Tag Archives: Fantasy

Sacuidic: Medieval Pets

If you loved the Sacuidic: Medieval characters post from yesterday, here’s another snippet of Medieval life: Medieval Pets!

Forget cute kittens, what you need is a cute owl or falcon, am I right?

Also featuring a musical dog.

Enjoy!

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All I Want for Xmas is Books

…or where I had a Rory Gilmore moment or three when I had to pack a book for a two-hour train journey ahead and had to bring a couple more instead.

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Books for a train journey Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Sea of Poppies, Notti in Bianco, Baci a Colazione

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, “A motley crew of sailors, coolies and convicts, including a Bankrupt raja, a French runaway and a widowed opium farmer” as the blurb goes, recommended to those who enjoyed Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy for the magical atmosphere of  historical India. Borrowed from the Foreign Languages section of my local library.

Notti in Bianco, Baci a Colazione by Matteo Bussola, “An ironic and heartbreaking book on the magic of fatherhood”, bought at the book presentation the disarmingly charming author held at the historic Caffè San Marco in Trieste where freshly roasted coffee is served at tiny cast iron tables squeezed around bookshelves filled to the brim with anthropology essays and historical tomes. Trieste is worth a visit if only to enjoy the experience to have an espresso in this cafè.

Aaaand last but not least, a truly magical book:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child special rehearsal edition script, brought to Italy by my lovely Canarian on one of his business trips to London. I will of course #KeepTheSecrets so for those of you who haven’t read it yet (I’m only half-way myself), I can only tell you: buy it! Read it! Cry and laugh and throw it out of the window and then run after it and start re-reading it! Then let’s meet and have a day-long natter about it.

… and then I had another Rory Gilmore moment or several more when it was time to travel back and I stopped at a pre-loved books library on my way to the station and bought some other books:

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More books for a train journey, River of Smoke, Graceling, Beastly, Cloud Atlas North and South

River of Smoke also by Amitav Ghosh, the second book of the Ibis Trilogy, where we get to follow the motley crew after they depart from… *SPOILER ALERT* a lush island and then  *SPOILER ALERT*  land on a bustling  city. Looking forward to read what becomes of them all.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore, this will be a total surprise for me as it was recommended by a librarian friend of mine who in reality is my pusher of fantasy/YA/dystopian books (hello Roby!) and unlike other books that I borrow or buy following reviews or recommendations, I don’t know a thing about the author or the plot so it will be an utterly enjoyable experience to get to read a book with no expectations whatsoever.

Beastly by Alex Flinn, a contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in NY, full of witty dialogues and comic scenes and clever plot twists. I read it as an eBook twice or three times already but it’s one of those books that you just need to have handy for those dark moments where you need a paper friend to lift up your mood.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, another eBook-to-paper purchase for me. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of those lesser authors shadowed by other great novelists of her time, Dickens or the Brontës sisters to name a few, who needs to be appreciated more. She’s compassionate, witty and loves her female characters as human beings not just as heroines in search for a good match. North and South could well be considered one of the first fan fiction re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, with the brooding aloof male protagonist and the strong-minded heroine we all wish we could be.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Loved the Wachowski siblings’ movie based on this book. if the book is only half as good as the movie, I have bought me a precious read indeed. But then, books which inspired movies usually are, so…

Wished the train journey back lasted longer so that I could read and re-read them all. Also wished for a bigger backpack and wealthier wallet. Oh well, Xmas is coming and all I want for Xmas is BOOOOKS!

 

I, the Acolyte

When I received The Call I could hardly wait for the initiation to begin and for my status as an acolyte to become official.

Now that I have been an acolyte for many moons and have witnessed the termination of many innocent adepts who joined the Cult before me, I just bide my time and wait for the inevitable to happen to me too.

Every full Moon I dread to hear the words: We are letting you go now. Every full Moon I have been told: You can stay a little longer, but you must show us your Faith is sincere. Prove that you are worth it…

I struggle, but I hold on. I smile, I serve, I wait.

A typical festive day at the Great Halls of Worship starts before sunrise. Acolytes robed in black and shiny yellow overcoats to be seen in the dark scurry and bustle through dimly lit back passages to make sure that the Great Halls are ready, altars are shiny, goods are plenty.

