Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Six Books Reviewed, Colbert Vs Amazon and Beautiful Bookstores

Mr Colbert is not only a wonderful comedian, he's a truly smart guy who has taken on Amazon and proven that you can mobilize people to shop at independent bookstores for a specific recommended title. 

On Stephen Colbert: Bestseller Lepucki Recommends Sweetness #9

 Edan Lepucki thanks the Colbert Nation.
Last night Stephen Colbert celebrated
the debut of California by Edan Lepucki at #3 on this Sunday's New York
Times bestseller list with an appearance by the author, who thanked
Colbert and the Colbert Nation for preordering her book and then paid it
forward by recommending another debut novel from Little, Brown:
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark, which is being published August 19
(see our review below).

Colbert reveled in his demonstration of the "Colbert bump," which has
made California, as Colbert put it, "the third goodest book in America
right now." He noted, "For the last six weeks, we at the Colbert Nation
have been at war with online shopping giant Amazon." Then, displaying an
Amazon shipping box with the arrow running from A to Z, he said, "Oh,
we're going to wipe the smirk right off that box's face."

During the segment, called "Colbert Nation vs. Amazon
the show ran a fast-frame video
preordered copies of California at Powell's.
Lepucki signing at Powell's
Lepucki said, "They called me the robot... I was their fastest signer
ever." This caused Colbert to comment: "I assume [your] followup novel
is about a young woman battling to overcome a crippling case of carpal
tunnel syndrome."

Lepucki also described her reaction when she heard that her book would
be recommended on the Colbert Report: "It was bonkers. It was a
beautiful moment. Sherman Alexie called me on the telephone and said he
was going to talk about my book on the Colbert Report. I pretty much
fainted out in the backyard."

 I would love to visit all of these bookstores, and they've all made it onto my literary bucket list!

Road Trip: Beautiful Bookstores 'Worth Traveling For'
"Bookstores aren't just literary gathering spots--they're often
beautiful, fascinating destinations in their own right," Condé
Nast Traveler wrote in featuring "12 beautiful bookstores that are worth
Included are U.S. destinations City Lights Books, San Francisco, Calif.;
Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.; Strand Book Store, New York, N.Y.;
Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn., and Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa
City, Iowa.

I love that these are a strange kind of poem, and that an Iowan has decided to revive them:
The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram
illustrated by Julia Anderson-Miller (Ice Cube Press), from the
legendary longtime bookseller at Prairie Lights
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21851659, Iowa City, Iowa.

