Finally Got Around to the Gods

I know, I know, I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman‘s Dr. Who episodes, and I adored Good Omens, but it took me forever to get around to American Gods, which, according to some people, is a crime. And, now that I’ve read it, I sort of agree.

This book was phenomenal. Seriously eye-opening about the American immigrant experience, but written by a brit. It was a bit mind-blowing how entirely spot-on his characterization of Americans were, in particular with their relationship to religion. We have a young man, just out of prison, who ends up in league with what is left of the old gods, in a battle against the new gods. By the end of the book, things are a bit less clear than all that, but that’s where we start.

As always, the writing is flawless. Gaiman’s got the best voice, and I was engaged and enthralled through the entire work. I don’t want to say too much, for those of you who haven’t read it, but it seriously makes you sit down and think about religion, consumerism, and our modern culture. It should be required reading for every American young adult.


On the Misbehaviour of Dieties

Aaaaand my auto posts failed during the whole hullabaloo of holiday shenanigans, which I’m just noticing now, so, sorry for being absent for two weeks, folks! There’s a new book that has been sweeping the bookclubs, and is even in production for a film treatment (though I’m still not certain whether it is for a TV show or a movie, go figure…) called Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips.This book proposes that greek gods have been alive all this time, if not exactly well, and living it up in a terrible little row house in London. They are not doing so well, waning belief has taxed their powers, and they are all working day jobs (Aphrodite is a sex-line seductress). It’s a cute concept, and I like the fact that they are working dead-end jobs, just like most of the population, it gives it a unique twist.

However, there is something about the book that just rings false. It’s a hard to pinpoint vagueness. It has nothing to do with the writing itself, or the characters, or the plot, but there is just this ephemeral boringness that haunts the page, which definitely shouldn’t be there, what with the hijinks this crew get up to.

Part of it might be the fact that for centuries old deities, the gods are somewhat lacking in depth. They’re flat characters without a lot of oomph to them. Caricatures almost to a one. And since they comprise most of the cast, that hurts the book somewhat. I think that when they put this on film, it will show a whole heck of a lot better than it did on paper, but if you haven’t yet picked it up, I’d wait for that version. Its got a stellar cast that will be able to fill out all these characters quite nicely. (Walken as Zeus, how can that not be awesome?)

It is a tidy little beach read, though, if you’re in need of something like that right now. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Beyond the Pale

In my campaign to read as many novellas as possible, I came across The Lifted Veil, by George Eliot, who you may know as Mary Anne Evans. This novella was out of character for her, being of a speculative nature, and I was intrigued.


I had been hoping for something horrific and accessible and what i got was something horrifyingly dense. A lot of literature during this era tended towards the overly dramatic, which is fine, but there is just something about George Eliot’s prose that was indecipherable. I found myself retreating time and again and attempting to scale the mountain once more. After the opening bit, I started to get the hang of it, but it was difficult going right through to the end.

It is, once you get through the thicket of verbosity, a fascinating tale of a young man who is given the ability to see into the future, and how that talent alienates him and makes his life miserable, all the way until his death. It would have been much more interesting if it didn’t take three times as long to read as it should.

If your goal is an enjoyable read, I’d steer clear of this one, but if your goal is to get an idea of Eliot’s work, or the history of seers in literature, this is an excellent piece for you to pick up.

How Do You Like Your Eggs?

I have been a huge fan of Jasper Fforde ever since picking up The Eyre Affair one of the long lonely summers I spent in England. I promptly read every book in the Thursday Next series, but had fallen out of touch with Fforde’s work. Then I stumbled across The Big Over Easy.

This starts a new series which takes place in the primary world of the Thursday Next books, but follows a whole different subset of characters: nursery rhyme characters that don’t know they’re characters and the poor detective and his new side kick who have to deal with the Nursery community’s squabbles and crimes.

As with all of Fforde’s work, The Big Over Easy was a brilliantly funny read, with all sorts of tawdry jokes and dry humor. For instance, Jack Spratt, the lead detective, is given quite the hard time for all the giants he’s killed, though they’ve all been accidents or good shooting according to the police and he maintains that only the first one was actually a giant. All the rest were merely tall. This particular novel follows the death of Humpty Dumpty after a particularly nasty fall from a wall, and who/what/how he was murdered, which isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves the British dry wit as much as I do, as he is a fabulous author with a fantastic imagination who really brings these characters to life.

