and olive oil. Add purée to ground lamb, chopped onion, garlic and parsley, finely cubed butter, coriander, cumin, paprika, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Knead and shape into flat kebabs; grill until almost charred. Serve with grilled pide bread and thinly sliced purple onions sprinkled with lemon and sumac.

Boil coarsely chopped potato, thinly sliced onions, and carrots in beef broth until soft. Add thin noodles and cook until done. Put boiled beef in bottom of bowl and pour broth and vegetables over.

Season and dust with flour small cubes of beef and brown aggressively. Remove meat. Sauté chopped bacon, diced onion, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and thyme until soft. Return meat to pan, cover with beef broth, and simmer until meat is tender. Blend in Dijon mustard, splash of heavy cream; reheat and serve.

Cook seasoned, medium-sliced potatoes and chopped onions in abundant olive oil until soft, then remove and drain. Add beaten eggs to potatoes and onions and return to oiled pan on medium heat until edges and bottom start to brown. Place plate over skillet, invert, then slide tortilla back into pan and cook until golden brown.

Deeply brown large chunks of peeled sugar pumpkin, cover liberally with sugar, and bake covered in medium oven until tender and caramelized. Serve over thick meat sauce of sautéed ground beef, diced onions, garlic, tomato sauce, and water. Garnish with sauce of drained yogurt, dill, and puréed garlc.

In heated olive oil reduce peeled, chopped tomatoes, onions, sugar, salt, and pepper to a thick sauce. Add beaten eggs to the tomatoes and stir vigorously until eggs set into a small, fine curd. Serve with grilled country bread drizzled with olive oil

Blend sautéed shallots, crème fraîche, and grated Neufchâtel cheese and pour mixture into a springform pan. Sprinkle with chopped boiled eggs. Spread a thin layer of small-gauge caviar (Ossetra or Sevruga) on top of torte and chill. Unmold and spread on blinis or toast points.

Pound small medallions of veal paper-thin. Season and quickly sauté in butter and oil until golden. Remove and cover. Deglaze pan with dry white wine and lemon juice, boil to reduce. Lower heat, add thin lemon slices, capers, and cold butter. Gently simmer to a thick reduction (do not bring back to a boil). Return medallions to sauce to warm.

In foaming butter, separately and aggressively brown cubed beef, potatoes, and diced onions until crisp. Incorporate ingredients in the skillet with additional butter, season and reheat. Form a well in the mixture, and break a raw egg into it. Stir the egg into the hash before serving.

In a mortar, roughly grind chopped onions, ginger, chili, cardamom, clove, coriander, paprika, cumin, and salt into a smooth paste. Add bay and cinnamon. Add heated clarified butter. Cook until fragrant. Add cubed pieces of lamb, stir in yogurt, warm water, and pepper. Bake in medium oven for two hours. Sprinkle with coriander.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
September 3, 2018
A solid hit for me as an espionage tale of the new Cold War between Russia and the U.S. The sense of authenticity on the strategies and capers in intelligence and counter-intelligence operations is high, reflecting the extensive career of the author in CIA operations in diverse areas of world conflict, including Russia. Less realistic is yet another cinematic heroine with a chip on her shoulder, Dominika Egorova, You know--beautiful, brilliant, and deadly. It doesn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to accept this trope. Matthews doesn’t just drop a Salander-type of kickass avatar on our plate (for the movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence, I suppose we will be thinking of Katniss roots). He develops her with enough detail and depth you can empathize with her wanting to excel in the Russian secret services (first FSB, then SVR, i.e. the equivalent of FBI and CIA) and then begin to understand why a good agent might be tempted to become a double agent for the CIA.

Dominika had her ballet career cut short by a deliberate injury to her foot by a competitor. Her uncle, who is a Deputy Director in the FSB, talks her into a job of seducing and defeating an unruly oligarch, an operation that ends in traumatic violence. In response to this crass exploitation of her looks, she seeks admission to the academy for intelligence agents, up to then an all-male enclave. But her uncle persuades her to prove herself more in the sexpionage line before he will pull the strings for her goal. This calls for completing training at the “Sparrow School”, where the curriculum is in the arts of seduction in the service of compromising diplomats and other targets by blackmail. Dominika works out a way to get enough leverage to start a career involving the higher skills of “turning” useful people and stealing secrets.

