Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Quorren”

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #52 The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

During the great book search of last month, when I had to make absolutely sure that the mail thief had struck again and I hadn’t just misplaced The Golem’s Eye, I found out I actually had bought two copies on this book.  What can I say, it’s the cat silhouette.  And an intriguing back cover description.

Pia becomes a social pariah at her school in a small German town when her grandmother combusted while lighting the Advent wreath.  Yes, the book starts with flambeed grandma.  Pia is left with only Stink Stefan, the class loner, for a friend.  She and Stefan begin to visit Herr Schiller, a friend of Pia’s dead grammy.  He tells them vivid fairy tales of the town during their afternoon visits.  Soon it appears the fairy tales are becoming real when a girl from the town goes missing.  Other girls begin to vanish.  Pia and Stefan sleuth through the town’s history in an effort to stop the evilness.  Their research leads them to find another tragedy hidden in the town’s past, which has connections to the present vanishings.

Back when I reviewed My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, I wrote a bit about fairy tales in our modern world.  With all of our science and technology, we, as a civilization, can still be driven by myths and superstition.  When the girls of the town go missing, everyone is quick to point fingers are the crazy old guy, because crazy old guy is the modern day witch.  While it’s a fact that most molested children will be assaulted by a family member, society Big-Bad-Wolf-erizes pedophiles.  Because The Other is the real threat; things that aren’t us will harm us.  While these lessons affirms a community, bringing we and we closer together, in the long run xenophobia and blithely ignoring issues in your own community to focus on attacking those that are different, has long term consequences.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #51 The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)

For awhile there, I was convinced this book was cursed.  I ordered it online immediately after reading the first.  The first seller couldn’t send the book.  The next seller sent it, but my mail thief struck again for the third time.  The third seller took too long to send it, so I just went and bought it at the bookstore.  The next day, the third seller’s copy arrived.  So I either severely lack the book, or I have an overabundance.

The story picks up a few years after the events in the previous book.  John Mandrake (formerly Nathaniel) now is apprentices to one of the highest wizards in England and Mandrake is in charge of routing the Resistance, a group of commoners who are opposed to wizard rule.  While the first book switched perspective between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, this one adds the perspective of Kitty, a teenager involved in the Resistance with a curious immunity to magic.  A new threat has broken out in London and Mandrake has to recall Bartimaeus from The Other Place to take care of it.  Meanwhile, the Resistance received help from a mysterious benefactor in the wizarding government.

Maybe it was the hassle to get my hands on this book that maxed out my expectations, but I was left unsatisfied with this installment.  I felt Stroud went overboard on cultivating Mandrake’s wizardry sleaze, which may make it a hard sell in Book Three, which I’m sure will have his inevitable turning point where he becomes a good person again.  Then again, two of the three characters are 15 or 16, which really is the height of teenage annoyance, for those that aren’t teenagers.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #50 Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

I really wish I could find more Discworld books with the Dungeons & Dragons, pulp sci fi inspired artwork on them.  As much as people say don’t judge a book by its cover, a book cover can influence how you read it.  The weird artwork on the old school Discworld books really articulates the satire and homage to sci fi/fantasy tropes inherent in all of Pratchett’s Discworld stories.  My copy of Men At Arms has a steam punk-ish looking gun (um, spoiler alert, graphic designer) with wolf heads dancing around the spine.  Anyways, that’s the end of my gripe.

Men At Arms takes place not long after the events in Guards! Guards!.  (I recommend reading that one first; there are some details there that will influence the plot in this book.)  Captain Vimes is on his way out the door to an early retirement; his impending marriage to Lady Sybil will make him a gentleman of leisure.  The City Watch, part of the Patrician’s diversity program, has hired on three new cadets, just as inept as the current Night Watch, so they fit in quite well, although one’s a dwarf, one’s a troll and one’s a woman.  Actually Angua, the woman, was hired to fit the diversity quota of being a supernatural (she’s a werewolf), but the guards don’t realize this until much later.  Carrot still is the best watchman Ahnk-Morpork has ever seen.

An assassin, Edward d’Eath, gets a silly notion that the city would work better if the monarchy could be restored.   This will interlock with the back story for Carrot already revealed in Guards! Guards!.  D’Eath steals an artifact from the assassins guild (I’ll give you a hint, the cover artist really liked it and it’s had to assassinate someone with a wolf head.)  This artifact seems to have a mind of its own, though, and, like all Discworld novels, hijinks ensue.

