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A Most Clever Girl

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A Novel of an American Spy A thrilling tale of love, loyalty, and espionage, based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, from USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Marie Thornton. 1963: Reeling from the death of her mother and President Kennedy's assassination, Catherine Gray shows up on Eli A Novel of an American Spy A thrilling tale of love, loyalty, and espionage, based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, from USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Marie Thornton. 1963: Reeling from the death of her mother and President Kennedy's assassination, Catherine Gray shows up on Elizabeth Bentley's doorstep demanding answers to the shocking mystery just uncovered about her family. What she doesn't expect is for Bentley to ensnare her in her own story of becoming a controversial World War II spy and Cold War informer... Recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on fascists at the outbreak of World War II, a young Bentley--code name Clever Girl--finds she has an unexpected gift for espionage. But after falling desperately in love with her handler, Jacob Golos, Elizabeth makes another unexpected discovery when she learns her lover is actually a Russian spy. Together, they will build the largest Soviet spy network in America and Elizabeth will become its uncrowned Red Spy Queen. However, once the war ends and the U.S. and U.S.S.R. become embroiled in the Cold War, it is Elizabeth who will dangerously clash with the NKVD, the brutal Soviet espionage agency. As Catherine listens to Elizabeth's harrowing tale, she empathizes with her, that is, until she uncovers startling revelations that link the two women's lives in shocking ways. Faced with the idea that her entire existence is based on a lie, Catherine realizes there can be many sides to the truth. And only Elizabeth Bentley can tell her what that truth really is.


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A Novel of an American Spy A thrilling tale of love, loyalty, and espionage, based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, from USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Marie Thornton. 1963: Reeling from the death of her mother and President Kennedy's assassination, Catherine Gray shows up on Eli A Novel of an American Spy A thrilling tale of love, loyalty, and espionage, based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, from USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Marie Thornton. 1963: Reeling from the death of her mother and President Kennedy's assassination, Catherine Gray shows up on Elizabeth Bentley's doorstep demanding answers to the shocking mystery just uncovered about her family. What she doesn't expect is for Bentley to ensnare her in her own story of becoming a controversial World War II spy and Cold War informer... Recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on fascists at the outbreak of World War II, a young Bentley--code name Clever Girl--finds she has an unexpected gift for espionage. But after falling desperately in love with her handler, Jacob Golos, Elizabeth makes another unexpected discovery when she learns her lover is actually a Russian spy. Together, they will build the largest Soviet spy network in America and Elizabeth will become its uncrowned Red Spy Queen. However, once the war ends and the U.S. and U.S.S.R. become embroiled in the Cold War, it is Elizabeth who will dangerously clash with the NKVD, the brutal Soviet espionage agency. As Catherine listens to Elizabeth's harrowing tale, she empathizes with her, that is, until she uncovers startling revelations that link the two women's lives in shocking ways. Faced with the idea that her entire existence is based on a lie, Catherine realizes there can be many sides to the truth. And only Elizabeth Bentley can tell her what that truth really is.

30 review for A Most Clever Girl

  1. 4 out of 5

    MarilynW

    A Most Clever Girl A Novel of an American Spy by Stephanie Marie Thornton I wasn't aware of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, until I read A Most Clever Girl and did some further research on my own. Eventually Bentley exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming more than 80 Americans, who had engaged in espionage for the Soviets, but before that time she was a member of the Communist Party USA. With her handler, Jacob Golos, a Russian s A Most Clever Girl A Novel of an American Spy by Stephanie Marie Thornton I wasn't aware of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, until I read A Most Clever Girl and did some further research on my own. Eventually Bentley exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming more than 80 Americans, who had engaged in espionage for the Soviets, but before that time she was a member of the Communist Party USA. With her handler, Jacob Golos, a Russian spy, they built the largest Soviet spy network in America. As this historical fiction unfolds, Bentley is now in her mid fifties, facing a young woman and a gun, being forced to tell her story before the young woman kills Bentley. The young woman knows she has a connection to Bentley, through her mother, and she wants to know the truth before she kills Bentley and commits suicide. The few minutes she originally gives Bentley to spill her guts turns into hours of relating the past. The story is not pretty. Bentley was extremely intelligent in a book smart way but also extremely needy, lonely, and prone to following those who she could have a chance of befriending. It's almost as if she joined the Communist Party of the United States so she could hang out with and fit in with the "cool" people. Bentley felt she was at her worst when she was alone and she avoided it at all costs. Once she began her affair with her handler, Bentley seemed to be at her happiest but she comes to realize just how dangerous her world has become. As much as she doesn't want to be alone, that is really all she can be, when she can eventually trust no one, anyone connected with her network can be eliminated at any time, and when any step she takes can mean the death of one or more people. Later Bentley contacts the FBI and defects from the Soviet Union spy network. Nothing Bentley did seems to be noble or for a good cause but as an effort to save her hide. The fictionalized part of the story gives Bentley some redeeming values through her connection to the young woman, Catherine Gray. So often I prefer the earlier timelines in stories that contain dual timelines but in this case I enjoyed the story as it applied to Catherine since I could not understand Bentley and her motivations in life, at all. Publication: September 14th 2021 Thank you to Elisha, Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for this ARC.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dorie - Cats&Books :)

