Monthly Archives: April 2014

Fate – L.R. Fredericks

Fate is the second book in the Time and Light series. I quite enjoyed the first, Farundell, which I’ve read and reviewed three years ago and so I was looking forward to see what this one was about. Both of these books can also be read as standalone novels.

“What am I?
Not a ghost, though that is what most people believe. I am, and it looks like I shall forever be, Lord Francis Peter George St John Damory.
I was born more than two hundred years ago and although I am not strictly speaking alive, I am obviously not dead. My appearance is as I choose, though usually I resemble my old self. I was a handsome man; I enjoyed it then and I enjoy it now. I am not beyond vanity, nor any other trick or trap of earthly existence. My body is a simulacrum, as is my study, my fire, brandy, pen, paper.
I am an artist of the aether.”

Fate It’s 1717, London, and young Francis Damory and his brother Sebastian are out on the town for a night of enjoyment to celebrate Francis’ 17th birthday, when they are attacked. As Francis lies in the gutter, he remembers the night of his eleventh birthday when he went sleepwalking through the rooms of Farundell and had a brief conversation with his great-great-grandfather, Tobias, whose life he knew very little about except for rumors that were quickly hushed up. Tobias had died a long time ago. Or did he?

So begins a lifelong obsession, as Francis sets up to find the elusive Tobias. As thread after thread unravels in his hands, Francis becomes more and more convinced his ancestor is alive. But how is this possible? Is he immortal or just a product of too many tales embellished over the years? And if he is still alive, where is he? Mysterious books with a rose and a cross on the cover, an enigmatic Contessa, a piece of paper leading to a secluded villa on a small island, and a key that would fit a special door, are just a few of the clues that lie scattered throughout the book like the famous crumbs in the forest. Picking them one by one, Francis travels from London to Paris and Venice, to Cairo and Constantinople, he buries loved ones, has children, encounters pirates, meets a sultan, and his life becomes interconnected with a variety of interesting characters – a friend who becomes an enemy, a famous castrato whose voice is the toast of Europe, a trusted servant, a string of lovers, distant relatives. And with each adventure he is getting closer, his curiosity driving him on, his need to know the single most powerful force in his life. Like a magnet, the elusive Tobias seems to be always one step further, his presence almost tangible, and Francis never stops pursuing him. His quest does end, only to be replaced by another, even more powerful, and Francis seems to never find peace, to always run after something only to discover yet another ramification at the end of the path he’s taken.

Most of the characters are endowed with beauty and great wealth; they flaunt a sexual freedom unrestricted by the rules of society. They live their lives passionately and some die violently – Fredericks does not shy away from killing likeable characters.
Descriptions of detailed anatomical procedures may be a bit graphic for some readers but I found myself fascinated by the details – the preserving of bodies, autopsies – the author writes about them not with a rough hand of someone seeing the cut flesh but with a certain respect and reverence for the receptacle of the human soul. The cravings of the body and the yearnings of the soul are on display and behind the many adventures of Francis Damory, lies a quest for something far more greater than himself. What he wants comes at a high price and there is no undoing.

Farundell was an interesting book but it felt a bit dispersed, in the sense that there were a few characters whose stories mingled together, while Fate follows Francis Damory and his ancestor Tobias, giving the narrative a more precise focus.
Reading this book reminded me of the Arabian Nights (from adventure to adventure, never ending) and Dracula (the quest for finding the immortal one, although there are no vampires in the story), and also of Anne Rice’s The Mayfair Witches series (experimenting with the purpose of creating an immortal being), all of them books I loved. There are also references to Greek and Egyptian gods, cats and temples, pyramids, and elixirs, a séance session complete with fortune telling cards – it helps if you’re familiar with mythology but is by no means a requirement to enjoy this book.

What I liked most about it was the sense of adventure – it had a good pace and an ongoing sense of mystery and the ending which is both satisfying and also made me want to find out more. I’m very curious to see if the third installment, The Book of Luce, out next year, will pick up where this has left off or if it’s just loosely connected to it.

Some of my favorite passages:

“The wine tasted strangely of roses; the cloth covering the table was embroidered with roses. As I watched, they twined and blossomed, releasing a sweet fragrance. I heard a sound like bells ringing, though the bell tower was long fallen. Isabel reached out and took my hand. Her gloves were embroidered with roses, alive and growing. I shook my head; the ringing faded and the roses stilled.”