Families who have come from foreign countries or nearby villages, united in the Faith and eager to fulfill their wish to attain the Greater Meaning, gathered at the entrance of the Halls. Young kids are told to stay still and stick to the parents’ sides not to get lost.

The Sun rises from the Eastern ridges, the Great Halls of Worship translucent doors open as by magic, the crow disperse inside.

Experienced worshipers dart to their favourite altars, new believers linger in the vestibule, wondering which path to take to be sure not to miss any of the sacred displays.

Eventually, everyone is guided through and the worship day begins. I stand at the entrance, encouraging the doubtful, welcoming the returning worshipers, reassuring the ones who are afraid they won’t make it to the end of the labyrinth of halls, passages and paths, promising that someone will rescue them should they lose their way.

To the ones who appear most scared, I suggest ways to find one of the shortcuts or an early exit. I know I shouldn’t do it, but the secretive smile of gratitude I get in return is priceless.

At set times during the day I ring a chime and read aloud sacred announcements meant to encourage worshipers towards one altar or the other. My disembodied voice carries over the Halls of Worship and I cringe when I hear it back. Nevertheless, it has to be done, so I do it.

Occasionally I am approached by a distraught family who lost a child or a wife who lost her husband in the labyrinth.

Ministers are then summoned and venture through, followed by a Guard or two. Families are reunited, couples hug with relief, everything is fine. Except that one time, when an elderly lady lost her even more elderly friend inside. We called her, we searched for her, but we were told she was hard of hearing and could not have heard us anyway. I had to go home by then and the image of Guards and Ministers searching again and again the Halls, the labyrinth and the grounds outside still haunts my memories. I never knew if the elderly lady was found.

I did not ask and they did not tell me. Life at the Great Halls of worship goes on.

The truth is that even older worshipers are sometimes distracted by some particularly meaningful goods or altar arrangement. Relationships are known to have ended because of irreconcilable worshiping preferences. Kids are known to throw spectacular tantrums because their parents cannot afford to procure them yet another colourful sacred object designed for their little adoring hands.

The ministers do try their best to make the pilgrimage to the temple less distressing.

They set up food stalls at the entrance, as it is known that hunger can push even the most faithful believers to interrupt the sacred cycle through the labyrinthine Halls of Worship.

They offer sweetened hot beverages which enhance the senses and push the conscious mind beyond tiredness.

Some families even leave their youngest in the care of cheerful adepts in an enclosed space near the temple and venture in alone.

In time, kids would be mature enough to take their parents’ cult at heart and be ready to spend the entire day in the Great Halls with them, without asking to be taken back home please mum my feet are hurting can we go now…

I pity those kids. I wish they were scampering through the beautiful winter forests nearby rather than being trapped waiting for their parents to be done with their pursue of meaning within the goods. I cannot say that out loud, it would be blasphemy.

I wear a golden and sapphire garment, like most of the Ministers and Acolytes.

Although we look like equals to the worshiping crowds, we are strictly ranked in separate groups.

Younger Acolytes who will be soon terminated are not identified by their names, whilst older Acolytes and ministers who will serve in the Halls until they retire have a name tag.  Worshipers need to know who to call in their moment of need.

Then there are the Thinkers, with their sleek white shirts and heavy belts loaded with chisels and fine tools, Allen keys and measuring tapes.

And the Movers, dressed in dusty black shirts and baggy trousers.

I laugh and joke with the Movers, but the times in which I tried to greet a Thinker or even attempt a smile, I was disdainfully ignored.

Thinkers are the architects of the cult, they glide through the vast Halls, floating effortlessly, rethinking the altars’ arrangements at every lunar cycle. They place different objects of worship in inspiring combinations to give them new meaning and they are wonderful at that.

From where I stand at the entrance, I can see a full  wall of tiny niches holding scarlet candles, enshrining a display of cherry-coloured sacred rugs, ruby paper stars hanging from the high ceiling. I admire the Thinkers’ craftsmanship, I fear them, I want to be them one day. I know I never will.

The Movers sweat and swore. They wait for the carts which come from the holiest of holy halls in the deep North, in a land of silver birches and fjords. The carts are unloaded carefully with pulleys and levers and the blessed goods are carefully and ever so gently stacked onto sky-high warehouses at the back of the Halls.

I rarely venture into the Great Halls themselves, I mainly serve at the entrance and at the exit.

