Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A beautifully written paranormal romance for adults that drew me into the story from the very first page.  4.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

Favourite Quote

There were so many to choose from but I opted for:

“A little book can hold a big secret – one that might change the world.  You’re a witch.  You know words have power.”

Review

“It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.”

I knew when I read the first words on the back of the book, I knew I was going to love this story.  And I did.  This is the second time I’ve read the book in the past few years, but this is the first time I’ve got around to reviewing it.  Reading it a second time was just as good as reading it the first time, if not better because I managed to pick up on the little things I missed, enriching the reading.

The book is beautifully and intelligently written – the author has a wonderful way with words – and I was drawn into the story from the very first page.  The descriptions of places and people are detailed enough to bring the story to life, but not heavy enough to bog it down.  The pace and flow of the book was spot-on, so the story unravelled seamlessly. The story is rich in science, alchemy and historical references, and when a chunk of the book is set in one of the most famous library’s in the world…well, what’s not to love.

All the characters were well thought out and believable.  Neither Diana or Matthew are perfect – she is wilful (sometimes against all reason) and wants to believe her academic merits were achieved without the help of witchcraft, whilst he is ancient and comes from a world where he is to be obeyed without question.  However, despite this, they are interesting and engaging, and together they have a lot to learn.  As for the other characters – I loved Ysabeau, Sarah and Em, Marcus and Miriam and Hamish.

I thought the world building was fantastic.  The distinctions and attributes of witches, vampires and deamons was cleverly conceived and clearly depicted in the story, especially the fine line between madness and genius in daemons.  Neither does the story shy away from or gloss over the darker aspectss of these creatures.

As the first book in a trilogy, A Discovery of Witches lays a good, solid foundation for the following two books.  I’m excited to read the second instalment, Shadow of Night, to find out where the story takes us next.  If you enjoy paranormal fiction, I recommend you give A Discovery of Witches a read.

Rating

4.5 / 5

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Book Review: The Intruders by Michael Marshall

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A cleverly written psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Taut, menacing, sinister, gripping, intelligent, action-packed – everything you could want from a thriller.
When ex-LAPD patrol cop Jack Whalen’s wife goes missing on a routine business trip to Seattle, his world is shaken.

Meanwhile, a ten-year-old girl vanishes from a beach in Oregon after an encounter with a sinister stranger – but it gradually becomes clear that she’s very far from defenceless.

Searching for answers in the shadowy secrets of a past that still haunts him, Jack discovers that the truth has roots deeper and darker than he ever feared.

Favourite Quote

Other people’s working spaces are like the ruins of lost civilisations.

Review

This is not the first book I have read by Michael Marshall.  Last year I read Blood of Angels (you can read the review here), the final instalment in The Straw Men trilogy, which I read as a standalone.  I enjoyed it enough to seek out more by the author, which is how I came to read The Intruders.

This was an interesting, original psychological thriller, with elements of the supernatural, horror and crime fiction, reminding me a bit of The X-Files.  It’s cleverly written in such a way as you don’t really know what exactly is going on until the mystery is revealed later in the book, and yet there is so much story unfolding that you don’t necessarily notice.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing as to what is going to happen next.  It was interesting to see how the strange, diverse storylines were going to be pulled together.

I wasn’t struck on many of the characters, but surprisingly this wasn’t an issue that prevented me from enjoying the book.  To me, the story – and the mystery – took precedence.  I also wasn’t keen on the ending of the story, yet I can see why the book ended the way it did.

What I really liked about the story was that it were some great turns of phrase woven into the narrative, my favourite being the quote above.

Rating.

3.5 / 5

Book Review: The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris

The Anatomist’s Apprentice is the first book in the Dr Thomas Silkstone series by Tessa Harris.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Dr. Silkstone is an interesting character and the mystery isn’t too bad either.  I will be reading more of these books.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

The death of Lord Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man-except his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks expert help from Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist and pioneering forensic detective from Philadelphia.

Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, the aging Dr. Carruthers, and finds his unconventional methods and dedication to the grisly study of anatomy only add to his outsider status. Against his better judgment he agrees to examine Sir Edward’s decomposing corpse, examining his internal and external state, as well as the unusual behavior of those still living in the Crick household.

Thomas soon learns that it is not only the dead but also the living to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect. And the deeper the doctor’s investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies.

Favourite Quote

A good corpse is like a fine fillet of beef, the master would say – tender to the touch and easy to slice.

Review

First impressions: The front cover grabbed my attention immediately.  Then, as I read the back cover, I thought the story sounded very interesting.  According to the acknowledgements in the front of the book, it was inspired by a murder trial at the Warwick Assizes in 1781 during which an anatomist was called to give evidence for the first time (that we know of).  However, this is not the fictionalised version of that case.  The case in question is entirely fictional.

