FOREVER AND A DAY: THE BEGINNINGS OF BOND. JAMES BOND.

James Bond is one of those characters, like Sherlock Holmes, who fascinates people above and beyond the original stories that created him. Generations of moviegoers have watched several different actors portray Bond in films reflecting the times in which the movies were made, more than reflecting the character from the books (this is also true of Sherlock Holmes, of course). Even after the death of Ian Fleming in 1964 (bet that surprised you, because we all thought he’d been around much longer than that; it certainly surprised me), other people have attempted to reboot James Bond in books, with varying success.  

Once again we have a “new” James Bond book, the prequel to Casino Royale, in which Bond made his first literary appearance.  This one, Forever and a Day, has the advantage of being written by Anthony Horowitz.  Horowitz is a genius for imitating the works of different authors, as well as writing his own work.  He did a superb job of writing a Sherlock Holmes novel (House of Silk), he’s written an Agatha Christie pastiche (The Magpie Murders) and he’s written another, well-regarded James Bond novel (Trigger Mortis, in 2015), so he’s well qualified to put himself in Fleming’s shoes and create a young James Bond, right before he became 007 and got his license to kill, and showing the early development of the character we’ve come to know and love.

The book begins with the death of the last agent whose number was 007.  James Bond, an up and coming would-be agent, is elevated to 00 status, and sent to the French Riviera to infiltrate a drug smuggling network his predecessor was working on at the time of his death. Because this is the beginning of his career, Bond is not the super sophisticated secret agent of the later books and movies, and is still learning his craft. Here in this book, in addition to the intrigues and the double-crosses, the terrible villains and the exotic locations, we see the origins of some of Bond’s later famous characteristics: his favorite weapons, his favorite drink (shaken, not stirred), and cigarettes. He meets and falls for a sophisticated older woman, who, in classic Fleming fashion, may or may not be working on his side.  He runs afoul of Scipio, a grotesque evil drug lord, and somehow has to

If you’re a fan of Bond, either from the books or the movies, you should definitely check out Forever and a Day.

 

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PRACTICAL HELP FOR TIME TRAVELERS

Say you’ve invented a time machine. Or maybe you’ve stolen a time machine from someone else who invented it.  Or maybe you just happened to find out a way to go back in time. Very exciting, right? But you don’t realize how difficult it’s going to be to live in a different, more primitive, time, without all the conveniences you take for granted.  And I’m not just talking about computers and cell phones and the like; I’m talking about things like fabric, or buttons, or tea or coffee, or alcohol. The culture shock alone would be devastating.

Unless, of course, you’d read (or brought a copy of) How to Invent Everything by Ryan North. I believe there’s an unwritten rule that all nonfiction books have to have a subtitle (check it out sometime and see if you don’t agree with me), and in this case, it’s the subtitle that makes the book’s relevance clear: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler.

The time travel aspect is brilliant.  The premise is that there is this time machine you’ve purchased (it even has a number!), and unfortunately something’s gone wrong, and of course there are no repairable parts in this time machine, so you’re stuck. It then gives you a little flowchart to help you figure out when you’re stranded, based on what’s around you (including whether you’re before the Big Bang or not, whether the earth has a moon, whether there are animals, what kind of animals you see around you), and then proceeds to tell you what you need to invent in order to survive.

You may be thinking this sounds a little science-fiction-y, and the premise certainly is, while the tone is entertaining and light (I wish there were more repair manuals for actual technology written with such a sense of humor). But make no mistake about it: the information in the book, when it comes to explaining why certain things are necessary (charcoal, for instance, is important for more than just doing great barbecue), and how to invent them, is entirely accurate.  If you actually did have to invent, say, penicillin, based on the information in this book, you could do it.

But, aside from the entertainment value (and I’m not going to disparage science presented as entertainingly as it is here), the book is great for opening your eyes to how much we take for granted, how certain basic aspects of human life (like spoken and written language, for instance) were first developed (and more or less when they were first developed, which may surprise you if you’re not into anthropology and similar subjects).  This is also the kind of book you can open just about anywhere and get a good laugh and learn something new. Even if you haven’t got a time machine just yet.

 

ON THE REBOUND: THE PROPOSAL

Have you ever watched a ball game and seen one of those proposals on the Jumbotron and wondered whether this was really a romantic gesture or a sign of pure stupidity?  I always hope, when I see one of those scenes, that the couple in question have already been talking about getting married and are both pretty sure the answer is likely to be “yes” before making such a public gesture. There have to be times, however, when someone makes a serious mistake in making some spectacular public proposal, like asking someone whose answer is likely to be “no” or “I hadn’t even thought about it and now that I have, I don’t want to”.  How awful would that be?

