Thursday, December 8, 2011

A new year brings a new Cannonball Read!

Alright!  It's almost time to kick of CBR IV!  I've decided to use this same blog page to do my review for this, and future, Cannonball Reads.  I'm once again attempting the half cannon (26 books).  I'm a little more daunted by it this time around because I have a show that eats up most of January, and then my life is dedicated to my wedding in April.  But I'm hoping to succeed again!  If nothing else, I certainly enjoy the journey.  :-)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CBR III Review #26 - Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts

She’d known him all her life—that was fate, she supposed. But it was her own fault, and her own problem, that she’d been in love with him nearly as long.

This is the third in the Bride Quartet, focusing on Laurel McBane, baker extraordinaire and Delaney Brown, Parker's brother.  Laurel has had feelings for Del most of her life, and has never acted on them since he is the brother of her best friend.  Stubborn and willful, Laurel is more used to fighting with Del than falling into bed with him, but that's what happens just the same.  

While I enjoy this book, it feels a lot like the Emma/Jack story, with the long term feelings and the big conflict being "you don't love me like I love you so we're going to fail" and ending in a proposal as a show of "sike, I really do love you" from the guy.  While the characters themselves are very different, and reasons for the hesitations in both are different (with Jack/Emma it was about his parents' divorce, with Del/Laurel it's about class differences) but it felt more like putting new paint over the old instead of creating something new.  Laurel is a fun character, and I'd love to have a beer with Delaney, but their romance didn't throw me the same way as many of the others.

This book is GREAT however if you love cakes, which I do.  So I enjoyed reading about Laurel's creations and how she went about designing and building them.  This is probably my least favorite of the Quartet overall, but still a necessary piece of the puzzle - a lot of what happens in Parker's story in the last book has roots in this one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

CBR III Review #24 & 25 - Vision in White & Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

“Love can really screw you up before you learn to live with it.” 

I thought it appropriate that my last two books should be from the same series as the first one I reviewed on here.  As I only committed to 26, the next book (number three in the Bride Quartet, titled Savor the Moment) will be my last.  Also?  With all my wedding planning, I was just in the mood for them!

Vision in White and Bed of Roses are the first and second books in the Bride Quartet, a series about four women who run their own wedding business.  Book 1, Vision in White, focuses on Mackensie "Mac" Elliott, the photographer of the group.  Mac comes from a broken home and a terror of a mother, Linda.  As such, she is very hesitant about love and romance, even working in the industry she does.  Cue Carter Maguire, a professor of English at the Academy Mac once attended, and a former friend and classmate of the crew.  Carter had a crush on Mac all those years ago that she never knew about, and the flames are rekindled when he stumbles upon her in her bra when he is on premise for his sister's wedding consult.  Mac finds Carter amusing and charming and decides to give him a shot.  The two pick up a romance that is both interesting and incredibly real.  Interfering in their happily ever after are Mac's paranoid concerns about love really lasting, Linda's interference in everything ever, and for a brief moment, an ex of Carter's trying to break things up.

This book is easily my favorite of the four.  Mac and Carter remind me a lot of myself and my fiance, although he is no where near as clumsy (that's me) and both of us come from stable, two parent, nuclear families that are very close.  But my man was in love with me from the first, and I was terrified of it - I get how Mac's brain works in that way.  Of course, this being Nora Roberts, they get together in the end with a proposal that really fits their relationship.

Book two, Bed of Roses, is about Emmaline "Emma" Grant, the florist of the group, who has pined for friend of the group Jack Cooke for years and never acted on it.  Jack has felt the same, but felt Emma was out of bounds, as Parker's brother, Del, sees all the girls as his sisters.  This is sort of a mirror relationship to Mac and Carter; Jack is the commitment-phobe and Emma the hopeless romantic.  As such, as she falls deeper and wants more from him, Jack starts to screw things up by pulling away.  There's a really lovely climax to this one, one that involves all the girls standing up and protecting their friend.  And as the heart of all of these books isn't the romance, but the relationship between these four powerful, smart, fabulous women, that scene struck me the most.  Again, in Roberts' fashion, they end up with a beautiful proposal straight out of Emma's dreams that should melt even the hardest heart.

