Review: The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy is a bit like Twilight for adults, with a more compelling heroine and a few more thrills and chills. The last book in this series is The Book of Life, the denouement of Matthew Clairmont and Diana Bishop’s unlikely story with a few hints of potential sequels. In the first book in the series, A Discovery of Witches, reluctant witch Diana Bishop calls up the mysterious manuscript coded Ashmole 782 from the Bodleian Library at Oxford, only to attract the attention of several other creatures—other witches, daemons, and vampires. Specifically, a vampire named Matthew Clairmont. Diana and Matthew strike up an unlikely (and forbidden) relationship. In the second book, The Shadow of Night, Diana and Matthew timewalk back to 1590 to try to track down Ashmole 782 again and meet almost literally every historical figure of importance who lived at the time. Matthew also turns out to be one of those important historical figures in disguise. In this final book, Diana and Matthew pull out pretty much all the stops to try to find the missing manuscript, now known as the Book of Life, which will tell the secrets that the witches discovered centuries ago. This gruesome book, made from the skin, hair, and blood of witches, daemons, and vampires, is believed by witches to be the first grimoire and to hold the secrets of witchcraft and by vampires to hold the secrets of their origins. As it turns out, Matthew’s bloodthirsty and deranged son Benjamin is also after the book. And Diana. And possibly their children. Oh, and Matthew, if it will lure Diana to him.

Sigh.

Okay, where to begin. This book isn’t bad. It’s pretty cheesy, and I can’t figure out why. I kind of liked the first book in this series, but it seemed like each successive book just got crazier and crazier. Diana and Matthew are supernatural creatures, yes, but why do they have to be the most powerful or crazy of their ilk? Why does she all of a sudden have to be Superwitch? I liked it better when they were nosy about their origins, but the fate of their entire world didn’t have to rest on what they managed to do (or not). I guess maybe I’m a bit over vampires unless they are awful like Dracula. I did enjoy a very cheeky joke Matthew made about Twilight in the middle of the book. Jennifer Ikeda is a good reader, as well. There is a pretty awful torture scene reminiscent of Jamie Fraser and Black Jack Randall, though without, I suppose, the element of rape. What it is with all the torture p*rn in women’s fiction now? (By the way, that word is not spelled out because I don’t want weirdos who are looking for that stuff to land on my blog and be super disappointed.) I also felt like Harkness was stretching to bring back all the characters from the first book, even if if they only got a cameo. For some reason, that irritated me. Mainly because I didn’t really remember them that well after all that time had passed. I found the whole blood rage deal that Matthew had and passed along to some (not all, apparently) of his children an irritating plot point. It seemed to me like an excuse for Matthew to be a dick sometimes more than anything else. And on top of everything else, no one really explains it satisfactorily to me. And finally, the Book of Life is a sort of letdown. That’s IT? That’s what the big secret was? I figured that sort of thing out about creatures from the first book. I wanted a big reveal. You let me down, Diana Bishop. You let me down. And I guess the biggest issue I have with the books in general is that I don’t particularly like Diana or Matthew. I mean, I don’t wish them ill, or anything, but I don’t like them nearly as much as some of the secondary characters. I can’t remember if I mentioned how I feel about them in earlier reviews I wrote. Diana can be tiresome in her ways, but Matthew is controlling, and it grates on me that a controlling guy like that is being put forth as an ideal romantic boyfriend/husband. Yuck. At least he figures out by the end of the book that he needs to step it back a notch.

So, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either, and it gets three stars.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Sunday Post #42: Ratings

Sunday Post

Greetings on this frigid Sunday in New England. My wonderful hubby actually ventured outside today to help our neighbor jump start his car. I told him, and I meant it, that he’s a good neighbor. He said the air felt like frozen knives. I am glad it’s warming up before I have to go back to school after the holiday weekend.

I have been giving some thought to book ratings. I find that Amazon’s ratings are sometimes a bit on the high side, and otherwise, they can be a mixed bag in terms of helpfulness as many customers rate things like packaging. I find that infuriating because it doesn’t tell me anything about the book. Of course, the more popular a book is, the more accurate the ratings seem to be.

