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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

December 8th, 2008
American Gods, a novel by Neil Gaiman

American Gods, a novel by Neil Gaiman

American Gods begins with a man, known only as Shadow, in the process of being released from prison. He’s a few days away from the finality of it, and he’s confirmed it with his wife, Laura, over the phone. Shadow’s life has nearly been repaired. He will resume life as it was, or so it is assumed. On the day of his release he is informed that Laura and will not be coming to pick him up. Her death was quick; a traffic accident. In the car with her was the man she was sleeping with, who was also the man that held the job and home for Shadow upon his release, and whom was also Shadow’s best friend.

It happened so quickly that Shadow had not yet had the opportunity to feel normal again, and as it turns out, that time may never come. He soon meets an older man who introduces himself thus; “Well, seeing that today certainly is my day — why don’t you call me Wednesday?” Given the title of the book, and with some specific knowledge, it’s only a little less than difficult to grasp who he is immediately, if not harder to believe. Wednesday proposes Shadow work for him, to which he finally agrees, after some hard to swallow tests. Among those, fighting a drunken Irishman calling himself a leprechaun and toasting on a drink that could be considered a relic in this day of age.

Shadow’s New Job

Shadow’s new job leads him in circles around the United States, and plowing his way through every situation that could possibly go wrong. As it happens, Wednesday is a con artist (emphasis on the artist part) and needs Shadow to be his bodyguard and partner, although that sounds simpler than it turns out to be. Wednesday is finding it hard to keep up with the new generation, but I’ll leave it to you to find out who they are specifically.

The minute you pick up the book there’s absolutely no way to put it down, even after multiple times read. The characters and plot get only more interesting, especially with the additional side stories included between some chapters, and the stirring plot twists and reveals. It’s entertaining to figure out just who each character really is, and there are a lot, all relevant and fleshed out. The inclusion of many real cities may strike familiar with readers, and it’s certainly welcome, and interesting to learn the mysterious past that surrounds them.

Combining mythology with reality as it is today, American Gods has all the things necessary to become a modern classic, along with the author, Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Anansi Boys) himself. I can’t recommend this book enough. It has changed the way I think about writing and storytelling in general. A somewhat noir, somewhat fantasy story that can’t receive enough praise. Gritty, powerful, intelligent, and magical in ways you wouldn’t expect, American Gods has found a permanent space on my shelf.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

November 25th, 2008

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the prequel to the original trilogy of Star Wars and was the first movie made after episodes IV,V,VI. I have read a few other Star Wars books and have seen all of the movies. This book is by far my favorite book of them all. T

Book Jacket of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace

Book Jacket of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace

he best part about this book is that it includes a lot of extra parts of the story of young Anakin Skywalker’s childhood and how he became Watto the junk dealer’s slave along with his mother.

Desert Sand Planet of Tatooine

The story starts out in the desert lands of the sand planet of Tatooine. The beginning is also part that is not featured in the motion picture, which is the story of how Anakin and his mother end up in the hands of Gardulla the Hutt and are lost to Watto the junk dealer through gambling.

The story of young Anakin is an adventurous and exciting one. The Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and his young Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to the Viceroy of the Trade Federation by the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic to negotiate a treaty to end the trade route blockade of the planet of Naboo which leads the two Jedi to the planet of Naboo to protect the Naboo people’s Queen Amidala. The Jedi adventures on Naboo lead them to meet the Gungan, Jar Jar Binks who takes them to the city of Ootah Gunga, an underwater paradise. When the leader of the Gungans, Boss Nass denies them help for them to save the Naboo people they are sent on an adventure through the abyss under the water where they encounter several monstrous creatures and are nearly swallowed whole.

Luckily they escape the abyss with their lives and arrive to the city of Theed, the capital of Naboo where they meet with Queen Amidala and her people. They are captured by the Trade Federation droids and are on their way to see Viceroy Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation but somehow get out of captivity and find a ship to escape the planet. The trade blockade is dead in front of them once the reach space but through the Jedi’ keen sense of the force, they launch into hyperspace with perfect timing to blast right past the blockade. They end up getting caught in the middle of the galaxy without any power and their hyperdrive damaged and need to find a planet to land where they can repair their ship and get back to the Jedi Temple on the planet of Coruscant.

