A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

To describe A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness in just two words seems a monumental task, but if I had to pick a pair to encompass this work it would be pleasantly surprising. I had high expectations for the book based on reviews and recommendations from friends, yet this captivating story surpassed them all.

The tale begins and is anchored by Oxford's Bodleian Library. I'm a sucker for books with an academic twist and Discovery of Witches had me hooked from the very start when young researcher Diana Bishop calls up a secret alchemical text from the stacks as part of her work. Diana is descended from the Bishops of Salem Witch Trial infamy, but despite her lineage she wants nothing to do with spells and sorcery. She is shocked and distraught to find that her summoning of the bewitched book has extreme supernatural consequences and sets her in the crossfire of the agendas of witches, demons, and vampires alike.

Diana finds an unlikely ally in scientist and centuries-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. More than just a supernatural protector, Matthew is a character drawn with a sophistication and intelligence congruent with his ancient birth yet still possessing the predatory instincts expected of his vampire status. With his lineage and history as intriguing and powerful as Diana's the two make a formidable team but their enemies are equally strong and undeniably ruthless.

The story that unfolds throughout the book is smart and unique. With settings that range from libraries and yoga studios to castles and genetics laboratories, I never knew quite what to expect next and the unpredictability was delightful. Blending in equal parts action, mystery, science, research, and romance, Harkness displays an exceptional gift for writing in her debut novel. Despite the book's length, I didn't want it to end, and, like many readers, I am eager to continue the story in this summer's sequel Shadow of Night.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is one of those books that I felt like I was on the outside of for a long time.  It was the book that everyone I knew had read and raved about but I was still on the fringe of "I'll pick it up someday".  Someday came and went and I finally got around to reading this ambitious and intriguing young adult book.

In Cashore's world Graceling is the term given to individuals bearing mismatched eyes whose lives are marked by a unique gift or talent.  These extraordinary skills - known as graces - can be anything from singing or fast running to, in the case of the story's protagonist Katsa, a talent for how to kill.  Raised under the rule of her uncle, a rather nasty king, Katsa is used for her talent but longs to escape her bonds and find a better purpose for her grace and her life. 

Where this book excels is in its originality of characters.  Even among strong female protagonists in young adult books, Katsa stands out for her independence and resilience.  She is hard and determined but not without passion and emotion.  Cashore weaves a romantic storyline into the book, which is thankfully NOT a love triangle, and Po, the male lead, also avoids being a cliche character.  He is in no way Katsa's hero or savior and comes across as her equal.  The balance of the male and female leads - both strong, smart, and interesting - was a refreshing change of pace from many other books I've encountered in the young adult fantasy genre.

I did find the pacing of the story to be a bit slow.  As much as I enjoyed learning about the world Kristin Cashore created and the unveiling of Katsa's character and her bizarre grace, I had a hard time getting into this book at the start.  Once the main action hit, there was a steady roll to the climax and denouement, but for such a long book I would have preferred better pacing throughout.

All in all, though, I'm impressed with Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  Katsa is a heroine to take note of and the supporting characters around her shine with originality.  Cashore's world is primed for further adventures and I look forward to more works by her in the future. 
Are you one of the readers who has raved about this book to me for ages?  What impressed you most about it?  Or maybe you didn't care for it?  Was the pacing an issue for you?  If you're still on the outside of the Graceling bubble, what's kept you from picking it up so far?

Dancing with the... Authors? (Top Ten Tuesday)

Hello blogging world!  I'm back with a post for a super fun Top Ten Tuesday topic - well, okay, I have yet to participate in a Top Ten Tuesday topic that wasn't super fun but the folks over at The Broke and The Bookish definitely got my creative juices flowing with this week's prompt:

Top Ten Authors I'd like to See on a Reality TV Show

I should preface this by explaining that I really don't watch much unscripted television, but I am sadly all too familiar with the variety and scope of the amount of reality programs currently airing.

1. & 2. Suzanne Collins and Lauren Oliver on Survivor
I'm not sure what Jeff Probst would have to say about these two giants of young adult dystopia fighting for an immunity idol, but since they've both created pretty dire worlds for their heroines to live in (Collins in The Hunger Games; Oliver in Delirium and even more so Pandemonium), I'm curious how they would fare in a rustic setting comparable to their fictional worlds.   

3. Meg Donohue on Cupcake Wars
How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue might be one of the lesser known books I mention this week, but with its wonderfully delectable dessert descriptions, I can only imagine that Donohue's passion for pastries would translate into game show success on Cupcake Wars. 

4. Sarah Addison Allen on Top Chef
Similar to my last choice, I have noticed that Sarah Addison Allen (Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and The Peach Keeper) writes with such vivid realism about food that I can imagine she would have a great talent for cooking.  And if she doesn't care much for the kitchen, I would at least love to see her as a judge on the show because she has a remarkable talent for describing food such that others get a crystal clear picture of how it tastes.

