Friday, August 24, 2012

Once Upon A Time VI Really Late Wrap Up

I have done a horrible job this year writing reviews (only one so far) but I have been reading, which is obviously more important.  Life just got crazy so I didn’t get a chance to do a wrap up post for Once Upon A Time so I figured I might as well do it now. 

I only committed to reading one book during the challenge but I ended up reading six: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov, Demi-monde: Winter by Rod Rees, Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Stone Raft by Jose Saramago and Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  And enjoyed them all except Fool Moon.  Since I didn’t do full reviews here are short ones.

Invitation to a Beheading

I absolutely loved Nabokov’s Pale Fire.  Not only was it interesting meta-fiction it was laugh out loud funny and beautifully written.  I had not been crazy about Lolita, although I appreciated his use of language, and I wanted to try something else by Nabokov.  Invitation to a Beheading was discussed in Reading Lolita in Tehran and it was described as Kafkaesque, so it sounded like something I would enjoy.  The plot isn’t the point, but our hero, Cincinnatus C., is in prison waiting for his execution, date unknown, for committing the crime of “gnostic turpitude”. That makes it sound depressing but it is so absurd and surreal that it is simply amusing to learn about his visits with his jailer, his jailor’s young daughter, a fellow prisoner/executioner, his wife and her family and a spider and his escapades and escape attempts in the prison.  And by the time you get to his execution the nature of reality is so uncertain that it is actually a happy ending. (It reminded me a little of Blade Runner and Brazil.)  It seems to get compared to Kafka’s the Castle a lot, which apparently annoyed Nobakov, but it seemed to be more like the Trial (which I loved) than the Castle (which was a disappointment) to me.

Demi-Monde: Winter   

Every time I wander by Amazon’s web site I reflexively look to see if the next book, Demi-Monde: Spring, at least has a release date, which tells you how much I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one.  I wasn’t sure if this was going to fit the OUAT because the set up sounded more sci-fi than fantasy.  From the book jacket: “In the year 2018, the Demi-monde is the most sophisticated, complex and unpredictable computer simulation ever created, devised specifically to train soldiers for the nightmarish reality of urban warfare.  A virtual world of eternal civil conflict, its thirty million inhabitants - Dupes- are ruled by cyber-duplicates of some of history’s cruelest tyrants....But something has gone horribly wrong inside the Demi-Monde, and the U.S. President’s daughter, Norma, has been lured into this terrifying shadow world, only to be trapped there.”  But after the initial set up I became so immersed in this fantastical world that I forgot that it was supposed to be in a computer simulation and it felt more like fantasy to me.  According to an interview with the author, Rod Rees, “the real inspiration for The Demi-Monde came from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I loved the idea of a young girl being lost in a fantastic world where everything is a distorted, bizarro image of the Real World. In fact the major theme of The Demi-Monde is absurdity. The religions of the Demi-Monde - UnFunDaMentalism, ImPuritanism, HerEticalism, HimPerialism, RaTionalism and Confusionism - are merely the religions of the Real World stretched and distorted to breaking point.”    

I loved the whole absurd world that was created as well as the wacky historical characters like Trotsky, Josephine Baker, Aleister Crowley especially as they interacted in ways that were not possible in the real world.  While this may not be the best written book, it is fast paced, very original and totally fun.

Fool Moon  

I had read and enjoyed the first book in the Dresden Files, Storm Front and I am somehow compelled to read things in order.  I should know better but I just cannot help myself.  I am not that big of a fan of werewolves, although I have encountered some fictional ones that I found entertaining, such as in Underworld, and I really didn’t enjoy this book.  I was a short quick romp  with the wizard trying to solve a murder during a full moon and sorting through all the possible werewolves involved.  It reminded me of a cozy mystery but for the paranormal.  Does that have a name?  It should.  Anyway, I may try the next one which is not about werewolves - we’ll see. 

Physick Book of Deliverance Dane  

I really wasn’t expecting to like this and ended up really enjoying it.  A young women moves into her grandmothers crumbling house and with help of a handsome steeplejack (yes, an actual steeplejack!) discovers her family’s connections to the Salem witch trials and perhaps her own powers as well.  Sounds like a trashy paranormal romance from the plot description.  But I surprisingly actually really enjoyed it.  First of all it is set in Marblehead and Salem which I am quite familiar with and the descriptions are dead on, creating a wonderful atmosphere for the story.  Second, the history is fairly accurate and interesting as the contemporary story of the young women is interspersed with a story line from the Salem witch trials.  Third, the focus isn’t really on witches and witch craft but on academia and historical research, which I loved.  (I was a history major and while I didn’t take that path I certainly could see myself as an academic sorting through the musty and crumbling church records hunting for primary sources.)  The characters were interesting, the plot was both educational and mysterious and I really enjoyed the book.

Stone Raft

Jose Saramago is one of my favorite authors.  I haven’t read all his work yet, thank goodness, but All the Names is one of my all time favorite books.  I have also enjoyed Blindness and Death with Interruptions.  While this is probably my least favorite of his that I have read so far it was still wonderful.  In the Stone Raft the Iberian Peninsula have broken off from Europe and is drifting south toward a collision with the Azores. It is the tale of five people and a dog who each experience something unusual when the crack in the Pyrenees first appears who set out on a journey to explore their newly transformed stone raft.  The plot is never the point in a Saramago novel but his extraordinary use of language, his astute observations and his evocative descriptions make this wonderful fable a joy to experience.  If this is your first Saramago I would start with All the Names or Blindness. 

Snow Child        

I cannot decide whether I really enjoyed this one or not.  This was the hot new book that everyone seemed to be reading and it sounded interesting and a perfect fit for OUAT.  This is the blurb from Amazon:
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

I picked this up with trepidation, mostly for the red fox.  I try not to read books with animals because in my experience something awful always happens to them. But then as I started reading the entire atmosphere was so melancholy and foreboding that I was filed with dread that something awful was going to happen to not only the fox but the young girl and the entire cast of characters.  And yet, the wilds of Alaska were fascinating, the characters engaging and I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know what happened.  And I thought the weaving of the old Russian Fairy Tale into the story was skillfully done.   And yet, it kind of felt like watching an entire movie peeking out from behind a pillow.  I think it was just me, or perhaps just my state of mind at the time, and I really did think this was a remarkable book, so please give it a try.   

I really did enjoy the OUAT this year and I hope I can be more active and up to date next year.  Thanks Carl! I am looking forward to RIP.  

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