Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The Discovery of Witches (2011)
Published by: Penguin Books
Author: Deborah Harkness
Acquired from: Melbourne City Library
BLM Rating 6 / 10

For my last read before I go away on my Christmas break, I stepped out of my comfort zone into historical fantasy. Into the world of witches, daemons and vampires. Promising to suspend disbelief, I took a brave step into the pages of something tagged as "...irresistible to Twilight fans..." No, I am not a Twilight fan. But they did call it Twilight for grown-ups, and I AM grown-up now, aren't I?

The book starts out on a very promising note. Set in the Bodleian Library in Oxford - in the Duke Humfrey's reading room no less - descriptions of the original 15th century part of the library, the rows of Elizabethan reading desks with scarred writing surfaces, Gothic windows directing attention to coffered ceilings with gilding picking out the details of the university's crest would make any booklover drool and swoon. Dr Diana Bishop, a historian of science and alchemy, has ordered and recalled a rare 17th century manuscript. She takes it to her favourite reading spot, takes notes and returns the manuscript when done.

Diana also happens to be a witch, descendant of Bridget Bishop - the 1st person executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. And there really are witches, daemons and vampires around humans, masquerading as humans at all times. They choose professions to match their characteristics - for e.g. vampires, who can live for centuries, often choose to be in laboratories. The solitary work habits make them less likely to be recognized by too many people making an abnormally long life span less noticeable. Diana's parents were powerful witches who died under mysterious circumstances when she was 7. Believing magic to be the cause of their downfall, Diana refuses to use magic and tries to build a legitimate "human" life and credibility instead, working her way up the world of academia.

However once she returns the rare manuscript back, she realizes there are too many non-human creatures milling around her, many wanting to harm her! Somehow she has sent the supernatural underworld stirring...

So this was the good part of the 700 page book. History, libraries, magic, mysterious rare manuscript - what could be in it that would cause so much attraction of these other worldly creatures? A good start for a suspense novel.

From here on however, I feel the book goes downhill. The pace slows to almost a dead stop as more and more plots are introduced - romance, rules of inter-creature relationship, a Congregation of these creatures. It also moves from a great mystery-suspense-historical fiction to a romance novel with allusions to some mystery. Flashes of brilliance come through sometimes, particularly towards the end when every character's back story has been dealt with. But overall, I feel this could have done with some serious editing to keep the storyline tighter and needless details and overwriting out of it. Right after a life and death situation, I do not want to hear about Halloween (human) trick-or-treaters going about their candy collection.

The other thing that grates on me is the character of Diana. Starting out as a workaholic, independent, sporty, highly accomplished historian and academic - she morphs within days (no exaggeration) into a helpless woman that is almost taken prisoner by her new boyfriend. He sedates her when he needs to control her, tells her she must obey him at all times, keeps secrets and flies into an unpredictable rage anytime she mentions anything he thinks she should not. Oh, and apparently when they kiss in front of his mother they are "married", no consent needed, no questions asked - actually the bride does not even KNOW they are married. Yet Diana loves Matthew like there is no tomorrow! Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?

There are 2 more books in this trilogy. Given the plot sped up towards the end and we know the back stories of most of the characters, I would hope they are better. I might get them in the new year to see how the mystery of the manuscript will be resolved. But I sure do not feel the urgency that a great series brings.

Baju @ BLM

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X (Original 2005, English translation 2011)
Published by: Little, Brown
Author: Keigo Higashino
Acquired from: Melbourne City Library
BLM Rating 9.5 / 10

The first chapter of this book is unlike any other mystery novel I have encountered. It starts slow, with high school maths teacher Ishigami crossing a river bridge, making his way to a little lunch bento-box café he frequents. His neighbor single mother Yasuko, who he has a crush on, works at this café. On the way, just like every other day, he notices a set of homeless men who live under the bridge, one crushing cans, another brushing his teeth - as mundane as it could possibly get. Later in the day, café worker Yasuko's good-for-nothing ex-husband turns up. He wants more money, brags that they will never be rid of him and makes suggestive comments about Yasuko's daughter. The daughter, terrified, attacks him with a copper vase and in the ensuing struggle Yasuko and her daughter end up killing the ex-husband.

All this within the first chapter. 25 pages into the 374 murder mystery and we already know where, how and by whom the murder was committed!

Monday, 15 December 2014

New Additions From A Day In The City....

I've always been a big fan of Book Grocer, Melbourne's retailer of good quality discount books, and this week I was lucky enough to be working two minute from their Elizabeth Street store, so of course I had to treat myself!

The best thing about not having had a chance to get into one of their stores for a while is the wonderful selection of new stuff I get to choose from!

Here are my six new books, on their awesome "Six Books For $50" deal... Why would you not take advantage of that???

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

My Weeks In Books 23, 24, 25, 26.....

Hello again.
Time to give you all an update on what I've been reading and other things of note in my reading world.

Firstly a tongue in cheek thank you to somebody in Oregon USA who clearly liked our site so much they tried to hack our password. Thanks to Google and it's password restrictions we were unable to get in ourselves for a day or two but we are back in control! Well, as much as we ever were anyway.

There are a couple of books I've finished in the last couple of weeks, firstly Lloyd Shepherd's Savage Magic, third in his series that revolves around the adventures of River Constable Charles Horton. 

I first mentioned this novel back in September but it's annoyingly taken me until now to get around to it. (There's always a long queue etc etc...). This time Constable Horton finds himself consigned to the Surrey countryside by Aaron Graham, Bow Street Magistrate on a matter of personal importance. This set runs alongside a series of brutal murders back in London which seem in some way linked to Horton's own personal circumstances, in particular that of his wife's present incarceration in a mental facility. 

Rumours of witchcraft fly through the tale which has it's core within the actions of a group of men of 'quality' and their sordid sexual debauches. 

As with previous novels in the series there is enough of an element of the supernatural running through the plot to add another dimension of interest but never so much as to remove the reader from the idea one is reading historical fiction. A combination of elements I think Lloyd Sheperd pulls off magnificently.

I really enjoyed Savage Magic, I hope this is not the end of Constable Horton's story. So many good stories only seem to make it to a trilogy these days, I definitely want more!

The other book I wanted to bring to your attention is Operation Pax by Michael Innes. I came across this one in a massive batch of Penguin Crime green-covers I picked up on good old Ebay. 

I'd never come across Innes's work before so did a little research and found it to be the pen-name of J.I.M. Stewart, Scots academic and author. As well known for his academic writing as his fifty plus crime novels, one is under no illusion very early on in the book that this is a work written by a lecturer in English at Oxford University. I can't remember the last time I had to make so many dictionary checks reading a piece of crime fiction! I know this will put some people off, many people read just to enjoy, we're not necessarily here to learn right? He can be erudite to the point of verbosity, but is nonetheless entertaining. 

With the usual measure of somewhat improbable coincidence one expects from mid-twentieth century crime writing, and the character biases one might forsee from a male academic of the period, this is still worth a read. I have a number of Innes's works in my bulk purchase so I'll definitely be giving some of his other novels a look.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago on the 16th of November, I posted on our sister-site: https://www.facebook.com/bookloversmelbourne a message regarding a cafe in Melbourne looking to share some space with a would-be bookseller. Coffee Automatico would still love to hear from anyone interested so either contact them direct or drop us a line and we'll put you in touch.

Happy reading 
Stevie at BLM