Wednesday, May 29, 2013

American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I purchased an ebook copy a couple of years ago when it was discounted at Barnes & Noble.

My review:

I like the haiku summary I found on LibraryThing:

New gods, and old ones
All across America
- A storm is coming

So I'll leave it at that.

They say that you either love or hate Neil Gaiman's books, but I can't quite agree. I liked it, but I just liked it. American Gods was fascinating and complex. It was like an extended brain teaser for people who like ancient mythologies and are comfortable with some ambiguity.

It is not a fast read, and I suggest reading it with or The Reader's Companion to World Literature nearby for quick reference. You will want to check your fuzzy memory unless you are a real mythology geek.

I appreciated Gaiman's cleverness; I loved how he incorporated and interpreted so many mythological characters; but I just couldn't get into the plot line. Shadow wanders sort of aimlessly and spends a lot of downtime practicing coin tricks here and there on the American map. That in and of itself was fine, but I just couldn't figure out what the point of any of it was for the majority of the book. It got good at the end.

Stars: 3

Objective rating: 4 stars

Gaiman is a great writer. But I can't quite bring myself to put him in the same category as fantasy writers like Tolkien or even Pratchett or Adams, who create complex worlds but also give the reader something to really care about. Gaiman is heavy on the complexity, light on the plotlines. I would rather have detail and a basic story than a compelling story that is only sketched in (personal preference), but I much prefer to have both unless I am already heavily invested in the characters (e.g., Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fight Like a Girl

Fight Like a Girl: Be Scared with a Plan by Kym Rock

I won a paperback copy at a FLAG seminar.

My review:

Kym Rock is the founder of the Fight Like a Girl fitness and self-defense program. She began training in martial arts to learn to protect herself in her abusive marriage, but ended up developing the courage and self-esteem to leave the relationship altogether. She brings her expertise in martial arts (she's a 7-time World Karate Champion, among other distinctions) and her experience as an abuse and cancer survivor to her leadership of the program.

This book is written to help women in various phases and stages of life-- parents of babies through teens, college women, single ladies, female executives, and the victims of stalking or abusive relationships, as well as Every Woman going about her usual routine. The advice that she gives is concrete, clear, and practical.

As a college librarian, I was uncomfortable with the way statistics were presented throughout the book. While the sources of the data were reliable and credited appropriately, the figures themselves were presented in ways that ranged from unclear to downright misleading. I understand that Sensei is trying to drive home her point that abductions, etc. are very real problems, but to say that a teen has a "68% chance" of being abducted is simply incorrect. (I am going from memory on this exact statistic, as the book is not at hand for this writing.) A close reading by someone who has paid attention throughout the chapter will make it clear that she means that of minors who are abducted, 68% of them are teens, but this is one example of how the book could use information in a more responsible manner.

I also found a few pieces of her advice questionable. For instance, I would advise women walking alone in the dark to NOT call a friend or family member while heading to their car; women on phones are more likely to be chosen as targets, and while you gain the benefit of having someone on the line and ready to call 911 on your behalf, you lose some situational awareness on-site. But these are trade-offs that each woman will have to weigh in her own situation.

Still, despite these flaws, this book should be required reading for teenage girls and college-aged women. Any woman, in fact, will benefit from reading this book, and I highly recommend that you do so.

Stars: 4

I have been participating in the local FLAG program since about January and I absolutely love it. I believe strongly that women need to develop safe habits and learn to defend themselves should they ever need to do so. A police officer or significant other will not always be there, and ultimately your safety depends on you.

Friday, May 24, 2013

On the Island

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

I purchased the ebook through Barnes & Noble.

My review:

The summary of this book will unfortunately deter many readers. A thirty-year-old teacher is en route with her 16-year-old pupil to his family's summer stay in the Maldives when their plane crashes, stranding the two of them on an island. Days stretch into years and Anna and T.J. struggle to survive, eventually developing a "Relationship."