That’s the initial situation in The Proposal, by Jasmine Guillory, a new quirky romantic novel.  Nikole Patterson has only been going out with this guy for a few months when she accompanies him to a Dodgers baseball game, and is given the unpleasant surprise of her life when he proposes to her via the scoreboard.  She has no desire whatsoever to marry him, but what an awkward position she’s put in when she says no, in front of millions of people! As her (now former) boyfriend and his friends turn on her in indignation and camera crews approach to film her, she is unexpectedly rescued by a handsome stranger, Carlos Ibarra, who swoops in and pretends to be an old friend, getting her out of a difficult situation with flair.

Since this is 2018, Nik’s troubles aren’t over when she escapes gratefully with Carlos from the ballpark to a bar to be supported by her friends.  The video of the proposal and her reaction to it goes viral (of course), and she’s in a world of hurt and embarrassment on social media. To her relief, Carlos is there for her during all this, too, but she knows someone as good looking and personable and smart as Carlos can’t really be looking for a romantic partner, and certainly wouldn’t be trying to find one this way. So, sure, she’ll have fun with him, hang out and enjoy his company, but she knows better than to expect anything more lasting from him.  Or does she?

This is a romance (think romantic comedy and you’ve got the right mood), so of course there’s going to be a happy ending, and along the way you’ve got charming characters to enjoy (including Carlos’ family and Nik’s female friends).  Watching someone rise from humiliation to joy is always a good thing, and especially with all the dark things going on in the world these days. Take a break and check out The Proposal.

 

TRULY UNIQUE WESTERN MYSTERY: THE BEST BAD THINGS

If you’re bored by the usual detective stories or the usual historical novels, or if you think you’ve seen it all in westerns, do we have a book for you!  The Best Bad Things, by Katrina Carrasco, is a unique combination of mystery, western and historical fiction, with some gender fluidity and cross-dressing thrown in to make it still more interesting.

The setting is Port Townsend in 1887, a wild and woolly frontier town in Washington State.

Our main character, Alma Rosales, is quite a character. She had been trained by the legendary Pinkerton Detective Agency as a detective, but got fired for bad behavior, including her penchant for disguising herself as a man.  She then switched sides in the war on crime, coming to work for Delphine Beaumond, her former lover and now the head of an opium smuggling operation. When a shipment of opium goes missing, Delphine wants it tracked down and Alma is delighted to take the job.  Disguising herself as Jack Camp, she infiltrates the opium gang, gaining the trust (she thinks) of the union boss (a man who’s very interesting to her for other reasons as well) and her fellow workers, finding out what happened to the opium and who’s the traitor in the organization, while at the same time sending messages to the Pinkerton investigators who are closing in on the gang, trying to dissuade them from cracking down just yet.  

She’s having fun playing all these different roles, but as double crosses and betrayals mount up and it becomes harder and harder to tell who’s on whose side, Alma runs the risk of letting something slip and being uncovered as a spy, a traitor, a woman, in an environment where any of those things could cause her destruction.

A complicated plot, a vivid and detailed setting, and a main character like few others in mysteries, westerns OR historical novels make this one to check out.

 

OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER: AN ELDERLY LADY IS UP TO NO GOOD

Sometimes the very title of a book tells you exactly what you’re in for.  A great example of this is the new book, An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, by Helene Turston.  It’s officially listed as an international mystery, but I would put it in the category of “quirky”, or even “black humor”, and if you have a taste for the unusual and see the humor in extremely dark situations, this could be the book you have to read next.

The protagonist of the book, Maud, is an 88 year old woman, living in what amounts to a rent-free apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden.  She acquired the apartment when she was just 18, when her father died, and learned in the process that sometimes very good things can result from what look like bad things.  She then went through her life, surfing the net and traveling the world, living alone and doing what she wanted.

Now she’s 88 years old, a retired teacher, the very picture of a fragile, elderly woman who might even be on the verge of dementia, the very last sort of person anyone would suspect of resorting to murder to get her own way, but of course, appearances can be deceiving.

