Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Paperback: ARC version 579 pages
Publication Date: February 2011
FTC: free from work shelf

A while back I apparently added this book as a to-read to my GoodReads account.  I don't remember doing this or where I heard about it.  But it totally sounded like something I'd read.  Here's the beginning of the back-of-the-book blurb:

"Deep in the heart of Oxford's Bodleian Library, scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research."

Ok.  So library, check.  Beautiful old Oxford Bodleian Library, check.  I'm sold already.

This book is about Diana, a witch by birth but since her parent's murder when she was a small child, she has tried to stay away from witchcraft altogether.  She just wants to be normal.  One night while doing research at the Bodleian Library, she finds an old manuscript entitled Ashmole 782 that has obvious witchcraft tied to it.  Here's the part in the book:

"I had made a decision: to behave as a serious scholar and treat Ashmole 782 like an ordinary manuscript. I'd ignore my burning fingertips, the book's strange smell, and simply describe it's contents.  Then I'd decide -- with professional detachment -- whether it was promising enough for a longer look.  My fingers trembled when I loosened the small brass clasps nevertheless.  The manuscript let out a soft sigh." 

After she pours through Ashmole 782, interesting though it is, she decides it's not for her research and sends it back into the bowels of the library.  However, the opening of the manuscript causes all sorts of problems for Diana.  The next day she notices a huge change.  Witches, daemons, and vampires are all over the place.

Let me step in here and explain.  The world has four types of beings: humans, witches, daemons, and vampires.  All of their past is somehow tied together and no one really knows the origins of different types.  Ok.  Moving on.

So witches, daemons, and vampires are all over the place and obviously this has something to do with Ashmole 782 which makes Diana extremely annoyed since she's tried so hard to put witchcraft behind her.  That is, until she meets a vampire named Matthew Clairmont.  He's a scientist - a geneticist.  And while normally witches, daemons, and vampires don't mingle - he's different.


Ok, synopsis done.  I have to admit I got sucked into this book from the beginning and loved it.  Was it perfect? Well, no.  But I still absolutely enjoyed the ride.  Here's just a few thoughts:

What I loved:

  • Diana is such a great character in the beginning.  I loved that she is a scholar, loves tea, goes running and works out.  I liked her.
  • The writing.  Deborah Harkness did a wonderful job of creating the characters, the setting, the feel for the book.  
  • The mixture of history, science, architecture in the story.  It doesn't flip back and forth between time periods (thank you) and it doesn't make the story boring in any way by bringing it in.  I loved that Matthew is a geneticist and is trying to figure out the origin of the species of witches, daemons and vampires.  Very cool.  
  • Matthew. While most of the story is from Diana's point of view, we do have a few chapters narrated by Matthew.  I loved his quest for knowledge. I loved his library.  I loved that he met and was friends with interesting people throughout history.  Very cool.
  • The side characters.  Diana's lesbian aunts who take care of her.  Matthew's daemon from Hamish.  There's more but I'll let you meet them.
What I didn't love:

  • I really wasn't expecting it to be such a big love story about Diana and Matthew.  I mean, I loved the beginning of the book and then the middle part was just a little slow for me.  But I've also read other reviews where people thought the beginning was slow and then it picked up.  So hey.  That's just me.
  • Twilight comparisons.  I just can't help it.  I don't think she copied anything but considering a witch who gets into some danger and a vampire who loves and helps's just hard to not compare.  Although if you liked Meyer's series then you'll love love this one.  I mean the characters are adults.  Yay!  The writing is fantastic.  Double yay!
  • Diana and Matthew's first "date"....was to yoga class.  Seriously?  Whatever.
  • Diana's character.  She started off strong.  Well, if not strong then stronger.  And as the book gets going she becomes a little like Bella from Twilight.  A little too reliant on Matthew and very weepy at one point.  I understand she's coping with some stuff but I really hope her character gets stronger as the series goes on.
  • The wine references.  Ok normally this would go under the "loved" category but since I'm pregnant, this book REALLY made me want to curl up with a glass bottle of wine...and obviously that sucks for me.
  • It's the first in a series.  Ok.  This is another love since I'm excited to read more but holy cow, I have to WAIT?  Arg. 
Ok.  That's it.  Have you read it? What did you think?

I've noticed that a ton of people at the bookstore I work at are snatching this book up.  Was it mentioned in a magazine or on a show?  (Thanks Movieholic - she wrote on her review it's "gotten great buzz from a variety of sources, including pieces in O, The Oprah Magazine and Entertainment Weekly and it is to be translated into 32 languages as well.")

Also reviewed by:

Linus's Blanket - "If you are a lover of  history and wine, old books and libraries, vampires and witches, and engaging love stories woven alongside intricate plots, then this is probably the book for you".

S. Krishna's Books - "I’m sure other readers will find holes and disappointments within its pages, but I relished the experience of reading it so much that none of that stuff seems to matter.  This book was pure enjoyment for me, from beginning to end."

The Movieholic & Bibliphile's Blog - "this book has got the feel of a good urban fantasy adventure story woven in with the aura of a great contemporary classic."

The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Capricious Reader

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What I'm Doing Now

Currently listening to this song:

Currently reading this:

Splurged and bought these:

Currently cleaning the house and enjoying a little bit of energy.  What have you all been up to lately?