Mini-Reviews: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and A Discovery of Witches

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

Nina Sankovitch

256 pages

Pub. Year: 2011

Publisher: HarperCollins

Source: publisher

When I first heard of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, I wanted to read it because Sankovitch is a book blogger over at ReadAllDay.org. I was ecstatic to see a fellow book blogger come out with a book about reading.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is Sankovitch’s memoir about the year that she challenged herself to read and review a book everyday for the whole year. Well that’s what HarperCollins says the book is about but it’s not really. Tolstoy is more of a book about grief and finding ways to live after the loss of a loved one. The author, a life-long reader, just finds a way through her grief with books. That’s okay but I expected a memoir that dealt more heavily with reading than grief and that’s not what the book is. I was about halfway through the book when I realized it so I had to change my expectations. The book is filled with some great observations about reading but it wasn’t enough for me. Though many bloggers have loved this book, sadly I’m in the “like” group. Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness

586 pages

Pub. Year: 2011

Publisher: Viking

Source: Public Library

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.

I read a lot of positive reviews about A Discovery of Witches including Carrie’s from Books and Movies. So I downloaded the book on a whim, just in case I needed something different from all the non-fiction I’ve been reading lately. What a difference!

Diana Bishop is an American historian who comes from a long line of powerful witches but has refused to learn the craft in hopes of a normal life. A visiting scholar at Oxford University, she’s working on a paper about alchemy for an upcoming conference when she comes across an old bewitched book called Ashmolem 782. Diana is unaware of what Ashmolen really is: a book written by the very first witch that tells of the origins of the three creatures that walk among humans; witches, vampires, and daemons. When the world of creatures realizes that Diana has been able to open the book, all three groups want her on their side for the book’s contents and the chance to be the most powerful. With the help of a mysterious vampire by the name of Matthew Clairmont, the pair travel around the world trying to keep Diana safe from those who want to harm her while trying to get Diana to learn how to control her emerging magical abilities before it’s too late.

It’s almost too hard to write about what I loved (and didn’t) about this book but I’ll give it a try.

  • I loved that at almost 600 pages there was never a dull moment and the author did a great job with the pacing. This isn’t a book that leaves you thinking that there were chapters or pages that could have been left out. Every page was needed.
  • There’s so much that’s been written about vampires, witches, and daemons but A Discovery of Witches adds on to that genre in a refreshing way by intertwining history and science which reaches out to not only readers of fantasy but also to those who love history even that which isn’t real.  
  • I love the Bishop house and its inhabitants, dead and living. The Bishop house was a character itself since it could open and close doors, hide objects, and misbehave when it wanted to.
  • The book is a chunkster (over 350 pages), but it reads so well that I didn’t want to sleep until I finished it. Luckily I did get some sleep in though at the time I really didn’t want to.
  • From the way the book ended, I’m sure it’s at least a trilogy so there will be more books to come about Diana, Matthew, (and hopefully) the Bishop house.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Readers come to understand Diana’s reasons why she won’t (and can’t) use her powers. But I disliked how she refused to try even though there were so many people who wanted her dead or wished to harm her to get her on their side. Harkness made readers see how scared Diana was but I think after awhile you have to fight back or just lie down and die. Once Diana started using her powers (that’s not a spoiler) it was refreshing to see this new strength rise out and take charge.
  • Matthew Clairmont was in love with Diana from the moment he saw her but some of his behavior had me wondering whose side he was on until the very end. That part I didn’t mind since it kept me guessing but it didn’t keep Diana wondering. Matthew constantly kept secrets from Diana even when there wasn’t a reason to. His controlling nature reminded me of a certain famous sparkling vampire.

Even with its flaws, A Discovery of Witches is a great book that I can definitely recommend. Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5.

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22 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and A Discovery of Witches

  1. I loved A Discovery of Witches, and thought that the story was just different and eclectic enough to really love. A few of the things that bothered you bothered me also, especially Matthew’s possessiveness, but other than those few things, this was a stellar read for me. I am so anxious for the next book to come out as well! Great mini-reviews on these!

  2. You know I loved Discovery of Witches – and the Bishop house was a huge part of it! I also loved the mixing of history – and with the ending, Harkness has mixed in another genre that I absolutely love (don’t want to mention it for sake of not spoiling it). I can’t wait for the next book!

  3. I can certainly see your point about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. It worked for me, but it was also timely given the loss of a close friend recently. I ended up giving it 3/5 stars because I felt like she forced some of her essays into the “grief” box on occasion when they would’ve been more successful as reading-focused essays.

  4. I have been staring at my copy of A Discovery of Witches for much too long. But I keep getting distracted by other awesome books.

  5. Hey! Nice to see you blogging again after a few weeks. :)

    You know how I feel about books long books, but A Discovery of Witches really sounds great and totally up my ally with the supernatural elements.

  6. I started Discovery of Witches and just never finished it :/ It’s not that I didn’t like it, but it just never grabbed me and made me want to pick it up again. I’m glad to hear your thoughts on Tolstoy and the Purple Chair becasue now I have a better idea of what to expect from it!!

  7. I’m so glad you enjoyed A Discovery of Witches so much, it makes me look forward to it even more! I think the things that bothered you might bother me too, especially the first point, but if that’s all than I’ll probably still enjoy the story :)

  8. I was a bit disappointed in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. I just found her way of dealing with her grief so foreign to mine — I kept thinking, your kids still need you, and you’re sitting and reading all day? Why not celebrate being alive with them instead of mourning your sister so long…even her sister’s husband had moved on by that point. I know, people grieve in different ways, but it just didn’t resonate with me.

  9. I’ve put off reading The Discovery of Witches because (I’m tired of vampire books and) I’ve heard the guy’s in love with the girl straight away. Boo. I like it better when stuff blossoms over time. That is preferable to me.

  10. I’m glad you clarified about the Tolstoy and the Purple Chair book. I instantly added it to my list when it came out and I think with the right expectations going in (which I now have), I can enjoy it much more.

  11. Great reviews. Pooh, I’m going to take Purple Chair off my list. I thought it was more about a year of reading not grief recovery. However, Witches is going higher. I am not a fan of vampire and werewolves but witches are another story.

  12. It’s always tough when you have to change you expectations about a book after beginning it. This kind of happens to me a lot since I don’t like to know what a book is about before diving in–lots of times my assumptions are greatly wrong. Not sure about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Think I’ve heard more negative than positive!

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