Sunday, April 3, 2011

CBR III Review #8 - The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

"The woman in whose body I had grown, in whose house I’d been raised was, in some vital ways, a stranger to me. I’d gone thirty years without ascribing her any more dimension than the paper dollies I’d played with as a girl with the pasted on smiles and the folding tab dresses."

First of all, I love Kate Morton.  Adore her.  I tore through The Forgotten Garden in a matter of days and immediately placed every one of her books on my Amazon wishlist.  So I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Distant Hours for Christmas from my future mother in law.  The real testament to how much I love reading her work is that both of these books are of the dead tree variety, and both are over 500 pages.  I’m an avid Kindle reader these days, as it is incredibly convenient to carry that little device to read as much as I want, when and where I want.  So to tell you I completed this book that I had to haul around in the same amount of time as I would had it been on the Kindle is really something.

The Distant Hours is a gothic styled novel that immediately made me think of Atonement by Ian McEwan (another book I highly recommend).  Like The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours is told by a variety of narrators whose stories span decades.  The timeline bounces around in a way that, rather than being disconcerting, leaves you wanting more each time.  The story begins when a letter from 1941 is finally received in 1992.  The letter is intended for the mother of our main character, Edie Burchill.  Edie knows very little about her mother Meredith’s time as an evacuee during the Blitz, and very little more about her in general.  This letter opens up a gateway to not only her mother’s past, but the history behind one of Edie’s favorite books, The True Story of the Mud Man.  Edie’s mother had stayed at Milderhurst Castle with the family of the book’s auther, Raymond Blythe.  Raymond had three daughters, twins Persephone and Seraphina, and later in life from a second wife, a daughter named Juniper.

The receipt of the letter so upsets Meredith that Edie finds herself drawn to Milderhurst in a search for her mother’s past.  Along the way, she stumbles upon a much bigger story than just her mother’s time at the rapidly deteriorating castle, though to explain further would absolutely ruin the suspense of the book.  That would be a shame, because one of the most interesting aspects of this novel is its ability to surprise you.  I’m the type of person who generally sees what’s coming and continues to read/watch to see how the story gets from point A to point B.  With The Distant Hours, I genuinely didn’t know what happened those 50 years ago until they told me outright.  And there are parts of the story, important parts, that I would never have even thought to contemplate had they not been eventually handed to me.

Kate creates some truly fabulous characters here, and their relationships are magnetic.  The relationship between Edie and Meredith is fascinating to me because I don’t know what it’s like to know so little about the woman who bore and raised you.  My mother and I are very close, so this was a whole new world of perspective for me.  And being an only child, I’ve always loved studying the relationships between siblings; goodness does this book provide lots of material for that!  The dynamic between the three sisters is incredibly complicated.  There are so many ways to love someone, and many of them are represented here beautifully.

What I’m getting at is that you should check this book out, and definitely read Kate Morton.  She is fabulous and I can’t wait to read the next of her books!

CBR III Review #7 - Fables Vol 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

"Perhaps women wear low necklines to filter out the gentlemen from the dogs. Those few who can still manage eye contact, even in the presence of breasts like these, might actually have some potential."

I’ve only recently gotten into the graphic novel/comics game, and I’m loving it.  Admittedly, Buffy Season 8 was my gateway drug into this world (I couldn’t deal with having no more new Buffy in my life!), but I’ve moved onwards and upwards from there.  Watchmen amazed me.  My fiancĂ© and I have a group of friends with an incredibly extensive collection of comics and graphic novels.  Dan likes to game with the group of them, and I that’s not really my bag.  So when we go over there and they start gaming, I’ll wander over to the wall, pick up an interesting volume, and settle in to read.  They’ve gotten me hooked on a number of titles, so when they recommended the Fables series, I decided to give them a go.

Fables Vol 1: Legends in Exile is essentially the origin story film of any multi picture series.  LiE takes the time to introduce the reader to the world of Fabletown, where exiled characters from your favorite fairy tales and fables have come to live.  It’s set in real world NYC, and the characters live in their own neighborhood, within their own set of laws.  An entity known as The Adversary came to their homeland and brutally slaughtered what it could and forced the exile of those who could manage to escape.

Fabletown is ruled by Old King Cole, who is assisted by Snow White, and their sheriff is none other than the Big Bad Wolf.  These, however, are not the characters the way you know them.  They riff on the original source material, but each character gets a modern, three dimensional life to them that fairy tales tend to lack.  Snow White and Prince Charming are divorced due to his infidelity, and Snow is trying to keep her party girl sister, Rose Red, out of trouble.  This volume follows the investigation of Rose Red’s apparent murder.

The story is well paced and well developed.  A number of characters are introduced here, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed keeping track of them all (therefore avoiding being Ratnerfucked, so to speak).  It takes some time to let you get to know these versions of the characters, and to understand the world they live in, that way you can adjust your expectations accordingly.

A nice bonus feature to my edition was a short story tagged on the end of the comics about The Big Bad Wolf and Snow White.  This takes place just before the exile and fills in some really fascinating history for the characters, as well as for the central conflict with The Adversary.  I also enjoyed the difference in tonality here – whereas the rest of the comics read like, well, comics, this short read more like one of the fairy tales that these characters were pulled from, just grittier.  It was a creative way to share a little more story without having to add another section to the comics themselves.

All in all, a really fun read!  I plan on moving forward in the series to see what happens to these characters.  I highly recommend it to those of you who really enjoy fairy tales.