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The Books I Read: May – June 2022

The Books I Read: May – June 2022

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

Well, it delivers what it promises–it’s a cozy story with little danger or tension. It’s just about a female orc who builds a coffee shop from scratch. People are skeptical at first, as anyone would be when a giantess wants to start a small business instead of eat babies. But everyone loves it. She encounters troubles but they’re all minor–a complaining customer here, a gang boss who wants a cut there. But everyone falls in love with her and wins them over. Like a DCOM but without attempts at funny.

It doesn’t go into much detail around the world-building–it seems very based on World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons. All the material is G-rated (no disembowelments). But it’s kinda neat how the author integrates fantasy elements into Starbucks (e.g. the cappucino machine is a steam-powered gnome invention) and I personally like reading fantasy that’s not a doorstop epic. I hate how the publishing industry thinks they all have to be world-building bricks like Mistborn or Song of Ice and Fire. It taught me an important lesson on how important stakes are in a story.

Do I recommend it? I’m not sure. I’d say to try an excerpt–that’s what I did. I didn’t exactly fall in love, but I was intrigued, especially as someone who likes to write this kind of material.

Under the Dragon’s Tail (Murdoch Mysteries #2) by Maureen Jennings

My wife got into a show called Murdoch Mysteries, a cozy Canadian mystery show that takes place in 1900. Then she got our kids into it (we have strange kids). So I often have to hear the dinner talk with the detective and coroner’s relationship, the lieutenant’s quest for a promotion, the gruff police chief’s drinking habits, etc. It’s a pretty good show if you like Castle or Monk or The Mentalist and so on. But it started as a book series, so I thought I’d check that out.

The book is quite different. Like you’ve probably gathered from other reviews, it’s grim and gritty, not shirking from the terrible dirty parts of living at the turn of the century–disease, child abuse, orphans, classism, lack of women’s rights, etc. Themes circle issues you can’t deal with on nice Canadian TV. For example, in the TV series, they’ve, through necessity of the cases (and the necessity of the writers probably) accidentally created things like the polygraph and night vision goggles and luminol. In the book, he’s struggling to stop from masturbating he’s an adult male Catholic.

I’m not sure people who like the series will like this, especially if they have delicate sensibilities (for example, this one has a lot of abortion and “promiscuous women” and child death). They are two different things–much like Song of Ice and Fire vs. Game of Thrones. Or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories vs. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. I liked it, but that’s because I can separate Book Murdoch from Television Murdoch.

However, I don’t think I’d read any other books in the series. It lacks what makes the TV show charming (Murdoch’s boyish curiosity, the strong female presence, the anachronistic plots like the “Wrestlemania” one). If I need grim and gritty detective novels, there are plenty of others I can go to. Frankly, I’m surprised whoever created this show found a kernel of what it became. But shrug.

Demon Kissed (The Summoner’s Mark Book 1) by J.D. Blackrose
(unfinished)

To start, this is very oriented toward the female audience. It reminded me of Legends and Lattes in that A) the stakes are too low and B) it’s a slice-of-life kind of book. But unlike Legends and Lattes, it never promised low stakes from the get-go.

The story has trouble getting started. I don’t care if the characters aren’t really creative or lifted straight from other urban fantasies, but that means the plot has to be original. And here–there’s nothing new under the sun.

It’s another story where a typical woman is the chosen one but she doesn’t want her power but gets dragged into using it. She likes a guy but can’t get her life together because she keeps making bad decisions.

It’s those bad decisions that will turn me off from a book faster than anything. Your characters don’t have to be good, they don’t have to be smart, but they do have to be competent. And not just do things because the story demands it.

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace

When I rewatched this film recently I noticed it was based on a book, which piqued my delight. It’s all about storytellers and storytelling, about the urbane fantastic and tall tales, so it’s one of my favorite movies. It turns out the adaption is nearly “in name only”, but that doesn’t mean the book is bad.

The bare bones are there but 1) There are many many elements that don’t show up in the movie but do in the book and vice versa and 2) the mediums translate to two totally different executions. In the movie, there’s a framing device where the son is attending to his dying father who he’s resented all his life for telling these stories and being an attention-hog/liar. The book is pretty much just these stories–no framing device. It’s like a collection or anthology of tall tales about his dad’s life.