Much like Lords and Ladies, this Disworld novel is darker than the previous ones.  Pratchett is beginning to use Discworld to reveal the darker sides of human nature (and heroic sides as well).  A somewhat major character even dies, and not in a I-saw-this-coming-all-along kind of way.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #49 Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I wish I had saved this one for Halloween time.  His book is meant to be read on brisk fall nights, under a blanket, with a cup of hot tea or cider by your side and a jack o’ lantern illuminating the pages.  Bradbury is a master of atmosphere, so while I was reading this in my air conditioned apartment during a heat wave, I did feel the chill of an autumn wind blowing.  (Probably the A/C was up too high, but whatever!)

I don’t want to give away too much of the lot, as the book is relatively short and much of the suspense comes from wondering what will happen next.  What I can say is that Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are best friends, boys at the beginning of their adolescents.  Their world is a quaint small town, with many nooks and crannies to be investigated by the duo.  One night a carnival rolls into town and the town’s idyllic setting is tarnished.

The book deals with very common human themes, but this well trodden ground feels fresh with Bradbury’s words.  Good versus evil is represented mostly through Will and Jim.  Will is the golden boy, does what he is told and respects his elders.  Jim is more of a rapscallion; in his lifetime, many people have probably used the old phrase “boys will be boys” to explain away his actions.  The carnival seeks to push Jim over the edge into darkness and Will’s faith in him will be taxed.

Another theme is youth versus wisdom.  Although it’s symmetrically more proper to say old age, the real battle that take place in this book is between the liveliness of youth and knowing what’s what about the world.  The age of Will’s father is never revealed, but several mentions are made to him being decades older than most fathers of boys Will’s age.  Will’s dad isolates himself at the library, where he is the janitor, as he views views Will’s youth with trepidation.  In the end, Will will need this father’s knowledge to help save the town.

Bradbury writes with deliberation; every word has the feeling that it was carefully placed, after being quarried from a far away place and brought to the location by the work of many people – a literary Stonehenge.  However, the 50’s Americana slang glibly used by Will and Jim drove me insane.   We are so far removed by that era that the sincerity of the technicolor feels forced.  The 50’s era has become such a farce in our modern culture; is Grease popular for the musical numbers or for the picture of absurdity of the 50’s that it paints?  The 50’s, this slice of Americana apple pie, is too wholesome for today’s world, because we now know it was just a shiny veneer.  Reading Will chastise Jim for saying “hell”  had me longing for Jim to just say, “Take a rolling fuck at the moon, Will.”

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #48 The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black

Rocky Mountain News compares this book to Guinness – dark and Irish.  I would add another descriptor, which hopefully won’t offend beer snobs or the Irish, and that would be bitter.  Quirke, our anti-hero detective, is crippled emotionally and physically and doesn’t have, what one would call, a sunny disposition.  Unlike Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Quirke’s alcoholism is more A&E’s Intervention than AMC’s Mad Men.  The events of Christine Falls has also taken a toll on Quirke’s health as well.

The Silver Swan takes place about a year after the events in Christine Falls.  Quirke is still a pathologist in 1950’s Ireland.  His family is in ruin and he’s pretty much to blame, which leaves him with even more self-loathing than in the previous book.  Quirke is contacted by a school acquaintance, whose wife, Laura Swan, appears to have committed suicide recently.  The acquaintance asks Quirke to forgo an autopsy to save his wife a shread of dignity.  Quirke takes this as redemption for his actions in Christine Falls; before he spoke out about something and ruined many lives, now he has a chance to just keep his mouth shut.  Unfortunately, his curiosity gets the better of him.

I highly recommend reading Christine Falls before this book.  A lot of Quirke personal drama begins in the first book and is carried over to the second.  It also figures heavily into the plot, so you’ll be quite lost without the background.  I had read Christine Falls a few years ago and even I was a bit clueless during the first several chapters of this book.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #47 Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese

After reading a few of Mary Roach’s books, I figured Elephants on Acid would be a similarly quirky look at the scientific community.  Alex Boese is no Mary Roach.  While Roach can balance her irreverent wit against sometimes sad subject material, Boese handles tragedy with the deftness of Dane Cook’s badly constructed and horrendously ill timed Aurora shooting “joke”.

