Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, From the past comes new beginnings

I was left with a cinematic cliffhanger in Ms. Harkness’ first book, “A Discovery of Witches”, when Diana and Matthew headed into the past .  Now in “Shadow of Night” they are in a race against time hoping to find answers for the future in secrets of history.  One of the biggest secrets to be  revealed is how does Diana access her witchy powers.  The other secret is Ashmole 782.   Where are the missing pages and who removed them?  Ms. Harkness leads our hero and heroine on a fantastic chase from the countryside of Elizabethan England to Matthew’s home in France, (it is a very different place in the 1500’s).   They travel to London and the Queen’s Court filled with intrigue and betrayal, then to Prague and an Emperor’s obsession with magic and Diana.  One more trip back to London where more questions than answers pop up before finally returning to face the future together.  Ashmole proves to be as mysterious in the past as in the present.

shadow of nightWhat I loved about the first book is very present in this second book, “Shadow of Night”.  Ms. Harkness has stuffed this story with historical accuracy and wonderful literary license!  Christopher Marlowe, the great Elizabethan playwright who is credited with influencing Shakespeare, plays a large role in the life and history of Matthew Clairmont.  He was considered a shady character in history and Ms. Harkness uses said suspicious tales to great advantage in this story.  Sir Walter Raleigh, another great historical figure, gets a clever twisted backstory that makes him so very interesting, sexy and star-crossed.   Queen Elizabeth even has a moment with Matthew, her “Shadow”.   This story is dense with historical references so well weaved into the fiction I found myself shocked to Google characters and find out they really did that!  I can’t tell what those things were, I will let you have your own discoveries.

While the story was awash in history and vampires Ms. Harkness didn’t ignore the witches.  Again using the foundation of research and history she creates a world filled with religious superstition, ignorance and magic.  She balances charlatans with true practitioners  so much so, it is shocking to find out who is real and who is not.  Diana finds out much about her “powers” but in this book she really has a “Discovery of Witches”.  Where they came from, how they functioned in the community, and how they were depended on and reviled at the same time and who her family really is. She learns about her magic and learns to be proud of who she is.  I loved the witches!  I loved the historical girl power!  Ms. Harkness does an amazing job of drawing a picture of this close knit group of women and why they are so protective of their culture in the future.  These women did what they did at the cost of their lives and most gave of their talents freely and with bravery.  Bravo Ladies!

Then there was the romance.  Not only did I feel like I was chasing Ashmole 782 through the entire book I got as frustrated as Diana over Matthew’s 1500 year old case of angst.  I wanted to do a Cher in “Moonlighting” on him; slap him upside the head and tell him to “Snap out of it!”  Matthew’s father does a pretty good job to beat the guilt and shame out of his vampire son but it will be Diana who brings him the greatest peace.  I know you want me to tell you if they finally consummate their love, well…….. you will just have to find out for yourself.  Their love leads to much trial and tribulation in the past just as it did in the future and it will take a strong bond to sustain them.  The very future of paranormal creatures may depend on the seed planted in the past. There are definite bumps on that particular romantic road.

A few words about the time traveling.  As you may already know I am not a fan of this literary vehicle.  I appreciated Ms. Harkness’ handling of a tricky thing.  It was just another part of her world.  It was accepted in the past as it was in the future, rare but not unheard of.  Every once in awhile throughout the book she bounced to the future where Ysabeau or another character would find a note or picture that let them know the past was being affected.  It worked. 

“Shadow of Night” is 590+ pages long.  It is chocked full of history, food, characters and action.  It is wordy but I felt every word was necessary.  I felt the beginning was slow but by page 30 the action took off.  There is a lot of place and history setting but it has to be, so I the reader, understand the choices the characters are making. There are also a lot of satisfying surprises.  I was disappointed with the lack of wine but hey it was the 1500’s.  When the book comes to a skidding halt back in France once again I am left on a cliff hanging by my fingers wanting more.  This was totally worth the wait and I feel confident the final installment, Book III, will satisfy as well.  Hopefully there will be more wine!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

