Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This is book two in this trilogy. Book one is A Discovery of Witches. In this book Diana and Matthew, hunted by the witches, daemons and vampires who would destroy them, timewalk to hide in history. Their mission is to find the Ashmole 782--the manuscript that started all this trouble-- and to find Diana a teacher who can help her to learn to control her magic.

I didn't like this as much as I liked the first one. It felt like a pause in the "real" story since Diana and Matthew spend this book working out the kinks in their relationship and meeting new people. Diana does learn about her magic in the last third of the book and they do find the Ashmole manuscript (oops! I guess that's a spoiler), but the hard-driving plot characteristics from the first book are largely missing in this one.

     There were some great things about this book. The part that I liked very best in The Shadow of the Night was meeting Matthew's father. I also always enjoy reading about marriage partners who encounters difficulties and overcome them as Diana and Matthew do. Again, this was a very long book--577 pages! I can only imagine the kind of work that it takes to write something like this! There were oodles of historical details and it was rather entertaining to meet some historical characters--Shakespeare, Christopher Marlow, Sir Walter Raleigh, and even Queen Elizabeth.
At the end of the book, even Diana and Matthew question whether timewalking was the right decision--whether they have changed history too much and should better have avoided such a large footprint in the past...and I think this conclusion rather invites the reader to agree with them. This book almost feels like filler material. Almost. But maybe I'm just in too much of a hurry to find out what happens in the end!

Language: A few foul words--2 or 3.
Sex: Plenty of married sex scenes and blood-sucking stuff, just like in the first book. Let me see if I can be more helpful in my review of the sexuality of this book: I read very few contemporary non-Christian romance, so I can't compare sex scenes to a standard romance, but I can compare them to "clean" romances. Clean romances generally have chemistry between the main characters and there will be kisses exchanged, but sex is only referred to after marriage and there are no descriptive sex scenes. This book does not meet that criteria.

My Recommendation: If you like magic and vampires and have a tolerance for mildly titillating married sex scenes, you will really enjoy this series. It's very well written, and full of "smart" stuff--history, science, poetry even!--and very engaging. I was into them from almost the first chapters and read them within two days. The characters are likeable, varied and three-dimensional. I really like both Diana and Matthew and I like them together--they seem real to me. I like the way their marriage is evolving. This series is not one I like so much that I feel I want to put them on my shelves and reread them regularly, but I have enjoyed reading these two books. The third in the trilogy is not yet published and I don't know that the story will stay with me long enough for me to actively pursue attainment of the final installment of the story. But if I happen to remember and it's easy enough to find the book when it's out, then I'll gladly begin another long and entertaining read about Diana, Matthew and their families.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

     This is a vampire book! I didn't know this when it was recommended to me. I'm kind of feeling "done" with vampire books, so I try to avoid them, but this one caught me by surprise. And you know I'm a finisher... so I finished it. And it was pretty entertaining.

    Scholar Diana Bishop is researching the science of alchemy in Oxford's Bodleian Library when she discovers a manuscript that has been lost for centuries. Unfortunately for Diana, this manuscript attracts the witches, daemons and vampires who have all been searching for it since the time of Shakespeare.

    And that's just the half of it. This book is 579 pages full of all sorts of stuff: the family history Diana has been trying to avoid, her relationship with the vampire Matthew, the controversy she finds herself in the middle of and the pain it causes her...and lots more. This is also book one of a trilogy. Whew!

 Although I am so very tired of vampire stories, I did enjoy this book. Diana and Matthew are both serious scholars and so the book was a lot more intelligent than your typical vampire romance. Diana is a historian and Matthew is a scientist and a doctor, so there are large historical and scientific components to the story. Yes, this is largely a vampire romance. However, the plot does not revolve around the romantic relationship and all its attendant encounters. Rather, the romantic relationship is the foundation of the conflicts that follow. I think this is a story about change and tolerance and relationships--deeper than just a romance. So I guess that's why I didn't put it down right away. It was an entertaining book. If you are a vampire/magic fan, you would probably really like this book. However, I cannot fully recommend it because of the relatively descriptive sex scenes. The sex is fairly low-key--and it's married sex--but it's there and there's a lot of it.

Language: There are very few foul words--like maybe 2 or 3, I think
Sex: There is married sex as I've already mentioned. Also, all vampire romances include lots of predatory behavior and blood cravings and they are both metaphors for sex, of course (this is why I avoid vampire books). I wouldn't care for my children to read this book. And as I write that I think of my general philosophy which is that if it's not good for my children, then it's not good for me. Hm. Well. There are also homosexual relationships in this book (no sex scenes or references).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron

     Clever, clever Stephanie Barron. I am always so tickled (and impressed) by how she weaves her fictional events among the actual threads of Jane Austen's life. Amazing! It gives the books a sense of verisimilitude that is missing from many Jane-ish spin offs.

