I was recently invited to join a book club and the book already chosen was a memoir – Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I don’t read a lot of memoirs as I tend...moreI was recently invited to join a book club and the book already chosen was a memoir – Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I don’t read a lot of memoirs as I tend to hold them to the rules of both history and fiction at the same time, which never ends well. History needs to hold true to facts as they are known without embellishment. (I will withhold from my rant about the picking and choosing of facts in historical tomes.) Fiction, like all good storytelling, has a skeleton that creates an arc for the reader to follow and allows for embellishment. Holding a single book to both standards is difficult.
Ultimately, Wild was a captivating read. Strayed’s style was engaging and kept me turning the page. Sometimes that’s all I want out of a book. But by the end of Wild I felt like there were actually two books in one – a meditation on grief and a travelogue. Either of which would have been beautiful – the early section about her mother had me calling mine to say I love you because I had to and the description of the trail was fantastic – but the combination fell short.
Strayed combines the grief she experienced after losing her mother during college and her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. The implication is that her life was spiraling out of control and she wanted to use this hike to find herself, find what comes after grief, find something. I say ‘implication’ purposefully. All the dots are there for her grief and her trek but some connections are missing.
The book is described as a journey of self-discovery but by the end of the book I have no idea what Strayed found. Once she reaches the end of the trail, within the two pages that end the book, Strayed references what she didn’t know would happen in her life – a marriage, children, bringing the children to this spot to talk about the hike. This is the final paragraph.
"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life - like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be."
I finished this book weeks ago and I'm still not sure how I feel about this ending. Maybe it's too metaphorical for me. I think she learned by the end of the hike that she was more comfortable with the unknown than before the hike. It could be the last sentence that throws me. Is it from a poem? Is this her original sentence? Do I maybe disagree with the concept that it is wild to let things be? I don't know. I found myself exhausted trying to connect this last paragraph to all the scattered dots in the rest of the book.
An interesting aspect of the memoir is that Strayed is recounting an even that occurred twenty years prior without a twenty year perspective. There are no observations from her older self. There are no reflections. This is the story as she remembers it at that time. It’s an interesting choice; however, I wonder if that is why I found the overall book lacking something. Could her twenty years of experience and reflection after the hike have provided more depth to the so-called discovery within her journey?
I don’t envy the memoirist. I have tried to write about true events from my life before and they never struck the chord I was going for. It’s a difficult task. I appreciate Strayed’s effort and many sections of the book moved me to tears. That’s saying something.(less)
Do not read Nothing Daunted if you prefer to armchair travel. Dorothy Wickenden's account of her aunt's travels into the West in 1916 with her best fr...moreDo not read Nothing Daunted if you prefer to armchair travel. Dorothy Wickenden's account of her aunt's travels into the West in 1916 with her best friend will inspire you to pursue an adventure - at minimum a road trip.
Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamund Underwood were two society girls in Auburn, NY when they decided they needed something more in their lives than volunteer work and luncheons. They learned about a request for college-educated women to teach the children of Elkhead, Colorado. Dorothy and Ros convinced their families that it was a fine idea and set out on an adventure.
Wickenden pulls her story from the copious letters Dorothy and Ros sent home, along with interviews of descendants and friends. Their year in the West was during a time of great change - more railroads were being built which brought people and money into the region. State and local governments were establishing themselves thanks to civic-minded individuals in the region - one example is Ferry Carpenter who sent for the teachers in order to set up a proper school.
They rode horses and sleighs. They also road automobiles. The children they taught did not have much but their families taught the girls that everyone who stops by gets a meal before continuing on their way. There seemed to be so much possibility and changed, and both commented in their letters that they saw what was happening.
The teaching post lasted only one year, then both got married and raised families. But they told everyone that the year in Elkhead was the best in their lives and one never to be forgotten. How lucky they were to have each other as they traveled into an unknown and intimidating land.
Nothing Daunted will make you want to call your best friend and plan some sort of adventure. Just make sure it's one not to be forgotten.(less)
I was not as enchanted with The Twelfth Enchantment as I expected. David Liss captures the tone and sensibility of an Austen novel and the protagonist...moreI was not as enchanted with The Twelfth Enchantment as I expected. David Liss captures the tone and sensibility of an Austen novel and the protagonist, Lucy Derrick, is spot on as a woman trapped by her times who shuns the ties that bind. But something was lacking.