50 Shades would have been better as one book

As you read in my previous post I really enjoyed “50 Shades of Grey”.  I had the next two installments on my Nook before the screen cooled off.  I began reading “50 Shades Darker” immediately.  I wanted to be swept away again.  I wanted to see how Christian and Ana would work out their strange, painful and erotic relationship.  I wanted E.L. James to take me to the edge again. 
What I got was a more traditional romantic story of the bad boy lover trying to be what the innocent ingénue wanted him to be. I got the silly innocent girl worrying that she isn’t enough for the rich, dark, powerful and sexy bad man.  I didn’t want Christian to become good.  I wanted Ana to get a little darker and more powerful herself.  I wanted that organic flow I felt in the first book.  They could come into the light, as it were, later.
The third book, “50 Shades Freed”, continued in the more traditional romance vein.  They had more conflicts with Christian’s controlling ways but the ‘princess’ Ana was gentling him with every sexual, loving act. It was predictable all the way down to the real bad guy out to destroy them both. 
The were good moments in the second two novels.  When Ms. James describes gliding, jet skiing, or sex she is completely in the sensory moment. When she takes me through Christian’s history she is empathetic and clear. She has my attention and keeps it.  She is a good writer when she isn’t apologizing for being so dark.  I loved the dark, dangerous man Christian was in the 1st book.  I loved that Ana ran after asking to see how far he could go and she learned it was more than she was ever willing to go herself.  I loved seeing that strong woman coming into her own.  
The first book was about the sex and the darkness in our psyches.  It was about love and how screwed up it gets with our baggage.  It was hot, dark, compelling and oh so very edgy. I didn’t skip a page.  The second two books almost feel like a mea culpa to the audience for going overboard in book one.  I skipped a lot including the sex.  It was toned down and sanitized, even the sex.  I felt like Ms. James was saying,  “Sorry about the darkness and violence in the first one.  I will explain and clean it all up in the next ones.”  I didn’t want her to clean it up.  Why does it have to end with a pretty neat bow? Why can’t a happy ending be realizing this isn’t right for me and I will be stronger for this relationship in the next one. 
This is the second trilogy to let me down after the first installment. I felt similarly to the “Hunger Games” trilogy.  I was just let down after such a wonderful high.  Maybe the authors are releasing the next ones way too soon so they aren’t really developed enough.  Maybe they really just said it all in book one and the publisher pressured for more when they saw the first one sell so well.  All I know is I will be stronger for my next trilogy and stop at the first book.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fifty Shades of WOW! by E. L. James

Ladies!  My heart is racing!  I feel breathless and naughty and barely before I finished the last sentence of the first installment, “50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James I was on B&N ordering the next two!
What a crazy dark, funny and erotic ride I have been on for the last 24 hours!  The romance between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele wraps every John Wayne and Maureen O’hara Movie, Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 weeks, Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss and James Spade in the Secretary into an amazing, crazy dysfunctional, un-put-downable  story I have read in a really, really long time.
This is a dirty book, graphic, dark and incredibly sexual and sensual.  This is also a book about love.  I know that sounds crazy but there it is.  Love is never simple.  I don’t care how nice a ribbon Nora Roberts or Johanna Lindsay put on it. 
“50 Shades of Grey” starts off very cliché.  He’s a mysterious, sexy multi-millionaire and she is a young innocent virgin, untried and completely inexperienced.  Hints are dropped everywhere this is going to be a  bondage and submission story.  She says “Yes Sir” and he is “very controlling and possessive.”  I have read these before including Anne Rice’s “Beauty Series.”  I was thinking I have done this and there will probably be a lot of overdone sex scenes that I will be skipping over.  I was really wrong. I have read other novels in this genre and none of them have the depth of relationship “50 Shades” has. The sex is graphic and necessary and the star but it isn’t the only player on the stage.  Once we get past the initial facades we discover two people who are very lonely and screwed up.  From the story it is obvious that Christian came out of dire circumstances as a very young child and even though his adoptive family try to love the damage away it is never really enough to overcome hunger, abuse and pain.  Ana, though has her own demons and they are actually more subtle and dare I say even possibly worse than Christian’s because she doesn’t recognize her baggage.  She loves her mother but she was just as abandoned by hers as Christian was by his.  She feels very small and unlovable and she complicates an already complicated situation by constantly questioning her value.  Don’t we all?  How do these two people who have come from such disparate backgrounds find a way to make their dysfunction work together?  That is what this story is really about.  Ok and it’s about the sex too.
Again, I cannot reiterate enough this is adult material. This is a very graphic story.  It is pornographic.  This is NOT for kids or even teens!  This is what X is all about.  I am not sure if I should be even reading it.  Yes, I am going to read the next two installments, “50 Shades Darker” and “50 Shades Freed.”  I am not innocent.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bonnie by Iris Johansen made me cry!


