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quote 2018-06-19 21:50
“If he did,” I say, “Coop’s too much of a gentleman to make a big deal out of it.” “Gentleman?” Sam says. “He’s a cop. From my experience, they fuck like jackhammers
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review 2018-06-13 01:04
The Final Enemy by Dan Petrosini
The Final Enemy - Dan Petrosini

Imagine Jack Amato as a older, boring, arrogant Peter Parker who never got bit by a crazy spider and became a super hero. I never really warmed up to Jack and he plays center stage for the entire story. He wants to be an investigative reporter but mostly he has contacts where he wheedles info out of people, through begging or guilt trips. I also simply found him boring. I don’t have to like the main character to find them interesting and get into their story (like in Brave New WorldWuthering Heights, or Breaking Bad).

The main premise of the story held promise. A mysterious meteorite has crashed into the Earth and it has a very fascinating power: it grants immortality to most humans. You can still be murdered or die in an accident and there are a few medical conditions it can’t cure. So initially, there’s the breaking of the story and figuring this out. Then we have the sharing of the meteorite so all can benefit. Finally, what happens to the world if the population greatly increases because birth rates remain the same but death rates greatly drop off. Yet there was very little science and I do love my science in my science fiction. What little science bits were included made me cringe. As a biologist, I felt the author was just tossing some genetics terms in there without really understanding what they meant.

The setting was very one dimensional. This story takes place in the later half of the 21st century. Initially, there’s a few remarks about self-driving cars and other tech but we never have any examples. Honestly, this story could take place in the 1980s since the future tech had no role in this story.

All the decisions are made by male characters. Laura (Jack’s girlfriend) and Jack’s granma are the two recurring female characters. They are there to provide support and not much else. Laura initially has her own life but that is quickly minimized. In fact, there’s a scene where Laura is talking with Jack where she tells him she doesn’t want to be eclipsed by him. That gave me a chuckle because that happened several chapters back.

My favorite parts of the story were all the different ways the US government attempted to keep everyone fed. Some of these were pretty straight forward, like limiting the number of births, while others were more radical (and therefore more interesting). There’s also little snippets about how other countries are handling this unexpected world tragedy. I did feel that the tale left some big ideas out such as what people would grow at home to supplement their diet (anything from veggies to mushrooms to insects).

All together, the story has an interesting underlying backbone but it was clumsily executed. The characters were one dimensional and boring. I wanted more science but would have been satisfied with awesome characters had they been there. The story does leave us on a cliffhanger with possible hope hanging ready for Book 2. 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Joseph Kidawski was a good pick for the voice of Jack Amato. He sounds like a corn-fed midwestern reporter and he did a decent job of putting emotion into Jack’s voice. His female character voices were feminine and all his characters were distinct. There were a few times where a sentence or two were repeated. Twice I noticed a slight change in volume. 4/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Dan Petrosini. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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review 2018-06-13 00:34
The Final Correction by Alec Birri
The Final Correction - Alec Birri

Note: This is Book 3 in the series and you really need to experience Books 1 & 2 in order to get this book.

As with Book 2, we start with brand new characters in a different part of the world but it seems to be contemporary with Professor Savage (2028). In the Middle East, the world of Islam has changed, as has most things, with the advent of Savage’s latest technology. He gave the world two major things: the ability to modify your most basic behaviors even from conception and also the world of AI in both virtual worlds and in robots. Very exciting!

Isra and her dad Faruk are our new main characters. The first third of this book explores how the new technologies have affected the up & coming generation as well as the older generations with all their traditions. The world is moving on with or without the traditions of the Middle East and people have to choose. Faruk and Isra are great characters to get these complex themes across. Faruk believes in the old traditions; however, that means he’s easily offended by so many things. Isra doesn’t have a commitment to the old traditions. Also, being a woman, the old traditions limit her. The new technologies set her free. So, lots of great conflicts going on there that I enjoyed watching play out.

Eventually, we rejoin Professor Savage and Dr. Addams in prison. Maria and Emile (who I inadvertently called Emmanuel in my review of Book 2) put in a brief appearance as well. I was hoping for more of them since I really enjoyed their characters in Book 2. Nurse Tracy is now a mom and still devoted to Dr. Addams. So Tracy remains a sex object and a comforter; I had hoped more would be done with her character. It’s a good thing we have some very interesting new characters in this book.

Part of the plot plays out in the real world and part of it plays out in a virtual reality. Some humans are aware of the difference and some are not. Some of the AIs want to preserve humanity and some have become lost themselves and need help or to be put down. At some point I did lose track of what was taking place in the real world and what was happening in VR. Still, it was a very interesting plot.