Goodreads, on the other hand, has a rating system that works as follows:

Rating: ★★★★★ = it was amazing
Rating: ★★★★☆ = really liked it
Rating: ★★★☆☆ = liked it
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ = it was ok
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ = did not like it

I don’t really like this rating system, so on my Goodreads profile, I explain what my own ratings mean. To me, 3 stars is a bit low for a book that I liked. To me, that’s an okay book. I think 2 stars is low for an okay book. To me, that’s “I didn’t like it.” I reserve 1 star for books I hate. I don’t give 1 star ratings often because I don’t finish books I hate very often. Same with books I don’t really like. So I have a lot of higher ratings, or at least a lot of ratings from 3-5 stars. I know a lot of folks who reserve 5 star ratings for the best books of all time. I don’t. I give 5 stars to books I love. They might not even be my favorite books, but if I loved reading them, then they get 5 stars. I suppose we all need to figure out our own system for rating books, and I don’t usually hear much from others about my ratings. However, a few years back, a Goodreads friend (someone I don’t know well) commented about my higher book ratings. I didn’t unfriend him over it, but I thought about it because I thought he was rude. I disagree with many of my friends’ ratings, but our responses to books are personal, and no two people ever read the same book, so it’s natural that we will feel differently. I don’t let anyone shame me into “grading harder.” I think that’s ridiculous.

I don’t know why that was on my mind, but it was. Today, I recorded my last lesson for the online guitar class I have been taking through Berklee College of Music and Coursera. It has been a lot of fun. The instructor is quite good, and I found I learned a lot more theory this time around than I did when I took guitar classes in high school and college. Actually, I learned more theory than all the years I was in school band, come to that. I found it really fascinating, and now I want to take the music theory course on Coursera. I would really like a more advanced guitar course, but I am not sure there are plans to create one. I’m not the only student who is interested, though, if the forums are any way to judge. I am starting to get some good callouses on my left hand fingers.

I am glad I have a three-day weekend. I am hoping to catch up on some reading tomorrow. I am nearly finished listening to the third book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Book of Life. I might be able to finish it tomorrow some time, in which case I’ll post a review here (with my own star rating, too). I have been trying to finish Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. It’s hard to tell because I’m reading on Kindle, and the book has a lot of end notes, but I think I’m getting close to the end. At any rate, the Bastille has been stormed and the royals have been forced to the Tuileries. I am not really sure how I’m feeling about I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I can tell you I don’t like the really long chapters. I feel like I have to stop in the middle of something because I can’t read chapters that long in a go. I’m also not grabbing the book when I want to read, which is telling.

I am turning in. I need to do a bit of planning tomorrow, and I want to read a bit before I go to sleep. I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s Day.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #40: The First Sunday of 2016

Sunday Post

Happy New Year! I hope everyone is enjoying a last evening off before returning to work. I needed another week, I think. This weekend, I’ve been curled up with Elizabeth Kostova’s novel The Historian. I think I have about 140 pages left in that one, but it’s over 700 pages, so I’m actually in the home stretch. I will save my comments for the review.

I have also been dipping into Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette, but I haven’t made much progress with Simon Schama’s Citizens. I listened to the first chapter of the final book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness: The Book of Life. I am mainly curious to find out how the series ends.

I did not get a chance to show you what I got for Christmas.

Dana's Guitar

I started playing guitar in high school and even took a classical guitar class in college, but I admit I haven’t played much in years. I have an acoustic guitar, but I have always really wanted an electric guitar, ever since high school. I used to look at pictures of guitars and dream. I have been playing, and things are starting to come back. I am taking an Introduction to Guitar class through Berklee College of Music on Coursera. The course officially starts tomorrow. I’m very excited to see what I can learn. If you haven’t tried out any of the free courses on Coursera, you should check them out. I have taken some really interesting ones.

I am excited for the new season of Downton Abbey tonight, even thought it’s the last one. Did anyone catch the special episode of Sherlock? I loved it! I really wish they could air the next season soon, but I understand that now that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are big movie stars, it’s hard to schedule filming Sherlock. What a great show, though.

This week will likely be a busy one, with the return to work. I am hoping to grab some time in the evenings to read. I definitely want to finish a couple of books I’ve had going on my Kindle for a while.

What are you up to this week? What are you reading?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Review: The Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night is the second in her All Souls Trilogy. In the first book, which I read and reviewed here, witch and historian Diana Bishop calls forth the mysterious manuscript Ashmole 792 from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, arousing the curiosity of many other “creatures,” including vampire Matthew Clairmont.

