Witches, vampires, daemons, oh my! #cbr4

My twelfth Cannonball Read was A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I found it in a random browse through Overdrive and it sounded pretty decent. Hey, I like witches and books. And it is decent. It could have been so much better though.

A Discovery of Witches is about a 30-something academic who represses her witchy abilities because of her parents’ tragic death when she was was seven. She lives in a world populated by four types of creatures who are not really allowed to co-mingle: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. After meeting a mysterious stranger, hijinks ensue including almost getting killed twice and a possible war between the creatures.

The things I like about this book:

  1. The main character, Diana, starts out strong and intelligent putting Bella and all of her ilk to shame.
  2. The house in which the witches live is the coolest thing ever. It is probably the most clever part of the whole book. I really hope the supposed upcoming movie takes the house seriously because the movie will suck if not.
  3. It has a cat.
  4. Daemons are awesome.
  5. One of the funniest moments involves the cat trying to give a vampire a mouse offering. Good times.

The things I hate about this book:

  1. After discovering the mysterious stranger, Diana turns into a lovesick moron. She becomes dumb. And she does dumb things to move the plot along. I hate when female characters do this!
  2. The mysterious stranger remarks so much about Diana’s bravery that I start to wonder if it is mockery.
  3. The writing can be good and then suddenly it becomes wretched. Here is an example: “When the last of the water left me, I felt scooped out like a pumpkin, and freezing cold, too.” So maybe that’s not the worst of it, but it can get much worse.
  4. GET A FREAKING EDITOR! Why the snausages is this book over 500 pages long? It makes no sense. Edit this baby.
  5. It needs more daemons. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more daemons. And cats.

If you like fantasy, this is a decent summertime read. It has some really slow moments (hence the need for an editor) and certainly is not a high-paced member of the fantasy genre. Keep in mind it is the first of a trilogy (gugh) that has not been published yet (more gughs). It also reads more like a romance fantasy than a mystery fantasy. But I was engaged enough with the story to keep going through 500 pages and I could read it while doing laundry. Hey, reading is what matters!

It is available through the GSO PL’s Overdrive.

just in time for the olympics #cbr4

I’ve had London: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd sitting on my shelf for many years and the pages had started to yellow. I don’t know why I picked it up, but I remembered that the Olympics were in London after I started reading. Great timing!

London is one of those historical novels that follows a family through the millenia. With a different storyline in each chapter, he traces the paths of several families resident in the city. These works are fun for their historical breadth. London in particular hits the highlights of the city’s history from the first Roman site to the building of the Tower of London to the Great Fire and up to the Blitz. Some of the chapters I enjoyed most were The Whorehouse, Hampton Court, God’s Fire, London’s Fire, and The Suffragette either for the plots or for particular characters.

The difficulty for a book like this must be balancing the “here’s the history” part with “here’s the story”. Rutherfurd does a pretty decent job moving between the historical parts and the characters’ stories. While not perfect, he pulls off these transitions much more effectively than others I’ve read.

I have two problems with this type of novel though. One is that the character development is nonexistent (for the most part). You really don’t have much time with the characters. Plus the focus of the chapter is developing the plot, so sometimes the characters get lost in the mix. Once you start to believe in a character, they are dead and you’ve moved on to the next group. If you read the book knowing this will happen, you are much more likely to enjoy it.

Second, in these types of novels the author often tries hard to connect the generations through some sign that all the generations share. In London it is a shock of white hair and webbed fingers (wtf?!) that passes through the generations of one family. Saylor in Roma used a medallion that was passed down through the generations. In some ways the physical object seems more believable than TWO genetic mutations. I just don’t understand why this is necessary. It adds nothing to the story to see a character suddenly resemble one from many years ago. Rutherfurd tries to interweave this into the different stories to show the connections between the generations, but it never really succeeds in my opinion.

Overall this chronicle of the history of London is a great summertime read if you enjoy history but don’t mind the problems of historical fiction. Keep in mind that it is over 1100 pages long (therefore should count for like 5 CBR4 books!). If you want to read this book in time for the London Olympics, get started now! I have a copy available at Paperback Swap.

Checkers and the Rose Mary Stretch #cbr4

I’ve gotten quite behind in my Cannonball Run readings. Hell, I’ve gotten behind in reading period, but I haven’t really enjoyed any of my latest picks. If you have a recommendation, please recommend away.

Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon was definitely a highlight though. I picked it up after reading a review and am glad I did. It is a retelling of the Watergate saga starting from the day after the break-in and following the characters through Nixon’s resignation. Although some accounts and one or two characters are fictional, it is a close retelling of the events. The action progresses through the thoughts and interactions of most of the main characters including Pat Nixon, Richard Nixon, Rose Mary Woods, and more.

As I was reading I kept looking up the events and people referenced, especially the Checkers Speech and the Rose Mary Stretch.  I admittedly know little about the Nixon era. If you only read novels to imagine another world based on the author’s description, this book might not be for you. But I think Mallon does a great job of incorporating small details and breathing life into the characters. For example, after Rose Mary demonstrates to the press how she ‘accidentally’ erased a portion of Nixon’s ubiquitous tapes (leading to the famous picture) she reflects on her unfortunate choice of dress.

Undoubtedly, the best part of the novel are the female characters, Pat Nixon especially. Rose Mary, Pat, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth are the heart of the work. All three are very different women and although you might not agree with their motivations, they are sympathetic characters. Richard Nixon never seems quite as flesh and blood, but that would be much harder for Mallon to pull off.

Watergate: A Novel is well-written and very well-researched. If you like historical novels focused on 20th century events, this is a treat, even if you hate Richard Nixon.