A companion novel

Time’s Convert is a companion novel to the All Souls Trilogy. In it, we follow the story of a young woman, Phoebe, as she becomes a vampire so she and her true love, Marcus (who is already a vampire), can be together forever.

It’s easy to look at that melodramatic premise and roll your eyes. Especially if you read the somewhat shaggy All Souls Trilogy it’s related to. (Which I enjoyed, but it’s a melodrama that is full of too many characters doing too much.) This is a tighter story, and is mainly about the combination of Marcus’ human childhood and his early years as a vampire. It’s contrasted with the journey that Phoebe is going through in the modern era. I can’t help but think that the author wrote this book so she had the excuse to revisit her favorite characters and share Marcus’ backstory.

Or maybe that’s just why I read it – I am here for Deborah Harkness’ strong women taking charge of their lives, and Marcus has a different journey as a vampire than the others of his clan. It happens to be one that allows the reader to explore the American and French Revolutions, as well as some early American history. It’s fun.

I would not recommend Time’s Convert if you haven’t read the other books in the series. The author spends little time explaining who is who and how they are related to each other. This one is for fans of the All Souls Trilogy.

It’s a ghost story!

Tunnel of Bones is Victoria Schwab’s second book in the City of Ghosts series. It’s a middle grade set of books (so, slightly younger than young adult books – think for middle schoolers, or ages 11-13) about a girl, Cassidy, who can see ghosts and whose parents are professional ghost hunters. In the first book, she discovers that ghosts are still here because they haven’t been sent on for some reason – they died early and still have something that needs doing or were resistant to death or some other reason. Her power is the ability to bring them peace by sending them on. It’s not really made clear what “sending them on” means.

Here’s where I confess that I’m not much for the horror genre. I’ve read Stephen King, but I tend to skim the scary bits (I can do creepy, but outright scary is bad). This middle grade book, which has a ghost who is leveling-up to poltergeist status and can cause mayhem in the real world, is about my speed. Cassidy needs to learn the ghost’s story in order for him to be able to move on. She gets to spend some time with the ghost’s descendants learning who he was and what the circumstances were around his death – the main action of the book is this mystery: who is this person, why did he die, and how can Cassidy get better at what she does to she can stop the mayhem from happening.

I enjoy Victoria Schwab’s books, including her middle-grade. She does the right amount of creepy for me, even in her adult and YA books. And I am always here for a story about a girl kicking butt and figuring out what she’s good at. Tunnel of Bones is recommended.

Once again, a book not for Kates

I didn’t like How to Eat a Cupcake. I don’t know why – you’d think its lighthearted take on female friendship that takes place in San Francisco would be right in my wheelhouse. I love the kindness of the impulse of Julia reaching out to Annie to help her start her own small business, even if it is also a selfish way to try to become friends again. There’s tension there that should have been interesting.

But this was an unsatisfying first novel that ended up frustrating me more than anything else. There’s a mystery of what exactly caused the rift between Annie and Julia when they were teenagers; its pacing drove me nuts. And the switching of perspectives from chapter to chapter… I just don’t know. It bugged me.

This novel was clearly not for me.

Living not quite in the middle of nowhere

The Stranger in the Woods is the book-length tale started in the GQ article titled “The Strange & Curious Case of the Last True Hermit“, which I would recommend you read if you haven’t already. It’s about a man who makes the choice to live in a secluded clump of woods in a tent in Central Maine. For over twenty years.

I find this story fascinating for a couple of reasons. One, the practical side of me is honestly curious about how you survive Maine winters in a tent. It’s explained in the book but I still keep thinking “but could that really work? Really?” Two, there is an appeal to leaving the world behind, to get rid of sources of stress, to have the time to meditate and the ability to read so much of the time. Three, what you must have to go through to re-enter the world is incredible to think about. It’s probably like traveling to a whole new place and having to learn how to fit in again. Things are the same as before you left, but also completely different.

The Stranger in the Woods is an easy read and entertaining. Which seems like an odd and callous thing to say about a real, live person who is clearly going through some real, live stuff. Even if he did just decide to go, he was discovered and arrested and pulled back into the world not by his choice. While the book is easy and entertaining, I’m not sure it should be? Like, shouldn’t I feel his pain and suffering along with him as he slowly reacclimatizes to being around people?

I don’t know. Would I recommend it? Yes, as a starting place and a story. But no if you’re looking for a psychological profile that wants you to ask difficult questions.

Continuing Spooky Season

Truly Devious is the first book in a YA mystery series. Be forewarned that only two of the planned three books are out (the last one is scheduled for release in January 2020).

Stevie (short for Stephanie) Bell is a new student to the Ellingham Academy, a boarding school in Vermont that was founded in the 1930s. Shortly after the founding, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and possibly killed. A culprit was found, but no one believes that he did it. Stevie wants to be the real Sherlock Holmes, and her mission at Ellingham Academy (in the present time) is to solve the mystery.

