Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CBR V Review #38: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy 1) by Deborah Harkness

I'd been waiting to read this book FOREVER (cue The Sandlot references).  I've had friends recommending this book to me since it came out, and I sat on my waiting list at the library for months and months before finally getting to read it.  I'm glad that I did, although I don't know that it ranks with my top fantasy series just yet - we'll see how the sequels pull things together.

This book tells the story of a witch named Diana Bishop and her involvement with...a book.  Betcha thought I was going to say with a man, right? Well, that's a factor, too, especially as that man is a vampire.  However, the most important relationship in this book (and possibly this series - time will tell) is between Diana and an alchemical text she summons from Oxford's Bodleian Library, despite its having been hidden for generations.  Her ability to access the book summons all sorts of unwanted mystical attention - you see, Diana may *be* a witch, but she certainly tries not to live like one.  Ever since the deaths of her parents in her childhood, she's been fighting against her natural inclinations towards magic, trying to deny that part of her.  Our true natures always will out, though, and hers is helped along by an unlikely alliance with Matthew Clairmont, and very interesting and unique vampire.

If the phrase "witch in love with a vampire" turned you off, guess what?  I hated Twilight, too, and this is nothing like that. For one, Harkness has a beautiful command of the English language.  For another, these are very three dimensional characters.  There are moments that irk - sometimes Matthew's aggressive alpha male-ness gets old, and there are times where Diana embodies what's wrong with Aaron Sorkin's female characters on The Newsroom.  However, there's enough alongside that to compensate.  I will say that this book drags a little in the middle.  I hit a point somewhere that I thought was an ending, only to glance down and realize I was barely halfway through the book.  There is a LOT of material here, and the pacing doesn't pick up till much later in the game. However, when it does, it *really* does.  I think my favorite element of the book was the mixing of the three magical races - witches, vampires and daemons (here, not represented in a traditional, evil, Buffy will battle them way, but as really scattered, incredibly brilliant, often intensely creative people).  There are so many prejudices between the groups, which mirror our traditional stories about them, and they must be overcome in order for there to be unity.

I'm definitely looking forward to picking up the next volume, especially because there is a change of setting that I am just crazy about (won't spoil it here).  Well worth the read for all you fantasy enthusiasts out there!

CBR V Review #36: Acting In Film: An Actor's Take On Movie Making by Michael Caine

“Actually, I'm really quite vain about the whole problem because I figure there is no competition - I am what I am, and either I am needed as that or I'm not suitable anyway.” 

This book was recommended to me by a friend in an acting class for Film and TV.  One of my shortcomings as an on camera performer is my tendency to go bigger than fits the frame - the fault of years upon years of theatrical training.  While working on this in class, my friend suggested I check out this book - that Michael Caine had some really great ways of look at acting in film, and the industry in general.  So I went home and ordered it.  I'm glad I did.

He's such a natural person that you feel like this book is a conversation that you are having over a pint or two in the pub.  He puts together advice with such wonderful stories of his own experience.  There are things that he learned that, even reading them, you'll still need to experience for yourself to really get.  Still, it doesn't lessen the truth of what he's telling you.  For people not in the biz, it's just a really fun read.  His stories are awesome, and it gives you some insight into how things really work behind the scenes.

I definitely recommend this, in general, and especially for actors.  It's an incredibly short book, so you'll finish it in no time at all.

CBR V Review #35: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

“When she was pregnant with Teddy, she feared that she’d give birth to a child who disliked reading. It would be like giving birth to a foreign species.” 

I'm not going to lie to you here, kids - if you are coming here for a glowing review of that book a bunch of people recommended, you're gonna want to look elsewhere.

This is a bunch of stories that all center, somehow, around diamonds.  The framework tale is of the woman who created the tagline "A diamond is forever" for De Beers, aka those people who own the monopoly on the diamond industry.  For the few people out there who don't know about it, the diamond as a status symbol and engagement requirement was created by marketing companies and the De Beers corporation in the 1940s.  Before that, the gemstone was irrelevant, and most engagement rings or jeweled rings in general were handed down through the generations rather than bought anew.  The diamond engagement ring standard was created to make De Beers more money.  It's truly fascinating stuff, and a history well worth reading.  It also makes up the only part of the book I was consistently glad to read.  Mary Frances Gerety is awesome, and I loved when a chapter was part of her story.  Added bonus that her story took place over 40 years, and it's lovely.  She's also the only non-fictional character, although obviously her chapters are fictionalized versions of her actual history.

As to the others, mileage varies.  Kate, the most contemporary story, I could not stand even a little - she's every self righteous hippie douche I've ever come across in one completely obnoxious package.  If you want to live your life a different way than other people, good on ya, but for Christ's sake keep your mouth shut about it.  HATE HER.  James, set in the late 1980s, was...fine.  I think my issue with James' story was that it was so bleak.  It made me dread getting to his chapters.  Delphine, the only non American, set in 2003, yo-yo'd a bit for me.  There were times I was all about her and her anger, and then times where I couldn't believe how selfish she was.  Evelyn, from 1972, was second to Ms. Gerety in my enjoyment, though mostly because I loved her chapters where she reflected on her youth.

The seemingly unconnected stories naturally do connect, and that is honestly the only reason I finished reading it.  I mean, the prose is wonderful - Sullivan knows her way around the English language.  But pretty prose isn't enough for me.  Parts of the connection were fun and interesting, and it is fairly difficult to figure all the parts of it out ahead of time.

I can't exactly recommend the book, since I had trouble convincing myself to pick it up to read more.  But it is beautifully written, and many people who aren't me loved it a lot.  So I encourage you to try a bit of it for yourself and see how you fare!

CBR V Review #37: Just for Fun by Rosalind James

Yet another entry to the Escape to New Zealand books (don't worry, there's a break coming from them for awhile, and only I think one more in the series).  This one's rugby player is Nic Wilkinson, who spent a perfect week on holiday with Emma Martens 6 years ago.  She had been filled with heartbreak when she fell into his lap on the way to a tropical paradise, and their time together was perfect, but they didn't speak again.  Till now, when Emma's son, Zack, meets Nic at a rugby camp and suddenly Nic is confronted with a miniature version of himself, and the memory of a lot of feelings he didn't realize he still had.  Emma is confronted with the man she loved who gave all appearances of wanting nothing to do with their son.  But sometimes things are more complicated than they seem, and old feelings die hard.

I enjoyed this one, like the rest, but I can't say it stayed in my brain overmuch.  It's been...maybe a month or a little more since I finished it and I needed to consult GoodReads to remember what the story was here.  Even at that, I can't remember much of the conflicts that go on, other than the fact that Nic has a fiance when he runs into Emma and meets Zack, and that creates all the problems you'd expect.

Fun fluffly romance read - if you like the rest in the series, you'll like this one.  And once again, James brings in the previous installments characters in natural, subtle ways that have you going "awww" about their new families and lives.