Teresaelectro’s #CBR5 Review #9: Thorn Queen by Richelle Mead

I voraciously consumed the Georgina Kincaid series by Richelle Mead. Meaning when I came across the Dark Swan books, I was instantly intrigued. Storm Born was an easy read with another kick-ass female protagonist – a shaman named Eugenie Markham. However, the tone of this series seemed far more serious than a succubus demon with romance problems. Nevertheless, I delved into the second book, Thorn Queen with no expectations.

In the first book, Eugenie discovers her father was the brutal, all powerful Storm King. A prophecy foretells she will deliver a male heir who will rule both the human dimension and the Otherworld. Thus, she must continually fight off creatures trying to impregnate her by any means necessary (i.e. rape). None of the supernaturals seem to have heard of birth control, which could totally throw a wrench in the works. Eugenie simply decides to never have kids and stay vigilant with her pill. Voila. Apocalypse averted. [small spoiler] At the climax of this first book, when Eugenie defeats an evil king, she inherits a kingdom in the Otherworld that is physically and emotionally tied to her, even when she’s crossed over by to the human world. This means she immediately and at no warning from her sexy OtherWorld tutor/ally King Dorian transforms the lush land into a desert. Almost a near replica of her Tuczon, AZ home in the human world.

 

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At the start of Thorn Queen Eugenie doesn’t want to be Queen of anything. She is afraid of the strong storm magic from her evil father who liked to murder people with lightening for fun. She rather keep her that part of her locked away, content with her semi-uneventful shamanistic existence. But she can’t give up her kingdom that easy. If she’s in the human world too long, the land literally suffers without her – a fierce drought has taken hold of the land and the fae have no irrigation systems. She takes pity on them and is eventually talked into harnessing some power to call rain for crops. Too bad, she’s pretty shit at it. Raw storms with killing lightening come natural, but seasonal rain not so much.

She calls again upon Dorian for help, who says in not so many worlds he still wants to bang her, but only willingly. And she’ll thank him for it. Talk about sure of yourself. In the end, since he likes her and is such a nice guy, he agrees to help her with no strings attached. Eugenie still suspicious demands a female teacher this time around since things got a little hot and heavy last time. So Dorian offers to lend his number 1 mistress to teach her magic. And let me tell ya, that lady is NOT pleased. Eugenie is offended but decides to get in a few quickie sessions. The plan is to learn air and water magic, call some rain, abdicate that throne and get the hell out of dodge. Leaving behind the temptation for power (and sex from Dorian) in the Otherworld. In the human world, she lives with her veterinarian/shapeshifting fox boyfriend who just moved in with her. However, even that situation is a bit of a pickle. His ex-girlfriend Faery queen is having his baby back in the Otherworld. These fae don’t get pregnant often and consider babymaking a dying art.

In summary, this Eugenie gal has to contend with a new kingdom, powerful seductive magic, hot Dorian, also hot boyfriend, potential supernatural rapists and figuring how to give up said kingdom. Throw in a mystery of disappearing girls and we got shitload of subplots going on in this book. Mead surprisingly juggles all these stakes quite well. I was way more engaged than with the first book. Instead of being afraid of the Otherworld, Eugenie feels a motherly allegiance for her kingdom especially when she learns innocent girls are being kidnapped. And with the prophecy, there is this undercurrent of anxiety with her every move. She could be seduced by her own power and embrace that dark prophecy at any moment. We do see a glimpse of her power, but of course we must wait until book 3 to see how it all unfolds.

A few spoiler-free reviews on goodreads have me quite apprehensive about the last book saying it took a horrible near offensive turn. So naturally, I’m curious for Iron Crowned but not sure I’m up for a character sabotage. Definitely at the bottom of my library wishlist.

Read my other reviews and musings on my blog.

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Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #26: The Ocean at the End of the Lake by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lake was the last book I read to complete my half Cannonball Read, and I couldn’t have picked a better book. But boy, is it ever a hard book to write a review of.

Let’s get these two facts out of the way first: I don’t usually enjoy Gaiman’s work (heathen!). And: I loved this book. Was it a literary masterpiece? Was its plot original, more developed, deeper, more fascinating than all the other books I read these past few months? It’s not important. Not right now, when I’m writing this review just a few minutes after I finished the book. What matters is this feeling.

Our narrator is a middle-aged man, heading back to his childhood home after a funeral without knowing why. While there, memories long forgotten start coming back to him. Difficult memories. Yet, beautiful in their own way. The lonely, friendless seven-year old version of our narrator goes through terrible loss, and he deals with it with some help from the neighbours down the lane, the Hempstocks: Old lady Hempstock (the grandmother), Ginnie (the mother) and Lettie (the eleven-year old daughter).

