The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair: A Bond Girl à la Amy Sherman-Palladino leads this entertaining action story.

Finally, some original Fahrenbruary content!

The Barista’s Guide to EspionageThe Barista’s Guide to Espionage

by Dave Sinclair/a>
Series:
Eva Destruction, #1

Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: February 4 – 6, 2018

All her adult life, she’d dated men who were bad for her. Men who treated her dreadfully and undervalued her worth. She knew that, she’d always known that, and yet she failed to break the cycle. There had only been one man who’d treated her with respect and as an equal. It was a shame he’d also threatened every government on Earth and drawn UN condemnation.

Eva ran her finger around the rim of her pint. Why were all the best kissers hell-bent on tearing down the world?

This is just your typical story of a feminist, stripper-turned-barista, who falls for an super-rich aspiring super-villain, and ends up holding the fate of the world in her hands. I’m going to stop right there — my attempts at synopsizing this just aren’t paying off. Here’s some of the back of the book blurb:

Meet Eva Destruction, the only thing quicker than her mouth is her talent for getting into trouble. It’s true she’s always had an eye for a bad boy but when she falls for billionaire super-villain Harry Lancing, it seems that even Eva may have bitten off more than she can chew.

Eva hurtles headlong into terrorist attacks, assassinations, car chases and the occasional close encounter with a dashing spy who seems as determined to charm Eva into bed as he is to thwart Lancing’s plans to bring down every government on earth.

As the odds begin to stack up in Lancing’s favour the fate of the world lies in Eva’s hands. Luckily for the world, Eva Destruction isn’t the type of girl to let a super-villain ex-boyfriend with a massive ego, unlimited resources and his own secret island get the better of her.

Eva, Horatio Lancing and the MI6 agent are entertaining characters — the action scenes are exciting. There’s a car chase that’s remarkably good. But the banter, verbal sparring and jokes are where the real fireworks are found. It’s almost like Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote an action film.

A few caveats I should issue for some of the regulars around here: Early on, there’s a sex scene that is entirely too graphic, and unnecessarily so. I liked what Sinclair achieved with it and the aftermath. But He could’ve achieved the same (or practically the same) result with a little less detail. There are further references to sex if you can get past this one, but nothing that comes close to the detail of this one scene. It’s probably PG-13 afterwards, actually. Additionally, Evan utilizes some of the more creative swearing you’ve read. It’s not anything you’d care to repeat anywhere near a mother armed with a bar of soap mind you. But creative nonetheless.

Eva is smart, witty and determined — it’s easy to see why men are fawning over her (even without the looks). She’s the kind of character you like reading — she’s sure of herself, and yet really, really not. I love reading about someone who is just awesome with zero self-confidence in certain instances. But when push comes to shove, she comes through in a way worthy of Jason Bourne or Frank Martin.

This book is essentially a cartoon — it’s over the top, exaggerated, and entertainingly hyperbolic. But Lancing . . . I tell you. For a would-be global dictator, there’s something appealing about him. He’s described as “Snowden with an agenda and Assange with charisma,” and truly (often) seems to only want to hold governments/government officials to their word. “You promised the voters X,” he essentially says, “deliver X, or I’ll release the videos of you in a compromising situation with a 14-year old.” A motivation that many people would agree with, and a capability that doesn’t seem that outlandish — especially compared to the rest of the story, Lancing seems realistic — realistic-ish, anyway.

There are so, so many quotable lines in this book — it’s practically impossible to pick one to focus on. This is like early Evanovich — just with the sex, swearing and violence turned up a bit. I think it went on a bit too long, and could use maybe 50 fewer pages. But it was so much fun, I don’t want to complain too much. The Barista’s Guide to Espionage is a big explode-y ball of entertainment and Dave Sinclair is someone to keep an eye out for.

—–

3.5 Stars

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Fahrenbruary Repost: The Song of The Swan by Michael RN Jones: Locke and Doyle’s triumphant return is sure to please

The Song of The SwanThe Song of The Swan

by Michael RN Jones
Series: The Victor Locke Chronicles, #2

Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: September 13 – 14, 2017

On ending the sentence, his face dropped. “Oh,” he exhaled, “that’s it. I’ve just had one of those TV detective moments.”

“What d’you mean?”

“You know. When some tiny and unrelated fact, like a car door slamming or an answerphone machine flicking on, makes the whole case drop into place. It happens to Jonathan Creek and Adrian Monk all the time…”

In The Accidental Detective, we met Victor Locke and his court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Doyle — a modern-day Holmes and Watson in a collection of stories that were partially a tribute, partially a pastiche, partially an update and entirely entertaining. This second episodic novel/short story collection continues in that vein.