The Anatomist’s Apprentice is Dr. Thomas Silkstone.  I think the title is a little misleading because by the time the book is set, the doctor is no longer an apprentice.  That being said, it does sound good, doesn’t it?  As soon as we meet him, we are introduced to his work.  There are passages within the story that are not for the faint-hearted – or those who like to eat their lunch whilst reading.  The reason for this is that we are given some very graphic details about the work and experiments of Dr. Silkstone in his capacity as an anatomist.  (See above quote).

Dr Silkstone, along with his work, is interesting and engaging, and makes for a very good main character.  However, a number of the other characters were a little flat, my least favourite being the Lady Lydia, who spent most of her time looking beautiful whilst being confused or upset.  Also, I felt some of the other characters didn’t read as consistent.

One of the highlights of the book was the level of detail the reader is given.  Places jump off the page so you can easily visualise where the characters are, and the author doesn’t shy away from darker topics: the grim reality of life at the time and the cost that must be paid for scientific breakthroughs.  I did find the pace a little slow in places and I wasn’t particularly bothered by the romance – it didn’t feel like an integrated part of the plot.

On the whole though, I did enjoy it and would read more books from this series.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Short Story Review: Eye Witness by Ellis Peters

Eye Witness is the third and final short story in the collection, A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

 An enjoyable, quick read that sees Cadfael tackle a mystery with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding people.  A perfectly cosy, comfort read.  4.5 / 5

Summary

The yearly rents are due for collection from all the properties owned by Shrewsbury Abbey.  The monk whose job it is to oversee and collect these monies, Brother Ambrose, is sick in the infirmary, and so the task must fall to another, William Rede.  The job is a difficult one, but he also has problems closer to home.  His son, Eddi, is a “brawler and a gamester”.  When he racks up debts, he expects his father to pay them, but not this time.  William Rede has decided enough is enough.

The following day, Madog of the Dead-Boat pulls a man out of the River Severn, still alive but in a bad way.  The man is William Rede and the Abbey rents have been stolen.

Cadfael will have to use all at his disposal to not only help William Rede recover, but also to find out if the victim’s son is really as guilty as he looks…

Favourite Quote

“Now William,” he said tolerantly, “if you can’t comfort, don’t vex.”

Review

Although this is only a short story, it is packed with as much story as one of the full length Cadfael novels.  This means that although you may have your suspicions as to who is the culprit, you are not quite sure until you reach the end.

It is a well-thought out mystery that Cadfael tackles with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding of people.  He is not going to make the same mistake as others in jumping to the wrong – and the easiest – conclusion.

As the final story in this collection it is perfect, showing each side to Cadfael’s personality – the healer, the mystery solver, the sympathetic, compassionate man who understands both the problems of real life and a life hidden away from the world.  By the end of Eye Witness, and thus A Rare Benedictine, we see that Cadfael is not only settled in his new life, but enjoying it.  We also see the sleuth he is to become.

This collection makes the perfect prequel to the novels.  If you’ve read the longer stories but not these, I recommend you do.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Book Review: Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Snow White Must Die (translated by Steven T Murray) is the fourth book in the Kirchhoff and Bodenstein series by Nele Neuhaus.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A complex yet gripping mystery thriller, full of plot twists and turns.  I couldn’t put it down. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

On a wet November day, Detectives Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are summoned to the scene of a mysterious accident. A woman has fallen from a bridge onto the motorway below. It seems that she may have been pushed. The investigation leads them to a small town near Frankfurt, and the home of the victim, Rita Cramer.

On a September evening eleven years earlier, two seventeen-year-old girls, Laura and Stefanie (also known as Snow White), vanished without trace from this same village. In a trial based entirely on circumstantial evidence, Stefanie’s boyfriend, handsome and talented, Tobias Sartorius, was sentenced to ten years in prison. He has now returned to his home in an attempt to clear his name. Rita Cramer is his mother.

In the village, Pia and Oliver encounter a wall of silence. But when another young girl goes missing, the events of the past repeat themselves in a disastrous manner. The investigation turns into a dramatic race against time, because for the villagers, there is soon no doubt as to the identity of the perpetrator. And this time they are determined to take matters into their own hands.

Favourite Quote

Like poisonous lava these words erupted from the depths of him; finally all the bottled disappointment came pouring out.

Review

I didn’t realise until I finished the book that this is the fourth book in the series that stars Kirchhoff and Bodenstein.  However, the book works very well as a standalone. I don’t believe I missed out on anything of significance by not starting the series at the beginning.

Every character we come across in this story has a tale to tell.  It’s not only the main characters that have the depth of a backstory while everyone else is simply there to move the story along, but, just like in real life, all these personalities, histories and choices weave together to create a fabric of community.  And somewhere, in amongst all this, are secrets and truth.