     We don't know a whole lot about Jane Austen, actually, so it's very entertaining to see Barron's Jane come to life. She seems consistent with what I imagine Jane Austen might have been like--if I suspend reality long enough to imagine that a Regency-period lady would have dabbled in murder and detecting. Well, maybe not. So I guess Barron's Jane Austen is about as far from (or near to) the "real" Jane Austen as anyone else's guess of what that lady was like.

     In any case, this series is clever and delightful, sprinkled with quotations from the Austen canon and filled with our main character's witty voice and sweet relationships with family.

     In this one, our Jane is spending some time with her brother Edward Knight, First Magistrate for Canterbury, and his family--including her favorite niece, Fanny Knight. Unfortunately (or fortunately for we  the readers) a murder takes place--the scruffy and scandalous Curzon Fiske is killed on Pilgrim's Way. This case cuts deep into the neighborhood and Edward is grateful for Jane's help in discovering who had a motive for not only this crime, but also the evil deeds that follow.

     An entertaining and rather literary book! I really enjoyed it!

The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb

    This is another that I found among my library's e-books.

     Grace Alban has not been home to her family estate by Lake Superior for 20 years. She returns at the death of her mother and, with the help of the town's attractive Lutheran minister, unravels family secrets that have been haunting generations.

     I really enjoyed this book. It was free of bad language, suspenseful and a little bit romantic as well. One objection that I have noted before: why do authors send their ministers into bedroom scenes before marriage? This is incomprehensible to me. Has the Bible changed somehow? I am pretty sure that Commandment #7 (the no adultery one) is still present in that book. So I cannot understand why these otherwise highly religious characters are jumping into bed with their significant others!! I have noted this in more than one book. It's highly annoying. Thankfully, the bedroom scene in this novel was so subtle as to almost just suggest sex before marriage. Except it wasn't a suggestion since she looked over at his sleeping face on the adjoining pillow....even that could have been just a nap, right? Darn, no, because when they both wake up they put their clothes back on before leaving the hotel room. SIGH. Okay. Rant over. However, if the subtle portrayal of unmarried sex offends, you will not want to read this one. Otherwise, I really liked the book a lot.

The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

     I have figured out how to check out e-books from my local library! Some of you, I'm sure, are way ahead of me on this one, but I'm still pretty excited. The selection is not exhaustive, to be sure. So far I've not found one that I'm actually "looking" for, but I've found several that I've really enjoyed while just "browsing". This book is one of them.

     This, as you may have gathered from the title, is a book of fantasy that takes place in Britain during the Regency period. Lucy Derrick has lost her father and her reputation and is preparing to make a marriage of convenience at the insistence of her unwelcoming uncle. As she is making up her mind to do so, she is visited by a handsome man who also happens to be possessed...and he delivers an urgent message that she wishes desperately to understand.

     And so on and so forth. I really enjoyed this book! It was clean, it had romance, danger, magic, the undead, sweeping threats to our main characters and to the country in general, rebellion, spirits of the departed, demons--lots of stuff that kept me glued to the book until it was over. And then I wished for more still. I particularly enjoyed meeting historical characters (in particular Lord Byron and William Blake) re-framed into this particular plot--fun!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker

     This was a very strange book.

     To the cover of the book I bought (on clearance at Barnes and Noble, fyi) was affixed a little circle of shiny silver paper that read: "See First Pages for How This Book Is CHANGING LIVES!" I guess that made me a little suspicious... but I've read some Ted Dekker before and I liked what I read. I turned over the book to read the synopsis and encountered only some nonsense about how the book was about "the fountain of life" and how the "heart knows no bounds" and all that. It was a story "of terrible longing and bold sacrifice". Hmmm.

     What this story is: a metaphor of Christ's pure love and sacrifice for the sins and pains and sadnesses of the world. Why it didn't work for me:
It was too sensual.
It was about vampires.
It was over-the-top dramatic.
There was a lot of blood.

      I really like that Ted Dekker maintains Christian standards in all of his books. I have enjoyed several of them and look forward to reading more (I've got a couple on my "to read next" shelf, actually). But! I did not like this book and I don't think I'll even keep it in my collection. I felt uncomfortable all the way through it. It was dark, frustrating and, as I mentioned before, surprisingly sensual. I appreciate the metaphor, I do. But I didn't LIKE it--I guess that was the main problem. It felt cloying. C.S. Lewis wrote a beautiful metaphor in his The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that is a story that feeds the soul as well as the imagination. This one made me squirm in my chair and I even resorted to skimming whole passages that were just soaked in blood and drama. Whew!