At the end, there’s a twist and I think I got it… I’m pretty sure I got it… maybe. Or perhaps it was left a bit nebulous so each reader can make up their minds as to how the story ends. At any rate, it has been a wild, crazy, memorable, and entertaining tale. I recommend the series. 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Jonathan Keeble has done another great job. Each character was distinct and his female voices were believable. I liked his Middle Eastern accents and his Argentinian accents as well. There were plenty of emotions in this tale and he did a great job performing them all, subtle or big. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Alec Birri. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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review 2018-05-07 23:43
The Moneypenny Diaries
The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling - Kate Westbrook,Samantha Weinberg
The Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant - Kate Westbrook,Samantha Weinberg
The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel - Kate Westbrook,Samantha Weinberg

I was angry with my aunt for almost a year after receiving the diaries, as I oscillated between the version of history I taught and thought I knew, to that recorded on their pale-blue pages. Almost automatically, I worked at the same time to authenticate them, to verify, to the best of my ability, that they were a true and accurate depiction of the events she described. As far as I could determine, they were. They are. I wrestled with what I should do with her unusual – and, in some senses, unwelcome – legacy.

I decided they had to be published and with that decision came emotional release. It was as if my resentment of my aunt’s subterfuge was liberated by the realisation that she had sent the diaries to me for a purpose. She had wanted me to have them; she had wanted me to know. As I delved deeper into her secret world, I came to understand the constraints she was living under: the reasons why she could not reveal the true nature of her world. It was not just the diktat of the Official Secrets Act. Jane

Moneypenny knew so much about the inner workings of the SIS that it became a liability. It made her an attractive target for enemy officers, looking to penetrate further the London headquarters. Her knowledge was also dangerous in itself; what would happen if she found out more than she should?

 

I first read this trilogy in early 2013, not that long after I joined Goodreads and started this whole book blogging adventure. I wish I had written a review of the three books back then, but I had probably not yet gotten around to figuring out what I wanted to review and how I wanted to do it.

 

It’s a pity, because I distinctly remember that I liked the books so much that I read them in quick succession, but then forgot what the plots were about or why I liked them.

 

This time around, I have been a more mindful reader. A more observant reader.

 

This time around, I noticed also that I have become an altogether different reader. Life, books and discussions with other people do that to you. I’m delighted with this. Who really wants to stay the same person?

 

This time around, I read The Moneypenny Diaries as a reader who is quite familiar with Ian Fleming, James Bond, with the history of espionage during the Cold War, with the works of other ex-spies like Greene and Le Carre. And what can I say, I enjoyed the books so much more for it than even on my first read.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the books are not perfect.  There are a few loose ends, a couple of anachronisms (over the three books, which is not a bad average), and a few things at the end that I'm not sure are logical. Despite all that, these three were so much fun to read and it was so satisfying to find a decent spy thriller in the Bond universe that did not try to emulate Fleming's writing. The original characters were all there, just with more depth and much better setting into the historical background.

 

But what about the actual stories?

 

In Guardian Angel, we are introduced to the story of Dr Kate Westbrook, a Cambridge historian, who has inherited her aunt’s diaries. Her aunt was Jane Moneypenny. Reading her aunts diaries, Kate discovers that her aunt was working for the Secret Service, and had a life that was completely unknown to her family.

Her aunt chose Kate as the recipient of the completely unauthorised diaries because she needed someone she trusted to become the holder of the information and make a decision of what to do with the diaries.

 

Kate decides to publish the diaries and the following storylines emerge:

 

- The Bond stories. This is where Moneypenny's story follows the Bond novels.

- The niece’s story - This is the setup of the series. Moneypenny's niece inherits her secret diaries and decides to publish them - which puts her at odds with the Official Secrets Act. She also tries to investigate some of the loose ends in Moneypenney's life.

- Moneypenny's father: In her diaries, Moneypenny is trying to find out what really happened to him. (Incidentally, this weaves in another real life sub-plot about Colditz Castle...)

- Moneypenny's own story – her personal life and her life in the Firm as set against the events of world history.

 

Sounds convoluted? It isn't. The author really carries this off quite well. 

 

The author, by the way, is Samantha Weinberg, but the books were originally published under the name of Kate Westbrook.

 

Guardian Angel is set against the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis and despite a, not slow, but rather subdued start, one of the agents that Moneypenny works with is getting into trouble.

 

The agent we are talking about is, of course, Bond. James Bond. Moneypenny carries a torch for him but knows full well that this is not a relationship she wants to pursue. They have fun flirting but are much better friends than to start off anything else.

 

I love the way that Weinberg wrote this relationship. There was no swooning, no Bond worship, no patronising comments from Bond, just genuine care for each other.

 

There is another guy in this story who is Moneypenny’s romantic interest but part of the thrill of this story is that we get to get a feel for the difficulty of the characters situation – they cannot know who to trust.

 

We also get a good feel for Moneypenny as a woman in a male-dominated environment. She’s not an agent, but she is also not “just a typist”. Weinberg was spot on in her writing about the time and the place and the roles of the characters. It was one of the aspects that immediately drew me in.

 

As the story develops, Moneypenny takes on more of an assertive role, but we cannot compare her to Bond in any way. Nor should we.

 

In the second book, Secret Servant, we get to follow her as M becomes more confident in her abilities as an agent. Tragedy has struck by this time and we get to see Moneypenny facing her demons by taking on a task for the Firm: to travel to East Berlin and Moscow and extract Kim Philby and his wife Eleanor back to the UK.

