Tag Archive | magic

Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2003 Review

Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.

AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.

A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.

2017 Re-read

Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.

Seasons of ReadingIt’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.

Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.

2017SFFReadingChallenge(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)

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Read as part of the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon.  This is the only book I managed to finish during the time frame.  Join us next time!

Also read for the 2017 Award Winning SF/F Challenge.  You can still join in on that one.

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Book review: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's Land (The Magicians, #3)The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anti-hero, magician, and failed monarch Quentin Coldwater is back in New York, trying to make sense of life after Fillory. Some months after being expelled from his kingdom, in a last-ditch attempt to earn a living, Quentin takes a job with a band of other “renegade” magicians. Their assignment: to retrieve a magical object from a pair of thieves. Said magical object leads Quentin and his cohorts on a merry and dangerous chase. Meanwhile, back in Fillory, Eliot and Janet embark upon a quest of their own. Fillory, they are told, is dying, and they must find a sacred object of their own to save their land from utter destruction. These disparate storylines inevitably coincide, with some unexpected results and the return of a character or two we thought lost forever.

To get the best feel for this series, all three books (the other two titles are The Magicians and The Magician King) should be read one right after the other. It’s much easier to follow Quentin’s evolution as a character: from a whiny self-involved teenager to a 30-year-old man who makes a bad decision and does his best to make up for it. He’s not a saint by any means — and will never be one — but Quentin eventually acquires a little humility and grace and becomes a decent human being. That’s a satisfactory conclusion to this story all by itself.

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2015 in Review: Books

Same as last year, 2015’s goal was to finish an average of a book a week: 52 weeks, 52 books.  The Goodreads shelf for 2015 shows 69 books in total.  That would be 69 books attempted, because Goodreads only counts the total put on the shelf, not the total I actually finished reading.

Analysis of that 69-book statistic reveals 15 books were abandoned very early on or in mid-read and never finished.  Most of those abandoned books were simply gawd-awful wastes of digital data space, but a couple of them were left unfinished because I stopped caring or never acquired any sympathy for the characters within.  Of the remaining 54 books, none were re-reads.  Goal accomplished.

I managed to write reviews of maybe half of those 54 finished books, which is too bad, because several books that were real standouts don’t have written reviews.  Of the standouts (below), if I wrote a review, I linked to it; otherwise, I linked to the main book page.

The Night CircusI read a number of books about magic this year.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern tells the story of two young people caught in an on-going magical competition, fueled by the ancient rivalry of their fathers. I came away from this book wishing I could visit Le Cirque des Rêves myself, if only to see the Ice Garden and the Cloud Maze.

The MagiciansLev Grossman’s Magicians series caught my attention a few months ago.  (It also caught the attention of the SyFy Network because its series based on these books debuts January 25.)  The series had been on my radar for a while but I finally picked up the first book from the library a couple of months ago. Many readers didn’t care much for Quentin Coldwater, who is somewhat of an anti-hero, and I admit he is a little hard to take. But the story itself is a fascinating twist on the The Magician Kingidea that magic exists, some people are naturally talented at using it, and those people are recruited to attend a special school. The first book, The Magicians, was good. The second book, The Magician King, was better. I’m waiting for the third book, The Magician’s Land, to become available at the library.

In keeping with a magical theme — although “magical realism” might be a better term, if such a term can be The Miniaturistapplied to a period piece —  I thoroughly enjoyed The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Unfortunately, this was one of those books that didn’t get a review other than its 4-star rating.  From what I remember, it was beautifully written, gloomy and dark and mysterious.  I thought it was lovely.  Plus the cover art was simply stunning.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAlan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce novel,  As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, is as delightful as all of its predecessors.  Flavia, now age 12, has been exiled (for so she sees it) from Buckshaw, her beloved if bedraggled home in rural England, to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, an all-girls school in Toronto, Canada, where her mother had been enrolled.  Naturally, a dead body is very nearly the first thing our intrepid heroine encounters, and Flavia is back in her default sleuthing mode, albeit in unfamiliar surroundings and absent her usual sources of information.  Pure fun.

The MartianSpeaking of pure fun, The Martian, even given its serious subject matter of a lone astronaut marooned on Mars and struggling for survival, was something I read with a big grin on my face nearly the whole way through.  Andy Weir wrote a rollicking adventure yarn filled with gee-whiz moments, and created a hero who maintains a can-do attitude if only to ward off depression and despair.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my list.

SevenevesOn a more serious note, several of this year’s standout novels dealt with an apocalypse and its aftermath.  The masterpiece was Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, a spectacular hard SF novel that tells the story of mankind’s efforts to save itself when some mysterious force wipes out the moon.  Filled with all the math and science anyone could ever hope for, but still accessible for readers like me whose formal math and science education stopped with high school trig and freshman biology.  This novel ended in a way that leads me to believe a sequel may be forthcoming.  Nothing on the author’s website currently says any such thing, but one can hope, right?

The Water KnifeThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi addresses a different apocalypse, one fueled by climate change and inspired by the raging drought currently suffered in the western United States.  In this near future novel, cut-throat corporations feud over water rights with brutal force and no one stands in their way.  Scary as hell.