The past mystery is nicely mysterious, the setting of a secluded school without parents is handled in the best hothouse-for-bizarreness way, there’s a romance story that is very much not the point, and while there is also a current murder, it does get solved. So even though the past mystery is going to take three books to solve (probably), there is a sense of resolution and completeness to this book.

I enjoyed Truly Devious and have put the second book in the series on my hold list at the library.

A short review of a mystery that was… fine

The Chatelet Apprentice is a fine first mystery novel, doing a good job of introducing the characters, setting the scene of mid-1700s Paris (Paris is important because it puts our detective into glancing contact with King Louis XV), and generally easing you into a new mystery series.

That said, I had a terribly hard time getting into this book. It was a slow read the whole way through, and while it wasn’t bad, it was maybe more laid back than I wanted? I don’t know. It is translated from the French, and so, since it was written for the French market, maybe moves at a different pace? Or maybe I’m just not used to reading cozy mysteries and as a result am not used to them anymore.

Regardless, if you’re looking for a new mystery series or fiction books about historical France, try out The Chatelet Apprentice.

An oldie but a goodie

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump, despite the 60-some-odd books on my to-read pile. (Hell, maybe because of the 60-ish books on that to read pile.) So naturally, I pulled Brideshead Revisited off the shelf. I mean, what better way to deal with a slump than reading Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece?

Because it is a masterpiece. It manages to be both silly and serious – the relationships between people are both lighthearted and the most important parts of our lives. This relationship – or rather these relationships that Charles Ryder has with both Sebastian and Julia Flyte, of the family that owns Brideshead, form who he is. I’d call it a coming-of-age story, except that it extends well into Charles’ 20s. Tonally, The Secret History owes it a debt.

If you’ve let this one pass you by, consider Brideshead Revisited. It’s worth your time.

On Being Angry

I saw a tweet a couple of weeks ago, wondering why the media was continuing to focus on men and their idea about the 2020 election when the real story was how angry women are. How done we are with all this bullshit, the casual harassment, the serial rapist that’s in the White House, every story that has come out from #MeToo. (Because y’all of course: #MeToo.)

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo takes all of that anger – presumably her anger – and puts it into Alex Stern. She is a former teenaged drug addict who is found surrounded by a few people, mostly men, who had been brutally murdered. She had no blood on her, but she was so high that she was never a suspect. Oh, and she can see ghosts. The plot starts when, in the aftermath, Yale decides it needs her to keep their secret societies in check. The eight main societies each specialize in a particular type of magic, and a ninth house keeps an eye on each of them to make sure nothing gets out of hand or the students in them don’t get too greedy. Alex wants to be good, wants to fit in, but things keep happening. Eventually, her anger proves to be a very useful tool solving the central mystery.

It is scary and good and depicts rape, sexual assualt, and college students being the assholes that college students can be. Especially when alcohol is involved. It also features them occasionally being hit over the head with blunt objects when that happens.

But mostly, Ninth House wants to remind you how good and productive anger can be. I am here for it. You should be too.

Revisiting an old love

I read The Secret History about a million times while in college. So reading it again was a bit more like comfort than exploring anything new or looking to discover anything new.

And yet, there is something in a book you can re-read that many times. While in college, I was in love with the over the top aesthetic of this book. Now, it’s hard not to look at the characters and see tragedy written all over them. Henry, the scholar who has always been able to do what he wants; Charles and Camilla, twins who can’t live apart, not even when they need to; Francis, who needs to be allowed to be himself when he’s not at college; Bunny, fatuous and full of charm but irritating as hell; and Richard, who just wants to fit in.

I still love the aesthetic of it, the romanticism of a small college in a New England town, the fascination with beauty that is both the author’s and Richard’s, who also happens to be our narrator.

I can’t at all tell you what it would be like to approach this book, written pre-internet, as an adult almost 30 years later. All I can tell you is that I still love The Secret History, whether its because the book is great or because I loved it so much as a twenty-year-old. I will always recommend it.

Slumps and books I’m not sure are any good

I’ve been in something of a reading slump lately. Including with this book. I started Paris in the Present Tense ready for its atmosphere and characters and sank into the first chapter. After that, every time I picked it up, I read slightly less and was slightly less interested in the story. Once I was halfway through the book I found myself not caring almost at all.

I don’t think it was the story, about an older man, a failed musician, who is still fit and exercises daily, whose grandson is dying and through a series of events ends up in a street fight and kills a young man (who, it should be said, was about to kill him). You root for him, but I’m not sure you should. And I didn’t care enough to explore the middle ground.

But was it the book or was it my slump? It’s hard to tell, but I can’t recommend Paris in the Present Tense, despite my initial delight with it.