Recent Reviews...

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Faraway Collection Review





I love fairy tale re-tellings. They are some of my favorite stories... even over the originals sometimes. 
Unfortunately, I didn't really love these. The covers are lovely though!

The Prince and the Troll (Faraway #1) by Rainbow Rowell

Genre: Young Adult (Fairy Tale Retelling)
Date Published: December 15, 2020
Publisher: Amazon Publishing



A charming everyman and a mysterious something-under-the-bridge cross paths in a short fairy tale by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and the Simon Snow series.

It’s fate when a man accidentally drops his phone off the bridge. It’s fortune when it’s retrieved by a friendly shape sloshing in the muck underneath. From that day forward, as they share a coffee every morning, an unlikely friendship blooms. Considering the reality for the man above, where life seems perfect, and that of the sharp-witted creature below, how forever after can a happy ending be? 

The Prince and the Troll is the first book in the Faraway series by several different authors. This particular book was written by Rainbow Rowell. It’s a short story about a man who lives life on a road and the troll under the bridge. I thought it was a rat race type symbolism on our society and government, what with the road and people on it pushing other people to their deaths if they fall...and the always being watched. And the troll, maybe symbolic of homelessness. I think that all makes sense to the story. But then after I finished reading, I read several reviews where people thought it had to do with climate change. I don’t see that at all. Aside from the flood that seemed out of nowhere. I can’t really tell what kind of ending that was. Happy? Sad? It mostly read like on big Starbucks commercial

Hazel and Gray (Faraway #2) by Nic Stone
Genre: Young Adult (Fairy Tale Retelling)
Date Published: December 15, 2020
Publisher: Amazon Publishing



Hazel and Gray is the second book in the Faraway series. This story was written by Nic Stone. This was a modern Hansel and Gretel retelling that revolved around a human trafficking and pedophilia "business". Hansel and Gretel sets up the perfect backdrop for this kind of story. However, this was too short, too rushed, and didn't always make sense. I know this series is supposed to be short stories, but I've read many short stories that have packed a whole lot of punch in just a few pages. This fell way short of any kind of impact for me. So far, I'm not impressed with Amazon's Faraway series. 

Hazel and Gray is the second book in the Faraway series. This story was written by Nic Stone. This was a modern Hansel and Gretel retelling that revolved around a human trafficking and pedophilia "business". Hansel and Gretel sets up the perfect backdrop for this kind of story. However, this was too short, too rushed, and didn't always make sense. I know this series is supposed to be short stories, but I've read many short stories that have packed a whole lot of punch in just a few pages. This fell way short of any kind of impact for me. So far, I'm not impressed with Amazon's Faraway series. 

The Princess Game (Faraway #3) by Soman Chainani
Genre: Young Adult (Fairy Tale Retelling)
Date Published: December 15, 2020
Publisher: Amazon Publishing



A charming everyman and a mysterious something-under-the-bridge cross paths in a short fairy tale by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and the Simon Snow series.

It’s fate when a man accidentally drops his phone off the bridge. It’s fortune when it’s retrieved by a friendly shape sloshing in the muck underneath. From that day forward, as they share a coffee every morning, an unlikely friendship blooms. Considering the reality for the man above, where life seems perfect, and that of the sharp-witted creature below, how forever after can a happy ending be? 

The Princess Game is the third book in the Faraway series. This story was written by Soman Chainani. There were a lot of characters to get to know in a short amount of time, but I saw the direction it was going pretty early on. I listened to the audio version, and each character has their own actor voicing them. That was a great way to tell this story and helped me keep each character in their own category in my head. This was by far the best one in the series so far.



The Cleaners (Faraway #4) by Ken Liu
Genre: Young Adult (Fairy Tale Retelling)
Date Published: December 15, 2020
Publisher: Amazon Publishing



Touch the past or wash it away? Two sisters have a choice in this unforgettable short story of everyday magic and the power of memory by the Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author Ken Liu.

Gui is a professional cleaner at A Fresh Start, scrubbing away the unpleasant layers of memory that build up on the personal objects of his customers. Memory-blind himself, he can’t feel those wounds. Clara can, and she prefers them irretrievable. Until her sister, Beatrice, ultrasensitive to memory, raises one that could change Clara’s mind. For Gui, the past is gone. For Clara and Beatrice, deciding what to remember reaches to the heart of their shared history. 

The Cleaners by Ken Liu is the fourth book in the Faraway series. I think I get the point this book was trying to make, but there wasn't enough of it to make sense or have any impact. Also, I found myself trying not to zone out in bits, which is really unfortunate when the story is so short already.



The Wickeds (Faraway #5) by Gayle Forman
Genre: Young Adult (Fairy Tale Retelling)
Date Published: December 15, 2020
Publisher: Amazon Publishing



The reviled villainesses of Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel team up to set the record straight in a subversively funny short story by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay.

