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Thunderball (James Bond, #9)

Thunderball (James Bond, #9)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.78
book published: 1961
rating: 4
read at: 2018/09/19
date added: 2018/09/19
shelves:
review:

James Bond is BACK!

After a disappointing outing in Goldfinger and an appetizer of juicy vignettes from For Your Eyes Only, Fleming has brought Bond back to all his former, pulpy glory in a new adventure in an exotic locale with a brand new enemy–SPECTRE–in the ever-thrilling Thunderball!

The first few chapters seem to play with the audience’s criticisms about Bond: M thinks he’s tired, possibly washed-up, and sends him on a mandatory holiday at a health spa in the country learning to fast, eat vegetables, cease smoking and drink, and other “un-manly” things that were the new health craze at the time. The retreat really serves as a reboot in the series. Bond casually investigates a fellow inmate, the inmate tries to kill Bond in retaliation, and Bond responds in kind. Very typical “tough guy” Bond that we all know and love. All the while, Bond begins to soften somewhat and take on a more healthful visage; he returns from the retreat energetic and healthy, much to the delight of M but receiving the uncharacteristic reprimand from his faithful housekeeper who knows more about his life than Bond might’ve suspected.

After the delightful opening act, physically rejuvenating Bond and reminding the reader what made them love the character in the first place, we are introduced to our new villainous organization, SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for CounterTerrorism, Revenge, and Extortion)–led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld–to take the place of (the now, apparently, defunct) SMERSH in a more “realistic” capacity and, ostensibly, to allow Fleming more freedom to write around the confines of the Cold War rather than from within. It’s a bold move, and one that–as we look back historically–has worked out well for the franchise staying relevant.

The novel is paced well, much like the early films, and reads like one of Connery’s outings. Bond is back to being his introspective tough guy, and Felix Leiter returns in a starring role (hook, peg leg, and all). The stakes are the highest that they’ve ever been in a Bond novel, and the action stays intense throughout!

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For Your Eyes Only (James Bond, #8)

For Your Eyes Only (James Bond, #8)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.64
book published: 1960
rating: 4
read at: 2018/09/06
date added: 2018/09/06
shelves:
review:

After the disappointing experiences with Goldfinger and Dr. No, Fleming seems to come back around to what made James Bond special in the first place. This collection of short stories, curated under the title For Your Eyes Only reads like Fleming revisited his fundamentals after two disappointing outings–focusing instead on the quintessential Bond tropes and those storytelling techniques that made the early works so great. The stories are tight, the action is gripping, the stakes are high, and Bond is really Bond–not some sub-par interloper traipsing through the French countryside or enjoying a quiet game of golf, making mistakes for the purpose of advancing the plot.

The one outlier in this collection is “Quantum of Solace”, a sort of story-within-a-story where the governor of Jamaica delivers a tale of woe and revenge between a goldbricking young woman and her milquetoast husband. It’s a comedy of life wrapped up in the mundane drudgery of white-collar Edwardian colonial politics, but it reads with sincerity and a polish that keeps you wondering just what will happen next to the unhappy couple. I feel like it serves as a subtle turning point in the Bond literary franchise. Bond learns a little something about “real” people, and we’re treated to a gossipy tale about the hidden despair in outwardly happy life in colonial Jamaica.

There’s a definite attitude change in the way Fleming treats Bond through these stories. Instead of just pushing Bond through another lackluster travelogue, Fleming plays with him in the way he does best. The stories are vignettes, rather like a “best of” collection, displaying the most interesting and exciting attributes of a Bond novel. Fleming has the luxury of dropping us into the middle of an adventure, without wasted exposition, and reinvigorates the interest both he and the reader have in this legendary character.

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Goldfinger (James Bond, #7)

Goldfinger (James Bond, #7)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.81
book published: 1959
rating: 3
read at: 2018/09/03
date added: 2018/09/03
shelves:
review:

If Dr. No was Fleming’s “rusty Bond”, Goldfinger‘s Bond is downright incompetent.

