Saturday, 4 November 2017

Book Review: Darcy's Utopia by Fay Weldon

A 90s book. So nineties, it's unbelievable...

Fay Weldon, Darcy's Utopia

Darcy's Utopia ended up on my '2017 clear-out pile' but was one of the more entertaining reads over the past six months. (This says a lot about my rather constrained, clear out-focussed reading list.)  

A full review will be coming up at some point, when I can be bothered to think of something to say about the book ... or find the time to write it down.

In the mean time, my initial verdict: Fay Weldon was actually not quite as annoying as some of the other authors, I had the misfortune of making acquaintances with recently. 

I'm looking at you: Milton Hartoum, and you, Elizabeth Kostova! (Kostova's epically long and equally disappointing 'The Historian' proved to be a tedious, hard slog and Milton Hartoum's 'Orphans of Eldorado' is taking way too long to finish, considering its length of a mere 164 pages. That should say a lot about Weldon's competition in my current reading pile.

Darcy's Utopia charts the ascent and decline of Weldon's heroine, Eleanor Darcy. For the most part, Darcy's story is relaid through a series of interviews she gives to two journalists,  Hugo Vansitart and Valerie Jones, who in turn hook up with one another for the duration of their research of Eleanor's life story, leaving children and partners behind to pursue a short-lived fling.

The book was released in 1991 and whilst I was not particularly smitten by the actual plot, I found this to be quite an entertaining glimpse into the United Kingdom's not so distant past.  Darcy's Utopia aspires to be a lot of things, part societal satire, part comedy, but it failed to  impress me in the end. 

Weldon's heroine starts life as Apricot, a child born out of wedlock on a council housing estate in post-War London with a slightly confusing family background. Through a series of relationships, Apricot climbs the social ladder to finally become Mrs Eleanor Darcy, wife of a high profile economist and adviser to the prime minister.

As briefly mentioned already, I enjoyed this book mainly because of its accounts of society in post-War Britain from the 1950s onwards. I also enjoyed Weldon's writing style. Did I care about the characters or the story? Not really.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Book Review: Deadly Decisions (Temperance Brennan #3) by Kathy Reichs

I picked this one up cheap from a second hand bookshop over ten years ago. Having made the decision to embark on a reading challenge that involves reading all the books on my shelves, which 

a) have been there for too long (i.e. more than five years) and 
b) have been earmarked for a clear-out after reading, 

'Deadly Decisions' by Kathy Reichs fulfilled both criteria.

Deadly Decisions, Temperance Brennan #3 by Kathy Reichs

Despite never having read any of the books in Reich's Temperance Brennan series, I somehow knew that I wouldn't enjoy it. Previous attempts to get into the story never worked out and I gave up about two pages into the book.

Book Review: The Children's Hour by Marcia Willett

Before I begin, I should point out that I have read the 2007 German paperback edition of Willett's 'The Children's Hour', titled 'Das Spiel der Wellen'. The book turned up in my kitchen after it was cleared out by one of my neighbours. He left it with me, since I am the only German speaker in the neighbourhood.

Marcia Willett - The Children's Hour, 2007 German paperback edition titled 'Das Spiel der Wellen'

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Review: Dark Satanic by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Originally published in 1972 Dark Satanic is the first book in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Occult Tales series and the prequel to The Inheritor. Throughout her life Bradley was an incredibly prolific writer and is, of course, better known for both the Darkover and Avalon series. Given the sheer quantity of Bradley's written output, it should come as no surprise that some of her books lack in the quality department.

Anyone familiar with her wider work will be aware, Bradley published a great number of books and short stories that can best be described as 'fragments' or literary experiments, in which she was trialling new plot lines, developing characters and experimenting with new themes. Rather than retaining these fragments in a drawer, Bradley was happy to see them published - in later years most often inside one of her short story collections and anthologies. Yet, at times her ventures into new territory were published as stand-alone books or republished and marketed as sequels and / or prequels to other novels.  Dark Satanic belongs into the latter category.

Dark Satanic, Marion Zimmer Bradley 

The story unfolds in Manhatten where James Melford, a publisher, and his wife Barbara share an apartment with James's ageing mother (Mother Melford) and her friend, Dana, who temporarily stays with the Melfords while house hunting. 

Shortly before his untimely death, one of James's authors, Jock Cannon, visits James in his office at Blackcock Publishing in order to deter James from publishing Jock's recently completed expose on New York City's satanic subculture. As a result of researching  satanist circles, Jock is now subjected to intimidation and harassment by as yet unidentified forces, wishing to prevent the information in his book from becoming public. 

