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Friday, April 15, 2016

"The Many Lives of John Stone" by Linda Buckley-Archer (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: An English teen questions all she knows about aging when she encounters a set of journals that date from the present back to the reign of King Louis XIV in this blend of contemporary and historical fiction from the author of the acclaimed Gideon trilogy.

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?

FORMAT: The Many Lives of John Stone is a blend of contemporary fiction and historical fiction. There are some reports of time travel involved, but it isn't the sci-fi time travel people are used to. It is classified as YA, but it really toes the line between adult contemporary and 'older' YA.

The Many Lives of John Stone is told from a third person point of view. There are several chapters told from the present day and follow the story of Stella Park (a 17 year old girl) and an older John Stone. Occasionally between the chapters, there are journal entries written by a young man named Jean-Pierre. These journals are from France during the reign of King Louis XIV.

The novel stands at 544 pages and was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on October 20, 2015.

ANALYSIS: Just how important is a book blurb and marketing to the potential success of a book? If you have ever asked yourself that questions, all you have to do is look at The Many Lives of John Stone.

(NOTE: The book blurb presented at the top of the review was not the original blurb I read when I picked up this novel. The blurb above does a lot better job of sort of establishing the lack of time travel).

The Many Lives of John Stone first caught my eye right before it was published. It was classified as time travel and supernatural. The time travel came straight from the publisher's own website. Imagine my surprise when I started reading this book and there wasn't any time travel involved.

It will be hard to describe this novel without giving away potential spoilers, but I will do my best. Upon reading The Many Lives of John Stone, I was shocked when I had gotten to the 50% mark and there wasn't one bit of time travel involved. Little did I realize that the 'time travel' aspect of this book was actually a bunch of journals that dated back centuries.

Yes, the entire traveling back in time aspect of this book involved readers every few chapters being given glimpses into a notebook written by a young man as he learns to navigate the ins and outs of the court of Louis XIV. In a way, the journals do take you back in time but no one is physically traveling through time and space, which was extremely disappointing.

I wouldn't say the book blurb lied or purposely misled people, but it hinted at certain things that didn't happen. If it hadn't hinted at those things or even been classified as time travel, the book would have been able to find a true audience.

Even though I was disappointed in being misled, The Many Lives of John Stone was an interesting read – had it been classified properly. It was intriguing and mysterious. While I didn't really find any of the character particularly enduring, the historical aspect of it and the slight undertone of a mystery was enough to keep me reading and wanting to know what was going on.

It should be noted that the mystery involved in The Many Lives of John Stone isn't the typical 'who done it' mystery. It is more of a life's mystery, which involves uncovering secrets people have kept over the years.

The Many Lives of John Stone does move at a bit of a sluggish pace. If you are looking for action and adventure, this isn't the book for you. There are huge chunks of descriptions that involve court life in France, living in the modern day world in a cottage in Suffolk, and learning about a young woman named Stella. There isn't really a moment in the book when things pick up, but instead things move at a very slow pace until the book ends.

It is interesting to note that while the publisher choose to classify this as a YA book, it doesn't really fit the typical YA genre. There is a lot of flowery, ambitious writing involved that would certainly make this a book for the older side of YA, to the point where it could almost be classified as an 'adult' novel.

Without being able to discuss too much of the plot, which if I did it would completely ruin the entire book and your experience, it is difficult. I will say that if the summary sounds even the least bit exciting it is worth the time to give it a try. The Many Lives of John Stone was certainly a satisfying read and well-written, but the rather misleading aspect leads to disappointment.

I think, while The Many Lives of John Stone, was interesting and unique, it will struggle to find an audience. The YA classification might be enough to drive the 'adult' reader away who would find this interesting, while the lack of true time travel and sluggish pace would drive the average YA reader away.

In the end, I am really glad I stuck it out and read the entire book. It was certainly something I don't normally read and unique. I hope it finds its audience, because for the right reader this is sure to be entertaining.


Charlotte said...

sounds like one I might enjoy; thanks for your heads up about the lack of Time Travel qua Time travel!

Cindy said...

You are welcome! If reading a journal is time traveling, I think we should alert scientists to the fact we have discovered time travel :)

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