This installment: witches and vampires and daemons (oh my)!; new Leonard Cohen bio; Christopher Hitchen's brilliant swan song; and a very popular romantic fable.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
A local patron recommended this to me fervently. She especially loved the author's scholarship which does indeed shine through the pages. I, however, was initially skeptical because the theme: witches and vampires and daemons (oh my!) has so many elements of potential cliche. Diana springs from a long line of witches but wants to put it her heritage behind her and join the normal world of academe. But magic's hard to control and conceal and when a very rare volume briefly (and literally) falls into her hands at the Bodleian Library it catches the attention of many of the aforementioned creatures, who are among us whether or not we know it. Including the rich, gifted and of course devastatingly handsome vampire Matthew. They fall in love. Intermixing of species is verboten. Big mess, big adventure, and ultimate escape through time travel. (There's a very popular sequel recently out.) So I couldn't put it down even though it sometimes seemed like a bodice-ripper. But whenever a vampire is on the scene, swooning and seduction and moral dilemmas are pro-forma.
I'm Your Man; The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons
I'm gaga over Leonard (as are multitudes of other ladies, and music lovers, and poetry lovers, and enigma lovers) so I was very eager to delve into this fat biography. And was rewarded, in part. I'm mostly interested in private, personal material, especially relationships, and had to put up with long descriptions of tours and concerts and celebrities to get pretty scant info. I was also curious about his stint as a monk and of course the crash and burn of the perfidious manager's betrayal. However, I learned that Zen training is a good antidote to losing everything and the comeback concerts show there's lots of life in this octogenarian yet. One of those instances where I'm glad I read fast and could skim the parts that held less interest. And certainly the author has a fine grasp of the territories (music, spirituality, history, etc.) and loves Leonard too.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
100 plus pages of the author's musings on his own demise-to-be, which he termed "living dyingly." His incisive wit is in full force, with very little rambling. He confronts the medical establishment, a mixed bag; religion (what a lively topic for him, keenly focused considering the circumstances); good times (there were some) and bad (esophageal cancer is no picnic). Even his short notes at the end are crystalline, and his wife's last chapter especially touching.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
A romantic fable with lots of coincidences and a definite dark side. In a dead-end town on the coast in Italy, a beautiful woman shows up. The Hotel Adequate View (named by one of the few regular guests, a writer of sorts) isn't the kind of place that attracts glamour, and the bemused innkeeper, Pasquale, does what he can to make her comfortable. She's spirited away and we find out her secret and her fate down the line: the wronged starlet is now leading a pedestrian life. A scuzzy, successful publicist from the old days, Michael Deane, gets involved and these disparate elements come together at the end in surprising ways. It's partly about Hollywood and I could see it as a movie.
Back next Monday