Review – The Descent

The Descent by Alma KatsuThe Descent is the third book in The Taker trilogy. If you haven’t read The Taker and The Reckoning yet, you need to fix that in 2014. This trilogy is certainly one of the more interesting ones to come along. There are some great characters and plot lines that keep you guessing — even after you read the ending first, like I do.

Lanore McIlvrae, Lanny as she’s known, spent years living in fear of Adair, the man who made her immortal. Their relationship, while heated and insanely passionate, is not a stable one by any means. The things these two have done to each other — both mentally and physically — are horrific, and yet, they can’t seem to escape each other. Beyond the immortal bond the two share, there’s something else that keeps them returning to each other even after all the hurt they’ve caused.

After Lanny’s current partner, Luke, dies of cancer, she begins having nightmares about her former lover, and one could say, the great love of her life, Jonathan. Believing the nightmares are more than just guilt induced dreams, Lanny goes looking for the only man she knows who can help her — Adair. She knows he possesses the power to alleviate her nightmares and find answers to her questions. Unfortunately, she’s not sure how well she’ll be received, especially coming on business concerning Jonathan. While Lanny and Adair’s relationship has changed significantly over the intervening years, Jonathan is very much a sore spot between the two. There are things in life that are constant and Jonathan is that one thing for Lanny and Adair.

When Lanny finds Adair, she finds a changed man. He’s living on a deserted island in the Mediterranean and is a much calmer person but she knows there’s still much to fear from Adair and the power he can yield. She comes to an understanding of her feelings for him but knows she must still help Jonathan if possible and that’s when things get complicated.

My dilemma — how do I tell readers about this book when it’s the third in a series and I don’t want to give anything away? Instead, I’m going to talk about a larger theme in the series — love. I’m not one for love stories, especially ones that get wrapped up all nice and neat in the end. But, I liked that love had such a large and messy role in this story, and let’s not forget the mess the mere thought of the word brought to Lanny, Adair, and Jonathan and the catastrophe that is their relationship. Don’t get me wrong, for a long time I didn’t like Adair at all. He’s cruel, hateful, and isn’t much for honor or respect. Jonathan, while Lanny can’t help but love him, isn’t exactly a loveable person either leaving a trail of heartbroken women in his path. In fact, Lanny, while she obviously loves the idea of love, gets burned so many times it would be easier for her to just walk away from everyone. Maybe her willingness to keep believing that love can work is what makes her likable after all.

It’s always difficult to come to the end of a series especially one that was so good. Alma Katsu gave her characters immortality, beat them up and teased them with death, and in the end, threw in love and let everything fall to the ground in a gigantic messy heap of humanity. At certain points, you won’t like any of the characters — who can all be crazy, manipulative, sad, and demented — but you’re rewarded with a tale that’s full of the supernatural. What’s the good news about this series coming to an end? New readers get to read from start to finish getting wrapped up in Lanny’s strange and enticing world without being left to wonder what will happen next. For me, there’s a satisfaction in finally getting the chance to see what becomes of Lanny, Adair, and Jonathan.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Descent

By Alma Katsu

Gallery Books

ISBN: 9781451651829

Review – City of Dark Magic

City of Dark Magic

I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. I don’t know if it’s the paranormal haze that overtakes the story or if it’s the ridiculous quality that some stories take on when fantasy and paranormal mix, but in this book, it’s the latter. That ridiculous quality is the draw for me.

Sarah Weston is a talented music student in Boston but a student with few lucrative prospects in her path. When she’s offered a very profitable summer job in Prague cataloguing Beethoven’s manuscripts for a new museum, she jumps at the opportunity. Sarah arrives in Prague and is immediately hit with bad news — her mentor, the man who most likely recommended her for the position, is dead of an apparent suicide. She has trouble believing the story which gets even stranger when odd things begin happening to her. Weird symbols start appearing in unlikely places, she accidently stumbles on a Cold War conspiracy involving a very prominent U.S. Senator, and then there’s the time travel inducing drug she takes without knowing what it does. Throw in a romance with a prince and you’ve got a very busy summer that also includes putting together an exhibit on Beethoven.

A standard rule I have when reading a book such as this — remove all sense of reality then enjoy at will. City of Dark Magic is a fast read, silly, yet entertaining. It’s campy and you want to keep reading because it’s compelling in its strange way. I wanted to know what else could be thrown in the mix. This book is a huge mashup of genres: paranormal, mystery, thriller, time travel, and romance. Prague, with its long and sometimes dark history, is a good setting for it all but I do wish the city itself had played a larger role in the story. It’s a location and not much more.