This book opens with Doyle and Locke being arrested for bank robbery, which is not really what I’d expected. It’s, as is the case with many of the stories in this book, a chance for Doyle to stretch his investigatory skills and do a lot of the work. The two are not equal partners in any sense, but it’s nice to see that Doyle is more than just the sidekick (see Archie Goodwin and Joan Watson for other examples of this kind of relationship).

Not only is Doyle on his way to becoming a proper investigator, his write-ups of the cases are gaining him a greater degree of notoriety. I particularly enjoyed watching various characters go out of their way to fawn over him — or try to work their way into his writings.

At the same time, Doyle is wondering how well he actually knows his friend — and frequently discovers the answer is, “not that well.” At the same time, everyone (including Locke himself) regards him as the world’s expert on Victor Locke. Locke is just fun to watch in the varied situations he places himself in. As much as I appreciated Doyle’s larger role in things, I missed Locke when he wasn’t “on screen.” There’s a greater depth to the character than we’ve seen previously (or maybe I just missed it last time — that’s possible)

I’ve talked a lot about the characters and not much about the cases — there are two reasons for this, primarily, you read things like this for the characters. Secondly, Jones can tell you about the cases in a much more interesting way than I can. I’ll just say that they’re clever, enjoyable and Holmesian (in the best sense).

I’ve gotta say, I didn’t like the ending. I thought it was well done, it flowed organically from the events leading up to it, it fit the characters, it was earned — and so on. I just didn’t like it.

I enjoyed The Accidental Detective and if The Song of the Swan had been more of the same, I’d have been satisfied. But, Jones kicked everything up a notch — Locke was stranger, more clever, and funnier; Doyle was a better version of the guy we’d met previously, and the crimes were more interesting. All in all, a fun read, a great way to spend a few hours and one of those sequels that delivers on the promise of the first. Heartily recommended.

—–

4 Stars

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin: A wildly imaginative and creative MG Fantasy

The Assassination of Brangwain SpurgeThe Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin


Hardcover, 523 pg.
Candlewick Press, 2018
Read: January 24 – 25, 2019

Let me start with a hat-tip to Paul at Paul’s Picks for putting this on my radar. Thanks, Paul.

For a MG book, I’m surprisingly intimidated by the prospect of trying to give a synopsis. That’s probably a clue about the book. Brangwain Spurge is an elfin historian of moderate renown — when (as far as he knows) an ancient goblin relic is found in his land, he’s dispatched to present it to the goblin’s king. No elf has survived being in — much lest returning from — goblin territories in more than a century, but the conventional wisdom is that a historian should be safe — even if he is also spying.

The goblins and elves have spent centuries fighting each other, and are in a rare season without warfare — and no one expects it to last for long. Each side distrusts the other in ways that make relations between the USA and USSR in the 1960’s seem warm and cordial. So this mission of Brangwain’s is an unexpected and welcome overture of peace. Or so many people think.

Brangwain’s host is a goblin names Werfel — who’s also a historian. Werfel is a very odd, but seemingly pleasant, person living in the midst of pretty odd, and apparently pleasant, people. Every goblin he meets goes out of their way to welcome Brangwain and try to make him feel comfortable, while celebrating elfin culture. Brangwain’s a nervous guy, who has spent most of his life (going back to childhood) being insulted, bullied and overlooked — he doesn’t really see the efforts of the goblins for what it is. Besides, he’s too busy trying not to get caught while spying on his hosts.

Now, how does this elf — who most people expect is on a suicide mission — get his information back to the elves? I’m glad you asked — this is an ingenious move by Anderson and Yelchin — while alone and resting, Brangwain uses elfin magic and imagines what he’s seen which is transmitted to a device in the office of his king’s military intelligence, that takes these transmissions and “prints” them out. These would be the illustrations that make up a significant portion of this book.

Ultimately, things go awry and Brangwain and Werfel are on the run together, trying to survive and hopefully keep the peaceful overtures alive. A friendship will rise between the two as they depend on each other and realize how much they have in common.

There’s some great commentary on the power of perspective when it comes to history. Werfel and Brangwain differ greatly in their understandings of the same event/person, wholly dependent on their backgrounds. It’s all about who writes the history — even if it’s an obscure scholar — when it comes to establishing “fact.”

