Tuesday, August 6, 2013

CBR V Review #33-34: Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. 
It did not end well.”

This was a much darker series than I anticipated.  I don't know why I expected anything different with titles like those, but somehow it just gets more relentlessly bleak as it goes on.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I will try to avoid spoilers, but since I'm discussing BOTH books here at once, I can't promise anything.  Actually, let's just assume spoilers ahead of time.  SPOILERS.  SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS.  That's way easier.

These books, in the unfinished series by Laini Taylor, are ostensibly about two things: the relationship between a seraphim and a chimaera, and the war between their people.  Everything else revolves around these two things, although we don't know that until almost the end of the first book.

DoS&B is primarily about Karou, a lonely artist with palm tattoos living in Prague who has a very strange side job.  She works for chimaera, creatures of mixed aspect (ie torso and head of a woman, snake from the waist down).  Her job, when she is sent for, is to fetch teeth from clients of the beast that raised her, a chimaera named Brimstone.  Karou knows nothing of her roots - as far as she can remember, she was raised in Brimstone's shop by him and several other chimaera.  She knows nothing of parents or her history which leaves her feeling pretty rootless.  When she's not travelling through portals around the world, using wishes (which in this story come as incrementally as money in our world), she's attending school or hanging out with her friend Zusanna, who is maybe my favorite character of the series.  Zus knows nothing of Karou's other life till much later in the game.

Things get complicated when burned hand prints start showing up on doors to Brimstone's portals, and then Karou wanders somewhere she shouldn't and stumbles on bigger things than she can realize.  Also, an incredibly beautiful seraphim named Akiva, who is connected to Karou, but can't figure out why right away.

When it comes to light that Karou is, in fact, a reincarnated chimaera, everything changes.  She used to be Madrigal, and Akiva had been her very forbidden lover till they were betrayed, and she was beheaded.  Karou then has to live with the blending of these parts of her.  Worse still, Akiva, warped with grief over Madrigal, has done something he cannot undo by successfully destroying the chimaera, who had been at war with the seraphim for generations (which is reasonable, since seraphim used to keep them as slaves).

The second book gets dark in ways I found myself disliking, an oddity coming from a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series.  I think the problem for me was that the first book was so filled with hope (which is a word I use intentionally - Karou means hope in chimaera language and they bring up the concept every thirty seconds in the books).  The second is just so completely, relentlessly bleak, filled with murder and torture and sadness for everyone.  Zusanna and her boyfriend, violinist Mik, were really the only bright spots of the whole thing, and they figure into it in fairly small ways.  I'm concerned about where this is going based on the ending of the second book, where the angels have invaded the human world, and a hated character's body contains the soul of a beloved one.  It's all kind of a mess.

I want to see where this goes, mostly because I want it to end more happily than I've left it at this point.  It's well written, but I can see where it might not resonate with everyone.

CBR V Review #32: Just for Now by Rosalind James

The third book in the Escape to New Zealand series, and another fun read.

Like its predecessors, Just for Now focuses on the relationship between an ex-pat from the US and an All Black rugby player.  This one is a little different, tonally, as the relationship involves two children.  Finn is a widower, and Jenna comes into his life to be the nanny.  He has two children, Sofia and Harry.  Jenna has her own baggage in a failed marriage, which ended when she found her husband cheating on her (not to mention her family drama of a bitchy, trailer trash mom who valued her boyfriends over her daughter).  Jenna loves the kids, and naturally, ends up loving Finn, too.

I liked the added new element of the kids to this one, although it removed it from my own frame of reference a bit (my friends are only just starting to make babies, and my husband and I have no immediate plans for any of our own).  It does make for an interesting obstacle.  Many romance novels go for the standards - the ex, the player rep, the parent drama - so having the kids be a reason to stay away from each other, and take it slow really worked.