 

I am quite familiar with the story of Kim Philby and some of the places Moneypenny travels to, and I was delighted to read that Weinberg had put in a lot of research to have the story follow the historical and geographical facts here. I also loved some of the quips:

 

Thursday, 27th February

We leave in three nights. The plans are nearly set. Philby insisted we travel overland, by train to Leningrad and then north to the Finnish border. He says that’s our only chance. We leave on the midnight train and should not be missed until mid-morning the next day, if all goes as we hope. To give us an extra few hours, Eleanor will stay in their flat that night. The next morning, she has made an appointment at the American Embassy to discuss her forthcoming planned trip home to see her daughter. Sergei knows she is going; it should not cause suspicion. Not until she fails to leave the Embassy compound, by which time we should be almost at the border.

I have the address of a safe house in Leningrad. A taxi-driver will meet us at the station and take us there. Agent 859 will be waiting to escort us to the meeting-point just this side of the border, in the woods near Vyborg. Head of S insists it will work like clockwork, but I don’t think even he believes that. Still, if we can trust Philby – and I suppose we have to, though there are times when a look of uncertainty crosses his face – it is our best chance of escape.

If we can trust Philby.

This is suspense writing as it should be.

 

If you know the story of the Cambridge Spies, Kim Philby could not be trusted, but could he be in the context of this story?

I loved it. Almost every time that I thought I had figured out the plot and characters, I had to question everything because it was just not clear which character could be trusted.

 

This culminated in the third book, Final Fling: Moneypenny’s boss, M, suspects that there is a mole in the organisation which puts the whole organisation not only on edge but also at risk from interference by other government departments.

 

In a way, there were some similarities to the film Spectre, which has really nothing to recommend itself for (imo) other than portraying the close bond of loyalty between the main characters: M, Bond, Moneypenny, and Bill Tanner.

 

At the height of this crisis, the plot was so gripping that I literally had to finish the book in one sitting.

Friday, 23rd October 

My world is going mad, and I fear I am not far behind. Everything I thought I knew is being turned upside down, and I’m not even sure whose side I’m on any more. As I arrived at the Office this morning, James was being marched out, flanked by two large men in ill-fitting suits who had about them the look of retired policemen. He wasn’t struggling, but was clearly unhappy about the situation. 

Events snowball out of control.

Is anyone after me? It seems increasingly like a game from which I’ve managed momentarily to step away. The more time I am here, the more ridiculous that game appears to be. I no longer think it’s worth it. I couldn’t even tell my sister where I was going. I have no one to confide in. I don’t trust my closest friend. I think the KGB might want to kill me. Is that a life? I have four more days here in which to make my decision: whether to stay at the Office, or to go. If I stay, then I have to discover the identity of the Sieve; if I opt to leave, it will be a wrench, separating me from what has been the major part of my life for over a decade, and from the people who have become almost family, and whose friendship I know I’ll lose. If every day I walk from one side of the island to the other, I don’t think I’ll come up with a clear answer. Whatever I do, it will be with regret.

I will leave off commenting on the plot that follows from this, other than to say that Moneypenny’s niece is drawn into her aunts affairs much more than she bargained for, and even years after her aunts death, there is still a threat that needs to be stopped.

 

This was a gripping tale. One that appealed to lover of history, the lover of mystery, and the lover of spy novels in me. Most of all, the re-read also made me think about the use of historical facts in fiction, the use of fiction as historical fact – and most of all about the labels we seem to dish out.

 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the reasons for the re-read was that I saw this trilogy labelled as “Chick-Lit”. Wtf?

Sure, there are a few stories about relationships in these three books. Sure, the book focuses on the lives of two thirty-something women. Sure, some aspects of the stories were less intellectually challenging than others. So what??? Does this make this “Chick-Lit”? If so, what about the original Bond novels?

The only difference between The Moneypenny Diaries and the Bond novels is that Weinstein’s books focus on two female main characters. To slap a “Chick-Lit” label on them and an “adventure”, “spy thriller”, or similar label on the other is just plain wrong.

 

Furthermore, thinking about the whole label of “Chick-Lit” and how basically any book that is about a woman of a certain age and features aspects of that character that involve deliberations of relationships with anyone, could be classed as chick-lit really annoyed me. Why isn’t that just “lit”? And why isn’t there a label for inconsequential novels with a male protagonist ? Or is there?

 

Having used the term “Chick-Lit” quite a few times in this review, I think I’m done with it. For good.

That "chick-lit" label can go and set fire to itself.

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text 2018-05-06 21:45
Reading progress update: I've read 80%.
The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling - Kate Westbrook,Samantha Weinberg

The answers to these questions – if I was going to be able to find them – would not be in Scotland. I needed to return to London. I got up and slid down the hill to the car, and drove to Randy’s house. He was sitting by the fire in the great hall, reading a well-worn book with a red leather cover. I glanced at the title as he put it down: The Lifeline by someone with the faintly ridiculous name of Phyllis Bottome.

YES! YES! Brilliant! A mention of the book that gave birth to the original Bond - Mark Chalmers. How did I miss this on my last read?!?!? 

 

And let me not speculate about the identity of the guy who is reading this book here.

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