A little bit more about the art. First, it’s just great. This isn’t a book directed at the picture book crowd, but the art might as well be for people who can’t read the text — it’s as much of the story telling as the text. Yelchin actually saves them a couple hundred pages telling the more dramatic portions of the story in his pictures. Interestingly enough, the events described in the narration and the events depicted in the art/Brangwain’s reports differ significantly, and part of the fun of the book is comparing them. Yelchin’s art reminds me of Jules Feiffer’s from The Phantom Tollbooth, which is possibly the biggest selling point for me. Well, except the picture of a spider-creature that makes Shelob and Aragog look tame.

It’s a fun story, a little wry, and it will appeal to grade schoolers who have an off-kilter sense of humor. I really enjoyed reading it and recommend it for middle graders and their parents/older siblings alike.

—–

3 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Fahrenbruary Repost: HER: The 1st Victor Locke Story by Michael RN Jones

Having read the two collections of Victor Locke books, I get what “HER” was trying to do — I stick with what I said in the moment, but I wish I’d trusted Jones more. I know I dug the series more than I did this. Ahh, hindsight.

HER: The 1st Victor Locke StoryHER: The 1st Victor Locke Story

by Michael RN Jones
Series: The Victor Locke Chronicles, #.5

Kindle Edition, 49 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: March 7, 2017

So a couple of weeks ago, The Accidental Detective was released — and it looked good, and is sitting on my Kindle, begging for my attention.

Today, I had an extra minute or two on my hands and Fahrenheit Press was nice enough to provide this, the first story about Victor Locke and his psychologist for free. (hopefully you see this in time to head to amazon and grab it).

Locke is a fast-talking, genius of some sort who’s served time for computer hacking. Dr. Jonathan Doyle was his court-appointed psychologist upon his release. Locke’s no longer a client, but Doyle still sees him around. So when a couple of FBI agents drop in to his office to get his help finding Locke, it’s easy for him to connect them to Locke.

They have a task — go find a digital file that will bring great embarrassment to the British government, as well as the U.S.’. They provide no details about the file beyond what’s essential to find it. They also provide the Locke with a snazzy laptop (as he’s not permitted to have one any more). Seemingly on a lark, Locke takes their offer and begins searching.

The search obviously, leads to HER. The story isn’t that important in this case, it’s all about meeting the world, meeting Locke and Doyle. As such — it’s a hoot. There’s a strong voice that practically demands to be read quickly, breathlessly, like the fast-talking Locke (can you read breathlessly?). There’s a manic energy matching Locke’s logic and smarts, which explains why Doyle seems so intrigued by him.

As an advertisement for The Accidental Detective/encouragement to read it? This works really well — I’m in, and will work on getting to it soon. As a story in and of itself? Eh, maybe it works too hard at paying tribute to/updating a classic mystery story to really work. But man, it was fun. A great way to spend a half-hour or so.

—–

3 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Luna Miller

Earlier today, I talked about The Lion’s Tale by Luna Miller (translated by Aidan Isherwood). Miller was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Hope you enjoy this.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your education/other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I have always had an ambition to write, but with a restless personality it was a challenge to complete any work in a satisfying way. Always a lot of ideas, but never enough patience to complete any of them. I was always occupied with other commitments – long travels when I was young, and then education, then kids, then work…

But difficult experiences made me realize how important it is for me to make my dream come true. And my years spent working as a civil servant, specialising in providing support for cultural life, taught me about patience. So, a few years ago I started to give myself time to write. And then more and more time. Disorganized at first, but then slowly developing.

I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But this collection of characters — Gunvor, Elin, David, Aidan — is so unusual, so great. How did this come to you? Did you start with Gunvor and then try to figure out how she could accomplish things (and therefore needed the kids), or did you start with one/both of David and Elin and then added Gunvor? I’m just guessing here — you take over 🙂
Gunvor was the first character, but Elin and David entered the story soon enough. I did just about all of the backstory on the three of them before starting to write the book. The idea was to tell the story of unexpected heroines and heroes. Characters that have issues the readers can relate to and feel a bit sorry for. Characters who can barely cope with each other, or even themselves. But characters that grow with the story, even if they do make mistakes along the way. Characters that don´t really know what they are doing, but still give it their all.

Even if I worked on a backstory and planned how to take it along, the story still took on a life of its own. There are always a lot of unexpected things that happen when I start to write. It is like the characters begin living their own lives. Making decisions within the story that I hadn’t planned in advance.