In case you hadn't gathered, this is my second read through of these books, which should be an indication of just how much I enjoy them.  Usually Roberts' books are great fun for one go through, but don't really bear re-visiting.  This is a series I will probably come back to often.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CBR III Review #23 - The Magician King by Lev Grossman

“Being a hero, the man had observed, is largely a matter of knowing one’s cues.” 

Hot on the heels of completing The Magicians, I decided to read Grossman's sequel,  The Magician King.  This was a mistake on several levels.  The first problem is that the first book was awesome.  The second was going to have a hard time living up regardless.  The second problem is that the second book doesn't even come close to the first.

This book again follows Quentin Coldwater, our protagonist from the first book, although this time his chapters are interspersed with chapters detailing Julia's life before the starting point of this book.  Yes, that sentence was terrible.  Anyway, this narrative structure was just one of the missteps for this book.  Honestly, I didn't care about Julia in the first book (not that we were given a reason to - she was a throwaway in the first book, barely a blip on Quentin's radar once he became a magician.  Learning about her story never mattered to me, and actually following it detracted from what I was reading in the present (as her story was in the past).  While I understand how it was relevant in the end (which I won't spoil, even though it's mind numbingly stupid), getting through her chapters was like pulling teeth.  Moody, teenaged, depressed teeth.  Ugh, so did not care.  Julia is no substitute for Alice, and I felt her absence keenly every time Julia took center stage.

In addition, Quentin, who I expected to have grown up a little after the epic finale of the first book, really hasn't.  Every time his character experiences some growth, something comes along to make him instantly disregard everything he's tried to learn.  By the very last pages, I don't feel like Quentin is any more of a man or a grown up (or, more importantly in the context of this book, a hero) than he was at it's opening.  It takes the few steps he had made in the first book and just throws them out the window every few plot twists.

And then there's the plot.  Jesus.  Quests, Gods, mystical rape, Unique Beasts, travels in and out of Fillory - it got really really ridiculous.  Personally, I'm a big hater of using "God" or "Gods" as a scapegoat for creating conflict.  The first book laid an interesting foundation point for where magic comes from.  When they graduate from Brakebills, Dean Fogg gives a great little speech about how they have access to this power they probably shouldn't, and where does it come from, and who might take it back?  This is really interesting theoretically.  And there might have been ways to explore a source of magic without being so damned cliche about it.  Without getting terribly spoilery about it, I just felt that not only was the use of Gods trite and uncreative, but the way they brought them into the story was just ridiculous.  And whereas the showdown with the Beast from the last book was violent, graphic, and disturbing because it needed to be, the invocation scene with Julia  No, no, a thousand times no.  That got graphic and gross and the worst part is it felt like it was there for shock factor, not because that's how the story had to go.

All in all, this is one I'd suggest skipping, especially if you had any affection at all for The Magicians.  I'm going to pretend I never read it and eventually go back and read the original again to wash the taste of this out of my mouth.

Friday, October 14, 2011

CBR III Review #22 - The Magicians by Lev Grossman

“For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.” 

The Magicians is the story of Quentin Coldwater, an exceptionally bright and incredibly unhappy teenager living in Brooklyn.  After an interview for Princeton takes a shocking turn, Quentin finds himself in a whole new world - one where magic is real, and he can use it.  He begins matriculating at Brakebills, a school for magicians, learning the skills and meeting the people that will shape him from then on.

Important to everything involved in this book is Quentin's love of a children's book series, called Fillory and Further.  A narrative shaped damn near identically to match The Chronicles of Narnia, these books were Quentin's favorite long after he "should" have outgrown them.  But now that he knows magic is real, could Fillory be real, too?

This book is wonderful.  I'm a big fan of fantasy lit, and this does a nice job of making it more contemporary.  Quentin lives in the world we know, but on the fringes is this whole other world, where magic is real, and possibilities are endless.  There is sex and profanity and the type of moral ambiguity and young adult malaise that are so commonplace now.  It felt very authentic and relatable, even if Quentin was often insufferable in his search to find something to make him happy.  Not all of the secondaries get real fleshing out (Janet, in particular, felt a little thin), but the ones that do are well realized (like Alice, wonderful Alice).  It also treats magic even more harshly than I think the later Harry Potter books do.  It is not only something you work at, that can hurt you, but over-reaching your power can get you killed.  This book does NOT shy away from violent descriptions, btw.  There is one particularly nasty sequence near the end that made me think of Sin City and turned my stomach.