I love the casual way the characters from previous books pop up.  It's lovely to read and go "ooh, Kate and Koti's wedding is being planned" or "aw, Hannah and the baby" and the like.  They don't pull focus; there's no wink wink, nudge nudge about their appearances.  It's just nice to see them again.

Once I finish this series, I think I'm going to be really sad there aren't more.  Till then, expect more reviews of them.  They make wonderful summer reading.

CBR V Review #31: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

“Once again, I've been thwarted by the massive difference between my vision of the successful me and the me I'm currently stuck with.” 

The appeal of this book for me was instant.  Lauren Graham, my beloved Lorelai Gilmore, wrote a book??  About a struggling New York actress??  Done.  I was ready to be absolutely in love.  I wouldn't say it left me with as many warm fuzzies as I had about the idea, but I did enjoy it.

This book is the story of Franny Banks, aspiring actress and hot mess.  She has given herself a deadline to make real progress in her career, and if she doesn't, the idea is that she'll move out of NYC, marry her college sweetie, and take a job that is more stable.  In addition to her professional woes, she's got romantic ones as well.  While she has that other guy on hold (in a My Best Friend's Wedding kind of way), they are both allowed to see other people, and this creates some bonus drama to Franny's life.

Honestly, the romance subplot I could have done without, at least as far as the one element goes.  Without being spoilerific, there's more than one guy interested in Franny (this will not be a surprise to anyone reading this book) and there's only one of them I was interested in hearing more about.

As to Franny's professional life, that hit a little closer to home than I'd care to admit.  I'm currently taking a year to try and make it work as an actress, an incredibly daunting prospect if you know anything about how random and slow it can be to break in at all.  Her naivete about a lot of the industry frustrated me, but she's younger than I am, didn't grow up watching her mother do it, and it's set in a time when it was much harder to know things.  Nowadays, I can look up contracts on my union's webpage, ask about on set protocol on message boards, etc.  She didn't have those resources.  Still, there are moments where, as a pro, I shuddered to see her do things that were just so profoundly stupid.  

Still, this is a good read, and one I'd be more inclined to suggest for slightly younger readers.  There's some sex in it, but none of it is actually described, just sort of referred to.  And reading the struggles of a performer in NY may actually be great for aspiring actors.  As they say, if you can see yourself doing *anything* else, you should do that thing instead.  Because this business we call show is NOT for the weak.  It's for the crazy.

CBR V Review #27-30: The MacKade Brothers Series by Nora Roberts

I love how reliable Nora Roberts is.  I've read dozens of her romance novels over the years (no interest in the JD Robb In Death series at all) and they are pretty consistent in delivering what I want from them.  In this case, it's perfect beach reading.  I grabbed up this series for my week down the shore and burned through all four while I was there.

The McKade brothers are known for being trouble, which naturally means they need to settle down with awesome women by the end of each book.  The set up is the same as in any of them - you start a book with one brother and one girl who is obviously the love interest, and they end up married or engaged by the end of it.  

A difference between this and many of Roberts' other series is that these are not all set up in the first book.  Often, you'll get the entire cast up front and be reasonably sure of the pairings before the final chapter of that first volume is completed.  This one didn't work that way.  Only Rafe and Devin's pairings are set up from the get go.  Shane and Jared both meet their respective women at the openings of each of their own books.  Made for less time with each couple, but kept me from waiting through the other stories to see each play out.

Standard romance fare applies.  Resistance to a relationship, something passionate happens to change it, big conflict of some kind, grand gesture leading to happily ever after.  Added bonus to this one is the connection to the Battle of Antietam.  The series is set in Antietam, and the land is laden with history.  The boys and their women (and yes, I word it that way intentionally) are very connected to the ghosts of the past, in particular relating to a story of two young soldiers who meet in the wood, fatally injure one another, and crawl off to two properties, each housing supporters of the other side.  How that plays out historically is relevant to the plot, so I'll leave it at that. But it's a neat thru line.

If you like Roberts, you'll love this series like her others.