American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

American GodsFinally! Finally, I have read through the entire American Gods canon. Backwards, of course, because that’s how I roll (that is not how I roll). First it was Anansi Boys, all the way back in 2009, and then “Monarch of the Glen” in… 2011?! Goodness, time flies.

Now it is American Gods and I must say that this is probably my favorite of the set, for many reasons, including a) I don’t really remember the other stories that well just now, b) but this is definitely a different story than the others, c) I’ve got some more Gaiman under my belt and have an idea of what’s going on here in general, and d) it’s really just an awesome book. How awesome? It has an epilogue, that I liked. Inconceivable!

Right, so, anyway, what is this book about, you ask? Well, basically what it says on the tin. There’s a fella called Shadow who finds himself in the employ of one Mr. Wednesday, whose stalking capabilities are second to none and who turns out to be a certain god who is interested in getting together the old gang of immigrant gods to fight against the new American gods (TV, computers, and the like) who are snuffing said old gods out. Of course, it’s not that easy, and so Shadow finds himself trying to avoid some shadowy and poorly code-named government agents (Mr. Wood? Mr. Town? Quite creative, those) while also trying to figure out what to do with his undead wife who just wants to love him with her cold, nonbeating heart. You know, the usual.

But most of the book isn’t really about that war of the gods plot so much as it is about introducing the various gods in their guises and disguises, whether it’s a star goddess or a folk hero or stereotypically drunk leprechaun. Gaiman obviously had a lot of fun putting the old gods into the modern day, and although some of them seem mysterious at first he doesn’t leave you hanging too long on their actual identities so that you can go Wikipedia the heck out of them — which makes me think, man, if only this book had been written a few years later it would have had some really strange and interesting gods.

I was afraid I wouldn’t like the ending when I saw it wrapping up a little too quickly, but after it played out I thought it was done quite well, that it made sense, and that I will definitely need to acquire my own copy of this book so I can go read it again and see how everything fits together. And the epilogue, seriously, someone needs to go inform all the other epilogue writers that this is how you do it — none of that “btw this is what happened with all those other things” and all of that “here’s a scene or two that takes place later that happens to tie up some loose ends, nbd”.

Now I have to go read the sequel stories again so that I can understand them better… maybe in two years?

Recommendation: Do recommend. For lovers of mythology, America, and Neil Gaiman.

Rating: 9/10

Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn (13 February)

This is a “progressively lipogrammatic epistolary novel,” or, in other words, a book written in letters (that you’d send in the mail) that has to be careful of its words as certain letters (of the alphabet) are removed from the book one by one.

The premise is that there is an island called Nollop that is beholden to words and tradition: its citizens send letters and read newspapers without help of the internet. It is named after Nevin Nollop, the alleged inventor of the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This sentence is placed prominently on a cenotaph (yeah, there’s some vocabulary in this novel!) in town, which becomes a problem when the letter “z” falls off. Ella Minnow Pea, her cousin Tassie, their families, and the rest of Nollop are at first amused when the island council decrees that the letter thus shall no longer be used (or allowed to be used, or read, or spoken of), but grow increasingly apprehensive when “q” falls off, then “j,” et cetera.

We find all of this out through letters between Ella, Tassie, et al, which become more limited as the letters fall. Scott’s favorite line near the end reads something like, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”

Ella Minnow Pea is a book for word nerds but also a commentary on totalitarian societies. Excellent combination!

Rating: 8.5/10
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The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2 December — 7 December)

This book was on my “To Read” list two summers ago, but didn’t make it onto this year’s list, probably because I couldn’t remember why it was on my list in the first place — that’s the problem with having so many good books out there! But, fortunately (or was it fate…), I saw it again on another blog and was reminded that I wanted to read it because it was a book about books. So brilliant, right?

Very right.

So our protagonist is Daniel Sempere, a boy living in Barcelona just after the Spanish Civil War. His father, a bookseller, takes his almost-11-year-old son to a place called the Cemetary of Forgotten Books, where Daniel is told to select a book that he will adopt to make sure it never disappears and will always stay alive.

Daniel finds a book called The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax, which turns out to be pretty much the best book Daniel’s ever read. When he learns that Carax’s books have been forgotten not just because of their limited publishing but because a mysterious stranger, going by the name of Shadow‘s protagonist, has been collecting and burning the novels, Daniel sets off to find out the truth behind the rumors of Carax’s life.

I very much liked this book. It is a translation from the original Spanish, so a few of the turns of phrase are a bit awkward, and a couple things don’t quite line up, fact-wise, but all in all the book has a solid plot and an excellent story. I have to say also that I had the big twists figured out from the beginning, but I still had an excellent time finding out just why those twists happened. There are so many lives intertwined in this story, and all of them are interesting.

Rating: 8/10

Grave Peril, by Jim Butcher (16 November)

Man, what a crappy weekend for reading. I mean, it was a good one in that I read about 700 pages and finished two books this weekend, but I was really disappointed by those books.

This one especially! Grave Peril is the third in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, and I very much enjoyed the first two books. Sadly, this one just did not work for me.

The plot here is that Harry Dresden, a wizard for hire, gets drawn into a case where ghosts are attacking people, someone is probably attacking the ghosts, and there’s a demon that attacks people in their nightmares. Not a bad premise.

But! There are about eleventy bajillion red herrings in the book that don’t all sort themselves out in the end, there’s at least one continuity error, and in the end everything is solved by love or something stupid like that. Butcher is an engaging writer, for sure, and I definitely wanted to know what happened in the end, but then it was stupid and I was sad. It’s sort of like when VeggieTales is on TV and you know that there’s going to be a corny tie-in to God at the end of the episode, but those vegetables are just so darn cute that you keep watching it anyway.

I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series in the hopes that it will get better, but if it doesn’t I guess I’m done. Sigh.

Rating: 6/10

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde (28 August − 1 September)

The premise behind this book is an alternate universe in which weird things happen regularly − time gets out of joint, extinct animals can be cloned, religious fighting is replaced by “Who was the real Shakespeare” fighting. As in this universe, the government has a lot of bureaus to control its constituents, among these SpecOps 27, the literary division.

Our protagonist, Thursday Next, is an operative in this group who gets lured into a big investigation by the fact that she’s seen the bad guy involved, Acheron Hades − few others have because he doesn’t resolve on film. He is out to make a name for himself by stealing an original manuscript to Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit as well as a machine called a Prose Portal invented by Thursday’s uncle, Mycroft. With it he can enter original manuscripts, kill a character or two, and completely change every copy of whatever story he’s gotten into.

Thursday works to rescue her uncle, restore a failed relationship, and save Jane Eyre from destruction, all while battling the forces of evil in Hades and government corruption.

I really liked this book. Fforde makes the alternate universe seem very real with little details (an ongoing Crimean War, Jehovah’s Witness-like “Baconians”) and writes entertaining characters. A couple of times, when time-travel and manuscript-revising were involved, I thought too hard about how things could actually work and lost the story a bit, but otherwise it was great. This is the first in a series of Thursday Next novels, and I will definitely be looking for the second the next time I hit the library.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2001)