I didn’t intend to.  I thought it would be a crazy bullets flying cliffhanger again.  I have been on the trail to find Bonnie with Eve for years.  I came to accept long before that Eve would never find her daughter.  It would always be the motivation for her to keep bringing lost children home.  I cried anyway at the end of “Bonnie”.  Who knew I would need closure as much as Eve did.

These last 3 novels from Ms. Johansen beginning with “Eve” then “Quinn” and finally “Bonnie”  have finished years of searching.  I won’t say how it happens or who took Bonnie all those years ago.  Like Bonnie said, “It doesn’t matter Momma, it never did.”  It will matter to you when you read it.  It will matter that all the pieces finally come together in a crazy puzzle to create a final vision of love and peace. 

Ms. Johansen is one of my favorite writers.  I have been reading her work since the late 80’s.  I think the first one I picked up was “This Fierce Splendor.”  I loved “The Magnificent Rogue.”  Her early works were pure romantic adventure whether they be historical or not.  She writes with a fast paced clarity that puts me in the moment.

When she came out with her first Eve Duncan novel, “The Face of Deception”, I was hooked with the first eraser head pinned to a skull. Eve is a forensic sculptor, the best in the country. She has made this job a calling to bring the missing, especially children, home.  She is a single mom and experienced the worst nightmare any parent can.  Her daughter is abducted.  When it happens the FBI is called in and the lead agent is Joe Quinn.  They fall in love and commit to find Bonnie no matter what. The relationship between Eve and Joe is one of the most real fictional relationships out there. Through the life of the books they have real disagreements that separate them. They hurt each other sometimes intentionally to get back at the other. The relationship changes and grows as they do and it has serious hurdles to overcome.

Iris Johansen’s writing is really clean and crisp.  There are no extraneous thoughts or dialogue.  It is all pure action and feeling.  From the beginning she set it up that Eve had an especially close relationship with her daughter Bonnie even after Bonnie went missing.  She sees her daughter and talks to her.  She thinks it is just her way of dealing with the loss, but is it really?   

This final installment of this story doesn’t tie everything up in a nice pat bow.  There are threads that still need to be tied off and that is great because it means that more books are in the offing that will have new dangers and new arcs.  I see Joe and Eve taking a back seat to the story of Catherine and John Gallo. Maybe Jane Maguire will finally come to terms with her relationship with Mark Trevor.  No matter what, I can count on a pretty good story.

While I think you could read the books, at least the early ones, as stand alone stories the last 5 need to be read in order.  There are a few in the series that I think Ms. Johansen lost her way with the story in an attempt to keep it fresh.  The episodes that focus un her adopted daughter with a strange paranormal cult theme were less than stunning.  By the time she get’s to “Eve” she really has her groove and I loved getting all the backstory of who John Gallo was and how Bonnie came to be.  “Quinn” could have been skipped,(not written),  and nothing would be missed.  “Bonnie”  made me cry.  While nothing is ever perfect there has certainly been more good than bad in this series and I am happy Bonnie has finally come home.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evonovich was a DUD

R.I.P. Stephanie Plum.  Not a funny line in the book.  If I were Joe and Ranger I would be hooking up with Snookie.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book One of Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.....WOW

