With this post, I'm moving my weekly post to Wednesdays for no particular reason except to brighten your hump day.
Having read, or at least sampled, nine books in May so far, and with more than 3,000 words to say about them, I'm going to divide my reviews for May into two posts, starting with these first four books. Stay turned for my reviews of Hackly Hammet's Payment on Delivery, Gavin Chappell's On Hadrian's Secret Service, Richard Townshend Bickers' The Sands of Truth, Catherine Cole's Murder at the Manor, Malcolm Archibald's Windrush, and maybe more, coming in early June.
The Barista’s Guide to Espionage: An Eva Destruction Novel by Dave Sinclair C+
To described as a mishmash of Stephanie Plum and James Bond would not be too far off the mark. Ms Eva Destruction is more competent than Ms Plum, with a much more action packed, James Bond movie style plot, but it has something of the humor of a Stephanie Plum novel. Though in the case of Janet Evanovich’s novels, Ms Plum is the first person narrator, and thus she has a bit more character than Ms Destruction. The plot was too much over the top to take at all seriously. However, if you like fast moving adventure stories with rich and powerful villains, lots of banter and innuendo, you should like this book very much. It also explores the question of does the end justify the means, as well as love, and feminism.
Interestingly enough, Sinclair seems to set his books either in the near future or in an alternate universe. Out of time began in 2024, and this one concerns things like a Russian civil war, that do not, yet, exist. This being the second Dave Sinclair book I’ve read I can say that he’s a good writer. His books are just not quite my cup of tea, or I’d grade them higher. Like Out of Time, this is a free book, the first book in his Eva Destruction series. I have one more of his free first books, Kiss My Assassin, the first Charles Bishop book (who also appears in this book as well.) I liked Out of Time better, but I expect I will like the Charles Bishop book as well. We’ll see.
The Left Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix C-
Yes, yet another urban fantasy book set in London. I’m a sucker for books set in London. I believe that put a hold on this book at the library because of a mention by one of the booktubers I watch. It became available, so I put a pause on my “thriller” reading. It was... okay for a self-published book. You know, lots of alarms and excursions with nondescript, but not bad writing, and a hard to believe fantasy premise. This is, of course, a left handed compliment, if its a compliment at all, since this isn’t a self-published book. It is a traditionally published book that reads like a bog standard self-published book, fine in its way, but without any literary aspirations. It doesn’t hold a candle to say, the gold standards of London fantasy, like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman or the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. While this book has plenty of imagination, way too much, in fact, I found nothing in the writing or the characters to be very engaging.
Briefly, the premise, as far as I can tell, is that there are humans with various magical powers, i.e. the booksellers in the title, though there are both right and left handed, as well as both handed booksellers whose job is to keep an ancient magical menagerie – goblins, fairies, and other made up stuff, I think, in check, one way or another. Even though I swear fully 2/3rds of this novel is an explanation of how everything works, it just seems tossed together. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of logic in the magic, despite all that explaining. Anything goes. The story features a young woman who comes to London to attend university and to search for the father she never knew. She seems to have ties to the fantasy realm via this unknown father. In this search, she quickly comes in contact with a sinister magical creature and through it, the booksellers of the novel. Together with the booksellers, who have their own reasons, she set out to search for her father and encounters magical events and beings in this quest. There is also a very lame romance thread in the story as well. The action moves along, between the long stretched of explanations and musings...
The books suffers badly from what I see as the great fault of fantasy; if you allow magic in a story, the author can do anything they want, because, you know, it’s magic. The author can get their characters into any situation you can imagine, and get them out again just by pulling out a new magic trick out of their hat. As a reader, you just have to go along with it.
This story had one more annoying characteristic; it played the Ready Player One game of tossing in all sorts of factoids about this story’s time period, 1983. I get annoyed when an author peppers the narrative with random factoids likely gleaned from a search on wikipedia and which stick out like sore thumbs because their inclusion seems to be an attempt to use them as "world-building, since they do not seem organic narrative of the moment. I complained about this in a Victorian mystery novel I read recently. In this case, the author would take time to name the best sellers in the bookshop window when they walked into the bookshop, or the music on BBC 1 during a car chase, or whatever. Out of Time did this for 1963, but at least in that book the narrator was from 2024, so that his noting of the differences made sense within the story.
So to sum this book up, if you like urban fantasy, I suppose it is fine. I found it, at first, as I said, okay, but as it went on, the magical world seemed to be invented in the moment and the story a series of random magical incidents, interspersed with lots of explanations, all of which did not actually tie the magical world together, with the bonus annoyance of a shower of factoids about 1983 London.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry DNF 90% (½ way through Part 3)
I must confess that after reading the first two books in this sagas, Dead Man Walk and Comanche Moon, I was not looking forward to reading the original book in the saga. I had, however, a little hope that it would be something a bit different. Indeed at the start I was hopeful that it might turn out to be an entertaining book, more to my taste. But alas, that was not the case. It soon became just like the first two books; an overly long book consisting of a main plot line supplemented by sketches and vignettes of various intelligence-challenged characters who do foolish and stupid things over and over again until they meet their sticky endings.
McMurtry’s writing style is to assemble a cast of dim witted characters and then hop from head to head between them, filling multiple pages with descriptions of their mundane thoughts. These are descriptions of their thoughts, mind you, not any actual internal dialog, and thus, they all read pretty much alike. This descriptive of thoughts can run on and on for pages just to tell the reader that the character is scared, or cold, confused, just wants to get away... ad infinitum. And yet, despite these extended descriptions, the reader is often left without any clear idea why these characters do the foolish things that the do that eventually gets them dead. And this sketchiness extends to the main characters’ thoughts and motivations as well. Why go to Wyoming? A whim? People getting killed on the whim of their employer,,, Not much to be admired about.
In addition to all the dim-witted people, McMurtry also takes you into the minds of a variety of very cruel and violent people who graphically abuse, rape, torture, and murder people, including the dim witted ones we sort of get to know. Essentially McMurtry writes “grimdark westerns”. After reading these books, one is left with the idea that the Texas of the last half of the 1800’s was entirely populated with dumb people and vicious murderers, sheep and wolves. It seems that some things never… oh, never mind.
I fond a great deal of tedium, unpleasantness, and little joy in reading this book. As I went along, I found that I began to skim and skip tedious sections of boring thoughts as well as scenes of graphic violence in a hurry to finish this book. I spent $5 on it, after all, and it was supposed to be a masterpiece. In the end, however, I reached the point in the book, about ½ way through the Part 3 of the book where McMurtry kills off the likable character in the book, except the pigs, and so I had no one to care about anymore and called it a day. Despite the praise this book gets, it is clearly not my type of story, which after reading the first two books in the saga, came as no great surprise, though, as I said, I had hopes... I won’t be reading the last book in the saga, which sounds like just more of the same. If I ever get the urge to read a western again, I’ll stick to Zane Grey.
The Aeronaut’s Windless by Jim Butcher B
This was a good adventure story set in a vast city tower, one of many – each one a nation. The surface of the earth is apparently wilderness and haunted by something. I guess. I had expected a more nautical adventure, what with the title and cover illustration, but 4/5th of the story takes place within the tower city. I have no great complaints, save for the fact that I get quickly bored by battles and fight scenes, of which there are a number of in the story. Most people like them, so that should be a selling point for many. At least they did not run on for two chapters like the barroom brawl Brandon Sanderson had in his The Alloy of Law that I read and reviewed last fall. This is the first book of the series, but the second has been long delayed, though I gather that it might be released late this year. I will read it when it becomes available. I am sure Mr. Butcher will be overjoyed to hear that.