    I am always drawn to books about spies, especially women spies. This novel is about Elizabeth Bentley. If you didn’t read the blurb for the book, which is extensive, here is the most informative part of the blurb: “Recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on fascists at the outbreak of World War II, a young Bentley--code name Clever Girl--finds she has an unexpected gift for espionage. But after falling desperately in love with her handler, Jacob Golos, Elizabeth makes another unexpected I am always drawn to books about spies, especially women spies. This novel is about Elizabeth Bentley. If you didn’t read the blurb for the book, which is extensive, here is the most informative part of the blurb: “Recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on fascists at the outbreak of World War II, a young Bentley--code name Clever Girl--finds she has an unexpected gift for espionage. But after falling desperately in love with her handler, Jacob Golos, Elizabeth makes another unexpected discovery when she learns her lover is actually a Russian spy. Together, they will build the largest Soviet spy network in America and Elizabeth will become its uncrowned Red Spy Queen. However, once the war ends and the U.S. and U.S.S.R. become embroiled in the Cold War, it is Elizabeth who will dangerously clash with the NKVD, the brutal Soviet espionage agency.” The majority of this book is told in the form of dialogue between Elizabeth Bently and a character named Catherine Gray. I found this form of writing to be slow, repetitive and I didn’t feel engaged with the characters. I guess I would call this a “tell me” instead of “show me” narrative, 1st person point of view for most of the novel. It switches later to 3rd person for the last quarter of the book. Through this dialogue we learn how and why she decided to work with the Communists in the United States. Her love affair with her “handler” known by several different names throughout the novel, but finally settling on Yasha was extensively described. Her sexual exploits were commented on many, many times and I grew tired of it. In the end she decided to work against Russia during the Cold War and helped the US identify and bring to light many of the top Russian spies in the US, most notably Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American citizens who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. I usually enjoy Author’s Notes but Ms. Thornton wrote 19 pages of notes explaining all of the changes that she made in persons, places and timelines. I was most surprised to learn that one of the main characters, "IS ENTIRELY A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION". "THIS PART OF THE NOVEL WAS ACTUALLY VERY LOOSELY INSPIRED BY MY OWN FAMILY HISTORY . . ." Though I appreciate the extensive research and the author’s dedication to bringing this character to the eyes of the public, I really can’t recommend this book. THIS NOVEL READS MORE LIKE NON-FICTION BUT WITH UNRELIABLE FACTS I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss. The novel is set to publish on 9/14/21.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    This historical fiction tackles the true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent. I was totally unaware of her and her part in American history. I do feel like I learned quite a bit, although I wasn’t completely impressed by the book. I will admit to being turned off by Elizabeth, a young woman who joins the American Communist Party to make friends and then gets involved in spying because she falls in love with her handler, even if it happens her handler was one of the highest rankin This historical fiction tackles the true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent. I was totally unaware of her and her part in American history. I do feel like I learned quite a bit, although I wasn’t completely impressed by the book. I will admit to being turned off by Elizabeth, a young woman who joins the American Communist Party to make friends and then gets involved in spying because she falls in love with her handler, even if it happens her handler was one of the highest ranking men in the CPUSA. The reasons just felt so trite. Her belief in a better world seemed secondary to her personal desires. Even as more vile things are learned about Stalin, she continues to stay the course. And then I totally couldn’t buy into her argument that what she was doing was patriotic, since Russia and the US were allies during the war. Thornton employs the use of a secondary character, Catherine, who shows up intending to shoot an older Bentley, to convey the story. Bentley convinces the young woman to first hear her story. I would have preferred a more direct approach which would have allowed the story to move faster, IMO. The book was very uneven for me. In the beginning, it came across more as a romance than a spy novel. I found the first half dry and it didn’t pick up for me until Elizabeth turned double agent. There is one scene that would make anyone hate the Russians. I was disappointed about some of the liberties Thornton took writing this, especially regarding J. Edgar Hoover. My thanks to NetGalley and Berkeley Publishing for an advance copy of this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    Another powerful historical narrative from Stephanie Marie Thornton! This book tells the story of Elizabeth Bentley, the Red Spy Queen, who spied for the Russians during WW II and then set off the Red Scare in the 50's when she flipped. What I found so fascinating about her story was the fact that during the war she was working for Russia when they were aligned with the Axis powers and then with the Allies. How much of the Cold War occurred due to all the US technology that was leaked to the Rus Another powerful historical narrative from Stephanie Marie Thornton! This book tells the story of Elizabeth Bentley, the Red Spy Queen, who spied for the Russians during WW II and then set off the Red Scare in the 50's when she flipped. What I found so fascinating about her story was the fact that during the war she was working for Russia when they were aligned with the Axis powers and then with the Allies. How much of the Cold War occurred due to all the US technology that was leaked to the Russians when they were our allies? In the 50's, would Joe McCarthy have made as many waves without Elizabeth Bentley and her immaculate memory paving the way? Then there was her adoption of the Victory Red Lipstick for confidence just as Nancy Augusta Wake did (Code Name Hélène). Thornton gives Elizabeth the task of telling us her own story after being confronted by a young woman whose life trajectory was greatly influenced by the spy and her comrades. Fascinating! Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Deanne Patterson

    When I want to read historical fiction which is often because it's my go to reading genre I can always find a fabulous book to read. This most engaging book is based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States.I have never heard of this woman but it's so important to write books such as this so this time in history won't be forgotten. I was so fascinated with this book that I checked a nonfiction book out at the library t When I want to read historical fiction which is often because it's my go to reading genre I can always find a fabulous book to read. This most engaging book is based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States.I have never heard of this woman but it's so important to write books such as this so this time in history won't be forgotten. I was so fascinated with this book that I checked a nonfiction book out at the library today to further educate myself on the life of the "Clever Girl". This book had me completely engaged in this meticulously researched ultimately tragic tale of Cold War espionage. This is a must read for all lovers of history! Highly recommended! Pub Date 14 Sep 2021 I was given a complimentary copy of this book. Thank you. All opinions expressed are my own.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joan Happel