Maud is easily annoyed. She just wants to live her life her own way, and if people would just leave her alone, she would be happy, but no, all these different people keep interfering with her and she has to take extreme steps to stop them.  Take the celebrity who’s got her jealous eyes on Maud’s free and spacious apartment. Maud has lived there all her life, and she is NOT going to let someone else take it away from her, no matter how famous the person is or was. And then there’s the lawyer upstairs who beats his wife and makes such a racket he’s going to ruin Christmas for Maud.  No way is she going to let this continue. And what about the young gold-digger who’s gotten engaged to Maud’s former lover? Clearly the little bimbo has to go, and Maud is just the one to get rid of her. Some antique dealer thinks he can take advantage of Maud just because she’s old? He’s going to get a big surprise, one he isn’t going to like.

Can someone who appears to be just a sweet little old lady get away with murder, not once but multiple times?  Read the stories contained in An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, and you’ll find out.  If you’re heading towards an age when people start to underestimate you and assume frailties you don’t have, you’re especially going to enjoy this one.

 

HALLOWEEN NEW HORROR READ: ALICE ISN’T DEAD

On the eve of Halloween, maybe you’re looking for a good horror book, and maybe you don’t want to read something by Stephen King (and of course not all his books are horror, especially lately), or something classic (though you still have time to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, if you haven’t already).  Joseph Fink, one of the creators of the brilliantly strange podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and author of two Night Vale books, Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours! (both of which we have here at The Field Library, in case you’re interested) , is ready to give you what you need, with his new book, Alice Isn’t Dead.

Like the Night Vale books, this, too, is based on a podcast (under the rubric of “Night Vale Presents”), so if you’ve been listening to the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast, you probably have an idea of where the story is going, though this isn’t really a novelization of the podcast but a slightly different telling of the story.

Our protagonist is Keisha Taylor, who lived happily with her wife, Alice, a long-distance truck driver, until Alice disappeared. Torn by grief, Keisha searched desperately for Alice but eventually decided that her wife must have died, and went through the formalities of a funeral and grieving.  So far, a sad story, but one grounded in the real world.

Until Keisha starts seeing Alice on her television, not in the foreground, but somewhere in the background of news reports of accidents and disasters. She refuses to believe that she’s hallucinating, and sets out to find her beloved wife by taking a job with the same trucking company that employed Alice and driving around the country, searching for Alice.

During her trips around the country (as she admits at the beginning, this is a book about road trips, among other things), Keisha encounters the Thistle Man, a truly terrifying character, and gradually discovers that the trucking company she’s working for isn’t what it seems, either, and that there is a war going on between powerful supernatural entities taking place right here in rural America, under the very noses of the government, but unknown to ordinary people.  

This is, on one hand, a book about terrifying monsters and supernatural wars and massive conspiracies, which is classic horror stuff, but it’s also a book about some truly tough women and the power of love to overcome even the worst circumstances.  If you’re already a Joseph Fink fan (I am), or if that description sounds intriguing to you, come on in and check out Alice Isn’t Dead, just in time for Halloween.

BEFORE ANNE: MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is a classic, another of those books that many generations of readers (especially but not exclusively female) have enjoyed, a book that has been turned into movies, musicals, and television series (including the most recent Canadian series, Anne with an E).  It’s the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan girl with a huge imagination who is sent from an orphanage to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, sister and brother in their 50’s and 60’s. They had originally wanted a boy, and stern Marilla wants to send Anne back, but after a while Anne charms them both into keeping her around, and thereafter she has all kinds of adventures coming of age on their farm.  It would be difficult to add anything to Anne’s story (which had numerous sequels), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to come back and examine this beloved classic. One way is to consider the character of Marilla and try to imagine how she became the somewhat harsh woman she is at the beginning of Anne, and this is what Sarah McCoy does in her new book, Marilla of Green Gables. This is a risky undertaking; sometimes it works and you get a new insight into the minor characters of the famous work (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for instance, which is just brilliant) and sometimes it’s a really bad idea and you find yourself wondering why the author of the new book didn’t just create his or her own character rather than trying to shoehorn another author’s character into this new story (I’d put March into that category, for instance).  Fortunately for us all, Marilla of Green Gables falls into the first, rather than the second, category.

Marilla, growing up in Avonlea, is a spunky, intelligent young woman who has ambitions and dreams and even the beginnings of a relationship with a neighboring boy (John Blythe; if that last name rings bells to readers of Anne of Green Gables, there’s a reason for it) when tragedy strikes her family: her beloved mother dies in childbirth, and Marilla, then only 13, finds herself stepping into her mother’s place in the household, taking care of her father and her brother, Matthew, and helping to run the family farm.  There weren’t a lot of options for girls in rural Canada in the 1800’s, but her late mother’s sister, Izzy, has made a career for herself as a seamstress in the city, and Marilla gets a sense of possibility from seeing her aunt’s life. She also gets involved in the wider world of politics, both the Canadian politics of independence from Great Britain and the abolition of slavery from the United States (remember where the Underground Railroad was ultimately leading).  As we watch Marilla develop into the guarded but full-hearted person we know from Anne, we also get to see the development of other beloved characters, including her taciturn brother, Matthew (who even gets a romance in this prequel; of course we know it’s not going to work out and that Matthew and Marilla will both be single and living together in their 50’s, but still, it’s good to imagine a Matthew in love), and her friend Rachel, not to mention John Blythe, father of another very important character in the Anne universe. The book gives life and fullness to the existing novels instead of trying to change the characters who are already so well known and loved.