5. & 6. Christopher Moore and Jasper Fforde on Last Comic Standing
These two authors are two of my favorite funnymen and LCS is actually a reality show that I do enjoy watching.  Moore cracked me up with a host of books I've failed to review on this blog (Bloodsucking Fiends, Lamb, The Stupidest Angel, A Dirty Job, etc.) and Fforde would be a worthy challenger from across the pond with his Thursday Next books (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book) and the spinoff Nursery Crime series (The Big Over Easy, The Fourth Bear).  I don't know if either gentleman has experience with stand up comedy but I would predict that they would both be highly entertaining to watch!

7. Gail Carriger on Project Runway
Truthfully I would much rather send Carriger's character Miss Ivy Hisselpenny on the show, but since this is about authors I will settle for choosing the creator of a sidekick with a penchant for grotesquely tacky headwear!  Throughout the Parasol Protectorate books (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless) Carriger takes note of steampunk fashion and especially with Alexia's signature parasol accessories, I would love to see what type of collection Carriger could create for Fashion Week and if indeed she could "Make it Work."  (And here's where I add in another discalimer that though I don't really watch reality TV, I do have a soft spot for Project Runway!)

8. Lisa Genova on Jeopardy!
I'm not sure if it really counts as Reality TV, but since Lisa Genova is such an intelligent author, I would love to see her strut her smarts in front of Alex Trebek.  Though Still Alice is the only work of hers I've read (so far!) she really impressed me with her ability to weave neuroscience and medicine into an emotional and beautifully written novel.  Maybe she could even take on Watson?

9. & 10. George R.R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson on The Amazing Race
I have no idea if these two epic fantasy writers have ever met or would get along with each other (Martin of course famous for the Song of Ice and Fire series, Sanderson for Mistborn, Warbreaker, and more) but since each one is incredibly skilled at world building  I'd love to see their skills at world traveling.  If nothing else, giving these guys the chance to explore some out of the way scenery could certainly provide even more inspiration for their future works.  Of course, I'm also one of many fans that doesn't want to pull Martin away from his desk too long so we'd have to make sure he could bring a laptop with him!

So there you have my list!  Which choices do you like?  Which would you change?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or join in and link up with a Top Ten Tuesday post of your own!

And click here for previous Top Ten Tuesdays on Her Book Self!



Another Interlude

It seems my posts about not posting are becoming the norm, but I've had a bit of a rough week.  On Monday evening, my grandmother passed away.  I do believe that she is in a better place now, no longer suffering, and that at the end of my own life I will see her again, but there's still a lingering sadness - knowing I'll miss her, sad that my child will not know her here on earth.

But looking back, there are plenty of memories to take joy from.  Since this is a book blog, I have to mention my grandmother's love of reading.  The only things more prevalent in her home than books, were delicious food and lots of love.  Summers at her house were filled with novels, short stories, comics, magazines, crossword puzzles and other simple forms of entertainment.  As much as I am clinging to the advice and knowledge she passed on to me, some of my best memories of her are also sitting in silence, relaxing in the shade, and reading together. 

Among other things, Grandma taught me how to knit!

My grandma was also one of the best people at making me feel good about myself.  I don't mean she gave me some cheesy positive self esteem lessons, but rather, she was so loving and so accepting that no matter what type of awkward, frustrated, mad about myself, or disappointed with my life phase I could go through she made me feel that I was wonderful, that I was enough - a "just as I am" kind of love that I still cherish.

It's been a rough week and I know there is more grieving ahead.  It doesn't help that I'm five months pregnant and can cry at things as mundane as car commercials and greeting cards, but hopefully this explains yet another blog hiatus.  Here's hoping April and May will be much more even keel.

Love you, Grandma.  And I always will.

Happy Hunger Games Movie Weekend!

I'm pretty excited about going to the movies tonight...
Like many viewers, I'm pretty stoked about the film adaptation of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins!  I reviewed this book back in September of 2010 and even then I noted that it was surrounded by plenty of hype from passionate fans.  I know the movie has evoked a similar frenzy so I remain cautiously optimistic that it will live up to the standards I - and many others - hold up for it.
How about you, are you going to see the movie this weekend?  Which character are you most excited to see adapted to film?  If you've seen it already, what did you think?  Had you read the book first or is the movie your first taste of the action?  I'd love for you to share your (non-spoiler) thoughts in the comments!
Meanwhile, I thought I would provide a few flashback links:
Happy Hunger Games Weekend everyone!

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

Set a few years following the events of Furies of Calderon, Jim Butcher returns to the Calderon Valley with another grand adventure for his unlikely hero Tavi. In a world where most people have connections to one or more elemental spirits called Furies, Tavi is alone in his inability to furycraft, to control the magical elements, but his quick thinking and clever mind are often a more than suitable alternative for his lack of power.