Luck Derrick is in a sore spot - her sister and father have died, her second sister married a distant cousin to keep the family home and money but that backfired when said cousin kicked Lucy out and she landed on the doorstep of an uncle who pinches pennies, and now she is being elbowed into marrying Mr. Olson, an prosperous yet unimaginative man who runs the local hosiery mills. A mighty sore spot that Lucy tries to make the best of.
Then Lord Byron lands on the same uncle's doorstep while Mr. Olson is visiting, demands to speak with Lucy Derrick and proceeds to warn her away from marrying Mr. Olson while explaining she needs to gather the leaves. Byron then vomits pins, swoons and promptly falls unconscious.
Through the help of a local cunning woman, Lucy removes a curse from Byron, opening the door to her education in the magical arts. This is where the books begins to lose its momentum. Not every learning sequence in a novel or movie is action-oriented; however, having Lucy sit in her room and read ancient books and copy down talismans is a bit dry. And Liss doesn't spend much time explaining how magic works in this version of England. Her education glosses over the intricacies of magic - later moments when Lucy is preparing a spell or using one are similarly vague.
That's one way to get around the difficulties of explaining magic without being predictable or contradicting oneself but that is the fun of reading a book about magic and witches. What are the rules? Who is allowed to do what? How does a teacher pass on the craft?
How an author answers those questions is what differentiates all the magic-oriented novels apart. The Harry Potter series is ultimately one long coming-of-age tale rooted in the choice between good and evil but it was JK Rowling's world-building that captured her audience and turned a coming-of-age tale into a cultural phenomenon. Obviously, lightning doesn't always strike twice and I'm not saying Liss should try to recreate what Rowling did. I am saying he should have been more confident in his world and his characters to spend time with the magic that is dramatically changing the protagonist's life.
The Twelfth Enchantment is long - 400 pages - and filled mostly with Lucy attempting to navigate society as best she can as she moves toward her goal - collecting the 12 'leaves' of a book in order to find her baby niece who was replaced by a changeling. There are bigger things happening around her - Ludd is a magical being, there are revenants that are like faeries but sound more like sophisticated zombies to me, the industrial revolution is a big deal - but Lucy's main objective is personal. Her smaller goal helped keep me engaged.
Although I did get frustrated every time Lucy was saved by someone else. I understand part of the journey for a novice in any genre is filled with trial and error and oftentimes their teachers or elders must step in but there was a lot of that. Could be because of the timeframe - Lucy risks her reputation by taking a carriage ride overnight with Byron to confront an enemy. Men steal her and men save her. It would have been nice to see her do something for herself in a bigger way.
And, in the tradition of Austen, there are love interests. Byron is a knave who tempts Lucy. Mr. Morrison hurt Lucy terribly when she was younger but must be involved because he is useful. Antics ensue. Hearts are hurt. Things are learned and love is declared at the end - along with an obvious set up for a sequel. Have you heard about that fighting going on in France?(less)
I inhaled Cop Town by Karin Slaughter. I haven’t previously read anything else by Slaughter but heard good reviews about this book. They were right. C...moreI inhaled Cop Town by Karin Slaughter. I haven’t previously read anything else by Slaughter but heard good reviews about this book. They were right. Cop Town is a tense novel set in 1970’s Atlanta during a time when cops are being killed on the streets.
Another book with a gripping Prologue. Jimmy Lawson is a cop running through town with his partner over his shoulder. Enough details are provided to know that someone shot his partner and tried to shot Jimmy but the gun jammed. He makes it to the hospital.
We next meet his sister, Maggie, also a cop. She learns about the shooting when she wakes up. Her uncle, Terry Lawson, arrives. He’s another cop bent on catching whoever tried to kill his nephew. Over Maggie’s shoulder we see her life is difficult for a myriad of reasons – her family, her gender, her profession. Terry doesn’t want to hear her theories about The Shooter, the uncaught man who has killed other cops in the same manner. Terry doesn’t really think Maggie should be a cop.
That same day, a new recruit joins the force. Kate Murphy is a widow trying to find a purpose in her life. The hazing for a rookie begins before she even walks in the door. Her official uniform is too large as are the hat and shoes assigned to her. Walking through the station to the women’s locker room is a gauntlet of men touching her and making rude comments. The women aren’t any better. There are rules she can’t even begin to know.