Her assignment is to get close to the CIA agent serving as the handler for a mole somewhere high in the Russian intelligence hierarchy. Ironically, this other hero of our tale, Nathaniel, ends up getting assigned to turn Dominika as a path to find a Russian mole serving in critical weapons development program in the U.S. We get a lot of cat and mouse scenarios on both sides until we almost get dizzy figuring out who is the predator and who is the prey. Meanwhile, a lot of sparks fly between Nate and Dominika, first in Moscow and later in Helsinki, and we want to say, “The hell with realism, give us an impossible romance” (but please steer clear of silliness like the Brad-and-Angelina “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” movie or “Spy vs. Spy” cartoon plots).

If you’ve had your fill of espionage tales where the bad guys being sought are traitors for the Soviets or Russian within NATO countries, here is your chance to view the life of agents serving as of moles for the West. It was fitting for Putin to make cameo appearances considering his past as a KGB director. Many other reviewers have pointed out Mathews flaw in endowing Dominaka with the synesthetic superpower of being able to read people’s emotional states as auras of color. Fortunately, I found I could take it in stride as a sort of literary means to revealing hidden motivations of characters on the stage. Another unnecessary quirk is putting recipes for dishes eaten by the characters in the empty spaces at the end of many chapters. Maybe the device is the author’s way of winking at us and turning the great Game into a game. Regardless, the plane it puts the reader on acts to diffuse or defuse any taut suspense built up in the reader at that point.

This novel was like water in the desert for me in my quest for a superior espionage tale. In the 80s I had the epiphany of a run of compelling and depressingly realistic reads on the hidden Cold War at the hands of Deighton and le Carre. Since that time the work of Alan Furst, David Downing, and Barry Eisler have brought levels of satisfaction that almost reach such champions on my pleasure meter (books by W.E.B. Griffin, Charles McGarry, and Robert Goddard just an occasional twinge on the needle; Silva yet untried). On the side in the ensuing decades, was the thousands of hours I spend pursuing the more pyrotechnical thrillers involving covert ops. What a litany (Ludlum, Forsyth, Clancy, DeMille, Flynn, Baldacci, Coonts, Vince Flynn. Ted Bell, Alex Berensen, Brent Ghelfi), all of which was entertaining but missing that extra heft I got from this less action-packed story in the realm of elucidating paradoxes in human nature and insights into the Sisyphian nature of the intelligence enterprise.
129 reviews3 followers
March 7, 2015
I really wanted to like this book, since I feel like I've exhausted all the great espionage and this was getting a lot of buzz because the author is former CIA. I made it just past the halfway point before I had to give up.

The initial 100 page of setup was a struggle because virtually every paragraph about the heroine mentions how sexy she is. Then she goes to sex school to really sex up her sexiness. She also has a nearly magical power to read peoples emotions and intentions, which the author tries to make plausible by saying it is a form of Synesthesia. Not only is it painful to have the color of every characters halo described as though it actually meant something, but it is totally unnecessary for the plot. Why can't she just be a really sharp person with great instincts?

Once the Russian heroine is a trained sexy spy and is in the same city as her American counterpart I expected things to settle in and get more interesting, which they did for a few chapters. But then some CIA operations go down and the tradecraft and procedures used are so painfully implausible that I just had to quit.

Also, each chapter ends with a recipe for some food that was mentioned in that chapter. I don't know why.
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1,576 reviews270 followers
March 30, 2020
“Choose, demand, force them to give you an important job, something with a lot of access, somewhere in the Americas Department, Line KR, whatever. Run your shop like you mean it. Recruit foreigners, cause trouble, catch spies, make allies, throw your enemies off balance. Be bitchy around the conference table."
― Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow

Generally, Spy books are not regular reads for me but every now and again I make exceptions.

Red Sparrow was a very interesting read. It moves at a lightning pace and is easy to get into but not always easy to follow. I enjoyed it. I would not call this my favorite book in the world and more of a 3.5 than a 4, but I enjoyed aspects of it.

I preferred the first half to the second. Interestingly, I did not get into all the sub plots, most of them popping up toward the second half. I also found the book extraordinarily long, though compelling and I did somewhat skim the second part.

I'd still give it 3.5 stars rounded to 4 stars because it was a long book and for the most part kept me interested.

What is odd is that I saw the movie and actually preferred the film version which surprised me. Loved the different ending too. I do not read many Spy books but I may read the second in this series as I did enjoy this book.
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