Casino Royale by Ian Flemming

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3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 208 pages.
Read from March 03 to 08, 2015.

Well, my Ian Flemming virginity has now been taken as I have now officially read my first James Bond novel and it was everything I hoped it would be. The movie actually follows this plot line pretty well and the areas in which they didn’t I say it’s because they improved upon it and made it relevant for modern viewers.

James Bond is selfish, intelligent, sophisticated, calculating and suave. He is given the task of gambling and winning against an odd Russian operative named Le Chiffre at Casino Royale. The premise being, if Le Chiffre loses all of this money then his Soviet contacts will have no need of him and will kill him. In the book the two of them are playing baccarat, which I don’t think they replicated in the movie.  Bond has assessed the situation and is ready for the job, that is until Vesper is sent to work with him. Bond isn’t pleased by this at first. He prefers to work alone and doesn’t want any ‘distractions’. As the two work together, Bond finds her company tolerable. After some intense games of baccarat, Bond succeeds in his mission. Bond thinks that the threat from Le Chiffre is gone, but things go array when Vesper gets kidnapped and in pursuing her Bond is also caught and subjected to nightmare-causing scene of intense torture. This is the book in which you get to see, a bit, and I do mean a bit, of Bond’s more vulnerable side. After everything that Bond goes through the twist at the end of the book is quite sad.

Bond describes Vesper like she is something he can eat and his views on women are misogynist, as he believes that  they should not be doing the work of men and that they belong in the kitchen. Literally. He actually said that in the book. Now I was expecting misogyny in this book, I mean it’s Bond and it was written in the 1950s. However, Bond is way more of a dick than I was expecting. I couldn’t believe the names he called Vespa! For example, he calls her a silly bitch more than once and definitely undermines and diminishes her frequently. This is not the sexy James Bond I have pictured in my head or even the ones portrayed on the big screen. The James Bond in this book is cold, only cares about himself, has superficial charm and has NO respect for women. The Bond that I know loves women and may sleep with a lot of them but he doesn’t belittle them. To counter that though, Vespa is really smart and working in man’s world. She assesses Bond perfectly and knows what kind of man he is and knows how to handle herself around him. She is still too submissive and apologetic for my liking, but hey, it is the 1950s.

Even with the misogyny, I did enjoy the book. I was just a little taken back at Bond’s abrupt character. I’m really glad that the James Bond that’s in the movies is a more likable. I would hazard a guess now that the one actor that probably played James Bond the truest to the books is Timothy Dalton, as his movies have not been favourites among the fans due to how harsh, cold and borderline cruel he portrayed Bond.

As for the writing itself, it’s good and quite concise in that nothing is fluffy or needless is said, which is just like Bond, really.  The torture scene is so well done, I was cringing while reading it and I’m not even a man!  Now that I’ve got the first one down, I hope to work my way, in order through the rest of the novels. I’m curious to know if Bond’s character is dynamic and will grow throughout the next few books. Until then, I think I’ll go and drink a martini.

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Filed under 3 Star, Read 2015

Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Che Guevara

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Read from February 07 to 16, 2015.

I picked up this gem while I was actually in Cuba back in January of this year. It was my first trip to Cuba and I realized how little I knew about this fascinating little country with its big and expansive history. Thankfully there wasn’t a shortage of propaganda where I was staying. If I had more money and space in my suitcase I would have purchased quite a few more books.

Che is a remarkable individual and his dedication to Cuba and to the cause of communism is almost next to nothing. Che comes across as extremely intelligent and very articulate. His memoirs and diaries are published everywhere which probably makes him one of the most exposed politicians around. Don’t get me wrong, the Cuban government is pretty good at giving the leaders of their communist revolution a great reputation, and they have to. The history of Cuba is a rocky one, so the insurgence of this particular revolution was necessary for its time. From the Spanish to the British, and then the US, someone else was always taking advantage of Cuba and its people suffered for it. In 1933, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista threw a coup to overthrow Gerado Machado, a Cuban dictator known for his vicious rule. Sadly, after this coup, little changed under Batista’s rule. It was in 1953 when Fidel Castro made his  first attempt to revolt against Batista’s regime. It would be after this attack that a young Argentinian doctor named Ernesto Guevara would join the cause and assist in Cuba’s revolution and liberation.

“Che” is a form of colloquial Argentinian Spanish slang used in a vocative sense as “friend”. Che is the famous nickname given to Ernesto as a joke and term of endearment based on his heritage from his fellow Cuban comrades.

This book is a personal description of Che’s experiences during this pivotal revolution. Che spares no details with how difficult it was living in the forest for months at time and the sad deaths and sacrifices endured by all, especially the peasants of Cuba, who were initially afraid to assist or join the cause. His recollection is impressive as he remembers many of the names of some of the small time peasants who were essential in helping with the revolution that might have other wise been forgotten. He also details the specifics of those who betrayed the cause. Some he speaks of with remorse or honor and others with absolute distaste and resentment. It was exciting to see how big the small group of rebels became over such a short period of time . In 1959 the rebels send a group of 9000 strong into Havana, forcing Batista to flee, starting the beginning of a new era for Cuba, one that would bring positive change to the country and the lives of its people for the better.