This book picks up Diana and Matthew’s unlikely love story as they prepare to timewalk to the past in the hopes of recovering the mysterious alchemical manuscript known in their time as Ashmole 782, which Matthew hopes will reveal genetic secrets of creatures and help Matthew discover why creatures are dying out. Using Diana’s power to travel to the past, Matthew and Diana go back to Elizabethan London, where Diana discovers her husband is a member of the legendary School of Night. And that’s not his only secret. Diana discovers she has some massive hidden powers, and she rubs shoulders with just about everyone of note in early 1590’s London and Prague.

I have to admit I find both Diana and Matthew pretty grating. People (annoyingly) fall in love with both of them right and left, while they have eyes only for each other. And of course, they have flawless appearances as well. Harkness falls into the trap of making her characters too physically perfect, so she gives them other flaws (that aren’t really flaws). I know they are not supposed to be normal people—they are a witch and vampire—but I still found them both pretty unsympathetic. Even when you’re writing about supernatural creatures, you want your characters to seem believable on some level. On the other hand, as this kind of book goes (think Twilight) this series is entertaining enough. It’s hard to believe even a vampire like Matthew would somehow be to connected to pretty much every major figure in Renaissance London and Prague, too. And I mean, it runs the gamut, from Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, aka the Maharal of Prague, a witch who created the legendary Golem, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, Queen Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and more shadowy types like John Dee and Edward Kelley. One can’t deny that Harkness did her research. One wonders if all of it had to be thrown into the book.

Like I said, though, these books are entertaining enough, and they will definitely appeal to people who are looking for fun books about vampires and witches. Jennifer Ikeda’s reading works well with the story and doesn’t hit any wrong notes.

Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★☆

I can’t count this one for the R. I. P. Challenge, even though I think it would be perfect if you’re doing the challenge and looking for something different to read. I started reading it before the challenge started, however. Given that most of the book is set in the past, I do feel it can definitely count for the Historical Fiction Challenge. Diana and Matthew travel from American to Renaissance London, and then to France and Prague, so it’s hard to figure out exactly where to map it for my settings map, but I’m settling on London, as I’d say the bulk of the action takes place there.

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Sunday Post #29: R. I. P. Challenge X

R. I. P. XI can hardly believe it, but this year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual R. I. P. Challenge, hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings typically, but this year by Andi and Heather of the Estella Society. I look forward to this challenge more than any other every year, and it think it’s mainly because it’s the perfect marriage of time of year (fall) and subject matter—anything creepy, scary, or as Carl says, “Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. Supernatural.” I plan to go for broke and read four books. Might be ambitious considering I have a book club and school is starting, but I am going to go all in this time and see what happens.

I need to figure out what I am going to read, but my longlist includes the following books, some of which I already have and should read:

                  

It looks like a good list! Some of these books were on my list last year, and were probably there the year before. I really need to read the ones I’ve bought already, but I have to admit, I’m giving several of these books that I don’t own some rather longing looks.

Aside from starting the challenge, there isn’t much news. I have continued working my way through a re-read of both King Lear and A Thousand Acres in preparation for teaching them. I am also listening to the second book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Shadow of Night. I can’t count it for the R. I. P. Challenge because I started it before the official start date of September 1. I have some other books I pick up from time to time. I’ve also been re-reading the Harry Potter series and am nearly finished with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I really loathe Dolores Umbridge. She’s too realistic a villain. I’ve known crappy teachers like her, and yes, sometimes they go on to be crappy administrators. That book is a really interesting study of what happens when the government interferes with education. I understand the purpose of oversight, but when you have a bunch of people who know nothing about teaching running the show, you’re going to have a disaster. And frankly, this book is too accurate a portrayal of what that looks like in the real world, never mind Hogwarts.

So, are you joining me in the challenge?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Top Ten Books for People Who Like X

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Oooh, I haven’t participated in Top Ten Tuesday in a while, and even though it’s technically Thursday, this one looks like too much fun to pass up. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books for People Who like ______. I’ve been unpacking my books, and I’ve been thinking about the connections among my different reads. My husband made the remark today that we have a lot of good books, and we really shouldn’t need to go to the bookstore in a while given how many great books we have. He’s right.