I spent so much of this novel convinced that everything The Fruängen Bureau (one member in particular) was doing and thinking regarding one particular character was a giant mistake — did you plan this character arc out from the beginning, or did it come to you mid-draft? It’s possibly the trickiest thing you did in the book, very impressive.
I made the backstory of Chibby pretty early in the process. I am fascinated by people whose strengths and weaknesses are close. But, as I described in my answer to the previous question, Chibbe also “came to life” during my writing session and evolved in the process.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I like to write mystery/suspense/thriller. I have already written the second book about Gunvor Ström and her allies in Swedish, but I have tried other genres as well. The first book I wrote, Three Days in September, is a contemporary adult relationship drama about unlikely friendships, loyalty, love and hope intertwined with sex, violence and tragedy. That story had been in my head for many, many years before it finally become a book. The main idea is about the desires, dreams and fears of six lives that collide when a stranger comes to town. The story is intense, short and drastic.

I love books like The Lord of the Rings and the stories of Harry Potter. But I cannot see myself having control over so many characters at once.

I’ve often wondered what it’s like to work with a translator — was it a collaborative effort, or did Aidan Isherwood just take the manuscript and run with it? How was the translator selected?
Years ago, I lived in the house where I have now placed Gunvor’s home. I am nothing like Gunvor except that I also had a neighbour and friend by the name of Aidan. So, except that he is the translator he is also an inspiration to the Aidan character in the book. He did an excellent job.
At that time, I had no money to pay a translator, so we made an agreement to split the income of the book.The Lion´s Tail was also edited by Perry Iles. He was recommended by a friend of Aidan who is also an author. He did a great job with the book. I really recommend working with an editor. No matter how long you work on a book there are always things that can be made better by a “third eye”.
What’s next for Luna Miller?
I am writing the third book in the Fruängen Bureau series in Swedish. I hope that the second book will be translated into English in 2019 or 2020. I am also working on a sequel to Three Days in September.
Thanks for your time — and thanks for The Lion’s Tale, I really enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.
Thank you for taking time to read it. I am really happy that you enjoyed it. And thank you for the possibility to answer these interesting question 😊

The Lion’s Tail by Luna Miller, Aidan Isherwood (Translator): Unlikely doesn’t begin to describe the heroes of this debut PI novel

The Lion's TailThe Lion’s Tail

by Luna Miller, Aidan Isherwood (Translator)
Series: The Fruängen Bureau, #1

Kindle Edition, 257 pg.
2018
Read: January 23 – 24, 2018

“What did he say? Think. Try to remember. It might be very important.” Gunvor struggles to hide her impatience.

“Something about how even your dreams can be dangerous. About how I should keep my dreams as just dreams. And that if you try to make a dream come true you can mess up everything. You can ruin your life. That’s what he said. That your whole life can be destroyed.”

Gunvor Strom hooked me almost immediately — she’s a feisty woman in her 60s who we meet as she’s helping a young woman deal with a handful of teen males harassing her. She’s creative, crafty, wily and ruthless in this, and it’s a great way to bring in an audience.

We quickly learn that Gunvor is a rookie Private Investigator, forced to leave her career and changing her life after a divorce, she signs on to a Private Investigative Agency and mostly does grunt work — but does get the opportunity to do some investigative work. As much as she misses her old life, she relishes this new one (although she might like joints that are a little less painful).

Gunvor is assigned to find out what’s behind a husband’s odd behavior — the client, his wife, adamantly refuses to accept the idea that he’s being unfaithful, but his behavior is different and troubling. Gunvor isn’t on the case for long before she decides she could use a few more eyeballs — so she recruits, oddly enough, Elin (the young woman above) and David — the ringleader of those harassing her. She’s a student, he’s unemployed — and both need something in their life to care about, neither one of them realized that they were interested in investigative work.

Really, this book has two stories — one is the investigation into this man — and things get violent shortly after the trio gets to work. It’s at this point that the husband talks about the potential of dreams to destroy your life. If anything, this violence causes Gunvor and the rest to work harder — not long afterwards there’s a murder and the number and types of criminal activity that they’re investigating grows and grows.

The other story is following the development of Gunvor as an investigator and her two young protégés. Elin discovers sides to her personality that surprise her (and Gunvor, actually), and really comes out of her shell. David, on the other hand, response to the trust and responsibility given him by rising to the occasion and even maturing a little bit. Now, none of these characters grow perfectly or in a straight line — there are ups and downs to this development == and the suggestion is that this will continue after this book.

Both stories are wholly satisfying and serve each other well. The conclusion is as tense and taught as you can hope for, and at a certain point, you’ll forget that the trio you’re rooting for aren’t the kind of detectives you’re used to, all you know is that you’re hoping they survive.

This book, time and time again, came so close to wowing me — the clever twists, the dramatic turns, character development, and so on — but almost every time that Miller brushed against “great” she ended up settling a few notches down at being really good. Is it possible that if this was written in English, or set somewhere that I understood more than Stockholm that I’d be able to appreciate more nuances and rate it higher? Absolutely. But it wasn’t, so I can wish I understood what it means for someone to be from X neighborhood/district versus Y, and missing other things that don’t come through the translation as cleanly as they might.

