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review 2018-07-05 22:22
The Desert Spear / Peter V. Brett
The Desert Spear - Peter V. Brett

The sun is setting on humanity. The night now belongs to voracious demons that prey upon a dwindling population forced to cower behind half-forgotten symbols of power.

Legends tell of a Deliverer: a general who once bound all mankind into a single force that defeated the demons. But is the return of the Deliverer just another myth? Perhaps not.

Out of the desert rides Ahmann Jardir, who has forged the desert tribes into a demon-killing army. He has proclaimed himself Shar'Dama Ka, the Deliverer, and he carries ancient weapons--a spear and a crown--that give credence to his claim.

But the Northerners claim their own Deliverer: the Warded Man, a dark, forbidding figure.


This book is a distinct change of view from the first one, The Warded Man. We must back up and approach this story again, this time from the Krasian point of view. Jardir, who seemed like simply a back-stabbing traitor in book one now has his own version of the same events, giving us an alternate POV in this one.

We learn far more about Krasian civilization, which seems to be heavily based on early Middle Eastern cultures, with warrior values, harems of women, and contempt for outsiders, both non-warriors within the culture & actual foreigners. Many parallels can be seen within Arlen’s agrarian society, which is extremely patriarchal and very hidebound (very like medieval Europe), something which can happen when a society is under siege.

It almost seems, in this installment, that everyone has become much too comfortable with the demon-haunted night. Both societies seem to be channeling their inner demon hunters and the tension of the first book is gone in this regard. Hints are happening that we may soon get the POV of the demons—will they get the same sympathetic treatment as Jardir?

Arlen and Jardir were friends at one point—now they are rivals. Which one will become the great Unifier who will unite humanity and defeat the Corelings (demons)? But while Jardier claims to be the Deliverer, Arlen denies the title just as strenuously. Nevertheless, the demons clearly see them both as threats. These men could also have been rivals over Leesha if Brett had written things a little differently, but that ship seems to have sailed.

I’m displeased that my library doesn’t have book three and there’s no time for them to order it before I see Peter Brett at the When Words Collide conference in August. I’m not usually known for laying out the dinero for new books, but if I can get a bit of a discount at the merchants’ corner, I’ll maybe spring for book 3 (since I note that the library has books 4 & 5).

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review 2018-07-05 20:15
Casino Royale / Ian Fleming
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

In the novel that introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is dispatched to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux. His mission? Bankrupt a ruthless Russian agent who’s been on a bad luck streak at the baccarat table.

One of SMERSH’s most deadly operatives, the man known only as “Le Chiffre,” has been a prime target of the British Secret Service for years. If Bond can wipe out his bankroll, Le Chiffre will likely be “retired” by his paymasters in Moscow. But what if the cards won’t cooperate? After a brutal night at the gaming tables, Bond soon finds himself dodging would-be assassins, fighting off brutal torturers, and going all-in to save the life of his beautiful female counterpart, Vesper Lynd.


***2018 Summer of Spies***

Two things about this book surprised me—first that Fleming was a pretty good writer, second that the book was so short! I’ve never attempted any of Fleming’s fiction before, partly because I saw some of the films of these works back about 30 years ago. You can’t live in a co-ed residence in university without at least having some of these movies on the lounge television set and I think I may have been dragged to the movie theatre as well (back when a movie only cost $5 and a person could afford to go).

Bond in the book is much less charming than Bond on the screen. He’s rougher around the edges and the racism & misogyny of earlier times are very apparent. It’s difficult for me to judge—how much of this is the fictional character, how much is just the zeitgeist of the 1950s, and how much of this is Ian Fleming himself?

I’ve requested a biography of Fleming from the library, to help me try to sort this matter. I’m also intrigued by how much he was influenced by the work of Agatha Christie. One of the very first scenes in Casino Royale involves Bond checking to see if his room has been searched, using exactly the same stratagem as a character in Christie’s They Came to Baghdad (the use of precisely placed, unobtrusive hairs). Undoubtedly Fleming read Christie, so I’m interested in that angle as well.

One can’t claim to have read spy fiction without reading Fleming, so I will pick up Live and Let Die in the near future and continue on during my Summer of Spies.

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review 2018-07-05 17:22
The Good Gut / Justin and Erica Sonnenburg
The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health - Erica Sonnenburg,Justin Sonnenburg,Andrew Weil

Finally, a book about the gut microbiome that actually offers constructive advice! This is what I’ve been searching for, even if I am a bit disappointed with the authors’ recommendations.

First off, there are things that affect your microbiome that you cannot change—if you were born by C-section or weren’t breastfed, there’s nothing that you can about it. Neither can you change the amount of antibiotics that you took as a child.

There are three things that you can do from this moment on, however. First, don’t rush off to your doctor and demand antibiotics for every little thing. Every time you take them, there is nuclear winter for the good microbes in your gut, leaving space for pathogens to muscle in and make you sick. There are times that you will need antibiotics—save your exposures for those time. (Having recently struggled with a nasty skin infection, cellulitis, which made me very feverish and scared, I am very thankful for antibiotics).

The second thing is that we have developed the idea that ultra-clean is ultra-good. Not necessarily so, say the authors. Accept a bit of dirt back into your life. Dig in the garden, get a bit of dirt under your fingernails, pet your dog or cat, don’t stress too much about washing. Of course, clean up to make yourself comfortable and always wash your hands after toilet visits, but your kitchen does not have to have the same level of clean as an operating room. You can benefit by challenging your immune system via the gut and maybe acquire some useful microfauna in the process.

