Review: The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Mark Frost

I was a big fan of the series Twin Peaks, which I watched faithfully each week until some time into the second season, after which I felt the series took a nosedive (I did ultimately watch all the episodes at some point last year). I read Laura Palmer’s secret diary (and wished I hadn’t). I watched Fire Walk With Me (and wished I hadn’t). When it was announced that the series would return, I was excited because I thought I’d have some answers about what, exactly, was going on. Well, if you watched Twin Peaks: The Return, maybe you liked it. Maybe after it was over, all you could think was “WTF did I just watch?” (That was me, by the way.) I think I did like parts of it, but in general, I can’t really recommend it because I felt it dropped too many threads and didn’t resolve much of anything. I was so frustrated by the ending of the series, that I decided to read Mark Frost’s book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, hoping it might offer some answer. I also decided I would check it out of the library rather than buy it because I had a feeling it wouldn’t be something I’d need to own. I have to say that it did explain the series a bit, but not enough.

The book presents itself as a dossier compiled by a “mysterious” person the FBI refers to as “the Archivist.” No one who has watched the series will likely be surprised by the Archivist’s identity, but they might be surprised by a few of the revelations the book offers. Recorded weirdness in the area near Twin Peaks dates all the way back to Lewis and Clark, and the book implicates everything and everyone in this weirdness, from aliens and UFOs, the Air Force, Richard Nixon, Jack Parsons, L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley, the Masons, the Illuminati, the Nez Perce and Chief Joseph, and Douglas Milford, who you may remember married a young siren named Lana in the original series and died on his wedding night—it’s strongly implied sex with Lana did poor Dougie in. However, much of the series still remains unexplained. Frost has another book coming out on Halloween, and perhaps this final tome will put the mysteries to bed, but I am starting to feel about the Twin Peaks franchise the same way I feel about Anne Rice.

Let me explain.

I really loved Interview with the Vampire. I rushed right out and read the rest of the Vampire Chronicles that had been published at the time. I also loved The Vampire Lestat. I didn’t love The Queen of the Damned, but when I enjoyed The Tale of the Body Thief, I decided maybe The Queen of the Damned was a fluke. Then came the others. MerrickThe Vampire ArmandMemnoch the Devil (which remains the only book I’ve thrown across the room). I couldn’t finish Blackwood Farm. I decided maybe I should quit Anne Rice because I was disappointed time and time again. But then I’d give her another chance. Finally, I gave Prince Lestat a chance, and it was just bloody awful. I kept trying because I kept hoping Rice would return to the storytelling I enjoyed in the first few books I read, but after being disappointed time and again, I was forced to conclude that I should quit Anne Rice. And I was a big fan. I used to check her fan website for news nearly every day in 1995 or thereabouts.

I won’t give too much away because part of the fun of reading this “dossier” is discovering the creepy history of Twin Peaks and trying to figure out how some of the events in Twin Peaks: The Return fit in. For example, this crazy episode. No, it still doesn’t make complete sense, but it makes a little more sense after I read this book. Also, some of the characters’ histories, ret-conned or no, definitely take on more significance than they appeared to have in the original series. The book also has some inconsistencies, both internally and connected to the series. I always find it frustrating when that happens. The book definitely goes in a more X-Files direction than the original series did.

Honestly, some of the episodes of Twin Peaks, both the original series and The Return, remain some of the creepiest things I’ve seen on TV, and for my money, villains don’t come much scarier than the ones you find on Twin Peaks. But I admit my patience with the franchise may be at an end—not that it’s clear that Lynch and Frost plan to continue.

So am I going to give Twin Peaks another chance with this book on Halloween? Probably. I mean, I still have too many questions about what the hell I watched this summer. But let’s just say I’ll be wary of anything else that comes down the pike if this next book disappoints as much as the series. And as I did with this book, I’ll be checking it out of the library. I’m wary to say the least.

Rating: ★★★☆☆


R. I. P. XIII am counting this book as my first selection for this year’s R. I. P. Challenge, as I found it sufficiently creepy (just like the series) to be an R. I. P. read.

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TLC Book Tour: Whispering in French, Sophia Nash

Sophia Nash’s novel Whispering in French begins as Kate Hamilton flies to Biarritz in the south of France to see if she can convince her grandfather to sell the cliffside villa that has been in her family for generations. She doesn’t expect to fall in love with the place herself and to risk everything to save it, finding herself and discovering a new confidence and ability to take risks in the process.