Envious queen? Evil stepmother? Kidnapping hag? Elsinora, Gwendolyn, and Marguerite are through with warts-and-all tabloids, ugly lies, and the three ungrateful brats who pitted them against each other and the world. But maybe there’s more to the stories than even the Wickeds know. Is it time to finally get revenge? After all, they’re due for a happily-enough-ever-after. Even if they have to write it themselves.

The Wickeds is the final short story in Amazon's Faraway series. This one was written by Gayle Foreman. The Wickeds give the chance for the evil stepmothers to tell their side of things. There's goodness and badness in everyone, and everyone feels misunderstood. It's how we move through life despite these things that matters. Plus, the mother/daughter interactions and how history has a way of repeating itself until we break the cycle. This would have made a pretty darn good full length novel. This was my favorite in the series. It was close to four stars for me, but the ending was way too fast. I needed a little bit more from it.



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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness





A Discovery of Witches (All Souls #1) by Deborah Harkness
Genre: Adult Fiction (Paranormal/Fantasy Romance)
Date Published: February 2011 
Publisher: Viking Penguin

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. There is so much to this book... history, mystery, romance. The World building and character building is spot on. It's a long book, and a lot happens within its pages, yet I never felt bored or that there was too much lag. Sure, some parts were a little slower than others, but you get that in any book, especially when you have so much to build upon from page to page. There was always something to keep my attention and to keep me pulled in. I felt like I was a part of everything going on. I haven't seen the TV show yet, but if it's half as good as the book, I can't wait to watch it. I also can't wait to get my hands on the next book. I can't believe I waited so long to start this series!

Chapter 1

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it.

Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room was deserted on this late-September afternoon, and requests for library materials were filled quickly now that the summer crush of visiting scholars was over and the madness of the fall term had not yet begun. Even so, I was surprised when Sean stopped me at the call desk.

“Dr. Bishop, your manuscripts are up,” he whispered, voice tinged with a touch of mischief. The front of his argyle sweater was streaked with the rusty traces of old leather bindings, and he brushed at it self-consciously. A lock of sandy hair tumbled over his forehead when he did.

“Thanks,” I said, flashing him a grateful smile. I was flagrantly disregarding the rules limiting the number of books a scholar could call in a single day. Sean, who’d shared many a drink with me in the pink-stuccoed pub across the street in our graduate-student days, had been filling my requests without complaint for more than a week. “And stop calling me Dr. Bishop. I always think you’re talking to someone else.”

He grinned back and slid the manuscripts—all containing fine examples of alchemical illustrations from the Bodleian’s collections—over his battered oak desk, each one tucked into a protective gray cardboard box. “Oh, there’s one more.” Sean disappeared into the cage for a moment and returned with a thick, quarto-size manuscript bound simply in mottled calfskin. He laid it on top of the pile and stooped to inspect it. The thin gold rims of his glasses sparked in the dim light provided by the old bronze reading lamp that was attached to a shelf. “This one’s not been called up for a while. I’ll make a note that it needs to be boxed after you return it.”

“Do you want me to remind you?”

“No. Already made a note here.” Sean tapped his head with his fingertips.

“Your mind must be better organized than mine.” My smile widened.

Sean looked at me shyly and tugged on the call slip, but it remained where it was, lodged between the cover and the first pages. “This one doesn’t want to let go,” he commented.

Muffled voices chattered in my ear, intruding on the familiar hush of the room.

“Did you hear that?” I looked around, puzzled by the strange sounds.

“What?” Sean replied, looking up from the manuscript.

Traces of gilt shone along its edges and caught my eye. But those faded touches of gold could not account for a faint, iridescent shimmer that seemed to be escaping from between the pages. I blinked.

“Nothing.” I hastily drew the manuscript toward me, my skin prickling when it made contact with the leather. Sean’s fingers were still holding the call slip, and now it slid easily out of the binding’s grasp. I hoisted the volumes into my arms and tucked them under my chin, assailed by a whiff of the uncanny that drove away the library’s familiar smell of pencil shavings and floor wax.

“Diana? Are you okay?” Sean asked with a concerned frown.

“Fine. Just a bit tired,” I replied, lowering the books away from my nose.

I walked quickly through the original, fifteenth-century part of the library, past the rows of Elizabethan reading desks with their three ascending bookshelves and scarred writing surfaces. Between them, Gothic windows directed the reader’s attention up to the coffered ceilings, where bright paint and gilding picked out the details of the university’s crest of three crowns and open book and where its motto, “God is my illumination,” was proclaimed repeatedly from on high.