I'm tearing through my Powells TBR at a brisk pace, and I find that I need to catch up with reviews before I become overwhelmed.
I read The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston because I had just read the final book in Deborah Harkness' "Discovery of Witches" trilogy, The Book of Life, and I was in the mood for more historical paranormal romance and tales of magic.  
 Unfortunately, Brackston is no Harkness, and her book reads more like a regular historical romance with magic thrown in than a true paranormal that focuses on the magic. Here's the blurb:
Lady Lilith Montgomery is the daughter of the sixth Duke of Radnor. She is one of the most beautiful young women in London and engaged to the city’s most eligible bachelor. She is also a witch.
When her father dies, her hapless brother Freddie takes on his title. But it is Lilith, instructed in the art of necromancy, who inherits their father’s role as Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven. And it is Lilith who must face the threat of the Sentinels, a powerful group of sorcerers intent on reclaiming the Elixir from the coven’s guardianship for their own dark purposes. Lilith knows the Lazarus creed: secrecy and silence. To abandon either would put both the coven and all she holds dear in grave danger. She has spent her life honoring it, right down to her engagement to her childhood friend and fellow witch, Viscount Louis Harcourt.
Until the day she meets Bram, a talented artist who is neither a witch nor a member of her class. With him, she must not be secret and silent. Despite her loyalty to the coven and duty to her family, Lilith cannot keep her life as a witch hidden from the man she loves.
To tell him will risk everything.
 I found it difficult to like the heroine, Lilith, because she, like so many romance novel protagonists, becomes a complete idiot when it comes to love, and rapidly proves herself too stupid to live. Her idiotic brother is just one example of a male that she's willing to sacrifice everything in her life for, even though he's an asshat and doesn't deserve a bit of love or trust. She talks about pulling his unworthy arse out of the fire from childhood on, and even begins the book by dragging him out of an opium den. I feel no sympathy for a character who throws his life away and is petulant and stupid, and allowed to never grow up because someone will always clean up his messes for him. Therefore I was glad that he died, and horrified that his sister wanted to bring him back to life. Fortunately, he's dragged down to a watery grave, but there are still more men in this novel who are ridiculous and irresponsible and are allowed to remain so by dint of the women around them sacrificing all for their sakes. Even her 'soul mate' Bram seems petulant and not too bright, and his mentor Mangan is a wastrel who publically flaunts that he lives with both his wife and his German mistress, and a passel of children that he can't feed or care for. But because Lilith is young and beautiful, she somehow manages to transcend the class lines and common sense and saves the day while also ending up with her penniless artist Bram. I found this overly sentimental, sweet and sexist novel tiring and I wouldn't want to read any of her other books, if this is how she writes all of her characters. Still, the prose was decent, clean and the plot managed to plow through the murky bits, so I'd give the book a C+, and recommend it to those who like somewhat syrupy romances.
The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder (she insists that's her real name), reminded me of one of my favorite YA reads this year, "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green. I would imagine Ms Wunder gets pretty tired of that comparison, too, especially since her novel's heroine, Cam, is much more Holden Caufield than Hazel Grace. Still, any book about a teenage girl with cancer is bound to be compared to Green's blockbuster hit book that became a popular movie. Here's the blurb:
Campbell Cooper has never been in love. And if the doctors are right, she'll never have the chance. So when she's told she needs a miracle, her family moves 1,500 miles north to Promise, Maine--a place where amazing, unexplainable events are said to occur--like it or not. And when a mysterious envelope arrives, containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies, she finally learns to believe--in love, in herself, and maybe even in miracles, as improbable as they may seem.
I found Campbell to be a delight, and more realistic than most teen girls are depicted, because she's by turns bitchy and smart, kind and cynical and often fearful of what is ahead for her family and for herself. Her 'bucket list' becomes a "Flamingo List" because of her friendship with another cancer teen who also lives in Florida.  Though the two have a falling out, Cam decides to finish not only her own list, but that of her friend who dies before the two can reconcile in person. One of the things about Florida that was it's pride as well as its curse, Disney World, is laid bare here in some behind the scenes looks at what it is like to grow up with a family who works for "the Mouse." And since there are so many quirky towns in Florida, like Casadega, an entire town of psychics, I wasn't surprised by Cam's superstitious mother driving her to a town in Maine that promises miracles, as a kind of hail Mary for Cam, whose doctors tell her that chemo hasn't worked, and she has very little time left before she dies. Having lived in both Florida and Maine, I can say that I loved the accurate depictions of the people and the atmosphere of these towns. I loved all the bizarreness of Promise, Maine, and I hoped, as will most readers, that the book would have a happy ending. While it doesn't, the author still manages to make the romance and Cams journey totally worth it. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who loved The Fault in Our Stars.
I've read two more mysteries by Charles Todd, the mother and son team who write the Bess Crawford mystery novels that feature a World War 1 nurse. I've already read "A Bitter Truth" and just last week I finished "A Question of Honor" and "A Duty to the Dead." I have purchased "An Impartial Witness" and will be reading that one as soon as it comes in the mail. The Todds write of the British Empire during a time when the Lion roared and the world was a much different place for the English. I find that I particularly enjoy Bess Crawford's unflappable ability to be kind and nurturing even during harrowing circumstances, and I like that she adores her parents, because most books that I read that are written by British authors point to terrible parenting by cold, aloof and abusive people as the reason the books villain ends up killing people in some gruesome way. Though the surrogate parents in "A Question of Honor" are those horrible people who abuse children and neglect them for money, there is always the contrast of Bess' parents, who are supportive and helpful to her whenever she needs them. Bess is also always helped by her father's assistant, Simon, who drives her wherever she needs to go and is, I believe, somewhat sweet on her, though he's probably too old for her as well. These mysteries remind me of Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, and they're engrossing and full of lovely descriptions of towns in England as they used to be, and as they changed following the Great War, which wiped out a generation of men and boys. Though they're a bit more "talky" than the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, I find that their cozy, historical mysteries are soothing to read after something that is more jarring or upsetting. I'd give them an A-, and recommend them to Winspear fans, or just those who like British historical mysteries.
The Memory Book by Penelope Stokes wasn't at all the "paranormal romance" that I thought it was going to be. Unfortunately, there's a strain of the Christian religion that is woven into the novel that is somewhat jarring for those expecting an easy ghost story with epistolary elements. Still, the prose was good and the story itself flowed nicely along the plot rails. Here's the blurb:Phoebe Lange has it all Рa Master's Degree, an adoring fiancé, and a future with unlimited possibilities Рbut something is missing. Orphaned at age five and raised by her grandmother, Phoebe longs for a past and a sense of connectedness, but it is not until she stumbles upon a scrapbook dating back to the 1920's that she discovers a terrible secret about her family's history which triggers an identity crisis. Phoebe becomes obsessed with the mysterious ancestor, also named Phoebe Lange, whom she is convinced is the key to answering the questions that have plagued her. But the answers may not be what she has in mind.
The abuse and crimes that the protagonist uncovers and then tries to find forgiveness for is a bit too neat and tidy, I found, but though I found Phoebe to be a bit wimpy and not as bright as I had hoped, I did like the book and found the story to be engrossing and well told. I could have done without the religion, because no one likes to be preached to, but despite that I wished the main characters well and I appreciated the diaries and memory books and their look back into the past. I'd give this novel a B-, and recommend it to those who like Christianity and religion woven through their romance novels.