Kirchhoff and Bodenstein are both very interesting, modern characters.  Kirchhoff keeps so many animals that she almost lives on a farm, so before her day of investigating crime begins, she’s already been up for hours looking after the animals.  As for Bodenstein, his family are land and castle-rich but money poor.  Their personal lives are brought with them wherever they go, and this helps them to appear very realistic.  What is going on at home isn’t only important when the chapter says they’ve left work behind, so it’s all right for you to flesh out your character.   Most people are not like that; and believable characters are not like that either.

There are a lot of characters in this story and it was a little difficult to keep up with who’s who, but that’s my only real problem with the book.  I found the story to be gripping and I resented having to put it down when real life said I had others things to do apart from read.  I wanted to know what was going to happen next, what the next plot twist would uncover, if the truth would come out before it was too late…

This is my first foray into German crime fiction and I really enjoyed it.  I definitely plan to read more of these books.  If you enjoy Scandi-Noir, or any other sort of European crime-drama, I recommend Snow White Must Die to you.

Rating

 

Bookish Reflections – April 2018

A monthly round up of all things bookish at Sammi Loves Books…It’s my attempt at becoming more accountable in my reading and reviewing habits…


In a nutshell

April was not a bad month, especially when you consider that I set myself the steep challenge of writing 30,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo.  I hit my goal, reaching 36,647 before I validated, and then late on the 30th added in another 1665 bringing my total to 38,312 for April.  So five reviews written and posted feels like an achievement, and if I have been a little more organised, I could probably have completed and posted the three reviews I have in the works.  Never mind.  I didn’t get around to reviewing A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, which is something I really want to get done in May, seeing as though this is the second time I have read the book in the past couple of years but still haven’t got around to reviewing it!

Books I’ve reviewed

Favourite read of the month

  • The Little House by Philippa Gregory

Books I’ve bought (or been given)

  • Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus
  • Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Ceredigion: A Wealth of History by Gerald Morgan

Books I’ve downloaded

  • None in April 🙂

What I’ve been reading on Wattpad

  • I’ve started Winter Prey by T.M. Simmons

April’s “Read and Review” Goals

  • The Little House by Philippa Gregory
  • The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley
  • Claudia, Daughter of Rome by Antoinette May

What I’m reading and reviewing in May

  • Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus (already read and review almost complete)
  • The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tess Harris (already read and review almost complete)
  • Eye Witness by Ellis Peter (already read and review almost complete)
  • The Intruders by Michael Marshall (currently reading)
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley

Goodreads Reading Challenge

My goal is 40.  I’ve read 12.  30% complete.  Currently 1 books behind schedule.

Other reads (books not on Goodreads): 0

Total books read so far this year: 12

Book Review: True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole by Sue Townsend

True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole is third book in the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend.

Quick Review (read on for the full review)

This short book came across as a bit disjointed but I still found it to be funny and engaging in places. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Adrian Mole has grown up. At least that’s what it says on his passport. But living at home, clinging to his threadbare cuddly rabbit ‘Pinky’, working as a paper pusher for the DoE and pining for the love of his life Pandora has proved to him that adulthood isn’t quite what he hoped it would be. Still, intellectual poets can’t always have things their own way …

Included here are two other less well-known diarists: Sue Townsend and Margaret Hilda Roberts, a rather ambitious grocer’s daughter from Grantham.

Favourite Quote

He offered me Turkish coffee.  I accepted, not wanting to appear provincial.  When it came I regretted my inferiority complex.

Review

The format of this book is different to the previous two in the series, which were single author diaries spanning the course of a year.  Subsequently the events they recounted flowed seamlessly with other concurrent happenings.  In True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole we have snippets from three different diarists: Adrian Mole, who is granted two-thirds of the book, with the remaining third being split between the author Sue Townsend and Margaret Hilda Roberts (Margaret Thatcher).

This book felt a bit disjointed, which made it difficult to read in a few places.  This is not a very long book – only 160 or so pages in length – so to have three diaries written in very different voices and styles and focusing on very different subject matters, interrupted the flow.

However, there were still plenty of gems about teenage / young adult life that made me laugh as well as the social / economic / political commentary of the late 1980’s that really didn’t.  As with the first two diaries (The Diary of Adrian Mole 13 3/4 and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole), these two spheres are cleverly woven together to build a picture of what it was like to grow up in this period whilst still feeling relevant today.  The Mole / Mancini Letters and The Mole / Kent Letters, along with Adrian’s quest to reconnect with Pandora and his slip-up at the library involving Jane Austen’s novels, were great.  Some of the quips Margaret Hilda Roberts made were funny, but I guess if you are a Margaret Thatcher fan or were a fan of her politics you would not find the satire in her teenage fictional diary amusing.

Rating