Review: American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Title:  American Gods
Author Neil Gaiman
Published: 2001
Publisher: Harper Torch
Twitter@NeilHimself
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Publisher’s Blurb Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming — a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in its direct path.

“This isn’t about what this is,” said Mr. Nancy.  “It’s about what people think it is.  It’s all imaginary anyway.  That’s why it’s important.  People only fight over imaginary things.”  (p. 427)

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a simple premise.  The old gods are dying as people forget them and create new ones.  As simple as that may sound, the story is rich and complex, exploring the relationship of people to their gods, and of the gods to their people.

Shadow Moon gets out of jail early to take care of his wife’s affairs after she and his best friend die in a car accident.  We later find out they were having an affair.  Shadow accepts this news numbly and spends the rest of the story allowing events to move him along.

On the plane home, he meets the persistent Mr. Wednesday, a somewhat shabby old man who keeps offering Shadow a job.  When Shadow finally accepts, he’s told that he’s expected to just do whatever Mr. Wednesday tells him to do.

Mr. Wednesday, later revealed as Odin,  is recruiting the old gods to a final battle with the new gods (Media, Technology, Drugs, etc.).  One of those meetings is with Mad Sweeney, an Irish leprechaun.  Mad Sweeney teaches Shadow how to retrieve gold coins from thin air.  It is one of these coins which Shadow places in his wife’s coffin as she is buried.  The coin brings Laura to life, and she follows Shadow on his adventures, offering a Greek chorus commentary along the way.

The final battle occurs when Shadow Moon offers himself as sacrifice after Wednesday is killed.  Shadow is hung from the Tree of Life (Yggdrasil) for nine days and nights.  During the tasks Shadow performs on his vigil, he learns that Mr. Wednesday and his former cell mate Low-Key Lyesmith (Odin’s son, Loki) have been playing a long two-man con meant to generate an all out battle between gods so the old gods would die in Odin’s name, making him powerful once again.

Shadow returns to the battlefield, explaining this to the gods, who all disappear.

And yes, of course, I have oversimplified the story.  American Gods is nearly 600 pages long.  In preparing for this review, I visited many websites which go into the story, the characters, the symbolism, etc. more deeply than I do.

I’ve been interested in ancient religions for quite some time.  Finding authors who give the gods a different spin is really entertaining. Richard Kadrey does it to great effect in his Sandman Slim series.  Kevin Hearne with his Iron Druid ChroniclesAmerican Gods is top of the heap for me.

Having read it twice, and expecting to read it many more times, the surprises of the familiar never stopped.  And as with all good stories, I just followed along.  Or, as Shadow Moon says,

I feel like I’m in a world with its own sense of logic.  Its own rules.  Like when you’re in a dream, and you know there are rules you mustn’t break.  Even if you don’t know what they mean.  I’m just going along with it …” (p. 90)

It’s not necessary to be familiar with all the gods to enjoy this story.  There were many I didn’t know,  like the Slavic god Czernobog and his relatives the Zorya Sisters, the story never faltered.  Mr. Wednesday was up to something and he was involving everyone he ever once knew.

The concept of people creating their gods and bringing them from their home land to a new land is intriguing.  It seems obvious to me now.  Even the Christians did it.  But we often overlook the diversity of the United States, missing the stories of so many who have come in the hope of a better life.

Of course we brought our gods with us.  The gods are the familiar, the tether which we hold on to as we try to make sense of the unfamiliar surrounding us.  This idea shouldn’t be new, nor should it be shocking.

If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor.  Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all …

Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.  (p. 508)

Neil Gaiman uses this idea in American Gods, to illustrate how each of us has a story, and it’s often different from our neighbor’s story.  New gods shove their way in, pushing the old gods aside.  This is one of the most fascinating themes in the book.  How does your god differ from mine?  Is mine a new god, or an old one?  And have I morphed mine into something different in order to survive the times in which I live?

This is the beauty of Gaiman’s work.  He touches on these ideas in all his books.  And American Gods focuses on it with charm and wit.

Review: Bollywood Invasion

Bollywood Invasion by Ricardo Alexanders

Title:  Bollywood Invasion
Author:  Ricardo Alexanders
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 97819811590193
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Publisher’s Blurb:The story starts from modern-day Brooklyn. sixteen-year- old John Palmieri is living an average life until one day he is hit by a bus and wakes up as Raj Scindia, a prince in India, in 1958.

Suddenly, he finds himself with riches and power beyond his wildest fantasies. Brooklyn is readily forgotten. He makes out with his hot teacher; he tells about the future; his new life becomes a constant stream of debauchery till he meets “the one”.

 I received a copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review.  Thank you Ricardo!

Listening to his iPod, riding fast because he’s late, John gets distracted by the girl he likes and gets in an accident with the school bus.  When he comes to, he’s no longer in contemporary Brooklyn, he’s in 1958 India and is the Maharaja Kumar (son of) the Maharaja (governor).

This is the beginning of Alexanders imaginative tale of a world in which the Beatles don’t exist and John creates the Indian version to gain fame, and the attention of the girl he loves.