While the subject matter sounds as if it should make the skin crawl, the book is beautiful and so is the love story. The chapters are told from alternating points of view, which helps the reader to understand how their relationship unfolds and changes. Graves' writing is clear and flows well, making this an easy book to read in quick snatches of time, but the story will linger in the reader's mind long after the e-reader is put down.

Stars: 4


This book is actually a re-read for me. I purchased a copy last year, when it was only available as an e-book (the author was originally unable to find a traditional publisher and went the self-pub route). My book club selected it as this month's read and I was more than happy to revisit this one.

The most problematic aspect from a suspension-of-disbelief perspective was T.J.'s maturity level. I bought the premise that as a cancer survivor, he had a different outlook on life than most guys his age. And of course the years on the island would shape him deeply, particularly as they occur in his transition to manhood. Still, in the latter sections of the book, he was just a little too "together" and adult at points.

I hesitate to file this book it under "action/adventure," but the characters' efforts to survive are a huge part of the story. Though written for a primarily female audience, this is one love story that I could see having above-average cross-gender appeal.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Royal Pain

A Royal Pain by Megan Mulry

I bought the ebook when it was discounted for Barnes & Nobles NOOK Daily Finds a few days ago.

My review:

Bronte is coming out of a failed relationship and decides that she needs a rebound man. Conveniently, she bumps into a delicious British doctoral candidate and convinces him-- without much difficulty-- to fill the role. The rebound relationship with lots of hot sex threatens to become more, but Bronte is stunned and dismayed to learn that her handsome Transitional Man is actually a duke and member of the royal family of England.

This is a delightful piece of bubbly chick lit. Megan Mulry's writing is very good, but habitual readers of chick lit should be prepared for extended passages of description and narration that do not involve dialogue. Like all good chick lit, however, it includes lots of great clothes, lots of killer shoes, and enough champagne to go around. The narrative-heavy sections moved the story along appropriately and the transitions flowed well, so the change from narration to more dialogue-heavy passages and back were not distracting. Several subplots were worked into the book, however, and the story line involving Bronte's relationship with her parents wasn't well-integrated into the main story until close to the end.

The ending will bother some readers, who will take issue with the choices Bronte makes and the reasons that she makes them. Still, anyone who enjoyed the movie The Prince and Me or Sophie Kinsella's I've Got Your Number will love diving into this fun little fantasy of contemporary royal romance.

P.S. Lots of swearing. Bronte likes to swear.

Stars: 4

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I'm glad I snatched it up. It's not great literature, but it was a super-fun read. It definitely whisked me away to another place and sometimes that's what I'm looking for in a book. This would be a great vacation read or a good book for curling up on a rainy Saturday with a cup of tea or glass of wine.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dead Ever After

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

I borrowed the hardcover from the public library.

My review:

Charlaine Harris had a lot to wrap up in the final installment of the Sookie Stackhouse series. Virtually every character from the entire series who isn't "definitely dead" makes at least a cameo appearance in this farewell novel. With so many story lines to conclude, the book naturally feels a little scattershot.

Though there is the requisite murder mystery and plenty of people are trying to put Sookie permanently out of commission, this thirteenth book goes back to the lighthearted narration of earlier books in the series. The last several Southern Vampire books took a darker turn, but with Dead Ever After, Harris has returned to the resilient, determined Sookie that garnered this series a devoted following.

In a departure from previous books, however, this novel is not told exclusively from Sookie's perspective and in fact begins with a couple of sections narrated in the third-person. These "elsewhere" passages resurface throughout the book and distract rather than add. The information the reader gleans from these "asides" could easily have been worked into the main narrative flow through characters' conversations with Sookie or others, as in previous books. 

Still, this is a mostly-satisfying conclusion to a beloved series, and long-time readers will be glad to have some "open resolution" for their many Bon Temps friends.

