Gods of Manhattan: Review

I picked up Gods of Manhattan mainly because I’d forgotten the book I was reading at home and wanted a book to read. So, of course, I hurried into the library, closed my eyes, and pulled out a book at random.

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In the interest of complete and somewhat nitpicky honesty: the first book I pulled out was not Gods of Manhattan. It was The Sorcerer’s Secret, the third book of the series, but I decided that it would not go against the spirit of my luck-of-the-draw selection to go for the first book of the series.

Having said that, this was a book I had previously seen in the library, and I’d mostly considered it to be a Percy Jackson-ish book: gods, probably Greek gods, in New York. I was surprised on this count, though. Considering this is covered on the book’s in-flap, it’s not really a spoiler to say that gods are not figures from any particular mythology, but instead figures from New York’s history who have worked their way into popular consciousness enough to achieve a sort of immortality and godhood. This means that people such as Babe Ruth and Alexander Hamilton are gods — in fact, Hamilton is the gods’ mayor. (I would be remiss not to admit that I was delighted whenever Hamilton was mentioned because it meant that I was mentally shoehorning Lin-Manuel Miranda’s interpretation into the novel. As one does whenever Alexander Hamilton comes up.)

The plot mainly consists of thirteen-year-old Rory discovering that he can see through magical illusion to the “truth” of New York City, and the subsequent trials and tribulations he and his sister must go through because of this, involving gods, rebellious groups of almost-gods, cockroaches, and a magician.

While it reminded me less of Percy Jackson than I had expected, the book it did unexpectedly remind me of was Gregor the Overlander. Mostly because it features a boy in his little sister who discover what is more or less a secret world connected to New York in which cockroaches play a pretty significant role. If this turns out to be an actual niche market genre rather than just two separate series that happen to meet these oddly specific criteria, I will be delighted. Please let me know if you know of any books that match this description.

Now that I’ve compared Gods of Manhattan to Gregor the Overlander, I feel the need to add that this is purely a matter of story content, not my enjoyment of the novels. Gods of Manhattan was an enjoyable read while it lasted, and I will probably check out the sequels since they’re in the library, but I don’t anticipate the story really sticking with me in a significant way. It had elements I truly enjoyed, elements I somewhat enjoyed, and elements I was actually uncomfortable with.

If that seems like odd categories, it’s because I was thinking of a specific element for each item.

The element I truly enjoyed: Bridget. Bridget is Rory’s little sister and the first time you see her she’s at her birthday party, carrying her don’t-leave-home-without-it cardboard sword, Buttkicker. I feel like if you didn’t like Bridget at first, she would very likely end up irritating with her aggressively bubbly-sibling tangents (featuring quotes such as, “the whole fun of the zoo is hoping a gate is left open and the animals break out and each other … just the other day, an antelope got out and mauled a giraffe!”) It’s weird to see latent annoyance in a character, but I, personally, was immediately charmed, which made her little tangents welcome.

The element I “somewhat enjoyed” first showed up in, of all places, the acknowledgments, which I read before starting the novel. In them, the author talked about the inspiration he got from New York history and the research he did into while writing the book. So the first time a character took the time to explain a piece of New York history to Rory, I thought, “ah! I can see the influence the author was talking about pretty clearly!” And it was interesting, don’t get me wrong, which is why I put it under “somewhat enjoyed,” but sometimes it felt kind of … misplaced. At one point the characters enter a magical replay of a historical battle and amidst all the chaos and noise and danger (and with a life-threatening time limit too keep to!) Rory’s companion shouts a whole paragraph’s worth of historical information about the battle into Rory’s ear, which felt … weird. I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and remind him about the time limit.