It’s not a deep story.  Teenage boy discovers he is wealthy beyond his wildest dreams and takes advantage, becoming a bit of an arrogant pig at first.  This is not unexpected, after all, if you woke up in a strange time and place to discover that you could have whatever you wanted due to the social class you were born into, wouldn’t you act the same way?

John discovers that not only is he wealthy and comes from a powerful family, he’s not really expected to study in school.  In fact, his doppelganger has quite the reputation, including an affair with one of his teachers.

Then he meets Ankita, and everything changes.  He forms the Beetos with his friends to gain her attention and then prove himself worthy of her to her father.  Using his memories of the songs he listened to on his iPod, they write songs and gain a following.  They become very famous, and wealthy, but it doesn’t bring John the peaceful life with Ankita he expected.

To Beatles fans, there are many familiar moments in Bollywood Invasion.  The most chilling is Alexanders’ retelling of John Lennon’s assassinationMark Chapman isn’t the only one looking to ease his pain.

As John comes back to his own time and place, he thinks he’s just had a bad dream and hurries off to school where a new girl joins their class, and her name is distinctly familiar.

Ricardo Alexanders’ writing style is earnest.  This story means a lot to him, as do the Beatles.  It’s an interesting idea of setting them and their origin story in India.  There are many, many details about the trajectory of the Bee-tos which come straight from Beatle history.  Some of them can be quite unsavory, but none of us should flinch from them.  Especially because, at its heart, Bollywood Invasion is a love story, in which Ricardo Alexanders explores what it means to want to become a better person for the one you love.  It’s a detail worth exploring.

Review: White Trash Zombie Series

White Trash Zombie series by Diana Rowland
    • My Life as a White Trash Zombie
    • Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues
    • White Trash Zombie Apocalypse
    • How the White Trash Zombie Gets Her Groove Back
    • White Trash Zombie Gone Wild
      Author: Diana Rowland
      Published:  2011-2015
      Publisher:  Daw
      Twitter:  @dianarowland

What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures: LifeBluesApocalypse

Zombies are so not my thing.  Vampires, demons, other supernatural critters I can mostly do.  But definitely not zombies.  Until I discovered Diana Rowland, author of the Kara Gillian Demon series, also wrote a white trash zombie series.  And I loved this one almost as much.

The best thing  is the trajectory its main character, Angel Crawford, takes.  From white trash loser addict living with her alcoholic father to becoming an important part of the Zombie Tribe/Mafia, holding down her job at the morgue (free lunch) and getting it together enough to pass her GED and get into college.

Angel juggles this while trying to keep it a secret from the non-zombies in her life.  She lives in a world where zombies are mythology, not actuality.

What I didn’t like was when Rowland carefully laid out the rules for being a zombie and then ripped them to shreds.  Late in the series, one of the main characters inhabits another body belying the “has to be bitten to become a zombie” rule.

Which completely resets this character’s story, confuses the hell out of the reader, and blows up what could have been a really interesting  subplot.  Congresswoman meets zombie and falls in love … didn’t see that one coming.

(All the endearments and nicknames used in this series nauseate me.  Zombie Mama and Zombie Baby are just creepy.)

Book 1 – My Life as a White Trash Zombie
Meet self-described white trash loser Angel Crawford.  She’s in the hospital recovering from being left on the side of the road after a car accident the night before.  She remembers being drunk and high, but she doesn’t remember the accident, and certainly can’t figure out why there’s not a scratch or bruise on her.

She receives an anonymous note telling her a job at the morgue is waiting for her and she has to keep it for 30 days or she’ll be turned into the police.  Angel reports to work and discovers she has no problems with handling dead bodies but is a little squicked out when her stomach growls at the sight of brains.

Eventually, we learn that Angel left the bar with a stranger who tried to rape her and there was an accident.  He died, and Angel lives, getting turned into a zombie.  She receives anonymous notes and packages to help her acclimate to her new reality.

A string of murders reveals a killer who believes the only good zombie is a truly dead, beheaded zombie.

At the end of the book, Angel has made a remarkable turnaround.  No longer able to get high due to the regenerative power of her zombie “parasite,” she has to face the hard truths of her life.

Angel’s very likeable.  It becomes clear that she was handed a nasty life and figured she was going to be a loser the rest of her life, just like her alcoholic father.  Before zombie, there was no reason to even try to do more than just survive by taking low-wage jobs she frequently quit or was fired from.  Drugs, sex and alcohol were how she numbed the pain.

After zombie, she begins to see it doesn’t have to be that way.  Changing won’t be easy but it’s the only way now.

Book 2 – Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues
Angel’s kept her job at the morgue and gotten into the rhythm of being a zombie.  She’s discovered the person who turned her was someone she knew from high school and is now a detective with the local law.  Oh, and they’re a couple now.

She’s attacked in the morgue and a body goes missing.  Of course, Angel’s blamed and gets suspended.  Everyone, including her zombie boyfriend and his uncle, head of the local zombie mafia believe she did it.  We’re only in book two of the series so it’s too soon to believe that she’s not the pill-popping, alcohol swilling white trash loser everyone already knows.

