The Thief

I think YA librarians have the most fun. There. I said it. Don’t get me wrong, I love special libraries, but you are never going to run into a special librarian with as much bubbling enthusiasm as a YA librarian. If you want a book suggestion, they’re your go-to librarian! Which brings me to The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. A lovely librarian from my book group suggested it to me, and she was right, it’s wonderful!

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Gen is thief and he can steal anything. In fact, his skills are so prodigious he decides to brag about it all around Sounis, which is what landed him in the king’s prison. Mysteriously one night, he is called to the office of the magus (the king’s scholar) and forced to agree to go on a journey. Gen, the magus, a solider named Pol, and two apprentices named Ambiades and Sophos set out on journey to locate Hamiathes’ gift which is rumored to give its wearer immortality. Gen learns that it is hidden in a temple that no one has returned from and his skills are needed to steal it. They journey across Eddis and into Attolia and locate the hidden temple. Gen’s skills as a thief are tested as well as his faith in the old gods.

I won’t give away the ending to this book, because it’s a pleasant surprise and perfectly sets up the following books in the series. I really loved the mythological stories that Turner introduces throughout the story. As someone who has read quite a few folktales she does an excellent job creating an authentic feeling tale. Go check it out today!

Shadow of Night

After finishing A Discovery of Witches I immediately put a hold on Deborah Harkness’ second book, Shadow of Night.

Diana and Matthew have traveled back to Elizabethan England to find a witch who can teach Diana. But time travel is a little tricky with a vampire. Matthew attempts to reinsert himself into his past life, but his love for Diana has changed him. His friends are stunned to learn of his witchy wife and his sudden desire to save witches from persecution across England and Scotland. Diana discovers that despite the ban against supernatural creatures meddling in politics, Matthew is deeply embroiled in the politics of the day. Diana also loses herself in history, befriending lady alchemists, an emperor, famed authors, street urchins, and several scientists. Diana discovers that she is a weaver and therefore a creator of spells, explaining why she has always been an utter failure at perfecting spells others have tried to teach her.

As Diana learns to command her powers, Matthew and his friends track down Ashmole 782. They hope to find it still intact in the 1600s, because in the present three pages are missing making the text illegible. After months of searching, they are able to track it to a deranged daemon alchemist, Edward Kelley, in Prague. They learn some startling facts from their brief encounter with the intact text. But, when they return to steal Ashmole 782, Kelley has already ripped several pages from the book. They leave the text in the past, so that it will make its way back to the safety of the Bodleian in the future, and presumably the plot of the third book will be to track down the missing pages and finally learn about the origins of supernatural beings.

The big surprise from this book is the development of Diana and Matthew’s love. After a grand total of THREE wedding ceremonies, Diana and Matthew finally abandon their chaste relationship. They discover that like the alchemical text predicted, they are able to conceive. Diana and Matthew have to figure out what their baby means for their relationship as well as for supernatural beings everywhere.

Despite the length of this book review, I have left SO many things out. Long lost family members pop up, a daemon named Kit tries everything in his power to break up Diana and Matthew, Diana discovers her familiar, and pregnancies in the 1600s don’t always go as planned. I feel like the second book is a faithful continuation of A Discovery of Witches, although it fails to answer any of the questions Harkness left readers with in her first book.  The second book is slower paced, but I hope is setting up an amazing resolution in the last book of the trilogy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The one thing I just couldn’t get over was Kit! Kit repeatedly tries to break up Diana and Matthew. He rats them out to the supernatural “authorities,” begs her to just leave, and at one point flat-out tries to kill the woman! What super protective vampire is just going to let his friend get away with that? Because Kit’s character is based on a historical figure, I suppose she had to let him live… but it was still really frustrating and odd for the story. That being said, I’m very sad that Harkness hasn’t even finished the third book! I will definitely be anxiously awaiting the conclusion!

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. 

Diana Bishop comes from a long line of powerful witches, but she’d rather spend her time studying the history of alchemy than practicing witchcraft. While researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library Diana stumbles upon a spellbound text and unknowingly breaks a powerful curse. Refusing to use her magic to uncover the secrets of the text, Diana sends the book back to the stacks. Little does she know that the world’s magical creatures have been waiting centuries for the curse to be broken and they want her to do it again. Vampires, witches, and daemons flock to Oxford all positioning to control the secrets held in the tome. Diana is thrust into a world of magic that she has always denied and has to decide if she should trust her fellow witches or the bewitching vampire Matthew Clairmont. As the plot unfolds, Diana and Matthew start to fall deeply in love and discover that the secrets held in Ashmole 782 could explain the origins, weaknesses, and future of magic.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Since I have visited the Bodleian Library and Oxford during my study abroad it was particularly entertaining to read a story set among its beautiful streets and ancient tomes. This book really has it all: love, magic, mystery, rare books, medieval knights, time travel, science, family, danger, and history. I especially suggest it for librarians, because there is tons of nerdy library fun.