As for what made me uncomfortable: the weird, kind of racist attitude toward First Nations people. The Munsees, an aboriginal subtribe, actually feature very heavily in the book, mainly as prisoners of a magical trap, but the attitude toward them was just … weird. As mentioned above. In the first place, they used the word “Indian” in reference to the Munsees more often than I’ve ever seen outside of books like Indian in the Cupboard, which is old, or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which deals with racism. However, that is not my main point about this. My main point is how the Munsees seemed to be treated almost as equally mythical as gods, spells, and the general existence of magic. They did talk about Munsees in a historical context as well, but the overall impression was weirdly mythical. As seen in this quote: “Could this be true? Cockroaches that waved to you while riding on rats were real? Indian girls with laughing eyes were real? It was all real?” I don’t know how to break this to you, but First Nations people actually do exist, there, bud. This isn’t something you need to have special magical powers to know.

Anyway.

In terms of spoilery things I can’t give too many details about: a) the thing I predicted definitely happened as I predicted it, and b) the thing I didn’t predict definitely also happened and I was delighted, mostly because of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I can never tell what the tone of my reviews really sounds like until considerably after I’ve written them, but for now: three out of five stars. I probably won’t add it to my favourites shelf, but I was entertained and will probably check out the sequels.

Olaf’s Saga: Review

A while ago, I discovered giveaways on Goodreads, and soon thereafter, as a result of my enthused giveaway-entering, I won a copy of Olaf’s Safa: The True Story of a Viking King and the Discovery of America, by David Rosten.

Now, spoiler alert, but in case the subtitle’s use of “true story,” didn’t give you a clue, the scene on the cover never actually takes places in the book. It’s a beautiful cover, but it doesn’t happen.

As the for the story itself, it tells of King Olaf Tyggvason, and, as is once again evident in the subtitle, the discovery of America. It doesn’t open with King Olaf, though — it opens with everyone’s favourite storyteller Snorri Sturlson being summoned to tell the story of King Olaf.

The author, according to his about, studied Scandinavian history, and reading the story, it was much easier for me to imagine the author foremost as a student of Scandinavian history than foremost as a writer. That sounds much harsher than I meant it to, but while I was interested in the story, it often felt like relaying facts and events rather than the more immersive experience of being in a story. For instance, when the narrative introduces Snorri:

Haakon tells his scribes to bring his Snorri Sturlson, the storyteller. Snorri is known as an intellect and has memorized the oral history of Norwegian kings.

Which is something I wouldn’t necessarily object to in itself, but that is pretty well representative of the book’s voice.

Also, and this is mostly an aside that only tangentially relates to actual critical review, there was a scene where Vikings were being beheaded, and one Viking requested that someone hold his hair so it wouldn’t get bloody, but flails so badly at the last moment, which results in both his own head and his hair-holder’s hands being severed by the blow. The fact that the hair-holder’s hands were severed is fine (not for him, obviously, but I was expecting it and it made logical sense to me) but the fact that the Viking’s own head was severed in the same blow is baffling to me. I’ve tried to work out the mechanics of this beheading, but I can’t make it work out.

I haven’t read the original texts from which David Rosten was working, but I feel there’s a good chance this anomaly was present in them, and he was too set on being faithful to the original to alter the scene to explain how this could have happened. This is only speculation, though, since, as I’ve said, I haven’t read the original texts. (Or possibly this makes sense and I’m just missing something obvious? If this makes sense to you, please do tell.)

Something I did quite like in the book was the index at the back of which characters were the author’s inventions and which were actual historical figures. I thought that was a nice touch.

I’m possibly coming across as unwarrantedly harsh, so to be clear, I did like the story and its concept of saga retellings but in the end its style and execution meant it wasn’t all I’d hoped it could be.

I still can’t remember what, if any, rating system I used in past review, so two out of four stars, on the basis that I could almost have gotten to a solid three-star enjoyment but its execution held me back.

Reading Snapshot: May

Today I’m moving away from the format I’ve used in previous reading snapshots because, quite honestly, I don’t tend to read enough nonfiction or graphic novels to count on reading one of each every month, which makes filling out the categories every month difficult. Instead, I’m borrowing nevillegirl’s “Bookish Update” format, because while I may not be able to reliably read certain kinds of books each month, I still enjoy reading reading snapshots.
The format involves five sections: 1) Finished a little while ago, 2) Just Finished, 3) Currently Reading, 4) Reading Next, and 5) Recently Added to To-Be Read Pile (metaphorically). (Technically, the original has six categories because it includes “reading soon” but honestly I’m not organized enough about my future reading for that.)