Another American academic, Gillian Chamberlain, was my sole companion in the library on this Friday night. A classicist who taught at Bryn Mawr, Gillian spent her time poring over scraps of papyrus sandwiched between sheets of glass. I sped past her, trying to avoid eye contact, but the creaking of the old floor gave me away.

My skin tingled as it always did when another witch looked at me.

“Diana?” she called from the gloom. I smothered a sigh and stopped.

“Hi, Gillian.” Unaccountably possessive of my hoard of manuscripts, I remained as far from the witch as possible and angled my body so they weren’t in her line of sight.

“What are you doing for Mabon?” Gillian was always stopping by my desk to ask me to spend time with my “sisters” while I was in town. With the Wiccan celebrations of the autumn equinox just days away, she was redoubling her efforts to bring me into the Oxford coven.

“Working,” I said promptly.

“There are some very nice witches here, you know,” Gillian said with prim disapproval. “You really should join us on Monday.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it,” I said, already moving in the direction of the Selden End, the airy seventeenth-century addition that ran perpendicular to the main axis of Duke Humfrey’s. “I’m working on a conference paper, though, so don’t count on it.” My aunt Sarah had always warned me it wasn’t possible for one witch to lie to another, but that hadn’t stopped me from trying.

Gillian made a sympathetic noise, but her eyes followed me.

Back at my familiar seat facing the arched, leaded windows, I resisted the temptation to dump the manuscripts on the table and wipe my hands. Instead, mindful of their age, I lowered the stack carefully.

The manuscript that had appeared to tug on its call slip lay on top of the pile. Stamped in gilt on the spine was a coat of arms belonging to Elias Ashmole, a seventeenth-century book collector and alchemist whose books and papers had come to the Bodleian from the Ashmolean Museum in the nineteenth century, along with the number 782. I reached out, touching the brown leather.

A mild shock made me withdraw my fingers quickly, but not quickly enough. The tingling traveled up my arms, lifting my skin into tiny goose pimples, then spread across my shoulders, tensing the muscles in my back and neck. These sensations quickly receded, but they left behind a hollow feeling of unmet desire. Shaken by my response, I stepped away from the library table.

Even at a safe distance, this manuscript was challenging me—threatening the walls I’d erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches. Here, with my hard-earned doctorate, tenure, and promotions in hand and my career beginning to blossom, I’d renounced my family’s heritage and created a life that depended on reason and scholarly abilities, not inexplicable hunches and spells. I was in Oxford to complete a research project. Upon its conclusion, my findings would be published, substantiated with extensive analysis and footnotes, and presented to human colleagues, leaving no room for mysteries and no place in my work for what could be known only through a witch’s sixth sense.

But—albeit unwittingly—I had called up an alchemical manuscript that I needed for my research and that also seemed to possess an otherworldly power that was impossible to ignore. My fingers itched to open it and learn more. Yet an even stronger impulse held me back: Was my curiosity intellectual, related to my scholarship? Or did it have to do with my family’s connection to witchcraft?

I drew the library’s familiar air into my lungs and shut my eyes, hoping that would bring clarity. The Bodleian had always been a sanctuary to me, a place unassociated with the Bishops. Tucking my shaking hands under my elbows, I stared at Ashmole 782 in the growing twilight and wondered what to do.

My mother would instinctively have known the answer, had she been standing in my place. Most members of the Bishop family were talented witches, but my mother, Rebecca, was special. Everyone said so. Her supernatural abilities had manifested early, and by the time she was in grade school, she could outmagic most of the senior witches in the local coven with her intuitive understanding of spells, startling foresight, and uncanny knack for seeing beneath the surface of people and events. My mother’s younger sister, my Aunt Sarah, was a skilled witch, too, but her talents were more mainstream: a deft hand with potions and a perfect command of witchcraft’s traditional lore of spells and charms.

My fellow historians didn’t know about the family, of course, but everyone in Madison, the remote town in upstate New York where I’d lived with Sarah since the age of seven, knew all about the Bishops. My ancestors had moved from Massachusetts after the Revolutionary War. By then more than a century had passed since Bridget Bishop was executed at Salem. Even so, rumors and gossip followed them to their new home. After pulling up stakes and resettling in Madison, the Bishops worked hard to demonstrate how useful it could be to have witchy neighbors for healing the sick and predicting the weather. In time the family set down roots in the community deep enough to withstand the inevitable outbreaks of superstition and human fear.

But my mother had a curiosity about the world that led her beyond the safety of Madison. She went first to Harvard, where she met a young wizard named Stephen Proctor. He also had a long magical lineage and a desire to experience life outside the scope of his family’s New England history and influence. Rebecca Bishop and Stephen Proctor were a charming couple, my mother’s all-American frankness a counterpoint to my father’s more formal, old-fashioned ways. They became anthropologists, immersing themselves in foreign cultures and beliefs, sharing their intellectual passions along with their deep devotion to each other. After securing positions on the faculty in area schools—my mother at her alma mater, my father at Wellesley—they made research trips abroad and made a home for their new family in Cambridge.

