Book Review: American Gods

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Central Iowa used to get hit by a lot of bad storms — thunderstorms, snowstorms, even the occasional thundersnow or funnel cloud. We’ve had our share of flash floods and white-out blizzards. But for the past year or so it seems like every storm that approaches somehow swirls perfectly around the city, never hitting us. This is good news for our basements, but bad news for people like me who love severe weather. A friend of mine explained to me that the weather bubble is caused by the Ledges state park, which splits storms off toward the north and south. I’m convinced there’s a budding young witch in the city who doesn’t know her own power just yet. Either way, storms show up on our radar and they look big and powerful and they approach… but they just seem to always be approaching, threatening, never actually hitting us, and then suddenly we realize they’ve passed and we hardly even saw a drop of precipitation.

That’s kind of what American Gods felt like to me.

It’s an interesting premise. Each culture has its own folklore and small gods and magical creatures who thrive on belief, and when people of those cultures immigrated to America, they sort of created American copies of those creatures. Many of them live among us and appear human and have ordinary traits like bad cooking and crappy cars and overactive sex drives. They’re hard to kill and their powers are mostly useless, and they’re not thriving here anymore because new generations of Americans don’t believe in them. We believe in the internet and television and celebrity instead, and we’ve created our own new gods. So the old gods and are rising up against the new.

Caught in the middle of all this is Shadow, who is such a blank canvas of a character i don’t even know how to feel about him. He’s not bad. He’s not really good, either. He just goes with the flow. He’s not stupid, but he doesn’t have thoughts or opinions or even questions about things for the vast majority of the book. He starts to give a shit at the end, but up until then i kind of don’t get him.

The story is mainly a midwestern road trip. Kind of boring and unglamorous. The characters are actually driving around the midwest in shitty vehicles, stopping at tourist traps and small towns, mainly to have brief chats with god people. Nothing much happens. It’s a story of a gathering storm, but the storm doesn’t even break. It gives one little clap of thunder and a few fat raindrops, so to speak, and then it’s over. A few mildly cool things and one giant and rather perplexing allegory happen at the end, but all in all i was left feeling underwhelmed.

There were a few short stories sprinkled throughout the first half about people who came to America and brought gods with them, or about the gods doing their weird things here in America. Those were kind of interesting, and i was sorry when they stopped happening. There wasn’t enough explanation of the American gods’ backstories for my taste. I could have and should have done a lot of Wikipedia searching while i read this book, but i was just trying to get through it.

I don’t really understand why there was a murder mystery sub-plot. I don’t think it added much to the story; it felt unnecessary and not very well developed.

I read this book because a lot of my friends really like it, and because i was in the mood for a darker fantasy. I thought it was enjoyable enough, but i don’t feel like i got it. It may be one of those stories that’s more fun the second time around when you know what’s really going on, so maybe i’ll listen to the author’s extended edition some day.

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Book Review: The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: I’d just like to announce that this marks my 101st book review on Goodreads! I don’t post all of them here, because many of them are dashed off pretty quickly. You’re still missing out, though.

This book is a fun survival story that masterfully scratches the collective itch that is our curiosity about humanity’s next step into the universe. It’s a refreshingly realistic look at what going to Mars actually means, and what it would mean if the endeavor went slightly wrong. It’s an adventure story that will translate well to the big screen. But i have some major qualms with the book as a whole.

I do appreciate the sense of humor that Weir imbued pretty much all of his characters with. It makes them likable and it’s one of Mark Watney’s most important tools for survival. But likable characters don’t make the most compelling stories. A lot of the jokes were used repeatedly and got old by the end of the book. And i would’ve liked to see some other aspect of Mark Watney. He was just too upbeat about everything all the time. There was no heart-wrenching “Wilson!” scene, nothing. I get that astronauts are chosen for their mental resilience, but still. He went through some serious shit.

