Category Archives: Paranormal

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy #1)

My favorite book of last year in the paranormal romance genre is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The funny thing is, I hated the book when I began reading. The story starts off sounding trite and ridiculous: a witch falls in love with a vampire, there’s a mysterious secret society of creatures out to destroy their love, she has a photographic memory, they’re both really into yoga? Ugh. One of the most irritating and unlikely things we are asked to believe is one that only a current or former academic might recognize: the heroine got tenure at Yale???  That’s almost as ridiculous as the fact that James Franco is currently a doctoral student in their English Department (yes, that one unfortunately is true). Needless to say, the first fifty pages of this book piqued my annoyance rather than my interest…and then something happened. I was swept away by the story, compelled to read late into the night by an increasingly complex and riveting plot.

The book follows the romance blossoming between Diana Bishop, historian and non-practicing witch, and Matthew Clairmont, scientist and vampire, as they navigate increasingly dangerous waters stirred up when Diana manages to call up a bewitched manuscript from the stacks at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Author Deborah Harkness, an actual historian who teaches European History and the History of Science at UCLA, legitimizes her characters with her extensive history chops, which is one of the reasons why this book stands heads and shoulders above so many other entries into this genre. Harkness hasn’t just “done her homework” in order to write a book; she is quite literally an expert on the subject about which she writes.

But the book’s charm lies outside of whether or not it is historically accurate. Harkness writes with such warmth about her characters that they, for lack of a better term, feel like home. The book really hits its stride in the final third, which takes place in upstate New York, where we meet several of the books most memorable characters.
As it turns out, the book is the first in a planned trilogy (the All Souls Trilogy), so we must all wait together for the next installment of the further adventures of Diana and Matthew.

Why you might love this book: Harkness has crafted a captivating and compelling story that is a pleasure to read.

Why you might not love this book: You have to get through the almost obnoxious introduction of our too perfect heroine. Once you get to know her, she’s really okay, I promise.

Rating: Five out of five black cats.

 

 

Publisher: Viking Adult (February 2011)

ISBN-10: 0670022411

ISBN-13: 978-0670022410


To Kill a Warlock by H.P. Mallory

I really wanted to love To Kill a Warlock by H.P. Mallory, the first book in the Dulcie O’Neil series, because it came very highly recommended to me by the arcane reader’s favorite source for new books. I wanted to love it so much that I went on to read all three books in the Dulcie O’Neil series just to make sure I wasn’t missing the whole point (I am nothing if not a dogged and loyal researcher). At this juncture, however, I am going to have to come out and say it: this series is just not worth reading, and I will tell you why (with a bit of exposition about my philosophy on writing and reading–with apologies to my loyal readers).

I started this blog because I find my fascination with popular paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. a hilarious juxtaposition to my hard-won credentials as an English Ph.D. and a scholar of literature. I read contemporary science fiction/fantasy for fun, while researching Shakespeare was my “work.” That being said, some of the most enjoyable literature that I have read has been the more modern fiction (The Magicians, for example, and even The Hunger Games). Good fiction isn’t and doesn’t have to be highbrow: it just has to be good.

Granted, a lot of the books I’m reviewing might not stand up to severe literary standards, and they do not have to: they are enjoyable, in part, because they are easy to read. Good fiction and good storytelling, however, should not be impeded by bad or hasty writing, and that is the problem with the Dulcie O’Neil series (now we are going back to the review).

H.P. Mallory has created a fun and interesting world in which supernatural creatures have been out of the closet for 50 years and are regulated by the Association of Netherworld Creatures (ANC) in whose employ is her heroine, Dulcie O’Neil, a sassy fairy who works as a Regulator (think law enforcement) in this world of vampires, Lokis, goblins, and witches. Even with new twists, however, the series feels like an echo, repeating (albeit with a difference) so many other books of the same ilk. While the plot travels along quickly enough, there is always a niggling sense that we, as readers, have been here before and we wonder, perhaps, if maybe we already read this book and just forgot about it.

In the book, Dulcie dreams of becoming a writer of romance novels (and even a paranormal romance), and she completes her new book in under two months, all while working full-time. I couldn’t help but wonder if both Dulcie and Ms. Mallory should reconsider their timeline and perhaps take some more time in crafting their masterpieces. Although we never read Dulcie’s book, the sense I kept getting from To Kill a Warlock was that it was hastily and unconscientiously put together (a conversation about whether this is an indictment of the whole epublishing phenom we will have to reserve for a later date). All that being said, craft improves and writing gets better, so I hope this is not the last we’ll here from Ms. Mallory.

Why you might love this book: The plot is entertaining and fans of Mallory will no doubt love it.

Why you might not love this book: The writing is weak and it distracts from enjoyment of the book.

Rating: Two out of five black cats.

Publisher: Epublished only


Drink Deep by Chloe Neill

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been waiting for the arrival Drink Deep, the fifth installment of Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampire series since I read all four of the previous books in the series in two days over the summer. I would also be lying if I, like most of Neill’s intelligent readers, weren’t waiting with two specific questions in mind (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the fourth book in the series):

  1. How is Neill going to bring master vampire, love interest, and man candy, Ethan Sullivan, back from the dead?
  2. How many books will it take to do so?

While I am certainly not able to answer these questions in this review, I can tell you that, as readers, we are destined to do some more waiting in this book. We are waiting, endless pages, for Merit to quit mourning Sullivan and get back to being the sassy “Ponytailed Avenger” that has made her one of the leading lights in the paranormal/urban fantasy lit market. We are waiting for Neill to allow her heroine to solve the latest “mystery” offered for this book: this time it is the natural landscape of Chicago that has gone haywire, with lakes turning black and skies turning red. Perhaps most frustrating about all of this waiting is that Neill shows her hand a bit too early in the book, and the reader will have figured out what is causing all the trouble long before the book gets around to revealing it.

All this waiting, however, is not without perks. Merit, even languishing in grief, is better than no Merit at all, and there are a number of entertaining side plots to keep us entertained. Moreover, Neill leaves the reader with a satisfying ending with a big enough cliffhanger that this reader will definitely be coming back for the next installment.

Why you might love this book: In a word: Merit. Also, you knew you were going to read it anyway!
Why you might not love this book: Neill has dug herself a bit of a hole here, as this book has to stand next to the other books in the series, and it just doesn’t have quite the same sass and style as its predecessors.

Rating: Three out of five black cats.

Publisher: Penguin USA

ISBN: 9780451234865