A really great read that I totally recommend.  I picked up the sequel, The Magician King, immediately following my completion of this one and am already sucked back in.  I'm surprised this hasn't already been grabbed up for movie rights, as the material seems to lend itself to adaptation, but perhaps it just hasn't hit the right people yet.  Regardless, if you enjoy good fantasy, especially adult fantasy, this is well worth your time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

CBR III Review #21 - The Ghost of Hannah Mendes by Naomi Ragen

"Fight the degradation of your cultures, of your environment, of your nation and your community.
Dust off the jewels in the attic, shake out the skeletons – stare them in the face.
Stop being afraid."

The Ghost of Hannah Mendes tells the story of three Sephardic women (sort of four, but Janice is really more of an afterthought than a primary character) searching for the past and how to apply it to the future.  Catherine da Costa, a wealthy Manhattan Jew, is nearing the end of her life and realizes she has not passed on the cultural traditions that have made the family what it is today.  Her daughter, Janice, and two granddaughters, Francesca and Suzanne Abraham, do not practice the faith, do not appreciate their familial ties, and are completely disconnected from the history of their family.  Catherine decides to change this, motivated by visitations from the spirit of her ancestor, Hannah Mendes (who goes by several names in the course of the book, all historically accurate as far as I am aware).  She sends her granddaughters on a mission to Europe to locate the rest of Hannah's memoirs, a priceless heirloom missing from the family for generations.  

Both girls are a far cry from their ancestors power and family loyalty.  Suzanne is a stunning vegetarian do gooder who works for a rape crisis center and is perpetually broke.  She doesn't believe the past is relevant to the present and keeps a distance from her family.  Francesca is a petite type A overachiever, with a desire to have the things in life she thinks she should and an intense need to control things.  Once Catherine gets them to Europe, however, things start to change for all three women as they learn more about their family through Hannah's memoirs - discovering her life during the Spanish Inquisition.  The women have a great deal to learn about their religion, their roots, and themselves.

Naturally, there are two romantic subplots, because why not?  It's also one of Catherine's goals not to let the family tree die off, and her two single granddaughters are an obstacle to that.  They meet lovely Jewish men that fit their needs almost immediately upon arriving in London, and the way those plotlines resolve will surprise nobody.

What IS surprising, and enjoyable, is watching the women grow in the light of each new section of memoir they discover.  The book is broken up by excerpts from other texts (historical fiction, as far as I am aware) that teach them, and the reader, more about Hannah and what happened during those bloody years of the Inquisition.  It's a really fascinating read, especially from the perspective of a no-longer practicing Catholic.  I learned a lot about Judaism, and felt a lot of connection to the history within my own faith as well, even though I no longer practice.

This is a really great read and I highly recommend it!

Monday, September 19, 2011

CBR III Review #20 - Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

“The problem, as I see it, is that you've been told and not told. You've been told, but none of you really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way.” 

Alright, I've put off reviewing this long enough.  I finished this book maybe a week and a half ago and refuse to write this review.  It's not because it was bad - that I'd have been able to write about easily.  It's that it is just so very very...BLAH.  It's beige.  It's white bread.  There is no flavor, no heart to this book at all.  The foundations are good, but they've built some humorless cement block building on them so that you don't bother to remember it at all once you've left it.
I'm not going to really summarize this, because I genuinely didn't care enough to remember.  We are taken to a world where human clones are bred and raised to be organ donors.  That is their entire purpose in life.  They grow up, stay healthy, and give away organs until their bodies fail and they die.  The story itself follows three characters; our narrator, Kathy, and her friends Ruth and Tommy.  The love triangle business, the way their existence at all is addressed, the relationship with the teacher, Miss Lucy, who wants them to really understand who they are - all of this sounds like really great lit material.  But none of it is explored with any depth of feeling.  It's very cold, much like the donor facilities all three of our characters end up in.  This is a story that could have done so much to explore what life could be if cloning were to go in this kind of direction, and could have connected us to it on an emotionally resonant level that left a reader asking questions.  But at no point in reading this did I give one shit about any of these characters.  It's sad.  I really wanted more from this.  And because the premise is so solid, I can't write it off entirely as bad writing.  It is just entirely too cold to leave a lasting impression.