I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, because it is a short book and revealing more than the above would be spoiling the whole story. And it is frustrating, because I need to talk and think more about this book. Gaiman tackles some pretty serious issues, and he does it through the innocent eyes of a child, not a precocious child but a believable child, a frightened, vulnerable child. I found it refreshing to have a smart child that’s not older than his years at the centre of a story. These serious issues could break anyone, let alone a little boy, but if you’re a lonely boy with an over-active imagination you just might find a way to cope, and our narrator does.

The writing was beautiful and reminded me of a couple of my favourite authors at times, Stephen King (ca The Body/ Stand by me) and Terry Pratchett. Gaiman’s descriptions of the environment were so vivid in detail, as honest as a childhood memory, and I nodded my head in recognition, remembering similar adventures I had embarked on as a child. Magic was at the core of the story. Magic in the descriptions, magic in childhood, magic in the way a desperate child thinks he or she can change the world if only he or she can wish it hard enough.

This book had so much heart, so much sorrow and sweetness. It is a book I will be revisiting and thinking about often.

Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #25: The Dinner by Herman Koch

Disjointed. Unlikeable characters. Badly written.

So, Shaman, tell us what you really think about The Dinner by Herman Koch!

Two brothers and their wives meet up at a fancy restaurant to discuss a very important matter that has to do with their children. The narrator, one of the brothers, recounts the events that led up to this evening. These events are presented in a detached way, without emotion. Explanations are given, yet nobody is held accountable, let alone takes responsibility willingly. Still, every single person around that table should be stepping up to the plate.

The book is divided into sections named after the course the two couples are currently eating. This I found an annoying gimmick, especially because the dishes – otherwise completely irrelevant to the story – are presented in detail (something that has made me skip whole paragraphs when reading Game of Thrones). Maybe this was done on purpose, to irritate the reader and bring him or her closer to the state of mind of Paul, our narrator. By all appearances in a constant state of irritation and with a dangerously short fuse, he makes for a character that’s hard to empathise with. His beliefs are at such odds with mine that I almost shuddered with distaste every time he talked about them. I suppose that, if there is one thing Koch succeeds in is to prove that, if you’re not careful, you become the monster you detest.

Writing-wise I found the language too simplistic, although that might have depended on the translation. It was difficult at times to understand when the events described were taking place, as the story jumped from ”now” to ”two hours ago” to ”some months ago” to ”many years ago” in a disjointed, confusing manner. Some of the narrator’s recollections seem to do little to add to the story except further irritate the reader.

The Dinner was a quick read and it did make me think, so it wasn’t a complete waste of my time. But I enjoyed watching Carnage, a film with a similar premise, much more than this.

Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #24: Señor Peregrino by Cecilia Samartin

A colleague lent me this book. It’s important to write that, because it’s not the kind of book I would have otherwise chosen to read. But, for me, the Cannonball Read has been an opportunity to try new genres. Broaden my literary horizons, so to speak.

Señor Peregrino is the story of Jamilet, a young Mexican woman carrying a secret. She was born with a birthmark over almost half her body, from her neck down to her knees. Jamilet is convinced that American doctors can perform miracles and remove the birthmark, so she takes herself over the border illegally and makes it to Los Angeles. There, she moves in with her aunt and soon enough she finds a job at a mental hospital, taking care of an older man (the titular Señor Peregrino) who refuses to leave his room. After a while, he starts telling her his story.

It’s a common plot device. The archetypal old man tells a story so deep that it makes his captive audience go through a personal transformation. I kept trying to remember what film or what book it reminded me of. There’s probably loads of them out there. As I turned the pages, I waited for some transformation to happen, something to explain what message this book was trying to convey, some pearls of wisdom. Unfortunately, unless I completely missed the point, this aha-moment never came.

Jamilet is an interesting character, at least to begin with. The burden she carries should be an excellent tool in the hands of the writer, her plight a chance for personal development and perhaps for rising above all fixation with appearances. Instead, we’re led onto a different path, that of Señor Peregrino, and his fixation with beauty, with just a dash of desperate love. I found myself confused. I felt like there was supposed to be a meaning with the telling of his story, but the book read more like two separate stories that were only connected by a tentative professional relationship between Jamilet and Señor Peregrino. The word ”miracle” appears often, so perhaps we’re meant to think that a miracle has occurred by the end of the novel, yet it is an underwhelming miracle, the personal transformation almost non-existent.

Señor Peregrino was not a bad book. It just left me wishing it had packed more of a punch.

Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #23: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Rarely does a book manage to fill me with apprehension after just one paragraph. But The Slap did it. After just one paragraph I was prepared to hate this book. I usually hate books that only have despicable characters in them.

Set in Melbourne, the story revolves around a group of people related to each other by blood, friendship, marriage. While these people are together at a barbecue, one of them slaps a three-year old child across the face to protect his own son from getting hit by the child. The group is then divided between those who think that the child deserved it and those who believe that no one should ever hit a child and that the family should press charges.