Finally, Tina Fey's "Bossypants" was a fun and funny memoir, full of great stories, photos and graphs from the authors life and work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock television shows. Fans of her delicious wit and fabulous portrayal of Sarah Palin, former governor of a town in Alaska, will find much to love here, as Fey writes arch vignettes of what life as a funny feminist is all about. I found the prose elegant and the chapters so fascinating, that I read the whole book in 4 hours in one sitting. Fans of funny women like Lucille Ball, Whoopie Goldberg and Elayne Boosler will adore the laugh-out-loud moments as well as the more subtle humor and sarcasm. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who needs a laugh, and don't we all need one in this day and age? 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, The Bees by Laline Paull, Goodnight June by Sarah Jio, the Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear andThe Queen of the Tearling by Ericka Johansen

  I have a lot of reviews to post, but first I thought I'd post a great quote by an author who is after my own heart on this matter...there are a number of books that I have loved but couldn't bear to read again, because I would have to experience the pain all over again, or the joy, or whatever emotions the author and characters have put me through.

Some of the books that I consider my favorite are ones that rock me to my core, that leave me feeling like someone squeezed my heart really tightly for those 300 to 400 pages. But the idea of going through that experience for a second time? No, thank you.
Not only do I not want to experience that kind of emotional roller coaster for a second time (let’s ignore the fact that I continue to go through it, just with different books), but what if it is worse a second time around? Now that I know what is coming, will the ride only be worse because I am just waiting for events to occur? Will I even have the strength to continue through the book a second time around? Part of me thinks it is like knowing that an oven is hot and choosing to touch it anyway.
from On Books I Love That I’ll Never Re-read by Rincey Abraham