Sarah’s the center of everything weird going on but she’s not the most interesting character for me. There are two others: Pollina, a blind musical prodigy who keeps warning Sarah with cryptic references about Prague, and Nicolas, a little person with a penchant for stealing valuable objects and who hints at being alive for close to 400 years. Pollina and Nicholas play scant parts in the story but they also made it for me. You don’t know much about either but each time one of them shows up, something interesting happens. I like characters like that.

Then we have the romance, which is more like sex in weird places rather than a straight forward romance. Sarah falls for Max, the heir apparent of the Prague royal family and also heir to an enormous fortune. Frankly, I had no idea what Sarah saw in him. He gets slightly more interesting as the story goes on but he’s sort like a light bulb — on one second, off the next but the two work as a couple.

I gravitate toward books with any time travel element. Here, it’s a bit different, less actual travel to the past and more watching the past thanks to a drug that allows users to see the remnants of history but not interact with it. Think of it as watching a movie. The concept is cool. In fact, it works extremely well and is one of the best parts of the book. Points for creativity need to be awarded for this.

Sometimes you want a book that simply entertains and City of Dark Magic does that. There’s a bit of everything and when one scene seems impossible, know that the next will top it. Go with it. It’s a good ride and a great way to escape reality for a bit.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

City of Dark Magic

Magnus Flyte

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143122685

3.5 stars

 

Review – A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches

By Deborah Harkness

Viking

ISBN: 9780670002241-0

5 stars

Diana Bishop is from one of the most powerful witch families known to exist and she may be one of the family’s most powerful witches ever, but she goes out of her way not to practice magic. She’s become a well-known scholar in the fields of history and science, in particular the intersection of science and witchcraft, and while she might not practice magic intentionally, she’s aware of it all around her. While doing research in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Diana recalls a manuscript — Ashmole 782 — which has been considered lost for the last 150 years. Finding it bound by a spell, she breaks it unknowingly, and once the book is open, she can’t say why but something about it is all wrong. Slightly shaken by her discovery and the magic, Diana sends the book back to the stacks bothered by its contents and the influx of witches, daemons, and vampires that have suddenly gathered in her vicinity. Unsettled by what she’s seen, Diana leaves the library and plans to forget the book and hopes that the attention from the other creatures will fade too.

Matthew Clairmont is a pioneering researcher known for his work in the genetics field. He’s also a vampire looking for a way to get his hands on the Ashmole 782 manuscript and he thinks he may have found that way through Diana. What Matthew doesn’t expect is to fall in love with her in the process of looking for the book. Diana is an enigma to him — not only does she appeal to him both intellectually and physically but he stuns even himself when he can’t walk away from her even when he should.

Diana and Matthew find themselves in an unorthodox relationship, and because of it, are being hunted by the Congregation, a group of witches, daemons, and vampires that rule the world of creatures. Diana and Matthew find themselves in danger from not just from the discovery of Ashmole 782 but also their growing relationship. Knowing Diana will never be able to defend herself without knowledge of and control over her powers, Matthew convinces her they must go to her family for help.  Safe with Diana’s family of witches they try to understand what her connection is to the manuscript and why every vampire, witch, and daemon is after it.

I love books about books and throw in witches, daemons, and vampires and it appears I become very easy to please. Harkness throws a lot into the story — witchcraft, love, vampires, daemons, secret covens, lost spell-bounds books — but she makes it all work and very smoothly at that. It works thanks to the characters. Diana and Matthew are more than just witch and vampire and it’s about more than spells and bloodlust. While I’m not always a huge fan of love stories mixed with fantasy stories, it works very well here and manages to become the story without overwhelming it.

Matthew’s history combined with Diana’s research, lend the story a fantastic scope that spans generations but the science Harkness infuses into the story grounds it so it never feels as if it goes off on a strange tangent. There are explanations for the witchcraft as well as background for the hidden lives of the creatures (witches, vampires, daemons, and humans) that make the story feel less fantastic and more realistic. Well, as close as one can get to real in a story about creatures that don’t exist.

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy.  I for one will be waiting anxiously for the next two books in the series.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

By Audrey Niffenegger

Scribner

ISBN: 978-1439165393

5 stars

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. Below is a short summary of my review of Her Fearful Symmetry which can be found on their website in full here.

Her Fearful Symmetry begins with a death. Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, leaving her London apartment to her estranged sister’s twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. Excited by the prospect of a new life life, the twins leave for London unaware of the dark secret which has kept their mother and aunt apart for decades.

