Wednesday’s Book Looks: The Four S’s: Supernatural, Sisters, Scotland, and Synchronicity!

*possible book spoilers ahead* (None of these are affiliate links, and weren’t requests for reviews.)

It’s probably something to do with the recent time change here in the United States, but I have been feeling especially discombobulated and spacey this past week or so. I’ve been slogging through my social media at a snail’s pace, and my work and writing schedules are all out of whack. (Plus, I REALLY don’t like eating while it’s still light out!)

So, off into the darkness we descend!

The First S: Supernatural!

Okay, so back A LONG TIME AGO in the 1990s, vampires were all the rage. As much as we goths pretended to be too dark and spooky for the more…romantic?…stylized?…view of vampires, we loved Anne Rice. (But, you know, vampires are MONSTERS.) I didn’t even mind Tom Cruise as Lestat in the movie version, but probably because I only knew him as Jack from the movie Legend previously.

Vampirism, though, had shifted from monstrous (and damned) creatures of the night that we related to as like misfits into something more mystical and otherworldly. The “damned” had evolved into alluring creatures that were admired, not despised, and I reckon maybe we wanted to feel like that for a while.

For a very little while. Because TV cameras and news crews descended onto the clubs, to capture the “depraved” shenanigans of this sub-subculture Vampire movement.

So, it was a real treat to read a collection of vampire stories that didn’t involve sparkly vampires as written for the next generation(s). And it’s a collection of bloody tales that could have been complete moldy vampire cheese, but, luckily for me, wasn’t.

Anyhoo, The Vampire Connoisseur took me right back to those days where I both felt shunned by mainstream society (Oh wait, I still feel like that!), and felt a longing to be immortal and therefore immune to pangs of emotion and the nibblings of a conscience and the ravening bites of aging. (Full title: Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseurs)

Here, most of the vampires within are unequivocally monsters, either via their own awareness, or through the awareness of the characters that observe them. And sometimes the death at the hands of the monsters is welcomed, as illuminated by the arc of the stories.

And sometimes the vampiric monsters are creatively reimagined, as in Priscilla Bettis’s tale “The Sun Sets Nonetheless” which had the double spook factor of being set in the state where I live. [Earthquakes, tornadoes, and now mysterious blue-skinned “creatures”?!?!?! Maybe Priscilla Bettis will let me camp out in her (completely imaginary and fictional) back yard in Virginia, where they only seem to get the occasional rogue hurricane! *wry laugh*]

Pick up a copy of Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseur on Amazon https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090 or on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090.

And, if there’s something I love as much as REALLY GOOD vampire stories, it’s GHOST STORIES! Here in Kansas, we had storms and grey skies and fierce winds wailing outside the window and the only thing lacking to read Ghost Stories for Starless Nights by is a crackling fire! And toasted marshmallows, of course! (But a little ghostie told me that you can find virtual haunted campfires over at Haunt Jaunts. But that may just be a pesky poltergeist starting rumours! https://www.hauntjaunts.net/virtual-haunted-campfires-2021-line-up-and-schedule/#Virtual_Haunted_Campfires_2021_Cost)

Sadly, the starless nights here are not due to the storms or anything else natural or supernatural but to the obscene levels of light pollution here in Wichita, but at least I can escape into the atmospheric and haunting world(s) of Ghost Stories for Starless Nights. Join me around the fire, won’t you? https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Stories-Starless-Nights-Publishing/dp/B088N4WKL5

The Second S: Sisters!

Speaking of romantic notions, I, when I was real young, wanted a sister so badly. Especially a twin sister. I had a pretty lonely and isolating childhood, and I thought that having a twin sister would have given me a ready-made friend. (I blame Trixie Belden, Little Women, and even Anne of Green Gables with all that “kindred spirit” blather.) Once, I dreamed of a girl that lived in the attic and I swore that she was real. So did a psychic who did a reading for a family member once. I at least had an imaginary sister. For a little while, anyway.

However, the sisters in Tochi Onyebuchi’s War Girls are sisters in the most complex, complicated, powerful, and real ways. And the world they navigate–a 2172 Earth ravaged by climate change and military conflicts–provides an equally harrowing setting for the two young women.

War Girls not only captures the bond of sisters but also the heartbreak of that powerful bond.

And it made me want a sister even more, despite all the complications and pain that seems to be involved.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/War-Girls-Tochi-Onyebuchi/dp/0451481674 and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/war-girls/9780451481672

The Third and Forth S’s: Scotland and Synchronicity!