In Academ's Fury Tavi has left his home in the Valley and is training at the Academy to become a Cursor. Though his lack of furycrafting singles him out as a target for bullies and ridicule, Tavi finds himself surrounded by a few supportive friends. Tavi's patronage from the First Lord of Calderon provides him with connections and contacts within the kingdom's politics but also places him at the center of webs of deceit and intrigue involving those who seek to overthrow the heir-less ruler of the realm.

Meanwhile, back in the Valley, Tavi's aunt Isana is the target of an assassination attempt. Her new status as a steadholder is a threat to many who do not want a woman to hold so much power, but the Valley faces an even more dire threat as hordes of a parasitic enemy called the Vord have been unleashed. This strange new foe also seems to have Tavi in its sights as the tracks of their destruction lead directly to him.

Once again Jim Butcher layers on action and suspense in his fantastical and unique environment. The dialog is peppered with humor and Tavi's cleverness and creative thinking constantly provide unexpected plot twists and dramatic escapes from peril. Many readers of the series have mentioned that they prefer this book to its predecessor, but I suppose if I had to choose, I may have liked Furies of Calderon a bit more. Both books have moments of a GRAND REVEAL and where I found the twist in the first to be shockingly perfect; in this book it was an element that I had already predicted after finishing the first novel. But that said, I fully enjoyed this adventure too and saying I slightly preferred the first is nothing against Academ's Fury as it was definitely an excellent entry in a very strong series.

Looking For Alaska by John Green

Okay. I read this book in the middle of January and I could have sworn I already wrote a review for it, but alas, I have not blogged about it, which is tragic since it's already one of my favorites of the year.

Miles Halter has led an uneventful and rather boring life hiding himself in books and a penchant for discovering and memorizing famous last words. An opportunity to attend Culver Creek Boarding School sends him eagerly off to a new world with hopes of discovering what poet Fran├žois Rabelais' called "the Great Perhaps". Culver Creek is in many ways the land of possibilities that Miles has always craved. He soon finds himself dubbed with the new name "Pudge" - for his overly skinny frame - and surrounded by new friends The Colonel, Takumi, and of course, Alaska.

Alaska Young is the charismatic, sexy, and destructive prankster living down the hall from Pudge and The Colonel. She represents a world of danger and risk that Pudge has always wanted and never known. She's the magnetic epicenter of their strange group of friends and Pudge soon finds himself hopelessly in love with her.

Looking for Alaska by John Green is a mix of humor, philosophy, tragedy, and the everyday teenage existence. John Green has an amazing talent for creating characters with the perfect balance of charm and quirkiness. Pudge, with his strange talent for quotation, is misguided but loveable. Even the less than likeable characters have a talent for fully captivating the reader and I am never less than fully drawn into Green's stories. Much like An Abundance of Katherines (the first John Green book I read), Looking for Alaska is a novel I find myself thinking about long past its finish date.

I know there are a lot of John Green fans in the blogging world, so I guess this is my next opportunity to ask for advice: having read Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska, which novel of Green's should I check out next?

Interlude

When I started this blog, I liked the phrase "Book Self" (which many still mistakenly read as bookshelf) because I feel that the books a person reads can sometimes give a snapshot peek at revealing their personality or occasionally their life circumstances. Since I don't often post a lot of personal information about myself on this blog, I thought it might be fun to post about a few books I've been reading lately, which do reveal quite a bit about me.

The first is a book I received for Christmas.  It's not a cover-to-cover reading but rather a reference one that's better digested in portions according to applicable information in it.  This is the latest edition of it, but I know it's been around for a long time and came highly recommended.  

What to Expect When You're Expecting

The next was given to me by a coworker.  It had been sitting on her shelf and she figured it would come in handy more as a resource to me than collecting dust at her house.
The Pregnancy Book: Month-by-Month, Everything You Need to Know from America's Baby Experts

The third was a gift from a sweet friend in my Bible study group.  It's not as factually heavy as the other two and takes a lighthearted and Christian perspective with a great emphasis on both humor and prayer - two things I always try to incorporate plenty of in my life!
The Christian Mama's Guide to Having a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Survive (and Love) Your Pregnancy

And finally, this one may be my favorite for it's sheer level of hilarity and absurdity and was also a gift from friends. My husband and I began reading the opening chapters together and our reading was often interrupted by laughter breaks. 
Let's Panic About Babies! How to Endure and Possibly Triumph over the Adorable Tyrant who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain, and Finally Turn You Into A Worthwhile Human Being

As with every BIG step in life - whether it's graduation, new job, new home, new relationship - it's great to have good books to with you.  I've been bouncing between these titles pretty often in the past few months (which explains some of my recent blog-neglect) so I don't have reviews of any of them yet, but I look forward to sharing my thoughts on them in the future.  If anyone has a great or not-so-great experience with any of these titles, I'd love to hear your opinions.  Or, if there's a book I haven't listed that you consider a MUST read on the subject, I'd love that advice as well!

And to answer the first two obvious questions: 
End of July; No, I'm not finding out!