Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley

4 1/2 stars!

I started reading this book to my 8 year old daughter, a chapter at a time before bed. Soon she was so engrossed that she started reading ahead whenever she got the chance. Two days later she was done and I was dying to know what happened to the plucky heroines!

This is a great twist on the orphaned children genre. Not only does it feature a pair of self-sufficient girls brimming with chutzpah, but there is magic aplenty. (I think that's a required ingredient for kid's lit these days.) Buckley has the tone down perfectly - the book is just scary and complex enough for an audience of children, and never patronizing. He manages to set the stage for a whole lot of sequels without leaving his audience hanging.

This, however, may be the greatest thing about the Grimm sisters series - they have a theme song! This may be the direct result of the movie making machine that will soon engulf this lovely group of books. I am generally not a fan of making terrific kids books into movies, because I have such a strong bias about reading versus watching. This book, however, would make a really great movie in the hands of a good director.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is dishy, talented and prolific. He's one of the guys responsible for making geeky the new sexy. Think of him as a handsomer, less creepy Stephen King.

What I thought of this book
: 4 stars!

Where I heard about this book: My friend Mark recommended it to me a year or so ago, and then, as often happens, it kept coming up at odd moments. I found a used copy while shopping for a birthday present, which just goes to show that I should go to book stores more often.

What this book is about: A man leaves prison, and seems to hover between life and death as he is shuttled about by gods trying to reestablish their shattered domains in the new world.

Check out this video of Neil on the Colbert Report. He's self-possessed and funny.

And have you seen his bookshelves? Look at his personal library and swoon!

I have a tiny pet peeve about books set in places that are not native to the author. Often when I read books by British writers that are set in America, I catch little Britishisms that, like catching your sweater on a splinter, interrupt the flow of the book. In the nearly 600 pages of American Gods, I didn't find a single one. A small thing, I know, but it really sums up what makes this book so good - the story and the characters stay true to themselves and don't go wandering off where they have no business.

Shadow, the protagonist, is a hero by any definition. He's exactly the guy you'd want by your side in any conflict - large, strong, clear-headed, unafraid of pain or death. And he has an unwavering moral compass. His apparent lack of faults isn't annoying because he's so busy being kicked around that you forget that he's nearly perfect. That, and he doesn't seem all that happy, which pretty much makes up makes up for his having no irritating personal habits.

I love the idea that America is a bad place for gods, and that while most immigrants thrive and prosper here, gods are doomed to be first marginalized, and then forgotten altogether. This is a story that examines modern American culture without anyone ever turning on a laptop or sending a text message! And it's a page-turner - despite its length it's a quick and satisfying read.