    A gripping story about the real Elizabeth Bentley, a member of the American Communist Party who became an informant for the FBI. The novel begins in 1963 when fictional Catherine “Cat” Gray, distraught about the death of her mother, shows up at Elizabeth’s home with the intention of killing her and herself. Elizabeth buys time by telling her story to Cat and what unfolds is a wild tale of love and espionage. In 1933 New York, a lonely Elizabeth is recruited to work for the Communist Party and su A gripping story about the real Elizabeth Bentley, a member of the American Communist Party who became an informant for the FBI. The novel begins in 1963 when fictional Catherine “Cat” Gray, distraught about the death of her mother, shows up at Elizabeth’s home with the intention of killing her and herself. Elizabeth buys time by telling her story to Cat and what unfolds is a wild tale of love and espionage. In 1933 New York, a lonely Elizabeth is recruited to work for the Communist Party and supply information to help defeat the Fascist Party in American and Europe. By the end of WWII and the onset of the Cold War, the rules have changed, but by then Elizabeth is deeply embroiled in the selling of state secrets with a large network of operatives passing on information to her. She is also in love with Jacob Golos, a Russian spy and a high-ranking member of the NKVD. When Jacob dies, Elizabeth finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the Soviet secret police, and her life is threatened. To save herself, she turns to the FBI, giving up the names of her contacts, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and helping to convict Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and others. This is a thrilling ride through the dangerous world of espionage, filled with harrowing moments of danger and suspense. Elizabeth is the classic unreliable narrator and Cat must decide what parts of Elizabeth’s story to believe. Well researched and deftly crafted, readers will love this fictionalized account of a real-life double agent. Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for the e-ARC.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Literary Redhead

    The author has written a gripping story based on real life American spy for the Russians, Elizabeth Bentley. I’d not heard of her before and found myself intrigued by this complex woman who later turned course and helped the American government instead. The first line grabs you and the tale deepens quickly, propelled by Thornton’s elegant narrative and sensitive character development. I felt as if I were in Elizabeth’s head at times, experiencing her thoughts and feelings as she makes choices I The author has written a gripping story based on real life American spy for the Russians, Elizabeth Bentley. I’d not heard of her before and found myself intrigued by this complex woman who later turned course and helped the American government instead. The first line grabs you and the tale deepens quickly, propelled by Thornton’s elegant narrative and sensitive character development. I felt as if I were in Elizabeth’s head at times, experiencing her thoughts and feelings as she makes choices I could never make as an American citizen. Only the best psychological portraits give you that sense of inhabiting a character so completely, and Thornton does this masterfully. I ran through a range of emotions — anxiety, fear, anger, relief, pity, grief, acceptance — until I reached the touching end. Highly recommended for readers who love thrilling tales of complex women who changed history. 5 of 5 Stars Pub Date 14 Sep 2021 #CleverGirl #NetGalley Thanks to the author, Berkley Publishing Group, and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Renee Rosen

    Extraordinary!!! I have loved all of Stephanie Thornton's novels, especially AMERICAN PRINCESS & AND THEY CALLED IT CAMELOT. Trust me when I say, John Le Carré has nothing on Stephanie Thornton. Fans of "The Americans" will devour this. Thornton takes the Cold War spy novel to a whole new level with this fast-paced, multifaceted drama about Elizabeth Bentley, the real-life Russian Spy turned FBI informant. Thornton gets to the heart of a woman seeking redemption after leading a tortured life of Extraordinary!!! I have loved all of Stephanie Thornton's novels, especially AMERICAN PRINCESS & AND THEY CALLED IT CAMELOT. Trust me when I say, John Le Carré has nothing on Stephanie Thornton. Fans of "The Americans" will devour this. Thornton takes the Cold War spy novel to a whole new level with this fast-paced, multifaceted drama about Elizabeth Bentley, the real-life Russian Spy turned FBI informant. Thornton gets to the heart of a woman seeking redemption after leading a tortured life of bad politics and impossible choices. I couldn’t put CLEVER GIRL down and now I can’t stop thinking about it. Bravo!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katie B

    I love reading historical fiction novels because it provides me the opportunity to learn a thing or two. I had never heard of Elizabeth Bentley prior to picking up this book. She was a Cold War double agent, a spy for the Russians and the United States. No matter what you might think of her as a person, she sure did lead a fascinating life. Historical fiction writers have some leeway to use their imaginations with the story. In this case, I think the author did a good job bringing everything tog I love reading historical fiction novels because it provides me the opportunity to learn a thing or two. I had never heard of Elizabeth Bentley prior to picking up this book. She was a Cold War double agent, a spy for the Russians and the United States. No matter what you might think of her as a person, she sure did lead a fascinating life. Historical fiction writers have some leeway to use their imaginations with the story. In this case, I think the author did a good job bringing everything together. Yes, there are some key things that are complete fiction, but after reading this book I do feel like I got to know Elizabeth Bentley. The author got it right when it comes to presenting the important facts so it didn't matter to me at all that some things were introduced for storyline purposes. It's an interesting read as in 1963 Elizabeth finds herself in a dangerous situation and she then recounts how she was recruited by the American Communist Party decades ago and how she got her start as a spy. I'll admit, the 1963 storyline came across as melodramatic at times but it served a purpose to set the stage for Elizabeth explaining her life and the choices she made over the years. If you are interested in Cold War espionage, I definitely recommend this book. I found it to be a more satisfying read than another recent book in the genre that covered the same topic.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christine Mott

    A Most Clever Girl By: Stephanie Marie Thornton 5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Based on Elizabeth Bentley, a double agent spying for the Americans and Russians. ⏳ In her younger years she became involved with her handler, Jacob Golos a Russian spy. They built one of the largest spy networks. ⏳ In her fifties, a young women, Catherine shows up at her place with a gun demanding her attention. She has questions! The women has a connection to her based on a letter from her mother. As her story unfolds Bentley became perso A Most Clever Girl By: Stephanie Marie Thornton 5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Based on Elizabeth Bentley, a double agent spying for the Americans and Russians. ⏳ In her younger years she became involved with her handler, Jacob Golos a Russian spy. They built one of the largest spy networks. ⏳ In her fifties, a young women, Catherine shows up at her place with a gun demanding her attention. She has questions! The women has a connection to her based on a letter from her mother. As her story unfolds Bentley became personally involved with her handler and their connection defied all odds. They are in constant danger. Her story is told to Catherine and she must decipher what is true. ⏳ Bentley ends up contacting the FBI and defects. The trial and outcome is something I want to explore more. I loved the author notes because Thornton tells you what is fiction a s how she weaves her story. My first book by her, but definitely not my last. #stephaniemariethorton, #berkley, #bokreview, #bookstagram, #audiobook, #booksconnectus, #stamperlady50