You cannot be properly prepared for the exit. The excitement and the relief and the joy are almost palpable. It is a sight to behold,  multitudes queuing patiently,  adoringly holding the goods they selected along the sacred path, waiting to make their offer in exchange for the objects they can now take home.

When I am in service at the exit, I am expected to thank each of the worshipers for their offer, to help them part with their gold and silver, to suggest they come back for more again soon.

Sometimes I congratulate the weaker ones, the elderly, the families with toddlers, on their ability to make it to the end. They smile proudly and walk away pushing their goods-loaded iron carts, shouldering their goods-stuffed blue bags.

At times I serve as a scapegoat. Officially, the term for this special task is ‘ Carer’, but everyone knows that the main purpose is to deflect the rage of unhappy worshipers.

Their faith was strong, their selection was sure, their offer was generous, the believed that the goods they took would truly give a new meaning to their lives.

But the miracle sometimes does not work.

They want their offers back (can’t do) or at least a new object of the same type here and now! (can’t do either). What the Carers are instructed to do instead is give them a token and invite them to enter the Great Halls of Worship translucent gates again and select something else. Or the same object again. Whichever they think will bring the sparkle back in their now meaningless lives.

Trying to recreate the miracle of the Thinkers’ architectural arrangements into a badly lit and overstuffed hut is bound to be a failure, but more and more believers keep on offering huge amounts of gold to get hold of that shade of glazed white panels or roughly cut pine structures or embroidered cushions and drapes.

So I bide my time, welcoming worshipers old and new at the entrance, taking their gold and silver at the exit, expressing my sympathy when they come back as the miracle of meaning was lost between the Great Halls and their cluttered abodes.

Goods worshipers were they and worship goods they did.

Noisily, eagerly, pushing and shoving to enter the Great Halls on the holiest of holy days, offering their wealth and sacrificing their health, forgetting their kids and fighting with their spouses, in the pursuit of the latest armchair to assemble at home to try to recreate that picture on the catalog which looked sooo Stockholm in Autumn. Weekend after weekend, year after year, until the end of their days. Amen.

Wish list and books

Good news, possibly… I passed the first stage of a recruitment process and had my second interview today. I am not going to write about it just now, enough negative posts about Italian-style interviews, right? I’d rather stay positive and tell you about the wish list I have put together for when (see? Staying positive, no “if”) I will get a job.

Up until now, my account balance has been eroded by debits. Monthly nursery fees, withdrawals to pay for abysmally extravagant birthday parties, you name it. However, as soon as my first Italian wage will be paid in, I know what I’ll do.

To be honest, the first item on my wish list used to be “Getting a decent haircut” but then I realized, sadly, that in fashion-obsessed Italy maybe getting a haircut would increase my chances to actually get a job, so that’s off the list already.

The remaining items on the wish list are:

BOOKS!

MORE BOOKS!

Oh yeah, it’s been months, years even, since I bought an actual book.

Even before we decided to move to Italy and were still living in our tiny one-bedroom flat in London, I made the conscious decision not to buy any more books unless I wanted to throw half the furniture out of the window and start sleeping and eating and walking on books instead. Instead, I haunted the local library and countless charity stores  to get my hands on free or cheap paper friends and I survived thus.

Moreover, once we decided to move, we had to take drastic decisions about which of the books we already had was going to follow us on our new adventure. Guide books were the first to go. After all, you don’t want to hold on to a French Polynesia Lonely Planet dating back to 2009, do you? Well, I did, for sentimental reasons, but something had to give. Good books which I didn’t think I was going to re-read were second, although this approach has backfired in the past, whereby I gave away a book only to buy a new copy years later when I was hit by the sudden urge to re-read it. Crazy? No, just me being a regular Hermione.

So here I am, penniless but starving for good books. I read tons of e-books and audio books instead, thanks to Ealing Library online deal with Overdrive, but not all books are available to borrow.

Besides, as much as I love e-books and audio books, there is something magical in stroking a book cover, flipping through the pages, reading random sentences and suddenly falling right back in the atmosphere which they evoked the very first time.

Also, who hasn’t been feeling a little lonely sometimes and went looking for her favourite characters to cheer up a bit?

Flipping through bytes just doesn’t feel the same.

So here is my current wish list, but I’m open for suggestions!

Joe Abercrombie‘s stand-alone First Law novels Best Served Cold, The Heroes and Red Country plus, if I have extra cash, I’ll buy the paper version of some e-books of his that I read already, The Shattered Sea trilogy for once.

