Spare Cycles turns eight…

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This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its eighth birthday.   A beer (or eight) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone.  Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns seven…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…

Mini review: “Spy Sinker” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

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This is the final book in the second of Len Deighton’s trilogies featuring weathered English spy Bernard Samson, set a few years after the end of the Game, Set and Match series.

This book is completely different to those that have come before.  It is not a story told in the first person by Bernard Samson but instead a look at the whole story so far from the points of view of his wife and other major characters.  This switch gives you an insight into the aspects of the story that Bernard does not know about.

You discover the emotional impact on the protagonists and those who had a hand in masterminding the whole thing.   There are revelations all the way through the book, taking events that you are familiar with and looking at them from a new angle or with new knowledge.  There are new plot elements too, demonstrating the limited nature of what you have learned so far. Then there is the set-piece ending.   So much clearer than in the previous book, you get to appreciate what the author has pulled off, not just in this book but over the course of the two trilogies.

The book is not perfect – there is a section where the author deals with events covered in the prequel “Winter: A Berlin Family” which is interesting but is raised in a bit of a contrived way.

Still, this is a brilliant end to the series so far.

I say “so far” because there is actually another Bernard Samson trilogy: Faith, Hope and Charity.  I read them a while ago and I’m not sure if I’m going to listen to them as audiobooks as they are released later this year.  From what I remember they are not as strong as the books in the first two trilogies.  You could leave Bernard Samson, his colleagues, cohorts and foes at this point having been mightily entertained for many an hour.

Also see…

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Mexico Set” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “London Match” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Hook” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Line” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Len Deighton books (including my original review of Spy Sinker)

• Harper Collins: Len Deighton audiobooks

Mini review: “Station Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel (audiobook version)

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I found this book when it came up as an Amazon recommendation.  I went with it because it had some amazing reviews.  I’m glad I did.

This is the story of a future where the majority of mankind was killed off over the course of a few weeks by a supremely virulent virus and the world now exists without electricity or fuel.  A few survivors have formed a group that travels around part of North America performing classical music and Shakespeare plays.  The main characters are all linked in some way to an actor who dies on stage one night shortly before the virus hit – how they are related is revealed over time.  The book moves between the characters and jumps back and forward in time.

I wondered at first if the book deserved all the praise but overall it does leave you looking at your surroundings in a new way, appreciating what we have achieved as a human race and thinking about all the things we take for granted.

This dystopian premise might put some people off as it is generally viewed as some sub-genre of science fiction (indeed, the book has won this year’s Arthur C Clarke award for best sci-fi novel of the year) but don’t ignore it just yet.  This is far from your typical science fiction.

I mostly listen to audiobooks these days but I actually started reading this story in “proper” book form before switching to audio.  One thing that I find interesting when comparing the two is that reading the book at first seemed to have more impact.  The author is very good at going along telling an interesting story and then out of the blue delivering a devastating line or plot twist that will influence all that follows.  For me, these lines had more impact when I was reading them rather than listening to them.

What is strange, then, is that I have nothing bad to say about the narration.  The English narrator does a good job and tackles American accents with aplomb.  There has obviously been a decision to tell the story in a slower, more deliberate way but this is successful and matches the story well.

This book is dystopian fiction but it’s possible that something like this could happen.  Earlier this year there was ebola and recently there has been MERS.  I keep a close eye on the news but had not heard about about this latest breakout – in fact I had not heard of Middle East respiratory syndrome at all.  This happened in South Korea but originated with a traveller returning to the country from Qatar.  Looking it up I found on The Guardian website (a bastion of responsible reporting):

• Hong Kong tests two people for Mers as alarm over virus grows

Middle East respiratory syndrome cases broken down by country

• Should I worry about catching Mers?

As I write, the first two articles were written in the last couple of days.  The last one was written in May 2014.  Under the headline it states: “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has no known cure and kills around a third of those who contract it”.

I suppose it wouldn’t take much for the next syndrome to be a lot more virulent and spread much quicker.  Maybe the world is doomed after all…

… in which case you could do a lot worse than spend some of your time reading this book.

“Winter (A Berlin Family 1899 – 1945)” by Len Deighton coming out as audiobook in February 2016

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I’ve just found out that “Winter (A Berlin Family 1899 – 1945)” by Len Deighton is being released as an audiobook in February 2016.

I’m currently reading the book and it is the best of the books related to his character of Bernard Samson and the “Game, Set and Match” and “Hook, Line and Sinker” trilogies.  There is something rich and rewarding about the story but I will now stop and wait.

I am a little concerned about how this is going to turn out.  This story is on a bigger scale than the other Samson books, spanning nearly half a century and featuring many characters.  I wonder if it would over-stretch a single narrator.  I have been pleased with the narrator of the Samson books but the other Deighton audiobook of this scope – Bomber – suffered from a narrator who spoke…too…slowly and could not cope with the number of characters.  Maybe a cast of narrators would be better, but this is unlikely.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed.  In the meantime there is Spy Sinker – the last book in the “Hook, Line and Sinker” trilogy.

Also see…

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Mexico Set” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “London Match” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Hook” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Line” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Len Deighton books (including my reviews of the Deighton books when I read them for the first time)

• Harper Collins: Winter: A Berlin Family (1899–1945) (audiobook)

Mini review: “Night Heron” by Adam Brookes (audiobook version)

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This is the story, set in China, of a prisoner who escapes and wants to sell secrets to the British government, for whom he worked as a spy many years before.  I wanted to like this book more but something just has not clicked.  Nothing stood out as exceptional – the story is unremarkable, the characters are not bestowed with any real warmth.

I think it is partly to do with the audiobook narration – the actor Jason Isaacs does a professional job but it can become slightly monotonous.  Several of the British characters sound similar.  This has led me to lose track at some points of details, of which character said what.

Overall, I was disappointed.