Monday, March 26, 2012

Detectives, witches, vampires, and a little anthropology...

Again, it's been a long time between books read. I hate to use the excuse, again, that I'm busy. But I've been busy. I'm working on two writing projects, one fiction and one non-fiction, and I've been putting a lot of time into both of them this month. I've even been doing a lot of reading as research for the non-fiction project, but bits here and bits there, but not usually in the way of reading a book all the way through.

Some of the books I've been in for that include:

Evolution: The Human Story (Doring Kindersley Limited, 2011; 256 pages), by Dr. Alice Roberts

The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors (Doubleday, 2006; 306 pages), by Ann Gibbons

The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Tink We Know About Human Evolution (Oxford University Press, 1995; 276 pages), by Ian Tattersall

I've read Gibbons's book, and Tattersall's, in their entirety in the past; this time I'm mostly just mining data and checking facts with them. The book by Dr. Roberts is very up-to-date as far as checking dates and catchng up on the (almost) latest theories and discoveries. I've also been reading a lot of joural articles online, especially thanks to my library system's remote access to their online databases. I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet, but I love being able to do research without having to drag myself down to the downtown library in person to access journal articles.

Aside from all that (I'm pretty sure you really didn't want an update on the state of my writing life), I have done some recreational reading this month. Not much, but some.

I read Jonathan Kellerman's most recent Alex Delaware novel, Victims (Ballantine Books, 2012; 338 pages). Since it is a mystery, I won't go into details. Instead, I'll just say that both Alex and his LAPD detective friend, Milo Sturgis, are in top form looking for a serial killer with a particularly gruesome way with his victims. I'm not as big a fan of Mr. Kellerman's as I am of his wife, Faye Kellerman, whose books I've reviewed here recently. But I couldn't put this book down, and in fact stayed up until late at night trying to finish it and ended up falling asleep with th light on when I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. It's one of his better recent outings.

Now I'm reading A Discovery of Witches (Viking, 2011; 579 pages), by Deborah Harkness. I'm very particular about the fantasy I read, and so I rarely pick up a fantsy novel just by browsing the flyleaf description at the library. I've discovered most of my favorite fantasy novelists this way - Tim Powers, Kage Baker, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro among them - but I'm not quick to take a chance on a writer I've never heard of before within the genre. So far, however, I'm really glad I decided to take a chance on this book. I'm 127 pages in and enjoying it thoroughly.

A Discovery of Witches is the story of Dr. Diana Bishop, Oxford-educated historian and witch. Dr. Bishop, the daughter of a powerful witch and an equally powerful wizard, is trying her hardest to be a regular person and not use her powers. However, as the story opens she is back at Oxford on sabbatical from her teaching job in the United States, researching old alchemy manuscripts. One day, while working in the Bodleian Library, she encounters a manuscript that has had a spell cast on it. Her touch overrides the spell and she is able to open and examine it, but the volume frightens her, and she sends it back to the stacks, which reactivates the spell. However, while it was in her hands, every witch in the vicinity becomes aware of its existence. And so does every daemon and every vampire within range. While Dr. Bishop just wants to forget she ever saw the book, all the other creatures (as opposed to humans, who are just oblivious) want to get their hands on it.

One of the vampires who wants the book is Matthew Clairmont, a physician and geneticist, who has been alive at least since the time of Henry VIII. But complication arise when in his efforts to secure the manuscript for himself, he begins to fall in love with Dr. Bishop. Thus, he finds himself protecting her from the crowd of other vampires, daemons and witches clogging the reading rooms of the Bodleian, watching Dr. Bishop and waiting for a chance to pounce on the manuscript, just as the students are returning for a new term.

Also complicating matters is the fact that except for a very few individuals, witches, vampires and daemons do not get on with one another and are, in fact, actively hostile. Even within each group, there are animosities, and just where I am reading now, it becomes increasingly clear that some witches are not above intimidating and threatening their own to get that book.

I'm enjoying Ms. Harkness's writing immensely. The characters are well drawn, and the story is moving right along. I'm going to be very disappointed if the rest of the book is not as good as the beginning has been.

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