Thirdly, we are starving our good gut microbes. They need the fibre from foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Lots of it. Also keep in mind that our microbiome is a pharmaceutical factory, producing molecules that can affect our lives in unexpected ways. Too much meat favours microbes that produce a cancer causing substance. Finally the whole “eat less meat” message makes more sense to me, although it makes it no easier to follow. Moving away from simple carbohydrates can also be challenging, especially because we enjoy them so much, but they feed the wrong bacteria.

I find this kind of book very inspirational. It’s difficult to change life-long bad habits, but I’m always re-inspired after reading about current research and its ramifications. So I made a happy trip to the farmers’ market last night to buy cherries, raspberries and carrots and I plan to feed the beneficial bacteria as well as I can.

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review 2018-06-28 15:04
They Came to Baghdad / Agatha Christie
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

Baghdad is holding a secret superpower summit, but the word is out, and an underground organization in the Middle East is plotting to sabotage the talks.

Into this explosive situation appears Victoria Jones, a young woman with a yearning for adventure who gets more than she bargains for when a wounded spy dies in her hotel room.

The only man who can save the summit is dead. Can Victoria make sense of his dying words: Lucifer… Basrah… Lefarge.…


***2018 Summer of Spies***

I went into this novel with trepidation, as my friends’ opinions of it are all over the map. I think that reaction to it may be a function of timing & mood—are you in the market for some fluffy, silly spy fun or not?

It does get rather silly at several points—Victoria is remarkably self-sufficient for a Cockney lass who has never been out of London city before. Right after she loses her job, she has a brief encounter with the handsome Edward, which sends her looking for a way to Baghdad! When we are young, we are certainly willing to do ridiculous things to pursue members of the opposite sex that we find attractive, but this is just a bit over the top! Nor does she suffer from culture shock (or not for very long) and is very good at the spy biz, considering her only job experience is typing badly and telling tall tales!

Nevertheless, I couldn’t refrain from speeding to the end, to find out how everything resolved. I could enjoy the cheeky Victoria as she bumped from crisis to crisis and appreciate the other players (Sir Rupert of the swirling cloak, anyone?)

Buddy-reading this with some friends at Booklikes led us to discuss this book vs. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953). The tale that I had always heard was that Fleming got his spy’s name from the bird field guide to the West Indies (by James Bond), but a bit of googling revealed that Dame Agatha beat him to the name, using it for a character in The Rajah’s Emerald in 1934! Of course, it doesn’t need to be either/or, it could be both/and. There is also a scene early in TCTB where Anna Scheele examines her suitcases for tampering which is apparently very similar to a scene in Casino Royale, so now I must read CR in the very near future, while my tired, middle-aged brain is retaining Christie’s version.

I also have to say that I think this book and Murder in Mesopotamia must have been inspirations for M.M. Kaye when she began writing her “Death in [insert exotic location here]” books. I re-read both Death in Kenya and Death in Cyprus last year and to me they seem to have much the same vibe (although Kaye inserts a bit more romance, the atmosphere remains very similar).

All the comparisons made this a much more enriching read than just speeding through a fluffy spy novel, so I thank my BookLikes reading companions very, very much.

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review 2018-06-25 16:56
The Fuller Memorandum / Charles Stross
The Fuller Memorandum - Charles Stross

Computational demonologist Bob Howard catches up on filing in the Laundry archives when the top secret Fuller Memorandum vanishes - and his boss, suspected of stealing the file. Bob faces Russian agents, ancient demons, a maniacal death cult, and finding the missing memorandum before the world disappears next.



***2018 Summer of Spies***


3.5 stars—the best one of the Laundry Files that I’ve read so far.

Perhaps because we’re into historical references that I’ve actually lived through. Younger folk may roll their eyes at all the Cold War references in this volume the way I rolled mine during all the WWII/Nazi references in the first book of the series.

There’s much less computer jargon in this third novel, for which I was thankful. Bob may be a computation demonologist, but he talks more like a regular guy here. There was also a section in the first few pages of the story about “Losing my Religion,” which in Bob’s case means that he must give up his comfortable atheism because of his current knowledge of the eldritch gods who could easily wipe out humanity if their attention was drawn our way. Much more philosophical that you would normally expect from such a fantasy tale.

The series does contain a lot of amusing pop culture references. Bob’s coworkers, Pinky & Brains, show up again in this installment and although Brains is not trying to take over the world, he does take over Bob’s new phone to install beta software that prevents Bob from returning the phone. Bob & Mo also name the phone—the NecronomiPod. Highly appropriate for a series that references Lovecraft in many fond ways. Not to mention Bob’s reading material while on the train, which he describes as “a novel about a private magician for hire in Chicago,” which would seem to me to be Harry Dresden! Plus Bob’s kidnappers at one point ask, “What has it got it its pocketses?” (along with 2-3 “my Precious” occurrences). Stross’ geek cred is maintained with these details.

At least in this installment we learn the significance of paper clips, which perhaps explains the zeal of the Auditors in questioning the Laundry employees regarding their inventories of those office supplies. (It’s not all just the Pointy Haired Bosses trying to make their employees’ lives miserable).

The author (unsurprisingly a former computer programmer) manages to continue to combine elements of James Bond, Lovecraft, and Dilbert successfully to create a funny and readable sci-fi series. The Laundry—successfully defending humanity against the NIAs (Nightmarish Immortal Aliens).

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