The highest praise anyone can give to a book like this is to say that it’s worthy of its predecessors.  If you’re a fan of Anne of Green Gables, check out Marilla of Green Gables and enter Avonlea in a time before Anne, the better to understand and appreciate Anne’s world.

 

DON’T BE AFRAID OF SCIENCE FICTION: THE NEXT READING CHALLENGE CATEGORY

As many of you know, this year The Field Library is running a reading challenge in which we have a number of different categories in which people are encouraged to read, ranging from how-to book to cozy mysteries, from manga to books about natural disasters (yeah, we are deliberately all over the place; the goal is to get everybody to read outside their comfort zones).  Our latest category is “Read a Science Fiction Book”, and if you’re the kind of person who sees the words “science fiction” and automatically thinks, “not for me, that’s not my kind of book,” allow me to disabuse you of that notion and encourage you to try one of the many different kinds of science fiction books we have here at The Field Library.

Of course we have the classics, the books by H. G. Wells and Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and the names you’ve probably heard many times before.  If you’re a fan of classic science fiction, you might want to check out one of our collections of short stories from the classic era, like Women of Wonder: The Classic Years: Science Fiction by Women from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, or Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, to add to your repertoire.

But what if you’re not into classic science fiction?  You still can find something in this category you’ll enjoy reading, because the category is so broad.

Let’s say you want something funny to read, something not too deep, something that will make you laugh aloud.  Try Space Opera by Catherynne Valente (reviewed here), or try any of the books in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.  The destruction of the earth to make room for an interspace bypass is just the beginning of this very quirky and funny series, which leads us to the reason the earth was built in the first place and the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything (42, just for your information), not to mention the causes of the most deadly war in galactic history.  You get to meet the one-time President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (my favorite character), Marvin the Paranoid Android (immensely quotable), and a host of other bizarre creatures. Better yet, all the books are relatively short and fast reads, so you can devour them quickly. Oh, and if you saw the ill-conceived movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, don’t let that prejudice you; the book is so much better.

Or perhaps you’re more of a graphic novel kind of person.  There are some terrific science fiction graphic novel series, but let me point you in the direction of two that I particularly love.  There’s Y: the Last Man, by Brian Vaughn.  The premise is that all of a sudden, all male mammals in the world (including those in utero) died, with the exception of one man, Yorick Brown, and Ampersand, his Capuchin monkey.  An all-female society struggles to deal with the immediate chaos and the question of what actually happened and whether it can be fixed, with the probability of human extinction looming over them all. Filled with fascinating characters and a plot that twists and turns, the series keeps you turning pages.  Saga, also by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples, isn’t finished yet (and we all know my rule about not reading series until they’re finished, a rule that I have violated from time to time), but it is so wonderful I’m willing to wait for each installation. You might say Saga is a story of star-crossed lovers from different races which are at war with each other, and that is part of the story, but only part.  Alana and Marko shouldn’t have anything to do with each other, but they fall in love and have a child, Hazel (who grows up over the course of the series), and it seems as if everyone in the galaxy is out to get them for various reasons. Just describing the cast of characters gives you an idea of the breadth of the worlds Vaughn and Staples have created: a ghost babysitter, a giant cat that announces whether someone is telling the truth or not, robot people, amphibian characters, winged people, horned people, people who look like giant insects.  And all of them are characters, with families and politics and relationships and issues of their own.  Somehow the authors keep all the plot lines clear and ever-developing. The art is amazing, wonderfully visualizing the worlds and the people who populate them.  Try just the first volume and you’ll be hooked.

You can also get your mind blown by big concept science fiction, like Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, reviewed here, which talks about what the world would be like after catastrophic global climate change causes all the oceans to rise dramatically, focusing specifically on how New York City would deal with being partially underwater.  Or you could read Semiosis by Sue Burke, which I reviewed here, a book that follows generations of settlers on a world where the dominant intelligence belongs to plants rather than mammal-like beings.  