Using a rookie as a central character was a keen choice by Slaughter. It provides two things: a reason for information to be provided about the world the newbie has entered as well as an outsider’s perspective. Some of the best scenes are Kate being schooled by Maggie or any number of other female cops and detectives.
Here’s the breakdown so far:
•Prologue: Jimmy’s partner is shot.
•Chapter One: Maggie thinks it’s the shooter.
•Chapter Two: Kate arrives at the station.
•Chapter Three: We meet a man named Fox who is stalking Kate.
Exactly. That’s why I enjoyed this book so much. Everything moves so quickly. Those first couple of chapters are illuminating but also tell us very little about the depths of the characters and their motivations. That will be flushed out during the investigation into The Shooter which has many twists and reveals and fascinating characters. Even the supporting cast has an energy to all its own.
While the two protagonists are white females, they are very different. And I say this because this is integral to the book. So much of Cop Town is about how there are many cities within one city. Everyone thinks Atlanta is their city and by everyone I mean the whites in the crappy part of town, the whites in the fancy part of town, the blacks and their various neighborhoods, the college within Atlanta, the cops, the pimps and their girls. There is a lot of rough language in the book coming from certain characters’ mouths. While it may be after the peak of the civil rights movement, there are still many people who don’t want change.
I appreciated being pushed by the language. It forced me to consider my reactions. What bothered me and why? What didn’t bother me and why? It is a testament to Karin Slaughter’s skill that she was able to write a hard core thriller that kept me wanting more while layering in piercing questions about race and diversity and tolerance.
It is a bold move to open an eighth book in a series cold – an intricate series with many characters and multiple time lines, no less. Written In My O...moreIt is a bold move to open an eighth book in a series cold – an intricate series with many characters and multiple time lines, no less. Written In My Own Heart’s Blood begins where its predecessor ends: James Fraser has returned from the supposed dead, William Ransom (Ninth Earl of Ellesmere) has learned that James Fraser is his real father, and Claire Fraser is pleased that her husband is truly alive, negating her marriage for safety and security to Lord John Grey.
William takes off to wander Philadelphia, distraught at learning about his illegitimacy. Jamie and Lord John disappear as the British army is after them (this timeline is at 1776 in Philadelphia). Claire remains in the home she shared with Lord John happily reuniting with her sister-in-law Jenny who was also presumed dead in a shipwreck with Jamie.
So begins the eighth installment of the Outlander series. Diana Gabaldon has increasingly woven a complicated tapestry with each subsequent book. The first, Outlander, was recommended to me by a friend in an MFA class. I loved it and continued to read the series until I caught up and now must wait for each hefty tome to arrive like everyone else. There is something magical about discovering a series that has several books already written and being able to read them in rapid succession. Although the anticipation of the next installment is its own type of pleasure.
The novel follows Claire and Jamie as they reunite, determined to stay together. All they want to do is return to their home in the South but first General Washington conscripts Jamie to lead troops who quits when Claire is shot while working at her makeshift physician’s tent. Gabaldon doesn’t hesitate to show the good and the bad in life, the scary and the joyous. If anything, she continually reminds the reader that life is tenuous so must be cherished. Our loved ones are tenuous so must be cherished. Using a time centuries before now, she is able to reinforce the concept that the modern person is able to easily distract from – life is scary, bad things happen, find love and joy where you can and never, never take it for granted.
Despite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
Sarah Brandt is a widow who continues her husba...moreDespite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
Sarah Brandt is a widow who continues her husband’s medical practice in the only way she can – as a midwife to anyone who needs her in turn-of-the-century New York City. This is a city where tenements and mansions are within corners of each other. Sarah used to be part of the rich elite until she fell in love and chose to leave that world behind. Her work takes her to a variety of neighborhoods and locales. At a boardinghouse, she delivers a baby and has a shock – a young female boarder looks strikingly similar to a friend Sarah used to have in her old life. She thinks nothing of it until she returns to check on mother and baby and learns that the young boarder has been murdered.
Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy oversees the murder investigation at a time when Roosevelt is attempting to reform the corrupt police system. Malloy itches to move up the ladder and secure a better position so saves his money for bribes in case Roosevelt soon departs, the meritocracy with him. Malloy meets Sarah at the boardinghouse and is disarmed by her personality which is quite unlike those in the neighborhood. To unnerve her, he invites her into the murdered girl’s room to help him search her belongings. Reluctantly, she accompanies him and discovers that the vision of her former friend was actually that same friend’s younger sister.
