Saturday, October 29, 2011

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I pretty much loved this book.  I finished reading it yesterday morning, and spent the rest of the day and today missing the characters, that's how much I liked this book.

Diana was born a witch, but doesn't really use her magic much.  She's also a historian who happens to be working at Oxford, doing research on alchemy.  One day, while in the Bodleian Library she notices a tall, beautiful man who happens to be a vampire.  Oh. My. God.  Do you know me at all?  Maybe not, but the author of this book seems to have tapped into all my fantasies at once - witches, vampires, books, research, Oxford and love at first sight in a library?  Oh, and not to spoil anything, but the vampire also has a castle in France.  Dear god I love this book.

And it's so well written.  I realize my description of the book may sound ridiculous:  a witch meets a vampire in a library and they fall in love.  But it's written in such a way that it doesn't feel at all ridiculous.  It was one of those books I was able to dive into and push away all the blandness of the real world.  It's so atmospheric, Oxford, then France.  I felt as if I was there, in the old building, walking through the castle, sharing the perfect glass of wine with a sexy vampire.

I'm hesitant to say this, but it's almost like a Twilight for grown-ups. As much as I love this book, and feel that it blows Twilight away in just about every aspect imaginable, I'd be lying if I said the similarities aren't there. 

I have to admit I did not love the second half of the book as much as I loved the first half.  When it was just Diana and Matthew, it was perfect.  But then we meet Matthew's family, and then we meet Diana's family.  Then we have something called the Congregation that wants to kill Diana because vampires and witches aren't supposed to be together.  (Do you see the Twilight comparison now?  In Twilight it was a group of vampires in Italy who didn't want vampires and humans together.)

There's also Matthew's hesitation about consumating the relationship, his old fashioned views about women, his extreme protectiveness -- all quite similar to a vampire we all know as Edward.  Diana is a much stronger character than Bella, but like Bella, she is more than willing to give up life as she knows it for the vampire she loves, despite the fact that she's never been crazy about the idea of getting married and having children.

And like Twilight, we have the vampire family, the parents and the children.  The part that bothered me most is that suddenly Diana, who has only been in love with this vampire for a few weeks, is now referring to his "son" as her son.  That was weird and a little icky as far as I was concerned.  That detracted some from my love of the book because I noticed myself groaning every time she referred to her "son."  He's not your son, you just met him. Technically, he's not Matthew's "son" either, but oh well.

But what's really going to piss me off about this book is if they get all wrapped up in the idea of vampire/witch offspring.  That's what killed the Twilight series for me - the weird vampire/human spawn storyline.  As soon as they mentioned "conception" in this book, I felt a surge of anger.  Don't ruin this story for me!

Why can't two people - witch/vampire - whatever - spend some time being in love with each other, getting to know each other - before they start reproducing?  Nothing kills a romance for me like babies do. 

Luckily, the subject was mentioned and then they moved on.  I think that however the subject is approached, it will be okay.

Despite my complaints just mentioned, I loved the story of Diana and Matthew.  This felt truly romantic, not crude or silly or graphic and awkward.  I rarely enjoy anything considered "romantic" and usually simply tolerate those scenes or rush through them as quickly as possible.  This book though, I savored those scenes, because this couple got to know each other, spent time together, and actually seemed to fall in love rather than fall into bed. 

I'm looking forward to the next book, even though I'm not usually a fan of time travel (the end of this book involved Matthew and Diana timewalking).  I'm bothered that the sequel won't be out until the summer, but oh well, another reason to look forward to the summer.

I very much recommend this book to anyone who likes vampire stories or witch stories or well written romance stories.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep by C.J. Watson

So this was the other book about a woman losing her memory.  Unlike, What Alice Forgot, this one is not at all light-hearted or fun.  This is incredibly creepy and disturbing.

Every morning Christine wakes up not knowing where she is, or who she's with.  Her husband tapes pictures around the room with explanations.  He says they've been married for years, they're very much in love.  He writes notes a white board in the kitchen, suggestions of how she can spend her day.  She then goes to bed and forgets everything during her sleep, and wakes the next morning and goes through it all over again.