From my own impressions of Cuba, some aspects of communism are no longer serving its people. Don’t read me wrong, I’m not saying that they need to replace their system with American capitalism but there are definitely areas that need improvement. The locals don’t have immediate access to some of the best food or clothes because they are too expensive and some people are still not allowed to leave specific regions of Cuba. Tourists get the best of everything, while they don’t. I was asked twice, discreetly, while I was there if I had any clothes or items that I was willing to part with. It made me pretty sad but if I wasn’t there as a tourist their economy and the people there would have even less. With tensions currently being mended between America and Cuba, as much as I don’t want this quaint country to become Americanized, it will eventually mean improvements for the locals.

Overall, a good description of the events and people that changed Cuba to make it the country that it is today.

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Filed under 3 Star, Biographies/True Stories/Memoirs, History, Non-Fiction, Read 2015

When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 176 pages.
Read from February 19 to 20, 2015.

This is now the second book I’ve been able to get through in this year’s Canada Reads 2015 shortlist. This book was not what I was expecting and based on the controversy surrounding the novel, it sounds like it wasn’t what a lot of people were expecting, especially for a Governor General’s award in Children’s Literature. The author, Raziel Reid, is one of the youngest recipients of the award at the age of 24.

Jude is a teenage boy who happens to like other boys, he also prefers to wear dresses, massive heels and outrageous make-up. In his head, he pretends he is a famous celebrity. In fact, he pictures his whole life like it’s some kind a movie. His every action is just another scene while his stripper mother, promiscuous best-friend, and the boys, including his crush, Luke, who bully him are his co-stars. Even in the darkest parts of this book he masks his pain with glamour. Jude has an over-the-top personality that covers up his noxious up bringing and daily life which, make the tragic ending that much more unbearable. Jude just wants to be loved and when he asks his crush to be his valentine, there are horrible and unnecessary consequences.

Sadly, I can see people who would struggle with just Jude’s character alone, which, in this day and age shouldn’t be an issue. However, the real controversy isn’t so much that Jude is a gender bender, it’s the graphic language, sexual references and sex scenes. To be fair, the content is very crude at times but it fits with the novel and with characters.  Barbara Kay, of the National Post was particularly outraged with the book’s content and wanted it to have its Governor General’s award stripped, claiming that the award “wasted tax dollars on a values-void novel“. For a book that’s labeled as a young adult, I suppose I can see why people might get a bit heated about it but I don’t think the sexual content is abnormal and shouldn’t be treated as if it is.  Jude lives a tragic life, but sadly it is the norm for many homosexual teenagers and it’s a demographic that needs attention. So it shouldn’t be wrong to write about something that’s true, regardless of how awful it can be. If you don’t believe that a story like this could have any truth, than read Emily M. Keeler’s article,  which is a counter piece to Barbara Kay’s. It discusses how the plot of this novel mirrors the tragic and real life murder of a Larry Fobes King, a young gay teen who was killed in 2008 after asking his crush if he wanted to be his valentine. The author, Raziel, was obviously aware of this horrible and tragic event and was inspired to write a story that reflected what it may have been life living as Larry before he died.

“It’s sickening to me that the moral panic surrounding the book regards teens reading about blow jobs and not its painfully, stylishly wrought portrayal of kids being bullied to death, or growing up with fear because it’s not safe for them to be who they are.” – Emily M. Keeler

I also think that the author, Raziel Reid, purposely made the content graphic for that extra shock factor. This book is supposed to be outrageous and the sexual content helped deliver that. Additionally, I think the author was also making a point that gay sex is something that everyone needs to be more comfortable with. Just as we don’t shutter with all the very graphic and straight media content that teenagers are exposed to, homosexual love needs to be the same. The problem is that a lot of adults don’t want their kids reading content like this, even if their kids are already thinking it or doing it, parents still don’t want their kids exposed to anything that might encourage it. Especially homosexual content or anything that they might perceive as out of the ordinary. Personally, I believe that more novels need to describe the homosexual or gender bender experience so that in the future nothing about a character like Jude will ever be questioned, made fun of or undermined. If Barbara was able to get past her own gag-reflexes in terms of the sexual content of this novel, she might have been able to see a young and troubled gay youth dealing with hate the only way he knew how, with love. That there are more values in this novel than she has her whole miserable article. 

Thank you to Raziel Reid for bravely writing this piece and for writer’s like Emily that say it like it is. This piece is worthy of its award and its novels like this that are truly breaking barriers in a still very conservative society. With the two books I’ve read so far for Canada Reads 2015, this one has my vote at the moment.  Barriers smashed.

 

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Filed under 3 Star, Canada Reads 2015, Canadian, Read 2015