Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

Book Review:

A Discovery of Witches

By Deborah Harkness

Diana Bishop was born a witch but after her parents died, she wanted nothing to do with being a witch. She avoided it every way possible – she refused to use her powers and refused to learn about witchcraft from her aunts. Instead, Diana ran, rowed, and did yoga to get out her excess energy caused by the bottled up magic.

One day, everything changed. While doing research in an Oxford library, Diana calls up an ancient alchemy manuscript, Ashmole 782. The manuscript is cursed and releases a long chain of events that forced Diana to return to her roots. She gets thrown into a world of vampires and unknown magic, mystery and conspiracy.

Recommendation: If you enjoy the paranormal, than this is a book for you. Stories of witches, vampires and daemons are intertwined with the present and the past. There was just enough flare of romance, violence, and mystery to keep the reader engaged.

I’ve heard someone compare A Discovery of Witches to Twilight. If that’s what you’re thinking, I would disagree. Sure, A Discovery of Witches has love between a vampire and a non-vampire, but I felt this book was a far cry from the Twilight series. While still classified as a young adult book, it did not feel like one while reading it. The characters were older and much more mature. There were scholarly strands running through the book as the characters consistently referenced alchemy and great authors and works of the past.

I was disappointed when the book ended. I wanted to reads the next part of the story. You know it’s a good book when you keep thinking about it after you’re done, and stalk the author’s website for information about the next book. Unfortunately, book 2 in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, isn’t due to be released until summer 2012. It’s going to be a long way

Edit: Read my review of Shadow of Night, book two in the series, here and book three, Book of Life, here.

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Book Review: One Day

I first became aware of One Day when trailer for the movie began appearing on t.v. I watched the trailer with mild interest, thinking it could be a decent rental for one night when the hubby was out of town but figuring I would pass on the book. A few weeks later, One Day was chosen as our next book club book. I put my name on the list at the library and waited…..  month and a half later, I finally got the book, and began reading in a rush to finish it before out next meeting.

Book Review:

One Day

By David Nicholls


The Story: Nicholls introduces the reader to the two main characters of the book in the first scene – Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew are in bed together on July 15, the night of their university graduation. Emma was raised in a working class family, worked hard through school, and hoped to pursue a career in writing. Dexter was raised by a wealthy family, did mediocre in school, and had no real thoughts about the future other than traveling for a year and having fun. They have one night and one day together before going their separate ways.

The unlikely pair, Emma and Dexter remain friends for many years. Nicholls presents a snapshot of their lives (often apart from one another) and their relationship, every year on July 15. Emma struggles to make a life for herself, working in a restaurant and teaching while trying to pursue her writing career. Dexter makes it in the media as a television presenter. He is almost constantly drunk and on drugs.

Review: I had a lot of trouble with this book. The characters just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t find them particularly likeable, and got tired of drunk and drugged Dexter. Remember how I feared that there would be too much teenage angst in Revolution for my liking? Well, Jennifer Donnelly managed to do what Nicholls didn’t. While Revolution was heavy and not very uplifting, the book didn’t have the same mood-changing affect on me that One Day did. One Day began to feel like constant sulking after a while. I know not everything is happy and peachy keep, but as I read, there seemed to be a constant black cloud bringing my mood down.

This being said, I appreciate the structure of the book – the snapshots of one day over the years. The book was well-written and the characters were well developed. It was interesting to see the landmarks in Emma and Dexter’s lives, and how those experiences shaped and changed their personalities. Nicholls excelled in showing character progression over many years, despite having only one day a year to do so.

Recommendation: Maybe, for someone who appreciates the writing and the literary structure.

Grade: C+

Book Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Book Review:

The Zookeeper’s Wife

By Diane Ackerman


Based on memoirs, interviews, old photos, and other historical documents, Diane Ackerman tells the story of Jan and Antonia Zabinski, a Polish couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo when World War II broke out. When the Nazis occupied Poland, the Polish Jews became persecuted – they hid within a shadow world or moved into ghettos; many were sent to labor camps or killed.  Jan and Antonia opened their house and their destroyed zoo to old friends and unknown Guests who sought to escape to a safer place. Antonia ruled the home, the villa and the zoo, where Jewish Guests were hidden throughout the war, in closets, animal houses, tunnels, and cages. Jan played a lead rule in the Underground, the Polish resistance, where he and a network of Poles helped smuggle Jews out of Warsaw, created false papers for those staying in the city as well as fleeing, and, of course, led acts of sabotage against the Nazis (including everything from spray-paint vandalism to poisoning Nazi officials and bombing Nazi trains).