Book One of the Game of Thrones series is called A Song of Ice and Fire.  I don't really get the ice part but I have to say it's full of fire!  This book is so full of characters, plots, sub-plots, locations, sub-locations, action, betrayal, death, violence, passion, tragedy and intrigue it boggled my mind!
George R. R. Martin
Their must be a million characters!  Ok, I am exaggerating about the character numbers but there are a lot of them and at least 7 are the storytellers.   They aren't first person telling but the story is told from their point of view.  There is more violence in this novel than in a Freddie Krueger movie!  Then there is the ending!  Really?!  George R. R. Martin must take cat naps only because his head it too busy to let him sleep more than and hour or so.  His imagination is run amok!
Roy Dotrice
I have to let you know I listened to this book and I am glad I did.  Roy Dotrice is amazing as the narrator. He is a Tony award winning actor with an extensive resume. He has a terrific range of accents and vocal tones including the children and women.  He uses the drama of his voice to give life to the words Mr. Martin put on the page.  He was totally believable without using falsetto or baby voices.  It was like listening to a radio drama and the were several scenes when I found myself holding my breath for the outcome.  Bravo Mr. Dotrice!
The actual story is in it simplest concept a medieval political thriller. Don't mistake me, this is not a simple story.  It has more layers than Kim Kardashian's wedding cake! King Robert dies and his beloved right hand man, Eddard, is accused and convicted of his death.  Relatives begin declaring themselves the rightful heir.
Meanwhile an exiled heir Viserys, sells his thirteen year old sister Daenerys into a barbaric marriage to raise the money and army to reclaim his throne. Daenerys discovers barbarians aren't so bad and ends up being the biggest barbarian of them all.  Eddard's family isn't aware he has been executed and goes on the march to rescue their Lord.  This is the simplest description of this story and it no where near encompasses the whole.
Game of Thrones is now an HBO Series
There is no one hero or good guy.  The guy I was pulling for at the beginning appalled me by his arrogance and stupidity midway through.  Drogo, the barbarian who disgusted me turned into a sexy lover who had me thinking very bad thoughts.  The women are no easier to pin down.  The queen Cersei, who seemed just spoiled and perverted turns out to be a black widow, literally.  I wouldn't want her to be my mother.  Catelyn, a mother who is torn by the harm committed against her son turns out to be a woman of hidden stories and resentments.  Her actions are determined by her emotions and I don't expect her to do well as we go forward.  Then there are the children.  John, a bastard son sent to a desolate place to become a monk-like soldier because his step-mother resents him so much.  The oldest son Rob who is placed into a position of leadership and doing the best he can.  Bran, the younger brother who is almost killed and left as a cripple has a brighter future ahead than, I think, anyone knows.  Sansa, the sister who is an innocent and yet spoiled with dreams of becoming queen is dealt traumatic blows at the hands of her future husband and king.  Arya is the other sister who is a wild thing and her future is still undetermined but of all the characters is the one I hope becomes the baddest, toughest ass-kickingest heroine of them all.
I have only touched the surface of this story.  There are all the other support and secondary characters, (at least they are in this installment), who play important parts but are too numerous to list at this time.  There are plots beneath plots beneath plots and there were times when I wasn't always sure I knew what the heck was going on but didn't want to stop listening either. When I got to the end my mouth literally fell open and I was so shocked and surprised I had to listen again!  It was fantastic! I loved it!
There have been some other reviews that compare this series to J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Ring ". Other vehemently reject that notion.  I would say that while there are similarities between Middle Earth and the 7 Kingdoms in the grandeur of both tales that is the end of it.
Tolkien's tale was high melodrama with clear cut standards of good and bad. You knew from the beginning who was the hero and who was the villain.  There was violence but it was honorable and the good guys ultimately trounced their enemies.  Romance was important but it was more a concept than it was an actual physical thing.  Magic was integral to the story and was everywhere.
Martin has created a world that is much more real for its grit and lack of true hero versus true villain. He doesn't shy away from graphic details whether it is of a murder, war or sex act.  His characters have bad teeth and foul mouths.  There is nothing Arthurian about the Seven Kingdoms.  It's more like a medieval gangster novel.  All the factions are run by their own and there is always someone trying to run the whole show.  Magic is mentioned in the past tense and not believed in any more.
I know I haven't given a lot specific storyline but truth be told I don't know what parts to share that won't give away the parts I shouldn't.  Suffice it to say I have already downloaded the next installment "A Clash of Kings". I just want to know what winter is going to be like!