Last week, sitting in Oxford University’s atmospheric Bodleian Library, Dr. Diana Bishop and I brushed fingers over an ancient manuscript … and slipped into the compelling enchantment of Deborah Harkness’s “A Discovery of Witches.” Harkness drew me more deeply under her spell as she threw each new challenge at her compelling heroine, Diana, a witch in denial who has turned her back on her family heritage. In “A Discovery of Witches” the author weaves an ancient complex mythology of witches, vampires, and demons linked both by DNA and centuries of a covenant that allows them to cohabit uneasily without attracting human notice.
The true beauty of “A Discovery of Witches” lies in the complex relationships of it’s characters — the growing complexities of love between Diana and the fifteen hundred year old scientist Matthew; the tangled love and pain of Matthew’s relationships with his fierce vampire mother, his dangerous brother, and his beloved sons both living and lost; between Diana and the ghosts of her parents who sacrificed their lives for her and left a mysterious chain of clues to her true destiny; between all these people and an ancient order of knights.
As I neared the end of Witches I wanted to hurry, to find out what happens to these wonderful people – and at the same time an unwillingness to reach the end. I’m not about to give any spoilers for those of you who haven’t yet read Deborah Harkness’s beautiful, exciting, and very satisfying story. I’ll just say that I love the way this book ended and was thrilled to realize that the ending was not an ending, but a door to a new beginning. A visit to the author’s website confirmed that A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy.
Hats off to a new mistress of storytelling, world building, and fantastic fiction. When book two comes along, I’m first in line – wand thank the Goddess for eBooks because wherever I am, I know I’ll be able to purchase it in the e-niverse
A Discovery of Witches: A Novel is available in Hardcover and as a Kindle Ebook from Amazon
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Slipping gently into the enchanting story world of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, I’m falling under the spell of authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story is told through a series of letters written and received by post-war British author Juliet Ashton, who is searching for a new book idea. After receiving a letter from a Guernsey resident who found her name written in a book, Juliet falls into correspondence with a growing number of Guernsey residents. As the authors reveal their story world and characters layer by layer, I am falling under their spell. How delightful to fall in story-love layer by gentle layer, a subtle treasure in a world of fast-immersion fiction.
Paperback available at Amazon Books The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader’s Circle)
Kindle Edition The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
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A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Nevil Shute is one of my favorite authors, and A Town Like Alice is my favorite of his novels. A twentieth-century British author, Shute is probably best known for On the Beach, which became a major motion picture staring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in 1959 . I read Shute as a teen, then again as a young woman, and … again and again. Although Shute himself was quite modest as an author, his books have lived on and have been republished many times after his death in 1960. Most of his books are available in new editions, and also as eBooks.
A Town Like Alice, also published as The Legacy is one of the few Shute books based on a true story. The heroine is taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II, and because there is no available prison camp for women in the area, she is marched with a group of women and children from town to town in Malaya. This story is filled with adventure, romance, and typical of Nevil Shute, the heroism of ordinary people. The story timeline is focused on the post-war years in England and Australia, with well integrated and suspenseful flashbacks to the war experiences of hero and heroine.
A masterful book by a master, and one I’ve read at least ten times over the years. If you haven’t read Nevil Shute, give him a try!
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TDark Lover by J.R. Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’d been resisting Dark Lover for months before I read it in 2006. I had read several of Anne Rice’s vampire novels a few years earlier and decided it wasn’t a genre I had any further interest in. So when one of my writer friends announced that she’d just read a great vampire book by J R Ward, I didn’t follow up. Then it became two writers, then three, and suddenly lunches with my three closest writer friends were filled with excited references to JR Ward’s “Brotherhood” of vampire warriors. Three very different writers, two of whom I wouldn’t have thought would be interested in vampires unless they moved into the house next door. These women had very different reading tastes, yet all three were all in awe of what JR Ward had done in this book.
So I borrowed Dark Lover and became fascinated by the power of its author. Dark Lover hooked me on page one, drawing me into a dark romantic fantasy with powerful characters. As an author I’m fascinated by the way Ward can take dark characters I would run from in real life and grab me by the gut. Many of the mysteries and thrillers I like have a dark twist, but Ward mixes the darkness with romance in a heroic way that instantly put her at the top of my to-be-read list.
I couldn’t put Dark Lover down until I found out what happened to Wrath, the blind king of the vampires and head of a brotherhood of warriors; to Beth, the dissatisfied reporter who has no idea she’s the daughter of the vampire Darius and about to turn into a vampire herself; and Butch, the violent cop I didn’t want to like.
J R Ward is an author who breaks all the rules – or what seem to be the rules – and does it so well, with characters so alive and vital that they sweep me into her world and make me love it. Generally I’m not a big fan of vampire books, but JR Ward’s Brotherhood is something else. Hats off to a powerful writer who created an irresistible book that propelled me out looking for book 2, which luckily had already been published!
If you haven’t read any of J. R. Ward’s books, give Dark Lover a try. If you become a Brotherhood fan like I did, there are seven more Brotherhood books waiting for you, and the ninth, Lover Unleashed, comes out in March 2011.
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Recently EC Sheedy suggested I try Lee Child’s Jack Reacher mystery series. Any recommendation from EC is gold, so I went looking for Jack Reacher and I found fictional gold.
Years ago I began writing my own stories because I love great characters and I’d exhausted the local library’s ability to satisfy my hunger for a good story. But like every writer I know, I treasure the experience of falling in love with a new-to-me author as I’m drawn into the life of an amazing character.
Lee Child’s Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, No. 1) opens with the mysterious Reacher handling his own bewildering arrest with the calmness of a master-strategist. The story quickly mushrooms onto a big-canvas with fast-moving events that don’t let up, yet the pace is breathlessly relaxed because both Reacher and his creator know exactly what they’re doing.
Lee Child has created a brilliant character in Jack Reacher. He gave his protagonist a respectable high-profile military background that taught him all the skills a tough hero needs, gave him the motivation to be a rambling loner, then set him up in Book One of the series as a detective character I can’t wait to read again. The plot is brilliant, the characters well-motivated and fascinating. Reacher’s personal motivation drives the story and kept me hooked throughout. I guessed a couple of the key pieces of the bad guys scenario along the way, which stroked my ego nicely, but I had lots of surprises as Reacher followed the twists of a master villain’s plot, rescuing the innocent and devastating the guilty.
My hat is off to Lee Child for creating one of the best “first episodes” of a continuing character mystery I’ve read in a long time! The author’s skill and the connection I felt to Reacher reminds me of Lawrence Block’s masterful Matt Scudder mysteries.
I just had a birthday the other day and I feel like I’ve been given a rare birthday present. I’ve fallen in love with an author’s detective character, and there are still fourteen published Reacher novels I haven’t read yet!
From one writer to another – Thank you, Lee Child.
This posting is also available on the Pen Warriors Blog