Honestly, I'd have to suggest skipping this one.  No idea if the movie is any good, but I don't plan on watching it to find out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

CBR III Review #19 - Born in Shame by Nora Roberts

The heart has to break a little to make room.

The last of the Irish Born trilogy!  This one focuses on Shannon Bodine, daughter of an affair that Thomas Concannon had with a woman named Amanda.  Shannon starts the story completely unaware of the circumstances of her birth.  The truth is that Amanda and Tommy were very much in love for three weeks in Ireland.  Amanda went back to America and found herself carrying Tommy's child.  However, due to his marriage and family, Amanda makes the choice to inform him of the child's existence and then disappear from his life, for the good of everyone.  She ends up marrying a lovely man during her pregnancy, and that is the man Shannon knows as her father.  The novel starts with Amanda's deathbed confession of these facts to Shannon, which coincides with the detective Rogan hired to find Amanda finally arriving at the Bodine home in Columbus, OH.  

Shannon has been living the high life in NYC, working as a commercial artist and working towards the goals she thinks she is supposed to aim for.  She has the good job, the perfect apartment, the reasonable boyfriend - and no passion in her life.  She decides, in her mourning, to travel to Ireland to meet the women who identify themselves as her sisters - Brianna and Maggie, both now married and each with a child at this point (btw, those Concannon women do NOT mess around! That was a really quick turn over from both husbands being strangers to becoming two families).  

This story, in addition to exploring the burgeoning relationship between the Concannon sisters, also serves to explore Shannon's passion for painting and her rather unique relationship with the surrogate brother and neighbor to the sisters, Murphy Muldoon.  Anyone who didn't see that coming from the start of Born in Fire clearly hasn't read enough Nora Roberts.  There was an element of their relationship, however, that I was unprepared for - the mysticism.  Shannon and Murphy are connected by lovers from the past, the Witch & the Warrior.  They both dream of these people, and therefore each other.  Murphy, in fact, tells Shannon almost upfront that he loves her and will marry her, because they are fated and he's been waiting for her all his life.

I'm torn on how I feel about this.  On the one hand, it feels unnatural with the realism of the rest of the trilogy (and Roberts work on the whole).  However, being of Irish heritage myself, I understand that perspective, of knowing you've been there before, or how the land there can make you believe in things you never thought you would.  On a trip with an Irish Lit class in college, our bus driver took us to see a fairy mound.  If you are unfamiliar with this, they are little mounds of dirt all over the countryside that are believed by many to be the homes of fairies - to approach or touch one is to bring bad luck upon yourself, as you have disturbed their home.  This is something, on American soil, I would have called bullshit.  But when the bus arrived, the driver refused to get out or park closer, telling us we were taking our chances on our own.  Our professor told us we were allowed to stay on the bus if we agreed with the driver, and inexplicably, I found myself still in my seat as most of the bus emptied.  Somehow, I believed enough to avoid it.

Still, while I can see where people might indulge in the belief, especially when it's wrapped in something as emotionally complex as love, it felt a little unnatural in the context of Roberts work.  As such, this book, like Born in Ice, didn't quite touch me the same way as Born In Fire.  It's still a series I will likely revisit, if for no other reason than my enjoyment of that part of Ireland and the way Roberts loving writes it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CBR III Review #18 - Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.

This was a really interesting read, if for no other reason that it is so very different in format than your average novel.  For those unaware, this book is created from found photography.  The images inform the narrative, rather than the other way around.  Each of the pictures is a really fucking creepy image from much older times, all of which appear they have either been altered or are of something mysterious and magical.
The story itself revolves around a young man named Jacob.  Jacob grew up listening to stories of his grandfather, Abe.  Abe has shown Jake pictures of his childhood at the home of Miss Peregrine, where he escaped to during WWII.  Abe's pictures and stories are all about magical children with powers, and for awhile, Jake believes that's how it was.  As he grows older, he comes to believe that it's all an analogy for his experiences in escaping Poland as a Jew during the war, and that what he survived has led him to make it into fantastic stories.  After Abe is killed in the woods behind his house, the teenaged Jacob realizes there is more to this magical children stuff than he thought - much, much more.