The rest of the characters in the book are just tools, honestly. They’re not fleshed-out, they’re just there to do their jobs. And i have to say that i thought the female characters were treated pretty unfairly. Of the dozen or so scientists in the story, just three are women. This is the future, throw us a bone! Johansson is the victim of repeated sexual harassment and we’re supposed to think this is funny. And the one and only time we go into a person’s head in this entire book (about isolation and survival!) is to learn that minor character Mindy wishes she were pretty like minor character Anna. Why? In what way was that necessary? The really ironic thing about it is that Mindy is a scientist who has earned her master’s degree and resents the fact that she’s being made to spend her days deciphering photographs. So, NASA is shitting on her professionally, and the author is shitting on her psychologically, exposing her inner feelings for absolutely no reason.

But, the characters were not the point of the book. Man’s innovative mind and will to survive and unfailing willingness to help his brother is the point of the book. The story is very, very detailed. We know precisely what goes wrong to strand Watney on Mars and exactly the measures he takes to survive, down to the many calculations he makes to repeatedly ration and stretch his oxygen, food, water, etc. All of these calculations and shufflings of things to and fro and repairs and modifications of complicated equipment were really cool at first, but wore on me by about the middle of the book. I’m sure they wore tremendously on Watney, too. We were both glad when the action picked up again toward the end of the book.

It’s a fun read, not a great work of literature. I do recommend it, despite the dearth of compelling characters.

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2014 In Review: Life

Normally the Year In Review is the one Life blog post that i make sure to write before the end of each year. I like reflecting on the year and wrapping everything up in a neat little month-by-month post with pictures as visual aids. But this year i haven’t really felt the urge to write it yet. I did a horrible job of taking pictures outside of our Europe trip, for one thing, and for another i just haven’t felt terribly reflective this time around the block. For once, i spent December working to bring light to the darkest days of the year, and i spent New Year’s Eve sparkling and laughing with a heaping handful of some of my favorite people in the world rather than swallowing back tears, and i spent New Year’s Day starting work on a new story and a new read. I didn’t really pause to think a lot about 2014.

It was a really good year. It absolutely FLEW by, especially the first half. Nothing terribly bad happened—knock on wood. There was a moment when i had to step back and take a hard look at myself and decide to make an effort to be more empathetic, and that was actually really hard for me. But i think i’m improving, and it’s worth it. The year was mostly just a series of good things, which is all that a person can really ask for. There was a lot of Cards Against Humanity playing. That game… I don’t know.

JANUARY

NYE 2013 started off good but then it sucked and i cried and it’s not worth talking about. I’m over it. One of the goals that i set for 2014 was to try a local dance class, so in January, i did. I went to an adult hip-hop dance class, and i was one of two students in it. And thank goodness there weren’t more of us, because the studio was about the size of a shoebox. I didn’t go back, and i’m still keeping a wistful eye out for a dance class in Des Moines that i can join. I might have to break down and try Zumba instead.

FEBRUARY

In February we went to Baconfest, which involved 1. a very expensive ticket (which i shouldn’t complain about because they were gifted to us), 2. standing in line outside at the fairgrounds in frigid February for what felt like an hour, 3. standing in more, shorter lines inside to get very small but complimentary strips of bacon from different companies, and 4. paying more money for crazy bacon-infused foods of all sorts from the myriad restaurants in town. There was live music and a bacon queen and stuff. I was cranky, but it was pretty cool i guess. I wouldn’t pay to go back.

Our buddy Mike turned thirty so we went to Up-Down (the arcade bar) and El Bait Shop (the beer bar) with him and a bunch of friends. I think they continued on to other adventures, but we pooped out early because it’s getting hard to close the bars down these days. Mike seemed pretty happy, unlike some people who are also turning thirty right about now.

MARCH

I think it was in March that i had my gastroscopy and learned that my heartburn is sort of imaginary. In any case, there’s nothing wrong with my upper GI, so that was wonderful news. It was also in March that i made a road trip to the twin cities with Calee to see the Arcade Fire. We stayed with her fiancé’s family and they fed me stuff and let me use a bedroom in their lovely house for free, both of which are always hugely appreciated. Cards (Against Humanity) were played. Calee and i made a good team at IKEA, and i scored a couple of bookcases for $20 off. There may have been a little bit of a meltdown at one point, but eventually we managed to eat dinner and get our butts to the show and we weren’t even late. Dan Deacon sort of sucked, but the Arcade Fire was amazing. I ended up really glad i went.