  1. If you like the [amazon asin=0545162076&text=Harry Potter] books, you should try Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series: [amazon asin=0142001805&text=The Eyre Affair], [amazon asin=0142004030&text=Lost in a Good Book], [amazon asin=0143034359&text=The Well of Lost Plots], [amazon asin=014303541X&text=Something Rotten], [amazon asin=0143113569&text=Thursday Next: First Among Sequels], [amazon asin=0143120514&text=One of Our Thursdays is Missing], and joining the ranks in October, [amazon asin=067002502X&text=The Woman Who Died A Lot]. Jasper Fforde’s series is hilarious bookish fun, and even has a few references to the Harry Potter series.
  2. If you like Emily Brontë’s classic [amazon asin=0143105434&text=Wuthering Heights], you will enjoy Sharyn McCrumb’s historical fiction retelling of the infamous Tom Dooley case, [amazon asin=0312558171&text=The Ballad of Tom Dooley]. McCrumb herself has described the novel as Wuthering Heights in the Appalachians, and it’s true. The story’s characters greatly resemble their counterparts in Wuthering Heights in many ways. I loved it.
  3. If you liked [amazon asin=143918271X&text=A Moveable Feast] or [amazon asin=0743297334&text=The Sun Also Rises] by Ernest Hemingway, try Paula McLain’s excellent novel [amazon asin=0345521307&text=The Paris Wife] for Hadley’s side of the story. One of the best books I read last year. Highly recommended.
  4. If you liked [amazon asin=0143106155&text=Jane Eyre] by Charlotte Brontë, you will enjoy an updated retelling of the story, [amazon asin=0062064223&text=The Flight of Gemma Hardy] by Margot Livesey. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.
  5. If you liked Diana Gabaldon’s [amazon asin=0440423201&text=Outlander] series, try Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series, beginning with [amazon asin=0312378025&text=The Tea Rose]. [amazon asin=1401307469&text=The Winter Rose] and [amazon asin=1401307477&text=The Wild Rose] round out the series, but the first one is the best one.
  6. If you liked [amazon asin=161382310X&text=Moby Dick], or even if you only sort of liked it because it got bogged down in cetology, but you liked the good parts, you will love [amazon asin=0061767654&text=Ahab’s Wife]. Oh.My.Gosh. One of my favorite books ever. Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel introduces the amazing persona of Una, wife of Captain Ahab, from one line in which Ahab mentions her in Moby Dick, and she’s one of the most incredible fictional people you’ll ever meet. I love her. She is one of my fictional best friends.
  7. If you liked [amazon asin=0316038377&text=Twilight], but you wished you could read about grown-ups, and you wanted less purple prose and better writing, try Deborah Harkness’s [amazon asin=0143119680&text=A Discovery of Witches], the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. The second book, [amazon asin=0670023485&text=Shadow of Night], comes out in about a week. You will like Matthew much better than Edward. Trust me.
  8. If you liked [amazon asin=0143105426&text=Pride and Prejudice] and [amazon asin=0486295559&text=Persuasion] by Jane Austen, and you are a little unsure of all those Austen sequels, try out Syrie James’s fictionalized what-if? novel [amazon asin=0061341428&text=The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen] that wonders aloud whether or not Aunt Jane had a real romance that inspired her great books.
  9. If you liked Suzanne Collins’s thrilling [amazon asin=0545265355&text=Hunger Games series], you will enjoy Veronica Roth’s [amazon asin=0062024035&text=Divergent] and its sequel [amazon asin=0062024043&text=Insurgent]. Not sure when the next book in the trilogy comes out, but I can’t wait. Her books are amazing. They will remind you of The Hunger Games without feeling anything at all like a ripoff.
  10. If you liked [amazon asin=0486415864&text=Great Expectations] and [amazon asin=1612930999&text=The Turn of the Screw], you will love John Harwood’s [amazon asin=B000I5YUJE&text=The Ghost Writer]. The book makes several allusions to both novels, but it also contains four complete short stories within the text of the novel (written by the protagonist’s grandmother), and it’s set in a creepy house with a secret.

Bonus: If you like Victorian novels period, and you want to read a love letter to the Victorian novel, or if you like Daphne Du Maurier’s [amazon asin=0380730405&text=Rebecca], try Diane Setterfield’s [amazon asin=0743298039&text=The Thirteenth Tale].

Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. Just because my husband says we have a load of good books doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for more.

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Musing Mondays

Monday Musings—September 5, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks: Who do you think is the hottest male/female character from a book?

