Edge by W Somerset Maugham A
This is my third
Maugham book, and I really enjoyed this story. It is my favorite of
his so far. It is mostly a character study of supposedly real people
deeply disguised. It might be, Maugham had used real people and
events, slightly disguised as characters in his earlier novels.
There are several people who either claim to be or have been
suggested to be the real characters, but if so, he as taken such
great liberties with their real life as not to matter.
The story follows
the life of a young American from Chicago who comes back from World
War One changed. He has friends and good prospects, but all he wants
to do is “loaf” as he tells his friends. He is in love with a
young woman who also loves him, but she can’t understand why he doesn’t
seem to want to work to make something of himself, given that he has
friends who will give him the opportunity to do just that. The "Maugham" in the story meets this young
man because he has a friend who is the uncle of the young woman. This
friend, an American, got rich by brown nosing his way into European
society, mainly the society of lonely wealthy widows, and dealing in
art – selling the painting of hard pressed European aristocrats
to wealthy American millionaires. We follow the lives of these
people, and meet others along the way, as periodically throughout the
1920’s & 30’s Maugham encounters them in his life. We discover how the young man lives and what he is looking for. And that’s
it – Maugham’s engaging writing and his interesting characters make for an excellent story.
Fated, An Alex
Verus Novel by Benedict Jaka C+
I came across this
book on Mike’s Book Review YouTube channel. He was asking viewers
what fantasy series he should read next. This one, a 12 book series,
is an urban fantasy set in London. As you may have gathered, I am a
big fan of London, and so it interested me simply because it was set
in London. I looked it up on the library website and the ebook
version of it was available, so I picked it up.
The premise is that
there are wizards and other types of magical people and creatures in
our familiar world. I’m not sure if it supposed to be our world, or
an alternate version of it where magic is well known. Since he makes
a sly reference to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, whatever that world
is, so is this one. My C+ rating reflects the fact that while I enjoyed the
narrator and characters, this is really not my type of
story. The story is fast paced and the narrator fulfills what I
really like in a story – a character that I can enjoy traveling alongside of through
the book. All to the good. What doesn’t click with me
is my typical fantasy complaints, namely that with magic, an author can their your character a special trait to pull out when
he or she seems doomed. That and the fact that the hero can never totally
defeat evil, since it is need for the next book in the series. In this story, all the
utterly cruel and ruthless people the hero betrayed, just decide to let him
be after their plans are defeated. No doubt we’ll see them again.
And again. The library seems to have more or less the complete
collection, so I might read the next book, someday. Who knows,
anything can happen even in the non-magical world.
by Larry McMurtry C+
This is the second
book, chronologically, in the Lonesome Dove series of four books, but the last written. This
takes place about ten years after Dead Man Walk, starting a few years
before the Civil War and ending after that war. One might call this a
sweeping tale of the old west. But in reality, it's an interconnected
series of little tales of the old west, some concluded, others left hanging.
We have our two main characters of Lonesome Dove, Woodrow Call and
Augustus, Gus, McCrea who are now veteran Texas Rangers, but perhaps
because they are more thoroughly explored in Lonesome Dove, they
remain rather sketched in, Call especially. Many minor characters are
more developed than the two key characters.
To be honest, before
I finished the book I had started the review, and had it pegged as a
B- book, a minus mainly because of McMurtry’s signature style, i.e. that of
a bee or humming bird flirting from one flower to the next, or in the
case of McMurtry, from the mind of one character to the next,
restlessly, within a chapter, and from chapter to chapter, which can get tiring after 590 pages or so. While this
technique allows the reader to get to know something of all the
characters, it is doled out in small and often incomplete
doses. Indeed, major things happen to characters that are never
explained, even though he spent pages exploring little things about
them. Moreover, he will sometimes start a story arc with a character
and never finish it. Perhaps that is intentional making the readers
think about the story without any resolution. He did, after all, win
the Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, so this can't be a problem for most. Still, I have to wonder is he just
didn’t know where to go with it. In any event, it loses points in
The book is divided
into three books, each focusing on a different main story, with all
the continuing characters tagging along. I was getting pretty weary
by the end of the second book, but the third books starts fresh with
the civil war, and I thought, well, this should be interesting.
However, it is more of the same, with a great deal of confusion
thrown in. It seemed like Texas had joined the Confederacy, and yet
the Rangers were riding with “Blue Coats”, which I take to be
American soldiers, i.e. Union soldiers. And, well, it skips through
the war pretty briskly, in McMurtry’s signature style of snippets,
of character and action. And yet, despite this hopping about, the
book still dragged, with pages of the thoughts of minor characters,
that I began to skip past. So for me, McMurtry did not stick the
landing, leaving his main characters walking across Texas, failing
again to achieve their mission, hence the final C+ rating.
