Stella Park (Spark for short) has found summer work cataloging historical archives in John Stone’s remote and beautiful house in Suffolk, England. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and her uncertainty about living at Stowney House only increases upon arriving: what kind of people live in the twenty-first century without using electricity, telephones, or even a washing machine? Additionally, the notebooks she’s organizing span centuries—they begin in the court of Louis XIV in Versailles—but are written in the same hand. Something strange is going on for sure, and Spark’s questions are piling up. Who exactly is John Stone? What connection does he have to these notebooks? And more importantly, why did he hire her in the first place?
First of all, this is not a time travel book and that blurb is misleading with regards to plot. Considering genres and blurbs are what usually get me into a book, I was a bit miffed on this point. Had I not known of this before going into the book, could my experience have been different? I doubt it. The plot revolves around John Stone, so much so that even in third person account, his full name John Stone is used in every sentence. I get it – it was the anglicized version of his French name, but it was a bit discomforting to the eye. So John aka Jean-Pierre, lived in the court of The Sun King, a time when being morally upstanding was perhaps not the best in a court full of manipulations. John being what he is (I will refrain from spoiling readers), he is considered an anomaly, but a curious one – something to keep as part of a collection. Most of the book chronicles his time in the court – which hardly has anything much to do with the current era, plot-wise. See, Jean was taught to keep his existence a secret, so he keeps it even in the current age, living with two other people of his kind, in seclusion, somewhere in Suffolk.
He is Monsieur Broody – that’s how exhausting his recollection of his ‘lives’ have been (another way the title is misleading, along with the cover!). He hires Stella as an intern to organize his archives, but actually wants her to be their Friend, a confidant, based on the fact that he suspects she is his dead wife’s daughter. And while he is on a deadline, he takes his own sweet time to letting her know of her heritage, rather than, I don’t know – letting her de-crypt the archives and find out herself. No, she gets that at the end of the book, in the form of the notebooks which we read throughout the book. So while there could have been more interesting stories as to his ‘family’ pasts so that she can understand them better, he regales her with a long saga of his first love and time at the glorious court of Henry XIV.
And what was more frustrating was the slow pace of the book – I was constantly looking at the progress bar to see when it will end. There wasn’t much in way of conflict, and the thing about the assassin was never resolved. Why exactly did the assassin strike? I thought there would be contemporary repercussions to it, but nada. The only conflict was a stubborn man’s pride and unwillingness to depend on those close to him, but miraculously that is all resolved in a matter of sentences at the end of the book. Basically, this was exhausting for me to read.
Received a free galley from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers via Edelweiss; this does not influence my opinions or review.