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review 2018-07-20 16:04
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy / John Le Carré
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John le Carré

A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins George Smiley's chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Well, you couldn’t get much further away from the playboy-spy image than this, could you? George Smiley, the chubby everyman who’s always polishing his glasses, is the antithesis of James Bond. Rather than Miss Moneypenny, there’s a whole department of women known as “the mothers.” And instead of posh casinos, George spends a lot of time in a run-down hotel, reading swathes of paper files.

This is spy work done through the archives, searching for patterns in the paperwork, and through careful interviews with those who have been betrayed and/or let go. We have hints that Smiley had his daring days when he was younger, but he’s now a middle-aged man using his intellect instead of his muscles, carefully piecing together the story. Sometimes he learns as much from what’s not said as from what is said. Plus, he’s reinvigorating his career—sacked because he sided with the wrong person (Control), he is getting his place in the biz back by figuring out which high-level Intelligence man is their Russian mole.

Double agents, backstabbing, and betrayal. What more can you ask for in a novel?

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review 2018-07-20 06:40
The Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany
Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany - Paul Bangay,Cecilia Hewlett,Narelle McAuliffe

In 1967, while doing some shoring up of the outer walls surrounding the Pallazo Vaj, gorgeous frescoes from the 1400's were found hidden inside the wall (one assumes it was a double wall sort of thing).  This became the later inspiration for Monash University's restoration of the Pallazo's car park, back to the Renaissance garden it originally was.  This book is a chronicle, of sorts, of that "restoration".  Explanation of the quotes later.

 

First, let me say this book is gorgeous.  Beautiful in its construction, photography - all of it.   The writing was ... adequate.  Mostly written like University professors submitting committee reports, but on a subject so rich and interesting that, with the exception of one section, it's still easy reading.  (Not sure who Luke Morgan is, and I'm willing to bet he's a delightful, engaging person when he's at home, but his writing is nothing but pretentious gibberish.  I've read articles about quantum physicals that were less opaque and obscure.)

 

So, this book would make a lovely gift - but maybe not for a gardener.  The thing is, and this is my biggest disappointment, that while the book is beautiful, the garden is most decidedly not.  I realise beauty is entirely subjective, and I realise too that this garden needed to serve as a public space.  

 

But 80% of it is GRAVEL.  Hand to god, 80%. According to the book, there were only 4 types of plants used in the entire space: box (so. much. box), jasmine, magnolia and lemon.  Lovely plants, beautifully scented, but nothing else and EVERYTHING clipped to within an inch of its life.  Even the magnolias are forced into a Christmas tree shape.

 

This is the "restored" garden:

 

I'm pretty sure you could still use that as a car park, just sayin'. 

 

So, thus my rating.  Great book, decent writing, horrific garden.  Sorry Monash Uni, that's not a garden.

Source: www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj59sKQ-azcAhVQ7mEKHSyOBWcQjB16BAgBEAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fartsonline.monash.edu.au%2Fexpectations-in-healthcare-testing%2Fevents%2F
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review 2018-07-20 06:23
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

I'm going almost the full five stars on this because it's the best cat book I've read to date.  I've not read a ton, to be honest, but McNamee manages to capture both the science and the essence of the relationship between a cat and its owner.  He is undoubtedly a man coming at the subject with heartfelt appreciation and love for our feline overlords and his advice is rational, sound and passionate.

 

I learned a lot from this book.  I never knew that the sticking out of the tongue was a sign of friendship and acceptance; I always thought Easter-cat just left her tongue sticking out sometimes.  The front leg stretch isn't really a stretch, so much as it's a gesture of acceptance and friendship.  McNamee has me a little stressed out about Easter-cat's insistence on only eating dry food.  Small things like that, as well as much bigger issues like separation anxiety have given me much to think about. 

 

McNamee also talks about a lot of very sticky issues, especially regarding breeding, the cat's need to hunt, and the feral population problem that plagues communities around the world.  His overview of how Italy - specifically Rome - is tackling the issue is an inspiration, if not a complete solution.  I think he does a phenomenal job bringing home the basic idea that cats (and any pet for that matter) are not merely personal possessions or accessories; they are living creatures with as much right to quality of life and dignity as we might and arrogant humans so.

 

This book is a weaving of science and personal anecdotes about the author's cat, Augusta.  Those personal parts are brilliant, and sometimes nail-biting.  Full disclosure:  I flat-out skipped chapter 7 on sickness and death.  I'm a sissy, and the first 6 chapters convinced me that McNamee was going to write chapter 7 with at least as much passion and heartfelt sincerity and there aren't enough tissues in the world to get me through that chapter.

 

I knocked off half a star because some figures at the start seemed to fantastical to be true, and though there is a notes section at the back, those figures weren't cited, leaving me and others feeling distrustful of the data.  Otherwise, I thought this was a brilliantly written, fantastic resource for anybody who wants to be a better cat slave.

