Who Is Vera Kelly?

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 May 2018

Member Reviews

Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review. Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review. Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review. Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review.
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Rosalie Knecht's  wry Who is Vera Kelly? (Tin House Books, digital galley)  is told in two alternating narratives of almost equal interest. Growing up in the 1950s with an alcoholic mother, Vera Kelly has a rough time, separated from her best girlfriend and then deemed incorrigible and sent to reform school. Ten years later, she's a fledgling CIA spy in Buenos Aires, pretending to be a student to blend in with campus radicals with supposed Soviet ties, as well as eavesdropping on government bureaucrats. But then she's betrayed during a coup and forced into hiding, eventually fleeing the city. Her gritty coming-of-age in  New York is what brings her to the attention of the CIA, but her early years can't really compete with her double-life exploits in Argentina. Throughout, however, Vera Kelly is a scrappy, resourceful outsider looking for a life in which she belongs.

from On a Clear Day I Can Read Forever

3.5 stars
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Loved it! Intrigue, spycraft, rich historical details, great protagonist, satisfying ending. This book is begging to be the next prestige cable miniseries. Get on it, HBO! The writing is really sharp and reminiscent of early Megan Abbott, à la Queenpin. Who Is Vera Kelly? feels like it could have been written in the 1960s in manner and tone but like a Todd Haynes film, the subject matter wouldn't have been well-received back then but Knecht's method works beautifully for contemporary readers.
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The first few chapters of this novel really didn't engage me. There is a chance I will go back to it at some point, but my TBR stack is tall and this one didn't hold my interest. I do know some readers have LOVED it, so it's not impossible that I'll be seeing Vera again.
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WHO IS VERA KELLY? by Rosalie Knecht has been called a literary spy novel which is an apt description, In fact, Knecht' intriguing exploration of identity and coming of age mixed with political tension applies to her earlier work, Relief Map, which I also recommend. The setting for WHO IS VERA KELLY? alternates between the late 1950s on the East Coast of the United States and mid-1960s Cold war era in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  As a troubled teen dealing with her father’s death and exploring her own sexual identity, Vera is sent to reform school; less than a decade later she has been recruited to work for the CIA in South America and faces a coup on the near horizon. Knecht's writing always captures my attention and I am fascinated by the misunderstandings and quick, clever thinking her characters experience. There is a wonderful balance between internal dialogues and action-packed suspense. This cover is fabulous, too, and it’s helping to promote the book – the person in the queue in front of me at the public library was checking it out today. Our copy of WHO IS VERA KELLY? will be on the school library shelves soon.
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Thank you so much to Tin House Books for the eARC of this intriguing book!  Who is Vera Kelly follows the eponymous heroine throughout her work as a spy prior to a coup in Argentina during the 1960s. It also flashes back to Vera’s coming of age during the repressive 1950s. The Argentine setting was fascinating, I know very little about more recent South American history. I loved watching Vera use her wits to navigate her work in Buenos Aires. The flashbacks really enhanced the story to give a fuller picture, answering the question Who is Vera Kelly?
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This engrossing novel of intrigue and identity. What Vera Kelly is not is your typical school girl, and she’s definitely not your typical spy.

Vera has found a sense of accomplishment in her work with the CIA. The satisfaction of a job well done in service to her country is what helps make the rest of her lonely existence worth getting up for every morning. I say lonely because Vera is a closeted lesbian and in the 1960s it wasn’t impossible to find female companionship in New York City, but doing so could possibly jeopardize her security clearance. This is a sad way of telling you that Vera suppressed a lot of her identity in service to her country.

The chapters alternate between Vera’s present-day espionage and her formative years growing up in Chevy Chase, MD. Vera’s battles with undiagnosed depression eventually led to a suicide attempt. Vera’s recovery shut her off even more from a world that didn’t understand her, and would eventually lead to heartbreak and a brush with the law. That sounds very depressing, and it is! But it does steer her down a winding path to the CIA and her life of adventure.

I feel like this book is a great fit for readers who read for plot, character development, sense of place, AND language. It's one of the rare books that hit all 4 of Nancy Pearl's doorways fairly equally. There are secrets, betrayals, weapons, and kisses. This is a book that really does have it all.