Finished a Little While Ago: Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips

This was a book I’d vaguely heard of in that I was aware of the title but didn’t actually know anything about it (by which I mean that I hadn’t heard anyone talk about it — the title seems fairly self-explanatory, so I did have some idea about it). I enjoyed it more than I expected, and if you’ve ever read LaveideM, it reminded me a bit of that, but with less anachronistic humour since it’s set in the present day.

Just Finished: Desolation by Derek Landy

I was going to say something about how of course I just read this since it’s obligatory reading for a Derek Landy fan but then I realized how long I waited after it came out to read it. I had to be told that it was already out, since I hadn’t even realized. So while I am an obliging Derek Landy fan who reads the books he writes, I am apparently not an attentive Derek Landy fan who actually follows what he writes. But I like seeing what’s the same as Skulduggery Pleasant and what’s different in this series, since up until this point Derek Landy and Skulduggery Pleasant were pretty much synonymous for me. (And when I say “Skulduggery Pleasant,” I mean the series, not the character. If we’re talking characters, it’s Gordon Edgley and Derek Landy that are synonymous.)

Currently Reading: The Revenge of the Shadow King by Derek Benz and J.S. Lewis

I read this a long time ago and really enjoyed it but for whatever reason never went on to read the rest of the series, so I thought I’d go back and read the series in its entirety. So far the book is exactly as I remember, and I’m glad I have the memory of having previously read it, because remembering how exciting and fantastical I found it the first time only adds to the experience. The main difference about reading it now is that apparently when I read it the first time ’round, I was young enough not have strong Arthurian associations with the word “Avalon,” so I’m perceiving the fact that their sleepy little town is called “Avalon,” significantly differently than I did the first time. Especially whenever there’s a remark about how wow, how could something this magical happen in Avalon of all places?

Reading Next: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

I don’t have a good explanation for why this is what I want to read next except that I saw it in the library, and while I’ve never read it, it seems like a story I’d enjoy, so … here we are. I have nothing to say about it as yet since I haven’t read and had no reason to make it my next book to read other than impulse. But pirates!

Recently Added to To-Be Read List: I, Morgana, by Felicity Pulman

I have no immediate plans to read this, but I’m certainly interested in it — it’s Morgana. I love Morgana. And I read some reviews on Goodreads and the negative ones said things like “they ruined a good story by making Arthur seem like a bad king,” which are things that I have no problem with whatsoever. I will read about any flavour of Arthur — brutish, noble, wise, simple-minded — particularly if it’s in a story focusing on Morgana. (If I keep typing her name, it’s going to stop looking like a read word, though.)

Dream Journalling

I try to keep a dream journal, and while I don’t always keep it faithfully, I thought I’d share excerpts (mostly a random sample, but a preference for shorter dreams so I don’t to spend forever typing out):

I had a dream a post-apocalyptic where humans had started falling two- or three- tribes and considering all the tribes species one another, and how a new tribe species turned up and the new tribe species was … the second coming of Adam and Eve? And one of the tribes accorded a lot of ceremonial importance to oranges but I guess weren’t any oranges the apocalypse the they called oranges pieces of pink candy?

I had a dream in human babies and puppies (called “dog babies” in the dream, my dream-self was totally aware of the word “puppies” and used “dog babies” instead) much indistinguishable. I distinctly remember these two babies cling to each and distrustfully at us and someone commenting, “They prefer each to us they can they’re both dogs,” and me thinking, “Wow, I can’t I noticed how similar dog babies and human babies look.”

I had a dream I was on of space mission. I can’t remember who was there. Then a tinny female came on announcing was of emergency and we all had to file these little individual emergency crafts, completely flat in the back, but clear and multi-faceted, so they looked a lot enormous diamonds. We all hurtled space in these for a while we landed in a skate park.