    If you like vampires, drama and romance (and Christianity), you may enjoy this book more than I did. It certainly was different!

Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio March

     I have long been a fan of Ngaio March. She's one of my classic mystery favorites, along with Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and the wonderful Dorothy L. Sayers.

     In this book, Scotland Yard Inspector Roderick Alleyn (so genteel, so humble, so smooth and clever!) is called to the scene of a strange poisoning. Lovely victim Cara Quayne dropped dead during a mystic ritual at the House of the Sacred Flame. Who killed her, and why?

         I love all books by Ngaio Marsh. Her books span from the year 1934 to 1981--she wrote 32 mystery novels! And I think I've got at least 5 of them on my "to read next" shelf! Delicious!


Twice a Prince by Sherwood Smith

     Here is the sequel to Once A Princess (again, I'm sorry about the cover). In this book, Sasha must continue the search for her father, learn to trust her prince (if that's even possible), rescue her mother and avert a war.

     All the lovely adventurous stuff from the first book is here too and I enjoyed Sasha's wit and Jehan's loyalty and seeming invincibility. I really like the strong families portrayed in the book. Some books written for teenagers are full of dysfunctional family relationships and belittling portrayals of parents--but not this one! I also like the way Sherwood Smith writes her characters' romances--there's plenty of chemistry but not a lot of drama. I also like the way romance follows experience and trust--the characters get to know each other! Sometimes it seems like love stories are all drippy SA and very little cool substance.

     I enjoyed this one just about as much as I did the first. But The Trouble with Kings is still my favorite Sherwood Smith!

Once a Princess by Sherwood Smith

     I really like Sherwood Smith! I don't care for the cover of this book, though--it's misleading and provocative. Funny how the provocative cover of the Perry Mason book amused me but this one irritates. Maybe it's the audience it's intended for? This is a YA book. Its sequel, Twice A Prince also has a potboiler cover, unfortunately.

   However, the books themselves are lots of fun! In this book we meet Sasha, whose mom, Sun, was once married to a prince from another world (yes, really--another WORLD). This makes Sasha a princess, of course. But years ago her dad, the king, sent Sun and Sasha away to earth to escape a danger that threatened all of them. He promised to return for them, but instead he disappeared, leaving Sun and Sasha to fend for themselves. They learn to defend themselves as they move from place to place, avoiding those from their old world who search for them in order to make them disappear too. However, when Sasha is taken by force back to her home country, Sun follows and adventures ensue.

     This book has it all--pirates, princes, intrigue, betrayal, kidnapping, magic, all sorts of battles, heroes and villains. Sasha is a fun, no-nonsense heroine who defends herself and tries to do the right thing. Her mom is a strong and mature lady and the two of them have a good relationship--such a nice thing to find in a YA book! The book is engaging and clean. It also has an ending that will make you wish you had the next book immediately at hand. Just warning you.

The Case of the Negligent Nymph by Erle Stanley Gardner

     I remember watching black and white episodes of Perry Mason before cable, before satellite TV... this handsome and imposing lawyer always won his cases, of course. I don't believe I've ever actually read one of the books the TV show was based on, but my daughter and I found a pile of old Perry Masons on the clearance rack at a little used bookstore (on a visit to Nampa, Idaho, in case you were wondering) and we snatched them up. We were enraptured by the 40s and 50s era sultry women on the covers, I think. Don't you love this cover? Pretty edgy illustration to advertise our squeaky clean, full-of-integrity Perry.

     Perry, observing a privately-owned island for another case, happens to spy (through his binoculars) this naked nymph swimming to the dock, drying, donning an evening dress and joining the party that is in full swing up at the house. (Della's response to Perry's account of what he spied through his binoculars: "Boys will be boys!" Love it!). But our nymph's behavior is certainly curious! Not many minutes later, he hears the alarms at the house and watches the same lady run full tilt from the house pursued by people and dogs. She jumps in the water and swims desperately away but the dogs follow her into the water and, at this, Perry doesn't think twice before he rescues her from the sharp teeth of those dogs. When she is later accused of stealing a large amount of jewels from the house, Perry is sure of her innocence. As he says, "A wet dinner gown leaves but very, very little to the imagination." Clever, clever Perry. Of course, these things are rarely what they seem, right? Oh yes.

     It was a quick, enjoyable (and clean, of course) read. Perry is the soul of honor and his Della and Paul Drake are clever, witty AND always come up with the goods. I've several more of these to read and I'll enjoy them all, I'm sure. Who doesn't like Perry Mason, after all?