Ha, ha! This is a funny question. I only had to think about it for a minute. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] series, of course. Listen, my husband is a redhead, and he and all the other redheads out there can thank Jamie for making everyone else understand why redheaded men are sexy.

Why is Jamie “hot”? He is not afraid to be a man and have whatever feelings he has. He never tries to hide his feelings. He also has the courage not to impede Claire from being whatever she wants to be, which is an unusual trait in a man of his time (eighteenth century Scotland). He also loves Claire with an intense and lasting love that transcends time. He can be stubborn and frustrating at times, but honestly, it’s always in a predictable way—it’s usually because someone he loves feels threatened, and he thinks they are being kind of stupid. Not that they are necessarily being stupid, but that he thinks they are, mind. Another thing I like about Jamie is the joy with which he approaches life and his sense of humor. He has more funny quotes than any ten other characters in that series. In addition to all of that, he is also strong, a survivor. He has been through some of the worst humanity can throw at another person and come out the other side if not unscathed, then at least with a sense of humor and a sense of himself intact. He also shows a surprising open-mindedness for a man of his era—his affection for Lord John Grey, even after find out Grey is homosexual and is attracted to Jamie, is sincere and undiminished by the news, and his acceptance of Claire (even as outlandish as her tale truly is) is pretty remarkable.

Sorry, ladies, no pics. This one has not been made into a movie, and I prefer not to speculate (you can Google it if you’re curious), but here is a link to all the Jamie Fraser merch you could want at Cafe Press.

Honorable mentions:

Fitzwilliam Darcy from [amazon_link id=”0143105426″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link]

Rhett Butler from [amazon_link id=”1451635621″ target=”_blank” ]Gone with the Wind[/amazon_link]

Louis de Pointe du Lac (had to be at least one vampire… wait, I do have another one—hang on) from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but specifically [amazon_link id=”0345409647″ target=”_blank” ]Interview with the Vampire[/amazon_link]

Captain Frederick Wentworth from [amazon_link id=”193659451X” target=”_blank” ]Persuasion[/amazon_link]

and Matthew Clairmont (no pics—no movie… yet; also my other vampire) from [amazon_link id=”0670022411″ target=”_blank” ]A Discovery of Witches[/amazon_link].

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Booking Through Thursday: Anticipation

This week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt asks:

What’s the last book you were really EXCITED to read?

And, were you excited about it in advance? Or did the excitement bloom while you were reading it?

Are there any books you’re excited about right NOW?

I think the last book I was really excited to read was probably [amazon_link id=”0439023513″ target=”_blank” ]Mockingjay[/amazon_link] by Suzanne Collins (review), which I read last September (almost a year ago!). I had just finished the first two [amazon_link id=”0545265355″ target=”_blank” ]Hunger Games[/amazon_link] books, and I just couldn’t stop turning the pages. I suppose the last time I enjoyed a book so much might have been [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link]. I didn’t really have enough time to be excited about it in advance because by the time I became intrigued enough by Hunger Games to read it, the third novel had already been published. I bought it at the Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, and I remember carrying it around that day at the Decatur Book Festival, anticipating cracking it open when I went home later.

I am excited about some books coming out or in my to-read list. I really want to read [amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb. I’m also looking forward to the R.I.P. Challenge, when I plan to read Ransom Riggs’s [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link]. I am excited for Katherine Howe’s next book (I read and reviewed [amazon_link id=”1401341330″ target=”_blank”]The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane[/amazon_link]). I follow her on Twitter, so I know she’s editing it right now. I’m also excited for the sequel to Deborah Harkness’s [amazon_link id=”0670022411″ target=”_blank” ]A Discovery of Witches[/amazon_link] (review). I’m also looking forward to [amazon_link id=”031262168X” target=”_blank” ]The Witch’s Daughter[/amazon_link] by Paula Brackston. It’s not a book, but I’m mad with anticipation over the unveiling of Pottermore. I managed to get a beta registration, and I’m waiting on tenterhooks for my welcome email saying I can officially get in the site.

photo credit: Lori Greig

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Reading Update: Where is Shelley’s Ghost?

Does anyone know how long it takes a book to travel through the post from the UK? I ask because I won this book:

Shelley's Ghost

For creating this video:

(And before you get excited, I was one of three entrants, so they just decided to award the prize to all three of us.)

