The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

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Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt

sometimeyesterdayOctober – what better month for reading a ghost story? I’m diving bookwise into Halloween this year and Yvonne Heidt’s Sometime Yesterday is certainly a worthwhile read for the shorter days and longer nights – who are hopefully filled with steamy love rather than scary ghosts.

Here’s what happens – in the book:

Life after divorce. For Natalie Chambers it’s a new beginning with a new house. But the realtor never mentioned the ghosts that are already living in the Victrian mansion Natalie bought. Two lesbian ghosts who stir feelings in Natalie she hasn’t known before, and one ghostly husband terrorizing the living like he once terrorized his wife and sister. Their history does not not only involve the dead but also Van Easton, a landscaper Natalie is falling in love with.

It’s a lovely story. Heidt paints a convincing picture of the house and its garden in two different eras with two sets of female protagonists. They meet in a dreamscape and slowly the secrets of the past are revealed. Sometimes in vivid violent scenes that involve Beth’s husband Richard, a psychopath, sometimes in sexy love scenes between Beth and her sister-in-law Sarah.

The story is beautifully set and well written. The prose is a little choppy, a style I’m usually not comfortable with, but Heidt describes this magical world so captivating I couldn’t stop reading.

Sometime Yesterday is the perfect read for October when we’re awaiting Halloween with a cup of hot chocolate. But not just for that time, because there’s never a bad time to be scared, to feel indignant about the injustices of the past or simply fall in love. This novel gives you all this and then some. You should read it. I guarantee you’ll love it.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

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I feel like Octavia Butler is not appreciated or read enough. I love her work. I loved Fledgling, I loved Lilith’s Brood, I loved Kindred – and now I loved Parable of the Sower. And this is so surprising because I’m really not into religious fiction, or fiction about religion of any kind. Religion is just not something I can securely wrap my head around.

Usually. But then there’s Octavia Butler and she writes about Lauren Oya Olamina, a young woman living in a futuristic suburb of Los Angeles, surrounded by a wall to keep poor people, addicts, and drug dealers out. While her father is a baptist minister, her own faith is one she is writing down herself. She feels like this religion, or faith, is presenting itself to her, that she is a medium to write it down and bring others to this fate.

Lauren has to leave her neighborhood behind when it is brutally destroyed by drug addicts and scavengers. With two of her former neighbors she takes to the road north where a better life can supposedly be found. The journey gives her the possibility to spread word of her new faith and find followers, find a new family.

Butler combines a compelling story about faith with the hardship and terrors a small group of people faces in a dystopian future. It’s a story about family but has distinct markings of a good horror story. Butler knows how to weave all these together. She’s a master story-teller with an inexhaustive imagination. If you haven’t read anything by her yet, you should feel like you missed out because Butler is one of the best – in science-fiction, in story-telling, in writing about heroines of color.

Elena Undone by Nicole Conn

More lesbian romance, right here. I hope you’re not already sick and tired of it, though this one might do the job. So, what’s it about:

Soulemetry is Tyler’s religion. He believes that the truest form of love is that of the Twin Flame, the soulmate you are destined to be with. He has found his and now he tries to make everybody else find theirs. Elena Winters is his best friend, she is trapped in a loveless marriage and paralyzed in her everyday life. Her only joy is her son, Nash, and his girlfriend Tori who practically lives with the Winters family because her own family is “out of town.”

Things change when Elena meets Peyton Lombard, a writer with OCD and a lesbian. The women connect in ways neither ever had with anyone else, they become fast friends then lovers and the artificial security of Elena’s life as a pastor’s wife shatters. Things get ugly but, as this is a romance, the heroines find their way to happiness.

There is a movie of the same title by the same writer/director. Usually, I find the book to a movie interesting as it tells part of the story that the movie cannot convey. With this book this is actually a downside because Conn seems to want to tell too many stories in one. The love story of Elena and Peyton is in the center, then there is the story of Elena’s family, the story of Nash and Tori, the story of Tyler and Lily, the story of Peyton’s friend Wave, the story of Peyton’s mother, her relationship with Margaret, adoption’s, the women’s glory project (that acts as a mere plot device), etc.

There is simply too much of everything. And usually I don’t mind a lively background and backstories for minor characters but in this case it is just too much. Maybe this is because it is not done naturally but seems constructed and showy. An example would be Tyler and Lily’s story that is related relatively at the end of the book. While Conn hints repeatedly at the improbability of the relationship between a seemingly gay man and a cutthroat female executive, she waits till almost the end to spin a tale that is even more unlikely than the pairing. It is too much and it comes too late in the story.

There is also a showy-ness in Conn’s writing that annoyed me quite a bit. It is all good and well to show not tell but when you’re handling stereotypes less is actually more. Conn uses a fair share of them all through the book, and then points to them and says: look, I used a stereotype and now that I commented on it I created a meta-discourse. Wasn’t that clever of me? Well, no, it was not so clever, it was annoying and she does this repeatedly.

It is not so pronounced in the movie as a lot had to be cut but it is still there. The strength of the movie in comparison with the book is probably the casting. Even Elena’s husband Barry becomes somehow sympathetic. But the best things that could have happened to the movie are Necar Zadegan (Elena), Sam Harris (Tyler), and Sabrina Fuster (Tori). I was actually looking forward to the scenes with Tyler, his Soulemetry, and his webisodes of love stories (I know that many found those annoying) he was conducting. The movie, though it has some of the book’s weaknesses, is watchable but I would not recommend the book.