Stars: 3

Naked in Death

Naked in Death by J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts

I downloaded the audiobook from the public library's OverDrive service.

My review:

Nora Roberts is more than a talented and successful romance author; she does suspense, mystery, and crime very well, too. While there is romance and sex in Naked in Death, it takes a backseat to the serial killer mystery and actually manages to contribute to the main story.

In Death is a futuristic series but I think will hold up well even as we move farther into the future; this book was originally written in the mid-90's and aside from the limited use mobile technology, I still found the portrayal of 2058 fairly plausible. Technology was advanced and integrated into everyday life but had not changed long-established cultural norms or movements. Lt. Eve Dallas' America is still recognizably America, just with better transportation, security, and medical services.

I mean, we'd better have our flying cars in 45 years, darn it.

The story itself was compelling; the crimes were grisly and the psychology of Eve and the killer were interesting to unravel, as well. I had a pretty good bead on whodunnit about halfway through, however, and I am usually really bad at that, so the case may not intrigue seasoned mystery buffs. Still, the excellent writing and characterization will probably be enough to hold their interest.

Stars: 4.5

Runability: 5

Susan Ericksen does a simply amazing job with the narration. This is hands-down one of the best audiobook productions I've enjoyed, and it is the perfect running soundtrack. I have a hold on the next in the series and can't wait to start it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Love Calls

When Love Calls by Lorna Seilstad

I purchased the ebook from Barnes & Noble.

My review:

Hannah Gregory's parents have unexpectedly passed away, leaving her in charge of her two younger sisters and faced with the necessity of dropping out of law school. To support the family, she decides to become a "Hello Girl," or switchboard operator. Before she is able to secure a paycheck, the bank dispatches a young lawyer to foreclose on the farm, and Hannah is annoyed to find that he keeps crossing her path.

Lorna Seilstad is a Christian writer who creates lively, interesting characters with believable motives. Early-20th-century Des Moines, Iowa, may sound prosaic, but romance is all the more charming amidst the everyday settings of work, picnics, and church services. Seilstad manages to capture an energetic and optimistic time in history, when the nation was full of progress and hope for the future.

The biblical message is not veiled, but neither is it lobbed at the reader like a brick. The parallel with the story of Ruth feels a little forced, but then, similarities between everyday life and biblical stories are usually not exact in every detail, so it is a realistic way of drawing applicable lessons from a scriptural text.

Rating: 4.5 stars; we'll round up to 5

Lincoln Cole is my kind of literary heartthrob. This young lawyer is hot! I feel that Seilstad has really reached her potential in this book and has created two leading characters who are equally flawed and equally delightful. Both Hannah and Lincoln learn and grow, which I love. I can't wait for the next books in the Gregory Sisters series; unfortunately, I have about a year to wait!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

North and South

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I downloaded a free ebook copy from Project Gutenberg.

My review:

A rather privileged young lady from the agrarian, rural southern England suddenly finds herself considerably less privileged and forced to move with her parents to a textiles manufacturing town in the north. Cultures, priorities, and personalities clash, illnesses and financial problems strike, and Margaret's mettle is tested... and sometimes found wanting.

This is a Victorian "issues" book. The story line and plot were unoriginal but engaging and grew more compelling as the story unfolded. The long discussions of societal theory were longer than necessary, however. The discussions and perspectives had to be included and debated in order to develop the plot and characterizations, but tangents were often over-long. Characters grew and learned throughout the book, but the ending felt hasty in a manner reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott's "romance" books.

Fans of Victorian novels will enjoy this portrayal of two English cultures of the day, but there is a reason that it is a B-list classic instead of one of the big titles that everyone recognizes. It will not have the broad, era-transcending appeal of Anne of Green Gables or Frankenstein.

Stars: 3


As a modern American from a region with a manufacturing heritage, I found myself frustrated with the impractical and elitist attitudes of some of the characters, even though I know that it was an accurate representation of many good people's views in that time and place.