I have wanted to live in Scotland ever since the 90s, when I visited. Finances and cats and a lack of more shrewd and focused life planning have complicated the issue, but at least I got to take a tour of the Glasgow School of Art before the terrible fire. (<—loves Mackintosh)

So, when I read The Cracked Spine (Scottish Bookshop Mystery #1) by Paige Shelton I just about died! Essentially a woman who works in a museum in WICHITA, KANSAS gets the job offer of a lifetime to work in a rare BOOKSHOP in EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND and, well, I think there’s a mystery involved somehow. But all I could think about was THAT’S ME!!!!! Well, a me in another life, anyway. And I was torn between loving every word of my alternate universe and being supremely envious of my own alternate self! Mock jealousy aside, it was such a lovely, hopeful, escapist read! In my next life, I’ll be sure to have more clear vision of who I am, and how to build a life and make choices to nurture and preserve that innate self.

The Cracked Spine on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Cracked-Spine-Scottish-Bookshop-Mystery/dp/1250057485/ and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/the-cracked-spine/9781250118226

On the heels of reading that book, I had a dream where I was hanging out with a soulmate-type person and they liked me exactly how I was. It was a very pleasant dream.

So, to sum up, supernaturally spooky adventures, “kindred spirit” sisters, Scotland and synchronicity, and hope for a “maybe someday” that’s all my own.

Are there ANY bad restaurants in France?

 

Why, yes! Well, according to Alexander McCall Smith in his latest Paul Stuart novel, The Second-Worst Restaurant in France. (I still find it hard to suspend disbelief that France could have a terrible restaurant. Hence the appeal of Smith’s great title!)

But this book was delicious enough to make up for the book’s restaurant that’s being run into the ground by a restauranter-hopeful named Claude.

It reminded me of how much I love to read. More than that, though, it also appealed to my former self that used to work in the restaurant biz, and loved shows like Restaurant Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares back when I had access to cable in a non-rural, non-frontier locale. This book is a great literary version of that.

But, more than that, I found that the side character of Chloe (Paul’s mysterious and unconventional cousin) upholds what Alexander McCall Smith does best–using the main character to develop secondary characters that are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main character. And, without giving away too much, I also related to the character of Hugo–a sensitive individual trying to create his own life based on his ideals and passions. During the course of his journey, he’s aided by Paul in fulfilling these dreams. And I can really relate to Hugo at his stage in life, even though he’s a lot younger.

(This review contains spoilers!)

This is where I struggled with the book. I love the works of Alexander McCall Smith that I’ve read but my own life development stage and mindset as I enter middle age sometimes made The Second-Worst Restaurant in France an emotionally fraught read. And, boy, did I have bias in spades that was hard to put aside while I read the book that I won via a Goodreads giveaway hosted by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

But that’s also the great thing about reading. It’s just you and the book and the characters that feel real enough to debate with in the privacy of your own mind and feelings.

As most writers will agree. Especially when you find out that Paul Stuart can’t work in his apartment where, for some reason, his girlfriend has decided to bring her noisy two cats for a staycation at his apartment, even though she has a flat of her own.

Anyone who’s ever had cats would be like “why on earth would she do that?” Naturally, the cats complain a lot to Paul about the situation, but he’s got a book to write, and eventually has to relocate his writing space into another apartment that Chloe offers him use of.

Poor Paul.

But the apartment doesn’t suit him either, as there are a bevy of young people upstairs doing what they do best–making sure everyone knows they are there with lots of loud music. 

And poor Paul ends up in a silly man-predicament with the younger woman, where he swears the interaction they have in the store is “innocent” to his girlfriend Gloria, who witnesses the weird olive-feeding interaction that somehow gets mistaken for a kiss. Let’s hear it, everyone: a big, resounding “Innocent, my a**!” *laugh*

So, poor, poor Paul has to pack up and relocate to the French countryside to finish his book that he doesn’t even want to write, but in between lecturing his experienced, worldly secret agent cousin about how to act and think, and nurturing poor, belittled, sensitive, chef-hopeful Hugo in fulfilling his cooking-promise, he realizes he doesn’t want to write the book he was working on, about the philosophy of food, and he also realizes that nobody will want to read it, either, despite the fact that his influential editor/girlfriend Gloria has pulled strings and gotten a publisher to back it.

So, wonderfully understanding and supportive Gloria arranges a whole other wonderful project for Paul to undertake, all the pieces fall into place, and everything is happily ever after–all thanks to Paul, presumably, not Gloria and Chloe (who comes to the aid of a local mother-to-be in an unconventional and fascinating way)–in the idyllic French countryside villa that I, and a million other hardworking writers who are also working day jobs (like me) and (unlike me) also trying to raise kids and maintain romantic relationships, are probably thinking that poor Paul is anything but poor.

But it’s proof positive that a main character doesn’t have to be likeable in order for you to fully engage with a book. And that’s why I like books so much. So much diversity there that gets left out of movies.

And, despite my mixed critique of Alexander McCall Smith’s book (which, again, I liked so much I read it twice!); yes, I’m a fan! I would definitely read more of the Paul Stuart series, including his first book in the series, and others. It comes down to the writing, which is, as always with Smith, so good!

And the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is fabulous, of course! Visit Alexander McCall Smith and discover his fantastic writing and compelling characters for yourself, here: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/.