APRIL

In April i joined Calee again for the Har Mar Superstar show at the new Social Club here in DSM. I really didn’t know what i was in for when i agreed to that show. Har Mar has been described as looking like Ron Jeremy, but i think he looks even a little skeezier. And he likes to take his top off and act all sexy while he sings. Excellent voice, but not so pleasing on the eyes. (Yes, i get that that’s supposed to be amusing and/or empowering, but for me it was just weird.) And Gloom Balloon was not my kind of show, either. Thank goodness for MAIDS. I enjoyed them quite a lot, and in fact that reminds me that i need to buy their album…

MAY

In May i took my mama to Ewing Park as a Mother’s Day date. The lilacs were in bloom and the place just smelled like heaven. It’s one of the best things about Des Moines. Later in the month, Nathan and i drove down to St. Louis for my brother’s birthday celebration. We did an epic vertical of The Abyss, a big imperial stout. It was interesting how a couple of the bottles somehow stood out; I think about three years old was the sweet spot, if i remember correctly. We played Cards Against Humanity. For the first time, but not the last, i didn’t win.

JUNE

In June Nathan and i went to see Electric Six at the Vaudeville Mews for the second time. It was worth staying up for. Later in the month we flew to Oregon for my sister’s wedding. Hanging out with my family at Eugene’s excellent beer spots was good fun. The coast was beautiful, as always. We even managed to catch a perfect sunset! I got to see my Dad’s new house, and got a huge surprise when he gave me an old popcorn tin full of my long-lost My Little Ponies. The wedding was really beautiful, and i wish i’d camped out at the Tipi village there like my sister had wanted me to.

Ponies!

Me and my sister
Me and Nathan
Wedding photos courtesy of Amanda Basteen

JULY

In July i went to 80/35 with my friend Emily again. The lineup this year was pretty disappointing, but we did get to see Best Coast and Surfer Blood, both of which were a lot of fun. The men joined us at the festival later in the evening, since i assumed there would be a fireworks show on the 4th like there was a few years back. Not the case. So, we got kind of screwed out of fireworks this year. I may end up sitting 80/35 out in 2015 unless they book someone i really want to see.

Later in the month our buddy Justin got married, and Nathan was a groomsman in the wedding. It was the kind of reception you could dance at—as long as you didn’t mind pretty bad music and a somewhat sweltering barn—and so of course i did just that. I wore a very shimmery dress and it was a lot of fun. We managed to take a six-person selfie with Nathan’s family (that doesn’t show my dress at all, sorry).

selfie

AUGUST

In August i suddenly decided that it was time for us to add a third car to our fleet, and so we found and brought home the 2009 Honda Fit (in Blackberry Pearl). It’s pretty cute and fuel-efficient, and it’s supposed to be very safe and reliable. I’m happy with it.

I had a low-key birthday party at which we played not Cards Against Humanity but Munchkin, and discovered that we liked the game a lot. On my actual birthday Nathan and i went to the Iowa State Fair again. We had somehow never had a peppermint ice cream sandwich from the Bauder’s Pharmacy cart, and when that was rectified it was a real epiphany. I also got a henna tattoo on my arm, and we watched a goat showing that was nearly as silly as we had hoped it would be.

Toward the end of the month we took a trip to Decorah on some rather confusing information about a beloved beer that turned out not to actually be there just yet. We made the most of it by going to see the eagles and venturing a very short way into a very interesting cave. I also bought a beautiful journal in the bookstore there that was used to document our Europe trip, so all was not in vain.

I went to see Future Islands by myself here in DSM, and i’m kind of glad i didn’t bring anyone because it was a strange show. There was a lot of pantomiming of eating things, and i don’t think i’ve ever seen anyone sweat so profusely. Good music, weird show.

