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

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Rating: ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 17 to 20, 2013
Read count: 1

One star for the story and ½ star for reminding me how much I miss my alma mater, though it was no Oxford.

A good friend suggested this book. She and I have overlapping tastes in urban fantasy, and since she enjoyed this book, I thought I would too. The premise sounded interesting, what with elemental magic, a long lineage of witchcraft, historical tie-ins, a love of old books, and—of course—vampires. What’s not to like, right?

What I was expecting:
Something along the line of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic but with more otherworldly creatures.

What I got:
Twilight, but written for people who think they’re too good for actual Twilight.
Twilight, but written for people who want a grown-up version of Twilight.

Well, that’s not fair. It’s better than Twilight, though only in the grammatical sense. Sentences are fully formed and rarely interrupted by inconsequential thoughts, but that’s not to say the writing doesn’t suffer from quirks of its own. The word “scholar” is thrown around a lot to remind readers that the main character, Diana, is in fact a scholar—at Oxford! no less, which is a big deal! Otherwise you’d never guess she’s an academic; no way to tell based on how little she knows of actual research. These little reminders only highlight how juvenile and shallow the writing is.

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Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: July 08 to 17, 2013
Read count: 1

What more can be said other than everyone should read it. At least once. You won’t be disappointed. Kay is a great prose writer. It doesn’t even matter if fantasy isn’t your thing because this book does not read like fantasy. It reads like the sort of well-written historical fiction that weaves in myths to tell the tales of a lost time. A personal favorite combination, I must admit. Also, I’m coming off of a dramatic final battle/confrontation scene… so this is a hugely biased review.

There isn’t much that can be said about this book without giving the story away, but I’ll try to sum up the foundation on which the story is built.

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Review: A Time of Myths by Chris Blamires

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 05 to 11, 2013
Read count: 2

The story, or rather stories, takes place in the US, England, and Greece during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Five English students cross paths at Woodstock, then something big happens to them (each of them are affected personally), they part ways and occasionally run into each other again several times throughout the years at several different locations. There is a central mystery that brings these five characters together repeatedly. I can’t say what it is or even hint at it because–this is the only time you’ll ever hear me say it–the fun is in not really knowing what it is… until the end, that is. You’ll find out at the end. (Don’t visit the Amazon book page if you don’t want to be spoiled.)

“But how is that mythic?” asked a bunch of people who wanted to know what I was reading on break and on the light rail.

The modern day events echo mythological tropes.

The myths in the story refer to classic/canonized mythology–think Joseph Campbell–that serve as backdrop to the modern day stories. The mythic aspect of the stories comes in the form of interweaving the past and present together to tell a story (with multiple subplots) and piece together a mystery. So of course there is time travel, but it’s not convoluted, which is a testament to the narration.

The mystery is pretty good, and that’s the reason most people are drawn to this book, but for me, it was the writing that held my attention.

The only thing that keeps this book from a 5-star rating is the beginning. It was slow to start and didn’t hold my interest much. I didn’t become invested until near the end.

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Must admit it was the cover that drew my attention to this book and made me enter the giveaway, of which I won a signed copy.

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 01 to 05, 2013
Read count: 1

The Hamids are a Palestinian family living in the West Bank. Once they had a good life, but then the Israeli government took over and forced them from their home and business. They, along with thousands of families in similar situation, had to relocate to the West Bank and live in refugee-camp-like settlements. This, though, was only the beginning of Israeli oppression. The book goes on to describe daily hardship Palestinians face under Israeli rule, such as strict curfews and regulations, airstrikes, harsh punishments for petty crimes, direct and indirect discrimination, systematic destruction of Palestinian cultures and religious practices, forced labor camp sentences, imprisonment, false treason convictions, and the list goes on.

Ichmad Hamid was only a young boy when his father was taken away to prison. He has to grow up quickly on his own. Fortunately he is intelligent, excels in school, and has a love for math and science. He grows up to become a prominent member of his town/settlement while facing all sorts of Israeli opposition along the way.

The story is mostly told through Ichmad’s experiences and puts the Palestinian struggles in focus. Many of the atrocities described in this book do happen every day in the West Bank. The author didn’t make them up just to tell a story. Readers who aren’t aware or familiar with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians find themselves shocked. Although it may seems like the Hamids and their neighbors are an unfortunate group of people to have so many horrible things happen to them repeatedly, this is what every day life is like for Palestinians.

While I liked how the story weaved fact into fiction, I didn’t like how simple and two-dimensional the characters were. Although readers are able to empathize with the Hamids’ and other families in the settlement, empathy without understanding is ultimately empty. The book’s expositions explain the context in which some of these unfortunate situations happen, but they don’t explain enough.

On the other hand, it would be somewhat confusing for someone without some prior knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to follow this book. So the expositions are necessary, though I don’t think unfamiliar readers would get a true picture of how complex and weighed down the situations in Palestine are. So perhaps plan to do some extra reading before starting this book?

Also, while this book is well written, there are a few moments when the writing takes on a propaganda-like style when describing unfortunate events happening consecutively to the Hamid household. This is unfortunate because we rarely see the Palestinian side of the conflict depicted in books, and a book about Palestine to be seen as propaganda would only strengthen certain prevailing prejudices that a lot of people already have. (I’m trying really hard to stay objective in this review. Can ya tell?)

I see many reviewers lamenting that they regret this book is fiction and not fact. I don’t have this problem. Facts are hard to swallow. Statistics are cold. Death tolls do not tell you about the people who died, why they died, or what killed them. That’s why a story such as this one would leave a bigger impression than news reports. (It’s usually just a blurb because, let’s face it, media outlets don’t cover Palestinian stories for more than a few seconds.)

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I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

Original review can be found here.