  11. 4 out of 5

    The Lit Bitch

    I started reading Stephanie Marie Thornton’s books years ago and absolutely feel in love with her story telling style! One of the things I found the most compelling was she wrote stories about women in antiquity. Women that wouldn’t be likely to have a ‘story’ that was well known. For example the Empress Theodora and the women of Genghis Kahn. I loved that she took well known women in antiquity, but were unlikely to generate mainstream stories, and then created a story for them. I adored her ear I started reading Stephanie Marie Thornton’s books years ago and absolutely feel in love with her story telling style! One of the things I found the most compelling was she wrote stories about women in antiquity. Women that wouldn’t be likely to have a ‘story’ that was well known. For example the Empress Theodora and the women of Genghis Kahn. I loved that she took well known women in antiquity, but were unlikely to generate mainstream stories, and then created a story for them. I adored her early books and when I saw that she was making the shift into the more modern era, I was a little sad. That said, I have read her more ‘modern’ books which, I am happy to report, were all wonderful too! Although I am still waiting for a story about Boudica, but I have loved her modern novels. But this book was one I was looking forward to above all others to date! I have been really enjoying books set in a post WWII world that include early espionage. This book is set a little later than I was hoping (set in 1963) but still compelling in content and espionage! This is more of a ‘Cold War’ era spy type novel rather than immediate post WWII, but the content and suspense was on fire and I absolutely loved this one! I devoured it in like a day. It was so good and Thornton’s storytelling style just keeps getting better and better. I still have a special place in my heart for the ancient history novels but this more modern novel has a lot to recommend itself! I wish I had Stephanie Thornton as a history teacher in school because, damn does she have a great way of making history exciting and interesting! This book hooked me from the beginning. Not only if the cover positively stunning, but the story within matches the beauty of the cover! Like Thornton, I have a passion for women in history and I have a whole list of female figures I would love to read stories about directly from Thornton’s brain! This story is based on the real American spy, Elizabeth Bentley who spied on the Americans for the Russians but then later switched and spied on the Russian’s for the Americans. I couldn’t imagine what would have to go through someone’s mind to choose another country over their own but I thought that Thornton did a wonderful job providing the psychology and introspection for readers in Elizabeth’s character. No doubt it would have been a tough character to write but Thornton was equal to that task. Elizabeth Bentley was such a rich character who really came alive in this story under Thornton’s pen. I absolutely loved it. I don’t know that I actually ‘liked’ Elizabeth’s character in the book or in general once I did more research on her. But I thought that Thornton crafted an interesting story and that story and psychology in Elizabeth’s character drew me in and made me not want to put this one down. It was an incredibly good book and I enjoyed every single minute. This book has a lot to process and unpack and I think would be a good one for book clubs. I think it would generate a lot of interesting conversations for sure! I simply love Thornton and I cannot wait for more books by her! It you love historical fiction about women then you need to read this one! So good!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    Lost interest about 40 pages in. I think it's the writing style that put me off. Lost interest about 40 pages in. I think it's the writing style that put me off.

  13. 4 out of 5

    smalltownbookmom

    I absolutely LOVED this WWII/Cold war spy story featuring Elizabeth Bentley, an American woman spy code named "Clever Girl" who falls for her handler (a Russian spy) and ends up running an international espionage network. Told in dual perspective from the 'present' in 1963 post Kennedy assassination where Catherine Gray has shown up to confront Elizabeth and her past actions, and Elizabeth's life as a spy in the previous two decades. We get to know how these two women's lives are intertwined alo I absolutely LOVED this WWII/Cold war spy story featuring Elizabeth Bentley, an American woman spy code named "Clever Girl" who falls for her handler (a Russian spy) and ends up running an international espionage network. Told in dual perspective from the 'present' in 1963 post Kennedy assassination where Catherine Gray has shown up to confront Elizabeth and her past actions, and Elizabeth's life as a spy in the previous two decades. We get to know how these two women's lives are intertwined along with Catherine. Elizabeth Bentley was such a smart, strong woman. I listened to this on audio and Tavia Gilbert does an absolutely AMAZING job narrating!! HIGHLY recommended for anyone who enjoys good spy stories like The secrets we keep, A woman of intelligence, Our woman in Moscow, American spy or An unlikely spy. A little long but I didn't mind it because the story was just so juicy and hard to put down plus based on the life of a real woman! Much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my e-ARC!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kelsie