The first chapter in Elephants on Acid is the most gruesome.  This introduction to Boese’s sense of humor may leave you nauseous.  Unfortunately, he can’t be blamed with the subject matter, so with it’s presentation.  This chapter deals with Frankenstein like experiments committed in the name of science, none for the feint of heart.  Oh, and there are pictures.  I don’t want to advocate burying heads into the sand and ignoring awful and terrible things in the world, but when I sit down to read a book and weird science, I general don’t expect to see a decapitated dog’s head within a few pages of opening the book.

As for the titular Elephants on Acid, the first elephant died.  While Boese capers around yelling, “Ha Ha!  Those stoopid scientists killed an elephant,  What a trip.  GET IT?!?!?!”, I’m left feeling like the Debbie Downer because all I can focus on is the fact that an endangered species just died on the whim of an idiot.  There’s schadenfreude and then there’s being an asshole.

I wouldn’t be nearly as critical of the book if Boese had made any type of critical analysis of experiments he reported; for him, his effort was extended on thinking up crafty one-liners that would even make Horatio Caine shake his head in disgust.  Furthermore, having read of some of these experiments in college, specifically the Zimbardo Prison Experiment, I also suspect Boese to be guilty of lackadaisical research.  Several of the details mentioned  by Boese in regards to the Prison Experiment are false, if the documentary (that I’ve probably seen eight times) is any indication.  He also focused too heavily on the shock and awe factor of these experiments and not the impact they had on science and the world at large.  Did you know that the “prisoner” that had to be released early from the experiment was so deeply effected by it that he went on to work with real prisoners with mental health issues?  Or that Zimbardo then went on to do groundbreaking work on shyness, the exact opposite of authority?  Basically, if you want to read something for the sheer point and laugh value, stick to articles.  They are better researched and better written.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #46 Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

I’d been not so patiently waiting for the next book in the Bartimaeus trilogy to get here when I was informed by the seller on Amazon that the book had already arrived.  I’ve had problems with my mail being stolen before, but I thought I should check all of my to-be-read piles to make sure I didn’t misplace it.  After building a book fort, I can confidently say that I have a mail theft problem.  The silver lining to this, though, was that I found an Artemis Fowl book that I had completely forgotten about!

This is the seventh book in the series, so I’ll give an brief outline of the Artemis Fowl mythos, if you haven’t read the books before.  Artemis Fowl is a child progidy of an extremely wealthy family.  When Artemis’s dad goes missing after a misunderstanding with the Russian Mafiya, Fowl stock crashes and the debtors come calling.  Artemis, after reading several stories about fairies, believes that these beings may yet still exists and sets out to capture one for its gold.  Fairies do exist, hidden underground, and have sophisticated technology and weaponry.  Artemis ends up capturing Holly, a LEPrecon captain (the fairy people’s security force).  Shenanigans ensue.  Nowadays Artemis is not so much the criminal mastermind as he was, and regularly teams up with the fairy people and especially Holly for adventures.  I know it does sounds a little bit juveniles, and it is a young adult book, but all the books are very entertaining.

There’s also an incredibly sarcastic centaur named Foaly.  Colfer could make a book of Foaly giving quippy one-liners to people and I would read it.

In this book, Artemis, through his constant contact with fairies and magic, has developed the Atlantis Complex.  The Atlantis Complex is a psychological disorder that previously only occurred to fairies, particularly ones that had done many things to be guilt about.  Symptoms include paranoia, obsessions, multiple personalities and a need to save the world.  Artemis’s insanity is poorly timed, as a criminal mastermind fairy, imprisoned in Atlantis, is plotting his escape.

I highly recommend this series, especially since my copy of The Atlantis Complex informs me that Disney now owns the rights to the story.  I assume a movie franchise is in the works.  So read the books now so you can be totally hipster-y when the movie is released about how you liked the books before anyone else.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #45 Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott

Ghostwalk is like turning on the TV and flipping back and forth between a soap opera, a Hercule Periot mystery on AMC, a documentary on Newton on the History Channel and one of those haunted house specials on the Travel Channel.  It attempts to be too many stories at once – a love story, a thriller, analytical history and a ghost story.  If I had been the editor, I would’ve cut 3/4ths of the book and told Stott to stick to the history, which is the book’s one redeeming quality.

A Cambridge historian, writing a biography of Newton’s life at Cambridge, is found dead in the river.  Her son, a noted brain scientist, enlists the help of his former mistress, Lydia, to live in his mother’s house and finish her biography.  Soon the story gets overrun with violent animal rights activist, ghosts of dead alchemists and the so predictable reconciliation of Lydia and her former lover.  As Lydia pieces together the notes on the Newton biography, she happens upon some strange deaths – several Cambridgian academics met their end by plummeting down some stairs while Newton was a student there.   Coincidentally, these deaths managed to move Newton further up the academic totem pole at Cambridge.

