The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

This book featured gallons of tea, buckets of tea, maybe even an overflowing river of tea. Maybe that was the problem – maybe the characters would have been more interesting had they been coffee drinkers. Or if Diana, the wimpy, non-practicing-witch protagonist, had worn something other than black leggings and baggy blue sweaters. And when did it become necessary for every story involving a witch to also include vampires? At least they’re not zombies. I can’t get into zombies at all.

Am I sounding cranky about this book? I actually liked it, for the most part, and just recently recommended it to a friend. It’s not great literature, but it’s good escapism, a classic beach book if you will. I’ll read the sequel. But LET’S JUST STOP WITH THE VAMPIRES ALREADY, OKAY??? I AM SICK AND TIRED OF VAMPIRES!!! I get it, they’re sexy and powerful and mysterious and all that. They’re also over-exposed, and I don’t mean in terms of sunlight. Plus, I like witch books. Can we have more witches without vampires? Please? Look at J. K. Rowling – she did quite well writing a series about witches and wizards, with only the briefest mention of vampires, probably just to shut up the questions about them. It can be done, in other words, and quite successfully.

So I liked A Discovery of Witches, even though it dragged in spots, especially in the middle, which needed to be cut deeply and ruthlessly by an editor with strong opinions about pacing. My favorite characters were Emily (Diana’s Aunt Sarah’s partner) and the Bishop family’s house, which does not talk but is more expressive than 3/4 of the characters who do. I also liked Sophie (the Luna Lovegood equivalent), who comes in very late and is very cute and perceptive. Diana Bishop, though? Eh. Vampire/love-interest Matthew Clairmont? Eh. Matt’s mom, Ysabeau? Eh. The one-dimensional villains? Eh. The ending, which is also the set-up for the next book? Excellent!

So what am I nattering about, anyway? Here’s the plot: Diana Bishop, professor at Yale and last in a long line of extraordinary witches, tries not to use witchcraft for reasons that don’t quite make sense but are eventually spelled out. While doing research at Oxford, she comes across a document that every “creature” – witch, vampire, daemon – seems to know about but her, and they all want it. Since she’s the only one who’s been able to call the document forth, they want her to try again, but she has sent it back to the stacks and there it remains. Only Matthew, Oxford professor and filthy rich vampire, seems to care more about Diana than about what she can do for him. They fall in love, which is expressly forbidden by some agreement made generations ago among the three types of creatures: they won’t date outside of their own kind, if you will. Violating the agreement pisses off both the witches and the vampires – not so much the daemons, who tend to be loose cannons – and unites them against Diana and Matthew. Diana drinks a lot of tea, acts like a wimp, sleeps constantly, fails to make the most basic decisions, and wears black leggings and baggy blue sweaters on most occasions. Eventually I wanted to throttle her, but then the book got interesting again, Diana started communing with ghosts, the mystery of her parents’ gruesome death became a factor, her inability to harness her extraordinary witchcraft powers was explained, and she and Matthew left Ysabeau’s deathly dull French mansion for Sarah and Emily’s delightfully opinionated house in New York. And then the book ended with a set-up for a sequel, which I plan to read despite all the damned vampires that will dilute the presence of my beloved witches.

Speaking of vampires, here’s a question: how did they manage to ride horses before the invention of the automobile? I’ve seen at least a couple of books in which they did, this being one of them. Some vampires fly, which would get around that question. But for those that don’t, how do they avoid chomping down on their live transportation when they go into a feeding frenzy? If the humans they care about are in danger, why aren’t their horses?

Anyway, no gruesome animal stuff happens in this book. Matthew has an entire stable of horses at Ysabeau’s place in France, and they’re fine.

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October 24, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, death of a parent, families, fantasy, horses, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Vampire Smackdown! Harris vs. Harrison

Does Sookie Stackhouse rule? Is it happening in The Hollows? How on earth did I end up reading all these vampire books, anyway?

Let’s answer that last question first, then we’ll get down to the business of comparing the two series. Back in the 1980s and 90s, I read the Anne Rice vampire books until Rice’s storytelling became awful. (Her first books were very good.) So when my now-defunct book group decided to read the first Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris, I agreed. And I read further into the series, having enjoyed that first book. Later, when I started my food blog, I Hate Tomatoes! , a friend suggested I read Kim Harrison’s series, The Hollows, in which tomatoes are the source of all evil, at least to the human characters. And so I did. And here we are.

