American Gods – Neil Gaiman – A Review

Despite my reservations about Gaiman’s style, the Graveyard book gave me the nudge I needed to venture into more of his darkly enchanting world. There was one title I heard repeatedly while contemplating his next work? American Gods. It seemed a good place to go next. Did it disappoint? Well, I wouldn’t say that it disappointed, but I wasn’t floored into submission either.

I’m sure most have either read this book by now or watched the hit T.V. show. For the sake of consistency (and those who, like me, tend to wait until popular fiction is nearly forgotten to pick it up for themselves) lets back up a bit.

American Gods, follows Shadow who, while serving his time in jail, discovers that his wife, Laura, died in an accident. While on the plane going home he meets a grizzled old man who calls himself Wednesday and is offered a job playing chauffeur and bodyguard. Shadow, a man with nothing to lose, accepts.

It’s a very simple premise

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Inspire by American Gods

masking some complex questions all centered around the mauled, ever-changing spirit of what we call today, America. In that way, at least, I can say Gaiman came close to capturing that spirit. Not only with the invention of new gods like those of fast food, television, and freeways, but of the eternal ever-beating heart of the earth where we walk. The very earth the Natives of this land gave thanks to every day they traversed it.

What did I like about it? Gaiman paints a picture of gods being prisoners to our every wish and whim. Locked not only into the laws that we believed for them but dependent on our continued belief. The idea itself has been around for a bit now, but to me, this was gone about in a very human way. After all, if it was our intense belief that created Gods, then we created them in our image. We gave them our anger. Our love. Our jealousy. Our passion. Neil does a great job showing us the humanity of these forgotten gods. They are con men, prostitutes, morticians, homeless drunks. They are afraid and stubborn and blind and wise – filled with faults and pettiness and fierce loyalty.

There wasn’t a moment with the Gods that I didn’t enjoy. It was fun trying to guess their identity even if I wasn’t as familiar with the lore where they originated. Bast and Ibis were brilliantly done but I found Odin to be… not what I would have expected him to be. I enjoyed the part of him portrayed in the epilogue better.

What bothered me? I can think of one thing that tended to be a continuous itch.

What the hell was Shadow’s job?

He didn’t drive all that much and he sure as hell failed at being a bodyguard. When it was brought up, all that was ever said was that he was special, or that he was important, but I couldn’t find a particular reason why it had to be him and not anyone else. In the end, it’s a timid flame held up to the blaze of a bigger picture, but I would have liked to know more.

Other then that it’s the usual nitpicks I tend to have with Neil’s style of writing. it’s a little slow and distant.

All around I would recommend the book to anyone looking for an adventure that mimics a dream. You’ll remember it even if it doesn’t become a favorite.

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman – A Review

The first book by Neil Gaiman that I tried and failed to read, was Neverwhere. For some unfathomable reason, it would not hold my attention. As much as I wanted to like and enjoy his work – after all, I adored The Nightmare Before Christmas and the one Sandman comic I owned – it was a hopeless endeavor.

I put the book down.

It gathered some dust.

I got rid of it at some point in time.

That being said, I went into his work again with no small amount of skepticism. You might be wondering, whatever drew you to this book now? The simple answer? It has pictures in it. I’ve always been a sucker for an illustrated book. Make those illustrations a little dark and strange to go with a book that’s just the same, and it’s a baited hook I can’t refuse.

Let’s get into the meat of the review, shall we?

The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens, Bod for short. Nobody lives in a graveyard, raised by ghosts, guarded by his not quite alive, not quite dead guardian, and is being hunted by the man Jack who murdered his family. It follows Nobody Owens as he grows up among his strange family, learning about Goblin gates, fading from notice, dream walking and more.

While the story is based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book – Owens learning to joinjust because the living rather than a wild boy learning to be human – the actual writing itself reminded me much more of Peter Pan. Even though the book opens with murder and does, eventually, build up to that moment of completion, it never strays from the child heart it’s centered around. For most of the book you follow Bod who’s growing up the same as all of us. He makes friends, and grows out of them. He’s told not to do something, and he does it only to learn from it. He has a shallow understanding of what happens to his parents but the danger is real to him in that distant, innocent way it usually is to kids that comes from a lack of proper understanding of what it means to die.

Overall I found the book enjoyable. It was exactly the kind of darkly innocent, relaxing read I was looking for. If I were going to nit-pick it for anything it would be that sometimes the plot can be a bit choppy and there was a point in the book when Owens seemed to mature very quickly. I had to go back and make sure I didn’t accidentally skip a chapter. I wish Neil had delved deeper into some of the elements – like the origin of our nefarious Jack, the enigmatic Pale Lady, and the Danse Macabre. At the same time, those little mysteries suit me just fine. They always made stories feel more real to me.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants an easy, engaging, and darkly delightful read. I’d say it’s best for rainy days in bed but, come on, read it on a beach. Be that ghost on the sandy sea of trashy romance novels.

Until next time~

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”

Tea Legends – Ti Kuan Yin

I would love to tell you that I get to sit in coffee shops all day writing blogs and books and drawing pretty pictures, but I do in fact have a day job. It’s a good one, far as they come. I work at a teahouse. The days pass by and I count hours by how many cups I can drink between chatting up the customers.

