The Lipstick Bureau by Michelle Gable

“It was just very difficult for me to stay engaged with the story. “

Review by Rayleigh Setser

Inspired by a real-life female spy, a WWII-set novel about a woman challenging convention and boundaries to help win a war, no matter the cost.

1944, Rome. Newlywed Niki Novotná is recruited by a new American spy agency to establish a secret branch in Italy’s capital. One of the OSS’s few female operatives abroad and multilingual, she’s tasked with crafting fake stories and distributing propaganda to lower the morale of enemy soldiers.

Despite limited resources, Niki and a scrappy team of artists, forgers and others—now nicknamed The Lipstick Bureau—find success, forming a bond amid the cobblestoned streets and storied villas of the newly liberated city. But her work is also a way to escape devastating truths about the family she left behind in Czechoslovakia and a future with her controlling American husband.

As the war drags on and the pressure intensifies, Niki begins to question the rules she’s been instructed to follow, and a colleague unexpectedly captures her heart. But one step out of line, one mistake, could mean life or death…

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own, and I am writing a voluntary review.

A woman with three degrees and fluent in 7 languages is sent into WWII to spread propaganda and aid in the war efforts.

This book was okay. I typically love WWII novels, so this one seemed to check all of my boxes, especially being inspired by a real-life hero. However, it was just very difficult for me to stay engaged with the story. I had difficulty understanding the time jumps at the beginning of the novel and then I had a hard time relating to Niki as a character. I felt like a lot of the story preferred to focus on her forbidden romance rather than the war efforts and found myself speed-reading through scenes to get to what was happening on the war front.

Also, I have a hard time reading books that justify infidelity by making the husband/wife distant or "unloveable". It just leaves a sour taste in my mouth, so I didn't care for that whole side-plot.

Overall, I loved the historical aspects of this book and frankly, I think that's what kept me reading. I had hoped to be more engaged than I was. I almost wish I hadn't known that the book was inspired by a war hero because I think I found myself wanting to know her story rather than the fictional one that was presented here. Overall, it's well written and I enjoyed Niki's spunk and enthusiasm, I just didn't relate to her enough to be moved by her story.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Content Ratings:

Action & Gore:

Rating: 3 out of 10.
3. Mild action (common injuries with some details). 

Romance & Spice:

Rating: 2 out of 10.
2. Mild content (holding hands and mild kissing).

Cursing & Vulgarity:

Rating: 6 out of 10.
6. Strong cursing (mild cursing paired with 3-10 strong words).

Other Trigger Warnings:

Content guide: Cursing is much higher than I expected, dropping several “f-bombs” and an array of others | Gore was very low, I don’t recall hardly any at all | No spice — just mention of “pleasure” workers and a couple of undetailed kisses.

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