SEPTEMBER

In September we went to Zombie Burger with some friends and family to celebrate Nathan’s 30th birthday! And then we hopped on a plane for Europe. I’ve told the first part of that story, and i might even tell the second half some day. For the record, Vienna was my favorite part. It’s an amazing city. Oktoberfest in Munich was good inebriated fun. I was proud of the amount i drank, and i didn’t even get sick! It’s like an enormous carnival, though, and there was no way i was getting on a carnival ride after all that. Still, it was fun to walk around and look at everything. And there was plenty of fun stuff to eat and shop for and take pictures of. It was a good time even for a lightweight like me.

OCTOBER

In October my alcohol tolerance was put to the test once again at Nathan’s exclusive birthday beer tasting party. What i had learned at Oktoberfest was to stuff myself with plenty of bready foods before drinking, and that method coupled with lots and lots of tap and bottled water was effective in getting me through all of the twentyish strong beers (which were each split many ways and spread out over many hours, but it was still a fair amount of alcohol for a single day). I tried them all! And once again did not get sick. Good job, me.

Jimmy Eat World just happened to play Des Moines on Calee’s 30th birthday, so obviously that’s how we celebrated it. They played the entire Futures album because it was ten years old, which is just weird. I remember when that album was brand new, when i was in college. Was that really a decade ago?

Unfortunately my employer had to lay off twenty percent of the payroll in October, but my job was spared. I’m really not confident that the company will last more than a couple more years, but the Powers That Be are, for whatever reason. So we’ll just have to see what happens. I’m not leaving yet, and if you’re curious as to why i’d be happy to tell you (it’s not interesting), but it’s not a very relevant thing to talk about here.

I ran outside not once but TWICE this fall! I usually like to take one run in the cemetery on the most perfectest day of the year, but there were a couple of days that were irresistibly pretty this October, so i doubled my usual achievement. (I run indoors a couple times a week, i just don’t much like running outside the way normal human beings do.)

I carved pumpkins at Emily’s house and i think went to a book club meeting at a member’s gorgeous backyard patio in Norwalk in October, and just generally walked around loving everything. I love October so much. Love love love.

Oh, and we went to a Halloween party dressed as Wayne & Garth from Wayne’s World. I was Wayne, wearing a hat that i puff-painted the WW logo onto very nicely, freehand, and Nathan was Garth. I fluffed up his long hair as best i could, but it’s so thick and heavy! It’s not fair.

NOVEMBER

In November i participated in NaNoWriMo again. And won! But i’m still hugely unsatisfied with the quality of my fiction writing. So in 2015 i’m going to try to write every single day, even if only a paragraph, and focus on quality instead. I just want to write a few good short stories, i don’t care about writing a novel right now. I don’t think i’ll be doing WriMo again unless i develop some mad new skills before then.

Thanksgiving was really nice, and then we went Bourbon County pillaging shopping on Black Friday. I’m not a big fan of getting up at like 5 a.m., but my husband does a lot for me, so i do this for him once or twice a year. Plus, it’s really excellent beer.

A friend of ours had a surprise 30th birthday party at Skate North, so we went rollerblading at an actual roller rink for the first time since about 8th grade. It was so much fun! If only it hadn’t been 100° in the place, and if only my feet hadn’t started blistering after an hour or so. I kind of want to go back really bad. I might have to copy the idea for my 30th, but who knows how hot it will be in there in August if it was that hot in November?

Skating party

DECEMBER

In December(ish?) my brother passed his licensure exam for psychology!! So he came up here to visit and let us help him celebrate. A couple of my cousins were also visiting, so we got together with a bunch of the in-towners and played—you guessed it!—Cards Against Humanity. Which is an extremely awkward game for family to play together, but it was fun anyway. We’re all pretty weird. My aunt Vicki cleaned the floor with all of us though, which sucked.

I finally got to host a book club discussion about The Night Circus! I went overboard, serving caramel corn and chocolate mice and mulled cider and cinnamon twists and red wine, and gifting each guest with a red rêveur scarf. I hung extra white Christmas lights up around the windows and played Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus playlist. I only ended up with four guests, but it was totally worth it. I love that book so much, and to be able to inspire a little bit of that love in each of them was awesome.

