Spy Island

Thanks to The Book Babe's Blog Tours, we're pleased to present a review for spy thriller Spy Island, by Sophie Schiller.  Keep scrolling to check out our review! Also, make sure you check out the other stops on the tour for more reviews and excerpts.

By Sophie Schiller
Published on January 11th 2013
Published by: CreateSpace
Source: Blog tour
An adventurous girl in the West Indies risks her life to save a German U-boat deserter and stumbles into a nest of German spies hell-bent on taking over her tranquil island.

In 1916, Abigail Maduro plunges headfirst into the dangerous world of espionage when she travels to the West Indies to live with her Aunt Esther and witnesses a brutal murder at the hands of a notorious German spy. Vowing revenge, Abby embarks on a career as a spy hunter, not realizing that St. Thomas is a hotbed for German spies and saboteurs who use their Hamburg-America steamers to run clandestine missions against the Allies. But Abigail has more pressing problems of her own. She's forced to work as a seamstress, and is on the constant receiving end of her aunt's vicious tirades. Her only salvation are the two aging servants, Nana Jane, the daughter of an African slave with a taste for gossip, and Cooky Betty, the rotund, back-talking cook who samples most of what she makes.

A chance encounter with a mysterious stranger hurls Abby to the center of the conflict. Erich Seibold claims to be a stranded sailor in desperate need of shelter. Despite the danger, Abby hides Erich in the basement of her house and friendship blossoms between the two outsiders, even after Abby learns that he is a deserter from a German U-boat. The local German Consul, Lothar Langsdorff, also discovers Erich's true identity and blackmails him into committing sabotage and murder. When Erich is arrested, Abigail attempts a daring breakout to free him. But with Langsdorff still on the loose, Abigail relies on wits, bravery and a little island magic to save her island from a dangerous German spy.
Spy Island tells the story of Abby Maduro, a young girl sent to live with her bitter spinster Aunt Ester on the island of St. Thomas. World War I is going on at the time, and German spies are everywhere. Abby has an active imagination, which is stoked by a young sailor named Ian who she meets on her trip to St. Thomas, so of course she sees spies and conspiracies everywhere.

The good:
  • This was a very well researched book.  The author really did her homework when it came to major political and social events in St. Thomas and in the world at the time the story was taking place, as well as details about the German army, World War I, sailing, etc.  She definitely has a ton of knowledge about the time and place, which she puts to good use in all the details in this story.  I'm a sucker for historical fiction, and for spies and war stories and women doing awesome things.  I don't feel like I've read many books that take place during WWI, and those that I have focus more on life in Europe or America during that time, not the Caribbean.
  • The setting.  I've never been to St. Thomas, or really, any of the Caribbean islands, so I liked reading all the lush descriptions of the island.  The author lived in the West Indies and you can tell that she clearly loves and knows the area -- the people and places really come to life with the great detail she provides.  I definitely had a great sense of what the island and its peoples looked like by the time the book was over.
  • The friendship between Erich and Abby is very sweet.  He is always very kind to her, very aware of how much danger she could be in if anyone discovers that Abby is giving him a place to stay.  I like that they shared stories of their pasts and that even though he himself was in danger of discovery, that he kept trying to look out for Abby and protect her from her Aunt, who could be quite cruel to Abby.  There's a bit of a supblot of a romance between them, but for the most part, it's in the form of Abby's crush on the good-looking sailor.
The not-so-good:
  • This book feels way too long.  I say this as someone who has devoured thousand-page-plus books without complaint. A 300-some page book usually wouldn't be a problem,  but on this case, I just wasn't kept engaged. Around the 40% mark of this book, I started skimming because things were getting repetitive.  The action does pick up around the 80% mark but it took a lot of will-power for me to get there.
  • All of the natives (read, people of color) to St. Thomas have their accents written out in very exaggerated ways.  For example: "Lots of sailors pass by dese islands every day and dat don't make dem no German spies." I understand that writing it like this helps you get a flavor for how the person sounds when they speak, and that not everyone speaks in what would be considered a grammatically correct way, but I dislike seeing so much dialogue written out like that. It's a pet peeve of mine in general, but one that especially annoyed me, especially when none of the native Dutch residents, who would surely have accents of their own, have their accents written out.  (The only other person who consistently had a written accent was Ian, who was Irish.)
  • Also, often times the dialogue just didn't feel realistic.  As a writer, I'm a big fan of reading dialogue out loud to myself, or occasionally using a speech reading program to read my story back to me.  If it sounds unnatural to my ears, then it's time to go back and refine it into something that sounds better.  Yes, speech patterns were different in the early 1900s, but that only accounts for some but not all of the weirdness that I heard.
  • There are just too many details.  This isn't a complaint I make often, but in this case, everything was just too wordy.  The book is told from Abby's perspective, but any time Erich, or anyone else, has a story to tell, the story is recounted from that person's perspective in extreme detail, filled with a practically minute-to-minute timeline of whatever happened.  And then some details get recounted both in the narration as well as in someone else's dialogue, or stories get repeated when someone tells Abby a story, and then it's emphasized in the narration, and then Abby tells the story again to someone else - sometimes it can just be overkill.
  • Also, the villain literally twirls his mustache. In case you needed any more hints that he's the bad guy, there's a big one.   
Overall, this was an interesting spy story with lots of moving parts which could have been made a lot better by some tighter editing.  I liked the idea of the story -- a teenage girl hunting down spies! espionage and treason! blackmail! -- but I felt that it wasn't always successful in its execution.  Other readers have really enjoyed the story, so please do check it out if it sounds like something you'd be interested in!

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