    **3.5/5 Stars** Grab a steaming cup of coffee, tea, or mulled wine. Settle into a comfortable chair in your pandemic pants and fuzzy socks. Prepare yourself for a story of excitement, heartbreak, intensity, and high stakes. A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton is a well-written work of historical fiction. Stephanie Marie Thornton keeps her readers plugged in to the story from beginning to end as she tells the tale of Elizabeth Bentley. Known by a variety of codenames, including “Cle **3.5/5 Stars** Grab a steaming cup of coffee, tea, or mulled wine. Settle into a comfortable chair in your pandemic pants and fuzzy socks. Prepare yourself for a story of excitement, heartbreak, intensity, and high stakes. A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton is a well-written work of historical fiction. Stephanie Marie Thornton keeps her readers plugged in to the story from beginning to end as she tells the tale of Elizabeth Bentley. Known by a variety of codenames, including “Clever Girl,” “Gregory,” and “Miss Wise,” Elizabeth Bentley goes from a naïve young woman searching for acceptance to a skilled spymaster for the NKVD during WWII and the beginning of the Cold War. I have noticed a trend in my readings of historical fiction: The novels often begin in one decade and jump back to another, providing interludes of past memories from the views of certain characters. For the most part, I am a linear thinker. My preference is that stories follow from one scene to the next in chronological order. A Most Clever Girl has two different timelines, occurring simultaneously. I do not like this about historical fiction, but I can deal with it. What I didn’t like about A Most Clever Girl, though, was that when the novel focused on the past, a character would provide commentary from the story’s present. Unique manner of writing a book? Surely. But I wanted to be wholly transported back in history, and by having the interludes in parentheses, Thornton broke that vision in my mind. Thornton wrote A Most Clever Girl as a narration, for the most part: Elizabeth Bentley recounting her background to another person. That’s why I suggested readers get comfortable, because the book is like sitting at your grandfather’s feet in his living room, listening to his wartime tales. So in that sense, the present-day comments in A Most Clever Girl were appropriate. I just…didn’t like them, even if they were Elizabeth Bentley saying how she learned from her mistakes. The other present-day character, Catherine Gray, I also found to be cliché. I correctly identified who she was from early in A Most Clever Girl, and Catherine was very one-note. I didn’t like her, besides maybe in the last couple chapters. Additionally, Stephanie Marie Thornton suffered from a common error in novels that drives me bonkers: Using characters’ names in two-person dialogue. You don’t need to say “Catherine” or “Elizabeth” at the end of every spoken sentence. The reader gets the picture, especially since the only two people in Elizabeth Bentley’s house during her story? Catherine and Elizabeth. Unintentionally, I listened to the audiobook version of Agent Sonya by Ben Macintyre at the same time I read A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton. Agent Sonya is a biography, following the life of Ursula Burton, a German Jew who spied for the Soviet Union during WWII. So, I simultaneously experienced the tales of two different female spies of the time period. I normally prefer fiction over nonfiction, but I liked Agent Sonya more. Both Elizabeth Bentley and Ursula Burton were spies of importance and influence, but Macintyre was just a little more successful at telling Burton’s story than Thornton was with Bentley. I enjoyed A Most Clever Girl, and I don’t regret reading it; I just think it could’ve been better. *Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All views expressed are my own.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Marie

    2/11/21 The cover's all over IG and FB, why isn't it here yet? *flails* 2/11/21 The cover's all over IG and FB, why isn't it here yet? *flails*

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

    A MOST CLEVER GIRL Stephanie Marie Thornton This is a historical fiction about a real Elizabeth Bentley, who justified her status as a spy during WWII and the following Cold War because Russia was an ally during the war and she was lonely and needed friends. Really? Surely this is the idea and justification of the author, I can only hope. The book is told by the fictionalized Bentley when she is faced with her death by another fictional character, Catherine who is intent on killing Bentley and the A MOST CLEVER GIRL Stephanie Marie Thornton This is a historical fiction about a real Elizabeth Bentley, who justified her status as a spy during WWII and the following Cold War because Russia was an ally during the war and she was lonely and needed friends. Really? Surely this is the idea and justification of the author, I can only hope. The book is told by the fictionalized Bentley when she is faced with her death by another fictional character, Catherine who is intent on killing Bentley and then herself. Instead, she allows Bentley to rattle on and on in a long justification about how and why she was communist but not a spy and that J. Edgar Hoover would back her up. I guess that part was factual, Wikipedia says so and there is no better source than that! Personally, I had a hard time liking either Elizabeth or Catherine. The reasons Thornton planted in the book for their actions are rather absurd to me. I do understand that joining the Communist party was a thing at the time she did so, so maybe it isn't that far off. But more likely she remained for HER personal emotional connection with her handler even after she is aware that Stalin was a horrible person. I would think that if I went to kill someone, surely I would just do it and not end up staying for hours and making that person dinner. Wonder what she did with her gun while she was cooking? Put it on the counter? In her pocket? Overall, I found the story a bit disjointed and a tad draggy. It took a roundabout way to get to the story... at first, I thought it was a historical romance... I guess life includes romance, so ok. It wasn't the worst I have read, but certainly not the best. 3 stars Happy Reading!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sydney Young

    Thornton is an amazing writer and deserves to be well known. Writers will love (and could study) the devises used in this book to tell the story in a highly entertaining way. But readers will eat it up just because it’s so damned good. And this is a different offering for Thornton, an exciting one, especially as we grow more aware of the spies in our none-to-distant past. How does one get into it? Why stay? How live to see another day? Read on and find out. Bravo.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lecia Cornwall

    An elegant story that reads like a film noir. Elizabeth Bentley is a real-life character who infuriates, mystifies, and fascinates.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Linda Zagon

    Stephanie Marie Thornton, author of “A Most Clever Girl” has written a captivating, intriguing, and memorial historical fiction novel. The genres for this novel are Biographical Historial Fiction, and Biographical Fiction. The story is written in two timelines. This is a story of espionage, betrayal, danger, romance, and loyalty. I love the way the author has one of her characters weave her story much as the character Scheherazade who saved herself through many tales. There are twists and turns, Stephanie Marie Thornton, author of “A Most Clever Girl” has written a captivating, intriguing, and memorial historical fiction novel. The genres for this novel are Biographical Historial Fiction, and Biographical Fiction. The story is written in two timelines. This is a story of espionage, betrayal, danger, romance, and loyalty. I love the way the author has one of her characters weave her story much as the character Scheherazade who saved herself through many tales. There are twists and turns, danger and murder. Catherine Gray has lost her mother and President Kennedy’s assassination has made her seek out Elizabeth Bentley. Catherine wants vengeance, and wants to understand a letter that her mother left her, as well as what motivates Elizabeth Bentley, who is known as a “Red Spy Queen”. What Catherine doesn’t expect is for Elizabeth to tell her how she got involved with communism in college. I appreciate that the author has her character explain the reasons for her involvement, and some readers will be ambivalent and some sympathetic. The author describes her characters as complex, complicated, and determined. Kudos to the author for the hours of research into the Communist Party in America and Russia. I would recommend this thought-provoking book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Des