And I thought I’d do a vampire smackdown, comparing the two series, since they are both fairly popular. Granted, the protagonist of The Hollows is a witch. But she’s surrounded by vampires, including her business partner, and the Sookie Stackhouse series has non-vampires, so it sort of evens out. Details, details.

Which is my favorite????

The Hollows.

Why? As it so often does with me, it becomes a matter of the characters.

I will say that this is by no means a slam on Harris and her dark little world. I find her to be an imaginative writer with an endearing heroine, and obviously many others agree because of her book sales and the fact that she’s got the HBO series. I also find her to be a more precise writer than Harrison (or she has a better editor).

But The Hollows has more depth, and I find Rachel Morgan to be a more active, more understandable protagonist. Sookie seems very reactive, whereas Rachel’s mind never stops working. I like that. She’s a clever witch whose life moves into increasing shades of grey, as do most people who grasp life’s complexities. She shares her business and her home with Ivy, a lesbian vampire who is her best friend, and Jenks, a pixy with a charming wife (Matalina) and their 54 children.

I stopped reading the Sookie Stackhouse books when I became weary of the frantic action, the violence, and Sookie’s ever-increasing number of enemies, most of whom seem to come from out of nowhere as secondary or even tertiary characters. Plus, Sookie wasn’t very interesting to me.

The Hollows has frantic action and violence, too, but the pacing is better overall, so it doesn’t seem to be a race from one source of chaos to another. Rachel Morgan is a dynamic protagonist who accumulates enemies, friends, and frenemies. And there’s no guessing as to who is going to try to trip her up next. Heroes may become villains and vice-versa, but they’ve all been thoroughly sketched out and presented for us.

So I think Harrison wins the smackdown based on storytelling and characters, but let’s look at the vampires, too.

As for the vampires, Harris has a cadre of erotic mischief-makers, while Harrison’s vampires make me think of the Mafia, Hollywood-style. Harris’s stories are rooted in the human community, while Harrison writes of humans as the inferior majority who are pitied for their inability to appreciate ketchup and their lack of … let’s call it perspective and skills.

I’ve left off both series with both heroines having pissed off a whole bunch of werewolves. I didn’t want to read any more about Sookie Stackhouse, and I ordered the next book in Harrison’s series. So … The Hollows wins the smackdown.

And soon, I will pit Harrison against a mystery author who also writes about the supernatural, including witches and vampires. But for now, she’s the champ!

As for animals, we’re talking about series here, and each book is going to be different. Harris, for example, can have one book that is completely fine for animal lovers followed by another that has a lot of woodland creatures that seem to have died painfully. And in her books, you never know if an animal is really an animal or a shapeshifter or what. A dog is not always a dog, etc.

Harrison has animal characters, on the other hand, and she’s kind to them. Four books in, and I’m still waiting for Mr. Fish to do something other than sit in his bowl on her kitchen windowsill. (I am convinced that Mr. Fish will have some significance, but I am probably wrong.) There’s the rat fight in the first book, but that has a twist. In the fourth book, a kitten comes into the picture.

I am not going to declare a level of safety on these two series. You have my descriptions, and that should tell you enough.

So, Harrison wins the smackdown. Yay, Kim Harrison!

But who does she take on in the next round? (Not that twirpy Twilight series, that’s for sure.)

March 7, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe

Killer concept, isn’t it? Young woman with untapped witchcraft ability finds herself seeking more information about Salem witches? It just didn’t work for me, though.

Connie Godwin’s flaky mother insists that the overburdened Harvard grad student move into her late grandmother’s abandoned house and get it ready for sale. And Connie comes across a mysterious scrap of paper and a key, and ends up tracking down the story of Deliverance Dane and the Salem witch trials. I do like the woo-woo, supernatural detective stories, and I enjoyed this one while I was reading it, but it didn’t really make much of an impression. It was almost as if Howe was writing from a checklist instead of an outline. It wasn’t bad, but I wish it had been better.

As for animals, Connie’s “familiar” is a dog, as a change from the usual cat. Arlo comes to no harm and plays a role in the mystery. So this book is SAFE for animal lovers.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, families, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment