A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.12.45 PMPublisher: Viking

Publication Date: February 8th, 2011

Page Count: 592 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

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.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

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To say that I love this book to the point of obsession would be an understatement. With A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness wrote a book that felt like it was intended for me. It’s full of bad ass female characters, magic, books, history, libraries, witty flirtatious banter, sweet forbidden love, sexy devoted vampires, and just so much more.

As if I need to further my point, the very first scene of the book takes place in Oxford’s Bodleian library! Diana Bishop (as in the Bishops from the Salem Witch Trials) is conducting research when she unintentionally calls up a very old alchemical manuscript known as Ashmole 782, that has very clearly been bewitched. After losing her parents at the hands of other witches at a very young age, Diana has turned her back on her magic and lived a life as free from it and her powerful family as she can. It is because of this that she decides she wants nothing to do with the manuscript and sends it back to the stacks as quickly as she can. Completely unbeknownst to her however, Ashmole 782 has been missing for over a hundred years, and her short interaction with it sets off a domino effect that cannot be stopped.

It took me a few pages to really get into the story, but once I was in nothing could have stopped me from finishing. The action picks up quickly and never lets up, and the steady stream of mysterious new characters including vampires, daemons, and other witches was completely addicting.

After her unsettling interaction with the manuscript, it’s not long before Diana finds herself back in the stacks and face to face with Matthew Clairmont. Clairmont is a very old and very powerful and VERY DREAMY vampire who is initially drawn to her because he overhears that she has found Ashmole 782. However, after a few terse initial interactions, the two become inseparable while they work together to discover the mystery of the manuscript before it’s too late.

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I will not get into too many plot details to avoid major spoilers, but I will discuss some of the stuff that I loved about this book. There are just so many things about it that worked for me, and basically nothing that didn’t. One of my favorite aspects are the settings Harkness creates. They are so vivid and rich in detail that I felt like I was there. I could smell London in the fall, and feel the crisp breeze when Diana was out rowing on the river. She adds so many cozy elements to her scenes like thick soft clothing, warm fires, and a seemingly endless supply of hot tea. Some of the most memorable parts of the book take place in Matthew’s tower rooms in his fortress in France. I never thought I would want to live in a fictional place more than the Gryffindor common room until I read this book. And speaking of Harry Potter vibes, the house where Diana’s aunts live is alive and very opinionated. It slams doors to get their attention and adds rooms when visitors are coming, it hides things it takes a fancy to and keeps other things safe until they are needed. It was like a giant, sassy room of requirement, and I loved everything about it.

A Discovery of Witches is also bursting at the seams with so much history. Matthew is old, like VERY old and Diana is a historian. The conversations they have about historical figures and events and the books that Matthew has in his personal collection made all my nerdy parts sing with joy. The action and magic and romance would have been enough to draw me in and keep me hooked, but these extra details made this book something more for me. And speaking of romance, I am complete Diana and Matthew trash and will ship them until I die.

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(This is from the TV show because apparently there is a TV show and I need to watch it IMMEDIATELY!)

Another thing Harkness mastered in this book, was her creation of well imagined and dynamic characters. They are realistic, relatable, and memorable and she does a phenomenal job explaining their personalities and personal motivations. I fell in love quickly with Diana and Matthew, but also with Ysabeau, Marthe, Hamish, Sarah and Emily. In the wrong hands, such a large cast of characters introduced so quickly could have fallen flat, but she builds each one up expertly and even her minor characters have depth. Additional characters are weaved into the plot up until the very end of the book, and I felt as engaged with the newcomers as I did with the rest.

I could go on and on and on about this book and how much I loved it, but mostly I just want to go start the next one! I hope you will read this series and come chat with me about it. If you’ve already read it, please let me know. I’m running out of people to flail with and could really use your emotional support.

Happy Reading!

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Planetside – Michael Mammay

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 12.50.00 PMPublisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date: July 31st, 2018

Page Count: 384 (Kindle)

From the Jacket:

A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…

War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.

The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…

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I fell in love with military scifi at the tender age of 12, after reading Ender’s Game in school. At the time, I had never read anything like it and got under my skin and into my heart and it stayed with me. For years and years I would list Ender as my favorite book, and it still remains in my top favorites two decades later. I’m truly not even sure what I enjoy so much about the genre, but I know it resonates with me on a lot of different levels and I tend to gravitate towards it whenever I get the opportunity. I saw the blurb for Planetside and did not even finish reading it before I requested the ARC from Edelweiss. 

Mammay has created an exciting story full of intrigue that jumps right in from the first page and moves at a very fast pace throughout. I went in fully expecting military scifi but was delighted to discover a complex mystery at its core. Colonel Carl Butler is a decorated war hero months away from retirement when he gets a call that puts him back into the action and into the middle of a high profile search for the son of a high councilor who has been missing for months. With no breaks in what has become a dead end case, Butler is asked to go to the planet, which also happens to be an active alien war zone, where the boy was last seen and successfully wrap up the investigation. As soon as he arrives it becomes clear that this is not a simple case of a missing person, but the truth is too fantastical to believe, and getting to the bottom of it may cost him his life.

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Planetside was a wild ride and the action starts almost from the first page. This style helped me read all 384 pages in a couple of big chunks, staying up way later than I normally do. While I enjoyed the quick pacing, there were parts that would have benefited from more fleshing out and I was left wanting more on several occasions. Despite that, it’s full of memorable characters that felt very authentic, and made me feel a whole range of emotions from outright rage to a pretty significant crush (I’m looking at you Mac) and I was unsurprised to learn that the author is a military veteran with over two decades of experience. 

This was a solid four star read for me which is really a great review, but I want to go into why it wasn’t a perfect rating. The pacing worked to keep the story moving and added to the heart pounding action, but it also proved to be too fast in some places. This is a spoiler free review, so I will not get into plot specifics, but there were several times when the author introduced a story line and really did not touch on it again, or touched on it so briefly that it felt too shallow to be believable. With 95% of the book finished I thought to myself that I had inadvertently started a new series rather than a stand alone story. However (and much to my dismay), the story is wrapped up in the last few pages, but the ending is so rushed that I felt a bit cheated and I’m very much hoping that there is a sequel.  Secondly was the amount of telling that happened via Butler’s internal monologues. Rather than writing nuanced dialogue or effective body language, Mammay constantly used Butler’s thoughts to tell the reader exactly what was happening. Based on the glowing reviews that this book has received so far, it does not seem to have bothered many readers. But for me, it felt like the author either didn’t trust readers to work things out for themselves or wasn’t interested in letting them.

Despite those things, I really did enjoy Planetside and would not hesitate to recommend it to others and I look forward to reading more of Mammay’s work in the future. I cannot thank Edelwiess and Harper Voyager enough for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review. I hope that you guys will check this one out when it comes out at the end of this month. And if you’ve got any military scifi recommendations, please send them my way!!

The Book Of M – Peng Shepherd

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 11.06.03 AMPublisher: William Morrow

Publication Date: June 5th, 2018

Page Count: 496 (Kindle)

From the Jacket:

WHAT WOULD YOU GIVE UP TO REMEMBER?

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.

Rating: Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 12.20.19 AM

It has been a very long time since I’ve read a book that made me feel the way this one did. I finished it almost a week ago and have just been sitting with it, trying to put my thoughts into some semblance of an order so I could write a cohesive review instead of a rambling stream of consciousness feelings dump. I’m not sure I’ll be successful. I’ve seen this book likened with Station Eleven (another incredible book that you should read), and I have to agree that parts of it do feel reminiscent of that, however, this book is so incredibly unique that even that comparison feels like a stretch.

The Book of M follows several different people as they navigate through societal collapse after a mystery condition known as, The Forgetting, plagues people in one county after another until the entire world has been effected. We see what happens when the news breaks, the immediate aftermath, and the different choices made that ultimately bring the characters together. It’s an incredible genre bending blend of post-apocalyptic, literary, and magical realism. Shepherd weaves effortlessly between several points of view, each just as compelling as the one before it.

This book made me ask myself so many questions. What would you do to protect the ones you love if the very act of forgetting them could make them cease to exist? Where would you go if forgetting something as simple as the way a kite works could cause catastrophic consequences? And maybe even most compelling, what would you be willing to forget in exchange for the ability to do incredible magic, transforming the world around you forever?

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I do not want to go into too much detail because this book has so many delightful surprises packed in. It is astounding to me that this is the author’s debut work, because it’s written like a master class in character development and world building. The Book of M terrified me, it made me laugh, it made me cry, and it filled me full of wonder that anyone’s imagination could contain such magnitudes. Along the way I lost count of how many times I exclaimed out loud about something I was reading.

I began recommending this to everyone I knew about halfway through and haven’t let up since. If you read only a single book this year, make it this one. I promise that it will blow your mind and you’ll never forget it. If you do decide to read it, or if you have read it, please come tell me about it in the comments!

A big thank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss for the advance reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.