Meanwhile, her grandfather’s neighbor asks Kate, a psychologist, if she will help his great-nephew, Edward Soames, whose PTSD as the result of several tours of duty threatens to destroy the man’s life and perhaps even, his uncle fears, cause his suicide. He proves to be a difficult case, and Kate breaks some of her own rules in order to reach him.

Kate weathers a string of crises, from lack of money (never actually a serious crisis, as it turns out), to a violent storm, to a reconciliation with her family, to discovering family she didn’t know she had, bureaucratic red tape. I was curious as to why so many crises hit the protagonist in such quick succession only to be neatly resolved within a chapter or two. The basic plotline meandered a bit, not quite resolving itself for this reader. I wondered also at the inclusion of the adventures of the neighbor’s cat and a hedgehog, who were later joined by a dog, in the garden. However, Kate’s self-realization and acceptance of herself felt realistic in light of the challenges she faced as she decided to stay in France. The setting is rendered realistically and vividly. Readers looking for a light beach read might enjoy this one.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

From the Publisher

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 1, 2017)

Award-winning romance author Sophia Nash makes her women’s fiction debut with a beautifully crafted, funny, and life-affirming story set in the Atlantic seaside region of France, as one woman returns to France to sell her family home and finds an unexpected chance to start over—perfect for fans of Le Divorce and The Little Paris Bookshop.

Home is the last place Kate expected to find herself…

As a child, Kate Hamilton was packed off each summer to her grandfather’s ivy-covered villa in southern France. That ancestral home, named Marthe Marie, is now crumbling, and it falls to Kate—regarded as the most responsible and practical member of her family—to return to the rugged, beautiful seaside region to confront her grandfather’s debts and convince him to sell.

Kate makes her living as a psychologist and life coach, but her own life is in as much disarray as Marthe Marie. Her marriage has ended, and she’s convinced that she has failed her teenaged daughter, Lily, in unforgivable ways. While delving into colorful family history and the consequences of her own choices, Kate reluctantly agrees to provide coaching to Major Edward Soames, a British military officer suffering from post-traumatic stress. Breaking through his shell, and dealing with idiosyncratic locals intent on viewing her as an Americanized outsider, will give Kate new insight into who—and where—she wants to be. The answers will prove as surprising as the secrets that reside in the centuries-old villa.

Witty and sophisticated, rich in history and culture, Sophia Nash’s novel vividly evokes both its idyllic French setting and the universal themes of self-forgiveness and rebuilding in a story as touching as it is wise.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Sophia Nash

Photo by Mary Noble Ours

Sophia Nash was born in Switzerland and raised in France and the United States, but says her heart resides in Regency England. Her ancestor, an infamous French admiral who traded epic cannon fire with the British Royal Navy, is surely turning in his grave.

Before pursuing her long-held dream of writing, Sophia was an award-winning television producer for a CBS affiliate, a congressional speechwriter, and a nonprofit CEO. She lives in the Washington, D.C., suburbs with her husband and two children.

Sophia’s novels have won twelve national awards, including the prestigious RITA®Award, and two spots on Booklist‘s “Top Ten Romances of the Year.”

Find out more about Sophia at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Harper Collins provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. You can catch the reviews of other readers on the TLC Book Tour.

Tuesday, August 1st: Girl Who Reads
Wednesday, August 2nd: Just Commonly
Wednesday, August 2nd: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Friday, August 4th: Art @ Home
Monday, August 7th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, August 9th: Reading to Distraction
Thursday, August 10th: BookNAround
Monday, August 14th: Tina Says…
Tuesday, August 15th: StephTheBookworm
Wednesday, August 16th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

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Sherlock Holmes: The Stock-Broker’s Clerk, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Stock-Broker's Clerk
Illustration for “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

“The Stock-Broker’s Clerk” is a slight narrative concerning the strange behavior of two men who have engaged the employment of Mr. Hall Pycroft. Pycroft is mystified by his employers’ actions and demeanor, so he seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes to determine what is at the bottom of it all and what the two men might truly want. Sherlock Holmes visits Watson and asks if he would be interested in accompanying him to Birmingham to help solve the mystery. Watson, newly married and establishing a medical practice, agrees to allow his neighbor to take on his patients in his absence and sets off at once.

