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American Gods
American Gods
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.03
38 used & new from CDN$ 4.07

3.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted, March 23 2004
I liked it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more time passes, the more I like it.
It didn't hit me over the head. Although I cared what happened next, I didn't stay up late reading. I didn't sneak off to bathroom, asking my husband to watch the baby "for a few minutes."
I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about - pages and pages of quotable blurbs written by reviewers I've never heard of. "An important, essential book" is a bit overblown. "Keeps the reader turning pages" is somewhat more lowkey, but a meaningless comment, really, to make about any adequate book.
There's nothing bad to say about this book. But it's lingering with me. The story's a giant metaphor, of course, which I'm still enjoying unravelling. This book is aging well.
Gaiman paints America with the reverence only an outsider could muster.
Gaiman's no literary genius, but he knows his craft well enough. It's idea that drives this book, not language. (More books might be better off if they had ideas like these.) I don't really see how American Gods could win both the Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel (the only horrific element is that dead woman who keeps hanging around) and the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel (there's certainly no science about it, and the fantasy is the kind that pervades our daily lives) - I'd sooner file this book in the magic realism genre.
I'm not sorry I read it and it has me asking questions about various mythologies.

Morning, Noon, and Night
Morning, Noon, and Night
by Spalding Gray
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Morbidly compelling, March 23 2004
I stumbled upon a discount copy of Spalding Gray's Morning, Noon and Night and was morbidly compelled to read it. Basically, he recounts a day in his life when his youngest son was still an infant.
Other of his works are better written and with sharper wit and insight, and to plod through this one - to get it - you have to hear Spalding tell it in your head, see his expressions and mannerisms.
This memoir is something of a reflection on parenthood, and, well, everything, in true Spalding fashion. The book is full of sentiments that everyone confronting parenthood can relate to. I found myself angry at him for saying some of it though (OK, so I'm not finished with my anger just yet). Toward the end he writes:
"Here it is only ten-fifteen in the evening and I'm wasted, and I didn't even go to work. I don't know how people do it. I don't know how people raise families and work at the same time. What's more, why would they want to do it? With only one life to live, why bring more life into the world to be responsible for? It's absurd. It's ridiculous, I think. Why complicate your life with more life that you are ultimately responsible for? I love my children, but they could only be accidents born out of a kind of blind passion. I could never have had a child if I had to think about it."
Although he didn't go to work, he didn't do much parenting either. His girlfriend, working from a home office, also cooked, managed the household renovations, tended to the baby. He was selfish and spoiled - yoga, bike-ride, drinking.
But in the light of his death this work also sketches a portrait of a very sad, confused, scared - desperately scared - childish man. (Lots of inky water imagery too.) The humour and the wonder had already started leaving him.

Eyre Affair
Eyre Affair
by Jasper Fforde
Edition: Paperback
121 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The great Thursday Next, March 23 2004
This review is from: Eyre Affair (Paperback)
Kinky Freidman is a little too Texas.
Dirk Gently, alas, will have no more adventures.
Thursday Next seems to fit the bill.
Heroine of The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, she lives in an alternate universe where the Crimean War is still going strong in 1985 and literary greats are worshipped like rock stars. Performances of Richard III generate the equivalent hooplah of a viewing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Fun. Funny. Wacky. And there's time travel. Yay!
In summary, the wall between reality and fantasy has been breached. Jane Eyre has been kidnapped, and Thursday must restore her, as well as the novel's ending.
The official website, though confusing, makes good conceptual use of the technology to supplement this series of novels and flesh out Thursday's world.

Lost in a Good Book
Lost in a Good Book
by Jasper Fforde
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.99
79 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A good book, March 23 2004
This review is from: Lost in a Good Book (Paperback)
Book-jumping. The lives of books. Good, clean fun.
What's it about? Well, according to Fforde . . .
"I like subplots a lot, and it probably shows. In fact, you could say that Lost in a Good Book consists only of subplots - a month in the life of a literary detective. The actual plot I have decided, is the love interest between Spike and Cindy - all the rest are just subplots."
This is extremely funny because Spike is a very minor character and Cindy is mentioned only in passing.
This book is very much more about the world Thursday Next inhabits than the sort of narrative that drove The Eyre Affair. It's hard not to be grateful for that - it smells of more adventure to come.
One of my favourite elements is the snippets from the glossary of The Jurisfiction Guide to the Great Library (used, along with other "publications," at chapter openings primarily to fill in backstory - personal, social historical, and technical). For example:
PageRunner: Any character who is out of his or her book and moves through the backstory (or more rarely the plot) of another book. PageRunners may be lost, vacationing, part of the Character Exchange Program or criminals, intent on mischief.
The author's website also includes a little insight into the editing process - how a few simple substitutions can make things so much better.

