Sunday, 7 June 2020

"Sun, sun, sun, here it comes..."

We’ve had plenty of sun and warm weather lately, although this weekend has been gloriously without humidity.  Because it’s been cooler and less humid, I was on a cooking/baking spree this morning and am starting this post later than I normally would.  So finally, with a steaming cup of chai and a fresh-baked banana muffin, I’m ready to get down to book business.
Last week I decided to try a book I recently received as an advanced reader copy, The Paladin by David Ignatius, fully prepared to give it up after a few pages, but this book totally hooked me from the very first sentence, and it kept me wanting to find extra reading time to get to the end.  This cyber-thriller centres on Michael Dunne, ex-CIA cyber-securities expert who, after spending a year in prison simply for performing his duties, is set on finding out what happened and getting his life back.  Two years earlier, after returning from a lengthy assignment in Frankfurt with his beautiful young wife Alicia and their two-year-old daughter Luisa, he is called in for a meeting with the Deputy Director of Operations, George Strafe, to discuss his next assignment.  Michael is asked to go back to Europe with a small team of fellow cyber-experts and infiltrate a hacking organization known as Fallen Empire.  This organization, claiming to be whistleblowing journalists, are not just revealing news and events, not even just publishing “fake news”, but actually creating “fake events” that appear so real, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference.  Michael is hesitant to take on the assignment because it is illegal for the CIA to spy on fellow Americans who are journalists, but George guarantees that if anything should happen, he’ll make sure Michael is protected.  So, against his better judgement, off he goes to Paris, where he and his team of two others discover that Urbino, Italy, is the centre where some serious cyber-deception activity is taking place.  Just as he begins his infiltration, Michael is pulled out of the operation and ordered to return home, where he faces criminal charges and, surprise, surprise, there is no legal protection from the CIA, who claim never to have heard of this assignment.  Oh, and while he was in Europe on assignment, he also had a clandestine encounter with a lovely young woman, an encounter which would serve to ruin his marriage and drive his wife and daughter away.  He lost his wife, his home, his job and most of his friends, and after a year in prison, he’s seriously enraged.  He decides to start his own cyber-security business, which he calls "The Paladin LLC", after receiving an anonymous letter from a “fellow bandit” who calls his group the Paladin, noble and chivalrous citizens who try to right the wrongs of society.  With this letter as a starting point, Michael begins to piece together what happened two years earlier and seek revenge on those who ruined his life.  This is not my normal reading fare, but wow, it was thrilling.  Not always believable, for sure, and for someone who has been working as a CIA agent for so long, Michael certainly has trouble following his gut instincts, but this roller-coaster ride from the US to Europe to Taiwan and back certainly kept my interest and had me turning pages right to the very last sentence.  I would highly recommend this novel if you just need a bit of an escape during these days of isolation, restriction, and too much at-home time - it is sure to help take your mind off the bigger worries of life for a few hours.
I also wanted to mention very briefly that I finished listening to a book that was highly recommended to me by a fellow reader, Bird Box by Josh Malerman. Many of you might know about this because it has been made into a Netflix movie starring Sandra Bullock, so I will just offer a quick summary. This post-apocalyptic novel centres around a woman and her two children, sole survivors of an epidemic that caused everyone else to commit acts of violence and, ultimately, suicide. This seems to happen only if an individual sees something, a "creature", so a small group of survivors in a house, of which Malorie is a member, must live only indoors, with all the windows covered, and must wear blindfolds if they need to go out for water or to empty the waste pails. When Malorie finds herself alone with the children, she must decide whether to stay in the house forever or take the risk and try to find a better future for herself and the children. I didn't love this book, and I only wanted to mention it because I started watching the movie last night and it was so different from the book that I had to turn it off... remember, I didn't even really like to book, so the movie had to be REALLY different, and not in a good way, for me to stop watching it. However, many people liked this movie, so I'm just warning you: in case you liked the movie and now want to read the book, expect it to be almost like a different story.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but don’t forget to stay six feet apart!
Bye for now…
Julie

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