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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Coffee with Thunderbolts by Marianne G. Petrino


Elena Xharra is a young woman who has lost her sense of self and purpose. She flees her life in New York City, and heads to Arlington, Virginia, where her Aunt Rosemarian lives. She and her aunt have shared similar suffering. Unlike her critical mother, her aunt offers Elena love, some fun and a safe haven from the world. To improve both their lives, Rosemarian poses the question: What would you be willing to do to erase regret from your life. With the conjunction of the Sun and the Great Rift of the Milky Way coming on December 21, 2012, a doorway to adventure, possibility and wisdom opens for them. Coffee with Thunderbolts is an urban metaphysical novel that takes place in 2012 in Arlington, Virginia; Lexington, Kentucky; and Locust Grove, Ohio. It was written during the National Novel Writing Month of 2010.




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An interesting book that takes a long time to really find its feet. Much of the work has an almost surreal quality to it, with actions and events being described and yet visualization of them is hazy at best. In some ways it could almost be likened to the random wanderings the mind can take sometimes when very tired but being kept at some semblance of alertness with copious amounts of caffeine from coffee, much like how the characters in the book seem to be constantly drinking it to get through the day. Unfortunately, the vagueness with with large portions of the early part of the book are written hampers immersion in the story in my opinion, making it difficult to connect with the characters or the plot.



Elena is a young woman who's trying to find herself. All she really knows at the beginning is that she doesn't want the sort of life her mother wants and expects her to try to have. She has no desire to become a cog in some corporate or academic machine simply for the sake of being "successful", which by her mother's definition largely means "gainfully employed", preferably at a well-paying job that grants some degree of wealth and status. So she leaves her home in New York and travels to Arlington, Virginia to hopefully find a new home with her Aunt Rosemarian whom she hasn't seen in many years, at least until she can find a job that suits her and get on her feet on her own. She does indeed find a home with Rosemarian, and quickly finds herself embarking on an entirely different course than she had thought she would be taking, and one that she's initially not sure she wants to take. Gradually she comes around, however, and in the process truly begins to find herself and determine what it is she wants from life, such that by the end she is the one doing much of the leading rather than simply following along with others.

I found it hard to connect with Elena most of the time, and I'm not sure that I ever really did. For most of the book she seems to be a rather flat character, and one that's still too caught up in a teenaged sort of angst about life to have much substance of her own. Her reactions to things are still very immature in many ways, like jumping to her feet suddenly to leave the room when she disagrees with something or hears something she doesn't like, usually shouting a denial of whatever it was along with emphatically denying/refusing to go along with whatever was suggested. Her reactions also don't always seem to fit with what's going on or being said, usually being far more dramatic and/or overstated than a situation really calls for. To a large extent this seems to be due to often awkward writing rather than true characterization, for a lot of the writing in the first half of the book feels rather disjointed and seems to wander a bit, as though the author was struggling to find the right voice with which to tell her story. Just about the time that I was truly beginning to doubt the story would ever really come together though, it finally did, and the last third of the book made up for most of the floundering of the first two-thirds.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot here, but I will note that the real story here ends up being something other than what you've been led to believe it is. What starts out as a seemingly straightforward fantasy tale about two women born to power who set out to avert the coming Mayan Apocalypse becomes a deeper study of human nature and psychology and motivations. There are still some problems with the writing I think, with some slightly awkward POV shifts and descriptions that are often a little too vague and leave you wondering what just happened (though in some cases it's true enough that you're supposed to be wondering what the heck just happened I think). Still, the strengths of the last 30-40% or so greatly made up for the weaknesses of the first part in my opinion, so I'd definitely advise sticking with this one, for it does get better as it goes along.

Some of the ideas raised in this book are intriguing and might make you rethink some notions you've held dear to see whether or not they really hold water or not, and it might also inspire you to let go of things you've held onto for too long if you choose to get really introspective. At the very least it will probably get you thinking, at least a little bit, and it's this quality of the work that makes me want to rate it a bit higher. The problems I've noted with the writing, and my inability to really connect with Elena, however keep it at a 3 star rating, though I'd probably go to 3.5 stars on this one. The time spent reading this will be at least moderately worth it.

Note: The copy I read from was provided by the author for the purpose of writing this review.

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