Cover Image: An Unlikely Spy

An Unlikely Spy

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Member Reviews

This was an interesting story told from a young woman trying to find her way both before and after World War II.  Evelyn Varley didn't always fit in, but as she grew up she figured out ways to be the best version of herself to fit in with the crowd at school.  This lead to an interesting dual career.   Her choices put her at risk, but she needed to figure out where her real loyalties lie. After the war, she is confronted with a person from her past and the anxiety and feelings resurface.   I appreciated the way that feelings and emotions were depicted in this audiobook.  The narrator did a wonderful job of painting the scenery and different character's voices.  I enjoyed the listen and the storytelling.
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I really wish I liked this audiobook/story more. For me it was a slow start and I wasn’t fully interested in the story until I was already most of the way through. I thought the story was interesting but in the end it felt rushed. I know this historical elements were based on true stories but it still felt like some of it could have benefited from some additional information. I thought Evelyn was an interesting character and enjoyed all the “future/1948” scenes but I didn’t fully understand the younger her or how she got to be that person. In the end it was a decent story and I enjoyed the history of it but I would not reread it.
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What is the cost of denying your background and taking on new identities? How do you live with deception when your friends and family don’t know what you really do? Told in dual timelines, 1930s and 1948, this book reveals the struggle Evelyn Varley faced as she spied for the British among the Nazi sympathizers in Britain in the early days of the war as well as her struggle to really understand who she wanted to be. 

I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Jane Collingwood. Her narration is well-paced with distinct voices. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.
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You know how when you're reading Thoreau or Tolkien and they describe nature for several pages and you are bored waiting for something to happen? That was my experience with this book.

Evelyn's day-to-day life is described in such detail that I didn't care anymore about what might happen to her when the war ramps up. I just wanted to be finished with the book.

Jane Collingwood had some pronunciations for words I've never heard before, but it could be a British thing instead of mispronunciation.

I made it to 42% and DNF.
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I loved this book. It was suspenseful and an interesting historical fiction story. One specific thing that happened in the end was very annoying though. So unrealistic.  The narrator for the audiobook was soothing and had a good voice but I didn’t like it when she put on accents.
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Brief synopsis: 
The cover of this book is what captured me first. The fact it's historical fiction with a bit of WWII spy and espionage, I was sold!  The main character, Evelyn, is smart and very capable. She wins a scholarship to attend an elite boarding school where she makes relationships that will impact her life. Some of these connections will impact her future. Evelyn becomes restless and uses some of her connections to work in the war office and M15 as a spy. Befriending people so you can betray them is not some easy task, it’s taxing. Evelyn starts to live through different people; there’s the friend, smart and studious adult, sweet person and there was Evelyn the spy who had to keep secrets, betray and spy on people, and try not to tell someone about it. Eventually the truth and lies marry and soon she finds herself in a dark place where she begins to not trust herself. A close friend of Evelyn’s becomes involved in one of her missions, and Evelyn’s pushed to make a difficult decision. 

Thoughts:
Thank you #NetGalley for the opportunity to review “An #UnlikelySpy ” and I hope my review provides an unbiased review that is honest. I love reading historical fiction, especially when it involves some of my other genres (mystery, suspense, spy, etc.). “An Unlikely Spy” involved these other genres, loosely, and for the most part, it was enjoyable to read. Let me just say, that the cover deserves 5 stars. As I said, it’s what drew me to this book, and decide to review it. However, I didn’t love the book. I was familiar with the historical part of the book and that Evelyn was based on Joan Miller who was an English M15 recruit. Joan spied and infiltrated fascist political groups that supported Hitler in England. It’s a fascinating story that I offer anyone to research and read about, but because I had this knowledge while reading it…it was hard for me to take some of the exaggerations and issues inside the book seriously. 

Issues: 
It was unnecessarily long. Granted, it was written well, but several times I found my mind starting to focus on other things because it was gripping. The timelines that jumped between the 1930s and 1940s were hard at times to decipher and got confusing. I thought some of the back and forth not worth it as it just made the story confusing and didn’t do anything to help with the levity of the chapters.  Around pages 230-330 I felt the book started to get into a good rhythm, but once I got into that rhythm the story ended. The ending of the book for me was rushed and I was left indifferent. For most of the book, I was longing for the book to pick up the pace, and once it did, I didn’t stay there long. 

