Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sex, Drugs, and, uh, Witchcraft

Witch Hill –by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Fiction / Horror? (could be Humor?)
188 Pages
2 Stars

There is something about Bradley's writing that usually sets my psychic teeth on edge, and so I haven't read many of her books, and few of those I started did I finish. Still, she has a solid reputation in the SF/F genre, and when I found this book on a recent trip, I figured I'd give her another try.

This time, I finished it, and over all, it was an okay read. But only an okay read. Whatever about her Darkover novels or Mists of Avalon that rang a discordant note in my psyche was not in Witch Hill. Alas, there wasn't a lot of anything else, either. I don't think it measured up to her capabilities or her normal writing.

There is a lot of sex in this book, germane to the story. While sex doesn't bother me, unless it's totally gratuitous and or sadistic, I'm not sure it added all that much. It felt like it was added at the last minute, without much, shall we say, fleshing out?

I found the book "jerky" – lacking smooth segues between scenes, sometimes no segues, smooth or otherwise. It read more like a rough draft than a polished novel. Thinking it may have been published posthumously, I checked – the book was published in 1990 and she died in 1999; however, Wikipedia says she suffered declining health for years, so that perchance played a part.

Sara Latimer is one of a long line of Sara Latimers, all Witches (not Wiccans, please do not confuse the two) who died violent deaths; however, she knows nothing of her father's side of the family. Her brother was killed in a military accident, her mother died on hearing the news, and her father died on the way home from the double funeral. While going through mail and bills, she discovers the ancestral home she knew nothing about in Backwoods New England exists, and someone wants to buy it. She, needing money, as well as a place to recoup the onslaught of sudden deaths, ventures forth to see first hand what she owns, and if she really wants to sell it or keep it.

Now, I know and understand all of us grieve differently; however, having lost my parents and other friends and family, some close together, others not so much, I found our heroine to be somewhat unbelievable. Another strike against the book. However, it IS a novel of drugs, sex, and, uh, witchcraft.

Arriving at the manse, she discovers she looks exactly like previous the Saras whose portraits hang on the walls. Many of the locals are sure she is the Witch, reincarnated. Some even fear her, like they feared her departed Aunt Sara who died 7 years prior and whom she not only did not know, but did not know of.

She meets the young Dr. Standish, and (of course) it's love at first sight for both of them. The only problem is the Coven wants her back--with her Aunt's memories and power. Oh, dear.

Hard times ahead as Sara must decide what she wants—the power of the Coven, or the love of a man. She can't have both. (Remember, this is fiction, and not about Wiccans!)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Of Fossils and Friendships

Remarkable Creatures –by Tracy Chevalier

Fiction / Herstorical
320 pages 562KB
5 Stars

This is the fourth of Ms. Chevalier's books I have read, and so far, it is my favorite. I'm not sure why – perhaps I'm getting used to her style? Perhaps I could identify with her characters better? I don't know, but I could hardly put it down at night.

Again, Chevalier has taken real people from herstory, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, then wove their lives into a delightful tapestry of the English coast on the English Channel, fossils, friendship between unlikely people, and the bucking of convention. Perhaps that's why I like it the best, so far at least, that bucking of convention.

Elizabeth Philpot is a prickly spinster, living with her two spinster sisters, "banished" so to speak, to live on a limited income to the small town of Lyme Regis when their brother marries and sells the family home. The sisters are educated, and Elizabeth discovers once living in Lyme that she has a fondness for, and collects, fossils of fish.

Mary Anning is a teen of Lyme when the Philpots join the small community. She comes from a poor working class family and roams the beaches looking for "curies" – fossils and shells to sell the summer folk who come for the sea air and wish to take home a curiosity or two when they return to their winter habitats.

Mary is uneducated, but has an eye for fossils, and a deep love for them. She is a curious girl, struck by lightning when a baby. Ramrod straight Elizabeth finds her on the beach, and a bond is quickly formed between the two. Elizabeth convinces Mary she at least must learn to read and write at the Sunday School of her church, which Mary does.