The Zookeeper’s Wife is rich with descriptions that make both life at a zoo as well as life in the Polish shadow-world come alive. Animal life  thrived, despite the war, as pets were hidden and Guests (code-named by animals) acquired qualities of those animals they were called. At the same time, Ackerman described the daily emotional struggle of the Zabinski’s and their Guests (the story often bouncing from the Zabinski’s to highlighting the story of a Guest) – the fear for themselves and their families, the guilt at endangering others with their activities – all make the Underground resistance come alive.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is an amazing glimpse into the Underground resistance. Although the Zabinski’s were aided by many friends and corrupt Nazi and Polish officials, their story shows how much impact just a couple of people could have. Over 300 Guests stayed at the Zoo, and all but a couple of them survived the war.

Recommendation: Absolutely.

Grade: A (4.5 of 5 stars on Goodreads)

Book Review: Millennium Trilogy

Book Review:

Millennium Trilogy

By Stieg Larsson

Book 1: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I started the first book in the series for book club, with a bit of apprehension. I had heard that most people either loved the book or hated it. I had also heard that it takes most people anywhere from 50-125 pages to get into the book. I will admit that I started off reading fairly slowly, but I honestly think that was more because I wasn’t in the mood to read, rather than a comment about the book.

But about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo… The book starts out with journalist Mikael Blomkvist being convicted for libel, forcing him to take a leave of absence as publisher of his magazine, Millennium. A wealthy industrialist and businessman, Henrik Vanger, offers him a chance to get away – Vanger asks Blomkvist to live near his family for a year, allegedly to write his family biography, but really, to secretly look into the death and/or disappearance of his great-niece. Blomkvist’s motivation is a promise of exacting revenge against the man who sued him for libel and attempted to take down the magazine. Blomkvist, along with researcher Lisabeth Salander, make progress in solving the decades old mystery, thereby threatening the family and its legacy. As they delve deeper into the girl’s disappearance, the pair face hostility from the family and threats from unknown parties. Will they solve the mystery before the year is up? Will Blomkvist be able to exact his own revenge?

Overall, I enjoyed the first book, certainly enough to continue reading the series, which I liked even better than the first. I’m glad I continued reading, as I got more interested in the story (and out of my reading funk), to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate Larsson’s series.

Book 2: The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire caught my interest much quicker than the first, leading me to believe that I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I started reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

In Book 2, Lisabeth Salander gets caught in the middle of a murder investigation, where she is the primary suspect. Police and social service reports, leaked to the media, paint Salander as a violent, psychopathic killer on the run. Mikael Blomkvist and the employees at Millennium return, launching their own investigation, based on suspicion that the murders were motivated by a soon-to-be-released provocative book naming criminals and clients involved in a massive sex trafficking operation, to prove her innocence.

The Girl Who Played With Fire lacks the gruesomeness of the first book of the series, though it stays true to the characters.

Book 3: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Book 3 picked up right were the previous one left off – part of the mystery surrounding the murder investigation has been solved, but not completely. Some suspects are in custody while others took flight. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest follows the investigations into these suspects, as well as the efforts to discover the history behind the story.

Salander’s friends – Blomkvist, her former guardian, and her former boss – band together with an unlikely group to defend and support her against the allegations. Salander not only tries to help herself but also attempts to seek revenge against those that have harmed her.

Concluding Impressions of the Trilogy:

I can understand some of the controversy around this series. Larsson does have a particular way of writing and developing a plot that stands out compared to most American mysteries. The plot lines are much more complicated than many American mysteries (at least the ones I read). This was actually a pleasant surprise for me – I definitely could not anticipate the ties between the characters and the twists in the story that Larsson threw at us.

The author also begins each book with descriptions of various, more serious topics, which tend to spread throughout the book. In the first, it was Swedish politics and economics. In the second, it was about a  mathematical equation. In the third, it was a bit of politics and a lot of history of Swedish government institutions. I think this is why some people have a hard time getting into the first book and the series.

That aside, I like the characters in the book. Blomkvist is a bit naive but really wants to do the right thing. Salander and her friends that appear periodically throughout the series (Mimmi and the Evil Fingers) have spunk and attitude. And I really enjoyed the complicated plots, where there always seemed to be a twist and turn.

Recommendation: Yes, if you enjoy mysteries

Grade: B+

Book Review: The Hunger Games Series (Spoilers)

Book Review:

The Hunger Games Series

By Suzanne Collins

I decided to review this series as a whole because much like the Harry Potter books, once you start this series, you won’t want to put it down. In fact, not since Harry Potter has a young adult series grabbed my attention quite like this one.

There are some spoilers below. I tried to keep the descriptions brief so that I don’t give away too much, so forgive me for the short descriptions!

Background: Set in the future, the nation of Panem took the place of what was once known as North America. The Capitol rules Panem, made up of the Capitol and 12 surrounding districts, with an iron fist. Each year, the Capitol reminds the districts of how powerful they are by forcing each district to send a boy and girl (drawn by lottery) to fight – for survival, for a better life for their district, for love – in the annual Hunger Games. Only one tribute will survive.

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