Book Review – Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews

Image Source: https://www.framerated.co.uk/red-sparrow-2018/

I recently finished both reading and watching the film adaptation of ‘Red Sparrow’, written by Jason Matthews. The main character; Dominika Egorova, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and Nate Nash played by Joel Edgerton.

Like many of the books I own, I had this book on my ‘TBR” (To Be Read) pile for a while. I first heard of it, and I hate admitting this, when it came out at the cinema. And, I refused to watch the film before I read the book… which I now slightly regret!

Warning: Book/Film spoilers!

What’s the synopsis?

The story is about a young Russian woman called Dominika who is sucked into Russian Intelligence by her uncle. She has a devistating injury which stops her dream of being a ballerina and due to her mum’s ill health, she ends up taking a job her uncle organises and gets sucked into the life. She is forced into a special school, and becomes what is called a ‘Sparrow’; trained in sexpionage. She is then put to work to uncover the mole in the Russian Intelligence, this is where she meets Nate Nash; CIA.

What did I think about the book?

My first impression, when I think back to the book, and how I would describe it to someone else; difficult to read. Although I do find the story interesting; a mixture of spy-thriller and romance (to a point), I actually had difficulty going back to finish it.

I would find myself putting it down after reading it, and sometimes I would take a few weeks to get back to it. This happened a few times, so much so that it took me quite a few months to finish it. And yes, okay, I was completing a MSc at the same time, and then moved house, and had other commitments and hobbies around that. But I found myself wanting to do other things rather than reading that book. Although, I found myself conflicted on occasion because when I got back to reading it, I did enjoy it in some ways. I did find myself wanting to know what happened next.

But the writing style seemed a little… off. At first I didn’t know how to put my finger on it. Some sentances didn’t flow right, or I struggled to understand what was going on. I then realised after getting quite a way into the book that there was a lot of ‘and then this happened, and then that happened, and then… and then…’ which really put me off.

I also felt a little nervous about the author’s portrayal of Russia, especially since President Putin was actually mentioned in it. I have a few international friends and I felt guilty reading the book and worrying what any Russian friends (and fans) might think of me for reading such a book. I understand there is a lot of ‘bad blood’ with Russia, and Putin in particular, but I felt like it was deliberately attacking Russia needlessly. Saying that, I did speak to one Russian person while reading it and they were actually interested in reading the book themselves.

As for things I did enjoy, I did like the depth to Dominika’s character, her motivation to do well and support her mother, and her conflicting relationship to her own country. I also enjoyed the relationship she started to have with other characters; including Nate. Their relationship was clearly more than business, yet complex, like most relationships should be, especially in their situation.

I also enjoyed the little chapter endings with recipes. I started to realise that they were based off what was mentioned in the chapter and then I started to look out for the different foods, to see what would next be mentioned at the end of the chapter. Some even sounded interesting enough for me to want to try them. Although, I will admit, they were a little weird at first, and I found them a little pointless, but I grew to like them, figuring it was just the author’s little quirk.

And I enjoyed some of the clever ideas within the story, such as the diversion stories that were used to find the mole in the Russian Intelligence and how that played out further in the book and the way Boucher, the US Chief of Staff/Senator was killed.

What did I think about the film?

Personally, I was actually dissapointed with the film. More so than the book.

‘We are making a film of the book.’

Earlier in my post I said how I slightly regret reading the book before watching the film, and this is because there was so much that was both left out and changed! A friend once said to me that he prefers watching the film first, then reading the book, because then you get to see all the extra bits that you didn’t see in the film. Although, a part of me worries that I wouldn’t be committed to reading the book because I already knew what happens.

Every bookaholic’s nightmare is having things missing from the film, but I personally understand some things need to be left out because it isn’t possible to fit it all in to a 2-3 hour movie. But due to some of the things that had been left out, the plot had not only changed, but the film didn’t seem to flow right.

One of my favourite parts (mostly because I actually understood what was going on, as the book was so difficult to read!), the little diversion stories, wasn’t in the film! Boucher’s death was also completely different, I mean, yes there were American CIA operatives there (in the book they closed in on her too quickly), in the film she was hit by a truck, but in the film she used a specially adapted pen to administer a poison. She took control of her own death in the book, which I feel was an integral part of her character.

