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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Red Sparrow - Jason  Matthews

As you can see, I ended up really enjoying this book. The first 30% or so dragged a bit, because Matthews had to do quite a bit of backstory in order to set up the second two thirds. The book starts out with the two main characters going through their training - Dominika in Russia, doing intelligence training and then going to the sparrow school, and Nate joining the CIA and going through the training. Once they meet in Helsinki things really pick up.

 

The time frame of the book is intended to be contemporary - Vladmir Putin is a character and he took power in approximately 1999. There were aspects of it, though, that felt very Cold War to me. In addition, the book makes the claim that Dominika was the first woman to attend Russia's spy school as a prospective agent (as opposed to as a "honeypot" who is intended to compromise men through sex). This piece of sexism gave the book a vintage feel that I wasn't ever able to wholly shake.

 

There were a few style quirks that I didn't like. Matthews put the pseudonyms of the spies (MARBLE, DIVA) in all caps throughout the entire book, which was distracting and unnecessary. The recipes at the close of each chapter were also distracting at the beginning, and although I began to see their value more towards the end of the book, they did nothing to advance the story and could've been left out.

 

In addition, Matthews gives his female spy, Dominika, synesthesia manifesting in her ability to see emotions as a colored aura. This purportedly makes her able to discern when people are telling the truth vs. lies, and the "good" people have auras with pretty colors, while the "bad" people have auras that are ugly colors like baby puke yellow. I feel like the book would've been stronger without this fanciful aspect because it was pretty dumb, honestly.

 

They actual "spy" part - or as the book calls it "tradecraft" - was convincing and many of the details were fun to read. Matthews is former CIA, and his descriptions were authentic. Some of the reviewers mentioned the explicit sex in the book - I didn't really find it all that explicit, although there was a lot of violence, and some sexual violence. The sexual violence was far less prevalent in Red Sparrow than in the Millennium trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc) by Stieg Larssen.

 

The book does end in a bit of a cliff-hanger, with Dominika disappearing into Russia. There was enough of an ending that I'm not going to go directly to book 2, although I want to read the entire series. I am also looking forward to the movie.

The first ten books in Mt. TBR

I'm giving myself 5 weeks to read these 10 books - if I haven't read them by 7/3/18, then I am going to admit to myself that I am not interested enough to actually read them and they are going into the sell-back/donate pile! And, if I read them and they don't make it into the status of "I will definitely read this again," off it will go!

 

Holt, Victoria: The Snare of the Serpent

Hoag, Tami: Ashes to Ashes

McCrumb, Sharyn: If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O

McCrumb, Sharyn: The Rosewood Casket

McCrumb, Sharyn: Ghost Riders

Brent, Madeleine: Tregaron's Daughter

Barbery, Muriel: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Tuck, Lily: The News From Paraguay

Hoffman, Alice: The Ice Queen

Joinson, Susan: A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

Weiner, Jennifer: Good In Bed

 

I'm going to do this every month until I can fit all of my books in my bookshelf without having to double-shelve them, hopefully with some empty space to spare. To fill with new books. Lol!

Reading progress update: I've read 363 out of 431 pages.

Red Sparrow - Jason  Matthews

The story is moving fast and furious at this point! Lots of excitement. Must. Keep. Reading.

Short, skillful and sparse

Call for the Dead - John le Carré

I've been meaning to read John LeCarre for decades, at least. I've heard a lot of really good things about several of the George Smiley books, including The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. One of the issues with my pathological completism is that I am compelled to begin series at the beginning, and often times the better books are further down the reading order.

 

I think that is likely the case here. This is not just LeCarre's first George Smiley novel, it's also his debut novel, which shows in the occasionally tepid plot. It's one of those books about which I can say that I *liked* it all right, but I didn't love it, and I can see that I might enjoy his later books more, once he hits his stride.

 

This was a solid three stars, and I enjoyed the introduction to the British Intelligence service as conceived by John LeCarre. Everything I've heard suggests that I should skip the second book in the Smiley series, A Murder of Quality, and go directly to The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

 

I'm not sure if I will continue with these until after the Summer of Spies overview concludes. I have a bunch of books on the list, and I'm already going to continue with Deighton's Bernard Samson series. I can't keep getting sidetracked, or I'll never get anywhere!

Overfilled bookshelves and other issues

Image result for too many books

 

I was moving a bookshelf out of my guest bedroom, where it had languished during a lengthy remodel, back into my bedroom. As part of this process, I went through the books and took a bunch of them to Goodwill and reorganized the shelves so that they aren't overloaded.

 

This made me realize that I have a serious problem. I either need fewer books, or I need more bookshelves, and my husband will justifiably balk at more bookshelves, since I already have 5 tall bookshelves in "the library". My bookshelves are just ridiculous. Probably half of the books I have are books that I want to keep because I will either read them in the future, or I've read and loved them and will therefore likely reread them. Until I can make a legitimate case that every book I own is either a keeper, part of a collection (i.e., my Agatha Christie collection), or is intended to be read in the near term, then I can't really support a demand for additional book shelves.