Station ElevenA more conventional end of the world sets up the events in Station Eleven, but the setting itself is unusual.  After a worldwide plague wipes out most of the population, a traveling theatre troupe roams the Great Lakes area of North America, eking out a living while practicing their art.  But then they run afoul of the leader of a religious commune, and their travels become a race for survival.  Emily St. John Mandel wrote a breathtaking piece of fiction that bounces between the events that led up to the disaster and the post-disaster consequences.  Don’t miss this one.

The Lathe of HeavenUrsula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven can be seen as post-apocalyptic if one looks through the eyes of its main character, George Orr, who awakens in a new world every day — a world that changes based on the content of his dreams — and he’s the only person who remembers the old.   I don’t know why I haven’t read more LeGuin; this is only the second of her novels that I’ve picked up (the first was The Left Hand of Darkness, read in 2006).  I’m putting the rest of her novels on my library list right now.

Finally, there’s The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, which I reviewed in the blog entry linked in the title. While the slow-moving catastrophe taking place on Earth isn’t the focus of this novel, the background tension it creates for our chief protagonist helps drive his choices.

I read so many excellent books this year that it was difficult to choose the titles to highlight.  Books deserving “honorable mention” follow, and any of them are worth reading:  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; The Scar by China Miéville; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer.

In other 2015 accomplishments, all of the year’s reading material came from the library or free from Amazon.  I didn’t make a single new book purchase this year (except for a few knitting pattern books and some nutrition books recommended by my doctor: I hereby decree that those doesn’t count).   I did buy a few used books from a used bookstore while on a day trip to an unfamiliar city.  Looking ahead, 52 finished books is once more the goal for 2016, plus I’m adding the goal of writing at least a one-paragraph review of every book I finish within a day or two of finishing and posting that review here on this blog. I’d also like to keep up the pattern of reading from material already owned or acquired from the library.  We’ll see how that goes.

Book review: Ill Met By Moonlight by Sarah A. Hoyt

Ill Met by Moonlight (Shakespearean Fantasies, #1)Ill Met by Moonlight by Sarah A. Hoyt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

William Shakespeare, aged 19 or 20, a small-town schoolteacher, comes home one day to find his wife Nan and his infant daughter gone. A small log lies in baby Susannah’s crib, giving him the only clue to their whereabouts: they’ve been snatched by the Fair Folk.

Quicksilver, heir of Oberon and Titania, comes home to find his his parents murdered and his throne usurped by his brother, Sylvanus. He enlists young Will in a scheme of revenge, with Nan as both bait and reward.

Alternating between happenings in the world of Faerie and events in Stratford-upon-Avon, we follow Will’s desperate search for Nan, Quicksilver’s desperate quest for vengeance, and Nan’s indoctrination into the ways of the Fey.

It’s possible I might have liked this book better had I read it in one sitting. It’s a short thing, less than 300 pages, but even at that it felt too long. None of the chief characters, save Nan, engendered much sympathy. Quicksilver especially annoyed me — arrogant, duplicitous, selfish, and self-righteous, he had no qualms about using and deceiving a “mere mortal” to his own ends, and I never quite bought the idea that he fell in love with Will. Will, even given some leeway for his youth, seemed much too wishy-washy and easily led. Only Nan seemed to have any strength of character.

Still, on the whole, it’s not a bad story, a decent way to spend a few hours if you don’t have anything better to read.

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Book review: The Marriage of Sticks by Jonathan Carroll

The Marriage of SticksThe Marriage of Sticks by Jonathan Carroll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Miranda Romanae is a successful thirtysomething woman in today’s modern word, yet she feels alone and adrift on the sea of her life. At her high school reunion she makes a shattering discovery that further undermines her already shaky sense of who she is and where she is going. When she meets the remarkable Hugh Oakley, her life takes a 180-degree turn for the better — but at what price?

When they move to a house in the country to start a new life together, the reality Miranda had once known begins to slip away. Miranda is haunted by alarming, impossible visions and strangers whom she feels certain she has known, although they are all from other times and places. As these phantom lives consume her own and begin to affect all that she knows and loves, Miranda must learn the truth to reclaim it. But sometimes the hardest truth to accept is the knowledge of who we really are. (cover blurb)

Jonathan Carroll’s novel of love and loss and memory and life is wonderfully told for the first 200 pages, with his trademark strangeness tiptoeing in bit by bit by bit. I thoroughly enjoyed Miranda’s story until I turned that one page and suddenly found myself in an entirely different novel…and one I didn’t care for at all. The break was so abrupt, so jarring, it took me completely out of the story…and the big twist as revealed in these last 70 pages was a tremendous disappointment.

Despite this major shortcoming, several of the characters Carroll has created are simply marvelous. I loved Frances, the old woman who leads Miranda to her truth. I really liked James, the high school boyfriend, until the point he turned into a whiny git and blamed Miranda for his poor choices. Hugh was interesting but not sympathetic. And given how the story turned out, I’m rather conflicted about Miranda herself…in a way that’s impossible to discuss without spoilers.

Don’t get me wrong: The Marriage of Sticks is not a bad novel, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. It’s just this particular tired plot twist is one that sets my teeth on edge, and I’m dismayed that he employed it. I suppose if this had been my first Carroll novel I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.

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