Casino Royale

15954464by Ian Fleming
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – first in series – 1953

“Mine’s Bond. James Bond.” I finally got around to reading this book because the James Bond franchise is so huge. I grew up watching the old films with Sean Connery and then Pierce Brosnan, and now finally Daniel Craig. I enjoyed the campy spy stories that gradually grew to define the action adventure genre for me, and I had to know how much of it came from the author and what bits Hollywood added in to sell it. Minor spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen or read Casino Royale.

Fleming’s style strongly reminded me of Ernest Hemingway. It’s dry, sparse, but just when you let your guard down there’s a line that cuts right to the heart of human nature. They both exhibit a negative view toward women, which I expect from the 1950s. People also smoked in hospitals–times change. As a product of that era, this doesn’t bother me but it is worth mentioning.

As on screen, Bond is cool, confident, and misogynistic (a trait he recognizes but shrugs off as a side effect of female uselessness). He views his unexpected partner Vesper Lynd first as an annoyance, then upgrades her to slightly useful. He gets downright excited (professionally and sexually) at the idea of her being a competent partner both in the field and possibly as a wife, but after her betrayal she is downgraded to “dead bitch” (instead of superior double agent?) and he moves on.

What most impressed me was turning the rather dull act of watching a high stakes card game into a fascinating sequence of power plays and tension. It’s easy to narrate game-play. “Draw a card, examine it, determine your move” and so on, but I found this to be more engaging than I expected and it wasn’t stretched overlong. It was also a pleasure getting to know James Bond as the author intended. Bond isn’t as inhumanly capable here as he is in the films, and he actually gets a little philosophical after brushes with death. There’s a lot more going on in his mind than snappy one-liners here, which I liked.

The book itself is quite short (about 170 pages), and if the other novels are the same I’ll probably end up reading more of them. It’s a good, quick read, with understated but believable details. I highly recommend reading up on Ian Fleming himself, as well. These stories are all based on his experiences within the British government.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Casino Royale is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  •  From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming – This is regarded to be one of the best in the series.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – For unparalleled diction, look no further. This also has a similar atmosphere of war and intrigue, and a man finding his place in it.
  • The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie – This jumps into the mystery genre, but it mixes the humor and darker forces at work in a similar manner.

Written in Red

15711341by Anne Bishop
Fiction/Paranormal fantasy
3 of 5 stars

This is a frustrating book on several levels. The main issue for me is the fact that the world and characters are interesting but they never DO anything. 80% of this book is Meg sorting the mail, or Simon having meetings and doing paperwork to prove he’s running a business. I guess if the author never worked in an office she’d think sorting mail is fascinating, but it isn’t. The world also doesn’t provide concrete details outside of the mail room….the rudimentary map has a note saying the “geographically challenged author only included the bits needed for the story” and this becomes painfully obvious. We are given no idea of the state of Thaisia (America, I think?) or the surrounding countries/continents named, or how anything is working or even how far apart referenced cities are. I wanted so badly to know more or to have the characters do SOMEthing but it never happened.

To go along with this, many characters reason away strange or bad decisions with a reiteration of “we do this to keep the Others from eating us” and “we do this because we want stuff from Humans” but the whole balance of government and economics is nonsensical and flimsy. I don’t encounter truly dumb characters very often, but there are several in this story and it’s bad enough to be distracting. The plot moves at a glacial pace and the only event happens in the last 80 pages or so – and that only because of horribly bad decisions. “He needed to figure out what was wrong about this [obvious suspicious activity] before something bad happened.” I wish that was more of an exaggeration.

This doesn’t touch on other issues that can problematic for readers – cutting yourself portrayed as useful/pleasurable/just an addiction, and misogyny between ALL male and female characters (literally “If you don’t do what I say Meg, I will eat you! Stupid female!”). Women are in this story to be mysterious/dumb and make bad decisions that they later endure harsh punishment or lectures for. Also something I don’t notice often in stories but here it’s hard to miss. Stranger still that it’s written by a woman…

This is a series of 5 books but I don’t think I’ll be hanging around for the rest of it. I went to a signing by Bishop where she read an excerpt of Vision in Silver and yep, we are still sorting mail and dealing with the same issues from the first one. No thank you. The characters and concept (and nice cover art) are the only reason I give it 3 stars, but I’m being generous.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Written in Red is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Apparently Bishop and Patricia Briggs write in the same vein and have a lot of books out, so if none of this put you off, there is plenty more out there!
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black features vampires living among us with more action and suspense.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor also has magical beings sharing our space with zero mail sorting. See my review here.
  • If mysterious worlds don’t bother you then try Neil Gaiman or Diana Wynne Jones – they know how to do it in such a way that you won’t be annoyed.