Now Malloy is investigating the murder of a society family which entails an entirely new set of rules and restrictions. His supervisor, under pressure from the girl’s family, tells Malloy to stop investigating. Malloy, under pressure from that confounding Sarah, continues the investigation with her help. Sarah returns to her former neighborhoods to learn what she can about the girl’s life. She even reconnects with her mother, first for information, gradually for the relationship itself.
Malloy and Sarah take their individual paths into worlds known and unknown to seek justice for the murdered girl. They each have their reasons to commit to the case which are carefully withheld then revealed. The interchange between third person sections over their shoulders allows a peek into their motivations and what each thinks of the other.
Despite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
It begins at sea. Louie Zamperini is on a raft...moreDespite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
It begins at sea. Louie Zamperini is on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with two other men from his Army Air Forces division. They are in shark-infested waters controlled by the Japanese at the height of World War II. A plane flies overhead. Not an American plane to rescue them but a Japanese plane that shoots at them.
This dramatic yet realistically written prologue to Unbroken sets the tone. Laura Hillenbrand’s style will continue to be matter-of-fact throughout the story of Louie Zamperini’s life, full of gruesome and terrible details recounted unflinchingly. This deceptively simple linguistic choice allows the reader to immerse fully in the story and do all the flinching.
Louie Zamperini is a fighter right from childhood who is also generous. He stole food but shared it. Louie’s older brother Pete helped get him on the right track by coaching him in track. At first he was terrible but as he improved, Louis came to love the sound of cheers that followed a win. Louie threw himself into training and when the next season came around won every race he ran.
He set his eyes on the 1936 Olympics and earned himself a place on the team. The section about Hitler’s Olympics is an example of one of Hillenbrand’s strengths – she discerns relevant and important contextual information and provides it when necessary. While her research and story focus on Zamperini, she incorporates pertinent anecdotes from other contemporaries to fill in what Louie wouldn’t have seen. For example, after Louie leaves Germany, Hillenbrand provides a story about an American basketball player who is invited to stay with his German hosts. He sees Berlin changing now that the Olympics are over. The Star of David is hung in the window of a restaurant but his hosts say it will be harmful to them. One small story and Hillenbrand has set the stage for the coming war.
Once the war began, Louie enlisted in the Army Air Corp and washed out due to airsickness. He was drafted soon after and unfortunately sent back to the Air Corp to be a bombardier. Louie’s training and the subsequent move to a Hawaii air base are described in detail, as are the other men in his division. The meticulous research on all the people that mattered to Louie adds both richness to the story and suffering. These men will be returned to again and again throughout the book, no matter where their lives lead them.
Eventually, the scene from the prologue is reached. Louie’s plane is shot down over the Pacific and he survives along with two other crewmen. They have two small inflatable rafts and practically no rations. Eventually the third man will die, leaving Louie and his friend Phil, the pilot, on the rafts. With their extraordinary optimism, they kept each other going, telling stories about home, recounting as much as they could remember about any given topic. They caught fish when they could, rain water when possible, and hoped.
Despite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
It is a credit to the author that I didn’t real...moreDespite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
It is a credit to the author that I didn’t realize until after the fact that The English Girl is number thirteen in a series. I easily slipped into the thriller without knowing that Gabriel Allon, art restorer, spy and assassin, had appeared in twelve previous books. There are plenty of references to Allon’s past but they aren’t confusing. The hints at, and sometimes outright stories of, his past deepen Allon’s identity without detracting from the story at hand, which is about an English girl.
Madeline Hart disappears while on vacation in France in a motor accident. Her friends recall seeing her with a man at a café, which intrigued them as they all suspected she was seeing someone she refused to name. The police investigate but cannot identify the man at the café. Back in England, Madeline’s disappearance is in the papers as she was a rising star in the governing party.
After the Prime Minister receives blackmail about his affair with Madeleine, Gabriel Allon is contacted in order to manage the hostage situation. He has seven days to find the girl. Allon tries hard but the girl dies before he can save her. So ends the first section of the book.
The entire hunt for the hostage could have been its own book but Silva takes the story further. Allon had been able to see the girl briefly and promised to safely see her home. Since he failed, he is determined to find out who kidnapped Madeline in order to blackmail the Prime Minister. This takes him down a rabbit hole of deceit and political dealings over oil off the British coast and leads to Russia.