They are somewhat less colorful but there are more of them. For example, there is no wolfman-ringmaster in the book. Not even a circus. The old woman’s eye is there, but the circumstances are much less scary than presented in the movie. Tim Burton peeled away the book to its core, then added his own style to it.

But both are chock full of content from the anecdotes and tall tales and stories, like in the movie. The only difference is the movie remixes them. It’s like adapting a video game to a movie–you can make all the changes you want as long as it stays true to the spirit of what made the original great (e.g. Silent Hill, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog). And that’s the case here.

Still Just A Geek: An Annotated Memoir by Wil Wheaton

The concept behind it alone is intriguing–not writing a second memoir, but going back to something written eighteen years ago–after three different presidents, upheavals in the cultural zeitgeist, advancements in LGBTQ rights, regressions in women’s rights, Twitter. After nearly two decades, going back to the first thing you published (autobiographical no less) and giving notes is unique.

Just the fact that it’s an examination of old words gives a chance to see how one’s mentality changes with a little maturity and shift in perspective. What I’m saying is don’t just dismiss this as a capitalistic opportunity to re-release an already written work without much overhead. In the introduction, Wheaton says that he wrote this to demo how he’s grown and changed as a person and a writer.

The problem is that he makes all new flubs.

The footnotes come in three categories: “My parents were assholes”, “I’m sorry for making a sexist/ableist/racist joke here”, and riffs on the material. They tend to go on too long, making a six-hour book into a ten-hour book. He has no compunction about pointing out the mistakes he’s made in the past. But at a certain point, it starts to get grating, uber-liberalistic, apologistic, and so “woke culture” that it makes even a progressive like me wince. Another thing, he keeps saying his parents were abusive and gaslighted him in his youth, but never gives evidence as to what they did. It’s like an essay with no evidence in the middle. I’m sure he’s telling the truth, but he just tells us, doesn’t show us.

Like I said, it’s not like “Oh, this book was the greatest, I’m just going to re-release it with extra material”. It’s more like “look what I’ve learned about writing now”. But I’d rather see that in a new book, not a revised and expanded memoir. Nonetheless, it’s no small task revisiting old work and seeing how cringe it is.

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Who’s Gary Whitta? Why, he’s a screenwriter (The Book of Eli, After Earth, Star Wars: Rogue One), video game writer, and comic book writer turned novelist, which is my favorite kind of author (see Peter David and Neil Gaiman). What does this mean? It means don’t expect a boring book.

And this isn’t one. Right from the start, we are summoning demons in medieval times, hooking you right away like any decent book ought to do. We’ve got good noble warrior characters, bad evil zealots and sorcerers, and a clear objective. It’s basically the story of the Punisher if the mafia were demons and if King Arthur was Captain America (if that makes any sense).

It’s a simple story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good story. The biggest problem, like most novels, is that there’s a sludgy middle where there’s lots of thinking and description. Then it speeds up at the end. This is the first time I’ve noticed the pacing of a novel and it’s upsetting. But it’s still a good book. I recommend giving it a try.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

I got this because I really loved The Final Girl Support Group and wanted to read more from the same author. This might be better than TFGSG, but be warned it’s a different style. TFGSG was a thriller. This is more modern chicklit/true crime.

The story is that a vampire moves into a house in a nice suburban neighborhood in South Carolina where everyone’s safe. This is not a spoiler, it’s pretty obvious the guy’s a vampire when the first meeting is him laying in bed in the middle of the day, emaciated.

But the subtext of the story is that a serial killer has moved in next door, and this comes from all the true stories of people like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy who acted like nice guys but were really monsters underneath. It preys on that fear that not everyone is who they appear to be, that you never truly know a person. The fear that might be a psychopath playing with your kids at the neighborhood barbecue. You know, basically everything you see on the Lifetime channel.

But it’s fascinating to see a writer as versatile as this. I think I’m going to check out even more of his stuff because he has a knack for story-telling I haven’t seen in a long time. Not to mention his genre-blending skills are right in my wheelhouse.

Eric J. Juneau

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.


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