There isn’t a whole lot to this story, though the characterization is interesting. Pycroft is portrayed as fairly sharp, and Watson makes a point of observing that he is “Cockney” and that Cockney Londoners have contributed a great deal to English society in an interesting effort to skewer ideas about class that were prevalent at the time when Conan Doyle was writing (and, for that matter, probably still are). But there’s the tiny antisemitic reference in there, too, as Pycroft describes his employer’s nose. Basically, at its heart, this story makes use of a trope that Conan Doyle sometimes employs—the convoluted hoax. Holmes doesn’t actually do a whole lot in this one because the case is solved by the police, for a change, before he can get to the bottom of it.

I wouldn’t put this up there among my favorites; it doesn’t leave much of an impression. I believe the BBC series Sherlock makes a couple of references to this story. Watson does establish a practice after he thinks Sherlock has died, and what the viewer sees is not too different from what Watson describes in this story. I seem to recall an episode in which Sherlock visits John and makes deductions about his having been ill, but now that I’m trying to find the episode, I can’t. I may be conflating it with a similar incident I’ve already read.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
I read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is twenty-first story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.”

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Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Identity, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Case of Identity
Illustration for “A Case of Identity” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

In “A Case of Identity,” Sherlock Holmes receives a visit from client Mary Sutherland, who is looking for her missing fiancé, Hosmer Angel. Sherlock Holmes has some fairly immediate (and as it turns out, accurate) suspicions about the missing Hosmer once he discovers that Mary’s mother and her mother’s much younger husband enjoy an income bequeathed to Miss Sutherland that they will no longer receive upon her marriage.

Years ago when I first read all the stories, I remembered there were a few that were pretty easy for the reader to solve right away. Also, it’s true the more you read the stories, the more you notice the clues and the more easily you solve the mysteries alongside Sherlock Holmes. In this case, it’s fairly obvious from the start who Hosmer Angel is, and there isn’t a whole lot to the story, but it is fun to see Sherlock Holmes admit there isn’t anything that can legally be done to the stepfather but that he can knock him over the head with a fireplace poker.

The BBC series Sherlock adapted a quick version of the story for its episode “The Empty Hearse.” Sherlock has asked Molly Hooper to fill in as his “John Watson” while Watson is stewing with anger over discovering Sherlock faked his death. A woman and her stepfather are consulting with Sherlock about the woman’s missing online pen pal (or boyfriend, if you like). Sherlock deduces that the online boyfriend was really the woman’s stepfather posing as the woman’s love interest in order to string her along so he could benefit from her wages. Sherlock whispers to Molly that the stepfather is a “complete and utter” and then the scene cuts to Watson saying “piss pot” as he offers one to a patient. This is similar to Sherlock Holmes’s reaction upon confronting the stepfather in the print story. The main focus of the episode, however, has nothing really to do with this story. It’s more of a quick allusion or call-out for Sherlock Holmes fans to catch. I will say this: it’s clear to me that Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the show’s creators, are true Sherlock Holmes fans who have worked very hard to bring the detective stories into the modern day.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is seventeenth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Greek Interpreter.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Noble Bachelor
Illustration for “The Noble Bachelor” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

After reading last week’s story “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,” I am all caught up on the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge.

Sherlock Holmes receives a fancy-looking note from Lord Robert St. Simon, the son of the Duke of Balmoral. The nobleman’s curious marriage had recently been the subject of the gossip columns. The bride would be bringing a great deal of American money into the old (but cash-strapped) family. However, she appears to have disappeared without a trace right after the wedding, in the middle of the wedding breakfast. A dancer, likely a former dalliance of Lord St. Simon’s, is Lestrade’s main suspect. He believes the other woman led the bride out under false pretenses and has perhaps murdered her rival. Sherlock Holmes is positive the story is quite different, and he claims to have solved it as soon as his interview with Lord St. Simon has ended.