Maggie Stiefvater‘s books of The Raven Cycle (apart from the last that I got as a birthday present from my lovely, lovely, loveliest Canarian partner) because these are books that you want to re-read  on a loop until they fall apart. Plus her little gem of a book The Scorpio Races purely for charitable intents, as this would be the book I would lend to anyone who wishes to start reading her work.

Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club new books, as YA books are currently my guilty pleasure and British ones filled with teenage angst, fourth wave feminism and boys who play in rock bands are just the way to make me feel all tenagey and angsty in a good way.

And many more…

Then a holiday in the Alps would be good, or a trip back to Gran Canaria to fulfil my MiniCanarian’s wish to test her new wave-jumping skills in the ocean would not be dismissed, more yoga classes and possibly a yoga retreat, a packet of wakame or nori seaweed every now and then…

Wish me luck and wish me books!

 

 

Planets for breakfast

Breakfasts in the MiniCanarian household are never dull, but today we got to re-enact a pre-Copernican astronomy debate about the nature of the planets. After all, who wouldn’t want to have his cappuccino with some stardust sprinkled on top of its Milky Way froth, eh?

MiniCanarian: Mum, planets stand still, right?

Me: *puts on ScientificMum hat* They actually move around the Sun. Look how it’s done.

Let’s say that this is the Earth *picks up a cantuccino biscuit* and this is a planet, let’s say Jupiter *picks up the tail piece of a cornetto bread* and they swirl around the Sun *cantuccino and cornetto tail are swirled around a hanging bell suspended on the kitchen worktop*.

MiniCanarian eyes glaze over.

ScientificMum can already see the future MiniCanarian giving an acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Astrophysics mentioning how her mum’s passion for scientific truth from an early age drove her to become the internationally acclaimed academic that she is.

Me: *ScientificMum stepping over the line and over killing it* Actually, some planets also have satellites, that turn around them, such as the Moon for example. The moon is not a planet per se (never too early for a bit of Latin), but a satellite of the Earth!

MiniCanarian: *Eyes re-focusing* No, mum! I know how it is. The Moon is the planets’ mummy! And the Sun is the planets’ daddy! I know it!

Me: *Takes off ScientificMum hat, puts on MagicMum Wicked Witch from the NorthEast shawl* Ok, that’s could as well be another way to look at it.

MagicMum can already see the future MiniCanarian giving an acceptance speech for the Hugo Award for the best Fantasy Novel of all times, mentioning how her mum’s passion for everything mystical and mythological drove her to become the internationally acclaimed fantasy writer that she is.

Copernico and Galileo can wait a bit longer. Planetarian magic makes for an appetizing breakfast indeed.

What quintessentially good books do.

You know you are reading a quintessentially good book when:

  • You try to force friends, family and random people at the supermarket check-out to jut read this book already, but not because it will improve their lives or because they’ll like it (of course it will and they will) but mainly because you want someone to discuss that incredible but in the end predictable but still wonderful plot twist at chapter 33 or the awesomeness of the characters or the magical moods and dreamy worlds with.
  • You smile at a cleverly crafted joke or stunningly worded sentence and wish you were the one who came up with them in the first place but you know you would have never been able to come up with any of it and are grateful that someone else did and you were lucky enough to read them.
  • You’re mighty annoyed every time you have to put it down to go get real life stuff done such as picking up your daughter from the nursery or feeding yourself or sleeping.
  •  You’re mighty grateful every time you have to put it down because it gives you time to replay over and over in your head the chapters you’ve just read. Also, craving and yearning for the time in which you’ll be able to pick a book up again is not a bad feeling at all.
  • You want to get to the end to know how it will finally all turn out.
  • You don’t want to get to the end and leave the characters because they’ve become your friends and abandon the imaginary world you’ve been living in for so long because it became your world too.

But mainly because, if the author is quintessentially good, as the wonderfully talented Maggie Stiefvater is, she’ll do just this:

I navigate readers’ emotions like a small ship through a rocky strait. If I have not got inside your brain and moved emotional furniture around during the course of my novel, I feel I’ve failed.

That sounds sinister.

I mean for it to.

And if it’s written on The Guardian it must be true.

