Tag Archives: Oxford

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: Review and Giveaway!

5th January 2012

*This book was sent to my by Lindsay at Viking/Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

The first novel in the All Souls Trilogy, A Discovery of Witches is Diana Bishop’s story. Linked to witches before her, all the way to Salem, Diana shuns magic…except for every once in a while when her washing machine overflows. She’s stringent, always on guard against it, though her academic studies bely her interests. Diana studies alchemy, those intersections between magic and science. Much to her aunt’s dismay, once Diana’s parents died in Nigeria under mysterious circumstances, Diana has wanted nothing to do with her heritage. However, a strange book she calls for in the Bodleian Library at Oxford will change all that. The book, Ashmole 782, apparently interests all the magical world as its secrets pertain to them, and Diana’s research will lead her much deeper into the world of witches, vampires (and one particular vampire), and daemons than she ever wanted to go.

I have this bad habit. It’s kind of a secret, but when everyone and their mom is reading a particular book or talking about it, I am instantly turned off. Can’t help it. My sister thinks I’m a book snob, but I swear I’m not. You guys see what I read. It’s varied. I don’t only read highbrow books. Anyway, somebody stop this incessant rambling!

So. Discovery of Witches was one of those books. My mom and sis both read it. Every blogger I could imagine read and loved it. It was too much. But the fuss died down, and Lindsay at Viking sent me the paperback. Oh. My. Gosh. I can only liken my response to my total annihilation of Hostess cupcakes, should they ever be near me. It looks a little something like this…

and please, oh please do not Google "animal eating quickly" - it's disturbing

But yeah – that’s about right. I know those Hostess cupcakes aren’t really the best thing for me, but they taste. so. damn. good. Similarly, A Discovery of Witches is not the best thing for me. Why? Because seriously, Diana’s love interest, the vampire Matthew Clairmont, reminds me of one of my eternal loves – Jamie from Outlander, who turns my insides to mush. (Side note: if you haven’t read it yet, shame on you.) I felt like I was making moony eyes every time he walked in the room – Matthew, that is.

Diana meets Matthew when she thinks she’s unobserved in the library and uses just a little magic to pull a book from a high shelf. Instantly, she senses Matthew’s presence. In Harkness’s world, vampires, witches, and daemons don’t associate with one another. However, after Diana has put back Ashmole 782, suddenly the Bodleian library is full of creatures, and Matthew is oddly protective of her. Think Twilight for adults but better written.

That said, I will say there were moments when my gagging from Twilight was brought forth. Similarly to Bella, Diana is often swept into Matthew’s arms somewhat needlessly. Diana is a strong woman, a well-respected academic who has lived on her own and fended for herself. Her personality changes, though, as she and Matthew become involved. Granted, she is overwhelmed at her sudden re-entrance into the magical world and its secrets, but it grated. The story sucked me in nonetheless.

The other thing that bothered me were the sometimes blatant means of exposition. Diana uses the word chimera, but her witch aunt asks what it is, leading to the author’s definition of the creature. First, I already knew what a chimera is, and I was pretty darn sure a witch would as well. To me, this type of explanation is a bit lazy.

BUT. If you’re looking for a can’tputitdownnotgoingtosleepuntilIfinishthisbook, read this one and get ready for the second in the series this July. I assure you I will be.

[P.S. I didn’t want to give anything away, but if you’ve read this, do you see the Outlander parallel? Or is it just me?]

[P.P.S. Don’t miss Steph (from Steph & Tony Investigate) interviewing Deborah Harkness at BookPage. I knew there had to be an Outlander connection.]

Oh wait! I promised a giveaway, didn’t I? Thanks to the people at Viking/Penguin, I am giving away a paperback copy of A Discovery of Witches to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment, including your email address, telling me your biggest literary crush. So go on, do it!


Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

2nd January 2012

*I received this book from Jillian at Grant Place Press in Chicago in exchange for an honest review.

Love is…dirty. And when you’re obsessive compulsive and steering clear of dirt is part of who you are, then love is out of the question. Gloria never thought Oxford would be the place that she could learn to leave her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or find love, but Henry Young, a recovering drug addict dealing with his own demons will jolt her from her ordered environment. How? He’s her loomate. For a woman who waits through 15 hours of travel to get to Oxford before relieving her bladder because of her fear of germs in public restrooms, sharing a bathroom is a Big. Deal. Sharing a bathroom with a man who doesn’t have the best hygiene? Definitely not ideal. But her germ-infested loomate can also speak to Gloria in a language she understands – Van Morrison.

Gloria is a Rhodes Scholar studying, what Henry calls, ” those depressing dead women poets,” Anne Sexton, Sara Teasdale, and Sylvia Plath. Henry, on the other hand, is only at Oxford because of his dad’s ties in academia. They’re an unlikely pair, but their romance is slow and sweet, Van Morrison and his lyrics helping them each step of the way. In fact, though there is definitely attraction, each is hell bent on helping the other, and it works.

Not only does it work, but it also doesn’t feel forced in terms of the writing or characterization. Gloria isn’t magically cured by the end of the book, and Henry slips and has to have a sit down with his AA sponsor. I liked this. Too often, I think addictions or illnesses are treated as plot devices that are tied up once the couple is in love or the family is happy or whatever happy denouement the author employs. Though this book has a “happy” ending, it also comes with the understanding that this couple is real. The relationship will take work – as a couple and as individuals.

Favorite quote (about a favorite song): Gloria thought about tupelo trees; they too thrived in water, preferring the moist ground of riverbeds and creeks. Their blossoms were beautiful and fragrant but extremely delicate and vulnerable to the elements. One strong wind or harsh rain, and they were gone for good. That vulnerability and their short blossoming season made it a fucking miracle anytime one survived.

But when it did, the blossom produced sweet and delicious tupelo honey, which Gloria thought an incredible prize for the remarkable feat of holding on.

Read this: If you want a bit of smart romance or are interested in depictions of mental illness, specifically Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.