Wednesday, January 25, 2012

CBR IV Review #3 - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Reves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.” 

I've had this book recommended to me so many times now, I've lost count.  And every last one of them was right.  
The Night Circus is the story of two battling magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been bound to each other and to their battle since they were children by their instructors, a Mr. A H--- and Hector Bowen, Celia's father.  The two create a magnificent, unique circus, Le Cirque des Rêves as their playing field.  The book tells not only of their battle, but of the effects this competition has on those caught in the middle, both as participants and spectators.  To elaborate too thoroughly on the plot (as many of the descriptions I've read do) is a disservice - it's so much better to experience it.

Part of what finally drew me to selecting this title versus the dozens of others I have on my ever growing To Read list was a point of inspiration for the author.  Morgenstern thanks a company called Punchdrunk, who put together a show she saw in Boston.  The show she's referring to, Sleep No More, is currently playing in New York, and I've seen it twice with plans to go again ad infinitum till it closes.  It's a completely unique, immersive theatrical experience, much like the circus in this book.  It's very easy to see the parallels between the two works as you read.  Friedrick Thiessen, a character of the book who is both a clockmaker and a pioneering fan of the circus, helps connect the two threads the best.  In the book, there is a community of devoted followers of the circus called reveurs; Sleep No More has the same, but we have no name as a group.  Still, in both cases, people follow the show, gathering together to discuss it whether they know each other or not, bound by a mutual love for a show that is never the same and that you can never truly see all of.  This really helped me to connect to the book in a deeper way - I know exactly what it feels like to be somewhere like Le Cirque des Rêves and that makes the atmosphere so much more electric for me as a reader.

Not that this suggests that you can't enjoy the book without having this connection - it's simply a well written piece of fantasy with some really brilliant characters and an interesting narrative.  Celia and Marco make excellent protagonists, and their story is one that I think develops very nicely over the course of the book.  All of the characters feel very real and they are all relevant, which I think is important, as it reflects part of the goal of the competition - dealing with outside elements and the consequences your decisions have on them.  And the ending was absolutely beautiful and completely satisfying - there were a lot of ways for this to end, and it reaches the right blend of them all.

Definitely check out this book.  You'll lose yourself to the circus and wish you didn't have to come back.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

CBR IV Review #2 - The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip

We may be seeing only the remnants of something long gone from this world. Maybe you and I were just born with primitive eyes. Or hearts. Born with a gift for something that doesn’t exist anywhere any longer, and the recognition, the longing for it is all we’ll ever know.” 

LOVED this book.  McKillip has been a favorite author of mine for...goodness, I don't even know how long!  And this did not disappoint.
Based in the town of Caerau, The Bards of Bone Plain tells two stories: one is of the "present", where young Phelan Cle is trying to write his final paper for the Bardic College and finds more than he bargained for, and the other the tale of Nairn the Bard, the subject of his paper.  The chapters set in the past are all begun with excerpts from Phelan's paper, which makes a really nice narrative framework, and eases the reader between time periods with grace.  The story of Nairn's search for power and music (and power IN music) is just as interesting as the struggles of Princess Beatrice, Phelan, Jonah Cle (Phelan's oft drunk, mysterious father), and Zoe (the magic voiced bard and friend of Phelan) in the present.  Phelan's search for the mysteries of the Bone Plain, written about in poetry, but never conclusively identified in history, leads him on a journey he doesn't expect.

As usual, McKillip has a way with descriptive language, as applies to both location and character.  I never had a problem visualizing what was going on; more importantly, I never had a problem sympathizing with the characters either, even when I didn't understand why.  This book had a special charm for me, as all the magic and the story are linked to music.  As a musician myself, watching her manipulate a medium I understand so well was truly lovely.  

I burned through this book like wild fire.  It's definitely one I'll read again, though perhaps not with the frequency of Winter Rose (nothing will replace that book in my heart).  If you love fantasy, especially if you love McKillip's style of fantasy, this is a must read.

CBR IV Review #1 - The Next Always by Nora Roberts

“You're the woman in my life," he said. "Another thing about me and my brothers? We look after the women in our lives. We don't know any other way.” 

Yes, I'm kicking off the new Cannon with yet another Nora Roberts book.  I can't help it - the woman writes such delicious fluff!  This is the first book in her new series, The Inn Boonsboro Trilogy.  Interesting trivia for you at the end of this review!
Y'know how moments ago I said Nora writes delicious fluff?  It's true.  But I'm not sure it fully applies to this book.  Tense and unsettling are words I almost never apply to Roberts' work, even when she's writing romantic thrillers like Carnal Innocence (oh yes, I not only read that, I watched the horrible Lifetime movie).  However, this book really got to me.  I'm not sure if it's just that I didn't realize I had a button there to push, or it was just really well written, or some combination.  But this is the first time in a long time I had violent, horrible nightmares from a book - more particularly, ones where I lose.  I never lose in my dreams, and yet I lost in these.  Anyway.  I digress.

This first book sets up a little town called Boonsboro in North Carolina, home to the Montgomery brothers and a cast of lovely local characters.  The Montgomery brothers, Beckett, Owen and Ryder, own an architectural and construction company.  Their project at the opening is rebuilding the historic Inn in the town, which boasts its own very interesting ghost.  The three brothers are different enough to tell apart, and their love interests are pretty apparent from the start, as is typical in a Roberts' series.  This book focuses on architect brother Beckett and his decades old crush on Clare Brewster, mother of three and widow of a soldier.  Clare runs the bookstore across the street from the Inn and lives alone with her three boys, who are absolutely adorable, especially in their bonding scenes with Beckett.

In addition to the predictable hurdles of dating a woman who is a widow with three children, there is a huge obstacle in the form of a local creeper, who I won't say too much about in case you are as naive as Clare and simply don't see what's going on from the beginning.  I will tell you that I knew right off the bat exactly what was wrong with this guy and his part of this story is what haunted me.  ::shivers:: Not ok.  

I promised you trivia, and I'm going to deliver.  This series is based on an actual location, and all the businesses in it, including the titular Inn are real.  Better yet, the Inn itself is owned by the author, Nora Roberts.  I had gone through the book admiring the research it must have taken to get all these details of construction correct, but knowing this was something she actually built changed that dynamic instantly.  Also?  It is immensely cool to go to the website and see that the images in my head are real and fully realized.  I'm dying to go stay down there in one of those beautiful theme rooms.

Overall?  Very good read, and one that I couldn't put down near the end.  I look forward to seeing the inevitable Avery/Owen and Hope/Ryder romances play out over the next two books!