On a lark, a tired and irritable Bond (possibly a reflection of Ian Fleming’s interest in writing at this point), takes an easy job to help a side character from Casino Royale uncover a card cheat by name of Auric Goldfinger (very creative, there, Ian). Bond disrupts the game and identifies himself as a threat–the first in a series of mistakes that sees Bond stumbling over every conceivable plot device in his eventual crash into the anti-climax of the raid on Fort Knox.

The plot makes little sense and the action scenes are unexciting. Fleming spends several chapters droning on about the intricacies of golf in an attempt to recapture the tense, exciting anticipation of the card game in Casino Royale that simply comes off long-winded and dull. Fleming then takes Bond on a leisurely drive across the French countryside disguised as the least-thrilling car chase in fiction. I hate to say it, but this Bond is simply boring. Even the big set piece production of the raid at Fort Knox has no teeth–it builds and builds, but is over too quickly and with too little action.

If Moonraker is the maximum ratio of the book being better than the film, Goldfinger is the maximum ratio of the film being better than the book. Skip this novel and just watch Sean Connery make the most of the source material.

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Doctor No (James Bond, #6)

Doctor No (James Bond, #6)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.77
book published: 1958
rating: 4
read at: 2018/08/27
date added: 2018/08/27
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review:

Fleming’s Bond may have gotten in over his head in this Jamaican outing. After sufficient rest following a near-fatal wound, Bond is sent “on a holiday in the sun” to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his friend Commander Strangways (from Live and Let Die). This book serves as sort of a “reset” for the Bond character, miraculously surviving a fatal blow at the end of From Russia With Love. Bond is rusty, careless, and seemingly fed-up with his lot, but he grudgingly flies off to one of the last vestiges of the crumbling British empire, reconnects with his friend Quarrel and ruminates about the time that has passed since his last visit to the island.

Dr. No is a love letter to Fleming’s Jamaica, replete with exquisite detail of the high and low societies of the tropical island where he spend so much time writing. Bond, like Fleming, grudgingly picks up his next job and re-familiarizes himself with the tropes that made him great. This is the return of the great adventure novel in all its swashbuckling glory–a mystery, a megalomaniacal villain, and solitary dangers to test our hero to his very core. The climactic battle, though, is not with the titular baddie, but with something even more typical of the genre (and done with a self-aware flourish) that serves as a new direction for the Bond series. It’s not the best in the bunch, but it’s certainly worth a read!

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From Russia With Love (James Bond, #5)

From Russia With Love (James Bond, #5)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.89
book published: 1957
rating: 5
read at: 2018/08/21
date added: 2018/08/21
shelves:
review:

After creating a rather winning formula with his James Bond novels, Ian Fleming uses his 5th book as a departure from the norm. The book is really divided into two distinct parts: the first, a deep look at the operations of SMERSH within the greater Soviet party bureaucracy as well as an intimate portrait of their best assassin–a bipolar sociopath whose disillusion with western society led to his defection during the early years of allied occupation in postwar Germany. The second, a romp around the gleefully sinister city of Istanbul where daily jabs in spycraft put the “game” in “The Great Game”. This romp, following James Bond and led by his new friend and ally Kerim Bey, is a love letter to the near Orient of Fleming’s time. The area was in transition to modernity, and Fleming attended those growing pains with interesting details and flourishes such as the juxtaposition of modern film advertisements alongside traditional institutions like the spice bazaar.

In true Fleming fashion, the writing is verbose and colorful when describing the scenery, then tight and frenetic when describing action (such as the climactic fights with Red Grant and Rosa Klebb). Kerim Bey is a wonderful character and brings a joie de vivre to the introspective action of a typical Bond adventure. Bond himself seems more flippant in this adventure, possibly owing to the fact that he feels that the whole assignment is rather daft (a beautiful Soviet cyphers technician wants to defect because she has fallen in love with Bond’s file), which leads to a series of missteps and miscalculations that build to an intense climax aboard the legendary Orient Express.

