Friday, January 31, 2014

REVIEW: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

Time hopping, reincarnation, and romance with a little last miute thriller thrown are the rage of late. The most recent entry into this compilation of genres is Lucinda Riley's The Midnight Rose. What begins with a 20-something actress filming in the English countryside while a 90-year-old Indian matriarch entrusts her legacy with her business obsessed grandson travels through the first world war in England, a maharajah's palace, and a young Indian woman coming into her own and crossing cultural and caste barriers for love.

Rebecca is a talented actress at the rising peak of her career. She needs to decide whether or not to accept her boyfriend's proposal of marriage as she embarks for her next movie filming in England. She finds the palatial Astbury Hall imposing and beautiful and quiet as the current lord of the manner welcomes her into his home while she is filming.

Anahita is an 11-year-old girl of royal lineage whose family has fallen on hard times. When she makes friends with the wayward and headstrong princess Indira, she changes her fortunes. Anahita, Anni to friends and family, becomes Indira's companion and is schooled in England along with her friend. Life is very different in cold and wet Britain, but it also offers Anni a chance to broaden her horizons and discover love -- and death.

These two young women are fated to cross paths through Anni's grandson who is trying to find out Anni's history and the truth about her son Moh's fate.

Riley cuts a broad swath through three continents and nearly 100 years of history in her attempt to bring the intricate tale to of The Midnight Rose  to life. The characters are interesting but come off a bit 2-dimensional outside of Anahita, Rebecca Bradley, and Ari, Anahita's grandson, Ari. These three are more richly developed than the rest, although there are quirks and some details that stand out in all the characters.

What is difficult to believe is the ending of the story, or at least the high point of a last minute intrigue that was not well developed or worked into the plot. The Midnight Rose is a sprawling book that could have been longer and fared better with all the plot lines. So much of the situations and relationships seem rushed and incomplete as though some of the details got lost in translation.

Outside of mentions of filming and sitting in Makeup, there is little information about the career that is central to Rebecca's life. The zenana in the Maharajah's court is more detailed and given much more time and attention. Much of the venues in The Midnight Rose are sketched in, but Riley seems more interested in life in India and Anahita than the rest of the characters and plots she attempts to weave together. Riley wastes no time in using every trick in the romance guide in setting up and breaking up the relationships and little of that is useful or believable.

However, I did enjoy much of The Midnight Rose, even though the actual rose plays a cameo role -- a very small cameo. The first part of the book is slow and doesn't really get moving and interesting until about a third of the way through where it plods and loses its way a bit in the middle only to go racing through the last part of the book. Anahita's story is fascinating and her view of London and the world outside of the British Raj is predictably difficult and clannish. The book could use a few hundred more pages to do the subject justice and give the characters room to grow and evolve. I'd give The Midnight Rose 3/5 stars for effort and some wonderful historical details.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

REVIEW: Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose

I began this journey with Jac L'Etoile in Seduction and I admit it was a bit difficult getting into the rhythm of the way the book is put together. The historical perspectives were very much like Jac's memory lurches and were a bit disconcerting. I've read several books in the series culminating in Collector of Dying Breaths. I wondered how M. J. Rose would incorporate perfumes and reincarnation into the story and now I know.

Jac's brother is dying from some unknown disease and he's going quickly, so quickly he does not have the time necessary to tell Jac everything she needs to know to carry on his work before he is gone. Robbie wants Jac to finish his work discovering the combination of fragrances to complete the project and infused the collection of dying breaths so they can be used to reanimate the men and women whose last breaths were caught. Knowing she must also work with Griffin is difficult enough, but the memory lurches remind Jac why she has distanced herself from Griffin. If the memory lurches are the result of her relationship with Griffin, she will once again cause his death. She cannot have that on her hands.

Jac's life is far from tranquil or uncomplicated and have always been since the memory lurches began. She is close to realizing what she experiences are past life memories of hers and others' lives. That is something she is reluctant to believe, that souls can come together again and again in new bodies with the same agendas and fates. That is what makes this series complicated and a bit redundant. After all this time, Jac should be ready to accept what she already knows: reincarnation is a fact and she has a gift not a curse.

Collector of Dying Breaths is set along the same lines that M. J. Rose began this series with and the memory lurches have become less disconcerting at least to this reader. Rose's ability to recreate the past and make it believable and fascinating is wonderful. Translating that information through Jac's abilities has ben a little rough around the edges and yet that lurch is part of the charm of the series and of Jac's stubbon refusal to embrace her abilities.

The one part of Collector of Dying Breaths that makes me sad is that it seems this series is now ended with the resolution of Jac's fears and the realization of long held hopes. Time moves on and even stubborn Jac must embrace the future, especially after yet another near death experience.

The manner in which Rose weaves the threads of reincarnation and Buddhist teachings throughout the series is masterful and the characters are memorable, even those that exist for more than a few sentences or pages. Rose writes rich and wonderful characters with complexity and texture that ooze reality. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems and clues are salted at just the right places to keep readers turning pages and moving through the web of deception and discovery.

I do not doubt that someone once tried to capture the dying breath in order to find a way to bring the dead back to life or that perfumes were part of that alchemical reaction in some distant past. I also do not doubt that Rose has yet more fascinating stories to tell and characters to reveal that will send this reader plunging into the worlds and stories she concocts. I have enjoyed many of Rose's series in the past and look forward to many more in the future. Collector of Dying Breaths is one of my favorites, not because of the resolution of so many conflicts, but because of the way in which Jac L'Etoile has grown and adapted to a world set on shaking ground. I'd give this one 4/5 stars but only because I think Jac should have embraced her talents long before now and because Nostradamus played such a small part in this tale, especially since he created a fragrance of sorts that was said to have protected against the Black Plague, which was rampaging through Europe at the time the Florentine perfumer was working out his alchemical tool for reincarnation. Brava!