I got to see a couple of other dear, dear out-of-town friends this December. You know, i might be starting to love December, even if i still hate Christmas music…

Christmas (Eve/Christmas Day) was lovely. Christmas is always lovely, isn’t it? I really enjoy picking out gifts for people—even more than i like getting gifts, i think, although i got a lot of very thoughtfully-chosen gifts this year and i’m very thankful. My family and friends know me really well, and that makes me feel all kinds of loved. Christmas to me is all about family and light and showing a little bit of love, so that’s what i tried to do this year. It’s a joy to make the effort when it comes to Christmas.

Nathan finished up his beautiful bar in our basement just in time for our New Year’s Eve party. I love it, and i’m super proud of him. He put a lot of work into our bar, and i hope we get to use it for many years to come. The party was wonderful and there were so many people and so many conversations and tasty things to eat and drink, and all six or seven hours of it flew by in the blink of an eye just like our wedding did, even though there was a lot less dancing involved. Those of us who made it until midnight toasted with sparkling wine and popped those confetti cracker things and blew on noisemakers, and it was wonderful and a great mess to clean up the next morning, but totally worth it. A couple friends who crashed at our house even got us breakfast and helped clean up. We’re very lucky. There are a few of our friends who will sadly be leaving Iowa in the next couple of years, but for now i just feel connected and happy and very fortunate to have them so near.

NYE Me!

If 2015 is anything like 2014, it’ll be a wonderful year. I’ll turn thirty this year. Bring it on! It’s going to be great fun, and i anticipate that my thirties are going to probably be better than my twenties were. So, thank you to everyone who made 2014 great. I’m going to try to pay it back this year. Let’s make it another great one!

My 2014 Song of the Year award goes to Red Eyes by The War on Drugs. We were listening to it when midnight struck. I can’t get enough of it.

2014 Europe Trip, Part I

We recently took a trip to Europe, and we did so much in two mere weeks that the task of writing about it has been daunting. We visited three countries and seven cities, heard four or five different languages, tried dozens of different beers and foods and saw a million beautiful things. It was exhausting, but it was also really cool.

It was Nathan’s 30th birthday and his mom’s 50th this September, so what better way to celebrate a couple of milestone September birthdays than to travel to Oktoberfest? That was my idea, and i’m still surprised we went for it.

So first the four of us flew to Brussels together, where we stayed in an apartment for two nights. It had a great view of the Montgomery fountain and the Cinquantenaire. In Brussels we visited the Cantillon brewery and had several of their fabulous lambic beers, ate wonderful foods including pastries, waffles, mussels (of course), beef stew, Croatian food, coconut ice cream and other delectables, and saw the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis. Brussels is a bigger city than i’d realized, and there appeared to be much more to do there than we were even able to scratch the surface of in two days.

IMAG0753

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Next Lillian and Tom headed to Germany while Nathan and I continued to explore Belgium. We drove to Ghent where we had what was probably the most frustrating day of our lives trying unsuccessfully to drive around to elusive eateries, but we made the best of it in the evening by exploring the astounding Gothic cathedrals there and having some good beer and food.

Bruges was our next stop. We found it to be relatively quiet and relaxed, and we had fun there touring the shops and the brewery and walking along the canals. We paid a few Euros to take a gander at a Michelangelo sculpture in a church there, and we had a good dinner of tapas at a place that we had to get to by sidling down an alleyway that was barely wider than ourselves.

We also visited some distant cousins of mine who live in Bruges. My Grandmother’s cousin and his kids & grandkids are a close-knit and very welcoming bunch, and it was fascinating to chat with them for a few hours about some of the differences in our cultures. Everyone we encountered in Europe spoke at least a little English, by the way, and many seemed to be quite fluent.

