Friday, April 17, 2020

Thoughts on Let the Ghosts Speak

Hey'a, all! We're halfway through April, and I'm popping back in on the blogosphere to share my thoughts on Bryan Davis's latest book, Let the Ghosts Speak. I originally intended for this to go up last week, but that . . . didn't happen. Anyway. Bryan Davis's new book released on Amazon at the beginning of the month and on his website just this past week, and it is very good. It has the vibe of a book that's going to become a classic that English students at scholars discuss at length but ordinary bookworms can just as easily pick up and enjoy. And I got an ARC, which means I get to share my thoughts on here. So let's get started, shall we? But first, a bit about the book.

Let the ghosts speak—but will the sane heed their counsel?

In 19th century Paris, Justin Trotter, an immigrant from England, is making his way as a book translator while paying for his blind twin sister’s care. One evening, Marc Noël, Justin’s well-to-do friend and fellow thespian, invites him to a masquerade party at an abandoned schoolhouse. Justin hopes this will be an opportunity to get to know Marc’s lovely though sharp-tongued sister, Francine.

At the event, Justin meets four ghostly strangers—two adults and two children—who warn him that the party guests are in danger, and they must leave at once. True to their prediction, a murder takes place, and Justin is the prime suspect. He escapes and becomes a fugitive, hiding in the Paris catacombs.

Mystery and intrigue swirl as the ghost of Joan of Arc and other martyrs guide Justin on a lonely journey to prove his innocence and protect his sister from an abusive caretaker. Who really committed the crime? Marc? Francine? A ghost? And does seeing these ghosts mean he is going insane? Maybe he really is the murderer after all.

There is only one way to find out, to let the ghosts speak as they reveal the mysteries within Justin’s mind.

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads || Author Site

Thoughts on Let the Ghosts Speak

  1. I absolutely love the writing style. Let the Ghosts Speak is pretty distinct from other Davis books in terms of style. It uses the author-as-translator structure and is styled as being written by Justin, the main character, as an account of what happened to him. This creates a unique tone and overall vibe that feels like a 19th-century classic, which suits the story very well, though it's still quick-paced enough to suit modern readers. The setup also allows for Justin to make asides and provide background in a way that feels very natural, so I enjoyed that. Plus, it's the perfect habitat for Davis's characteristically poetic prose — something that can seem off in his modern stories but fits perfectly in the mouths of these French thespians.
  2. It's kind of all the genres? So that's cool. Let the Ghosts Speak is mostly a combination of mystery, suspense, and drama set in early 1900s France and blended with a distinctly odd brand of ghost story. It also has a distinct magical realism vibe — or, I think it does. I'm not an expert on the genre. And there's some allegory woven in too for good measure. Basically, unless you read exclusively contemporary, this book is quite possibly your genre.
  3. The ghosts are a really cool concept. Side note here: if you're a Bryan Davis fan already and you're concerned about the ghosts, I'd like to know where the pumpernickle you've been. This is hardly Davis's first book to involve some kind of ghost-like being; it's just one of the more obvious ones. But this version of ghosts isn't one I've seen before, and I think it's an interesting take on the idea. It also allows Davis to tell another story featuring Joan of Arc, and this one gives us a little more of the history and legends surrounding her, most of which I hadn't heard of. So, yes, that was interesting.
  4. Regarding characters: they're kind of a mixed bag. Justin falls into the same camp as many of Davis's protagonists, which is to say he's a fallen human trying to be as noble as possible (and usually succeeding) but hindered by the fact that he's kinda oblivious at times. That said, kudos to Davis for giving him an actual plot-related reason for said obliviousness. I am both impressed and amused. The ghost characters were some of the most interesting, in my opinion, and I think Davis handles them well. Among the living, Inspector Fortier was my favorite non-narrator character; he's intelligent without being an over-the-top genius, and like Justin, he's genuinely trying to do the right thing even when it's difficult.
  5. Ok, yes, it's weird. You've got ghosts, you've got mystery, you've got murder, you've got maybe-magic, you've got no idea who's lying and who's telling the truth, what's real and what isn't . . . and then you get to the end and you realize that a solid chunk of the book may have been an allegory as well as a regular story (and wonder why you didn't realize it sooner) . . . yeah. It's weird. But given that it's by the same man who's written about music-powered travel between parallel worlds, dragons-turned-humans hiding in modern America, and the whole situation in Reapers, weird is certainly not an insult (or an unusual condition) when it comes from Davis.
Have you read Let the Ghosts Speak yet? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, what about it sounds most intriguing to you? Please tell me in the comments! (Also, if you're doing Camp NaNo and you're not in my writing group, let me know how that's going!)
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah Pennington

Friday, April 3, 2020

March 2020 Doings!

Hey'a, all! So, I think we can all agree that this last month has been utter madness, yeah? It feels like overnight, we went from "This is normal" to "State of national panic," and we're all realizing why "May you live in interesting times" is considered a curse. But for now, most of us are (I'm pretty sure) alive, so the Doings! go on as usual.