Despite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
Cormoran Strike is back in The Silkworm, the se...moreDespite my best efforts there are always spoilers in book reviews. Consider yourself warned. And enjoy!
Cormoran Strike is back in The Silkworm, the second in a mystery series by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, for those who haven’t heard). His successful investigation eight months earlier (in The Cuckoo’s Calling), in which he proved that a celebrity suicide was actually a murder, has resulted in new clientele, an excellent consequence as he has some debts to pay. However, all the cheating husbands and wives are getting old so Strike is intrigued when a meek woman, Leonora Quine, enters his office asking Strike to find her husband. Owen Quine is a writer who has been known to disappear before but she is worried and Strike agrees to help, despite the dubious promise of payment.
Quine was last seen having a fight with his agent and talking to a publisher about going on a retreat. As Strike follows up on the fragmented information from Leonora he learns that Quine has written a scathing novel that lambasts successful writers, publishers and agents, even his wife and mistress. The novel has made the rounds leading to any number of suspects who may have wanted to silence Quine and his manuscript.
Each new person that Strike meets from Quine’s life gets ample time to talk with Strike, allowing the dialogue to flush out the characters. And as this is the publishing world, Strike is constantly meeting for meals, some of which are the best he’s had in years, if ever. It’s an interesting recurrence that reinforces the world he has entered as opposed to just being two people at a table having a meal. Although Strike’s interest in his excellent meal sometimes surpasses his interest in his companion.
By page two you know Diana Bishop is a historian working at Oxford and a witch not so into her witchiness. A manuscript innocently requested turns out...moreBy page two you know Diana Bishop is a historian working at Oxford and a witch not so into her witchiness. A manuscript innocently requested turns out to be a magical document on which the entire plot hinges. A three forms of creatures in the world - witches, vampires and daemons - want access to this manuscript which has been lost for hundreds of years.
Diana's parents are descendants from two powerful magical families - the Proctors and the Bishops. And yet she rejects magic. Her parents were killed abroad when she was seven and her childish logic resulted in a world view that clings to logical and rationality. Magic couldn't save her parents, it won't save her, ergo magic should not be considered.
Despite being a grown woman with a challenging career, Diana is on the typical coming-of-age journey for a witch - she must learn to embrace her powers, she must learn to trust them and she must learn how to use them.
An ally and potential love interest appears in the form of Matthew Clairmont, a 1,500 year-old vampire. Without understanding why, he follows his protective instincts and helps keep Diana safe from all three kinds of creatures, for even witches will hurt her to get to the manuscript.
Beneath the veneer of a witch's coming-of-age is a tried and true romance. Matthew wants the document as well, only that impulse is muddied by his feelings. Diana learns about his original intent after acknowledging her feelings, which raises significant questions. They struggle through these secrets and misunderstandings while they also struggle to keep Diana alive.
Keeping her alive is an important goal since more and more people seem to be moving against Diana and Matthew. A conspiracy the size of The DaVinci Code - with a secret society to boot - grows and expands as more and more villains arrive.
Harkness does an admirable job of explaining the magical world Diana and Matthew inhabit. Since Diana rejected a magical understanding from her aunts as a child, we get to learn along with her. The best moments when information arrived was when it came in the form of a secret revealed. Matthew withholds information to keep Diana safe, she eventually learns about it and there is a fallout to deal with. Creating tension with each reveal is an excellent way to present exposition.
The back jacket flap on my book mentions that Harkness writes an award-winning wine blog. Wine features prominently in the novel as something vampires enjoy drinking when they don't need blood. Some of the sections involving Matthew's education of Diana were a big long. And that very prominence made me wonder how necessary the yoga and rowing scenes were.
Diana has a very strong fight-or-flight instinct and gets huge bursts of adrenaline. To keep her anxiety at bay, she runs, rows and does yoga. The rowing fit pretty naturally into the plot. Matthew inviting Diana to a yoga class for witches, daemons and vampires? That didn't fit as well. I know that a class where the three types of creatures mingle without animosity is important to the overall theme and struggle in the book. But it stands out as too much information.
If Harkness is into wine so included a lot of stuff about wine in the novel, it begs the question of how into rowing and yoga (and horseback riding, by the way) she is into as well. Did these interests get included because Harkness enjoys them so knows a lot? How necessary to the plot were they?
