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!