Jacob decides to venture to the island in Wales where his grandfather had stayed at the home. It is here that the story really picks up steam and we learn the truth of what is going on.  To elaborate on it here would spoil things, so I won't.  It's an interesting and occasionally tense read, and the use of the creepy found photographs is really effective.  Really the only shortcoming I felt the book possessed was the ending.  While I understand the point of ambiguous endings, or endings that don't really feel like they wrap things up, I very generally dislike them.  Miss Peregrine's is no exception.  I wanted more from it.  I'm not sure if there is a planned sequel (although finding images and quotes for this review has led me to discover there IS a film adaptation planned), but I'd like one.  I don't like not knowing what happened after the curtain closed.  

Great book, though, and one I recommend!

CBR III Review #17 - Born In Ice by Nora Roberts

"Changing a man's like walking through molasses. A lot of effort for little progress."

This is the second volume of the Irish Born trilogy and focuses on the second Concannon sister, Brianna.  Brie runs a lovely and relatively successful B&B called Blackthorn Cottage.  She's a homekeeper of the highest order - she loves nothing more than cooking and cleaning for her guests in her lovely home in the Irish countryside of County Clare.  She wants to create a place of love and home there because it is not what she grew up with.
Whereas Maggie was fire and passion and temper, Brianna is a colder sort of collected woman.  She's not cold in a cruel way, like Maeve, but rather in a level headed way.  She doesn't see the point in temper or fighting and generally keeps her cool to avoid both, even when it's warranted.  I think that's why I felt less connected to this particular book.  I have a lot in common with Maggie - we're both stubborn, determined, fiery tempered women who will fight tooth and nail for what we want, and against what we don't.  Brianna's even tempered nature is something I simply can't wrap my brain around.

Thrown into her calm and ordered life, one where she craves a family of her own that she was denied years ago by the abrupt departure of her fiance, Rory, is Grayson Thane, a successful American writer of murder mystery novels.  For starters, I hate his name more than I can express.  Grayson Thane?  REALLY?  His nickname is a color for fuck's sake.  Maybe I'm nitpicking, but it bothered me.  Anyway, Grayson comes to stay at Blackthorn for some undisclosed period of months to write his next novel.  Naturally he falls for the beautiful and fascinating landlady, as you do if you are a character in a roman novel.  However, Grayson has a past that he refuses to acknowledge, one that prevents him from believing in anything but "living in the moment."  He lives a rootless existence, traveling from town to town writing and touring and never really belonging or thinking that he needs to.  Hell, Grayson isn't even his real name (btw, his real name is Michael Logan, which is an AWESOME name).  Of course when he falls for Brie, that all starts to change, and he doesn't know how to deal with it.  The novel revolves around Brie's relationship with Gray, her relationship with her mother, and the search for the sibling neither sister realized they had.

That last point sets up the third novel.  Brie discovers early on a packet of letters from a woman named Amanda to her father - love letters.  Apparently Tom and Amanda had a beautiful love affair for three weeks that they couldn't pursue due to Tom's duty and devotion to his family (even though his marriage to Maeve was a loveless one).  Amanda's final letter informed Tom that she was carrying his child and then there were no more letters.  Brie and Maggie attempt to locate this woman and her child throughout the course of the novel, amidst Brie's romance and Maggie's new baby with her new husband, Rogan.  

I enjoyed this book, though less thoroughly.  Again, my deepest love came from the way the country and its people were utilized.  Part of what draws Grayson in is the sense of community in this small Irish village, where comhain is a way of life. Comhain is essentially doing for others and knowing they'll do for you; having that shared sense of belonging and helping each other without being asked that really makes a community like family.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the surprise sister fits in with the girls (and the inevitable romance that I foresee between her and Murphy, the guy who is "like a brother" to Brie and Maggie).

CBR III Review #16 - Born In Fire by Nora Roberts

"The tune was sad, as the best of Ireland was, melancholy and lovely as a lover's tears." 

