Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ain't That a Witch

A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness
Published by Viking Penguin

1 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

In A Discovery of Witches, we clueless humans have no idea that we share our world with witches, vampires and daemons (creatures whose manic bursts of creativity result in some of the world's greatest artistic works). Isn't that exciting? One would certainly think so. So, what kind of shenanigans does this preternatural lot get up to while we live our ordinary lives?

Well . . .

Behold the books that shall be read! Thrill to the revelation that trips to the library will be made time and time again! Gasp as cups of warm tea are made and consumed! Swoon as vampires are repeatedly described as smelling of baked goods! And grip the edge of your seat for the most bizarre yoga-scene in the history of the written word!

That's right, folks. Vampires, witches, and daemons aren't like you and me--in fact, our lives are infinitely more interesting than theirs.

Seriously, what the hell is this? The best I can tell is that it's Twilight for grown-ups. And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but here it goes: Twilight is better. Suddenly vampires playing baseball during thunderstorms seems down right genius compared to vampires attending a supernatural yoga class. You want to drain all the sex appeal right out of your vampiric leading man? Just mention him doing some peculiar yoga move where he seems to be holding himself up vertically from the floor by nothing but his ear.

And then prattle on about how he's cold. And always has his hands stuffed in his charcoal trousers. And gets ridiculously enraged every time someone mentions blood because . . . he . . . might . . . not . . . be . . . able . . . to . . . control . . . himself (despite living a relatively normal life around humans for 1,500 years and seeming to need little in the way of sanguine sustenance). And how he maintains control of himself by always grasping the talisman he wears beneath his some-shade-of-grey sweater. And then have him ply the witch he is inexplicably drawn to with hundreds of bottles of wine and query her as to what every single one tastes like.

Oh, ho! And the witch! Now there's a live wire! Diana Bishop spends her days running, rowing, yoga-ing (?), and reading. Oh, and never using her magic because she wants to be just like us. Well, actually, she does use her magic every now and then, but only when it's really important. Like fixing her washing machine or getting a book off of a really high shelf. But other than that, it's all ixnay on the magic-ay.

At 200 pages in, I decided I couldn't stomach it any more. After all, up to that point, I had already been treated to a baker's dozen of the same basic scene:

--Diana goes to the library

--creatures are there; they pretend to read so they can watch her read all day, but they do so in a really creeptastic and menacing way, man

--Matthew, the vampire, goes to the library and pretends to read so he can watch them watching her watch a book and protect her in case one decides to, oh, I don't know, nick her with a really nasty papercut or something

--Diana and Matthew later go and consume a meal and beverages and talk ad nauseum about food to the point where an epicurean would offer them both a hot cuppa shut the fuck up

--Matthew will get angry with Diana, she'll apologize, and he'll settle his ass down

Round and round they go, where do they stop? Nobody knows! Oh, wait. I do! At the library! It's like freaking Groundhog Day without Bill Murray. And Groundhog Day ain't shit without Bill Murray. And neither is A Discovery of Witches.

When I decided I had a life to live, Matthew was fervently explaining how daemons, witches, and vampires might be going extinct!

To which I can only ask, so what's the problem?

A Wasted Potential

The Lovely Bones

Alice Sebold

Review by Zorena

Three Stars


The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder -- a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family's need for peace and closure.

The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.

My Review

I was gripped from the first page. This was different, compelling and heartbreaking. It was just a real tragedy that after the first two chapters that this story turned into a disjointed mess. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong but it seemed to lose all direction and cohesion after this point.

I was thinking we would see Susie working through the aftermath as she observes all those she left behind. Her parents and sister are at least real in their reactions. Some shut down, some look for answers and some almost trip off the crazy scale. Instead we get an almost monotone monologue from Susie that only becomes more emotional near the end. Then we have a possession scene gone bad. I won't bother describing it for two reasons. One is that it's pathetic and two is that it would be a spoiler.

There was so much potential in Sebold's writing at the start that I literally felt cheated by the rest of the book. The only saving grace being a Father that was written so well and so heartrendingly that it made finishing the book a little more satisfying. Let's not forget the Mother. A lot may not have liked her reaction but it was a true one. The father and the first chapter are the only reasons this is not a two star review.

It just seems that Seebold had trouble trying to write from a child's perspective and instead threw in a lot of omniscience and gimmickry.

What a shame.