From the description above, you would think that the genre of this book is legal drama, or perhaps a murder mystery, but what it really is is a character study that has mostly nothing to do with the titular slap. Divided into chapters where each chapter follows a different character, it reveals their secrets and dark desires. It is unrelenting in its portrayal of these people’s lack in basic morality, and it is an ugly world it paints. There are no good people to offer redemption here, no one to shed a light in this bleak suburban existence, just bad and less bad people. People that are obsessed by how they look, how their lives look, how their own needs will be satisfied. Except maybe one.

It is that person, right at the end of the story, who made me change my perception of the book. This person would probably be judged as ”bad” by some (hopefully a few), but in my eyes he never did anything inexcusable. This made me wonder if some of the characters I found horrible, narcissistic, self-absorbed would get a pass by other readers, just like the slap was deemed horrible by some and ok by others. And, perhaps, that’s exactly the point Tsiolkas is trying to make: that we all play by our own set of rules, and as long as we don’t break any rules or are too outspoken about the ones that we do break, our own version of immorality goes largely unnoticed by the world around us. But morality is so bound by cultural standards that it becomes a very relevant question, especially in this day and age, in our multicultural Western societies. At several points in the book, for example, the adults complain of young people not showing respect for their elders. This complaint is, in itself, laughable, because, by all accounts, the adults in this story haven’t done much to deserve this respect – they just expect it.

An easy read, The Slap kept me interested throughout, its depiction of some deeply flawed people like a bad car accident that just forces you to rubberneck. Thankfully, my fear that I would hate this book was unfounded. I didn’t love the book either. The lack of redeeming features in the characters felt unrealistic, and that so many rotten of them would find each other to spend time and procreate with only amplified that feeling. But it was definitely a thought-provoking book that I would recommend to my less-sensitive friends.

Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #21: Löparäventyret – på småvägar genom Europa by Rune Larsson and Susanne Johansson

(This is a book originally written and published in Swedish. To the best of my knowledge, it hasn’t been translated yet. The title means: “The running adventure – on small roads through Europe”)

In April 2011, ultrarunning legend Rune Larsson and marathon runner Susanne Johansson set off from Portugal on a journey that would take them across Europe and all the way home to Sweden. They travelled on foot, mostly running, pushing a baby pram loaded with essentials. During their 75-day adventure, they crossed 8 countries and over 3500 km.

I love stories like this. I have several books on my shelves written by people who’d covered great distances on foot and the things they saw. I find such stories incredibly inspiring. I, too, want to embark on such adventures. Imagine the things I’d get to experience.

Despite the fact that I’ve always loved Larsson’s articles in the Swedish edition of Runner’s World, I felt that this book was lacking in some areas. I enjoyed the first half of the book a lot more than the second, picturing how it must have been to travel through Spain and France, to meet all sorts of people, swim in the rivers and camp under the stars. But then the book runs (pun not intended) out of steam. All the exciting incidents get reduced to just another page in what reads like a diary. Neither Larsson or Johansson are, of course, writers by trade. They are athletes. So perhaps I shouldn’t have expected more than this day-to-day account of kilometres run and how much accommodation cost. It’s just that….on the few occasions when I’ve run 40 kilometres or more, I’ve always had a story to tell. In this format, without a story to make each day unique, the numbers fall flat and become meaningless to an outsider, their importance diminished. I suppose I expected more from what I am sure was an amazing adventure.

This is a book for runners, written by runners. It’s not a bad book, per se; I just don’t think it does the actual journey justice.

Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #20: Into the Woods by Tana French

Detective Rob Ryan is relatively new to Dublin’s Murder Squad. He and his partner Cassie Maddox have only had easy cases to deal with so far. But then, one day, a case falls into their lap that will affect them both profoundly. 12-year old Katy has been found dead, left in an archaeological dig in the middle of the woods bordering an estate. The woods where Rob Ryan’s two best friends mysteriously disappeared with hardly a trace when he was 12. Are the two events connected? And how will Rob Ryan cope with the resurfacing of the old case?

Into the woods is Tana French’s début novel. Yet, that’s hard to notice; she exhibits a confidence in her writing usually found in more weathered authors. Her language is at times almost poetic, filled with metaphors and then sharply contrasted by the grim events she describes. Her characters are believable, flawed (wretched, even) but likeable. There’s never a dull moment in the book. It never sags or misses a step, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s 600 pages long.

The whole experience was like being in a nightmare, like walking through the fog on a starless night, the only reprieve being the occasional good-natured taunts between Ryan and Maddox – but even those seemed ominous at times. Although I wanted to find out whodunnit, I also didn’t want the book to end. As dark and devoid of life its landscape was, I didn’t want to leave it, yet. Especially since it left me with unanswered questions.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good detective story and who isn’t afraid of the dark.