There’s a conspiracy in the whole mess about the government partnering with the brain scientist to create violent incidents that appear to the work of the animal rights activists.  There are several red herrings Stott throws in: Lydia makes mention of the scientist’s (I really can’t be bothered to look up his name, he was such a absolute wanker in the book I can’t imagine how he managed to bag a wife AND a mistress) work with brain chemistry and I wish she would’ve stayed on that track as an excuse for the ghost that Lydia keeps seeing because that part of the story became the most laughable.

In the end, Stott would’ve been well advised to stick to and elaborate on the Newton aspects of the story.  The strange deaths really did happen in Cambridge and Newton really did benefit from them.  It’s one of those times when the truth really is stranger and more interesting than fiction.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #44 Brids of Prey: Between Dark and Dawn by Gail Simone

This is the third volume in Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey series.  I’ve ordered the previous volumes, to do a comparison reading, for future reviews.  I want to see how much having a woman at the helm has changed the tone of the characters, as well as if Simone had any influence on the art decisions.  For my hypothesis, I’m going to guess the the writing has changed (in a good way), while the art still has women’s bodies defying physics (although Simone does sneak tongue in cheek references to the ridiculous costuming).  On the plus side, I think almost every issue has at least one panel of Black Canary stuffing her face with food; in this volume, she chowed down on a huge cheeseburger.

Anyway, in this volume, Simone splits up the trio, with Oracle sending Huntress to a cult that may be convincing impressionable teenagers to commit suicide.  Huntress meets up with another friend of the Birds, Vixen.  Vixen has also fallen victim to the brainwashing at the cult, so Huntress has to deal with creepy cultists and a women that can channel the attributes of any animal she wants (some days I really wish I could spit cobra venom into people’s faces).  Meanwhile, Oracle does fancy, magical internet stuff and connects to the cultists’ server, motherboard, laser mouse, Ethernet, I have no idea.  Once inside, she gets telepathically linked to Brainiac, who had been living in the cultist’s computer and now he wants to knock up Oracle.

Yeah, this wasn’t Simone’s strongest story.  Aside from the weird plot machinations just to get from point A to point B, the pacing was, again, too fast.  This is becoming my most common gripe about this series and I don’t know who to blame.  Is it Simone’s fault or was there pressure from DC to ramp up the action in an effort to increase sales?

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #43 Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

When Joss Whedon gives a blurb for a book, you take notice.  And then you read said book and remember that Whedon’s Midas Touch doesn’t work 10% of the time.  This book and Dollhouse fall into that 10%.

Mihcael McGill, private eye, is tasked by the US Chief of Staff to recover a piece of American history – book written with alien technology by the founding fathers that forces people to read it and abide by its code of conduct.  Nixon paid a hooker with it back in the day and since then it switches hands too frequently for the government to get a chance to seize it.  Before McGill begins his journey, he meets Trix, a sexology student who decides to follow McGill on his journey because McGill is a self-describe “shit magnet” – his cases would make a column in Playboy look on it horror.   His luck continues on the search for the book, that’s been used as currency over the years for different sexual fetishes and perversions.

This book could’ve been amazing, provided Ellis didn’t write it.  The premise is sound, but the execution is piss poor.  Ellis tried to be a modern day Hunter S. Thompson, being the gonzo voice of our counterculture’s generation.  Instead of drugs, we gorge ourselves on sex, so much so that we have to invent new and twisted ways of doing it.  It’s an interesting assessment of our culture, especially with our increasing reliance on the internet and the ever growing amount of pron one can find there.  But instead of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ellis gives us a scrambled porn channel while someone with a megaphones screams, “SEX! SEX! SEX!”, in our eardrums.  There’s no eloquence to this treatise on modern day sex culture.  In fact, he exchanged his message along the way, and settling instead on the goal to just skeeve the reader out with as many freaky sexploits as he could describe.  I feel that the premis could’ve been handled with more grace by a writer like Chuck Palahnuik, if you wanted to toe the skeevy sex line, or by Christopher Moore if you wanted to go the more humorous route.  I’m all for a more tolerant world to discuss sex in, but let’s not play the “penis game”, where whoever can say penis loudest wins.  Doing something for the sheer shock value is just plain lazy writing.

Same goes for stand-up comedy.

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