Another issue is Evelyn. For the most part, I enjoyed her character, but I never felt like I got to know her. Was that the point? I could understand if the author wanted to keep Evelyn a bit distant from the reader, as Evelyn is this spy and is struggling to know who she is, as well. Was it a plan for the readers to feel distrust? Evelyn just felt far away in the story, and I felt I got a better glimpse from the other characters (Julia and Sally). In fact, I wish we could have dived more into the backstories of the other characters, that being Julia. Julia always seemed like a Marilyn Monroe type to me, only more mysterious, fox-like, and depth. I wanted to know why she was, the way she was. Whenever Sally was in the story, it was like a breath of fresh air. It made everything in the story light. I actually was happy when she would be in a chapter because it made the chapter feel not as long. Regardless, as a reader, I shouldn’t be relying on the characters to make the book better for me…or to add lightness to the story. That’s on the author. 

I know that a lot of my friends would be interested in reading this and that some of them will love this. I can see this book having people who find themselves loving it and indifferent. I don’t think people will dislike the story, because it’s so good and well-rounded. I also think this would make for a nice book club book. It would have been nice if there were book club questions at the end of the book to spark conversations about the history, women of WWII, WWII, and fascism in countries like England, and etc. There are a lot of topics that can come out of this book to discuss more. 

Thank you, again, #NetGalley for letting me review An #UnlikelySpy. This was a wonderful opportunity.
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Evelyn never thought trying to fit in as a charity girl at boarding school will help her land an important job during the war but it leads to her being plucked from her War Office job to do important work. But will she be able to continue her friendships or will she lose herself trying to fit in?
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Excellent, spellbinding story with superb narration. I found this production to be compelling. The author's additional information at the end really added context and depth to the production. This story is a rewarding experience for WWII espionage buffs as well as general readers. Highly recommended.
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In England during World War II when the general population was pulling together and "keeping the home fires burning" shadow Nazi sympathizers were quietly plotting for a German invasion. Evelyn Varley successfully overcomes her modest background winning a scholarship to a good public (private) school and goes on to Oxford where she reads German. These skills serve her well at the beginning of the war when she secures a job working in the nascent MI5 agency. Her ability to subsume into a pro Fascist persona who may be happy to share information about her fictitious work in the "war office" turns her into an "unlikely spy". The narrative shifts from after the war as Evelyn puts her life back together to flashbacks from her journey as a clever woman who successfully remakes herself. When Evelyn is threatened and forced to call upon her former MI5 colleagues the story unfolds at a breathtaking pace. Beautifully written with a compelling narrative, the audio version narrated by Jane Collingwood is pitch perfect. Highly recommended.
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A well-crafted story of a young woman’s experience coming of age during the Second World War in London.
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I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Last night I finished reading An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford. Now, I’m real sucker for WWII historical fiction, and if you mix in a little espionage, I’ll stay up all night reading. This novel, however, had me wondering when it was going to end. 

Here’s the basic plot:


Evelyn Varley has always been ambitious and clever. As a girl, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious academy well above her parents’ means, gaining her a best friend from one of England’s wealthiest families. In 1939, with an Oxford degree in hand and war looming, Evelyn finds herself recruited into an elite MI5 counterintelligence unit.

A ruthless secret society seeks an alliance with Germany and, posing as a Nazi sympathizer, Evelyn must build a case to expose their treachery. But as she is drawn deeper into layers of duplicity—perhaps of her own making—some of those closest to her become embroiled in her investigation. With Evelyn’s loyalties placed under extraordinary pressure, she’ll face an impossible choice: save her country or the people who love her. Her decision echoes for years after the war, impacting everyone who thought they knew the real Evelyn Varley.

With a write-up like that, I expected to be blown off the edge of my seat and burning through pages of this WWII thriller. What I got, however, was an overdramatized plot and sappy dialogue. It’s funny how the traitors kept spilling the beans to Evelyn (but hey, that did keep the plot moving along so everything could be tied up in a big bow at the end). Her writing style and my reading style just aren’t a match. Three stars.
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It took me a few days after reading to write this review as I wasn’t sure how I felt about it...

On one side, I really enjoyed those little known things about war-time England, such as the Officials Secret Act, or Holloway Hall. I loved the street scenes, like when Evelyn would walk down Earl Street and the descriptions of the sights and sounds would immerse you in the scene. And the dialogue added so much in characterization. 

I also liked the fact that the story was character driven...however, despite being character driven, I didn’t feel very close to Evelyn (which is the reason for the rating). There was a lot of internalization, which you would think would help guide you to understand this person but, for me it didn’t. 