When Jock suddenly dies of a heart attack, James, still determined to publish his book, decides to investigate further. He remains unconvinced by Jock's warnings until James himself starts receiving threatening calls and unexpected late-night deliveries. 

Meanwhile, Barbara, who not only has a rather strained relationship with her mother-in-law but is also deeply uncomfortable with Dana's presence in the apartment, experiences strange goings-on, too. At first, she doubts her own sanity, but as the story unfolds, she becomes increasingly suspicious of Mother Melford, her confidante and their behaviour towards her. 

Admittedly, in Dark Satanic Bradley is not giving us her best. Quite the opposite. The spelling mistakes in my copy alone indicate the absence of any serious editing and suggest a turbo turnaround from initial manuscript to publication. The characters remain flat and abstract and the story seems to plot along, giving the impression that Bradley, whilst writing, forgot where she wanted to take the story. 

Following the introduction of Claire Moffat's and Colin MacLaren's characters, which assume the roles of dei ex machinae, Bradley moves on to plant the seed of the sequel, thereby not so subtly preparing her readers for further literary ventures into the worlds of good and evil, the forces of black and white magic, religious ceremonies and satanic rites. This is somewhat reminiscient of The Fall of Atlantis, 

The Fall of Atlantis, Marion Zimmer Bradley, photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith

Atmospherically and thematically, the setting and subject matter of Dark Satanic evoke associations with Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, which was published in 1967. Rosemary's Baby became the best-selling horror novel of the 1960s and thanks to Polanski's adaptation of the book, which was released in 1968, it remained a trendsetter in the genre for years to come.

As a literary product, Dark Satanic can best be described as a gothic pulp, tapping superficially into Levin's market by ripping various elements off Rosemary's Baby. Considering the poor quality editing, I would not be surprised to find out that Bradley was under a very tight deadline when writing Dark Satanic and she made use of this to explore a rough idea for a new series. In later editions the book is marketed as the prequel to The Inheritor, which was published in 1984 and received overwhelmingly positive reviews. The success of The Inheritor undoubtedly boosted sales of Dark Satanic, resulting in its republication in 1988. 

All in all, Dark Satanic certainly deserves a place in any MZB fan collection, especially to satisfy the needs of the completist collector. All others are best advised to skip the book and read The Inheritor instead. 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Cover Art by George Barr, Maren,Tim White, Darrell K. Sweet et al.

An eclectic selection of sci-fi and fantasy artists have created the covers for Marion Zimmer Bradley's books and anthologies.

The below is a selection of cover art for MZB's publications. The photos are taken from the paperback hardcovers. The entire pictures are available here, featuring works by George Barr, Tim White, David A. Cherry, Richard Hescox and Maren, whose actual name is Mariano Pérez Clemente. 

Whereever possible information on the cover artist and edition has been included. Sadly, the cover art the for The Forest House (MZB's Avalon Series) remains uncredited in the edition by Michael Joseph.

George Barr, Darkover Landfall

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Darkover Landfall - 1972
Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.
This edition: 15th printing (first printing, December 1972)
Cover Art by George Barr
For a review of Darkover Landfall, please click here.

Summary and Review: Mind to Mind by Betty Shine

Mind to Mind is the first of several Betty Shine publications to be reviewed on this blog over the coming months. Originally released in 1989, with Mind to Mind, Betty aims to provide a broad overview of her work as a spiritual healer, medium and clairvoyant.

Mind to Mind by Betty Shine

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Cover Art for Marion Zimmer Bradley

Darkover Landfall Marion Zimmer Bradley, photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Darkover Landfall - 1972
Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.
This edition: 15th printing (first printing, December 1972)
Cover Art by George Barr
Border Art by Richard Hescox
For a review of Darkover Landfall, please click here.

Snows of Darkover, Edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith

Snows of Darkover
Edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Cover Art: Tim White 
Publisher: Daw, 1994

The Ages of Chaos, Darkover Omnibus (Stormqueen and Hawkmistress) by Marion Zimmer Bradley photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith
Stormqueen & Hawkmistress (Darkover Omnibus)
Marion Zimmer Bradley

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Crime and Punishment

....or a Zero Tolerance Policy towards late returners:

Library Fines in Warren County, Vicksburg (Mississippi) Public Library

This was stuck to the inside cover of one of my latest paperback finds. 

I just love vintage paperbacks. You simply don't get the same amusement with a kindle.
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