So go and read The Raven Boys, then race to The Dream Thieves, then waltz through Blue Lily, Lily Blue and at last plunge into The Raven King, when all your emotional furniture will screech and crack whilst being moved around by Maggie at every chapter. And I mean. Every. Bloody. Chapter.

Then come back to me and we’ll go hoarse talking about that incredible but in the end predictable but still wonderful plot twist at chapter 33.

What is a Fantasy book anyway?

Most of my friends are avid readers. Most of my best friends are Fantasy readers. Now that we are all scattered around the globe and we cannot force-lend paperbacks to each others as we did when we were at Uni, sharing a dingy Hall of residence with a sewage rat called Menego, we still throw reading suggestions or diktat-style You-so-have-to-read-this recommendations.

Have you ever met a book snob? I am sure you have, one of those very annoying types who walks around with a copy of Chekov novels or some other obscure writer you probably never heard of and sniggers at your Twilight collection.

I admit that I was one of them. If a book was too popular, it took a lot of convincing for me to even consider reading the back cover. Until the point when everyone was joking about Muggles and Dungbombs spells and I just picked up that sooo mainstream Harry Potter book to know what they were always going on about.

I loved Harry Potter. I metaphorically whacked my booksnobbysh head with a HP and the Deathly Hollows copy for not having started reading it sooner.

That was a breakthrough. Since then, I allowed myself to read whatever everyone else was.

Tube full of commuters entranced in the Hunger Games? Read the Hunger Games, loved it.

Divergent books series blurb labelling them as ‘The next Hunger Games’ would have made me curl my toes and cringe my nose in my pre-Harry Potter days, but now I read them all and was very glad I did, as Four became my second favourite literary heartthrob ever (no one beats Mr Darcy, sorry Four!).

But there was a genre that I still despised and wowed never to approach. Romance. Specifically, Mills&Boon romance (Harmony, for my Italian readers). C’mon, the book covers themselves were appalling. All those scantily clad women wrapped around unrealistic brooding males with inevitable six-packs, the pink lettering, the allusive titles.

That was the final frontier for me, I was not going to read them, ever. Until I inadvertently stumbled upon one by mistake, borrowing it as an e-book misjudging the toned down and classy cover design (Ok go ahead with your “Never judge a book by its cover!” comments).

It was The Grand Opening, by Ava Miles. I gasped at the sheer amount of clichés that met me page after page: insecure female protagonist falls for uber-macho male protagonist, who woos her and wins her over with his wealth, incredibly toned body and alpha-male behaviour without forgetting to show his sensitive and caring side. The descriptions of their encounters were ludicrous, I found myself giggling incredulously at the metaphors and lyric innuendos which were supposed to describe their intercourse, I just shook my head in disbelief as the inevitable happy ending loomed closer, as the happy ending did mean a fat ring on her finger and a embryo in her uterus.

But why were all those romances so popular then? Maybe I was just unlucky and read one of the worst examples of its kind? I had to investigate.

Apparently Ava Miles was inspired by the queen of romance writing, Nora Roberts, even using her name as a title for her first romance (Nora Roberts land), where a divorcée woman wants to prove her ex-husband wrong in his assumption that women who read Nora Roberts books have unrealistic expectations from men and love in general and live in a fantasy.

So I borrowed a Nora Roberts book, skipping the book covers displaying too much muscle tissue and going for “One Summer” instead, about a fashion photographer and a war zone photojournalist who are thrown together for a project lasting one summer, which involves a road trip across the USA.

It was good, really, something I would recommend. Yes, I still giggled at some of the most explicit descriptions, but the prose was fluid, the backstory of the photo project was an integral part of the plot an not just an excuse to throw in fillers between the protagonists’ heated encounters and conjured very vivid visions of summer in small town America (a small league baseball match, a woman watering a pitiful patch of pansies along a dusty interstate, the miles and miles of asphalt under the baking sun).

So once again, I had to admit to myself that I might have been wrong as there is no despicable book genre as such, just despicable individual books which give the genre a bad name. I have since read some more romances and, although is not my cup of tea, I won’t be sniggering at people who enjoy them as I once did.

I still prefer fantasy. though. Bring on dragons and elves and magicians and skilled archers and post-apocalyptic Viking worlds and disturbing ancient Gods in modern form. Keep your fantasy macho men loaded with cash, abs and smouldering glances, they’re just not believable and the wedding and baby happy ending is not so enticing anyway.