Evelyn is often referred to as being “cold” or “superior” but I didn’t think that, to me she was distant. I’m not sure, but I think it might have been on purpose, because even through all that internalization, Evelyn didn’t seem to really know herself. She was in a constant state of flux, always trying to be someone else - first at school with her peers and then later when she was at the War office - never knowing how to act or what to say. And because of this indecision on her part, I couldn’t sympathize with her. It was only in the end, with Stephen, that I felt anything for her, because it was with him, she was vulnerable and let us see the real her. 

I listened to the audiobook via Netgalley shelf, and anything past speed 2 sounded robotic. 

Overall I did enjoy it, as I love historical fiction and loved that it gave us a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes war effort. ***
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There was nothing to distinguish this title from the plethora of World War II fiction titles. Those who like the genre might enjoy it but nothing compelling about this one.
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Evelyn begins morphing into different roles in boarding school, never imagining that it would lead to her being recruited by MI5 in the time leading up to WWII. In London, during the Phony War times, information was power and Evelyn found herself in the position to extract it. Tasked with infiltrating underground Nazi sympathizer groups, Evelyn, codename 'The Chameleon," seamlessly ingratiates herself in a world she finds repulsive. Never did she imagine they would lead back to her very own friend group.

First of all, I love the narrator. She was a large part of this book holding my interest. It isn't that I didn't find it fascinating, but sometimes it didn't fully hold my interest. I really enjoyed the character of Evelyn, though. I love how much background I had before she entered the spy game. It made it easier for me to sympathize with her, not only while she was going through boarding school, but when she was struggling to keep people at arms-length as an adult too. Her relationship with her parents, keeping so much from Sally, even struggling to connect with her flatmate. TBH, I enjoyed all of the characters, which is rare for me. Everything flowed together well.
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An Unlikely Spy is a well researched WW2 novel that brings a fresh look into the lives of those involved in the war. The main character, Evelyn, is recruited into the world of spies and espionage where she quickly finds that everything is not always as it seems and the world is more gray area rather than black and white. A story of friendships and loyalties tested and ultimately, how to carry on.
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In this historical novel, set alternately in the early days of World War II and the years immediately after the war, our main character Evelyn is a bright and talented young woman from humble beginnings who doesn’t really know what she wants in life, but who gravitates toward excitement whenever it crosses her path. The alternate title of the book (UK title?) is The Imitator, the reasons for which become more and more obvious as the book progresses. Evelyn is skilled at social camouflage, changing her behaviors (and often outright lying) to fit in with certain people and groups, often at the expense of her relationship with those she holds dearest. But when these skills are tapped by MI-5 in the service of Britain in World War II, the stakes (and the consequences) for Evelyn are heightened, especially when her forays into espionage and her personal life collide.

This is not a fast-paced spy thriller. That might sound like a criticism, but it’s not - the book instead takes its time to get to know the characters, with the plot gradually accelerating as Evelyn’s situation grows more and more complex. The book alternates between the life Evelyn finds herself in after the war, in 1948, before traveling back to show us at length how she got there, in 1939. Unfortunately, I found the jumps back and forth in time a little confusing, with no indication other than the characters and places mentioned, which makes it a little difficult to know when you’ve jumped forward, especially if you have trouble keeping track of tertiary characters’ names. A simple statement of the date at the beginning of each chapter would clear things up nicely.

In spite of her shortcomings, I found Evelyn to be a mostly sympathetic character worth rooting for, and the plot was an intriguing tale of espionage, based in part on real events. Recommended for those looking for a slower-paced spy story or female-centered historical novel.

The book contains LGTBQIA Rep: there is one explicitly gay character, another that is either gay or bisexual (I don’t think it’s ever stated), and this one might just be my perception of subtext but the main character, Evelyn, gives me a strong Ace vibe.

TW: Antisemitism typical to stories set in WWII-era Europe, sexual assault, and an instance of fatphobia which was minor but kind of blindsided me.
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Evelyn Varney may not have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but the young woman is smart and she earns a scholarship to Oxford and is befriended by the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in England. Her wits and intelligence will be crucial in her new role as a spy for MI5 in 1939. Evelyn must pose as a Nazi sympathizer to try to track down a dangerous group seeking to form an alliance with Germany. She doesn’t count on discovering that people she knows and cares about being involved in the treasonous plot and is forced between loyalty to her country or those she cares about. I seem to be reading and listening to a lot of books about World War II lately, and I can’t help compare how people deal with tragedy and great uncertainty, both then and now. All I can say is that we can learn a lot from our parents and grandparents
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