I have few memories of my childhood, but each one is vivid and surprisingly clear. All feature my parents: the feel of corduroy on my father’s elbows, the lily of the valley that scented my mother’s perfume, the clink of their wineglasses on Friday nights when they’d put me to bed and dine together by candlelight. My mother told me bedtime stories, and my father’s brown briefcase clattered when he dropped it by the front door. These memories would strike a familiar chord with most people.

Other recollections of my parents would not. My mother never seemed to do laundry, but my clothes were always clean and neatly folded. Forgotten permission slips for field trips to the zoo appeared in my desk when the teacher came to collect them. And no matter what condition my father’s study was in when I went in for a good-night kiss (and it usually looked as if something had exploded), it was always perfectly orderly the next morning. In kindergarten I’d asked my friend Amanda’s mother why she bothered washing the dishes with soap and water when all you needed to do was stack them in the sink, snap your fingers, and whisper a few words. Mrs. Schmidt laughed at my strange idea of housework, but confusion had clouded her eyes.

That night my parents told me we had to be careful about how we spoke about magic and with whom we discussed it. Humans outnumbered us and found our power frightening, my mother explained, and fear was the strongest force on earth. I hadn’t confessed at the time that magic—my mother’s especially—frightened me, too.

By day my mother looked like every other kid’s mother in Cambridge: slightly unkempt, a bit disorganized, and perpetually harassed by the pressures of home and office. Her blond hair was fashionably tousled even though the clothes she wore remained stuck in 1977—long billowy skirts, oversize pants and shirts, and men’s vests and blazers she picked up in thrift stores the length and breadth of Boston in imitation of Annie Hall. Nothing would have made you look twice if you passed her in the street or stood behind her in the supermarket.

In the privacy of our home, with the curtains drawn and the door locked, my mother became someone else. Her movements were confident and sure, not rushed and hectic. Sometimes she even seemed to float. As she went around the house, singing and picking up stuffed animals and books, her face slowly transformed into something otherworldly and beautiful. When my mother was lit up with magic, you couldn’t tear your eyes away from her.

“Mommy’s got a firecracker inside her,” was the way my father explained it with his wide, indulgent grin. But firecrackers, I learned, were not simply bright and lively. They were unpredictable, and they could startle and frighten you, too.

My father was at a lecture one night when my mother decided to clean the silver and became mesmerized by a bowl of water she’d set on the dining-room table. As she stared at the glassy surface, it became covered with a fog that twisted itself into tiny, ghostly shapes. I gasped with delight as they grew, filling the room with fantastic beings. Soon they were crawling up the drapes and clinging to the ceiling. I cried out for my mother’s help, but she remained intent on the water. Her concentration didn’t waver until something half human and half animal crept near and pinched my arm. That brought her out of her reveries, and she exploded into a shower of angry red light that beat back the wraiths and left an odor of singed feathers in the house. My father noticed the strange smell the moment he returned, his alarm evident. He found us huddled in bed together. At the sight of him, my mother burst into apologetic tears. I never felt entirely safe in the dining room again.Any remaining sense of security evaporated after I turned seven, when my mother and father went to Africa and didn’t come back alive.



Deborah Harkness is a #1 New York Times bestselling author who draws on her expertise as an historian of science, medicine, and the history of the book to create rich narratives steeped in magical realism, historical curiosity, and deeply human questions about what it is that makes us who we are.

The first book in Harkness’s beloved All Souls series, A Discovery of Witches, was an instant New York Times bestseller and the series has since expanded with the addition of subsequent NYT bestsellers, Shadow of Night (2012), The Book of Life (2014), and Time’s Convert (2018), as well as the companion reader, The World of All Souls. The All Souls series has been translated in thirty-eight languages.

The popular television adaptation of A Discovery of Witches, starring Theresa Palmer and Matthew Goode, was released in 2019 by Sky/Sundance Now, and also broadcast on AMC.

Having spent more than a quarter of a century as a student and scholar of history, Harkness holds degrees from Mount Holyoke College, Northwestern University, and the University of California at Davis. She is currently a professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she teaches European history and the history of science.

Harkness has published scholarly articles on topics such as the influence of theatrical conventions on the occult sciences, scientific households, female medical practice in early modern London, medical curiosity, and the influence of accounting practices on scientific record keeping. She has received Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships, and her most recent scholarly work is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution..

To learn more about Deborah Harkness and her books, visit her website. You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

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