I've admitted here before that I have a deep love of Nora Roberts' books.  She's my guilty pleasure.  It's frivolous reading, to be sure, but sometimes that's all I'm looking for.  Every now and then, it's nice to take a break from heavy, deep tomes and read something that follows a predictable pattern with the promised happy ending.  And the sex scenes sure don't hurt!
Born in Fire is part of Roberts' Irish Born trilogy, which is technically a misnomer, as the last book is from the sister who is not, in fact, born in Ireland. But I digress. The trilogy tells the stories of the Concannon sisters - Margaret Mary (Maggie), Brianna (Brie) and Shannon.  Born in Fire is Maggie's story.  It starts hard and fast with the loss of Thomas Concannon, the beloved father of the girls.  Maeve, their mother, has always been cold and cruel, something Maggie has always resented.  Maggie is the reason that Maeve and Tom married, as she was conceived in a fit of passion that Maeve will never forgive herself for.  Maggie is an incredibly passionate person, with the tempers that implies.  She is a gifted glass artist, which sets the stage for our romance.  The story starts 5 years after the prologue and Tom's death, with Maggie making her art in her cozy, loner sort of life in County Clare and Brianna (to whom Tom's house was left) is running a lovely B&B and caring dutifully for her ungrateful mother.  Maggie wants nothing more from life than to free Brie from the servitude of their mother.  To that end, she accepts a deal with an arthouse owned by Rogan Sweeney, something she never wanted to do out of a fear that it would compromise her artistic integrity.

Naturally, this being a Nora Roberts' book, Rogan and Maggie do not have a strictly professional relationship.  Maggie, having only ever seen the cold, dutiful marriage of her parents, is terrified of love and relationships with real ties, unable to believe that she will not become her mother.  The book revolves around her relationship with Rogan, her relationship with Maeve (which is fleshed out well and really justifies a lot of her character choices), and her entrance into the high profile, glamorous art world.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, both because of my intense love of Maggie, and the obvious adoration Roberts has for Ireland (a passion I happen to share).  She writes of Ireland like a lover describes their partner, with all the gentleness, passion, and love she can muster.  Despite being American born and raised, every time I've gone to visit Ireland, be it for family or frivolity, it's felt like coming home.  Roberts really catches that feeling and uses it to embody the brilliant Irish characters within. While I'm tired of the convention that Irish women must always have red hair (um, hello, that came from mixing with the Vikings and other invaders - pure Gaels are dark haired, pale skinned and light eyed!), sticking to the stereotype worked for Maggie's character.  

Next up will be the review of the second book in the trilogy, which focuses on Brie.  Haven't gotten through the third yet (started it last night!) so y'all will have to wait a few days on that one!

Monday, August 15, 2011

CBR III Review #11,12,13,14,15 - A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.
Game of Thrones
"The longer he lived, the more Tyrion realized that nothing was simple and little was true." 
A Clash of Kings
"You know nothing, Jon Snow" 
A Storm of Swords (and pretty much every book since)
"War makes monsters of us all." 
A Feast for Crows
"The reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one." 
A Dance with Dragons

I’ve been putting this off for far too long.  I started reading George RR Martin’s epic fantasy series in February, motivated in part by countless recommendations as well as the then-impending HBO series.  I cannot recommend these books highly enough.  I’m a big fantasy fan, despite not having read nearly enough of what qualifies as “canon” in the sci-fi/fantasy nerdverse.  But I devoured this books like a starving man at a beautifully laid out feast.  A warning to those reading this review – SPOILERS ABOUND.  I waited to write this review till I could do them all at once for a reason – I want to be able to discuss EVERYTHING.  So if you haven’t read all five books, you might want to skip the rest of this review.  I don’t promise to keep chronological (honestly, I’m not sure I’m even capable of separating the books in my head anymore since I read them one after the other over the last 6 months) so you can’t even say “hey, I’ll just read the first paragraph and that’ll save me!”  NO!  You’ll be just as safe as any character in this ‘verse if you do that, which is to say, not at all.

Martin has created an incredibly deep and lush world here.  Westeros, while not someplace I’m dying to live, is a place I definitely feel like I’ve been to after spending the last 6 months reading about it.  I think I know the geography of the 7 kingdoms better at this point than that of my own country (which is pathetic, but probably true).  Martin fills this world with incredible characters, none of whom is really a good guy or a bad guy. I think that may be my favorite thing about the series – moral absolutes are just for songs and fairy tales.  If you try to live by them in Westeros, you lose your head (RIP Ned Stark).  The characters are motivated by the same selfish and selfless things that we all are.  They do what they do for love, revenge, fear, safety, anger, hate, passion, sex, money, power and every other thing you could think of.  That’s what makes it feel real.  The “good” have to compromise in order to survive, and the bad sometimes have more going on than you realize (like my darling Jaime Lannister).