This story is one of the ones I have a quibble with because the deductions feel like cheats. The reader doesn’t have enough clues to reach the same conclusions as Holmes has, so his deductions appear to be based on other information not shared in the story. I don’t like it when Conan Doyle does this. Yes, it’s all very impressive how smart Holmes is, but Conan Doyle’s writing is at its best when he carefully lays clues that the reader might also string together. I’m complaining chiefly here about Holmes’s deduction on seeing the card with the note and initials and the hotel receipt that Lestrade shows Holmes. The reader is right with Holmes when he makes deductions about the identity of the man in the pew at the wedding and the comment the bride makes about “jumping a claim.” But how we could be expected to know the significance of the bill and the initials, I’m not sure. The character of Lord St. Simon is so odious, I’m glad he doesn’t get his way. He obviously married Hatty Doran only for her money, and their marriage wasn’t likely to be happy. I would have lain odds he’d have been back in the arms of his dancer before long. Hatty wouldn’t have been happy. The story does have some witty moments—the kinds of exchanges between Holmes and Watson, and also between Holmes and Lestrade, that make the BBC Sherlock series so much fun. Until going back to the stories for this challenge, I hadn’t remembered how much of the humor in that series is right here in the source material. Some choice excerpts:

“Here is a fashionable epistle,” I remarked as I entered. “Your morning letters, if I remember right, were from a fish-monger and a tide-waiter.”

“Yes, my correspondence has certainly the charm of variety,” he answered, smiling, “and the humbler are usually the more interesting. This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a man either to be bored or to lie.”

And this:

“I read nothing [in the newspapers] except the criminal news and the agony column. The latter is is always instructive.” (Sherlock Holmes)

I do not believe I recall any references to this story in the BBC series Sherlock, but in looking it up, I did learn about a couple of “mistakes” in the story. Lord St. Simon’s wife is referred to as “Lady St. Simon” in the story, which is apparently not correct. As the wife of the second son of the Duke (and therefore not his heir), the proper title should be “Lady Robert.” Likewise. “Lord St. Simon” should be “Lord Robert.” While one wouldn’t necessarily expect an American reader like me to get these nuances, it seems surprising that Conan Doyle would make such an error. Also, the description of Watson’s wound doesn’t match its description in A Study in Scarlet, where it was described as a wound in his shoulder: “I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the sublavian artery.” In this story, Watson says, “I had remained indoors all day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnal winds, and the jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign, throbbed with dull persistency.”

I liked the characterization in this one, but not as much the story, and once again, Conan Doyle reveals a middling understanding of Americans at best. The dialogue he gives poor Hatty is dreadful. Not one of his best, but not terrible either.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is fourteenth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is The Valley of Fear, the second novel in the challenge.

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Red Circle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Brock Red Circle
Illustration by H. M. Brock for The Strand

This week’s story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” which is one of many stories that seems to follow a similar patter for Doyle: a mysterious “foreigner” shows up in London bringing intrigue from their country of origin with them, and Holmes must get to the bottom of it. In the case of this mystery, Holmes is initially uninterested, but he is moved to investigate by the pleas of a landlady, Mrs. Warren, who is increasingly suspicious of her new boarder. In spite of himself, Holmes finds himself interested Mrs. Warren’s story and agrees to help.

Holmes and Watson discover several suspicious anomalies as they begin investigating the case: first, the lodger’s notes are printed rather than written in cursive, and Holmes can somehow tell from the cigarette butts the lodger leaves behind that he does not have a mustache, while Mrs. Warren insisted he did have one. Holmes discovers that the landlady has no contact with the lodger aside from these written requests and a ringing bell for meals, which she leaves outside the lodger’s rooms. Breakfast includes copy of the The Daily Gazette. Holmes begins searching the Daily Gazette‘s extracts for messages and believes he is onto something when he finds a series of messages signed “G.”

This one didn’t grab me, though I did enjoy the fact that Holmes didn’t figure out all the pieces of the mystery before everyone else did. Gregson from Scotland Yard was a bit ahead of him on who the mysterious occupant boarding with Mrs. Warren is connected to, and he has a Pinkerton agent with him who is after the same man. I enjoyed Holmes’s comment to Watson, who questions why he is taking on this case when there doesn’t seem to be much substance to it: “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.” That said, it was long on exposition at the end when the mysterious lodger is revealed, and Holmes doesn’t play much of a role in his deduction, except for a few wild leaps that don’t make as much sense (to me) as his deductions typically do, as well as some substantial lack of resolution in the end. If you want to know what the Red Circle is all about, you’ll be disappointed. The villain is easily dispatched, given he is such a threat, and the man who obtained the lodgings from Mrs. Warren disappears, his fate unknown, though Doyle alludes to an escape.