Without a Trace
Without a Trace
by Carolyn Keene
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.99
73 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Without a Trace, March 23 2004
This review is from: Without a Trace (Paperback)
Without a Trace is without much of anything. Authorship is still attributed to the imaginary Carolyn Keene. The persona of Nancy Drew herself has changed with the times, but she is a hardly a more fully developed person.
The writing is passable; the plot is predictable and nothing special. A mere 150 pages, it doesn't compare with my memory of delving into the thick hardcovers with the twisty plots of my childhood. Mind you, it's been 27 years since I read Nancy Drew through the eyes of a 7-year-old.
I don't remember the books being narrated in the first person, but they probably were. I do remember Nancy Drew's "hunches," but I don't recall this 'gift' being referred to as a "sixth sense."
What I remember most about Nancy Drew books was the sense that I was learning - phrases of Turkish, gardening, history, and culture. This installment devotes almost a full page to the history of Fabergé eggs. (Hear my sarcasm - I expected more.)
While I enjoyed imagining myself in her shoes and piecing together the puzzles, I don't remember ever thinking of Nancy Drew as a contemporary. She seemed always to be a step back in time, and this added to her charm.
Although it wouldn't upset me to see my baby someday entranced by this modern version of my childhood heroine, there are better books (and role models - Hermione Granger springs to mind) out there for her.

by Tobias Hill
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Cryptic, Jan. 25 2004
This review is from: Cryptographer (Paperback)
The Cryptographer, by Tobias Hill, is not so much about a cryptographer as about a woman trying to understand the cryptographer. That the subject is a cryptographer is not particularly relevant, apart, perhaps, from his natural tendency to behave cryptically. All that matters is that he has power and money. He is money.
In the Globe and Mail, cryptographer John Law is likened to Gatsby, but he is not quite so pathetic or tragic.
The Guardian sums up the novel well, though I think it is mistaken in calling it "a thriller, however poetic and elliptical." The novel throbs with an underlying intrigue, but there is never a quickening of the pulse.
According to the Telegraph, "The plot lacks depth or plausibility." I have to agree. Maud Newton didn't like it at all, but I think it has some merit.
It is a character study. The book offers some insight into money, particularly into people who work with money without having any per se. Anna Moore, tax inspector. She carries on her side a balance of a kind of power, a sinister but moral intimidation, only The Revenue wields.
Though the relationships between characters ring true and resolve as it seems they must, they are riddled with elisions. Hill uses a poet's trick of using empty spaces to give the content meaning, but I found myself working too hard to fill in the blanks. For example, while Anna has occasional obligatory dinners with her sister where they are as conversationally distant as strangers, there remains a "sisterliness" in their dialogue that I credit more to accident (and my ability to read between the lines) than to Hill's skill.
Anna's relationship with John Law starts nicely, but evolves not plausibly at all. Their initial conversation, believably, is imbued with innuendo. They engage in a dance of flirtatious contact over months. That a year later this woman might construe this as love and pursue him to the ends of the earth is just silly.
The prose is elegant, but the plot is a Prufrockian missed opportunity.

Broken Angels
Broken Angels
by Richard Morgan
Edition: Paperback
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.68

4.0 out of 5 stars The Martians are coming!, Dec 31 2003
This review is from: Broken Angels (Paperback)
Richard Morgan's Broken Angels is a neat (sometimes very messy) adventure story set against a sweeping backdrop of dirty politics, revolutionaries, corporate loyalties, and military action, and on this foundation it begins to construct a Martian mythology.
This is the same world we were introduced to in Altered Carbon, further fleshed out and featuring the same but freshly sleeved hero, Takeshi Kovacs. Whereas Altered Carbon was a detective story driven by individuals, Broken Angels is a kind of treasure hunt, where personalities are secondary to the vast corporate and other forces that direct them. The noir is gone, but the darkness remains in this more traditional and militaristic sci-fi story.
The characters, though secondary, are fully three-dimensional with consistent behaviour. When bodies are so easily replaced, identity by personality is very important, and Morgan is a master at this. Takeshi Kovacs remains complex, a product of his slum-ridden childhood, his special-ops training, and bio-engineering, including a wolf gene splice.
The language and the violence are still pretty hard-boiled.
But. The punctuation. Was driving me. Nuts. Periods are intended to mark the end of a full sentence or, at the very least, a complete thought. Here, they are used to mark. Both unnatural. And natural pauses. Dashes and ellipses are better suited to this purpose - showing... how we... slow down to... collect our thoughts, or when our - speech - is - externally - interrupted. Fire that copyeditor.
The broken angels of the title are the vanished Martian civilization. I hope the archeologists of Richard Morgan's world will continue to pick away at their remains and piece together their culture in the promised third Kovacs novel, Woken Furies.

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