Darth Pony

Ruling the galaxy is so overrated.

For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only (James Bond, #8) - Ian Fleming

A collection of five short stories that don’t really add much of importance to Bond canon. Still, I guess it’s nice to know where all those movie titles came from.

 

Quick impressions broken down by individual stories:

 

From a View to a Kill: 3* Just a fun little spy story without much substance.

 

For Your Eyes Only: 2* I liked the bit about the birds at the beginning. The rest was boring.

 

Quantum of Solace: 2* In which a casual remark by Bond results in him – and the reader – being subjected to a lengthy, somewhat dull cautionary tale regarding marrying air hostesses.

 

Risico: 2* Colombo is an interesting character, but the story itself is terribly boring and I skimmed most of it.

 

The Hildebrand Rarity: 3* “He rarely killed fish except to eat, but there were exceptions – big moray eels and all the members of the scorpion-fish family. Now he proposed to kill the sting-ray because it looked so extraordinarily evil.” F*** off, Bond. F*** all the way off. As if I didn’t dislike you enough already. Other than that, it was an engaging story, though there wasn’t much in the way of Bondness about it. It could have been just about any sexist, racist Englishman in the starring role.

Goldfinger

Goldfinger (James Bond, #7) - Ian Fleming

Moonraker II Goldfinger: Because entangling Bond in a nefarious plot masterminded by the ginger-haired millionaire with a bizarre face whom he caught cheating at cards worked so well the first time.

How often in his profession had it been the same – the tiny acorn of coincidence that soared into the mighty oak whose branches darkened the sky. And now, once again, he was setting out to bring the dreadful growth down.

How often indeed, James.

 

Goldfinger didn’t do much for me. At all. Aside from the recycled flavor of the villain, I found the book slow and boring and overwhelmingly “meh”.

 

I’m starting to see how limited Fleming’s bag of tricks was. At least half the women so far who haven’t immediately responded to Bond’s extra-manly manliness have rape in their backstory. Good thing Bond is there with his magic penis to cure them of their reticence. How awesome would it have been if Pussy had run off with Tilly instead of Bond? She might have, too, if Bond hadn’t interfered. Oh well.

 

And is it just me, or would Pussy Galore and her Abrocats have made for a much more interesting book? Not that I would have trusted Fleming to do it justice. Someone should get on that, though. Pronto.

Doctor No

Dr. No (James Bond) - Ian Fleming

Picking up about a year after the events of From Russia With Love, this book finds Bond barely recovered from Rosa Klebb’s kick to his shin (three cheers for Rosa’s poisoned shoe-knife, deflator of egos and humbler of spies). M. wants to ease him back into the field and see if he’s still got what it takes, so he throws him into the shallow end with a routine inquiry in Jamaica. A nice holiday in the sun.

 

A nice holiday in the sun with poisoned fruit, venomous insects, fire-breathing dragons, giant cephalopods, tons of bird poop, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink.

 

Bond is still a racist, sexist bastard and the phonetic spelling of dialects nearly liquefied my brain, but I haven’t had this much fun since Diamonds are Forever. It was cheesy and over the top while still showcasing excellent writing and pacing. And I learned a valuable life lesson about bringing a Smith and Wesson to a flame thrower fight. I thought this was a vast improvement over FRWL in nearly every respect, but I do wish the mortality rate of Bond’s non-British coworkers wasn’t so high.

From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love (James Bond, #5) - Ian Fleming

Oh dear. Where to start.

 

Reading this book, I got the impression that the original manuscript Fleming turned in to his publisher was deemed too short, and subsequently Fleming was required to pad the word count with what is now erroneously referred to as “Part One: The Plan” (a more apt name would be “Part One: The Villain Monologues”). This theory might also explain why Fleming felt compelled to expand – mid-dialogue, in brackets – on the context of the sly digs the Russian officials were dishing out to each other during their interminable who-should-we-kill-to-flex-our-international-muscles meeting which could have been summed up in a single paragraph (and which bore a striking resemblance to an actual love letter to the British Secret Service, which is apparently the bestest on the whole planet because all the other countries except maybe Sweden are stupid, but Sweden doesn’t care about spy scandals. You really are Great, dear Britain. Sincerely, Russia xoxo).

 

Once we wade through the life story of a nameless masseuse and the minute physical description of her client, followed by the life story of said client, followed by the life story of the different branches of Russian Intelligence and their conference room, followed by that interminable meeting which includes the life stories of the department heads, followed by a chess game, followed by more meetings, followed by the life story of this book’s Bond Girl, we FINALLY get to Part Two, which starts off with a bang, and by “bang” I mean a description of Bond’s current state of ennui that’s nearly as interminable as this sentence.