I want my book! It was mailed on or around March 3, I think, and given that was over two weeks ago, I’m starting to wonder.

So last week was a good reading week for me, as I devoured Water for Elephants in a day, and I finished listening to the audio version of A Discovery of Witches. I will be wrapping up Great Expectations on DailyLit this week.

I started reading Jon Clinch’s Finn, the story of Huckleberry Finn’s infamous Pap. It’s a little dark, and I’m not sure I’m in the mood for dark right at the moment. It calls to mind Faulkner, and I think I will be glad I’ve read it when I finish it, but I think I want to pick up Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector, though it has really mixed reviews on Goodreads. I planned to read it anyway for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. I also toyed with the idea of picking up Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson. First of all, I’ve been through Between, which is a real place. Second, Jackson was hysterical in person when I heard her talk about her books. Third, I know it will be funny and light.

Yeah, I can’t decide.

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A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches: A NovelDeborah Harkness’s debut novel A Discovery of Witches combines several elements I like—a great gothic house (and a castle), supernatural creatures (especially witches; I love witches), and academia. Diana Bishop, a rather reluctant witch and descendant of Bridget Bishop—the first “witch” executed in the Salem Witch Trials, is a professor researching the history of alchemy in Oxford’s Bodleian Library when she is able to call forth a manuscript called Ashmole 782, believed lost for over 150 years. Diana suddenly attracts the attention of several other creatures—witches, daemons, and a vampire named Matthew Clairmont. Soon the two make even more startling discoveries—hidden inside Diana’s DNA are predispositions for just about every magical power witches possess. Together they must discover what Ashmole 782’s secrets are; why her parents were murdered when she was a child; and why daemons, witches, and vampires want to prevent them from discovering anything (and from being together).

A review on Amazon describes this as a combination of The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, and a romance, which is just about right, except I’d throw Twilight into the mix. It’s certainly better written than The Da Vinci Code and perhaps Twilight, but not Harry Potter. It must be hard to write about vampires right about now. For one thing, we want the strange Byronic dangerousness of the vampire, but we don’t like the whole murdering people to eat deal. We have, if you’ll pardon the pun, taken the fangs out of our vampires. Edward Cullen is a great example of this phenomenon, and Matthew Clairmont is not terribly different. Despite the author’s attempts to tell us otherwise, he never comes across the page as very dangerous. Nor do any of his “family.” The vampires that do seem frightening are all bad guys. Despite lacking some teeth, they are fairly charming. I particularly liked Marcus. For astute readers, there’s a reference to another famous vampire in chapter 13 (I think—it’s hard to keep track when you’re listening) that vampire fans will enjoy. Harkness also dispenses with some of the vampire myths—her vampires can go out in the sun without incinerating (or sparkling).

I actually liked the witches much better, especially Diana’s aunts Sarah and Em. Sarah has a sort of hardened no-nonsense way of speaking, and Em is just sweet. I absolutely love their house. I won’t spoil it for those of you who want to read it. The daemons confuse me. I can’t tell what they are that makes them different from humans except for exceptional creativity and intelligence. They don’t seem to have any supernatural powers like vampires or witches. Harkness’s witches, I understand, but I would have liked to have understood her vampires better.

I think I enjoyed this book on audio perhaps more than I might have in print because Jennifer Ikeda was such a great reader. She can do a variety of accents easily—French, Australian, and Scottish. She made each character sound different and instantly recognizable. I did find myself wishing I were reading the hardcover in some parts so I could easily flip around and check things.

However, I admit I don’t care a lot for the main characters, Diana and Matthew. Are they just grown up versions of Bella and Edward? Well, kind of. Diana is Bella with a little bit more self-esteem and attitude, maybe. The descriptions of the places, the food, and the other characters made me keep listening, and I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel, which I might enjoy more because of where it will be set (a bit spoilery, so I won’t give it away). Diana and Matthew are a strange couple. They seem a little forced together as though they were set up by a good friend and are trying to make a go of it without really feeling any sparks.

It’s a worthy debut, and I think it will likely be fairly popular. Despite my feelings about the main characters, I did enjoy the book and look forward to the next one.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Diana’s aunts Sarah and Em and Matthew’s best friend Hamish qualify this book for the GLBT Challenge. The supernatural elements and ancient houses make for a great Gothic Reading Challenge read. I need to read 17 more books for the Gothic Reading Challenge.

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