A New/Old Battle

I am an avid fan of Tamora Pierce, and have been since my mother first let me buy Wild Magic  to entertain myself at summer camp when I was still in single digits. I love her stories, the strong female characters, the fantastic world building, and the strong plots and character arcs. Last month, she had another Magic Circle book come out, Battle Magic.

As always, I had it preordered to hit my doorstep on pub date, but I was in the middle of moving and didn’t get to it until last week. But it was worth the wait. In The Will of the Empress, Briar, Evvy and Rosethorn hint at a rather nasty war with Yanjing that they ended up helping out with, and in Battle Magic, Tamora goes back to give us that story.

The first 7/8ths of the book are phenomenal. We get to see Briar and Evvy at their best, ripping apart armies with the help of Rosethorn, and playing with the gods, the first overt and characterized interaction with religion in the Magic Circle set of books. It was a fun change of pace and worked well with the world, even though until this point, this set of series had steered well away from actually characterizing the gods of this universe. It was the last bit of the book that rankled.


Tamora pulled a trick from another of the Circle of Magic books and puts everyone to sleep, but this time, it actually works for the bad guys. At least for a little bit. Then the gods decide to actually step into the confrontation. I grumbled. It was a bit too deus ex machina for my taste. I would have much preferred for Briar or Evvy to convince the God’s to step in, or at least take an active hand in the final confrontation with the Emperor of Yanging. As it was, it just felt too pat.

Beyond that bit of machina putting a burr under my saddle, I loved the book. It was a fantastic expansion to their world, and I loved seeing Evvy and Briar again. And, of course, Rosethorn as well. However, the book I’m really excited for is Arram which is slated to come out next year, and its about damn time. I have wanted this back-story for Numair since she first announced the concept years ago, and its finally coming of age. See you with that review next fall! Until then, I’ll just have to be satisfied with other offerings…


Problems with Characterization

So, a good friend of mine encouraged me to read the Divergent and Insurgent books by Veronica Roth. I was a bit skeptical at first, considering they were touted as being the next Hunger Games and I had only barely managed to enjoy the first of those, but I was game and borrowed the first one.

This is the story of a girl shoe-horned into an artificially restrictive human collective where the population is divided strictly along moralistic lines, depending on what you value most highly, be it courage, or truthfulness, or selflessness, or amicability, or intelligence. And each faction values these selected virtues to a ridiculous degree.

Therein lies the problem. The world building is fantastic, the characters are believable enough for a YA novel, but the society…as a psych major I cannot in good conscience recommend these books. They feel like one of those philosophy mind games that they call ‘experiments’ wherein humans are given choices that no sane human would ever choose between; options that aren’t even a possibility with human nature such as it is. I wasn’t going to pick up Insurgent after finishing Divergent but my friend insisted that it all made sense by the end of the second book and I gave in and read it.

It did not get better.

There is absolutely no way a human society would be able to function in such a fragmented way. It would crumble much faster than a single generation. Hitler’s Nazi Germany lasted for less than a generation, Roth should have taken that as a lesson in human tolerance to stupidity. So, regardless of how well it might actually be written, or how strong the characters an world building actually are, I just could not stomach one more moment in that distastefully false universe. Needless to say, I will not be picking up the third book, Allegiant, when it hits shelves next year.

Reimagined Fairy Tales

A while ago I heard about the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, a series of science fiction books geared for young adults that take and twist a few of the common fairy tales on their head. The first is Cinder which follows a young earth cyborg who lost a few limbs in a car accident when she was young. She lives with her foster mother and foster sisters and generally has a crappy life, until the prince shows up in her workshop one day with an android for her to fix. The second book is Scarlet, which follows a young woman from the farmlands as she’s catapulted from her normal sleepy life to rebel by the disappearance of her grandmother. 

If you can’t tell, these two books twist the Cinderella and Red Riding Hood fairy tales onto their heads and create a new, and fun, environment for these characters to play in. I was pleasantly surprised when I cracked these open to find that the writing is actually excellent. After Twilight and some of the other pieces of trash writing that have become popular, the Lunar Chronicles are witty, well structured, and definitely designed to lure a younger audience into a fun reading adventure. When Cinder ends, you cannot wait to get your hands on Scarlet. And when Scarlet ends, its just not fair because Cress, the third installment, doesn’t come out for a long time yet.

The only drawback I find to these stories, at all, was the fact that it feels like Meyer had this great idea for reinterpreting fairy tales, but then when she actually got started on the project, the story got away from her and become something much more, and very different from, these fairytales. I kind of wish she had done away entirely with the overt references to the tales in the name and everything, and had let the fairy tale element become background, subtle details that only an observant reader would catch. It would have made the influence of the tales a flavor rather than an identity that just doesn’t quite fit them anymore.