I also noticed that Dominika bleaches her hair (I won’t even go into how difficult it is to bleach your hair that blonde without a professional…). In the book, she doesn’t change her hair colour; she is always her natural brown self. I think, in the film, she does it because she realises that Nate likes blonde women, and what better way to get his attention in the beginning but be the woman he is attracted to.

But I personally think that is a little discriminating; suggesting the age-old belief that men only like blonde women. I feel offended on behalf of men. Why change this in the film, when it’s not in the book? I’m going to assume it had something to do with Jennifer Lawrence and the fact she is a natural blonde.

One of the things that I was really looking forward to seeing portrayed in the film was Dominika’s synesthesia (basic way for me to explain it, she was able to see colours like it was another sense). I found it a really interesting twist in the book; she was able to work out when people were lying to her, when they were being honest, etc. It’s one of the reasons why she was such a brilliant spy. But it wasn’t even mentioned in the film. I know it could have been a difficult thing to portray, but I felt like it was a key part to her character.

And lastly, the ending. In the book, the end was when they made a deal to swap Dominika with the mole; MARBLE, but the Russian’s never intended to let MARBLE go and thus killed him, leaving the ending on a cliffhanger, what happens to Dominika? But, in the film, MARBLE wasn’t anywhere to be seen and instead Dominika ratted out her own Uncle as the mole, which lead to him being killed. It was a clever ending, I will agree. It gave Dominika the look that she was in control, she was a powerful and clever woman. You could argue it was better than the book, and I agree, thinking back at it, but at the time I was deeply disturbed at the change… I just hope that the author was quite happy with this change! I also wonder how this change will impact the next book/film (yes, there are other books, but I’m unsure if they’ll make a second film!)

However, I enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal as Dominika, I thought she was a really good fit for the character. Some scenes were also done really well, such as when Matorin found Nate and Dominika, the little double-agent scene even had me fooled for a few minutes. I also warmed up to Joel Edgerton as Nate in the end, although I feel as if other actors probably would have been a better fit as I felt Joel was a little too stern. I know he was a spy and had to be professional, but I felt his character in the book was a tiny bit softer.

How many stars do I give it?

The book, I give 3.5 out of 5. Although it was refreshing to have well developed characters, and an interesting plot, but the style of writing really let it down.

The film, however, I give 3 out of 5. The changes in the story let it down, making it confusing, and I dislike that they thought it a good idea to change the character’s hair colour when the book doesn’t have this.

References:
Food Picture: www.woodenspoonskitchen.com/2013/01/08/food-photography-backgroundnatural-lighting/

Book to Film cartoon: www.cartoonstock.com/directory/f/film_adaptation.asp

Jennifer Lawrence Picture: www.bustle.com/p/in-jennifer-lawrences-red-sparrow-a-woman-must-be-raped-before-she-can-be-strong-8342129

Gold star cartoon: www.vippng.com/preview/oohxJR_star-smiley-face-cartoon-stars-with-faces/

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Please do give this post a like, and feel free to comment. What did you guys think of the film and/or book? Do you have any suggestions of book/film adaptations?

And, don’t forget to check out my other posts.

I did another book review a while ago, please check it out here!

Don’t forget to check out my own books!

And have a look at my travel blog!

Paying for Reviews – BEWARE!

Since becoming a self-published author, I have come across a wide range of new challenges. And I don’t mean just the usual publishing and marketing challenges. I mean, what happens afterwards.

I’m not going to pretend that my published book; ‘It’s My Mistake’ is a working masterpiece. I have had a few good reviews, but I’m not letting them get to my head. I’m too much of a perfectionist to believe it. I wrote the book quickly, and I know there are mistakes (no pun intended) in it.

But aside from that, since actually committing to publishing the book, I have had a string of emails through my website, private messages and tweets through twitter from people claiming to want to help you.

Yes, it’s lovely to know I’m being head-hunted (although, I know it’s got nothing to do with my writing, it’s all about them making money) and it’s nice to know there is a wealth of help out there. But I have to admit, it’s a little annoying!

For the time-being, I am not in a position to be able to pay anyone anything, I can barely get my own hair cut lately. I am not in full-time employment, I am a student. I write on the side as a hobby, for now. I am not pushing sales on my book, I am not approaching newspapers, magazines, radio stations, etc, to try to market my book, I am just a woman sat at her computer tweeting and posting blogs every now and then.