I just finished The Bees by Laline Paull today, and I can honestly say that I never thought I'd be moved by a story about the inner life of a worker bee in a hive. Bugs, other than butterflies, aren't really my thing. They're not as creepy as rats, but they're not terribly cuddly, either. I can't even eat honey, because I am allergic to pollen and every time I try to eat it I have a terrible allergic reaction.
Still, Paull is an author who is a master storyteller, and I am a sucker for a good old fashioned ripping yarn. The story pulls you in right from the first page, and the emotional and robust prose creates a world that seems as normal as the human world, complete with political machinations and religious problems. The characters are heartfelt and beautiful, and the plot, forgive me, buzzes along swiftly and with great care. Here's the publisher's blurb:
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all–daring to challenge the Queen's preeminence–enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive's strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society–and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful, and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees and its dazzling young heroine will forever change the way you look at the world outside your window.
Flora is a heroine for the ages, and I was riveted by her tale of love and devotion. This book deserves an A, and I hope that it becomes as popular as The Fault in Our Stars. I would recommend it to those who love a good story and a strong female protagonist, and those who are interested in the environment and the poisons that are killing off our bee populations.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes is the third book that I've read by this fantastic author. This story is completely different from the first two, so I had a little difficulty getting into it, but I was glad that I stuck with it, because it was worth the time, in the end. Here's the gist of the story from the publisher:
American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted Stateside she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story.

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
Moyes tends to write characters that are deeply flawed, so they will seem more realistic. While I get that, and I admire her for making characters that aren't stereotypes or cliches, it bothers me that Jess is such a mess in this story, that she keeps refusing help that she desperately needs, if not for herself, for her children, and that despite her ridiculous 'pride' she doesn't seem to have a problem getting Ed's nice car full of puke and stinky, filthy dog, nor does she mind being rather mean to the guy when he's trying to help in the only way that he knows. I wanted to smack her several times during the book for being such an idiot. Not that Ed didn't have his moments when he did something stupid, but his foibles only caused him problems, whereas everything she did had a bad or good effect on her children, especially her daughter, whose innocence and naive outlook became annoying fairly quickly. Despite this, it was a good story that I would give a B to, and recommend it to those who like quirky characters caught up in absurd situations.
Goodnight, June by Sarah Jio was a thoroughly magnificent book, told in partly epistolary style, about a woman in Seattle who owns a bookstore and corresponds with her best friend Margaret Wise Brown, author of the famed children's book, "Goodnight Moon." Having had the book read to me as a child, and then reading it to my own baby when I brought him home from the hospital, I was intrigued by this book, especially at its having fictionalized the life of MWB and the beginnings of Goodnight Moon (and having it all take place in Seattle near Greenlake, where my husband and I lived when we first moved here). Here's the publisher's blurb:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.
June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.
 I loved the letters between Ruby and MWB, and I adored the way that June was able to find the letters by going through old first edition copies of MWB books and other works where her great aunt hid them among the shelves in the bookstore. There was something so "Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankwieler" about it, and anything that takes place in a bookstore appeals to me. The modern day romance of June and the chef wasn't quite as appealing, though it wasn't too annoying, either. The ending wraps up very neatly, and almost too sweetly, even for me, a huge HEA fan. Despite that, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who love Goodnight Moon and all of Margaret Wise Browns wonderful children's books.
The Care and Management of Lies is not another Maisie Dobbs mystery, unfortunately. I found it rather slow going because of that. It's a very "talky" book with lots of discussion of what was happening in the days going up to the Great War (World War 1) and then the horrors during the war, with very little about what happens in the aftermath of the war. Perhaps that's why I had such trouble finishing this book, because I am not a fan of military books, or discussions of man's inhumanity to man. Gross and horrific as war always is, I hope that we have learned from the world wars and that we will never have to fight that close to home ever again.
Still, Jacqueline Winspear is an experienced author, and her love of this era is evident in the time and care she lavishes on describing the farm that Kezia and Tom (husband and wife) live on together. The idealized agrarian culture makes the reader yearn for simpler times when everyone knew exactly where their food came from. Tom's sister Thea and her weird need to somehow make trouble are less lovely, as is the character, who can't seem to make up her mind whether or not she's a feminist or a lost soul. Here's the publisher's blurb:
By July 1914, the ties between Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since girlhood, have become strained—by Thea's passionate embrace of women's suffrage and by the imminent marriage of Kezia to Thea's brother, Tom, who runs the family farm. When Kezia and Tom wed just a month before war is declared between Britain and Germany, Thea's gift to Kezia is a book on household management—a veiled criticism of the bride's prosaic life to come. Yet when Tom enlists to fight for his country and Thea is drawn reluctantly onto the battlefield herself, the farm becomes Kezia's responsibility. Each must find a way to endure the ensuing cataclysm and turmoil.
As Tom marches to the front lines and Kezia battles to keep her ordered life from unraveling, they hide their despair in letters and cards filled with stories woven to bring comfort. Even Tom's fellow soldiers in the trenches enter and find solace in the dream world of Kezia's mouth-watering, albeit imaginary, meals. But will well-intended lies and self-deception be of use when they come face-to-face with the enemy?
I enjoyed the "food porn" letters that Kezia sent to Tom, and I could imagine how much the other men in his military unit loved them, too, but, SPOILER, I can't really imagine that Tom, who was otherwise so sensible, would let his wife's letters nearly get him court martialed, and eventually killed. Though Kezia will never know that, I find that an unfair karmic burden to lay at her character's feet. The heartbreak of losing an entire generation of men to war is woven throughout this novel, so if you're in a melancholy mood, this isn't the best book to read. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to war history buffs and those who enjoy reading about the British during wartime.
The Queen of the Tearling is an outstanding fantasy novel that I could not put down. Brilliantly written and filled with fascinating characters, Erika Johansen has set herself up as a series author to watch. Here's the publisher's blurb:
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.
On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.
Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.
But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