    The story of Elizabeth Bentley is captivatingly presented in this biographical history. Stephanie Thornton provides an illuminating account of the Elizabeth’s troubled life as she navigated the contradictions brought about by he life decisions as a member of the American Communist Party and spy. The personal, practical and political issues are presented in the context of her desire to bring about a more just world and stand up against fascism. The detail does not get lost in the discussion of the The story of Elizabeth Bentley is captivatingly presented in this biographical history. Stephanie Thornton provides an illuminating account of the Elizabeth’s troubled life as she navigated the contradictions brought about by he life decisions as a member of the American Communist Party and spy. The personal, practical and political issues are presented in the context of her desire to bring about a more just world and stand up against fascism. The detail does not get lost in the discussion of the contemporary politics of the era. The backdrop of the 1940’s and the Cold War brings many threads together to help relive and appreciate the time. The author writes very well and presents Elizabeth Bentley as we might know her, without becoming over judgemental or stereotyping. This is an uplifting book that portrays Elizabeth Bentley as a sad but highly principled woman operating in a dangerous environment and time. I would recommend “A Most Clever Girl: A Novel of an American Spy” as a very good historical biography that is very well written and easy to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Cold War spies isn't my historical area but I'm shocked I've never heard of Elizabeth Bentley before. A Most Clever Girl is a historical fiction based on a WWII Soviet Spy who turned into a Cold War informant. The author's note at the end was exactly what I needed on the fact/historical fiction side and I've already gone ahead and read a few articles on Elizabeth and the other real people mentioned in the book. I love how she added in the fictional characters to tell this story. The book starts Cold War spies isn't my historical area but I'm shocked I've never heard of Elizabeth Bentley before. A Most Clever Girl is a historical fiction based on a WWII Soviet Spy who turned into a Cold War informant. The author's note at the end was exactly what I needed on the fact/historical fiction side and I've already gone ahead and read a few articles on Elizabeth and the other real people mentioned in the book. I love how she added in the fictional characters to tell this story. The book starts off in 1963 and Cat has just found a letter and shows up at Elizabeth's apartment and wants to know the truth. I loved the line that Cat says to Elizabeth, "You ruined my life, you Communist bitch. And now you're going to pay for it." And from there Elizabeth starts at the beginning of her involvement with the Communist Party in the 1930s. Elizabeth is the character you aren't supposed to like, but you're fascinated by her choices. I couldn't put this down and I was hooked. At times it reminded me a little bit like The Americans TV show which I loved! If your looking for a fascinating spy story I highly recommend this! It takes a little bit to get into but once Elizabeth gets beyond her introduction to the Communist Party the book starts moving!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Work perk read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stacie

    This is the second book of a fictionalized account of a woman becoming a spy during WWII that I have read this year. This time, the spy is in America and not spying for America, but instead for Russia. The book opens with a shocking first chapter that grabs your attention and leaves you breathing fast and wondering, “What the heck?”. Catherine Gray shows up at Elizabeth Bentley’s apartment and knocks on the door. When Catherine enters, she is holding a gun at Elizabeth demanding to know the trut This is the second book of a fictionalized account of a woman becoming a spy during WWII that I have read this year. This time, the spy is in America and not spying for America, but instead for Russia. The book opens with a shocking first chapter that grabs your attention and leaves you breathing fast and wondering, “What the heck?”. Catherine Gray shows up at Elizabeth Bentley’s apartment and knocks on the door. When Catherine enters, she is holding a gun at Elizabeth demanding to know the truth. Once she gets the truth, she plans to kill her. It’s 1963 and Catherine’s mom has just died and President Kennedy has been assassinated. Catherine is reeling from her mother’s death, some newly uncovered secrets, and the loss of the country’s leader. She is not in a good state. But, neither is Elizabeth. Elizabeth agrees to Catherine coming in and answering her questions but she has to hear the whole story. Elizabeth Bentley is a real American spy, recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on the fascists and report back to her handler, Jacob Golos. These two are real people and this novel is based on their relationship, the spies they handled, how she eventually turned on all of them and became a traitor. “There is no peace for a revolutionary except in the grave.” Elizabeth Bentley The novel flips back and forth in time to 1963 in Elizabeth’s apartment with Elizabeth and Catherine and to the 1940s and 1950s at the height of WWII and the Cold War between the US and USSR. As Elizabeth shares her story with Catherine, more and more pieces to Catherine’s puzzle begin to come together and her connection to Elizabeth eventually changes everything for her. We also learn more about why Elizabeth chose this double life and how she believed she was truly on the “right” side of the fight. Thornton takes a bit of liberty with Elizabeth’s story for the sake of storytelling, but after looking up Elizabeth myself, I was quite impressed with the detail and meticulous research that went into this novel. There is a lot of buildup as to how Catherine and Elizabeth are connected and it is very near the end before the reader finds out. There are a lot of names and details to keep straight and an understanding of Russia’s part in WWII and in the Cold War would be helpful to the reader. Elizabeth Bentley’s story is quite fascinating and Thornton tells it with suspense, a bit of romance, and a whole lot of history. One of the main characters is a total creation of Thornton’s imagination and you find that out in the author’s note at the end. I have to admit, this detail was disappointing to me and left me feeling a bit differently about Elizabeth’s story. But, I still appreciated the extensive research and attention to Bentley’s life story. I will never look at red lipstick the same after reading this and may need to find myself a tube of my own Victory Red. Elizabeth Bentley also wrote her own memoir of her time as a spy titled, OUT OF BONDAGE if you want to dig deeper into her story. The title for Thornton’s book came from Jacob Golos’ term of endearment for Elizabeth, Umnitsa, which translates to Clever Girl, which became one of her many code names. Thornton hopes that by sharing Elizabeth’s story, part of her legacy will live on and her story will be more understood and less vilified. “After all, sinners sometimes do make the best saints.” Stephanie Marie Thornton, A MOST CLEVER GIRL