Helen of Troy

388697by Margaret George
Fiction / Historical Fiction
3 of 5 stars

I’ve read The Memoirs of Cleopatra multiple times, so I thought I would enjoy this one. The main difference here is that Cleopatra was a real person and had a lot of complex issues to deal with during her short life, and Helen of Troy isn’t real (spoiler) and her main character motivation was “Aphrodite made me do it.”

The first half of this book is great – a retelling of the Greek myth with some more details added in to make it fresh, as good re-tellings do. But once the Trojan War actually starts, it slows down dramatically, and limps to the end. A note from the author explains that dealing with humans interacting with the gods and children of the gods was a delicate process and removing the gods altogether made their character arcs/motivations collapse, and unfortunately she is correct. Helen and the large supporting cast are pushed through the plot, past landmarks like “The Abduction/Flight of Helen” “The Fall of Achilles” and “The Trojan Horse” with little to no character development, all because the various gods and goddesses want some drama. Paris and Helen literally fall in love on first sight because Aphrodite makes it happen. And they never examine their relationship beyond that. The other issue of Helen and other characters’ prescient gifts means that what little suspense could be present is invariably dashed right before it happens, because someone has a vision.

All this would normally give a story 2 stars for me, but damn if George’s writing isn’t beautiful in its (dull) details.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Helen of Troy is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Obviously Margaret George’s other works will be pretty similar since she specializes in detailed historical fiction. Aside from Helen of Troy, she writes about real people.
  • if you want lighter Greek myths try the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (it’s middle-grade)
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer – In case you just love Greek myths generally.
  • Agamemnon by Aeschylus (the Oresteia) – In case you’d like to read more about Clytemnaestra’s family and their murderous rages.

Branching off of this, fantasy novels keep the mythological worlds and powers, historical fiction will remove those elements – within those are many recommendations of course.

What’s new this month

These are all books I’m excited about this March. In no particular order, here’s a little bit about each of them:

The Infinite

3/10 – The Infinite by Lori M Lee – sequel

I got into the debut The Gates of Thread and Stone because of the beautiful cover art. These books are gorgeous – the hardcover has the same image as the jacket. The world-building and character development was a little light for my taste, but the concept was a winner to me. I have yet to see these in brick and mortar bookstores, but my copy arrived a few days ago so I will have a review soon!

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

Shadow Scale

3/10 – Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman – second in duology

I grabbed Seraphina last year on a whim. On the shelf next to all the glossy, moody images of sword-wielding girls, this one seemed to promise something different. The style is rich, with slower pacing, but there was enough suspense to balance it. Seraphina is a compelling character and the issues and questions she faces are thought-provoking.This is one I’ll probably try to pull from a library, but if not it may join my shelf.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

Bones and All3/10 – Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

This was blurbed in my twitter feed and the concept is so unique I just have to check it out. Maren is a teenager trying to make her way in the world with one slight problem: she eats anyone she gets attached to, bones and all. Abandoned by her mother, she searches for her biological father, and in the meantime encounters fellow cannibals. I’m prepared to be grossed out, but I’m hoping there’s more than that in the story to “chew” on (ya gotta, right?).

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

The Walls Around Us

3/24 – The Walls Around Us – by Nova Ren Suma

The author of Imaginary Girls made me fall in love with her style, so I will definitely be checking this out! I know not everybody got into the characters of Imaginary Girls, but I enjoyed the cinematic quality of it. I’m anticipating more chills and hauntingly vivid prose.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

Red3/10 – Red by Alyxandra Harvey

Girl with magical fire-making abilities, mysterious estate, adventures abound – the usual, but I’m in. This is the type of story that begs to be skimmed at the very least, because the secrets are the best part. This is a paranormal romance, which isn’t normally my cup of tea, so there’s a bigger risk of disappoint with this one, but I risk it once in a while.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

8490112by Laini Taylor
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This would have been a full 5 stars if the side characters didn’t feel like sit-com versions of people. The sarcastic best friend, the douchebag boyfriend….amusing yes, but also disappointing because the cardboard characters can’t really hold a scene.

But for the most part this was a theatrical, intriguing revamp of Romeo and Juliet and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Presenting Karou as the Mysterious Girl who is a mystery to herself kept me from raising an eyebrow about her flawlessness.