 

And THEN the real story starts. Slowly. Nearly halfway through the book.

 

Someone forgot to put the thrill in this spy thriller.

 

Unless you’re thrilled by 1950s-style racism, misogyny, homophobia, and British nationalism, in which case you may find this a most thrilling work of fiction.

 

I know I've seen the movie, but I honestly can't remember much about it. After reading the novel, I suspect that may be due to a subconscious act of mental self-defense.

Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are Forever (James Bond) - Ian Fleming

This fourth Bond adventure was so much fun that I never found myself making movie comparisons. In my mind, Bond was once again played by a young Hoagy Carmichael, and Kidd and Wint bore a simultaneously hilarious and disturbing resemblance to Penn and Teller. From the locations to the horse racing to the gambling to the villains to the return of Felix Leiter, I really enjoyed this book. If not for the usual racism, misogyny, and Tiffany Case’s gratuitously horrible backstory, this would have been a perfect spy thriller for me.

 

In the case of Diamonds are Forever book vs movie, Tiffany Case had it right: “It reads better than it lives.”

Moonraker

Moonraker (James Bond, #3) - Ian Fleming

Bond is back at the card tables in this adventure, and though we’re told at the beginning that he’s the best shot in the Service, Moonraker seems to reinforce the impression that Bond is just an average bloke who’s good at gambling and super-duper lucky. But he doesn’t always get lucky. Something came to me while reading this book. For an alleged lady-killer, Bond spends a lot of time not killing any ladies. Aside from that one seaside holiday in Casino Royale, he’s either too busy, too injured, or too late to score and all his alleged lady-killing takes place off-screen, so to speak. I hope (in vain, I fear) this trend continues. It makes the constant referring to grown-ass women as girls a tiny bit less grating. (Yes, I know, written in the 50’s, blah blah.)

 

Speaking of grown-ass women constantly referred to as girls, Galatea Brand is my new hero.

 

Who stayed under cover for a year without detection? Gala. Who cracks the case? Gala. Who knows how to reprogram the rocket and save London? Gala. Who probably didn’t really need Bond to save the day? Gala.

(show spoiler)

 

I’ve never seen the Moonraker film so I had no insistent movie images or plot points intruding on my reading. Perhaps that’s why I finally started seeing Bond as a Hoagy Carmichael lookalike instead of picturing Roger Moore. It was a nice change. (No disrespect to Roger Moore, but young Hoagy wasn't at all bad to look at.)

 

Three stars! It probably would have been closer to four had my utter ignorance of Bridge not made the whole gentlemen’s club card cheating subplot dry as unbuttered toast.

Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die (James Bond, #2) - Ian Fleming

This novel drags for the first third, but then the good ol’ 1950s spy thriller cheesiness really kicks into gear and we’re off for another entertaining Bond adventure. Though he was slightly less of a douche-canoe this time and there was a lot more action than in Casino Royale, I actually found the baccarat game more thrilling to read about.

 

I’m still struggling to divorce the books from the movies. Thanks to being raised by a Bond-loving father, I fear my mental image of Bond will continue to shift between the actors who have played him. Oh well. Alternately picturing Daniel Craig, a young Sean Connery, etc., won’t do me any harm.

 

In the meantime, watch out for trapdoors and don’t disagree with sharks.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale (James Bond, #1) - Ian Fleming

When I decided to read the Bond novels, I knew going in that the Bond character is a disgusting misogynistic asswipe of a double-oh bastard. He was less of a Gary Stu than I was expecting, which was a nice surprise. He screws up, he faces the consequences, he doubts himself, he recognizes his own hypocrisy. He’s a fallible mortal, which I found quite refreshing since (for some inexplicable reason) I was equating these novels in my head with Clive Cussler’s early offerings. He’s not as Dirk Pitt-like as I’d feared, thank God. That said, I won’t pretend I wasn’t rooting for a certain carpet beater, but the less said about that the better.

Rogue One

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Alexander Freed

The last time I reviewed a Star Wars movie novelization, I mentioned how books based on movies rarely outshine the theatrical production.

 

Rule, meet exception.

 

I loved the Rogue One movie. I had problems with it and didn’t think it was the best Star Wars movie ever (it’s not even in my top three), but I loved it.

 

I loved the book more.