Social distancing can't stop a good adventure, y'know?
  • My goal for March was 300 words or 30 minutes per day, five days a week. I'm happy to say that I've mostly kept that goal; the only week I failed to achieve it was the second week of March — aka, the week that all insanity broke loose. Before and after that, I've kept up pretty well, with a daily average of close to 750 words per day.
  • Most of those words went towards D&D writing. As I think I mentioned at some point, I wanted to get the rest of my D&D campaign (or at least this season of it) written before Camp NaNoWriMo began. I didn't quite achieve that goal, but I mostly accomplished it, so I'm happy.
  • In addition, my DM for the campaign I'm in asked if I had any info about my character's family that I wanted to give him. My response was basically "How much do you want?" My character's family is a pretty significant part of her backstory, plus I love character creation, so I took the opportunity and ran with it. The end result was about nineteen pages long and had three or four paragraphs of information for each of the twenty-ish characters on my character's family tree (all of which are parents, step-parents, siblings, or step-and-half-siblings, for the record). My goal was to provide enough information that if I (or someone else) ever needed to play them as an actual character, the only thing I'd have to do would be figuring out statistics and exact mechanics. Given how disappointed I was that I can't actually play some of them, I think I succeeded.
  • Outside of D&D, I've lately been doing some brainstorming on the realmatic theory of my multiverse with a friend of mine, basically figuring out implications of the parallel and perpendicular worlds that I proposed in this year's New Years special. It's been fun; he's much more of a planner than I am, and he asks good questions that help me find the holes in my ideas and the concepts that need more development or don't make sense. I also ended up making diagrams in Illustrator to help me think through my ideas, and that was unreasonably fun.


  • So, yes. That is a grand total of three books that I've read this month. They were all very good books, though, so that counts for something, right?
  • As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I reread the Wingfeather Saga so I could review the new editions. They're just as good this time around as they were the first, if not better. If you want to know more, you can check out the post I wrote with my thoughts.
  • The other book I read was Bryan Davis's new release, Let the Ghosts Speak. And — yes, it was weird. But it was also twisty and mysterious and atmospheric and thought-provoking and excellent for reading while curled up under the covers on a dark night. On that note, I apparently misreported the release date; it came out in paperback on Amazon just a few days ago, so if you want to pick it up (which you should; it's excellent), you can do that already! But, yeah. I'm going to post a full thoughts post next Friday, but you don't need to wait for that unless you really want to.
  • I also finally finished reading the Schlock Mercenary webcomic. Or, rather, I caught up to the most recent posts . . . which means I'm stuck reading it at the very slow pace of one comic per day. I mean, don't get me wrong; most of the webcomics I read update once a week, so this is an improvement! But since I initially read it at the rate of a few books a day, it's a tiny bit agonizing. But it's still a very good webcomic. (I also discovered a few other very good webcomics in the last several weeks, so perhaps I shall do another "Favorite Webcomics" list at some point in the near future.)


  • So, funny story. My roommate loves this movie, Romancing the Stone. Despite what the name implies, it's an Indiana-Jones-esque adventure movie featuring a successful romance writer as the lead character. Anyway. For the past year at least, we've been saying that we should watch it together — but we never did, because we can barely find time to watch Avatar, let alone a full-length movie.
  • Then, after I get back to Virginia the second time, my family decides to watch a movie. And we're going through the usual "well, what are we going to watch, given that no two people in this household actually have the same taste in movies" dialogue (we really don't; it's a problem), and I ask about another movie that my parents had out from the library that Alana really enjoys, The Great Race. And the parents have already watched it, but my mom brings up the fact that we actually own Romancing the Stone . . . so we watch it, because we can all actually agree on it.
  • And it was actually really good. I honestly might prefer it to the one Indiana Jones I've watched — though that's partially because it includes some of my actual favorite tropes. It also helps that the female lead actually does take initiative and isn't just useless — she sometimes is clueless, yes, but it scans as a more realistic "city slicker lost in the jungle and in way over her head" sort of clueless, so it doesn't really bother me.
  • (I still find the timing of when I watched it ironic, though.)