Spoiler!! (Although this book is 4 years old…)

If you don’t like love at first sight type relationships though, this may not be for you. The reasons they are drawn to each other mystify the characters, and is meant to be ignored in the face of bringing an end to the centuries-old war. However, as someone who has explored many a magic-filled world, the magic system in this story is fresh and interesting, and I couldn’t put this book down until I finished it.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer – This has a similar feel with quick pacing and a moderate level of romance. See my review here.
  • The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman – This is a bit of a stretch in terms of tone, but it features another mysterious heroine who more gradually forms a romantic relationship.
  • Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes – This YA fantasy features a mysterious heroine.
  • Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick – This features a mysterious guy, and there’s slightly more romance.
  • If you want to up the romance much more, try anything by Cassandra Clare.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Try this if you want more time for adventure and a slow-burn romance. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky might be up your alley even though it’s not fantasy, since it also follows a mysterious protagonist. See my review here.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – Obviously if you’d like some good old-fashioned mystery and magic in the same region, you’d find it here.

The Mime Order

17901125by Samantha Shannon
Fantasy/Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars
sequel to The Bone Season, part of a seven-book series

This series does a lot of genre-bending, so “fiction” just about works for me. There’s some magic, some dystopian aspects, some steampunk nuances, the Rephaim are aliens so you could say there’s some science fiction thrown in as well…this series is its own animal. Maybe a sleek leopard with one clunky peg-leg (a metaphor for the enormous amount of indexed terms, voyant orders, and large cast of characters that can blur together at times). For the most part, this leopard makes for a smooth, focused read, but occasionally it develops a limp. Enough with the peg-leg leopard.

My Goodreads review of The Bone Season is as follows: Very good, but I was not “wowed.” Bit of a slow start filled with some confusing exposition, but about 250 pages in, it becomes a much more impressive debut. Biggest credit goes to having a villain (Nashira) that’s not stupid or prone to monologuing, as well as to the enigmatic Warden, who never says too much.

Full disclosure: I was put off enough by the first book that I didn’t re-read it before jumping into the Mime Order. I remembered enough of the general plot that I figured anything else was superfluous, and I was mostly right. A couple moments were alluded to that I didn’t recall, but that’s my due. However, I enjoyed this book a million times more than its predecessor. Maybe because the structure was clearer and I was already familiar with the world, but Shannon’s growth as a writer is very evident. But if a huge cast of characters and lots of made up slang annoyed you before, it still will. That said, this was enough of an improvement from the first one that I will probably read the rest of the series. It was as theatrical as the cover (which incidentally, this book is one of the most beautiful in my collection) and there’s so much more to love here, if you give it a chance.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Mime Order is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads: 

  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – This is a slow-build plot with intense world-building and lighter character development. I confess, I didn’t finish it, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be someone else’s cup of tea.
  • Lirael by Garth Nix – Again, a slow-building plot with a reasonably compelling female protagonist.
  • A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer – Teenage Faris is sent to finishing school by her corrupt uncle so he can continue ruling her dukedom for her. When she realizes Greenlaw College unofficially teaches magic, things get interesting. The comparison to Harry Potter isn’t accurate, I’d peg it for being more similar to A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – Kell is one of the last Antari, magicians that can travel between the four parallel worlds that converge in London. But when he accidentally transports a piece of Black London to Red London, all hell breaks loose. See my review here.

If you want something that moves a bit quicker, try these YA authors:

  • anything by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes – She writes very fast-paced YA fantasy.
  • The Hunger Games or Divergent – dystopian worlds by Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth, respectively, both with female protagonists. See my review of The Hunger Games here and Divergent here.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – We follow a girl trying to survive after the zombie apocalypse. See my review here.

Obviously, if you want to take Shannon’s world to a darker, more realistic level, refer to these masters of dystopian worlds: George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Margaret Atwood

Think Like a Freak

17331349by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner
3 of 5 stars

As usual, there are a lot of good thoughts and interesting connections here, but ultimately, if you follow their podcast at all, you don’t need to read this book. It has some of the better stories from those short segments, but if you’ve read Freakonomics and/or heard the Freakonomics podcast there are no surprises here.

In summary: Never assume you know anything about anything. When you look up information or try to solve a problem or make a decision about anything – remember your own personal biases are going to color your findings, every single time. So when you have reached a conclusion, be open to changing this as new information comes in.

There ya go: brain = retrained

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Think Like a Freak is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

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