I've published a full review on my library's book blog; link included in this submission.
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I really liked this book about a CIA agent in 1960’s Argentina.  The book checked a lot of boxes for me: historical fiction, set in a foreign country (one I hope to visit soon), an interesting, multi-dimensional female character, and espionage.  It fit in nicely with my recent read of Code Girls and my fascination with The Americans.

Vera is sent by the CIA in 1962 to investigate communist activity in Buenos Aires.  She wiretaps a politician’s office and poses as a college student to learn more about a young radical who may be planning something violent. As Vera struggles with her assignments in a foreign country and at a time of political instability, the book shows us how she got there.  As a teen, Kelly battles with her repressive mother and explores her sexual identity and love for a friend she’s no longer allowed to see.

This book may not be what you expect, because it’s more than a political thriller (though I say that as someone who doesn’t read much of the genre).  You start out thinking Kelly is going to be this hardcore spy, but really she’s someone who has had a tough life and is just trying to do her best in a world that’s not very friendly.  It makes you think about the kinds of people who can do espionage work well.  We need them and I admire what they do – but I’m sure they pay a price for it, not just in confronting danger but in not having close relationships.

It had been a long time since I had gone home with a man, and I felt like I was reverting to an old script, a script I’d learned from novels and films like every other girl: waiting for him to cross the room, watching him nervously refresh his drink. And then later, being small and breathless, and seeing that he liked it.  With women I always felt a bit like we were the first two people to ever do what we were doing, that we were inventing it, that we decided in each transaction who we were.

Knecht gives us a lot of historical detail about the political situation in Argentina, which I appreciated (though some might feel it slows the book down).  There isn’t a ton of action in the book, which makes sense when you think about espionage work.  But even without a lot of action, I definitely felt Kelly’s terror at times at being in a situation that is out of her control.

I don’t want to say more about the book, since Knecht does such a nice job of letting this book gradually unfold.  A lot of times I don’t care for books told by alternating past and present, but here Knecht does it well – I found both timelines were equally interesting, and the present-day story wasn’t just a vehicle for telling the story.  I really wanted to know how Vera got to where she ended up, and where she’ll go next.  And that’s what makes the title perfect for this story.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley and Tin House Books.  The book will be published June 12, 2018.
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1/2 spy novel, 1/2 historical fiction - Who is Vera Kelly is a fantastic story of a remarkable woman.  Weaving the past and present together, we see Vera's youth - from her time in juvenile hall to her sexual awakening - to her current day work with wiretapping. 

This is an adventurous story, showing one woman's attempts on her first big mission. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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Do you want to read a spy novel set in Argentina during the cold war, with a totally bad-ass, queer, lady spy? Of course you do! Do you also want to read a coming of age novel set in the 1950's with a bad-ass queer teen? Yes again! Good news! With Rosalie Knecht's Who is Vera Kelly? you get a bit of both.

As Knecht skillfully weaves the two narrative threads together, we get the story of Vera Kelly's life, her work as a spy, her efforts to keep secrets from her targets and from her employers. Though far from your typical spy thriller, it still keep you engaged all the way through. Will she be betrayed? Found out? Killed!?! Anything could happen!

This was an excellent, fluffy read and I devoured it in a day. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes strong heroines, mysterious strangers and cold war intrigue.
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The characters and settings were well done but the plot wasn't engaging. It felt underdeveloped and purposeless.
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I love books that educate me on historical moments from other countries- in this case, Argentina in a tumultuous time (the 1960s). The main character, Vera Kelly, aka "Anne", is not who I expect to be the hero(ine) of a spy novel. Why? She is a woman with fluid sexual preferences, who actually has limited "undercover" experience-her job title is "technician". 
The book flips back and forth between her day-to-day experiences in Argentina, and memories from her life up before coming to Argentina. I enjoyed learning her story; the scenes from her childhood and teenage years with an abusive mother and few friends saddened me, but it was triumphant reading how she overcame obstacles to move to New York, discover and embrace (to a certain extent) her sexual identity, and become experienced enough in her field to be recruited by the CIA.
The end of the book is by far the most interesting; Vera comes alive in the weeks after the military coup in Argentina, proving herself to be a valuable "spy" and a force to be reckoned with. There is suspense, drama, and even humor.
This book is entertaining, but because of Vera herself, it's a must-read.
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This was well written and I certainly liked Vera, but the whole thing just felt...small. The premise is good, but the book never quite got to where it needed to be.