 

A lot of what is taking up space on my shelves is YA books and kids books from when my daughter was in middle/high school - she turns 22 in a few days. It makes sense to hold onto some of those (Harry Potter, for example), but it is frankly unlikely that I will reread a lot of them. Once my daughter comes home for the summer in the next couple of weeks, I think that we will go through them and determine which, if any, deserve a permanent place on the shelf. Tamora Pierce and Madeleine L'Engle will make the cut. Stephanie Meyer will not.  She is moving about two thousand miles away in the fall (sobs), and she won't be able to take very many of them with her.

 

In terms of the children's books, I will winnow them down to a single shelf of my favorite read-alouds, and hold onto them in the hope that someday I will have some grandchildren visit.

 

But what I really need to do is start knocking out the unread books that have appeared on my shelves from unknown locations. I think that my first step will be to just honestly evaluate whether or not I am likely to actually read the book in the next 36 months. If the answer is no, then it makes sense to get rid of it. 

 

I'd like to winnow this pile down to a manageable number that can actually be read in 3 years at a pace of one per week, which would be 156 books. After reading, I'll decide if they get to go on the keeper shelf, or if they are going to be released into the world. How do you get rid of your excess books? Do you give them away? Do you take them to the UBS? Do you hold onto them?

 

If step one is acknowledging that a problem exists, then I've achieved step one.  I know I'm not alone in my book hoarding issues - anyone else have similar problems? 

Reading progress update: I've read 90 out of 431 pages.

Red Sparrow - Jason  Matthews

I am pretty sure that my dad bought this book on our shared account, because it's been there since June 5, 2015. After the movie was released, I checked on amazon for the book, and saw I already owned it. This happens to me with ridiculous frequency, since my parents buy books constantly, so I can't really keep up.

 

At 20%, the meeting of the two main characters, Dominika and Nate, still hasn't happened. She just finished "Sparrow School," which is really "watch a lot of porn and completely dissociate sex with intimacy for Russia" school. And Nate just completely screwed up his first assignment, so he was sent to Finland. I'm sure that the "collision" will occur soon.

 

The format is a bit weird - the author includes recipes after each chapter, which feels very dissonant, as I associate this practice with books that are heavy on charm and light on substance. It's sort of odd to read an entire chapter about forced sex school, followed by a noodle recipe.

 

That aside, it's pretty interesting.

Summer of Spies: Book 1

Berlin Game - Len Deighton

Originally published in 1983, I distinctly remember seeing this book - along with the other two in the series - hanging around my parents bookshelves during the mid-1980's. I headed off to college in 1984 and never permanently lived with them again, just spending summers and vacations in their home. I do not think that I ever read any of them, but I was a tennis player, so I was taken with the title conceit.

 

I never read as much espionage as straight up mystery, but I did enjoy Helen MacInnes, and read some of the standard spy novelists, including Ludlum, Clancy (so long-winded), Ken Follett (before he started writing historical fiction) and Nelson DeMille, all of whom I plan to revisit in my summer of spies. I hadn't ever really noticed what a sausagefest spy fiction is until I started making my list yesterday, but women authors are few and far between with this genre. If anyone knows of any, let me know in the comments. I haven't made a list with this few women in years.

 

So, to the matter at hand. Berlin Game is not your standard spy fic. Bernard Samson is an aging spy with an expertise on Berlin who is sent back into the field when one of the British assets starts to look like he has gone a bit wobbly. Sampson is a spy who is the son of a spy, husband of a spy and is well embedded into the British intelligence service. He is a bit world-weary and cynical, and things at home are not great and he's been out of the field for five years. In addition, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that the British service has been infiltrated, and there is a highly placed spy in their midst.

 

Berlin is still a divided city in this book, and the Cold War is in full force and effect. I am not familiar with Berlin, my European travels having taken me to Munich, but not to Berlin, but Deighton's sense of place is palpable and convincing. This is the world of my youth, so I can connect to it with ease.

 

The action is this one is understated, without the frenetic pace that is more common in modern fiction. It unfolds at a leisurely pace, allowing me to get to know Samson, his wife Fiona, and the other men (and a few women) in the intelligence service. Once Bernard goes back to Berlin to try to extract the asset, things pick up a bit, and the end isn't a complete blindside, but it is a bit of a shocker and is quite well-done. I definitely want to read the other two in this first Samson trilogy, Mexico Set and London Match, as part of my summer spy-fest!

 

 

Bring on the drinking

They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

Here ye, here ye.

 

Being that spy fiction seems to be the theme of the summer.

 

And further being that Agatha Christie's spy thrillers tend to be, erm, interesting.

 

And further being that several people have this book on their summer list.

 

It is hereby resolved that:

 

a buddy read of They Came To Baghdad seems to be a necessity and not merely an option.

 

Bring on the gin.