Kelsea's journey to even get to the castle is fraught with danger and turmoil, but her insistence on ending the slavery and murder of her people makes her beloved, but even more of a target by forces from neighboring kingdoms. I loved the fact that Kelsea's mother was something of an idiot, and that her sapphires are magical weapons and protective devices. I was also seriously intrigued by the "Fetch" and Kelsea's attraction to him. I found myself wondering if he is her father, or her brother, or half brother. I was also fascinated by the hints that Johansen intersperses throughout the novel that the Tearling world is the second home of humanity, who apparently got there in ships and tried to create a utopia that failed on a massive scale, ending up with with a sort of medieval society of serfs and slaves and royalty and merchants. I loved that the author wasn't afraid to have truly evil villains and some only slightly bad guys mixed up in the works, and that Kelsea was strong enough to stick to what she knows in her heart is the right thing to do, even if it means that there will be more people hunting her, and more people planning on making war with her kingdom.  I greatly anticipate the next novel in this series, and I give this book a wholehearted A, and recommend it to those who love Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Philip Pullman's YA novels and Garth Nix's as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, Two Reviews

 There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

― Washington Irving 

I deeply believe that tears can be a wonderful relief and a way of easing our pain or of expressing our joy as readers when we've finished a good book, or in this case, a series, and realize that we're no longer going to be able to spend time with the characters in the novels who have become our friends. That's how I felt after finishing the Book of Life, the final novel in Deborah Harkness' "Discovery of Witches" trilogy. Harkness has a way of allowing us to get inside the mind of her characters, all the while creating background and events from their lives that serve to fill them out and make them seem real and living, though they live fantastical lives filled with magic and creatures out of fairytales.
Here's an overview review from Shelf Awareness, and I will comment more following it.

Review: The Book of Life
Picking up where book two of the All Souls Trilogy (Shadow of Night)
left off, The Book of Life reunites readers with witch Diana Bishop, her
vampire husband, Matthew Clairmont, and their many friends and enemies.
After traveling through time in the previous novel, Diana and Matthew
are back in the present at his ancestral home, Sept-Tours, where they
learn the horrifying news that Emily, Diana's aunt who was also a witch,
has died.

The witch-vampire couple must also contend with Matthew's family, who
distrust Diana (particularly Baldwin, who wonders "how that witch
tricked a blood vow from a dead vampire"). As their visit wears on,
Diana learns more about her husband's past, that he is more than a
"scientist, vampire, warrior, spy, and prince" and that his blood rage
flows through the veins of others. Her in-laws, meanwhile, ponder the
incredible and seemingly impossible fact that Diana is pregnant with
Matthew's twins. If it's true, Baldwin claims, "they'll be the most
hated--and the most hunted--children the world has ever known. Creatures
will be baying for their blood."