One of my favorite jobs there, aside from making the tea, is when I get the time to write the blog for the Teahouse. You can find it here.

Tea has such a history it tends to peeks through time in the form of stories and legends. No matter how many I unearth, the legend of Ti Kuan Yin remains my favorite.

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In Fujian’s Shaxian province, during a time of great poverty, there stood a neglected stone temple on the outskirts of a small village. An old farmer frequently visited the temple. He swept away debris, lit incense, and prayed to the Goddess of compassion, Guanyin. One day particularly difficult day, he went to the temple as usual. He finished his sweeping but, when he went to light the incense, the statue of Guanyin sprung to life. The old farmer fell to his knees, at which point the Goddess, in her kind manner, whispered, “The key for your future is just outside this temple. Nourish it with tenderness and it will support you and yours for generations to come.”

Guan YinShe reverted to stone once more.

True to the Goddess’s word, there was a shriveled bush outside the temple doors. From that point onward, the farmer swept the floor as always, lit and incense, and also watered the bush. When the leaves grew plump and healthy the farmer discovered that, when steeped in hot water, it made a refreshing drink. He clipped some branches and brought it to the village where his neighbors could plant it too. After a time the farmer experimented by drying the leaves in a stone wok until they became the dark, iron color. It reminded him so much of the Goddess, he named the tea, Ti Kuan Yin, Tea of the Iron Goddess of Mercy.

 

 

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To this day, it remains one of my favorite Oolong teas. If you want to read the full post I made for the teahouse, click here.

I’m of the sound belief that life isn’t complete without a book, a furry companion, and a warm cup of tea. To be honest, It’s not something I ever thought I would say. I once wrote that our lives are saga’s – an unedited manuscript that some amateur writer is slapping together – hapless of the dull conversation, the pointless scenes,  the unanswered questions, and ginormous plot holes. I think we all know this on some level. We reach a point where we realize and then desperately attempt to make some kind of sense or meaning out of it all.

I know, the story is made in the grand adventures life offers. In the heartbreak and the triumphs. In the difficult decisions and the comedic mishaps. But, life is enjoyed in the still moments where all you have is eyes to see how slowly the world truly turns and a mind to appreciate this.

Tea and the legends around it help me remember this.

Nod- Adrian Barnes, A Review

This was one of those books I picked up on a whim. I usually try to avoid bookstores. My shelves are stacked to the point of bending and the paper bricks are starting to pile up next to my bed. For that reason, I try to buy the authors I know I love and take the rest out of the library. Despite all this, somehow Nod made it into my collection.

Was it worth it?

To be honest, I was originally going to write a bad review for this book. The main character felt emotionally detached from everything that happened and I was less than pleased with the lack of woman characters throughout the book – and where one was, the only purpose she seemed to serve was for the sake of the main male character to have something to lose. (To be fair, I can understand someone becoming emotionally detached when faced with a cruel and dangerous new reality. He did change halfway through the book, but it was a jarring switch that I felt could have been built up better)

Nod-Adrian-Barnes-616x956Let me back up.

Nod is a 271-page book (If you include the author’s note which I highly encourage) about a man named Paul who lives in Vancouver at a time where the world ends. It was published first around 2012 and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award. You can find it in the fantasy section.

Instead of world war three, zombies, or a crazy viral outbreak doing humanity in, it was insomnia. One day, for reasons never explained, 90% of the population loses the ability to sleep. In the weeks that follow, they gradually lose their sanity before their bodies give out and they die. Paul is of the remaining 10% who do sleep, and so becomes the observer to the madness.

One of the first things I look for in anything I read – is it written well? Call me a snob, but I need to enjoy the style to get into the story. It happened around the time I began studying writing and story craft, and I think it a sacrifice a lot of committed writers make in pursuit of literary ambitions. The writing was… passable. In that, so long as no one was speaking, I loved it. The style was crisp and simplistic. I’m not sure if it was a purposeful thing or what, but he had a tendency to put character names into speech.

“I still love you, Paul.”

“Go see your Tanya, Paul.”

“But what about your work Paul?”

It got to me.

What I found most difficult, was the ugliness of the book. The setting was ugly, the smell was ugly, the people decrepit. I tend to be a sensory person, so it was difficult to dedicate time to a world that made me cringe no matter what corner I turned. At its heart, it was an angry, mean little book with little hope of a satisfying ending.

So, why did I change my mind?

For starters, I finished the book. I was about the write this review without finishing it if I’m being perfectly honest but I’m glad I waited. That isn’t to say it had a miraculously happy ending. I probably would have hated it more if it did. It simply made me realize how good we have it here.

My view of modern life and society on the whole is… er… cynical at best. Which is why books like this are hard for me to swallow. It takes all that infuriates and disgusts me and puts it under a high powered telescope.

I won’t give it away, but Nod drifts off leaving a lingering feeling of gratefulness tinged with hope for the potential of the future. It’s a book that’s okay with leaving questions unanswered. Simply put, that’s exactly how life is anyway.

Dose Nod make it to my top five? No, but I know it’s going to be in my head for a while to come. I think it’s worth checking out if you go in prepared.