This story originally appeared in His Last Bow and was 44th in composition. Those who have ordered the stories chronologically must have their reasons for ordering this story number 6, but I’m not sure how they figured it out, as there did not seem to me to be any timeline indicators, but I admit I’m not a Sherlock Holmes scholar. I didn’t notice any connections to the Sherlock TV series, possibly because as Sherlock Holmes stories go, this is not one of the more memorable.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the sixth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Beryl Coronet.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the “Gloria Scott,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Illustration by Sidney Paget in The Strand

“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” takes place during Sherlock Holmes’s college days. In the story, Holmes tells Watson about a college friend of his and the curious events leading up to the death of his friend’s father. Holmes met his friend Victor Trevor when Trevor’s dog bit and injured Sherlock. Trevor visits Holmes while he is convalescing, and the two become friends. Trevor invites Holmes to his father’s house in Norfolk, and Holmes quickly surprises the elder Mr. Trevor with some deductions about the man’s past. A strange visitor arrives, and Victor Trevor is shocked by his father’s meek behavior around the stranger. A couple of months later, Trevor tells Holmes that his father has had a stroke and is at death’s door. The elder Mr. Trevor’s last words directed his son to hidden papers in his Japanese cabinet, and Holmes finds an encrypted message that he deciphers indicating the elder Mr. Trevor may have feared for his life. The papers in the Japanese cabinet reveal a secret identity and mysterious past Mr. Trevor has long kept quiet—at the center of the story is a long-lost ship called the Gloria Scott.

“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” takes place first chronologically in the Sherlock Holmes canon, but it was actually the 19th Holmes story published, first in The Strand magazine and later collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that it is his “first case,” and indeed Mr. Trevor, impressed with Sherlock’s deductive reasoning, suggests that he take it up as a career, at which point Sherlock Holmes realizes he might turn what he believes is a hobby into an occupation. It’s not, strictly speaking, a real case. Holmes does make some accurate deductions about Mr. Trevor’s past, and he does decode a message received by Mr. Trevor, but there is no real crime to be solved in the end, as Mr. Trevor’s papers turn out to be a confession of his entire past, and the looming threat that drove Mr. Trevor to have a stroke vanishes after Mr. Trevor’s death.

In the updated series Sherlock, Mary Morstan (then John Watson’s fiancée) decodes a text message by reading every third word, as Sherlock does with the message Mr. Trevor receives (season three, “The Empty Hearse”), but allusions to the Gloria Scott appeared in last night’s episode, “The Lying Detective,” too. Sherlock makes a series of deductions about one of his potential clients, and one is very similar to the deduction that Sherlock Holmes makes about Mr. Trevor’s tattoo in this story. A more tenuous connection may be the moment when that episode’s villain, Culverton Smith, says that three recording devices were found and removed from Sherlock’s effects in his hospital room, and Sherlock remarks that people always stop at three—so satisfying—before revealing he had a fourth device. That last reference might be a stretch. I’m not sure the number three on its own is a true reference to this story. The confession of Mr. Trevor might be considered similar to Culverton Smith’s confession, but I admit that’s a stretch, too, especially as Culverton Smith is much more evil than Mr. Trevor, and he also has a perverse need to confess that even prompts him to use memory-altering drugs on his friends just so he can confess his crimes to them in a way they won’t remember. A stronger connection might be to Mary Watson’s secret past as a hired assassin—her criminal past catches up with her in a way not too dissimilar from that of Mr. Trevor’s.

Update 1/16/17: Season 4, episode 3 of Sherlock was just broadcast last night, and now that the debriefs with spoilers are online, I feel I can update this post to add the reference to “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” that I noticed in “The Final Problem.” Sherlock’s sister murders Sherlock’s first friend, whom Sherlock initially thinks was a dog named Redbeard—he has blocked out memories of the friend due to the trauma of the event. His friend was a boy named Victor Trevor, and Sherlock had not been able emotionally to establish a friendship after Victor’s disappearance and death at the hands of his sister until he meets John Watson. He also refers to the missing Victor Trevor as “his first case,” as he does with “The Gloria Scott.” Wonderful that the writers of Sherlock have gone back to the first two chronological stories in this season, especially as many think it might be the last season of the show. I have also updated my review of “The Musgrave Ritual” to reflect references in last night’s Sherlock.

