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    • Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness   I have just finished Time’s Convert and have to write a review about it, but hopefully this time I will stay within the realms of sanity and not end up sounding like a raving loon!  Here goes…   The latest offering from Deborah Harkness and a spin off story yet also a sort of follow on from the totally magnificent ‘All Souls Trilogy’. Most of the characters who appeared in the trilogy are featured here in this book and as a side plot we are given an update into the lives of Matthew and Diana who the All Souls stories revolved around, and with that update you get the feeling it has (hopefully) provided scope for further books down the line.   This story focuses on the human life and ‘rebirth’ as a vampire of Marcus – who features in the trilogy as a vampire sired by Matthew, and it tells his experiences of that transformation from human to vampire alongside his ‘warmblood’ human girlfriend/mate Phoebe who has agreed to become a vampire and is sired by Marcus’s long time work colleague and centuries old associate of the De Clermont family, Miriam. The book highlights the stark differences on their experiences of becoming vampires, how Marcus was turned without knowing all the facts and ignorant of what being a vampire involved or even meant, and who was practically abandoned by his sire Matthew shortly after his rebirth as a vampire and who was left with and passed around various members of the De Clermont family who taught him what being a vampire was all about,  and his struggles at being a vampire within the powerful patriarchal De Clermont family, compared to Phoebe whose experience was totally the opposite and who was totally informed and almost coddled and over protected throughout.   This is very different from the All Souls Trilogy, that had various and many different threads and sub plots which all came together whereas this is primarily a story about a man’s search for a family to belong to, along with family loyalty, especially when there is conflict within the family when an individual’s values and beliefs collide with the rules and autocracy of the head of it.  This appears to be an ongoing theme throughout the entire series of books as the long dead head of the De Clermont family still seems to manage to cast a very long shadow despite being dead for a number of years.   The writing is first class and I soon fell into it and the words flowed over me and I was quickly consumed by it just as I was previously, once again I was struck by the attention to detail, and once again you are left in no doubt that the story is so obviously written by a historian as the facts of the time period covered are spot on and cleverly entwined with the fictional characters.  The period of history covered in this book is the late 1700’s and the War of American Independence and there is nothing more I can say other than it is a complete joy to read. I was left with one minor question, Marcus took the name Whitmore, now a huge thing was made in the story about a vampires name and there is an ongoing theme throughout the story where Marcus went by different aliases through his human life and there was even a moment when he was officially named by the head of the De Clermont family, I can make an educated guess as to why he chose it, using it instead of the surname De Clermont which he was given but there was no mention of where and how he chose the surname Whitmore, whether this was an oversight or a point which will be answered in a later story remains to be seen.    I will admit that I was a little concerned when I started this book, because I had been so totally enraptured by the trilogy I feared that it would fall short in some way as Marcus and Phoebe were really quite minor characters in the trilogy and I wondered how a sequel (as that is essentially what it is) could be centred around two relatively minor characters, but that is the beauty of it, as you see the story of becoming and being a vampire from the perspective of characters you don’t really hold too many preconceptions about.  Plus it really is such a different story from the trilogy, as that was so complex and multi layered and had so much going on within it, by comparison this reads more like a novella, but it would be totally unfair and crass to even compare it to one considering it is over 400 pages long. In fact I feel ashamed at making that comparison but it is the only way I can think of to describe the content of the story but don’t get me wrong apart from the lingering question about Marcus’s name choice there is nothing whatsoever lacking in this book, it is comprehensive, intelligently written and very enjoyable story and one which I would thoroughly recommend.
    • When All Is Said boasts impressive plugs from respectable writers: Donal Ryan and Graham Norton are just two of them. And they're right - this is an astonishing book.    We meet Maurice Hannigan, a successful businessman, 84 years old and nearing the end of his time,  reminiscing about the five people who affected him most in his life. He sits in his local hotel, downing drinks at the bar and uses each drink to toast one of those individuals. His rambling and conversational narrative is apparently for the benefit of Kevin, his son across the water in New York.    Hannigan's story is one of rags to riches. After an unsuccessful attempt at school, he started his working life as a hand on the Dollards' estate. Seventy years later, through shrewd buying and selling, he owns that estate. It would have been easy to write a thrilling account of the wheeling and dealing that brought him that success, but instead the novel is one of people and relationships. We see how those relationships both changed events, and were changed by them. The underlying stories are personal, and mostly stories of regret. In particular, we see how events were affected by the toss of a coin, the ripples still being felt so many decades later. We see how much Hannigan loved Sadie, his late wife, yet neglected her and treated her badly. We see Hannigan conflicted by his hatred of the Dollards but his compassion for individuals. We see how he wrestles with his conscience - and often ends up victorious.    This is a deep, complex life story that exposes itself subtly, layer on layer. That the reader can be made to feel any sympathy at all for an Irish property dealer is a feat - to get the reader so deep into his psyche is almost miraculous.    This really is a fantastic book that works on so many levels. It is sad, very sad, but also very human and narrated with a voice that is not self-pitying.    Highly recommended.    *****
    • Mouthful of Birds is a collection of translated stories by an Argentinian writer, Samanta Schweblin. The stories are all perfectly well told, and all of them slightly odd, but reading them one after the other can feel somewhat mechanistic.    The stories are (mostly) very short, lack any real framing and pitch straight into a situation that appears normal but turns out to be a bit surreal. Once you know that it's going to have a weird angle, you start to anticipate it and the effect dims. And while the stories are well crafted and lucidly told, it is very difficult to recall anything about them after finishing the book. Even the last story - which you'd think might be the easiest to recall - had me diving back into the text just to remember what it was (it was murder as performance art). I have a recollection of abandoned brides, and a train that never stops, but little else.    On this basis, and without being able to point to anything specific at fault, it feels like a 3-star read.    ***00
    • The wind doth blow today, my love, And a few small drops of rain; I never had but one true-love, In cold grave she was lain.   ‘I’ll do as much for my true-love As any young man may; I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave For a twelvemonth and a day.’   The twelvemonth and a day being up, The dead began to speak: ‘Oh who sits weeping on my grave, And will not let me sleep?’   ‘’Tis I, my love, sits on your grave, And will not let you sleep; For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips, And that is all I seek.’   ‘You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips; But my breath smells earthy strong; If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips, Your time will not be long.   ‘’Tis down in yonder garden green, Love, where we used to walk, The finest flower that ere was seen Is withered to a stalk.   ‘The stalk is withered dry, my love, So will our hearts decay; So make yourself content, my love, Till God calls you away.’   Anonymous - 'The Unquiet Grave'
    • If this story is accurate, and you always have to bear that thought in mind, going on the 'facts' given in the report you can see quite easily how it happened, a relatively confined area, very little to do socially apart from read and if that relaxation and social time is then spoilt by someone - which it would be as nobody likes spoilers, and if the other guy was doing it deliberately, frustration at his actions coupled with the influence of alcohol, you can see how it quickly got out of hand.   I'm not condoning what he did, but generally speaking society as a whole seems to be getting angrier and lashing out at others for no apparent reason these days and you hear in the media about people being murdered for seemingly petty, insignificant reasons, so it seems reasonable to assume that it could also happen within the confines of a remote Antarctic base.
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