Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two Book Reviews: "Misfortune" by Wesley Stace; "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman

I'm behind on book reviews, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading. In fact, I've been reading a lot lately. I'm midway through Sjon's "The Blue Fox," and then, per Christopher Grant's suggestion, I'll be starting Book One of the "The Walking Dead," just in time for the Halloween movie (series? I am woefully ignorant) on AMC.

In the last few weeks, I've read Wesley Stace's "Misfortune" and Neil Gaiman's "American Gods." Let's start with "Misfortune."

It was dark and rainy night. I was grumpy. Nothing was holding my attention. I picked up and attempted to read three different books. Then I picked up "Misfortune," a gift from friend and STELLAR book reviewer, Joanne. You can read her review of "Misfortune" here.

Hooked. Beyond hooked. Instantly and without reservation. Stace writes with an intelligent, bemused, singular voice, and takes us through events that I must, to be fair, call occasionally a stretch of the imagination. But to Stace's credit, I not only went along with events, but loved every moment of the ride. It's rare to feel such affection for a protagonist, but I did. And for Rose Old's entire family, especially Geoffrey Loveall, a daft bit of business who adopts Rose after finding the baby boy on a dump heap and raises him as his biological daughter.

I heard you squint and re-read that. Yes, I did. Geoffrey needs an heir. And more importantly, he needs someone to take the place of his beloved deceased sister. That Rose has improper equipment for the job means little. And so Rose Old grows up at Love Hall and eventually goes out into the wide world and comes back again, and the journey is fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking. Kudos to Stace for the research he did on gender assignment -- but don't think think this book is preachy or ever lapses into boredom. It's strange, funny, and joyous. I quote Jo: A bizarre tale of gender confusion and family ties, it reads like an insane cross between Bleak House, Gormenghast, Orlando and The Moonstone with a tiny hint of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Could not agree more.

One of the best books I read this year. I will say that I thought the ending a bit too tidy, and without spoiling it, the ending also lacked what I felt was a crucial scene. I think Stace wimped out. Eh. It's still incredible, and it goes on my re-read list. I don't want to forget anything about "Misfortune."

And last night, I finished Gaiman's "American Gods." I'm a huge Gaiman fan -- even follow him on Twitter -- and I had huge expectations for AG. But while it's undoubtedly one of his best, I admit that I feel lukewarm towards it. For me, it was the protagonist, Shadow. Shadow doesn't seem to want anything, and I never got a sense of who he really was, or what the man is about. He seems as forgettable as a wet leaf on pavement. Now I know that a million readers will want to argue with me; I'm just saying that I never cared for Shadow. Really. No opinion on him. He seemed almost... insubstantial.

The story, however, is epic. War of the gods, new v. old; behind the scenes puppetmasters; a mish-mash of ideas and concepts brought together expertly. A well-woven tale, sharp and paced nicely. This seems to be more the kind of book one appreciates on an intellectual level, but on the level of the heart -- it just didn't reach me.

Now. I am in the minority. "American Gods" is huge -- #3609 on Amazon's book ranking list, and it's been out for years. And further proof of how much people love it can be found at the blog for House on the Rock. In a little over a week, this tourist attraction in Wisconsin will be hosting its first convention, for fans of "American Gods." There will even a costume party, where you dress as your favorite character. It's nearly sold out, and the hype online is crazy. Hey, Gaiman will be there himself, doing a reading. What is House on the Rock? In the book, it's a spiritual place, and the carousel within provides a portal into the mind of Odin, the All-Father, Norse god, etc. In fact, HotR will be raffling off tickets to ride the carousel (it's currently off-limits to riders). So when you look at the people coming in droves, booking themselves 5 or 6 to a hotel room down the road, planning their costumes and generally squeeing over this opportunity, then you've got to admit that there is something about the book, don't you?

So yes, I admit there is something special about this book. I'm just not sold on it myself. But I'm a big fan of Gaiman's and will continue making my way through his works. Will anything ever top the love I have for "The Graveyard Book"? Probably not. :) But that doesn't matter.

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Thanks for stopping by and reading. Get yourself a copy of "Misfortune;" you won't regret it. Now, I tried to find a good writer's hotel, but I'm having no luck today. So let's pretend we're all sipping coffee in a quiet bar in the lobby of a cool hotel, writing our stories and occasionally glancing at the sunbeams dancing off the walls as we try to think: "What word? What is that word? It's like... like... Fuck. What the hell is that word???"


  1. My first introduction to Gaiman was "Neverwhere." I couldn't put it down. I was blown away by his writing and creative genius. Then I bought American Gods. Three times I've picked it up, three times I've put it down. I agree with you on Shadow. He's "eh" to put it mildly. All of the other characters are true Gaiman inspired characters and they carry the novel, but for some reason I can't put my finger why I can't seem to finish it. Would like too though. Maybe I'll pick it up soon one more time and see how it goes....

  2. I think "Neverwhere" will be my next Gaiman. Glad to hear you couldn't put it down.

    I struggled with AG initially, then the second half was far easier. However, as much as I tried, I couldn't get into Shadow. "Eh" to put it mildly, LOL. Yes, you are absolutely correct. And I'm not sure why -- I read to the end thinking that there would be an explanation for his dishwater personality, and there never was. So -- he wants nothing, has no personality, and doesn't change. I think that breaks the rules for writing main characters, but hey, it's Gaiman. :) He can do as he pleases, I guess.

  3. I just ordered both books, plus Gaiman's Anasazi Boys and Neverwhere. I always look forward to your recs, Becky!

  4. I won't be giving anything away if I say a character from American Gods makes a brief appearance in Anasazi Boys, and you should read AG first. Gaiman himself says as much at the end of AG. Just so ya know.

    Misfortune was AWESOME!!! One of the most outlandish and enjoyable books I've had the pleasure of reading in a while. Happy reading!

  5. Agreed about Shadow. I didn't "love" him, as I do ... well, pretty much most of the main male characters I read. I wanted to, but didn't... couldn't. I felt for the most part of the book he was going along with it all because he had nothing better to do, I guess.

    Neverwhere! Oh yes! Yes and yesser. SO good. Let us know what you think of that one. I do enjoy your book reviews... and even more so when I can relate. LOL ... go figure.

    And yes, I did love Silas. Very much, thank you.

    *high five*

    or *knuckle bump*