 

Alexander Freed gets into the heads of all the principle characters and develops the living daylights out of them. You want actions and attitudes explained? Done! More comprehensive backstories without bogging down the pace? Here ya go. Character motivation? You betcha! Basically, he did an outstanding job and I freaking loved this book more than the movie, which I loved so much I nearly cried in the theater, and I am not a crier. The book had me even closer to tears. So there you go. Five geeking out fangirly Star(War)s.

Reading progress update: I've read 10 out of 319 pages.

— feeling cat
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Alexander Freed

The Bone Clocks kind of put me in a book coma. I'm trying to shake it off and read anyway, but I keep finding myself spacing off and wondering how Atemporals would fare in the Star Wars universe.

The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell

This book was in the back row of one of my double-stacked book shelves. Out of sight, out of mind. I forgot I’d bought it some time ago (and paid extra for the prettiest cover), which is unfortunate, because Slade House would have made SO MUCH MORE SENSE from the start if I had read The Bone Clocks first.

 

Alas.

 

It was the use of the phrase “bone clock” in Slade House that reminded me I had this book. Better read late than never, I suppose, and Slade House was fresh enough in my mind that I was still able to connect a whole bunch of dots. Yay.

 

As for The Bone Clocks, I loved it. I still dislike present tense and Ed’s POV section seemed largely unnecessary, but those are my only complaints. I still love Mitchell’s storytelling, and I think he outdid himself here. Interesting characters with interesting stories (for the most part) tied together by an even more interesting string of events is something Mitchell does really well. In this case, the overarching story is a lot more cohesive than Cloud Atlas or even Slade House, and it builds slowly and almost sneakily to a pretty cool climax. As a bonus, there’s the usual smattering of book recs contained within the text, and while I’m looking for them at the library I might see if I can also discover the symbolism of birds on spades.

Slade House

Slade House - David Mitchell

I still dislike present tense narratives, and I dislike them even more when the tense periodically shifts back and forth from present to past, and I almost didn’t make it through the asshole cop’s POV in the second chapter. But I’m glad I stuck it out. I still like Mitchell’s storytelling, and all the other POV characters were far more likable than the asshole cop. The story here is interesting and entertaining, if a bit light on the horror. If that’s what you came for, adjust your expectancies accordingly.

Pimpernel and Rosemary

— feeling sleepy
Pimpernel and Rosemary - Emmuska Orczy

This is a pretty basic Pimpernel story with a little variation here and there, set in a different time period and with a different cast. In some ways it evokes The Scarlet Pimpernel, with Rosemary in place of Marguerite faced with a “terrible either-or” put to her by the villain. Unfortunately, Orczy’s writing style doesn’t lend itself as well to the 1920’s as it does to the 1790’s. I struggled to connect with a single character and found myself skimming over a whole lot of Rosemary’s repetitive internal agonizing. Oh, and if anyone named Lord Tarkington ever starts monologuing his life story at you, just run. That is a good ten to fifteen minutes of your life that you will never get back.

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel

— feeling love
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel - Emmuska Orczy

Though I didn’t much enjoy the last Pimpernel short story collection I read, I wanted to end the reading year as I began it: with Baroness Emmuska Orczy. This delightful short story collection beats the pants off the other collection (The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel) like Sir Percy beats the pants off Chauvelin every time they clash. Though many of the plot elements are similar to those of the novels, more effort was made to craft them into mostly-original stories which I thought made a lovely addition to the series.

 

I’m glad my 2016 reading ended on a high note. So glad I want to hug this book. ♥

Drowned In Moonlight, Strangled By Her Own Bra

— feeling cry

What happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands??? But your bra doesn't—so you get strangled by your own bra.

Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obit—so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.

~Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why there's no underwear in space. Give 'em hell, my gorgeous princess with a blaster. Love you always. ♥♥♥

The Bloodletter's Daughter

The Bloodletter's Daughter (A Novel of Old Bohemia) - Linda Lafferty Lafferty makes fast and loose with history in her fictional account of the life of Markéta Pichlerová. She paints her as an intelligent, ambitious, rebellious, arrogant, naïve teenager, a combination of attributes which prompts decisions that root her firmly in too-stupid-to-live territory. The historical detail of village life in 1600's Bohemia is quite interesting, though I can’t attest to its accuracy. I thought the pace dragged from start to finish, the dialogue got super clunky on occasion, the plot took a strange and seemingly pointless twist or two, and I wasn’t really invested in any of the characters, not even the ones whose fates weren’t recorded in the history books. It’s okay for what it is and I’d give this author another try, but to be totally honest I spent a large portion of the book wishing Tracy Chevalier had written it instead.