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review 2018-07-19 16:28
Even / Andrew Grant
Even - Andrew Grant

David Trevellyan is a Royal Navy intelligence operative who usually works undercover, sometimes with the approval of his masters—and sometimes not. On a seemingly normal evening, he takes a lonely late-night walk between a restaurant and his New York City hotel. A familiar huddled shape in the mouth of an alley catches his eye—a homeless man has been shot to death. Trevellyan steps forward…and a cop car arrives. A split second too late, Trevellyan realizes he’s been set up.

But Trevellyan isn’t worried. He’s a hard man from the shadowy world of Royal Navy Intelligence. He’s been in and out of trouble a thousand times before. But the NYPD quickly hands the problem to the FBI. Trevellyan is sucked deeper into the system. And the British Consulate tells him: You’re on your own now, mate.

With no idea who’s a friend and who’s a foe, he penetrates deep into a huge international conspiracy. The price of failure will be death, and the reward for success will be redemption, both for himself and the huddled corpse from the alley. The motivation will be his cherished life-long belief: You don’t get mad—you get EVEN.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

It’s nice when two different reading plans come together. I’m trying to read at least one book by each of the special guests coming to the When Words Collide conference in Calgary in August and I’m spending my summer concentrating on Spy fiction. So I was delighted to find out that Andrew Grant has written a spy trilogy.

If you are a fan of fantasy spy thrillers like The Bourne Identity or Ian Fleming’s fiction, I think you may also enjoy Grant’s adventures of David Trevellyan. If you lean more towards the John Le Carré or Len Deighton style, you may find this tale a bit ridiculous (as I did). Notably, this author is the younger brother of writer Lee Child of Jack Reacher fame (and he’s probably sick and tired of people pointing that out). Several years ago, my real-life book club read a Jack Reacher novel during our Year of Reading Fluff. We hooted with laughter, speculating about Reacher wearing his underwear inside out or backwards to make it last longer without a wash and were amused by the general unreality of his circumstances. In that regard, it is obvious that Grant and Child share DNA—you need to be expert at suspending disbelief to get into this one!

My biggest hurdle was the “evil genius” Lesley (a Bond type evil villain if there ever was one). This woman ran a supposedly intricate empire and kept her minions (all men) in line by threatening castration. In fact David Trevellyan actually witnesses one of these events about halfway through the book. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was a guy I wouldn’t be working for someone who punished her employees this way. I’m thinking she would need an all-female staff, as men would be gone as soon as the possibility was mentioned.

So, this is spy-fiction lite, as much fantasy as espionage. Lots of action, lots of violence, not much relation to reality. Dick lit, as opposed to chick lit. I will be very interested to hear Mr. Grant’s thoughts at the conference in August.

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review 2018-07-19 10:16
Strange Fascination (Essex Witch Museum Mystery, #3)
Strange Fascination - Syd Moore

Consider my enthusiasm for this series dampened.  This was a very average effort, with a number of problems I couldn't overlook.

 

The biggest is the MC, Rosie.  I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt and say she probably has a long-range plan for Rosie's personal growth, but if so, she's not executing it well.  The MC has a chip on her shoulder about being from Essex and the stereotypes involved in being an "Essex Girl"; the chip is big enough to sit firmly in soapbox/crusader territory, as she frequently fights the good fight against the idea that an "Essex Girl" is cheap, trashy, and dumb.  And then proceeds to refer to vegetarians as "nut-nuts".  And utterly dismiss someone's conversation about ecology, because ... who cares?  And when people fail to fawn over her best friend for being the "black urban goddess" she is, her knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them as backward conservatives. (They were polite, mind you, they just didn't fall to their knees in awe.)  Not sure how she can find the time to fight the Essex Girl stereotype when she spends so much time stereotyping everyone else.

 

The author also seems intent on making Rosie a bit of a dim bulb through the use of scenes and dialog that are obvious choices to highlight her ignorance without showing any desire to correct it.  Again, it's hard to square this with Rosie's righteous mandate to stamp out the cliches.

 

She also spends a lot of time drunk.  Absolutely pissed.  Bottles of Prosecco at a time pissed.  Now, I don't care what socio-economic class you are in or are perceived to be in by others - being a drunk is not classy.  I understand some cultures enjoy the plonk more than others, but sorry, drunk is tawdry in any culture and economic class.

 

So.  MC with contradictions.  It happens, and as I say, the author might have a master plan I'm just not seeing.

 

Unfortunately there were some egregious editing issues too.  Poor and odd word choices (she kept referring to the ground as the floor - is this a common interchange in UK English?), and poorly copyedited, this 3rd instalment felt rushed to press.  The pace dragged too, and the plot was all loosey-goosey.  A more severe editor would have done this book more justice.

 

I liked the story though, once I was able to dig through all the extraneous dead-ends.  I enjoy the factual elements of historical record the author uses, tying them and local legends into her modern day murder plots.  If the author dropped the hypocritical chip on the MCs shoulder, matured her up, dried her out, and tightened up her plotting, she'd have a hit series on her hands.  She might yet, but this book won't be a contributing factor.  I'll be taking a close look at the fourth one (if/when it comes out) before I commit to reading further in this series.

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