The chapters are from the point of view of either the quite correct Elizabeth, or the far more casual, though literate, Mary. It quickly becomes apparent who is speaking, just by the voice. As all good stories must have conflict between friends, there is conflict here—and a most satisfactory resolution. This friendship, at least as depicted by Chevalier, is believable. How their friendship ends, I shall leave you to discover on your own.

I had not considered, until reading this book, the impact of finding and dating such fossils had on the Church and the people's belief/understanding of God and Creation in the early 1800s. It seems the religious had, then as now, often a hard time separating their beliefs from the facts of science.

For those of you who are not familiar with either of these women, they were "uneducated scientists" who did not receive real credit for their finds for quite some time. Mary is credited with important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds, the first ichthyosaur, the first two plesiosaur skeletons found outside Germany, and many more.

Elizabeth was an amateur paleontologist and artist. Her well categorized fossils were used by such illustrious geologists as William Buckland and Louis Agassiz for their research. Mr. Agassiz gave both women credit in his book on fossil fish, and named one specie after Elizabeth and two after Mary.

The www is full of information about both women; however, the most approachable and most fun read is--Remarkable Creatures.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Unicorns and Millefluers

The Lady and the Unicorn –by Tracy Chevalier

Fiction / Historical
256 pages / 496 KB
5 Stars

Paris and Brussels 1490-1492. If you like historical fiction, and by now it should be pretty obvious that I do, you will truly enjoy this book.

My one quibble is that sometimes I forgot who was talking and had to flip a few pages back to remind myself. I would have liked a personal cue as to who spoke. Perhaps a lisp for one, a tic for another, a stutter—something. Admittedly, they may have been there, and so subtle I didn't read them. I do tend to get totally engrossed in a good story, and I was totally engrossed in this book.

The story of the beautiful tapestries, and how they came to be, is told by several different people. Claude Le Viste, they young and virginal oldest daughter of the nobleman Jean Le Viste, who is not only willing, but wanting, to through away her virginity to the lecherous painter with the silver tongue, Nicholas des Innocentes. Her mother tells her story, Nicholas his, and of course we have those marvelous folk in Brussels who weave the tapestries telling their story.

The Notes and Acknowledgements at the back of the book are to be read. I know many folk skip that part, but here Ms. Chevalier tells us what happened to the people on whom this tale is based. (When reading historical fiction it is always wise to read any Preface, Notes, etc. that one finds at the beginning, ending, or both of the story;-)

The descriptions of the people were wonderful, how they were treated, how they dressed. Especially the differences of the domiciles of the Le Viste family, the weavers in Brussels, and Nicholas's rough apartment.

While the story is about a series of tapestries woven of wool, Ms. Chevalier does a remarkable job of weaving her own tapestries from words, without skipping a stitch. Highly recommend this book for those of you who like Historical Fiction.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Burning Bright

Burning Bright –by Tracy Chevalier

Fiction, Historical
637 KB / 327 pages
4 Stars

London 1793-1793, or rather, one small neighborhood and two families, with the Blake's in the middle.

To be honest (and somewhat embarrassed) I didn't realize the neighbor, Mr. Blake was THE William Blake until I began reading some of the other reviews. Neither that particular part of history, nor he, nor his poetry, have ever been great favorites of mine, in case you couldn't tell.

I read this story as a coming of age story of two young people, Jem and Maggie and except for the long bouts of poetry I fairly well enjoyed it. Until the end. Something about the end left me dissatisfied. Like a well prepared gourmet meal and a bag of cheap cookies from the corner store for dessert. It was OK, but....

My first Chevalier book was The Last Runaway, and I loved it. This is my second book, and though not as soul satisfying as the first, I am eager to read the rest of her books. Ms. Chevalier is an accomplished author, she does her research, and her characters are captivating.

The picture she paints of London fairly reeked with the stench that Jem and his family must have up with put once there after having come from the country. The street-wise girl, Maggie was a delight. I enjoyed the banter between the two, in their own dialects. Normally, I don't care for dialog in dialect, but Chevalier both handled it well, and did not over-use it.

If you are interested in London of the 1790s, and or Blake (yes, THAT Blake;-) I highly recommend this book. If you just want a good story, I still recommend this book. A most engaging story well told of life as it was lived then.