Monday, July 1, 2013

CBR V Review #25-26: Just This Once & Just Good Friends by Rosalind James

I started reading the Escape to New Zealand series on a whim.  I finished my previous book and wanted something free from the Kindle lending library, something preferably silly and easy.  Romance novels set in New Zealand?  That was just what the doctor ordered!  I didn't even realize this was a series when I started the first one, but I can promise you I'll be reading the other two volumes before long.

The series revolves around the All Blacks, an institution in the world of rugby.  Each volume involves the life and romance of a player on the team, and I have no problem at all picturing each one of these very attractive gentlemen.  Just This Once is about Hannah and Drew.  Hannah is an overworked employee at a women's sportwear company.  She finally takes a much needed vacation - three weeks in New Zealand.  It's here that she meets Drew Callahan, rugby captain and superstar.  She has no idea who he is till much later, but she's smitten much sooner than she cares to admit.  Drew sees they have a good thing, and fights to keep her at his side.  Once Hannah heads home to her life, she has to decide if it's really worth living if all she has to come home to is more work.

Just Good Friends has a darker edge to it, telling the story of Kate and Koti.  Kate escapes to New Zealand with the help of Hannah to hide from her abusive stalker ex-boyfriend.  Gunshy about men in general, she doesn't know what to do about Koti, the playboy of the rugby team who has taken an interest in her.  The two spat every time they are together, but that kind of fire fuels them rather than detracts from their attraction.  Kate doesn't believe Koti can possibly be friends with a woman, and thus a bet is born - if Koti can be Kate's friend for six weeks without making a move on her, she owes him a big kiss in front of the rugby team's staff (Kate works in their accounting department); if Kate wins, Koti has to trade in his usual black wardrobe and wear a bright pink sweatshirt into the same office.  Both Kate and Koti have trouble keeping this bet as they grow closer.

I love these books.  James wrote them after travelling to New Zealand, and her research into the culture is obvious.  In addition to the appendixes at the back with all sorts of local terms and the like, the book is written so well in dialect that I could hear the New Zealand accents throughout.  I've always wanted to visit En Zed, so this was like taking a trip out there without the expense.  I definitely plan to read the other two, and any more she comes up with.

A must read for people who love romance novels and/or New Zealand!

CBR V Review #24: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

“You are my courage, as I am your conscience," he whispered. "You are my heart---and I your compassion. We are neither of us whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach?” 

I continue to love this series, even if we've left the beauty of Scotland mostly behind.  This is the fourth book in the Outlander series, and if you've read the rest, you know what you are in for here.

Diana really understands her characters, inside and out, and I appreciate that she keeps them consistent.  Jamie and Claire grow in a way I feel is completely natural, and their devotion to each other always feels hard won and worked at.  We spend time with J&C this time around setting up a new home in colonial America.  It's a subject more familiar to Gabaldon's American readers than the previous installments (or it is if you took a whole lot of US History, like I did) and she keeps her portrayal as accurate as I think she can.

This particular volume spends a lot of time with another generation - Jamie and Claire's daughter, Brianna, and her "friend" Roger (who himself is a descendant of characters from previous books).  Brianna and Roger discover something about Jamie and Claire that makes them risk a trip through the stones to reach them.  Suffice it to say that the younger generation is less prepared to handle the hardships of the time they jump back to.

Mostly, this book focuses on family, and what it means to be one, whether blood ties you together or not. I loved it, much like I loved the previous installments.  I'm interested to see how things develop as the Revolutionary War approaches, and to see how Jamie and Claire end up involved in it all.

If you loved the first three, you'll continue your love with this one.

CBR V Review #23: The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck

“Now, five years is nothing in a man's life except when he is very young and very old...

Ugh, I don't even want to write this review, which explains why it's taken me more than two months after finishing the book to put this together.  It's hard for me because I ADORED the last Pearl S Buck book I read.  Imperial Woman was absolutely fantastic.  Hell, I went around China quoting facts from it when I was privileged enough to go.  But this just left me so...well...bored.

This audio book (which was narrated well enough by Anthony Heald) bored the crap out of me. The Good Earth follows the life journey of Wang Lung,  a young man living in rural, pre-revolutionary China.  It maps the whole of his life from his wedding day to his death.  And I'm not gonna lie to you, I hated most of it.  The book is very much intended to be a study of the life of this time period and place, and usually I'm down with that.  But I just couldn't make myself care about anyone in this, and I'm a character driven reader.  Wang irritated the crap out of me, despite the fact that he behaved appropriately for the setting.  The only character I liked, Wang's first wife, gets so roundly mistreated that I was constantly yelling in my car.  And Wang's children are awful.

I love Chinese culture, and learning new facets to it tends to really fascinate me.  There was just very little about this book that grabbed my interest and held it, and I think that's sad.

If you want to read a really accurate study of a man's life in China during this time period, go for it.  But it is a slog.  A very, VERY long slog.