This is pretty standard length for a novel, yet what I got out of it felt more like a novella. There just wasn't enough there. 

And while I'm sure this is much closer to what would actually happen to a CIA operative in this situation than what we see in most spy novels, it probably would have been a better book if the author had given us a bit more action. 

The suspense building was also pretty hit or miss. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it felt flat. 

I did find Vera to be a compelling, likable character, and the atmosphere was very well crafted. 

Overall worth a read, but keep your expectations in check if you're looking for page-turning action.
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Who Is Vera Kelly? is a solid 3.5 if only due to its snail's pace for the first half of the novel. The writing makes up for it--I loved the 1960s Argentina and Vera's 1950s queer coming-of-age in Chevy Chase and NYC. I wasn't always terribly sure who was doing what and why, and the characterization of the other characters seemed a little sparse, but it all kind of worked out anyway in the spy novel aspect (not that I've read many...or any?). I loved Vera from the beginning and was invested in whatever she was doing, no matter the time. I want to follow her into other novels, but this is a standalone so I ought to be happy with what I got. I would love to read more novels like this. It was fun.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Tin House for the advanced copy of this book.
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This isn't my usual read but a couple of coworkers gave me the hard sell. I was surprised by how much I liked this book!
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This book is quite enjoyable.  Told in two different locations and times.  USA 1957 and Argentina 1966.  In the USA she is a student struggling with everyday life.  In Argentina, she is a spy well versed in wire-tapping and other clandestine affairs.   Flipping between the two dates and locations adds to the reading enjoyability of this story.  I very much enjoyed the writing style and the entire premise oof the book.
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Naïve and world-weary, the narrator of this tale faces life head on. Cut off repeatedly from what she knows, she has only herself to turn to -- and what do you do when that self feels insufficient? The narrator seeks answers to questions she, and the reader, can only vaguely feel and pose, groping for answers in a fearful and violent world. A gripping expression of self-reliance and the quest for adulthood.
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this was a wild ride! Little bit of everything that kept me on the edge of my seat! Well written and great story.
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If you have read any previous entries for this blog or followed my profile on Goodreads, you will know I am a big fan of the publishing house Tin House. I enjoy what they publish because often I find myself thinking about the titles long after I have read them. The books tend to get better as they age in my brain.

This would definitely be one of those books. I will admit while reading this through the first time, I was not a big fan which was surprising. I loved Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht, but something was not clicking with me with Vera Kelly. When I finished it, I started it again knowing the end of the book and just read the first quarter of the book again. That is when it clicked for me.

Vera Kelly is a book about self discovery.

Throughout the book, we alternate between two time lines one is later in her life where she is on a mission to eavesdrop on a political conversation in Argentina which begins to turn ugly during the revolution. The second timeline is her younger years where she is shaped by time in juvie, she has sexual encounters, and becomes the person we see in the later years- an almost accidental spy.

This is a slower moving book for a spy novel and that, I believe, is where the disconnect came for me. When I read the blurb and it mentioned spy, my mind went to Bourne or Bond or Atomic Blonde, but this is not that. There are action sequences, but this is primarily a book about self discovery. How did this girl, now a woman wind up in this predicament after just wanting to live her life around gay bars and struggles with rent. How do we become the person we are today?

Once that epiphany happened- self discovery first and spy second, I began to churn this book a bit more in the brain and wound up enjoying it. I will not go so far as to say it is my favorite Tin House books and I still think Relief Map is a better read, but this one is worth a read through too. Just don't expect big action, cool gadgets, or explosions. This espionage in the truest sense as you spy into her life and watch her become the person she becomes.

I gave this one 3.5 stars.

*I want to thank NetGalley and Tin House for the advanced copy. I received it in exchange for an honest review.*
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Love historical fiction, and this story was really unique and compelling! I would recommend this to fans of Deanna Raybourn, Tasha Alexander or Rhys Davis.
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