Martin also creates a world where you can never feel safe about any of the characters you fall in love with.  The most obvious demonstration of this was the beheading of Ned Stark in Game of Thrones.  Since the scene at Baelor’s Sept is shown from the eyes of young Arya Stark (one of my favorites through all five books), I genuinely did not believe it had happened at first.  Arya turns her head away at the last moment, which leaves room for doubt.  It wasn’t until several other characters confirmed it in later chapters that I could accept the reality that Ned was dead.  Once that happens, all bets are off.  It’s like living in the Whedonverse – if you love them, odds are something absolutely horrible is going to happen to them.

The most true example of this is the scene Martin has said he had the hardest time writing – the Red Wedding.  And, to a different extent, what is done to Theon Greyjoy, a character I’ve grown to feel an enormous amount of pity for.  The Red Wedding is a completely brutal and unrelenting event, watching characters like Rob and Catelyn die in ways that are simply not ok.  What they do to Rob’s body with his wolf took me to a visual place that still makes me shudder.  And I was genuinely less troubled by Cat’s death (which upset me a lot) than I am by her second life, courtesy of Beric Dondarrion.  

There are characters you always love, like Arya and Tyrion; those you love to hate, like Cersei and Joffrey (and holy crap did I cheer when that little shit choked to death at his wedding); and those you learn to love or at least like, like Jaime and Theon.  And none of them are ever safe. 

I have not been able to put these books down.  That is not to say they are perfect.  Occasionally Martin gets bogged down in details and heraldry the way Tolkein did with Elvish.  While it’s all very pretty, it’s not always worth slowing the story.  A Feast For Crows was a slow book and one that took some work for me to get through.  Many characters I thoroughly enjoyed were abandoned until Dance with Dragons, and there are some subplots I still don’t really care about (eg I am so sick of the extended Greyjoy family at this point).  And as far as Dance with Dragons goes, I’m glad the last quarter of the book was so awesome, because the middle of that was a fairly miserable slog as well.  Martin seems to have written himself into a corner with Meereen, and I hope he gets further out of it.  I am sick of the pale mare, and the Brazen Beasts, and the Wise Masters.  I want Dany to take those dragons and go kick some ass, and I think that’s where this is heading.

I will admit I am mildly concerned about two things.  One, I don’t think Martin has any idea where he is going with this.  He doesn’t have a plan in his head the way JK Rowling did with Harry Potter and that frightens me.  It makes it too easy to meander and end in a way that doesn’t actually feel like a resolution.  Two, I am TERRIFIED that the man is going to die before he finishes writing it all.  There is a reason that everyone bemoaned the SIX FUCKING YEARS it took between the last two books – that is a long fucking time.  And Martin is neither young, nor particularly healthy looking.  And keeps saying (possibly jokingly, I hope to God) that he could write more than the next two books to finish this series. DO NOT ADD TO THIS, GEORGE!  You have a goal.  Finish The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring and END IT.  Before you die.  Or we all get sick of you.  Or HBO catches up and is like “wtf, mate, we need the end.”  All of those.

CBR III Review #10 - Wish You Were Here by Phillipa Ashley

“When he’d left her, he’d taken something with him – her ability to trust – and for a long time afterwards, she’d been as wary of men as a pool she couldn’t see the bottom of.”

Eight years after Jack dumped Elizabeth without a word, she now has the chance at a great new job – working for him.  She needs the job, and Jack needs her, so the two try to overcome their past and see if they still have a future.
Not a lot to say about this one.  It’s a fun, fluffy, completely predictable little romance novel.  Works well for a beach read (which is the purpose it served for me!) but never really hits any real emotional highs or lows.  It kind of meanders about the middle.  Jack and Elizabeth aren’t terrifically sympathetic, but you like them just the same.  It’s a very white bread story – it needed something more interesting going on for me to recommend as a great little book (like I do with Nora Roberts).  It’s a fine way to while away an afternoon when you don’t want to think too much!