“I took another bite. Yes, now I could taste the peach, the apricot. “It’s wonderful,” I said. “I didn’t know it was possible to combine two fruits in a single tree.”
“Oh yes, possible. Many things are possible if one has the time.”

“Precisely how I came to be stranded in this state is something I have not yet entirely understood, but there is no doubt that, as an experienced chemist, I should have known that the application of intense heat to a substance (my body) whose nature I did not fully comprehend was likely to have unexpected consequences.”

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I’ve read this book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Read in April, 2014

My rating: 5/5 stars






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Noah – a movie review

Noah Russell Poster Exchanging his gladiator sword and horse and the adulation of crowds for coarse clothes and a tent somewhere in the wilderness does not make Russell Crowe skip a beat. In fact he looks perfectly at home in the harsh, barren surroundings of a world segregated by the choices humans have made. In this new movie, Crowe plays Noah, a man who belongs to the tribe of Seth, a peace-loving group of people who live off the land and believe in The Creator. As one of the last men of his tribe, it’s his responsibility to carry on his bloodline and live mindfully, just as his ancestors have done before him. Conflict is brought about by the descendants of Cain, who, after slaying his brother, went on to build great cities that eventually gobbled up the land’s resources. And as the descendants of the two tribes come face to face, death follows, just like it did the sons of Adam so long ago.

I went to see this movie not expecting too much from it. My religious knowledge concerning Noah is limited to the greater picture instead of the finer details and the movie blended the parts that I knew with interesting pieces that fit perfectly into the story. God is referred to as The Creator, and his appearance in the story is limited to weather-related effects instead of the white robed man, which adds more credibility to the narrative. The visual effects are stunning, the grandiose ark, the animals, the battle scenes, all contribute to a Lord of the Rings imposing grandeur. Jennifer Connelly plays Noah wife and she succeeds in bringing raw emotions into this retelling, as does Emma Watson whose part becomes harrowing to watch at a point. Ray Winstone, as Tubal-cain, the descendant king of Cain, is an opponent worthy of Crowe, and their fight scene is one of the best moments of the story. Anthony Hopkins is Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, and even though his role is small, it’s pivotal to the story nevertheless.

Although the director has chosen to tell a story using a well known biblical character, this can very well be a story set in our times, as it brings into focus issues humanity has been facing for a while: the overworking of land for profit, killing animals for the special powers they supposedly have, greed, war, and the list can go on. But it’s not only the dark side of humanity that gets displayed in all its ugliness; there is also love, forgiveness, and the ability to see beyond a narrow path and the belief into a better future. Noah has a task – to ensure the survival of the innocents – the animals. His path seems clear cut, and he has everything he needs in order to make sure his task is done. But as he struggles to do what he thinks he is supposed to, other elements complicate the story, and the eternal question looms large: is this really what he must do, or does he have a choice? Is this his destiny or can he take destiny into his own hands?

I really enjoyed this movie, most of all for its message which was delivered in a non-preaching manner that manages to use the story of Noah as a clever way to spotlight the human capacity for destruction and also its immense capacity for love and forgiveness. It’s a powerful, emotional, deep story that goes deeper than the story of a man who built an ark. It’s the story of an ending, and the possibility of a new beginning.
I was also disappointed to see the low ranking it got on imdb.com. A low 6.6/10 which was a pity, really. I wonder if people were frustrated by the deviation from the biblical story or they just did not get the message. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

My rating: 8.5/10






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Angela Carter Week – 8-15 June, 2014

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The Once Upon a Time Challenge is one of my favorite reading events of the year. Fairy tales, myth, folklore, fantasy, I am happy to read as many as possible. This year, Caroline from beautyisasleepingcat suggested we dedicate a week to Angela Carter, a writer who fits perfectly into this challenge. Her works include nine novels as well as collections of short stories, a book of essays, a volume of radio plays and two collections of journalism. We would love it if you could join us for this event, starting from Sunday, 8th June to the following Sunday, the 15th.

Some guidelines:

              – The event lasts for a week

          – Choose one of the two badges for your blog/website

          – You can read/listen (to) anything by Angela Carter

          – Leave a comment here or on Caroline’s blog (or both) at any time starting today until the last day of the event. We’ll have a Mr Linky set up when the event starts so you can link to your review.