Poperinge was our next stop. We had originally planned to go there in order to visit the Westvleteren monastery (brewery), but it happened to be closed while we were there. Fortunately, however, there was a hops festival going on that only happens every three years. So that was odd luck on both counts. The whole town was decorated with hop vines, and the festival offered a lot of cheap beers and foods to try, including the famous Westvleteren 12 (which we found to be rather overrated). We also went to the De Struisse brewery, but it wasn’t much to see.

That was the first half of our trip, and i think i’ll stop there for now. Parte Deux will be about Austria and Germany, and i’m promising myself right now that i will write about it as soon as i can.

Tot de volgende keer…

Book Review: Station Eleven

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just today on NPR i heard this book named on a list of finalists for the 2014 National Book Award. I’m not usually on the cutting edge of literature, but this book was so highly praised and sounded so interesting that i decided to jump on it. All i really knew was that it was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Say no more.

There are a lot of flashback-type scenes, so big chunks of the book do not actually take place in that post-apocalyptic world. In fact they describe pretty mundane lives, and that served as a contrast to the very unusual lives that the characters who survive the crisis live afterward. The book made me appreciate a lot of everyday things even more than i already did, and believe me i’ve always been a huge fan of my hot showers and readily-available food. It also shows that even in the absence of all the technologies and conveniences that we’ve built our lives around, the same interpersonal issues remain, and actually become even more important.

Not a whole lot actually happens in this book. It’s more about thoughts and feelings than action and dialog. I described it early on as The Walking Dead minus zombies, but it’s also that minus all the talking (my god, the talking) and the gore (mostly). It’s surprisingly creepy even without all those things, though. But mainly it’s a tale of a few people who went through a pandemic and how their lives were tightly connected even though they didn’t realize it. Contemporary literary fiction is very often about intertwined lives, i’m noticing. We affect each other’s lives both directly and indirectly.

I liked the writing style. The pretty little sentence fragments that illuminated meaningful things. I liked the rather unflattering portrayal of religion’s role in humanity as it hung by a thread (sorry). I enjoyed the details about how civilization just crumbled without its workforce to support it and how the characters dealt with that. I liked the characters even though they weren’t super-admirable all the time. And i liked that there was a lot of misery and suffering but also just a little bit of enjoyment and hope.

And, by the way, i’m proud of myself for reading this book while Ebola was rearing its head in America and not even freaking out about it. If anything, this book made me less scared of Ebola because it’s nothing compared to the fictional Georgia Flu, which seems to transmit through the air and kill almost everyone within days. Ebola is slow-moving; we’ve totally got this.

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Book Review: The Magician King

The Magician King (The Magicians, #2)The Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes. This was an Empire Strikes Back kind of sequel, i.e. the perfect kind. The characters go through these painful, disfiguring transitions, and begin to gain awesome powers and develop deep relationships with one another. They make big mistakes, but they do so knowingly. They want to be heroes even though they don’t really know yet what that means, and they jump into the void and come out the other side of the ensuing disaster by the skin of their teeth.

This is two stories, really. It’s the story of Julia, and it’s the story of Quentin. Julia’s story is heart-rending and yet full of hope. It’s truly a woman’s story, and i think Grossman did a great job of telling it. I think he’s sensitive to women’s issues, and although the first book made me raise an eyebrow as a feminist, i totally forgive him now. It was Quentin who was the dick in the first book, not Grossman.

Quentin has totally redeemed himself in this book, too. From the outset, he’s a much more mature person than he was in book 1. He is learning how to actually care about people. He’s somewhat reluctantly becoming a much better person. He’s still trying to figure himself and his place out, but he’s doing a lot better than he was before. He’s gone from spoiled, self-centered, worthless piece of teenage crap to flailing would-be hero young adult. He’s getting there. I really do care about him now, and i’m ready to root him on in book 3.

The other characters took a back seat in this book, which i was grateful for. Janet was hardly even in it, and she tends to bring out the worst in the other characters. Some fun new characters were introduced, and they were less into the debauchery than the Physical Kids were in book 1.

I love Grossman’s humor. He gets me completely. It’s crass and well-written like British humor and silly like a TV show and nerdy to the max. I giggled a lot while reading this book, right up to the end. It just amazes me how he can be funny and fantastic and realistic and smart and poetic all at once. What a good writer.