This book is full of interesting characters who all seem to be waiting around for something in their lives — a wife to return, a secret to be revealed, a love to return, or a love to be found. Hovering over everyone is death and disappearance. In the end, you feel sad for all the characters, even the ones that manage to find themselves again but you may not get over the final last act that brings everything full circle.

Her Fearful Symmetry was eagerly awaited by fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I didn’t fall in love with these characters that way I did with Henry and Clair but, it was worth the wait and is one great read.

Dracula

 

Dracula

Dracula

Dracula

By Bram Stoker

Bantam Books

ISBN: 0-553-21271-0

5 stars

I recently re-read Dracula and I have to say, it can still make my heart race even though I know what’s going to happen on the next page.

The novel is composed of journal entries from several characters: Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westerna, Mina Murray, Dr. John Seward, Quincey Morris, Arthur Holwood, and Professor Van Helsing.  Each entry brings a new voice and perspective to the story making it incredibly rich and, in many ways, even scarier because you know these individuals are expressing their true fears since the writing is done in private journals.

The story begins with Jonathan Harker, an English lawyer, on a trip to the Carpathian Mountains to conduct business for a Count Dracula.  He describes his odd journey and the strange responses of the people when they learn where he is going.  He also includes his description of the Count which gives the reader a clear look at Dracula.

Mina, Jonathan’s fiancée, is visiting her friend Lucy and writing happily to her Jonathan.  The entries are full of happiness and hope until Lucy falls gravely ill and the mood becomes tragically sad and somewhat disturbing as Lucy’s behavior and cause is explained.

Dr. Seward, a former suitor of Lucy’s, is at a loss to help her and calls on an old friend.  Professor Van Helsing arrives and sensing the problem begins a fruitless effort to save her.  When Lucy succumbs, Van Helsing knows what must be done but to protect the decency of the lady and emotions of family and friends, he mentions the next step, stake through the heart and beheading, only to Seward.  Seward, nursing his loss of Lucy in several ways, lashes out.  Finally, when neighbors begin to report children missing, Seward agrees to help Van Helsing along with Quincey, an American in love with Lucy as well, and her forlorn fiancé Arthur who feels it is his duty to help Lucy finally rest in peace.  The small band sets out to kill Lucy — again.

Mina at this time is nursing Jonathan back to health after he fell ill during his trip to Transylvania.  She finds and reads his diary against his wishes, in the hope of understanding what is ailing him.  She’s astounded by what she finds but is still determined to help not only Jonathan, but the now assembled group of vampire hunters, remove the scourge from the earth.

As the final battle becomes evident, the journal entries become more morose, creepy, and scary which is what makes this book so fascinating.  You feel as if you’re getting a peek into the characters’ minds.  You feel their terror and frustrations, and are entranced by the minutiae of their planning for the fight with what they consider to be the ultimate evil.

If you’re looking for something to read this October, the original still delivers.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

 

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

By Katherine Howe

Hyperion

ISBN: 978-1-4013-4090-2

3.5 stars

Connie Goodwin, a Harvard doctoral candidate in American history, plans to spend her summer researching her thesis. Unfortunately, a call from her mother, Grace, changes that. Grace asks her to clean out her grandmother’s old house near Salem, Massachusetts and make it ready for sale. She’s annoyed but relents. She packs up the car and moves out of town for the summer away from her books and libraries.

Thumbing through the bookshelves in the old dilapidated house one night when she can’t sleep, Connie finds a key in a bible. Inside the shaft of the key is a small piece of paper with the name Deliverance Dane scrolled on it. She tells her mother about it but Grace doesn’t recognize the name. She decides to do a bit of research and finds she may have her original source for her thesis. This happy twist of fate also brings her to Sam, a steeplejack refurbishing an old church in town. The meeting is fortuitous and Connie, who never thinks of anything but books, finds herself with a new topic to obsess over. Suddenly, things begin to fall apart around her — Sam gets hurt, her adviser takes on an unnatural interest in her work, and she seems to be developing strange powers.

Interspersed throughout the book are short interludes about Deliverance and her family. These snippets are interesting and I wish there were more of them. It’s the reason I like to read historical fiction and I like the dynamic of old and new in the story.

I have to admit that the first 100 pages seemed a tad slow to me waiting for Connie to find what she was looking for. Once things picked up, it became much more interesting and fast paced. It was an intriguing take on the Salem witch trials and a glance at New England sensibilities at the time. A good read overall.