Red Sparrow

Sleep is important, so I have been trying to avoid reading late, but Red Sparrow kept me reading long after my bedtime, (not that that’s hard). If the ads are to be believed, (and maybe they’re not), Red Sparrow was made into a very sexy, very violent, movie starting Jennifer Lawrence. There is a lot of sex in the book to draw on: It’s pretty clear that Dominika is the sexiest woman ever to walk the earth, and she’s described through a very male gaze. It sounds like Nate’s not to shabby either, but author Jason Matthews doesn’t spend time talking about his attractiveness.

With that out of the way, Red Sparrow is a great spy novel set in the modern era with Putin in charge of Russia. While there are holes, (why would Nate, a young agent just out of CIA school, be handling the CIA’s most important informer in Russia?), the time in the streets and developed complex relationships, (and at least some personalities), make the book hard to put down. It’s clear that the relationship between Nate and Dominika will be important in the trilogy, (yes, this is the start of a trilogy! I hope the next two books are as great as the first). Although maybe the author should kill Nate – that would be a heartbreaking move that would let Dominika’s character become dominant.

Like many Russian spy novels there are a lot of random words and phrases in Russian sprinkled in the text. In Red Sparrow it’s a technique used when two bilingual characters are talking, so code switching is natural. Unfortunately for me I don’t understand Russian so I feel like I’m missing a little bit of information. Mr. Mathews tries, (it seems, but I since I don’t understand Russian I’m not 100% sure), to try to provide a phrase to explain what was expressed in Russian when it’s not too awkward, so that helps, but if possible I will add an English-Russian dictionary to my Kobo.

The sense of place is very strong in Red Sparrow; the all of the places in the story feel extremely real. Looking back at other books I have realized that this is something I really love in books, for example it’s why I liked The Night Circus so much even though the last part of the plot is somewhat weak.

The atmosphere is especially compelling in the final scene of the book, which itself is a combination of an amazing cliffhanger and a great place to end the story. This makes it a great place to end the first book of a trilogy, but even if there weren’t two more books coming it would be a good place to end the story. I would be grumpy about some unresolved parts of the story, but not every book has to tie up every plot point perfectly, in fact, I often like it better when they don’t. Since I know that there are two more books, though, I might get my story tied up nicely in a bow, so long as Jason Matthews doesn’t wreck it in the next two books.

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The Man in High Castle

I learned that The Man in High Castle exists after my sister mentioned seeing imperial Japanese vehicles that said something like “Imperial Japanese Government of San Francisco” on them in her neighbourhood, so the TV series The Man in High Castle must be filming close by. An alternate reality novel where the allies lost the second world war sounded interesting, and since the TV series is pretty successful it’s easy to borrow the e-book from my library.

In a story where the Nazis and Imperial Japanese won the second world war race is important, and treated very differently from the how it is in the real world. Reading a 1962 novel in 2019 is slightly weird with regards to race. Philip K Dick does not seem to be racist, (from some internet reading it seems like wasn’t, and dreamed of true racial equality, which we are far from achieving), but word choices made in the early sixties would not be made today, and someone who hasn’t read much from the mid 20-th century recently it’s slightly jarring.

It also took me a while to get used to the way Tagomi’s dialogue, (both inner and outer), is written. It feels like sentences are structured the way that native Japanese-speakers speak English when they’re functional English speakers but yet to achieve mastery. I don’t know what Philip K Dick is trying to show, maybe he’s trying to portray an accent, (but other Japanese characters seem to speak more fluently than Tagomi thinks), maybe he’s trying to show that Tagomi thinks differently from many other people, or maybe something else altogether.

I felt like sometimes we spent way too long inside characters heads, especially Tagomi. This isn’t my favourite thing to read in any book, and would have preferred less, but it’s also important to the character of The Man in High Castle. In my first reading I missed Tagomi stepping into an alternate timeline where the Embarcadro Expressway exists. Going back and re-reading that section I can see it, but it’s not so clear that someone not familiar with the 60s, and not familiar with San Francisco, would notice it.

It wasn’t until after I had finished reading the book that I found Philip K Dick is also the author of famous books like Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Because I went in blind I did not expect any science-fiction, so when the sci-fi touches appeared I either missed them entirely, (Tagomi), or was surprised and entertained. I will be reading more Philip K Dick, and paying better attention when I do.

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The Whistler

Time for an escape. The Whistler was enjoyable, maybe not as much as something like Sycamore Row, but I have yet to read a truly bad John Grisham novel.

But, I looked at some of the discussion questions at the end of the book and they started to poke some holes in the way some relationships developed over the course of the book. It would be a good exercise to start writing out answers to any discussion points provided by the publisher. It might make me a more critical reader.

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10% Happier

Funny lights you see behind your eyes when they’re closed real tight.

I was worried that I was the only person that sees those. They help me fall asleep. Apparently Dan Harris sees them too.

The idea of exercising my mind is interesting, and meditation seems is a common thread among many successful people. 10% Happier seems tis a good introduction to the concept of mindfulness meditation that has its roots in Buddhism. I’ve tried meditation in the past using the Headspace app and 10% Happier got me interested again. Interestingly, even though Dan Harris starts out agnostic, and 10% Happier made me more interested in the “woo-woo” side of meditation. I’ll have to do some more reading.

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