Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

Disclaimer: I don’t write these fancy long book reviews for books that I didn’t love or had a big impact on me, but this book did have an impact on me. This book was the pinnacle of untapped potential. It had a great premise, but so much was left untouched. Anyway, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Before we get started, I wanted to pose a question. Does Deborah Harkness even drink tea?

Pushing one of the mugs toward him, I fixed my eyes on the sugar. He handed it to me. I put precisely half a teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of milk into my tea. This is just how I liked it–black as tar, a hint of sugar to cut the edge off the bitterness, then enough milk to make it look less like stew.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

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I want to be honest up front and admit that I’m writing this review after not finishing the book. I made it just over halfway and finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

Now take a moment, dear reader, and reread the synopsis. I’ll wait…

Done?

Doesn’t that book sound interesting? Too bad that’s not the book I read.

The opening of the book starts with great promise. Diana is in the library and stumbles on a mysterious enchanted book. In general, I love books about books and libraries and witches. But the potentially great plot got thrown out the window and was replaced by repetitive descriptions of Diana’s clothing, Diana’s weird obsession with rowing and running, Diana’s weird way of drinking tea.

When we aren’t being told about Diana’s exercise routine, we are overwhelmed with scientific, alchemical, and historical information of questionable importance.

Part of me wonders if Deborah Harkness put so much effort into researching that she had to include every little bit of information she could.

When Matthew shows up as the brooding vampire love interest, the plot is still not the focus. We get more promises of plot: the possible extinction of witches, vampires, and daemons; the mystery surrounding Diana’s DNA; the looming threat of the Congregation. Instead, we get more descriptions of clothing, food, and now the addition of wine. We don’t even get any steamy love scenes! (At least not in the first half of the novel)

The book started to feel very much like Twilight, in a sense that we have a somewhat helpless female and a strong, overprotective and angry vampire. But what is worse, is that Diana doesn’t have to be helpless.

We are told in the beginning that Diana is the daughter of two very powerful witches and thus has a great amount of power. (Spoiler)  It is shown in her DNA for godsakes! She has every power known to man, but she refuses to use her magic. In the beginning, it seems like an interesting twist to the traditional “witch” novel, but as the “plot” thickens and Diana’s safety becomes more threatened, she still refuses to use her magic.

She’s the ultimate Mary-Sue! The audience is told that Diana holds all this power and she’s the only one who can break the spell on the mysterious enchanted manuscript, but god forbid she do anything other than allow her vampire love interest to sweep in and do everything for her. I kept waiting for her to decide to use her power to protect herself, or pretty much do anything, but no. Diana continues to be a stubborn helpless shell of a person.

Matthew the vampire is no different. He’s basically a better educated Edward Cullen. He acts as both knight-in-shining-armor and borderline abusive boyfriend. Everything he does is to protect her–he gives up on whatever he was doing with his life before he met Diana–and constantly reminds her how helpless and in need of his help she is. He’s at one point doing yoga and talking about New-Age DNA mumbo-jumbo, then he turns around and bares his teeth to show Diana how “scary” he is. I don’t buy it.

I could forgive this novel if the characters actually did anything than hang out, go to yoga class, and drink wine. The book could be half the length if Harkness took out all the superfluous stuff. Reading it, I felt like I’d been watching Diana from a security camera, seeing her every move. What would’ve been more effective, would’ve been to get to the goddamn plot!

Even the fact that a good chunk of what I read took place in a library at Oxford couldn’t save this for me. I had such high hopes for this novel, as I do enjoy witchy books, but this was just a dud.

If you like Twilight, but the protagonist doesn’t have the excuse of being a human in order to be helpless, then you’ll probably like this book. I’m sorry this became more of a rant than a review.

“It’s coming along”

Or

How to Tell Your Family You’re No Father Along with Your Book than the Last Time They Asked

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The holidays have just passed and I’m sure you saw at least some form of family or friends, and if they know you’re a writer I’m sure they asked you how your writing is going. It happened to me at least twice.