Overall though, I would highly recommend these to anyone who enjoys a fast-paced science fiction/fantasy with strong female characters. This is one series I am glad it is selling as well as it is and am happy to throw my support behind.

The Real Man Behind the Curtain

After I finished reading all the Oz novels, I decided I wanted to learn more about the man who had written such fanciful tales. It was harder than I thought it would be to find a decent biography about L. Frank Baum, but eventually I found Finding Oz by Evan I. Schwartz.

 It follows Baum through his life, from childhood through to his death, through myriad failed careers, through the birth of this children, and moves back and forth across the country. He failed at a lot of things before he finally struck a home run with the Oz series, and he never did manage his money all that well, but no one could accuse him of not trying. This man lived a very full life.

Schwartz does a wonderful job painting a full and robust picture of this man behind the pages, but it also draws some conclusions, which, if accurate, are quite fun, but I’m not entirely sure there is the research to support them: conclusions about the inspiration for things like the yellow brick road, the Wizard, and the various other figures in his books. Like I said, if he’s right about the conclusions, its quite fun to see where the inspiration is coming from, but I’m not sure how entirely valid they are. And this comes from an author who isn’t sure where in heck some of the stories she writes come from.

But one other thing the biography talked about was the spiritual life of Mr. and Mrs. Baum. It introduced me to two very interesting characters from that time of American history: Madame Blavatsky with her Theosophy and Swami Vivekananda. Both of these religious figures espoused a certain unity to religion and make for fascinating reading in their own right. Who knows, maybe they’ll inspire characters of my own…

Exploring the Land of Oz

While I was AWP this last year, I found out about a new journal, the Fairy Tale Review, that publishes my kind of writing: reinterpretations of Fairy Tales, translations, and scholarly articles about fairy tales, and this year their call for submissions was looking for stories about the Land of Oz.

I developed an idea, but to make sure it would work with the world that L. Frank Baum had created, I decided I should probably read all the novels of Oz, just to make sure I got all the history right. And guess how many there are…Baum alone wrote 14 Ozian novels (as well as some shorter bits) and then after his death, his publisher contracted with other authors to write several more. The scope of tales about Oz and its surrounding countries is extensive and deep. Baum’s tales include the list below:

My favorite of all the stories was The Marvelous Land of Oz because we get to meet HM Wogglebug TE, a bug of unusual size and education who makes the worst puns I have ever heard. His traveling companions aren’t too fond of them either. But the whole thing is such an excellent farce of the culture and society surrounding education at that time that I couldn’t help but laugh.

There was one book, however, that I found terrifying in its absurdity: The Tin Woodman of Oz. This is a tale where Nick Chopper is convinced to go find his beloved and offer himself again to her. However, there are horrific twists and turns that I’m sure to a child were delightful, but to an adult were almost too dark. Just imagine a man made of the glued together chopped up bits of two separate men who goes on to marry the woman that those two men had loved before becoming metal…shudder. I can see that done as a Saw worthy sequel…

The books, for all that they are meant for a younger audience, are very entertaining and well worth the read, particularly if you’ve only ever read or seen the film made after the first book. They are much funnier, and incredibly intelligent parodies of American turn of the century culture, much as Flatland was to the Victorian culture.

A Beautiful Death

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to take a literature class with Ladette Randolph, author and publisher-in-residence at Emerson College. I admired her work then, and was excited to learn she had a new book out, Haven’s Wake

Haven’s Wake is a unique novel that takes place over the course of two days and a handful of viewpoints, all surrounding the death of a Nebraskan Mennonite family patriarch. We get views of the preparation for the funeral from such varied people as his elderly wife with a martyr complex, his shunned son who now runs a lighting design company in Boston, and his granddaughter through his other son who collects the towns dirty little secrets. To tell you much more than this would spoil the story.

What that story does, however, is to construct an incredible portrait of a splintered family, with all the sibling rivalries, trauma from days gone bye, and religious fervor you could wish for. Your heart breaks for this family while at the same time you find yourself rooting for one family member to stick it to another, then in the next chapter find yourself sympathizing with the one you just wanted to get their comeuppance. It is masterfully wrought, and I am not ashamed to say that I cried at the end.

I highly suggest this novel for anyone who appreciates a good solid family drama, and isn’t afraid to feel some emotion, because there is no way to avoid it. Go out and find yourself a copy of this one today.