I'm not saying I didn't enjoy some of those activity-related scenes - the entire book is well-written and engaging. I just wonder about the use of personal details in a debut novel. It's something for me to think about while I work on my WIP.
A Discovery of Witches is part of a trilogy and I am very excited and anxious for the next installment. I always love a good love story with lots of drama and tension.(less)
As this review is about the final book in a trilogy there will most definitely be spoilers about the first two books and some spoilers about the third...moreAs this review is about the final book in a trilogy there will most definitely be spoilers about the first two books and some spoilers about the third. Consider yourself warned. Enjoy!
I don’t pre-order many books but I had The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness purchased at least a month before the release date. I spent the wait time rereading the first two books – A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. Here’s a high-level synopsis of each book to lead us into the final installment.
A Discovery of Witches introduced us to Diana Bishop, a descendant of a storied line of witches, who eschews all magic. She is a historian studying the history of science, particularly the time when science transitioned away from magic via alchemy and into what we would now call ‘hard’ science. While working at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she calls a manuscript from the stack that turns out to be a magical palimpsest. The alchemical drawings don’t use the standard symbols and several pages are missing. She sends the manuscript back into the stacks, not realizing the impact of her innocent act of opening the book.
Diana meets Matthew Clairmont at the library. He’s a vampire who studies genetics to learn more about vampires, witches and daemons. (Yup, there are daemons. More like highly intelligent, creative types than scary horned demons.) Against all odds – and the rules – they fall in love. Their relationship creates fear within the non-human population and puts them at danger, as does Diana’s ability to open the manuscript which is assumed to be the Book Of Life, the book that will explain the existence of these supernatural beings.
Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew back in time. Diana has learned she is a time-walker like her father and travels back to Elizabethan London with Matthew so she can study with older, stronger witches who will understand Diana’s unique brand of magic. They also want to find that manuscript before it was bewitched and put in the Bodleian Library.
If the first installment was Diana’s story, then Shadow of Night is Matthew’s. We are in a time when he existed, although not actually in London – that would be confusing. They move into Matthew’s home and meet with Matthew’s friends, who happen to be all of the writers and artists and intellectuals of that time. Matthew is called to meet his vampire father (who is dead in the first book) and introduces Diana.
The love story deepens in the second book. Diana becomes pregnant, against all odds, but loses the baby. She learns more about Matthew, seeing an entirely new side of him in this older century. Matthew realizes the full extent of Diana’s powers and supports her pursuance of education by the local coven. In a time when men must protect woman, Diana is vulnerable in certain situations and they must constantly adjust their modern sensibilities to the time while remaining close.
By the time they return, where The Book of Life begins, Diana is pregnant again with twins and the vampire and witch are married, closer than ever. A singularly aggressive act propels the final installment. Worlds collide as vampires, witches, daemons and humans work together to search for the Book of Life and figure out what it means. A war is coming that will divide those who stand by Diana and Matthew, and those who don’t. Family and friends have choices to make.
A new aggressor is Matthew’s vampire son, Benjamin Fuchs, who has been torturing and impregnating witches for centuries in an attempt to create a master race. Benjamin has the same ‘blood rage’ as Matthew, only he doesn’t fight it the way Matthew does. He has his eyes set on Diana once he learns she became pregnant by Matthew.
Harkness includes the expected depth of history and science in The Book of Life, as she did in the first two installments. Locations are conjured with efficiency. World events are grounded in reality (with some artistic license on the timeline, as often happens to include a particularly interesting event or person). The sections on alchemy and genetics may seem long to some but I found them fascinating. Diana is a layperson in Matthew’s scientific world and Matthew is a layperson in her history. Harkness made an excellent decision in rendering her two protagonists as opposites in many ways that help provide necessary moments of exposition (as opposed to exposition stuck because it has to be done).
Like the previous books, The Book of Life revolves around the themes of identity and family and choice and acceptance and love. These are weighty themes to consider but are made lighter and easier to digest in a fantastical version of the world. We root for Diana and Matthew to find a way to be together without everyone trying to keep them apart. We want to understand the fear that drives the hatred of their union. We want to know that we can be ourselves and still be loved. The All Souls Trilogy provides that solace. It is possible, just never easy.
These three books will remain on my shelves. I anticipate returning to them time and again when I want to remember that people are both vulnerable and strong, and the fight is worth it.