One day though, she gets a call from a doctor who says he's been helping her for a while.  She has a journal in which she writes down everything.  The doctor calls her every morning and tells her about the journal.  He says they're making progress.

Every once in a while she remembers an event, or a person, but she has no context with which to place these memories. 

I read this book very quickly.  It was due at the library and I didn't want to have to put my name back on the waiting list.

This book reminded me of the Mary Higgins Clark books I used to read. I loved those books when I was younger, as in high school days. But then I grew tired of them. I could guess the ending within the first few chapters. Same with this book. Mid-way through, I already suspected what was happening, but read it too quickly to really dwell on it.

But in the end, I was disappointed. Also, the story was too far-fetched for me. The daily vanishing memory was a little too hard to accept. A doctor so concerned and involved that he called her every day but didn't even suspect what was actually happening?   The friends and family who simply disappeared from her life?  Most of all though, I didn't like the overt moralizing of the story, as if Christine somehow deserved what had happened to her.  It's obvious this book was written by a man, and if I'd known that in advance I probably wouldn't have read it.  (I'm very particular about books written by men.  It has to be an author with which I'm familiar or has a lot of great reviews from people I respect.)  The more I thought about it, the angrier I got.  This felt very much like what I imagine to be the perverted sexual fantasies of a deranged man. 

It held my interest, I couldn't stop reading it once I started because I was anxious to find out what happened next. It's very suspenseful and it certainly left an impression.  The night after I finished that book, I had some horrible nightmares relating to this story.  In hindsight, I wish I'd not read this book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Last year, I remember people being all frantic about the end of the world.  I say people, but I mean my silly students.  Teenagers believe just about anything they read online or have sent to them via text message, but absolutely nothing told to them by a semi-intelligent adult in a position of pseudo-authority.  I found myself trying to explain this idea of the so-called Rapture on a few occasions.

A little background on me - I don't believe in any of this stuff.  I think the Bible is a sometimes interesting book and nothing more.  I think most religions were created to keep women "in their place."  So as I try to explain all this to teenagers, I try to be cautious with my choice of words so as not to offend them.  Unlike other teachers who think it's fine to push their political-religious views on others, I try to remain neutral in the eyes of my students.  Not always easy.

I was quite amused though when I said at one point, "The Rapture is the idea that God is going to take his followers up to heaven with him and leave behind those who don't believe in Jesus."  And one of my students says, "Good, those people are annoying."  Oh yeah, these are my kids.

Anyway, this book, The Leftovers, is about a situation in which a Rapture type event happens.  Thousands of people just disappear one night.  The story takes place three years later, as people are still trying to cope with what has happened.  People are furious because they can't understand the random way in which people were selected.  They call it the "Sudden Departure" because it doesn't fit their definition of the Rapture.  People who viewed themselves as devout Christians were left behind while atheists and Muslims and Buddhists were taken.  Families were destroyed as spouses and children vanished. 

But eventually, the people have to go on with whatever is left of their lives.  There's a mother who lost her husband and two small children, teenagers traumatized by having seen their friends vanish in front of them.  There's an angry minister who devotes his life to showing that the people taken didn't deserve to go by publishing a newsletter exposing the sins of those who were taken.  Then there are all the strange cults and organizations that form as a reaction to this event.  The creepy religious group, the Guilty Remnant, that walk around silently, dressed in white, stalking people who are trying to live a normal life.  There's the self-proclaimed prophet who thinks he can absorb pain and has a slew of teenage brides he's trying to impregnate to create the next savior.  There are the barefoot people who simply live for fun. 

Most of all this is about how people cope with extreme tragedy and figure out a way to move on when all they really want to do is give up. 

I liked the book quite a bit.  I found it to be such an interesting concept, and handled in a way that isn't ridiculous or too far fetched.  The characters seem real and, for the most part, likable.  It's a frightening statement about how some people cope with tragedy, there are some horrifying events in here, but also, a statement about how most people pick up the pieces and move on, doing the best they can given the circumstances.