Repairing the Ship

The only near planet that lacks the presence of the Trade Federation is the sand world of Tatooine where they have a run in with the young Anakin Skywalker while they’re at Watto’s junk shop searching for the necessary parts to repair their ship. After having issues negotiating with Watto for the parts, Qui-Gon Jinn along with Jar Jar Binks, the Queen’s handmaiden, Padme and the Astro-droid R2-D2 leave his shop. While roaming through the city of Mos Eisley the Jedi and his friends get caught in the midst of a sandstorm when they run into Anakin on his way home and Anakin offers them his house to stay while they wait out the storm.

While at home with Anakin and his mother, the Jedi is trying to find out a way to get the needed parts for his ship when Anakin suggests betting on Anakin in the Boonta Eve podrace the following day. Once they work it out with Watto, convincing him that the pod was the Jedi’s and that he would let Anakin use it in the race, Watto negotiates the deal that if Anakin wins Qui-Gon gets the parts he needs and Watto gets the earnings and if Anakin loses then Watto gets Qui-Gon’s ship.

Instantly agreeing, Watto makes the bets. The night before the race Qui-Gon talks to Anakin and finds out that Anakin’s midi-chlorian count is higher than any Jedi in the history of the order. Having the sense that Anakin could be the Jedi that is said to be the chosen one who will destroy the Sith and bring balance to the force, Qui-Gon looks to make a bet for Anakin’s freedom. On the day of the race before it started, Qui-Gon approached Watto and discussed the freedom of Anakin and convinced Watto to make the bet, knowing that Anakin would win the race because he was destined to become a Jedi.

After the Pod Race Win

After the exciting pod race win for Anakin that alomost costed him his life, Qui-Gon talked to Watto and worked out the winnings. Afterwards, Qui-Gon went by the shop to get his parts for his ship and then went and got the no-longer slave boy named Anakin Skywalker. Once they got to their ship and had the parts for the ship replaced and were ready to leave, they were attacked by the Dark Lord of the Sith known as Darth Maul, who was sent to assassinate the Queen. Just barely escaping the clutches of the Sith Lord, they were in space on their way to Coruscant to the Jedi Temple and to the senate to inform them about the Trade Federation’s blockade of Naboo.

Once on Coruscant, the Jedi Council refused to bring Anakin into Jedi training because he was to old, the Queen informed the Republic Senate of the Trade Federation’s actions on Naboo. The Queen made the decision to return to Naboo to be with her people who were suffering at the hands of the Trade Federation. Once on Naboo the Trade Federation took the Queen captive, the two Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi encountered the Sith Lord Darth Maul again and were engaged in an intense lightsaber action with the Dark Lord. The intense fight went on and on until Obi-Wan was trapped by a containment field and Qui-Gon was taking on Darth Maul alone. Making a swift move with his red double-bladed lightsaber, Qui-Gon was killed.

As soon as the containment field was down Obi-Wan ran into another intense fight with Darth Maul which ended in the death of the Sith Lord. Before Qui-Gon died he made Obi-Wan promise to train Anakin in the Jedi way. When Obi-Wan saved the Queen and went back to the Jedi temple he carried out his promise, letting the council know that even if they denied the boy training, Obi-Wan wasn’t going to break his promise to the fallen Jedi named Qui-Gon Jinn. After the entire Jedi Council along with the Queen and members of the Senate left the ritualistic Jedi funeral of Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin was sent with Obi-Wan to begin his Padawan training and become a great Jedi Knight…

Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki

November 15th, 2008
Mineko Iwasaki's Geisha: A Life

Mineko Iwasaki

There’s nothing quite like sitting down and reading history from a first person encounter. Though translated and written into simplistic English, Mineko Iwasaki’s words and genuinely amazing story ring through. There is an elegance, a mystique to her words that create wondrous pictures of the karyukai (districts), kimono (traditional clothing), and okiya (geisha house) in one’s head. Iwasaki creates a world that we will never see, but was all too real for her.

The Truth Behind the Geisha

Outside of Japan, people are not quite acquainted with the truth behind the geisha (or geiko) of Japan’s Gion Kobu district. The geiko – women of art – live and work inside the district, and spend their entire careers there attempting to please customers and entertain clients. This is wonderfully painted by Iwasaki in her memoir, with rich details of her first-hand experience of being the most popular geiko in the world. Her story is of love, of triumph, of success, but at the same time, she faces plenty of hardship along the way.

We begin the story with a first-person introduction to Iwasaki in her own words. Moving into a geiko house in Gion Kobu district at the age of five, Iwasaki began her rigorous training in dance and artistic endeavors early on. At fifteen, she debuted as a maiko (adolescent geisha) to Kyoto and the world. In the 1960’s and 1970’s of Japan, Iwasaki had to learn to carry on tradition as her nation was moving toward the future and modernization. Her career path was a difficult one, and she states she “finds great irony” in her chosen profession because it conflicts with her own personality.