I had a dream my dad was to visit his father for his birthday and I in turn decided to stow in his luggage and go too. So my dad drove to where my grandfather me stowed in the trunk, and dream skipped to me hiding in a closet while my dad and grandfather talked. I stepped out and my dad was (reasonably enough) quite surprised to see me there. I explained that I’d stowed in the trunk on the way there, and he why. It was then that I realized that I had no reason for I had done. If I had wanted to see my grandfather, I if I along. And besides, I’d had classes scheduled for that day. It was then that I started thinking that be a dream and I wait to see if I woke up, why I it?

I had a dream that there was a man who had a Tarot card reading showed him three cards, forecasting three disasters featuring sailing, kidnapping, and Birnam Wood. He was a sailor, but he a avoiding any situations that lead to the cards predicted, and speaking of it to no one. New Year’s came and the was out, he told his son it, and they agreed that he had successfully waited the disasters out. In spite of the otherwise old-fashioned setting, the sailor owned an answering machine which he didn’t understand, but whose messages he wrote faithfully whenever he received them. The day, he received a message the Harbour Master, telling the sailor to meet him, and to remember, he did, to address the Birnam Wood as ‘Bethany’ he spoke to it.

I had a dream that was something and corridors. There was a praying mantis. It didn’t a human language, but it was sentient. And devious. It was trying to seduce a human girl for some of political purpose. It thought that it was but then another human girl beheaded it to prove otherwise.

I had a dream that there was a of fairy tale characters, including Snow White, and for some reason they were with Mystery Incorporated Scooby Doo. They had some sort of magical weaponized poweder but then when they were some of spiral staircase they forgot it somewhere, so they Snow White back to go get it. But she ran Rumpelstiltskin, who had a jar of powder.
“Is that the real powder?” she asked, realizing theirs was a decoy.
“Yes,” Rumpelstiltskin.
“Can I touch it?” she asked.
“Yes,” Rumpelstiltskin.
She started to reach out, but then she hesitated.
“Will it do something to me if I touch it?” she asked.
“Yes,” Rumpelstiltskin.

So there you are! And if you remember any dreams you had recently, do me!

The Spring Book Tag

I’ve been tagged! Thank you, nevillegirl!

What’s your spring TBR?
1. Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Philips
2. Desolation, by Derek Landy
3. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
4. The Astrologer’s Manual, by Landis Knight Green

This isn’t a real to-be-read list, because I don’t have one, but it’s a mix of books that I’m hoping to procure, books I have out from the library, and books that I have on hold at the library, which I thought was a decent stand-in for a real to-be-read list.

If someone asked you for a spring release recommendation, what book would it be?
I suppose The Raven King, since that’s the only newly-released book I’ve read recently?

Which two books are you eagerly awaiting that release within the next two months?
Does it count if I’m anticipating receiving it, rather than it being released? Because if so, Desolation by Derek Landy, the sequel to Demon Road.

Which character would make a great Easter bunny?
Smiley Bone. Absolutely. I can see it now.


What book makes you think of spring?

Ash, by Malinda Lo! That’s a bit of a cheat, though, because mostly I just really strongly associate Ash with seasons and seasons changing.

Name a cover with flowers on it.
Beastly, by Alex Flinn!

Which two characters would you want to go on an Easter egg hunt with?

What is your favorite bookish spring activity to do?
I … don’t think there’s a significant there’s a significant change in my bookish activities depending on the season? I’m not even sure what other than reading constitutes a ‘bookish activity,’ honestly.

Which book did you enjoy that had a spring-ish cover?
Is The Extra-Ordinary Princess’s cover spring-ish enough?

Who is your favorite contemporary author?
Um … Phoebe Gilman. (I’ve possibly been reading a lot of picture books lately.)

Anyone is free to do this if they so choose!

A Week Since School Let Out

All right, I’m scheduling post, by the you it, it a week. assured, though, at the I’m writing this, it’s a week since school let out for me.