Characters from the first books--such as Gallowglass, Miriam and
Chris--aid Diana and Matthew in their continued quest to find the
missing pages of the Ashmole 782, also called The Book of Life.
Firedrakes, daemons, a tree that grows in the living room and a house
that produces strange objects swirl around the couple as they travel to
Connecticut, France and Italy in search of answers to the questions that
have chased them through the centuries. And by using modern genetic
analysis, the couple hopes to find out what makes it possible for some
witches to carry vampire babies and why blood rage is found in a few
select vampires.

Full of tender love, immeasurable anger and humor, Harkness's prose
adroitly blends modern science with fantastical creatures, ideas on the
origins of all species, and the way past deeds can affect the future.
Though readers of the series will surely enjoy The Book of Life,
unfamiliarity with the intricate plot begun in the earlier volume may
make this a confusing read for newcomers. Instead, start at book one, as
the entire trilogy is a delightful plunge into the world of magic,
witches and vampires, where love breaks all rules and happy endings are
possible. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer
and book reviewer
I was thrilled that Matthew and Diana were back in this century, but at the same time, they both felt out of sync with this time period, and it set up an unease that was one of the threads woven throughout the book. Then there was the tension of Matthews vampire son, a psychopathic killer named Benjamin, who hates his father for abandoning him (instead of killing him, which is what he was told to do once they discovered his penchant for murder) and is determined to impregnate a witch as Matthew has done with Diana, though he rapes and tortures the witches he's kidnapped. Add to that the search for Ashmole 782, or the Book of Life, and that makes for a suspenseful, page-turning read. And though I've never been a fan of 'possessive' men who can't be out of sight of their beloved woman, whom they act like they own, Harkness made it clear that this is part of Matthews pathology as a vampire, that it is a physical need for him to be with his life mate, and that his old-world upbringing also comes into play, though he made an effort to give her as much freedom as he could muster. Meanwhile, Diana comes into her own as a witch, weaver and a 'time walker' and once her twins are born, she becomes the true force to be reckoned with, as she returns the Book of Life pages to the book itself, and then becomes the book, and ends up saving the day for everyone.  I felt that every loose end was woven into a whole cloth with this book, though with the twins, I have a sneaking suspicion that Harkness could come out with a series about their lives as the offspring of a witch and a vampire. I must also mention how interesting I found the ancient horoscope signs and their meanings at the beginning of each chapter. Even if you view astrology as archetypes, as I do, you still find yourself marveling at the accuracy of the descriptions of what each sign is prone to bring into the world. I could not have enjoyed this book more, and of course it deserves an A, with the recommendation that anyone who has read the other two books by Harkness needs to finish the series with this fine volume. Plus, we can all still hope for the stories of the Bishop-de Clermont clan 15 years down the road.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Book Of Life by Deborah Harkness, Cover Art and Q&A Spoilers

Coming soon! July 15th is the release of the final book in the Discovery of Witches series, (Shadow of Night was book 2). Above feast your eyes on the beauty of the book, and below, read a conversation with series author Deborah Harkness! Warning, contains SPOILERS about the third and final book in the series, the Book of Life. I will post a review of the Book of Life after July 15, the books publication date. Meanwhile, enjoy!


Q: In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research.  What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading THE BOOK OF LIFE? There’s quite a bit more lab work in this book!

A. There is. Welcome back to the present! What I hope readers come to appreciate is that science—past or present—is nothing more than a method for asking and answering questions about the world and our place in it. Once, some of those questions were answered alchemically. Today, they might be answered biochemically and genetically. In the future? Who knows. But Matthew is right in suggesting that there are really remarkably few scientific questions and we have been posing them for a very long time. Two of them are: who am I? why am I here?

Q: Much of the conflict in the book seems to mirror issues of race and sexuality in our society, and there seems to be a definite moral conclusion to THE BOOK OF LIFE. Could you discuss this? Do you find that a strength of fantasy novels is their ability to not only to allow readers to escape, but to also challenge them to fact important moral issues?

