Sunday, August 01, 2010

Reading Report - July 2010

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (which will be shelved in the SciFi/Fantasy section, although it is neither in any traditional sense).  I don't remember when I first became aware of Gaiman-- I know when I first saw Good Omens, the novel he co-write with Terry Pratchett, that I knew who Pratchett was but all I knew about Gaiman was that he wrote Sandman, the landmark comic from the 90s.  Then a couple of years ago I read Stardust after loving the movie made from it, and last summer I read and enjoyed Neverwhere.  So last fall I ordered American Gods, but I didn't get around to reading it until I picked it up to take with me on vacation last week.  It's the story of a man the reader knows only as Shadow, who finishes his three-year stint in prison just a few days after his beloved wife is killed in a car accident.  He takes a job working for a man known as Wednesday, and what follows is the complicated, many-layered story of Wednesday's efforts to unite the old gods, the gods immigrants brought with them from the old country, in a fight against the new gods, the gods of commercialism and television and high speed travel.  It's a brilliant idea, and Gaiman carries it off well.  Shadow works perfectly as the touchstone, the moral centerpiece of the whole thing. He doesn't really understand what's going on (nor does the reader until near the end), but he maintains his integrity in a way that is both stoic and warmhearted.  He is utterly endearing. Four stars out of five-- it would be five except that occasionally the story nearly collapses under the weight of its portentousness (is that a word?).  (defintion of portentous, kyped from ominous; arousing awe or amazement; marvelous; ponderous or pompous; self-important which is pretty much exactly what I want but in noun form).

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  I've read it before, I'll read it again.  Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite, but this one is a close second.  How can you rate a classic?  It's off the scale.

Last Exit to Normal by Michael B. Harmon (YA).  I found this one while poking around on Amazon and looking for something for my son to read instead of re-reading Harry Potter for the fourth or fifth time.  Last Exit is probably a bit old for him, but it sounded so intriguing that I ordered it for myself.  It's about a 17-year-old kid named Ben whose life imploded four years ago when his dad announced that he was gay and his mom moved out.  Ben has acted out by smoking (cigarettes and pot), drinking, and generally becoming a troubled teen.  When the story opens, Ben, his dad Paul, and his dad's boyfriend Edward are in the process of moving back to Rough Butte, Montana, Edward's hometown.  I could quibble a bit about his depiction of a small town in Montana (since I live in one, too).  And Harmon makes Ben into such an interesting, terrific kid that it's difficult to understand sometimes why his dad is so mad at him (a question a teen reading this would probably not ask since adult anger probably always seems inexplicable).  But those are small things.  This is one fascinating story.  It would be a great book to throw to a bunch of intelligent, opinionated teenagers and just sit back and listen to them hash it out.  All kinds of issues are raised about parenting, responsibility, homophobia, loyalty, and friendship.  If I were a teenager reading it, I'm sure I would think it was one of the best books I'd ever read.  But as an adult, and particularly as a mom, it was so frustrating that none of the adults in Ben's life would step up to the plate and take care of him.  Good grief.  I could go on and on here-- and I probably will because this book will show up in at least one other post-- but I guess I'll stop for now.  It occurred to me that the author probably still relates more strongly to the teens in his stories than the adults, or maybe he just tells the story that way because he is writing for teens.  But I would have loved to know what was going on in the minds of Paul and Edward (who is in some ways the most interesting character in the book), not to mention his mom, who barely appears.  Four stars.

and on the plane:  My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne (historical romance).  I loved Bourne's first novel, The Spymaster's Lady, and I thought this one would be either a sequel or something similar.  But although they share a couple of minor characters, this one is quite different.  Jess Whitby is the daughter of a shipping magnate who has been imprisoned because the authorities think he is the infamous spy who goes by the name of Cinq.  Jess is determined to find out who Cinq really is to clear her father's name (and save his life).  It perfectly filled the bill of keeping me absorbed on the plane, but I didn't like it nearly as well as Spymaster's Lady.  The hero has almost no personality beyond the fact--which is brought up (ark) again and again -- that he is instantly and constantly aroused in the heroine's presence.  But Jess is fascinating, and the most interesting part of the book is her backstory, which is revealed bit by bit as the novel progresses.  Three stars.

a note on ratings:  I used to do stars, then I stopped doing reading reports at all for awhile.  When I started back up, I switched to grades (A to F), but I'm going back to stars.  It just feels too uncomfortable to give grades to published authors who are way better writers than me, no matter how I feel about their books.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reading report. I am always looking for a decent book and it helps to have recommendations from a source I trust.