Or, if you’re not sure whether you’re going to find something you’ll like, try short stories.  One of the best ways to see what speculative fiction is all about is to check out what the people in the field think is the best stuff being written.  Try one of the Nebula awards compilations, or any one of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year collections, and you’re sure to find something that speaks to you.

In retrospect, maybe I should have narrowed the category down when I was setting up the challenge for this year, because there’s so much science fiction here at The Field Library, and of such variety, but that should just make it easier to test the waters, try something new and get a sense of how broad and wonderful the genre actually is.  Come to The Field Library and check out our display if you want some more ideas.

 

TIME FOR SOME CATS

As most people who know me know, I’m a cat person (though I like dogs, too), which is part of the reason why, in addition to all the novels about dogs (the mysteries of David Rosenfelt, for instance, and the Chet and Bernie mysteries of Spencer Quinn, as well as the books by W. Bruce Cameron, just to name a few), I’ve gone to some effort to balance the scales and get books featuring cats.  It just so happens that this week we’ve got two new books, both of which have cats as main characters. If you need a break from the ugliness of the world, may I recommend taking one of these books out?

The first is an international bestseller: The Travelling Cat Chronicles, by Hiro Arikawa.  Nana, the cat, has the crooked tail that is a sign of good fortune, and his life has been marked by good fortune since he was adopted as a stray by Satoru.  When his person takes him on a trip around Japan in their silver van, the official story is that Satoru is going to visit three old friends, but after a while it becomes evident that Satoru is looking for someone who can take care of Nana because he is no longer going to be able to do so.  Much of the book is written from Nana’s perspective, and the author obviously knows and loves cats to be able to give Nana a voice that any cat lover will find utterly believable. Japan, its countryside and its people, forms a major character in the book, and, while you have a strong sense that this is not going to be a book with a happy ending, still the relationship between Satoru and Nana is charming and moving, and makes this a lovely escape from the nastiness of current events.

The second is a sequel to last year’s Molly and the Cat Cafe, by Melissa Daley.  At the end of that book, Molly the cat had found herself a home in Debbie’s cat cafe in the little town of Stourton-on-the-Hill, and at the beginning of Christmas at the Cat Cafe, Molly is happily ensconced in feline paradise with her kittens and her person, but naturally things change, and, from Molly’s point of view, the changes are definitely for the worse: first Lidia, Debbie’s sister, moves in with her dog, Beau (much to the cats’ chagrin), and then, to make things even harder, Debbie adopts a new cat for the cafe, and people are starting to pay more attention to Ming than to Molly, leading to serious feelings of jealousy on Molly’s part.  But fear not, Christmas is in the air*, and Molly and her person are going to find some Christmas spirit to make everything work out.

If you’re a cat person, these are definitely the books for you, but even if you’re not, give them a try and you just might find yourself being seduced into looking at our furry friends with a different perspective.

 

*Yes, I know there are people reading this who will cringe at the very mention of Christmas when we haven’t even celebrated Halloween yet, but this is the time of year when the Christmas books come out, so brace yourself.

RETURN TO THE CLASSICS: LITTLE WOMEN THE NOVEMBER BOOK GROUP SELECTION

After a stimulating discussion of the effects of war on people, good and evil and other deep topics in our review of The Nightingale, the Field Notes Book Group voted for the book we’re going to be reading and discussing in November: the ever classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Right before we voted for the book, I asked for a show of hands for everyone who has read the book in the past, and all of us raised our hands, though many people hadn’t read it in years (myself included; the last time I read it was when I was 12, which was a LONG time ago).

It’s not a book that needs much introduction, since not only has it been read for over 200 years but it’s been made into movies numerous times and (just to show that it’s still a big deal even in 2018) is currently both being made into a movie to come out in 2019 and the subject of a nonfiction book, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux.  Even if you’ve never read the book, you’ve almost certainly been exposed to one of the movies, whether with Katherine Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor or Winona Ryder, and if you’ve read the book a long time ago, it’s always interesting to take another look, as an adult with different life experiences, at a book you read and loved as a child or teenager.  For instance, I want to see if I still, as an adult, think Amy is a totally annoying brat, or if I can find some way in which Jo’s marriage makes sense for her character.

The book group will be meeting on Saturday, November 17, from 11 to 12:30 in the Field Library Gallery, as usual, and we will have coffee and donuts to keep us going through our vigorous discussions.  Copies of the book will be available at The Field Library circulation desk probably later this week, so come in and pick up your copy and get ready for a blast from the past with the next Field Notes Book Group.