Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong

Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong

Rating: 3/5

I was not sure I was going to keep reading Kelley Armstrong after her Women of the Otherworld series was over earlier this year, since the quality of her writing seemed to be declining in the later books. However, WotO is still my favourite of the urban fantasy series I've read, and Armstrong is always an easy read, so I figured I wouldn't be losing much if I picked this book up and gave it a shot. I was curious about what she was going to do next. 

True to form, Omens was an easy, fairly fast read. There are supernatural elements in this world, but they are slow-to-be revealed, mostly only hinted at in this first book of what I believe is planned to be a trilogy. One can only assume they will become more important in the next two books. Unlike the WotO series, however, this deals with superstitions ('omens', obviously) and folklore, rather than witch's magic, shapeshifting and the like. There are characters who have certain extrasensory abilities, but everybody (so far) appears human. 

There isn't a whole lot of action and imminent danger in this book, until the end, which is fine by me. Most of the book covers the protagonist's situation (Olivia, the adult daughter of a prominent and rich family discovers she is adopted and her real parents are imprisoned for serial killings) and her encounters with characters in Cainsville, to which she is drawn by various forces. She is investigating the set of four murders to find out if her birth parents are truly guilty, with the help of an enigmatic lawyer named Gabriel, who is clearly being set up as a love interest.  I was a bit disappointed with the trope between the two, who by the end of this book are unaware of each other's interest and convinced their feelings couldn't possibly mutual. It's a pretty tired device, in my opinion. 

Olivia is an alright character, there's nothing really special about her personality aside from the gift for reading omens that she is slowly discovering. She's determined to be independent, stubborn, attractive, curious...Nothing to dislike, but nothing to feel strongly about either. Armstrong's women characters are generally like this imperfect but strong-minded "everywoman" type. The other characters in this book are far more interesting, if only because they are mysterious and seem to be keeping a lot of secrets.  For the most part this story is told in the first person from Olivia's perspective, but short chapters appear every once in awhile from various other characters' perspectives, offering hints to their roles in the larger picture, which is quite effective at creating interest. 

I find Cainsville itself more intriguing than the plot about investigating the murders, personally. The way the first murder was 'solved' was kind of implausible and unsatisfying, even given the supernatural elements in this world. However, my curiosity about exactly what is going on in Cainsville and how it relates to Olivia and her birth parents is enough to make me want to continue with this series. 

My other reviews of this author:
Awakenings (Darkest Powers #2)
Spellbound (Women of the Otherworld #12)
Thirteen (Women of the Otherworld #13)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Paris - Edward Rutherfurd
Rating: 4/5

I received a bound galley copy of this book in a goodreads giveaway, which will have no effect on the objectivity of this review.

In order to do a proper review, I would have to read this monolith again. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started it. I thought I'd experienced historical fiction before, but Rutherfurd's tome needs its own category. "Super historical fiction" or something. It took me four months to get through this book, which is probably a record for me. Usually I am either in or out, but I was determined to experience this book.

I dare say a personal familiarity with Paris; and an excellent memory would have benefited my enjoyment of this story, but I have neither. At times I felt like I was getting a walking tour of the city, but blindfolded, with only a guide to describe the scenery. I had difficulty picturing a lot of places that were mentioned in passing, and I felt like every significant place in Paris history was mentioned, whether it added to the story or not. Locations where plot happened were easier to imagine, but the rest felt like obligatory place-name-dropping. This may be enjoyable for someone who has actually been to Paris, but for me it was occasionally tedious.

The story follows several families in Paris through about 300 years of history, up until the late 1960s. Well, "follows" is not exactly an accurate term, since the narrative jumps back and forth through time and between characters. I had some difficulty with this. My memory is poor, and it was hard to remember which characters did what when. I assume it was arranged this way because Rutherfurd had a plan regarding when key information about how the families' histories were intertwined would be revealed. This trade-off of clarity for drama might give a reader with a better memory less trouble. The jumping around also made it harder for me to stay involved in the story -- it took me awhile to get situated in each setting, and I found that setting changing rather too shortly after I really started to get involved in the plot. So it was jarring. And the long chapters made it difficult to keep reading -- each chapter requires a leap to another time and set of characters, and a big chunk of time if you want to get through it all at once. I personally don't like putting a book down in the middle of a chapter, but I made do with section breaks.

The characters in this book were fairly well delineated and developed, but it took the whole book to really get to know any of them, since there were so many and their stories were told in chunks separated by long narrative interruptions. I quite liked Marie, but it was difficult to become entirely emotionally engaged with any of them for some reason. 

The plots in this book were excellently woven and varied, intertwined with the most important events in Paris' history during the periods covered. There were family grudges, murders, political intrigues, wars, romances, infidelities, tragedies, triumphs...nearly every plot point you could imagine, and all brought off with great plausibility. Though it was difficult to rejoin the story whenever I picked the book up from a long pause, eventually I was always drawn back in.

Rutherfurd's writing style is graceful and pleasing, his words setting a tone rather than being the focus of the work. It leant itself well to its story-telling. 

This is a book I would like to read again some day, but it does require a big commitment, so I am not sure I will ever get around to it. I am looking forward to reading this author's novel about London, which I think I will enjoy, being more familiar with British history than French.