And I in time?

I mean, I haven’t groundbreaking, but I haven’t been immobile staring at a wall (… most of the time). I’ve mostly done like

1) books
The two books I’ve read since school let out are A Matter of Inheritance, by Christine Arnothy, and Around the in 80 Days, by Jules Verne. I enjoyed both, and my prediction for the former came true! happens. Mostly I hardly predict unless a prediction presents itself so overtly I can’t ignore it.

2) Watch weird space exploration shows
I’ve been In a Galaxy Near You, a of silly, tongue-in-cheek show the crew of a spaceship that’s setting out to another habitable planet for the inhabitants of the rapidly-falling-apart Earth in the of 2034. The crew features an unpleasant and ambitious scientist, a not-overly-intellectual but pilot and his friend who was in a of coma at the show’s start, a ship doctor who’s a fugitive the police who knows nothing of medicine, and the ship’s psychologist and captain who share a “secret” romantic passion for one another. Don’t watch it for the acting unless you for in acting is “weirdly deliberate and deliberately weird,” in case it sounds this show is right up alley.

3) Test out my video-making abilities
My video-making abilities are … untested, to say the least. I started out how to do it I was procrastinating on something and this is the second video I’ve made. I’m not showing you the one, but assured, this is a vast improvement over the first. For one thing, I hadn’t figured out how to cut clips chunks smaller ten seconds, so if a clip included a two-second bit that I liked, I had to the whole ten seconds, and for another thing, I hadn’t figured out how to remove the video clips’ sound, so you the characters over the music. I mistakenly added the music too early, so I couldn’t rearrange the clips any further mangling the song beyond recognition. that, here’s the fruit of my second attempt, featuring characters the Arthurian show Kaamelott and the song Shut Up and Dance:

4) Gone to the library
I haven’t much out from the library because I’ve had a fair of books on the go, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting books on hold. books that I’ve seen in passing in my everyday life and put on hold any further verification of what the book is like. We’ll see what the result is my holds in! (Or rather … when I go pick up, since they’re already in.)

5) Bought a book
I was browsing around waiting for the library to open and considering buying something when I fell on The Mists of Avalon as well as being an intriguing book in itself, to be one that Goodreads had recommended to me multiple times. (It recommended it to me under the title of “The Ladies of the Lake,” however, so I didn’t realize that it was the same book.) It’s a good-sized book a cover I and prose I like (that’s judging from quickly flipping it, admittedly) and Goodreads has already told me it’s like books I’ve already shown interest in and it’s Arthurian ladies so I don’t see how I have not wanted to read it. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s there, waiting for me.

I Love Spring Book Tag

I’ve been tagged! Thank you, nevillegirl!

How is spring where you live?
Beautiful, thanks for asking. Just gorgeous. This morning I saw a chipmunk.

Most anticipated book release this spring?
I TRIED SO HARD. I thought that there must be some books that would be released this spring that I’d shelved on Goodreads, but I looked at the book that I thought for sure was not released yet and apparently it was published in 2014. My only source of book-anticipation this spring is waiting for holds to come in at the library.

What book cover makes you think of spring?

Where are you going to read this spring?
At bus stops, if what I’ve been doing so far this spring is anything to go by.

Find a cover with the sun on it!

This … was actually hard. The vast majority of cover artists don’t just incidentally include the sun in their illustrations because the vast majority of them are older than five. However, look! It’s the sun, half-obscured behind the ominous cloud of something on this cover! (I couldn’t tell you what sort of event is taking place here because while this book is currently in my room, I haven’t actually started it.)

What are your favorite spring reads?
The only book I have strong seasonal associations with (barring things like Christmas stories) is Ash, by Malinda Lo, and while it’s a bit later in the year than I generally associate with Ash, I’m still sticking with it.

Find a book with many different colors on it.

This admittedly isn’t that many colours, but it feels like a lot.

Once again, your regular reminder that I only read about two blogs and that anyone who reads this is tagged!