Once I finish my degree, I will be taking a year out (at least) to relax, move again (as I had to move in with my parents for a while) and take a holiday that I desperately need (I’m thinking for my 30th birthday this year). Then, and only then, can I really start thinking about making my writing career (if I can call it that) professional.

But while I’ve been just dabbing into the world of an author life, I have noticed that there is an awful lot of people / companies out there that pray on people like myself who are new to the game.

One in particular I will mention, because I want to expose them, is a ‘company’ on Twitter calling themselves ‘Booktasters Authors’ (I think they have a few names on Twitter, this is the one that contacted me though). They approached me back in November with a simple question, “Hi Penny, Do you like to get your book reviewed?” (see pictures at the end of this blog post)

Now, firstly, am I the only one that can see that that question is grammatically incorrect? Or are they asking me if I like the actual act of getting reviews?

Normally I don’t tend to reply to DM messages on Twitter, I get annoyed with the automated messages. Tweets, however, I do try to reply to. But I figured I’d see what these guys wanted. So I responded.

It turns out, this ‘company’ is offering ‘free reviews’ for your book if you sign up your book to their community. The catch is… you have to PAY to sign up.

So… you PAY for REVIEWS!

Apparently not, apparently the community of reviewers aren’t paid themselves, they are reading your book for free, unpaid, and in return are giving you an honest review.

But I was trying to make a point that I am still out of pocket, and then getting reviews in return.

Now, even if I HAD the money to fork out and get my book reviewed and help it’s sales, and that’s if I wanted to do that (as I am in the process of re-writing It’s My Mistake) I wouldn’t do it unmorally. I do not want my name tainted. I don’t want people to see my name, see my books and think ‘she buys her reviews, I don’t want anything to do with her or her books’.

I know, there is a very big possibility that if I get more reviews on Goodreads and/or Amazon, more people will want to buy and read my book. But I do not want to get there by paying a company to give me those reviews. It’s not honest.

Anyway, at first, I figured I’d just ignore the message. I wasn’t going to continue in a conversation and waste mine and their time. So I just ignored it.

Apparently they weren’t taking my silence as a no. A few days later they emailed me again. I knew right away something dodgy was going on when they wrote “We are very passioned to take…” Wait… ‘Passioned’? I’m not entirely convinced this is even a word. Microsoft Word doesn’t register it as a word, but I did find it online. But either way, what was wrong with writing ‘passionate’?

I just figured, if I didn’t reply again, they’d get the message.

Apparently not. If you see in the pictures below, they very unprofessionally sent me two emoticons. Ha!

I figured I needed to shut this down quickly before I got anymore emoticons… who knew what ones they’d send next!

So I replied, rather politely if I say so myself; “Thank you, but I don’t pay for reviews.”

Ooo… they are sneaky buggars. The next message (oh yes, they replied, persistent I’ll give them that) was sent the same day and they were trying to explain that I don’t pay for reviews, the fee is for offering the book to their community, some ‘managing process’ and guaranteeing a posted review on Amazon and Goodreads.

I just laughed when I read that. The way I see it… I pay them > they give me reviews back. Doesn’t matter how fancy you try and make it sound, what I’m getting in exchange of my money is reviews. I’m PAYING for REVIEWS.

So, not only am I out of pocket, but the readers are getting my book for free!

The thing that started to really annoy me though, was their persistence. Bearing in mind that this last message I sent them was the 3rd of December (2017) and their reply was almost instant. I ignored them and they didn’t take the hint… again.

Seven days later, I get another message. Another unprofessional one with one of those emoticons again.

I ignored it and made sure I wasn’t following them. (It turned out I was! I quickly rectified that!)

I got another message on the 13th of January. Clearly they didn’t get the hint when I not only ignored them, but I unfollowed them too.

It was at this point that I realised I wasn’t going to get rid of them politely. So I had to block them.

Now, the reason why I am writing this post is because I am not only annoyed that I was getting harassed by them, but that they are probably harassing other people too. There are a lot of new authors out there that are probably thinking that doing something like this is a good way to make a name for themselves.

DON’T! I am fed up with seeing people who are not genuine. I know it’s a harsh world out there, but do not fall prey to these people. Do not pay for reviews. You worked long and hard on that book, people should be paying YOU not the other way around.

And do not contribute to a world of con!

Here are the screenshots of the messages I received:

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