Thursday, April 21, 2011

Twice a Spy by Keith Thomson

If you ever think that you're having a streak of bad luck, just pick up this sequel to Thomson's first novel Once a Spy, and you'll feel lucky.

Drummond Clark, the retired CIA agent, and Charlie, his once unsuspecting son and habitual gambler, are still on the run, trying to find a way to keep from getting killed by members of covert CIA and keep Drummond's Alzheimer's in check. They are helped by Charlie's new-found love, Alice, but Charlie must decide if she's a good guy or a bad guy. The father-son team must constantly be looking over their shoulders, constantly searching for the next escape route, constantly crashing out of the deadly situations that befall them.

Drummond's medication seems helpful, but it also may put him to sleep just when his ninja-like reflexes are called for. Charlie seems like a changed man, in love with a spy and his gambling habit in remission. Can they work together to make it out of their situation alive?

Twice a Spy is another fun, over-the-top, spy adventure that just seemed to flow from one ridulous, dangerous, exciting chapter to another. It's full of fun spy tech, great characters, and non-stop action. Pick it up for a fun read this summer!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ape House by Sara Gruen

When I picked this book up, I had no idea what it really was about. I really didn't think it could be about apes; the possibility seemed kind of bizarre to me. But I enjoyed this book very much and learned a great deal about bonobos and about my own state of Iowa.

Gruen got the idea for this novel and did her research at the Great Ape Trust in DesMoines, a place I did not know existed. There she studied the bonobos, the breed of ape that is depicted in the book with such fascinating detail that I wish I could reach the high level of security clearance it takes to meet the apes myself.

The story involves the bombing of an language research center right after a struggling newspaper reporter visits it, impressing both the bonobos themselves and their human linguist. When news of the bombing reaches the reporter, he knows he must go back to track the story, despite personal problems and difficulties that arise with security and the ambiguous fate of the bonobos themselves when the linguist is wounded. The apes are somehow sold to an unscrupulous character who creates a reality show around them that not only abuses them physically but begins to hurt their intellects. The linguist must battle her own injuries from the bombing as well as fight to return the bonobos to a habitat that suits them so that they can go on teaching humans about their language capabilities.

Despite the very mixed reviews this book got, I totally enjoyed it and felt it had a lot to teach us. The signing and language displays of the apes were fascinating, and their compassion and flawless character judgement was something I had never really believed another species capable of. The bonobos' simple statements such as, "Bonzi love Bell. Kiss kiss," and "Visitor dirty bad, dirty bad visitor," can be taken as reminders that sometimes things are indeed black and white, no matter how we try to gloss them over. Some people are just "dirty bad" and some are "kiss kiss."  The story is an excellent example of how we underestimate people (and animals), and how far humans will go to exploit almost anything in this world, if, as bystanders and onlookers, we allow it.

The fact that this book follows Gruen's wildly popular Water for Elephants, to me, is the only reason it got poor reviews. I enjoyed Ape House every bit as much. So, don't judge an author only by the cover of her most famous book, people. Keep your mind open, and you might be saying, "Sara Gruen love, kiss, kiss," too.