A. Human beings like to sort and categorize. We have done this since the beginnings of recorded history, and probably well back beyond that point. One of the most common ways to do that is to group things that are “alike” and things that are “different.” Often, we fear what is not like us. Many of the world’s ills have stemmed from someone (or a group of someones) deciding what is different is also dangerous. Witches, women, people of color, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientations—all have been targets of this process of singling others out and labeling them different and therefore undesirable. Like my interest in exploring what a family is, the issue of difference and respect for difference (rather than fear) informed every page of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, I do think that dealing with fantastic creatures like daemons, vampires, and witches rather than confronting issues of race or sexuality directly can enable readers to think through these issues in a useful way and perhaps come to different conclusions about members of their own families and communities. As I often say when people ask me why supernatural creatures are so popular these days: witches and vampires are monsters to think with.

Q: From the moment Matthew and a pregnant Diana arrive back at Sept-Tours and reinstate themselves back into a sprawling family of witches and vampires, it becomes clear that the meaning of family will be an important idea for THE BOOK OF LIFE. How does this unify the whole series? Did you draw on your own life?

A. Since time immemorial the family has been an important way for people to organize themselves in the world. In the past, the “traditional” family was a sprawling and blended unit that embraced immediate relatives, in-laws and their immediate families, servants, orphaned children, the children your partner might bring into a family from a previous relationship, and other dependents. Marriage was an equally flexible and elastic concept in many places and times. Given how old my vampires are, and the fact that witches are the keepers of tradition, I wanted to explore from the very first page of the series the truly traditional basis of family:  unqualified love and mutual responsibility. That is certainly the meaning of family that my parents taught me.

Q: While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?

A. Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change. Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus.

Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam. That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.

Q: Diana and Matthew, once again, move around to quite a number of locations in THE BOOK OF LIFE, including New Haven, New Orleans, and a few of our favorite old haunts like Oxford, Madison, and Sept-Tours. What inspired you to place your characters in these locations? Have you visited them yourself? 

A. As a writer, I really need to experience the places I write about in my books. I want to know what it smells like, how the air feels when it changes direction, the way the sunlight strikes the windowsill in the morning, the sound of birds and insects. Not every writer may require this, but I do. So I spent time not only in New Haven but undertaking research at the Beinecke Library so that I could understand the rhythms of Diana’s day there. I visited New Orleans several times to imagine my vampires into them. All of the locations I pick are steeped in history and stories about past inhabitants—perfect fuel for any writer’s creative fire.

Q: Did you know back when you wrote A Discovery of Witches how the story would conclude in THE BOOK OF LIFE? Did the direction change once you began the writing process?

A. I knew how the trilogy would end, but I didn’t know exactly how we would get there. The story was well thought out through the beginning of what became The Book of Life, but the chunk between that beginning and the ending (which is as I envisioned it) did change. In part that was because what I had sketched out was too ambitious and complicated—the perils of being not only a first-time trilogy writer but also a first time author. It was very important to me that I resolve and tie up all the threads already in the story so readers had a satisfying conclusion. Early in the writing of The Book of Life it became clear that this wasn’t going to give me much time to introduce new characters or plot twists. I now understand why so many trilogies have four, five, six—or more—books in them. Finishing the trilogy as a trilogy required a lot of determination and a very thick pair of blinders as I left behind characters and story lines that would take me too far from the central story of Diana, Matthew, and the Book of Life.

Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and the secrets contained in the manuscript are at long last revealed in THE BOOK OF LIFE. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation.  What was the story behind your discovery?  And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.

Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world?

A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.

Q: Shadow of Night and A Discovery of Witches have often been compared to young adult fantasy like Twilight, with the caveat that this series is for adults interested in history, science, and academics. Unlike Bella and Edward, Matthew and Diana are card-carrying members of academia who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?

A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.


 For additional information or to schedule an interview with
Deborah Harkness, contact:
Lindsay Prevette / 212.366.2224 / lindsay.prevette@us.penguingroup.com
Shannon Twomey / 212.366.2227 / shannon.twomey@us.penguingroup.com
Catherine Boyd / 212.366.2714 / catherine.boyd@us.penguingroup.com