While it’s nice to have family that cares and is interested in your writing, it can be a little awkward if you don’t have much to report.

Here’s a quick and easy guide to come out of those situations looking like an impressive writer person!

Step 1: Be as vague as possible.

Depending on where you are in your writing journey, you can use different buzzwords like: draft, revising, narrative, plot, characterization, dénouement, Freytag’s pyramid… in the hopes that using such words will make you sound well-educated and knowledgeable about writing in general.

Example: “Thanks, uncle Darrel. I’m drafting my novel and really working on my characterization. I want to make sure the introspection of my protagonist through flashbacks is especially efficient during the falling action.”

Step 2: Prepare for the question, “When can I read it?”

There is a good chance that whoever is talking to you will ask if or when they can read it. THIS IS SUPER NICE! Having someone who wants to read your writing is the best thing. When you don’t have anything worth reading yet, it can be awkward.

Be honest! Tell them it’s not ready yet, but you will let them know when it is.

Example: “I’m glad you want to read it, cousin Carol. The story isn’t done, but I’ll let you know when it is and you can be the first to read it.”

Step 3: Appreciate having such a supportive family

Example: “Thank you so much, aunt Beth! I’m so glad you’re interested in my writing.”

Step 4: Believe in yourself and your talents

The fact that you have people who want to read your writing is amazing! You are putting in time and effort to create this piece of art and that is amazing! It might not be getting done as fast as you want, but the process of writing is a complex and unique journey.

Enjoy the journey and don’t sweat the awkward questions! You can do it! Keep writing! You’re a rockstar.

Book Review: The Changeling

To believe in only the practical, the rational, the realistic was a kind of glamour as well. But he couldn’t enjoy the illusion of order anymore. Monsters aren’t real until you meet one.

When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, he left his son a box of books and strange recurring dreams. Now Apollo is a father himself–and as he and his wife, Emma, settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s hold dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. At first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of post-partum depression. But before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act and vanishes. Thus Apollo’s quest to find a wish and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His odyssey takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.

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I never would’ve known this book existed if not for Maggie Stiefvater posting on social media about this book. When I saw there was a section of the book titled: “shit, damn, motherfucker” I knew this was a book I’d want to read.

I was gifted the book by my parents for Jolabokaflod (aka the Christmas book flood) on December 24th. If you weren’t aware, Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve to read that day. My family started doing this last year and it’s such a wonderful thing to do.

ANYWAY, onto The Changeling…

Victor LaValle’s novel opens much like a fairy tale, even going so far as saying, “This Fairy Tale begins in 1968…” as the opening line. That sets the tone for the rest of the novel as this winding adventure through magic and mystery.

I was lulled into a false sense of security in the first part of the book when Apollo works as an independent bookseller and falls in love with Emma. But, in a fairy tale, nothing stays happy for long. Slowly the creepiness often found in fairy tales starts seeping into the story, in the form of nightmares.

I find often with books that relate to fairy tales, the magic it sometimes front and centre. But LaValle keeps the magical elements on the fringes of our vision until we’re in too deep to escape. And I LOVE it! The mystery and anticipation created wonderful tension as we marched toward the finale.

I won’t say anything more, because I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should read this book.

The characters were likeable and unlikeable in the most wonderful ways. Everyone feels amazingly real and flawed in relatable ways. *Vague Spoilers* The cast is full of mothers who’ve had to fight for themselves and for their children and I’m here for it!

This was a book full of secrets. Each character holds a secret that needs to be revealed and realized, and the world itself holds deep secrets for the privileged few to know. I feel like even the book itself is a wonderful secret.

The real-life horrors are just as scary (if not scarier than) as the mythological horrors. But everything is woven into a wonderful tapestry of creepy fairy tale goodness. As the layers of the story and its characters are revealed, I felt like there was so much left to explore even when the book ended. It’s definitely worth a reread.

I highly recommend this novel, especially if you like books based on/inspired by fairy tales.