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Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond, #4)

Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond, #4)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.59
book published: 1956
rating: 4
read at: 2018/07/27
date added: 2018/07/27
shelves:
review:

The funny thing about reading Fleming’s original novels after being so intimately familiar with the films is that one draws interesting comparisons between the two. The novels are relatively “small” stories, centered around one or two locales, with tight action; the films, on the other hand, are big and bombastic with ridiculously opulent set pieces and cartoonish villains that seems like a Bizarro World analog to the source material. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either (I thoroughly enjoy the films every time I watch them), but it’s interesting to note what’s different and what stays the same.

In Flemming’s Diamonds Are Forever, Bond is assigned to infiltrate and topple an international diamond smuggling racket. In the film, though, the smuggling is only one small–almost unrelated–aspect of a ridiculous plot to build a satellite-mounted laser capable of incinerating capital cities. Bond would hardly even be on the case if it weren’t for his quest for revenge against Ernst Stavro Blofeld for killing his new bride in the previous film. The diamonds are just a happy coincidence in the film.

In the book, Bond once again needs to infiltrate the world of American organized crime (with a little help from and old friend) starting in New York, but instead of whisking away to the Caribbean for the third act, Bond is instead transported to the atomic-era glitz of the (then brand new) Las Vegas strip. No satellites this time. No mysterious analogs to Howard Hughes. Just Bond, his wits, and Tiffany Case who becomes the first in the line of villainous Bond Girls to be seduced and “turned straight” by 007.

Come for the suspense, stay for the action. This is one of Fleming’s best!

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Moonraker (James Bond, #3)

Moonraker (James Bond, #3)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.69
book published: 1955
rating: 5
read at: 2018/07/13
date added: 2018/07/14
shelves:
review:
If your only experience with Moonraker is the Roger Moore film, please drop what you’re doing and read this book! In every respect–characterization, action, stakes, and plot development–this is the superior work. Fleming takes an oddly innocuous assignment for Bond–more of a personal favor to M, discovering a card cheat at the club–and unravels a treasonous Cold War plot that becomes the first of the familiar “Fate of The World” high-stakes gambits that James Bond is known for.

The scenery is local, but the plot reaches from Dover to Berlin to Moscow as Bond teams up with the Special Branch of Scotland Yard to investigate a murder-suicide at a defense contractor’s plant building the most advanced weapon to date: a transatmospheric guided rocket capable of hitting any capital in Europe with an atomic warhead–the ultimate defense against Soviet aggression or even a re-militarized Germany!

Fleming’s Bond in this story is far from the superhuman sophisticate we see in the Moore film of the same name. This version of Bond has a normal office job when he’s not on assignment and a human’s sense of mortality. The literary Bond gets injured (badly), he contemplates death (as he embarks on a suicide mission), and he might not even get the girl!

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
author: John Berendt
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.91
book published: 1994
rating: 4
read at: 2018/06/28
date added: 2018/07/04
shelves:
review:

As a Georgia native, I’ve always known of and had a fascination with the little jewel down at the end of I-16, but Berendt’s Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil brings the city and its eccentric inhabitants to life in such a colorful way that–had it been about any other city in the country–I would have thought it a work of complete fiction! The truth, it seems, is often stranger and more interesting than one could imagine.

It’s a long read, and one could get bogged-down in the many long-winded descriptions of settings, but pick up the audio edition for a truly dramatic reading that brings the wonderfully goofy cast of characters directly into your mind’s eye!

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The Blue Nowhere

The Blue Nowhere
author: Jeffery Deaver
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.97
book published: 2001
rating: 1
read at: 2018/07/03
date added: 2018/07/04
shelves:
review:

It’s so terrible that it’s unintentionally hilarious!

I’m pretty sure Deaver’s “research” for this book consisted of watching Hackers, The Net, and Lawnmower Man, then asking is 16-year-old nephew for an explanation on the jargon they used in the films. That’s about as “deep” as this book gets into understanding its subject matter.

If you love a cheesy, woefully dated outsider’s look into The Cyber filled with every generic trope you could imagine, you’ll likely enjoy this disasterpiece. Just don’t forget to burn your modem and encrypt your Garbage files!

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