I’m so glad i came back to this series. I swore it off after the first book because i hated the characters, but two things brought me back. The first was an article called Would You Want To Be Friends With Humbert Humbert?, and the other was A Discovery of Witches, which put me over the edge of tolerating shitty characters. I can’t put my finger on it, but the characters in that book were just so inhuman. And that happens in a lot of fantasy books. They just don’t react like real people would to things, and it’s annoying as hell. Grossman knows how to write real people, and i love that. Even if they usually start out as dicks.

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Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I always read the negative reviews of a book before i pick it up, and for this book they all said the same thing: the story drags and the love story is cheesy. But people said the same things about The Night Circus and i adored that book, so i went ahead and dove into A Discovery of Witches anyway, since its overall rating was so high on Goodreads. Unfortunately, those negative reviews were spot-on.

I like a good long, dense book with plenty of somewhat superfluous details and rich character development. But this book was just plain boring. There were two very brief, rather lame action scenes in the entire book. The bad guys are simply pathetic. They’re so disorganized and timid and dumb, it just doesn’t make any sense. All that happens in the—what, 500?—long pages of this book is brewing, in more than one sense of the word. They sit around and brew and drink tea endlessly, teasing out each other’s “secrets” and telling each other what to do and trying to figure out what the enemy is up to and staring at ancient books and pawing at each other and anticipating a war, and starting all over again doing exactly the same things the very next day, day after day after day for a month. They change locations a couple times, but it’s not enough to make the story interesting.

The story revolves around the couple of Diana and Matthew, a witch and a vampire, respectively. In the course of four weeks, this pair goes from strangers to enemies to quasi-friends to dating to married to talking about children to risking the fate of the planet for their relationship. And for the first half of that, i didn’t buy their chemistry at all. (I had to imagine them as Daenerys and Drogo in order to sell it to myself. No, i don’t watch GoT, i’ve just seen a couple of episodes.) Oh, but they never have sex. They just do a huge amount of making out.

They’re a lot like Edward and Bella, unfortunately. Apparently vampires are just dogmatic assholes by nature and can therefore be forgiven for it endlessly, even by supposedly intelligent, independent-minded women. There was one moment when i really should have put the book down, when Matthew was physically restraining Diana against her wishes and telling her that if she fought him or ran from him, he basically wouldn’t be responsible for killing her. RED. FLAG. He got somewhat better after that, but they continued with their power struggle and their mind-numbing Q&A sessions for the entire book. I read Twilight once, and that was quite enough of that stuff for me.

There were other little things that bothered me maybe more than they needed to. I don’t like that when a vampire turns a human into a vampire, the new vampire is the old one’s “child.” So, what if a vamp turned a human because they were romantic partners? You’d be in a relationship with your own kid?! Gross. All the “his son” and “his father” crap was annoying, especially when Matthew’s “son” then became Diana’s “son” too, after they became married. (Even though she was not aware that they’d become married until after the fact but was still cool with it, which was all kinds of stupid in and of itself.)

And i must say that Deborah Harkness’s fashion sense is absolutely atrocious. There were so many turtlenecks, yoga pants, and monochromatic outfits that it kind of made me want to puke.

I stuck with it because i was waiting for The Magician King and wanted to read something magical and fun, dammit. But i hardly even got that. The witches’ temperamental house was the one really cool part of this book—and by far the best character. I enjoyed the clever alchemical mystery stuff, and i can sort of appreciate the great amount of historical knowledge that went into this book, but unfortunately you have to be a historian to keep up with all of the references that the story is heavily peppered with. Most of the cool stuff went way over my head, and the book was just too long for me to be able to spend time looking things up. Diana’s powers are intriguing and they’re going to be awesome by the end of the series, i’m sure, but they’re painfully slow to develop. I can appreciate that to some extent—I mean, was Luke Skywalker any different?—but i’m not going to slog through all this other filler to get to the fun stuff in this series. It’s just not worth it; i’m cutting my losses now.

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