I had to do some digging online because I wondered if the mysterious Mr. Hudson was perhaps landlady Mrs. Hudson’s husband or some other relative, but it seems Doyle just used the name for two characters. As Sherlock Holmes stories go, the long confession as a means of resolution and the lack of a real case or mystery as a result made this one a bit of a dud for me. It was interesting to see Sherlock Holmes’s early deduction skills, but apart from that, it’s not very much fun when the mystery isn’t really solved by Sherlock. The multiple frames are not really confusing, but overcomplicate the story. Watson is relating the story to us. Sherlock is telling the story to Watson. And Sherlock is recalling Mr. Trevor’s story as he read it in his papers. The quotation marks get a little creative! Still, it’s not a bad story.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI have figured out the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge and am in the process of making up for lost time, as I read A Study in Scarlet first instead of this story. This week’s story is “The Musgrave Ritual,” so look for my thoughts on that story by the end of this week.

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Review: The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy is a bit like Twilight for adults, with a more compelling heroine and a few more thrills and chills. The last book in this series is The Book of Life, the denouement of Matthew Clairmont and Diana Bishop’s unlikely story with a few hints of potential sequels. In the first book in the series, A Discovery of Witches, reluctant witch Diana Bishop calls up the mysterious manuscript coded Ashmole 782 from the Bodleian Library at Oxford, only to attract the attention of several other creatures—other witches, daemons, and vampires. Specifically, a vampire named Matthew Clairmont. Diana and Matthew strike up an unlikely (and forbidden) relationship. In the second book, The Shadow of Night, Diana and Matthew timewalk back to 1590 to try to track down Ashmole 782 again and meet almost literally every historical figure of importance who lived at the time. Matthew also turns out to be one of those important historical figures in disguise. In this final book, Diana and Matthew pull out pretty much all the stops to try to find the missing manuscript, now known as the Book of Life, which will tell the secrets that the witches discovered centuries ago. This gruesome book, made from the skin, hair, and blood of witches, daemons, and vampires, is believed by witches to be the first grimoire and to hold the secrets of witchcraft and by vampires to hold the secrets of their origins. As it turns out, Matthew’s bloodthirsty and deranged son Benjamin is also after the book. And Diana. And possibly their children. Oh, and Matthew, if it will lure Diana to him.

Sigh.

Okay, where to begin. This book isn’t bad. It’s pretty cheesy, and I can’t figure out why. I kind of liked the first book in this series, but it seemed like each successive book just got crazier and crazier. Diana and Matthew are supernatural creatures, yes, but why do they have to be the most powerful or crazy of their ilk? Why does she all of a sudden have to be Superwitch? I liked it better when they were nosy about their origins, but the fate of their entire world didn’t have to rest on what they managed to do (or not). I guess maybe I’m a bit over vampires unless they are awful like Dracula. I did enjoy a very cheeky joke Matthew made about Twilight in the middle of the book. Jennifer Ikeda is a good reader, as well. There is a pretty awful torture scene reminiscent of Jamie Fraser and Black Jack Randall, though without, I suppose, the element of rape. What it is with all the torture p*rn in women’s fiction now? (By the way, that word is not spelled out because I don’t want weirdos who are looking for that stuff to land on my blog and be super disappointed.) I also felt like Harkness was stretching to bring back all the characters from the first book, even if if they only got a cameo. For some reason, that irritated me. Mainly because I didn’t really remember them that well after all that time had passed. I found the whole blood rage deal that Matthew had and passed along to some (not all, apparently) of his children an irritating plot point. It seemed to me like an excuse for Matthew to be a dick sometimes more than anything else. And on top of everything else, no one really explains it satisfactorily to me. And finally, the Book of Life is a sort of letdown. That’s IT? That’s what the big secret was? I figured that sort of thing out about creatures from the first book. I wanted a big reveal. You let me down, Diana Bishop. You let me down. And I guess the biggest issue I have with the books in general is that I don’t particularly like Diana or Matthew. I mean, I don’t wish them ill, or anything, but I don’t like them nearly as much as some of the secondary characters. I can’t remember if I mentioned how I feel about them in earlier reviews I wrote. Diana can be tiresome in her ways, but Matthew is controlling, and it grates on me that a controlling guy like that is being put forth as an ideal romantic boyfriend/husband. Yuck. At least he figures out by the end of the book that he needs to step it back a notch.

So, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either, and it gets three stars.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of nine-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father Thomas died in the 9/11 attacks. One day Oskar finds a mysterious key inside an envelope inside a vase. The envelope says the word “Black” on the outside, and Oskar goes on a quest to find out what the key opens and why his father has it. Thinking the word might be the last name “Black,” Oskar does some research and determines the addresses of all the people in New York City with the surname Black. One by one, he begins visiting them to see if he can find out more about the key. He meets interesting people and leaves an imprint on all the people he touches. Interspersed throughout Oskar’s story is the story of his grandparents and their strange, fraught relationship.

I wanted to like this book a little more than I did. I think Oskar, and possibly his grandfather, are supposed to be autistic, and because of my own children, I do find books about characters with autism interesting. I did like Oskar, though I found his mother strangely unconcerned about letting her son roam all over New York City. I guess you could argue she knew he was going to what he was going to do anyway, but her absence, even if you try to explain it away by pointing out she was grieving, was deeply troubling to me. Oskar’s grandfather abandoned his pregnant wife and did not know his son. One of the reasons I didn’t quite like this book were the portions dealing with Oskar’s grandfather. I found him to be a deeply unsympathetic character, even if I took into account his troubled past and the things he had dealt with. I know some people are better at dealing with grief, and for that matter life, than others, but part of what I think made his story less sympathetic was Foer’s postmodern experiments in his storyline. My least favorite, for example, were pages in which the letters seemed to bleed together, almost falling into a puddle on the bottom of the page, until the page filled up. Rather than interesting, I found these experiments deeply annoying. I found rather than being emotionally affected by Oskar’s story (and that of his grandfather), I really felt more like the story was manipulative and self-indulgent. Not to say I totally hated it. I didn’t. I can’t even say I didn’t like it. I’ll just say it was not a hit for me because of the gimmicky postmodern style. The parts I liked, I really liked, but I did find myself in the midst of a new chapter on Oskar’s grandparents and saying, “Oh, here’s one I need to slog through to get to a good one on Oskar.” I don’t want to feel like that reading a book. Because half the book was pretty good, I can’t give it one or two stars, but because about half the book wasn’t, and also because I found the ending unsatisfying, I can’t give it four or five stars either.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I purchased this book in November, but it’s been on my TBR list for a while. I’m counting it toward both the Shelf Love Challenge and the Mount TBR Challenge.
 

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Sunday Post #37: Complete

Sunday PostI didn’t post last Sunday because I was returning for my favorite conference, the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention. It was great. I picked up some excellent free and cheap books and enough book recommendations to keep me busy for a long time.

NaNoWriMo is going well, word-count wise. I think I’ll finish. I’m not excited about the book as I’m nearing the end. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a fanfic or if it’s because I’ve run out of steam. I was delighting myself writing it at the beginning, but I haven’t even wanted to read what I’ve written lately to my husband. Still, I’m making myself plug away and finish it. Even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I was, the story is still coming remarkably fast. One thing I think I’ve learned this month is that I have a lot of stamina and speed when I give myself permission to write a crappy first draft and turn off my internal editor.

I have completed my goal of reading 52 books for the year. In fact, I just finished the 53rd. In the last week, I’ve finished five books and reviewed four:

Today, I finished listening to an audio book of Amy Snow by Tracy Rees. I was torn over this one for a long time. It was okay, not great. It’s actually a bit over-the-top campy at times, and I think somewhere near the beginning, I realized that Rees was writing a send-up of those overwrought Victorian novels (or I hope she was; otherwise, oh dear). Mrs. Vennaway should remind just about every Brontë fan of Aunt Reed—horrible to a child for just about no reason. In fact, Amy Snow does owe a bit of a debt to those other books. The main character’s self-deprecation is grating, though, and she never becomes as strong or interesting as Jane Eyre. If you read it with an eye toward thinking of it as an homage, then it’s fine. I finished it, more to discover the ending to the novel’s puzzle than anything else, but I found the ending unsatisfying, even if fairly complete. Still, if it’s an homage, it’s a fairly clever one. For a light read, it was well-researched, at least. The setting managed to intrigue even when the characters didn’t.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I’m counting Amy Snow as my Surrey book, since that’s where the Hatville estate where Amy comes from is located.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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