 

If you want me to send you an email a day or two before we start, I am happy to do it, just make sure you leave a valid email address when you comment on my blog.

I have two books I am planning to read for this week, The Bloody Chamber – a collection of short stories, and a novel, Nights at the Circus. Apart from a short story here and there, I haven’t read anything substantial by this author and I’m very excited to start on both of these books.

Author Sarah Waters writes in an introduction to Nights at the Circus:

“Her theatrical, fabular style has much in common with that of the other great magic realists, Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; but she wrote, always with a distinctly feminist agenda determined to debunk cultural fantasies around sexuality, gender and class.

She helped stimulate an excitement about feminist writing and feminist publishing (she was hugely supportive, for example, of the founding of the women’s publishing house Virago Press, in 1979), and many of her literary preoccupations – the challenging of the cannon, the rewriting of fairy tale and myth, the imagining of female utopias and dystopias – lie at the heart of much feminist writing and thought from the 1970s and ‘80s.”

I hope you’ll join Caroline and I for this event and to make things a bit easier for you, here’s the list of Angela Carter’s novels and short story collections below so you can choose whichever appeals to you the most. You can find Caroline’s intro post here. See you in June!

 

Novels                                                                         Short story collections

Shadow Dance (1966)                                         Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974)

The Magic Toyshop (1967)                                  The Bloody Chamber (1979) 

Several Perceptions (1968)                                  The Bridegroom (1983) – uncollected short story

Heroes and Villains (1969)                                Saints and Strangers (1985)- in UK published as Black Venus

Love (1971)                                                                American Ghosts and Old World Wonders – 1993

The Infernal Desires of Doctor Hoffman (1972)            Burning Your Boats (1995)   

The Passion of New Eve (1977)                           Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales (1995) – as editor

Nights at the Circus (1984)                                                    

Wise Children (1991)

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Poison – Sarah Pinborough

onceup8200 small This is the second book I’ve read for the Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. It’s also the 14th book I’ve read this year, but unfortunately this is not a lucky number. Enchanted by its cover, feeling abandoned after the first chapter, that’s how I would describe my experience with this new take on the Snow White fairy tale.

Snow is young and beautiful, of an earthy beauty, as the author mentions quite a few times in the book, sensual and voluptuous. Her stepmother, Lilith, is a beauty as well, the light, ethereal kind. The king is away at war (he’s neither handsome nor young, but coarse and old and stout) and Lilith is plotting to get rid of the beautiful Snow. There’s the huntsman, whom she pays for his services in a most unexpected way, the dwarves, loyal and kind and too trusty, and the handsome prince who’s charmed by the earthy beauty of Snow only to discover that he doesn’t really like straightforward, lusty princesses that make him feel somehow redundant. Also there’s something, a secret he keeps that made me wonder what kind of person he really is. He seems charming and lovely, but like with other things in this book, that’s just deceiving, and we never find out how he came to the forest or why. Poison
Snow, on the other hand, starts out as a young woman who enjoys life to the fullest, drinking beer with the dwarves and riding horses wearing men’s clothing. Everybody loves her, even though she can be a little rough, but a real lady when she has to which was a bit confusing. I’m not entirely convinced this book is not a parody, in which case it’s a good one.

Elements of other fairy tales are present – a glittering pair of shoes, an old woman leaving crumbs on the way to her house in the forest, and even Alladin and his lamp make a surprise appearance. The poisonous apple does its job yet again, but it’s not the prince who brings Snow back to life, and her accepting his marriage proposal feels more like a calculated move than an act of love. But that’s not what detracted me from the first few promising pages of the story. It was my inability to really like any of the characters – I almost ended up liking the step mother, as the author showed glimpses of her past – forced to marry young and go to a foreign kingdom to an old husband, it almost makes her a character to be pitied until she does something that makes her uninteresting and not really worth rooting for. It’s a shame, because more details about what happened in her childhood would have made her a more interesting character, if not one to like, perhaps one to respect.
The ending is shocking and would have been even better if we knew why it had to happen this way. It only added yet another unresolved mystery to the pile.

My rating: 2/5 stars

Read in March 2014






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