  24. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆ Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for allowing me to read this ARC! Content Warning: murder, violence, death, suicide, cancer, animal death, sexual harassment, abortion, misogyny, alcoholism. It's 1963. Cat Gray has had a double shock: the death of her mother, and the assassination of President Kennedy. Running off adrenaline and rage after reading the letter her mother left for her, she hunts down Elizabeth Bentley, notorious Communist spy queen turned FBI informant, with the intent to kill ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆ Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for allowing me to read this ARC! Content Warning: murder, violence, death, suicide, cancer, animal death, sexual harassment, abortion, misogyny, alcoholism. It's 1963. Cat Gray has had a double shock: the death of her mother, and the assassination of President Kennedy. Running off adrenaline and rage after reading the letter her mother left for her, she hunts down Elizabeth Bentley, notorious Communist spy queen turned FBI informant, with the intent to kill. But as Cat becomes captivated by Elizabeth's story of a life full of risks and an attempt to do something meaningful, she slowly starts to wonder if Elizabeth is really the villain she's been painted as, or if there's more beneath this woman's powerful façade -- and what it means for the mystery of Cat's own background... As I'm sure you can tell by books previously reviewed here, I have a penchant for Russia and the history of Communism. When I saw this book, and realized that it was actually a fictionalized tale of the real-life Elizabeth Bentley, I knew it'd be on my list. From page one I was drawn in by this story, not only because of Thornton's vivid and powerful writing, but also because of her portrayal of a woman who has been pilloried by history. It's easy to sympathize with Elizabeth, perhaps not only in spite of her mistakes, but because of them. She is far from perfect, a quasi-traitor to her country who often acts selfishly, but she's also dangerously clever and determined to try and remedy the pain she has caused throughout her life. I loved the deep, dark parts of her, as well as the caustic and biting humor she employs throughout the telling of her story. Thornton succeeded in making Elizabeth relatable, even lovable, but doesn't sugarcoat the sometimes damning truth. The relationships that Elizabeth forms during her life as a spy were a highlight of the book for me, particularly when it comes to the wonderfully sweet and fascinating dynamic she forms with her handler, whom she falls head over heels for. I rooted for Elizabeth, and I also enjoyed the weaving of Cat's story in with the rest of the narrative. It isn't often that I say this, but there's really nothing I would change about this amazing, thrilling novel! Highly recommended. For more of my reviews, check out my blog!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Len

    Here's the thing. I loved Elizabeth, absolutely loathed Catherine. To the point where I could hardly stand reading her parts, luckily they were very few and short. A sorority girl with a handgun who is going to commit murder/suicide isn't remotely believable. It was cringey at best and made me want slap her in the face. The fact that Catherine has the audacity to claim she "walked through hell" in comparison to the characters in the book is laughable. However, Elizabeth, she was fabulous. This re Here's the thing. I loved Elizabeth, absolutely loathed Catherine. To the point where I could hardly stand reading her parts, luckily they were very few and short. A sorority girl with a handgun who is going to commit murder/suicide isn't remotely believable. It was cringey at best and made me want slap her in the face. The fact that Catherine has the audacity to claim she "walked through hell" in comparison to the characters in the book is laughable. However, Elizabeth, she was fabulous. This reminds me a lot of the way I felt with The Alice Network. I absolutely loved Eve and could have given two shits about Charlie St. Clair. I would give Elizabeth's story 5 stars. Catherine is 1 star. But, in order to read the story, we have to endure Catherine and her ridiculous vendetta like indulging a spoiled child who isn't yours and you are just waiting to turn them back over to their poor parents. The style and the content of the story was exactly what one would hope to get from a historical fiction novel such as this. The way it was told as Elizabeth telling her story to Catherine made it so that Elizabeth was only really telling the parts when things happened. We weren't in Elizabeth's head while she fed her dog and had sleepless nights - we were in her head when things were happening. I loved it truly. Excellent in nearly every way. What happened: (view spoiler)[ Elizabeth's father died and she was living an incredibly lonely existence when her neighbor gave her a puppy. That friend introduced her to the communist part as something that is helping the U.S. fight fascism. Eager to have friends and a purpose, Elizabeth fell in. Being bilingual in Italian she was in the perfect position to capture information from the fascist Italians and give that information over to the Communist party, which she began doing. She was assigned a handler who she fell almost immediately in love with and together they worked espionage on behalf of the communist party. She began to become disenchanted with the communist party whenever she discovered things that could negatively impact the U.S. or when violence occurred. However, when her handler died of a heart attack Elizabeth was done playing games and she knew she was going to be "retired" by the Communist party as a handler herself. They wanted her to give up her contact and she gave them all up but 1, Muse. She told them that Muse is retired and unstable, which really, she was. But Elizabeth wanted to protect her from also being "retired" by Russia. Catherine was Muses daughter that they both worked to protect from Russia. Catherine's ridiculous vendetta against Elizabeth is that Catherine was *gasp* adopted and Elizabeth facilitated that adoption. The "hell" Catherine went through is finding out she was adopted. I'm fucking dying laughing. Catherine thinks that nothing about her or her birth mother's life had been fair. So, now she is comparing her particular hell to the hell Muse went through being a Russian spy, suicidal, schizophrenic, honey pot and more. Again, ridiculous. Catherine now says that her and Elizabeth's stories are woven together so tightly it would be impossible to separate them. Again, LOL. Catherine's "story" is but a moment in the line that was Elizabeth's story and again it was a "hell" that she was entirely unaware of - Oh Elizabeth paid for you to go to college secretly, oh she helped find you a lovely family to adopt you to protect you and help her birth mother best friend, again, nothing that she knew about. Every time Catherine said you have 1 hour then I'm going to kill you, was laughable. From the moment she first knocked on the door you already knew she was never going to pull the trigger and her brandishing the gun like she was moments from shooting was like a bad movie. The fact that it was all because she found out she was adopted makes it even more of a worthless threat. (hide spoiler)]