 

 

Let the drinking commence

 

Who's in?

Reading progress update: I've read 152 out of 303 pages.

Berlin Game - Len Deighton

Cold War spy fic takes me back to my youth.

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 303 pages.

Berlin Game - Len Deighton

From the intro:

 

"Until Berlin Game I had fretted and struggled as I tried to retain the pace of the action while expanding the reality of the people in the story. To give my characters a real, or at least a convincing, life demanded more space. Did giving them a domestic dimension mean pressing the pause button in order to relate the dull routines of mortgages, electric bills, children’s ailments and traffic jams? No, that is not the way to treat your readers unless you just don’t care about them; and in that case you should be writing literary novels."

 

 

Oh, snap. Len, I like you already...

 

Shamelessly Stealing: Summer of Spies

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been thinking about my summer reading plans! Wanda commented on my post and mentioned that her theme for the summer was spy fiction - and pointed me in the direction of her reading list.

 

You can find it here.

 

I am shamelessly stealing her idea, because it's such a good one!

 

 

I have a long list of classic spy authors that have been on my short end of my long list for number of years: Eric Ambler, John LeCarre, Len Deighton, Graham Greene and Helen MacInnes included. There are some more modern authors on her list that also look very interesting, such as Mick Herron and Joseph Kanon. And there are a few on my list that didn't make her list, such as Ken Follett and Alan Furst. 

 

Her list is James Bond heavy, and I think that I will stick to the film adaptations of that particular series, but overall, it looks very entertaining!

Summer Reading?

 

When Memorial Day hits, I start thinking about summer reading. I think it's a throwback to my school days, when I would leave at the end of the year with a list of recommended books to tackle over the summer.

 

Do you do this, too? What genres do you like to read in the summer? Is it the same or different from your "usual" reading style? Are you a project reader or a seat-of-the-pants reader?

 

Let's talk in the comments...

It's no Ripley, but it's all right

Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith

I'm going to surmise that this is one of those rare occasions where the movie actually exceeds the book. 

 

Patricia Highsmith was amazing, of that there is no doubt. However, this book was extremely frustrating to read because there are so many terrible decisions being made by the main character, Guy Haines, whose encounter with a psychotic murderer is a terrible turning point in his life.

 

The plot is quite different from what I thought I understood it to be - and perhaps the movie aligns more with my misunderstanding. I went into it thinking it was more of an inverted mystery, and was interested to see where the mistake was made for the investigators to figure it out. I wasn't expecting one half of the plot to be a reluctant participant, and nearly as much of a victim as the murder victims.

 

I think that the biggest problem with this book is that it felt about 100 pages too long, and took fairly close to forever to get to the point. While Highsmith excels at building suspense, the pacing was way off in this one. In addition, the end was sort of anticlimactic. 

 

I'm still a card-carrying member of the Patricia Highsmith fan club, but this was a bit of a disappointment.

Reading slump has hit me hard

 

I hate reading slumps. Nothing is really capturing my interest right now - even my girl Agatha can't do the job.

The Last Coyote is a metaphor

The Last Coyote  - Michael Connelly

Details: This is book 4 in the Harry Bosch series, and is Book 4 in the Harry Bosch Universe. I'm way behind in my HBU reviews - I've read all the way through Blood Work, which is the 8th book in the HBU. 

 

Nonetheless, to discuss The Last Coyote, I must begin with the obvious and somewhat heavy-handed metaphor in the title. Harry Bosch is the last coyote: solitary and lonely, an anachronism in the urban jungle of Los Angeles. This particular book is all about Harry Bosch. 

 

We begin with Harry on suspension for throwing Pounds, LAPD brass, through a window. In order to be reinstated, he needs to be cleared for duty by a psychologist. During his suspension, Harry decides to work on solving the three-decades-old murder of his mother, Marjorie Lowe. Because he's Harry Bosch.

 

I really like this book, although the ease with which Harry puts together the truth about a case that went cold when he was 11 is somewhat, erm, unbelievable. He's a good detective, but really, that's a bit hard to swallow. The identification of the murderer, as well, was very anti-climactic.

 

In addition, I have to add that the idea of Harry's mother, who was, not to put too fine a point on it, a young and attractive woman who was a prostitute, catching the eye of not one, but two, extremely prominent Los Angeles attorneys (including Harry's father, the late, great, Mickey Haller, who was a well-known defense attorney) is, again, difficult to square with the realities of Harry's life. It's very Pretty Woman, which makes it implausible. And this isn't just Harry's rose colored glasses view of his beloved mother - this is the factual background that Harry uncovers.

 

Overall, this is a solid installment, and it clears up the mystery of his mother's murder.

Reading progress update: I've read 60%.

Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith

After reading more than half of this one, and all of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith has overtaken Shirley Jackson as the American woman writing the most terrifying characters in literature. 

 

Moral of the story: do not talk to anyone, anywhere, ever. Do not make eye contact. In fact, pretend to be dead. Yeah, do that.