  • So, we left off our last Doings! with me still at home, just finishing up Spring Break. This Doings! finds me home once again . . . but that's getting a bit ahead of myself.
  • I did actually go back to Cedarville, for the record, getting back Sunday, March 8 — which was, honestly, a really good day. My friends and I celebrated with a cheese-and-game night, which was both delicious and delightful.
  • Monday and Tuesday were a bit rough, as I was tired even with the rest I'd gotten over spring break and I was having a hard time getting back into the rhythm of life. Tuesday, Dr. White, Cedarville's president, made an announcement in chapel that no, Cedarville wasn't going to shut down; we were going to keep on going as we had.
  • Aaaaaand then things went sideways, and Tuesday evening, one of the girls in our dorm with a late-in-the-day class said that her professor had strongly implied that Cedarville would be shutting down after all  — and once I'd heard that one rumor, more seemed to come out of the woodwork. That Tuesday night was honestly harder than any other day or night this month. All that's happened since then has been hard. But the mix of certainty and uncertainty — the fact that I knew things, but I couldn't act on them because I didn't know them — the fact that I knew but couldn't ask any professors about it because I wasn't supposed to know — that left me sleepless and afraid.
  • Wednesday morning, people tried to carry on as normal. The chapel was packed; everyone was waiting to hear what was going to happen. Dr. White had our chapel speaker speak as usual, though he kept the message short. And then he came up and made the announcement: Cedarville was going online for two weeks; all students who could vacate the dorms were to do so by Friday, and classes were canceled for the next two days so professors could figure out how to transition.
  • My sister and I hastily made plans: we'd spend the weekend with my roommate's family so we could let the main rush of departing traffic get ahead of us and so I could have a little more time with my roommate, just in case. Then we headed back to Virginia a week after we'd returned to Cedarville.
  • Since then, we've mostly been trying to find a rhythm and attempting to keep up with all that needs to be done. Everything seems to take longer at home because I don't have class times and meal times and evening plans and everything else to work around. And I am utterly sick of seeing people talk about having all this free time at home, even anxiety-plagued free time. Technically, I do have more free time than I did at Cedarville. But it sure doesn't feel like I do.
  • Anyway. On a happier note, I got a new laptop! It's very sleek and fancy and can fold into a tablet if I want it to. And it comes with a digital pen/stylus, which is going to be great for graphic design and art stuff once I figure out the most effective way to use it. And it's just so pretty and crisp and actually works with Bluetooth transmissions without a USB dongle thing and yeah.
  • I also tried out another new sourdough roll recipe, this time with sausage-sandwich-type rolls. Mine turned out a bit shorter than I intended them to; I think I worried too much about making them big enough around and not enough about making them long enough. (I miscalculated which directions they'd puff, pretty much.) But they tasted great and ended up working well enough for Italian sausage sandwiches.
  • Also, the last two D&D sessions in the campaign I'm a player in have been interesting. Long story short, we were trying to temporarily take control of a sizable band of orcs so we could stop them from attacking a city (because we had seven people including NPC allies, and that's not enough to take on a thousand+ orcs) by tricking them into thinking we were someone else (a plan my character was not 100% on board with, but she couldn't come up with a better idea) . . . and we actually were succeeding for a while. And then my character decided she wanted to check on an NPC whom the orcs had captured and whom we were hoping to rescue, and that indirectly led to our sorcerer, who was leading the deception, making a couple mistakes that revealed he wasn't who he claimed to be . . . not to everyone, mind you, but to one particular orc. Who then decided to corner my paladin in the dead of night and question her until she tripped up, which happened a lot faster because, y'know, deception is not my or my character's strong suit. So, yes. The party wizard and I were the only ones of the party still in the camp (the sorcerer was off doing other things; the ranger and the fighter/warlock had gone to track down another orc), so we got chased out, and then our sorcerer rolled poorly multiple times while trying to teleport back to us and high-key nearly died, so . . . yeah. This is why they tell you not to split the party. Also why you shouldn't try to run a con with a paladin in the party. Even if the paladin isn't so strictly lawful that she'll sabotage the plan on principle, the odds of her being able to keep up the cover under pressure aren't great.
  • Also, I made crumpets. Well, technically, they're pikelets. But still. Life goal accomplished.

April Plans

  • I'm probably insane, but yes, I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo. I'm aiming for 30,000 words, primarily on Blood in the Earth/Soil (nope, still haven't decided which one I'm naming it) . . . but, I also have a session left to write in this season of my D&D campaign, a white paper, and a capstone paper. So, in the interest of not going crazy, I'm going a little bit rebel and ruling that at least half or 500 words of my daily count have to be in my novel . . . but the other half can be other projects, whether that's D&D, school projects, or another writing project with a quickly-approaching deadline. Hopefully, that will help keep me sane.
  • My sister and I also have to go back to Cedarville this month to get all the stuff we couldn't cram into our car on the trip down, so prayers for that would be appreciated. No one likes the fact that we have to travel, but we also need our things.
  • Outside of that, I'll just be keeping on with business as usual, or as close to it as possible with the online classes situation. It's honestly starting to feel almost normal at this point, even the pandemic, which is . . . scary. But normal means that people, myself included, are functioning, so I'll take it.
  • In D&D news, the campaign I run is about to hit its season two finale, which I am very excited about! I have the whole thing written already, though I do need to make a couple edits based on last session. (I may have made those last night after I finished writing this post. Hard to say.) I think it'll be a properly difficult challenge for the end of a storyline, and we should have some interesting character moments . . . I hope so, anyway.
  • I would like to be able to do some baking at some point, but we'll see if that happens or not. Flour, as it turns out, is on the list of things that are hard to find (partially because of people stocking up for social isolation; partially because everyone and their aunt is apparently doing sourdough now). We'll see what happens.
How was your March? What's something good that's happened in your life lately? Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month? (And if you are, do you need a writing group? Or another writing group? Deborah O'Carroll and I made one, and we have spots open!) Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah Pennington