Background of the Book

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    The book has a brief background of Iwasaki’s family life before living in the okiya, but the majority of her grand story focuses on life in the okiya. She tells the story of a young, hardworking woman who is destined for success, but experiences hurdles along the way. Iwasaki details such things as the way she wore her hair as a maiko, the way she was dressed, and even recalls specific customers she entertained (such as Prince Charles). The book reads like a great foreign film with simple subtitles, everything straightforward and direct. Her way of retelling her story through translator Rande Brown opens a whole world to those of us not in Japan or experienced in Japanese culture/history we never could imagine.

    Iwasaki – who is now retired from being a geiko and has a family of her own – lived an incredible life, and lets the reader into her incredible past. Though somewhat off topic at times, Iwasaki’s story is one not to be missed or scoffed at. Her tale is true insight into the lives of the geiko of Gion, a world that most will never know.

    Some Sunday by Margaret Johnson-Hodge

    November 11th, 2008

    Some Sunday, by Margaret Johnson-Hodge is a well written story about losing love and finding it again. Within the main theme of love, there are also issues of class, relationships, & friendship that are dealt through the telling of this story. The main character of the novel, Sandy is living a charmed life with the love of her life, Adrian when tragedy strikes and he dies from AIDS. During this time of loss, Sandy spirals downward into a pit of depression from which she thinks there is no escape. Then, a rope to pull her up is dangled down from an unexpected place. As she struggles with the

    Some Sunday by Margaret Johnson-Hodge

    Some Sunday by Margaret Johnson-Hodge

    feelings of how to deal with these new found emotions and how to honor her husband’s memory at the same time, Sandy is again thrown another rope, pulling her in a new direction. While Sandy is trying to juggle with her feelings for 3 men, her circle of friends are battling with their own issues with their 1 man.

    Highly successful attorney Martha is having trouble trying to pick unripe fruit. She is in a relationship; however she is attempting to move it to a place her partner is not ready for. Next, there is Britney, a full figured beauty that none of the girls expected to find love. Britney, from the outside, seems to have it all, a new baby, a husband that dotes on her, a new home, fine cars, and anything that her heart desires. However, there is a storm brewing on the horizon, threatening to take down anything in its path. Lastly, there is Janice who is on the brink of falling in lifelong love, but she has herself tethered to a rock to keep her from slipping in head over heels.

    As I read this novel, I was enamored with the details Ms. Hodge provided. The eloquent description of the sounds and smells throughout the story made me feel like I was right there. The story made me feel like I was one of the girls, being privy to information that no one else should be allowed to know. There were points in the story when I cried with Sandy mourning her loss. I felt the unsettlement of Martha as she battled against herself to try to remain in a relationship. I sympathized with Britney as she tried to juggle motherhood and new marriage. I even felt Janice’s pain as she struggled to launch into love without having reservations. This is a great novel showing no matter how hard life seems to get “Some Sunday” things will get better.

    The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

    October 30th, 2008
    The Novel By Dumas: The Three Musketeers

    The Novel By Dumas: The Three Musketeers

    The novel, ‘The Three Musketeers’, is one of the invaluable gems in the treasury of literature. The author was Alexandre Dumas Pere (1802-1870). He was a French writer who became famous for his historical novels such as The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Though his novels were based on historical characters, the incidents which were portrayed in them are mostly fictional. In the novel ‘The Three Musketeers’, he takes the readers on a fantasy ride that includes adventure, romance, tragedy, intrigues and comedy. This novel has been adapted for movies several times.

    The main core of the novel ‘The Three Musketeers’, is a young man named d’Artagnan who leaves home for Paris to fulfill his dream of becoming a musketeer. So, the three musketeers are his friends namely Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Their popular motto is “One for all, and all for one”.

    The Journey to Paris

    The journey to Paris begins with a disaster for d’Artagnan, when he disputes with a mysterious man with scar face in an inn. The assaulted and bleeding d’Artagnan later realizes that the mysterious man has stolen his introduction letter given by his father. However, d’Artagnan reaches Paris and tries to fulfill his dream. But having lost his father’s letter, he is not well received at the musketeers’ office. The funniest situation arises, when d’Artagnan engages in duel on the same day with the three musketeers named Athos, Porthos and Aramis. While dueling with Athos, the Cardinal Richelieu’s (the main antagonist character in this novel) guards try to arrest them. This results into uniting the three musketeers and d’Artagnan together to scatter the guards away. This incident makes the three musketeers to accept d’Artagnan as their friend. Later d’Artagnan joins as a soldier in the Royal Guard to serve the king Louis XIII.