Lonesome Dove is
next up, but to tell the truth, I’m not really looking forward to
it. We’ll get to it, but I’m going to take a month or two or more
off before tackling 858 pages of small text.
NOTE the story
depicts violence, killing, rape, and graphic torturer.
Life Class by
Pat Barker C
something new to read, I searched the library website for “London
Historical Fiction” and came up Noonday by Pat Barker set in London
during the blitz. While the blurb said it could be read as a
standalone novel, it features characters from two other books, Life
Class and Toby’s Room. Despite my rather disappointing experience
with the Lonesome Dove series, I decided to start at the beginning
rather than the end, and read Life Class.
Part one of the
story follows two main point of view characters, Paul and Elinor who
are art students at the Slade School of Art in London in the summer
of 1914, along with two other characters, a young successful artist,
Neville, and Teresa, a model (for artists to draw). We have a love
affair and a love triangle of sorts with both Neville and Paul in
love with Elinor, or maybe not. Paul, though a point of view
character is either opaque or wish-washy. Actually both. Part two
follows Paul as he goes to war working for the Red Cross as a dresser
(one who bandages the wounds) and an ambulance driver. We get a slice
of the human price of war in the field hospital, and letters between
he and Elinor as she pursues her art career in London and a tentative
Pat Baker is an
award winning British author of the Regeneration Trilogy. Life Class
is the first book in another trilogy about young English characters.
English author, English characters, first book of three, perhaps
those factors explains the rather cool and colorless characters, and
the rather pointlessness, and damp squib of an ending for this story.
While we sometimes get the thoughts of the two point of view
characters, and have their thoughts expressed in their exchange of
letters, they remained, to me anyway, ciphers. I never could quite
make out what they were thinking since their attitudes seemed to
shift constantly even if we were privileged to view their thoughts.
Often, however, we had to rely on their dialog, which may well not
have been fully honest. I expected more – more life in the story,
and a more complete novel – than this book turned out to offer.
The other thing I
was hoping to find in this story is a taste of the times. A bit of
Earl Grey’s line:
lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again
in our life-time."
the writing. However, all that was mentioned was that people were
talking about the crisis that lead to WW1, which apparently her
characters didn’t care much about. There was little period
atmosphere in the story, though I did learn that even in WW1 there
was a blackout in London, complete with streetlights dimmed and
searchlights in the sky. Still, it was a I believe a Big Thing, and
recognized as such at the time, and that seems missing in this story, which does
not bode well for a story set in the Blitz of WW2. All in all, I
won’t be reading further.
Bargain by C. L. Polk B-
What the heck? For
someone who doesn’t like fantasy and has given up on SF, what’s
yet another fantasy book doing on this list this month? If I can
blame the last one on my love of London, I can blame this on on my
love of tea. The TOR blog recently had a piece on books to read while
drinking tea, and this book was the one to read while drinking Earl
Grey tea. My daughter’s family spent a long week in London last
fall (a long COVID delayed holiday) and for both Christmas and my
birthday, I received gifts of tea from them, one of which was
Twinings Strand Earl Grey, and the other Fortnum & Mason’s Earl
Grey Classic, so I’ve been drinking Earl Grey tea. Thus, when I
found that this book was available as an ebook from the library, I
borrowed it. And I rather enjoyed it.
It is basically a
regency romance with magic, as well as a story about the emancipation
of women from men’s expectations. The setting is entirely
fictional, though perhaps on a human colonized planet – just a
guess from some subtle hints, though it doesn’t matter in the
story. The story is set around something like the “coming out
parties” of England, where the debutantes began their quest to find
a suitable husband. In this story, that quest is quite specific, as
arranged marriages to enhance the families’ fortunes was the open intent of the book's "Bargaining Season" setting. While both
sexes can possess the talent to summon and take control of immaterial
spirits whose various powers can be used as magic – with the proper
training – females of childbearing age are forced to wear collars
that suppress their magical powers, since the immaterial spirits that
they have the talent to summon can take over a fetus in their womb
uninvited, thus giving the immaterial spirit a real body without the
control a human. They can become powerful monsters with a body of their own.
The hero of the story is a young lady of a family on the verge of
ruin who is expected to land a rich husband. But in doing so, she must
give up her magical abilities, at least until she is old. She doesn’t
want to give up her abilities, as so doesn’t want to marry… but
falls in love anyway. Reconciling all these factors and finding her
own way to what she wants is what the novel is about.
There are plenty of
twists and turns, that, in the end are happily resolved, perhaps a
bit too sugary sweetly, but then, it is a romance, after all, and
romances require happily ever after endings. But still, it is a
light, entertaining read. Nothing too grim and dark here.