American Gods

Monday, February 24, 2020

American Gods
Neil Gaiman, 2001, revised 2011

Hugo Winner - 2002

Premise: Shadow is out of prison, but the life he thought he was returning to is gone. In its place, he is swept up into a shadowy world of arcane plots and gods living among mortals.

So I re-read American Gods, and it was... fine? I guess?

I first read this book either in college or shortly thereafter, and I remember liking it, but nothing else about it. I remember at the time I was reading quickly without thinking about it, so some of the character identities may have come as a surprise. But I don't know that there are many people in 2020 who can see a mention of "Low Key Lyesmith" in the first chapter and not know what they're in for.

This was the tenth-anniversary edition, which is apparently a bit longer than the original. I'm not sure that's a good thing, it definitely dragged at points. Shadow floats along, witnessing but only occasionally being affected by the bizarre things happening around him.

The world is intriguing, and a lot of the side characters are interesting, but the plot just falls flat for me. I like the little side stories about how various gods came to America. I mostly like the dream-like style, it works for the subject matter. But sometimes the whole thing just got too pretentious, Shadow is boring, and the story and world would probably be more interesting in a visual medium.

That transfer to visual and more exploration of the new gods (which the book is sorely missing) are apparently what worked so well about the television adaptation, but I haven't seen any of that.

This joins Green Mars, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Diamond Age, and others on a list of Hugo winners where I would guess the award was given primarily for the inventive setting rather than the story set there.

2 Stars - Fantastic Premise, But Just an Okay Book

Index of Hugo Award Winners

Two Girls Down

Monday, February 10, 2020

Two Girls Down
Louisa Luna, 2018

Premise: When two young sisters vanish from a parking lot, a private investigator and a retired cop might be the best hope of finding them. (Content warning: graphic violence, discussion of sexual assault and murder, including of children)

I borrowed this book from the library on a whim, based on an article that recommended it for fans of the show Broadchurch. Although l can see some superficial similarities and I think the book is well written, reading it mostly affirmed my previous belief that I don't really like thrillers.

I was pretty bored by the first main character. A single dad and former cop forced to retire under complex circumstances, he's warm and practical, pretty uncomplicated and predictable. Alice Vega the PI is much more interesting.

She's distant and analytical except when she's itching for a fight. She's good at manipulation and focused on results. It was only when l was writing this review that I realized she sounds a bit like some versions of Holmes, but she didn't feel very similar while reading. In any case, she was intriguing, and I enjoyed reading from her unique perspective.

The book as a whole though... not my cup of tea. I actually found it bizarre how (mostly) okay I was watching the first two seasons of Broadchurch (which deal with investigating child deaths) while on maternity leave, but this book, in which (spoiler) the titular kids are both found alive, was too upsetting. The descriptions of violence (toward Alice, mostly) were so tactile and the villains so deeply revolting and horrid that the pleasure I got from Alice as a character was overshadowed by the end. I also wasn't into the implied possibility of a future romance between the two main characters.

I did find the book compelling and a fast, gripping read. But the largest takeaway for me was a reminder to stay out of this subgenre!

No Rating - Can't be fair. 1-2 for my own enjoyment, maybe 4 for actual quality?

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North

Monday, February 3, 2020

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North
Blair Braverman, 2016

Premise: A memoir about survival, independence, and dogsledding. Content warnings for sexual assault, rape, and animal injury and death (sheep).

Blair Braverman was always drawn north. Always drawn to snow and ice, to the aurora and the darkness of the Arctic latitudes. This is her story.

I had a little trouble following the narrative at first, but I think that's more a function of my scattered reading time and attention than a problem with the book. It flips back and forth between the "present" - an extended summer visit to a rural town in Norway - and all the adventures that lead up to it.

Blair's determination leads her to take on great things, but it also causes her to not seek help: first when she's subject to unwanted attention while an exchange student and later in a toxic relationship. Ultimately, the book is about how she is able to balance her desire for independence and a physically demanding life with building good and loving relationships.

The description is extremely vivid and it never shies away from portraying the unsavory or the gruesome, almost to a fault. She also spends a lot of time on everything that surrounds her, often only implying her own perspective. I think both these choices are fair and interesting, but it did mean the book didn't resonate with me personally as much as other memoirs. I think it's extremely well-written, but it didn't completely land for me.

3 Stars - A Good Book