ON the whole, this was just a pleasure to read — it grabbed my interest from the beginning and never let go. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the sequels, I can assure you, and I expect most readers will find the book as compelling.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

3.5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Fahrenbruary Repost: The Lobster Boy And The Fat Lady’s Daughter by Charles Kriel

Here’s the first book I read from Fahrenheit Press. It left an impression. In addition to the Kindle copy I bought, I have two paperback versions of this — and ordered the Hardcover last year (not sure what happened there…oh well). I wonder today if I’d given it more stars, I think I would’ve. It’s just weird enough that I didn’t know how to judge it. I’m still not sure I do, but I wish I had time for a re-read, I think I can appreciate more of it now that it’s percolated in the back of my mind for 3 years and change.

More than anything, I really hope that Kriel gives us another book with these people some time.

Be sure to check out the music video of the song FP commissioned to accompany the book.

The Lobster Boy And The Fat Lady's Daughter The Lobster Boy And The Fat Lady’s Daughter

by Charles Kriel
Series: Mel Barry Investigates, #1Kindle Edition, 250 pg.

Fahrenheit Press, 2015

Read: October 31, 2015


I can’t give this one the discussion it needs with my standard spoiler-free stuff. So…after the break below, I’ll talk about my spoilery-beefs with this book. If you don’t want to read them (I’m not sure I’d blame you for skipping) read on. Otherwise, you can stop when you get to the stars.

Carnival/Freak Show owner Charlie “Lobster Boy” Koontz is being framed for murder, and given his physical appearance, an already ugly situation promises to get much, much worse. So he does the unthinkable — he calls his adopted daughter for help. You’ll have to read to find out why this is such a dumb move. Mel comes to town, starts asking questions, kicking some butt — occasionally getting a name — all while reconnecting with her carnie roots and learning a bit more about her family.

Mel’s a combination of Jack Reacher and Charlie Fox with a more mysterious past than either. Which Kriel teases us with frequently, but doesn’t give us much to go on. I’m fine with that, if we get a sequel that actually explains what happens to Mel post-carnival, otherwise, it’s a problem (one that’s not Kriel’s fault, really). Anyway, she’s good with a gun, good with hand-to-hand, crafty as all get-out and determined to get Charlie out of jail no matter what.

We don’t get much of an idea about the town that the murder takes place in, we get a flavor of some of the leadership — we see that Law Enforcement is a racist joke, and that there’s a strip joint. That’s pretty much it. Kriel comes close to playing the stereotype card, but somehow avoids it. We see almost nothing of the populace, no characters that we can remember longer than the sentence that they’re (outside of the villains, obviously)

We get a good look at The Lobster Boy’s Mermaid Parade, on the other hand. It’s a not just a group of coworkers, it’s a family — admittedly, a strange family. They live together, travel together, perform together, play together — it’s enough to make you want to run off and join them. But you should probably bend a law or two first, so you can fit in. And it’s filled with characters — almost none of which we get adequate time with, but enough to make them people, enough to remember in a couple of cases, at least.

Early on, there is a rape scene that I found to be gratuitously graphic. I get that occasionally for reasons of plot or character, you’ve got to have a scene along those lines — and while I don’t appreciate them, I can accept them. But they need to serve a purpose, this one seems to do little more than demonstrate that the man is a creep, a misogynist, violent with a twisted idea that he’s connected to Mel. Now we already know everything except the violence before things got graphic, and there’re other ways to show that. I’m not saying the guy can’t rape the girl to illustrate this stuff if that’s what an author thinks is best, but we don’t need the details. The fact that he rapes someone alone says that. The details don’t add to that. A couple of chapters earlier, there’s an attempted rape scene (different perpetrators, different victim) — I had no problems with that at all, because it accomplished things that served the story and the characters.

The first two chapters of this were interesting, yeah, but there was something about it that made me think this wasn’t going to be a book for me — no matter how well-written it turned out to be, there was just something that didn’t appeal. I’m not sure if I finished Chapter 3 before I decided I was wrong — I liked Mel, straightaway. I still wasn’t sure about anything else in the book, but if this was her book, I was in.

This was a fast read, a compelling read, and a fun read — and were it not for graphic elements in the rape scene and the stuff coming up below, I’d have rated it higher. Still, Mel Barry is a character I want to see more of, and I’m sure Charles Kriel is an author I will see more of. Especially at a Kindle price, it’s worth the read — would be for twice what Amazon is asking, too.

—–

3.5 Stars
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