Determined to prove her innocence, Angel goes on the hunt and discovers a horror chamber of a lab experimenting on zombies.  Run by Saberton Corp., which is looking for a way to militarize zombies and get a contract from the government.

Angel is abducted by the director of the lab, Dr. Kristi Charish, and forced to undergo experiments, one of which is to make another zombie, Philip.  This has all kinds of consequences in later books, and lays the foundation for one of the main conflicts going forward.

Book 3 – White Trash Zombie Apocalypse
The movie makers are in town and shooting their zombie movie at the local high school.  Angel nearly gets run over by a car and is saved by Philip but he disappears before she can thank him.  Later, he forcefully holds her down while someone steals some of her blood.

The main thrust is that Saberton unleashes their experimental zombies into the midst of the locals dressed as zombie extras.  It gets ugly, and not just the skin falling off kind of ugly.

As things get sorted out, Angel becomes a more integral part of the Zombie Mafia/Tribe, respected by the godfather, Pietro.  Her ascent into the inner circle is fast.  Still insecure about her place in the world, Angel works hard to earn and keep their trust, which sets up the rescue from the devastating flood at the end of the book nicely.

And Marcus, her boyfriend, still can’t seem to understand that making decisions for Angel is the exact wrong thing to do.

Book 4 – How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back
Uncle Pietro represents the knight in shining armor who rides in to rescue Angel with his wealth and power.  This is less a judgement statement, than an observation that nearly all of us wish for a rich fairy godfather to ride in and save the day.

At the end of book 3, Angel and her dad have lost everything to a flood.  Pietro rescues them from the roof of their home in a helicopter and offers a no-interest loan to get them into another.  Angel is appropriately awed, humbled and fully accepts wanting to do the work it takes to have earned so much trust.

It’s been a year since Angel was turned into a zombie and she’s now passed her GED and is taking classes at the local community college.  Along the way she’s learned she’s dyslexic and is developing processes which allow her to learn, and retain, the information.

Angel’s helping out in Dr. Ari Nikas’ lab, who’s trying to find a way to resolve the mess Saberton’s lab made of Philip.  When Dr. Nikas steps outside the lab, he disappears.  So does Uncle Pietro.

Road trip!  From Louisiana, Angel and her compatriots drive to New York City to rescue both Tribe members and kick some Saberton ass.  The plot is chaotic and messy in this one.

Mostly it’s running around New York City fighting, getting caught, escaping, kicking the wrong ass, then finding the correct ass to kick, nefarious deeds and at least one Saberton who becomes what he’s exploited the most in his life.

Adding to the mess is the bit of deus ex machina which allows Pietro to use a skill that shreds all the carefully explained methods of become a zombie to bits.  Wow, okay.

What this does is upend the interesting subplot of romance between Pietro and the Congresswoman, who knew he was a zombie.  That has to be completely discarded.  The lie that Pietro is dead is allowed to stand as fact.  Which, frankly, frustrated me.

One of the tenets I use when reading, and reviewing, is to meet the book as it is, not as I would have wanted.  Rowland makes that difficult in book 4.  Authors are allowed to upend everything, books are their creations, not mine.  But still ….

Angel gets a good taste of big city life and being around people who want to help without expecting anything in return.  Which is handy since everyone who’s not Angel seems to have tons of money with which to fund their operation.

Rescuing their Tribe members and getting back on track to take down Dr. Charish to keep her and Saberton from doing more nefarious things takes a lot of energy.  Angel and her tribe wind up back home, but her addictive personality raises its ugly specter.

Book 5 – White Trash Zombie Gone Wild
It’s true.  Once an addict, always an addict.  Any addict is one action away from giving in to it again.  Angel knows this,  but when she figures out it somehow counters her dyslexia, she really doesn’t want to give it up.

Meanwhile, FBI agents are making appearances at Tribe owned funeral homes asking questions.  And the Tucker’s Point Zombie Fest gets under way, featuring the film shot at the high school, High School Zombie Apocalypse.  It’s supposed to be fun until a flash drive containing evidence of real zombies surfaces.

High on V12, Angel starts hallucinating, leaving her vulnerable and ashamed.  This is where her pre-zombie life and after-zombie life couldn’t be more stark.  Her old habits kick in and she figures she’s back to being a loser which could include losing the trust of the people who have become her tribe.

She is completely flabbergasted, and embarrassed, when the tribe continues to treat her with respect and dignity and insists on helping her.  Which allow her to regain her self-respect and go after the flash drive and the man who’s bent on outing the zombies.

This plot’s a little messy too, but it hangs together in the face of swamp escapes, drunk starlets, and a newly made zombie who’s reluctantly part of the resistance against Saberton.

There’s a big set up for book 7 which is the last in the series, so everything should be wrapped up in a nice bow.  I hope so, Angel deserves a grand exit after all the work she’s done in the series to improve herself and earn her education.  I’ll always have respect for Diana Rowland for making Angel the kind of woman who dumps her man because he can’t stop telling her what to do with her life.