That being said, I did see a lot of similarities to Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Weak witchcraft-denying Diana falls madly in love with a bossy killing machine vampire she barely knows. But Harkness manages to introduce a more complex and developed story line, so A Discovery of Witches becomes more of a meandering (wonderfully so), fairytale Twilight for adults.

Brú na Bóinne

Brú na Bóinne has been by the far the most amazing part of my trip. It was an archaeology nerd’s dream!

It was our last day in Dublin, so we set out on a bus tour of several important Irish archaeological sites. Our first stop was at the Hill of Tara. The Hill of Tara has been integral to the history of Ireland and was a ritualistic site for the kingship. At the site, is the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil), that is said to scream out the name of the rightful king of Ireland. The site was incredibly beautiful and mysterious.

Stone of Destiny

We then headed to a lovely castle that I promptly forgot the name of. I can’t believe that I’ve seen so many castles at this point that I can’t keep track!

Irish Castle

Then we headed to Brú na Bóinne! Brú na Bóinne is a passage tomb and visitors to the site are actually allowed to tour the inside. It was amazing to see what the ancient peoples of Ireland were able to accomplish! My favorite part was hearing about the legends surrounding Brú na Bóinne. The tomb had gone untouched for centuries because of the local stories that the Celtic gods lived there and/or it was a passage to the fairy realm. It was eventually rediscovered when a Scotsman hired some Irishmen to remove the valuable rock from the mound and they discovered the passage. The Irishmen refused to return rather than upset the gods. The folklore surrounding the site protected it and today we get to see a mostly undisturbed site. Interestingly, there is a bit of 19th century graffiti in the tomb from when it was completely open to the public.

Brú na Bóinne
Image via Wikimedia

On the Winter Solstice, light illuminates the passage. There is a lottery to be one of the few people to see the spectacular event. I’d love to win and fly out to Ireland one December!

Queen Victoria Did What!?!

Trinity College
Image via Wikimedia

Saturday I hopped on another bus and visited Trinity College. It’s the oldest university in Ireland, and it just so happens to house the Book of Kells.

A short tour of the campus was given and our guide was great. He told us the history of the campus as well as a few of the renowned pranks that have occurred there. He even wore a silly little sleeveless scholarly robe which just added to the fun of the tour.

Then, I queued up for the Book of Kells exhibition which is housed in the Old Library. The Old Library was magnificently gorgeous. I was happy to see so many members of the general public where getting to see it.

Old Library Long Room
Image via Wikimedia

The Book of Kells exhibition was great. The rooms leading up to the book had giant pictures of different pages and details about the art work used for the lettering. The exhibit also focused on three other early texts. The rooms were broken up into a meandering pathway so that despite the number of people viewing the pieces, it didn’t seem too crowded or rushed. In all honesty, the exhibit design actually showed up the Book of Kells itself because you got to see so much of the book and with beautiful lighting.

The book was held in a dimly lit room and was very crowded and people pressed against the glass table that it was displayed in. As I waited, I kept wondering what was taking everyone so long. But as soon as I got my chance to see it I completely understood. The illuminated manuscript is done so beautifully and intricately that you just have to marvel at the time and skill that went into making it.

Book of Kells
Image via Wikimedia

The guide told an interesting story about the Book of Kells. He said that when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Ireland, they signed the Book of Kells! I thought surely this couldn’t be true, and after some internet sleuthing it appears to be half-true. They were invited to sign the modern flyleaf not the original text. Their signature page was taken out in 1953 when the book was rebound.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

For my final presentation in my History of the Book class, I presented on folklore and the printing press. I was able to pass around a copy of Taschen’s The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm that my husband got me for Christmas. It was the envy of all my classmates! It has some incredibly beautiful illustrations from the 1880’s – 1950’s.

Sleeping Beauty

Hansel and Gretel

Taschen published their version in honor of the 200th anniversary of Kinder-und Hausmärchen. So, be sure to check it out if you’re thinking about buying an amazing gift for the librarian, fairy tale fan, or child in your life!

The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Swan Lake

In February I went to my very first ballet! My wonderful friend Sarah went with me and we both dressed up and maybe an evening of it. I really liked the ballet, and I hope to see many more in the years to come! It definitely revived my childhood dreams of becoming a ballerina. I was not familiar with the story, so here’s a little synopsis and a video clip for all interested parties:

Swan Lake tells the story of a beautiful princess, Odette, who is cursed to take the form of a swan during the day. To break the spell, she must find someone to pledge their love to her. Luckily, Prince Siegfried discovers the beautiful Odette and they instantly fall in love. But, the evil sorcerer Rothbart quickly devises a way to prevent Siegfried from breaking the spell. Rothbart tricks Siegfried into believing that the black swan is actually Odette, and Siegfried mistakenly proposes to the wrong girl. Odette and Siegfried are heartbroken that they cannot break the curse and they decide that it would be better to be reunited in heaven.

The ballet is beautiful, tragic, and folkloric.