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bree Ogle

    A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton Length: 416 Pages Genres: Historical Fiction Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars A special thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and Netgalley for an ARC of this book! "I would tell many lies in this lifetime. I won't say that was the first or even that it was a lie, for back then I still thought I was capable of good. Certainly, all the best villains do." Trigger Warnings in this book for Animal Death, Blood and Gore In 1945 Elizabeth Bentley, aka Umnista, Ms. Wise and A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton Length: 416 Pages Genres: Historical Fiction Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars A special thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and Netgalley for an ARC of this book! "I would tell many lies in this lifetime. I won't say that was the first or even that it was a lie, for back then I still thought I was capable of good. Certainly, all the best villains do." Trigger Warnings in this book for Animal Death, Blood and Gore In 1945 Elizabeth Bentley, aka Umnista, Ms. Wise and Myrna, walked into FBI headquarters and declared herself a Soviet spy. What followed were many trials in which she exposed two different spy networks and named up to eighty different Americans as being involved in espionage. This is her (mostly) true story. In 1963, it's just days after Kennedy's assassination, and college student Catherine Grey is, on top of it all, dealing with the death of her mother and a shocking secret, which she reveals in one last letter to Cat. If she wants the truth, she will have to track down Elizabeth Bentley. She does, with a pistol in her purse. Told in first person while Elizabeth is recounting her tumultuous history, from her rather innocent origins within the CPUSA, to the world-shattering romance with her handler and rise as a notorious Spy Queen, I found myself not only sympathizing with the clever Bentley, but also enjoying her, which is in part due to the amazing writing done by Thornton. She is able to humanize the oft-vilified Bentley, who is driven by her desire to fit in, to live a meaningful life, and eventually, her own desire for control. We also get some glimpses into the psyche of the completely fictional Catherine Grey via third-person scenes set in the 60's. Stephanie Marie Thornton was able to weave together an engrossing story, using much of the truth and expertly adding in bits of well-placed fiction. If you're craving your next historical hit with two strong female protagonists, look no further than A Most Clever Girl! For more reviews visit my blog!

  27. 4 out of 5

    The Reading Potato

    A Most Clever Girl provides an inside look into the life of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent for Russia and the United States, as she tells her life story to Catherine Gray in order to save her life. Catherine demands answers regarding a shocking truth recently revealed about her family- what she doesn’t expect are the similarities between the two of them. I enjoyed this perspective on an interesting part of history, especially how the novel dives into morals and truth. The main charac A Most Clever Girl provides an inside look into the life of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent for Russia and the United States, as she tells her life story to Catherine Gray in order to save her life. Catherine demands answers regarding a shocking truth recently revealed about her family- what she doesn’t expect are the similarities between the two of them. I enjoyed this perspective on an interesting part of history, especially how the novel dives into morals and truth. The main character is a well-developed antihero and unreliable narrator. The author’s note does an excellent job of outlining the facts from the fiction, and I enjoyed her personal connection to one of the characters. Because this book is written as a story told between Elizabeth and Catherine, it really does read as if someone is telling you their story in-person. However, for me, that led the book to feel slow and repetitive. There are many moments that I felt could have been omitted or at least shortened, especially since there are a lot of musings along the way and frequent flips between Elizabeth's past and her present interactions with Catherine. Overall, this is a solid historical fiction novel that provides an interesting perspective on the Cold War and espionage, which is most ideal for those that enjoy long-winded stories. Thank you to Berkley Books and NetGalley for this eARC, in exchange for my honest review.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    I was so excited to see what the super talented Thornton would do with this story. The premise was very intriguing. This book seemed very different from everything else that I have read by her, but she always writes such incredible stories that perfectly blend history with fiction to the utmost effect for the reader that I was certain it would be an amazing experience. I was fascinated instantly by the way this book started and was held rapt as Elizabeth's story began to unfold. She was an incre I was so excited to see what the super talented Thornton would do with this story. The premise was very intriguing. This book seemed very different from everything else that I have read by her, but she always writes such incredible stories that perfectly blend history with fiction to the utmost effect for the reader that I was certain it would be an amazing experience. I was fascinated instantly by the way this book started and was held rapt as Elizabeth's story began to unfold. She was an incredibly complex character and my feelings toward her fluctuated between like and dislike frequently. There were many shocking events throughout the book as well and times when I wanted to shout at the characters and scenes within. I enjoy being so emotionally invested in a story. I also really enjoyed the learning to be had from this book and will definitely be seeking additional reading material on this subject. Thornton did an absolutely extraordinary job with this book and piecing together Elizabeth's story. The blend with the fiction was also masterfully done and added to the story in the most entertaining of ways. It was brilliantly done, and I am already awaiting what she will write next. She is truly one of my favorite authors.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Beck

    Stephanie Marie Thornton’s CLEVER GIRL, the harrowing tale of an American Cold War spy, is as moving as it is thought provoking. Brimming with danger, unexpected twists, and heart-shattering love, the pages of this novel all but turned themselves. Nuanced, complicated characters not only kept me guessing until the very end, but stayed with me long after I finished the book. Captivating and unforgettable, this is a must read!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christine Wells

    With meticulous research and a rare gift for breathing life into historical figures, Stephanie Marie Thornton follows the true story of a complex and fascinating woman—American spy Elizabeth Bentley. Filled with danger, intrigue, love and loss, Clever Girl is a powerhouse novel, exquisitely written and utterly gripping. ~ Christine Wells, author of Sisters of the Resistance

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