    He falls in love at first sight when he meets Constance Bonacieux, pretty young wife of an aging landlord. Then, he finds out that she is also a confidant to the queen of France, ‘Anne of Austria’. Constance and d’Artagnan help the queen to meet the English Prime Minister, the Duke of Buckingham with whom the queen has an affair. The queen gives the diamond jewels, presented to her by her husband, to her lover. The Cardinal Richelieu’s spies inform about this to him. On hearing this, he plots against the queen and then insists the King to invite the Queen to a ball where he can reveal her affair with the Duke of Buckingham on the account of missing diamond jewels. However, d’Artagnan and his friends come to know about Cardinal’s plot and succeed in retrieving the jewels back to the queen just in time and thus, saving her from dishonor. Impressed by the loyalty and bravery of d’Artagnan, the Cardinal invites him to join his own corps but d’Artagnan turns down the offer.

    For rejecting his offer, the vengeful Cardinal kidnaps Constance. While in a vain effort to find her, d’Artagnan encounters an irresistible but a mysterious woman named Milady de Winter. At the beginning, he falls into the trap set by her but a letter of hers that reveals about her real lover alerts him. While being with her in the disguise of her real lover, he finds out another shocking truth about her that she is a felon. He also realizes that she is the deserted wife of Athos. Meanwhile, the king orders his guards to report to the duty near La Rochelle where the siege is about to take place. During the siege, Milady attempts several times to kill d’Artagnan but fails. In one such attempt, one of the two assassins gives the valuable tip about her meeting place. In the mean time, d’Artagnan learns that his beloved Constance is in a safe hideout with the help of the queen.

    The Plot of Assassination

    The three musketeers go to Milady’s meeting place and accidentally overhear the conversation between the Cardinal and Milady. Thus they come to know about the plot of assassinating the Duke of Buckingham. Once the Cardinal leaves, Athos confronts Milady and easily takes the blanket pardon document from her given by the Cardinal. When the four friends meet again, Athos hands over the document to d’Artagnan and advises him to keep it for his own use when the time comes. With the help of Count de Winter (Brother-in-law of Milady), they manage to save the life of the Duke of Buckingham. And Milady put into prison in a seaside castle.

    During the siege of La Rochelle, the Cardinal once again admires the courage of d’Artagnan and suggests to admitting him to the musketeers. Thus the greatest dream of d’Artagnan, becoming a musketeer comes true. As a bonus, finally the queen discloses about the hideout of Constance and d’Artagnan departs for that hideout place with his friends. In England, not only Milady manages to escape from the prison but also seduces the guard named Felton to assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, thus fulfilling the mission of the Cardinal. After arriving in France, Milady hides in the same place where Constance is hiding. Knowing the true identity of Constance, Milady leaves the place before d’Artagnan arrives but not before poisoning Constance. And poor Constance dies in the arms of her beloved d’Artagnan.

    With the Count de Winter, d’Artagnan and his friends search for Milady, trapping her in an isolated house on the banks of the Lys River. By their side, a mysterious man in a red cloak appears whom Athos brings along with. The six noblemen hold Milady on several charges. In the midst of the trial, the mysterious man in a red cloak introduces himself as the executioner of Lillie. Then he tells Milady’s early history filled with lust and treachery that cost the life of his priest brother. After the completion of her trial, the executioner beheads Milady.

    After the execution of Milady, the four friends return to La Rochelle. Near La Rochelle, they encounter the Count of Rochefort who had insulted and stolen the introduction letter from d’Artagnan in the inn. The Count of Rochefort arrests and presents d’Artagnan in front of the Cardinal. The Cardinal tells d’Artagnan about his charges; mostly flimsy ones. D’Artagnan tells the entire truth and reveals the real background of Milady. He also admits about the execution of Milady to the Cardinal and then presents the blanket pardon document in order to legalize his actions. The Cardinal, once again impressed by d’Artagnan’s bravery, offers a lieutenant’s commission with the musketeers. Also he asks both d’Artagnan and Rochefort to be on good terms.

    This novel ends with the three musketeers refusing the offer of lieutenant’s commission and retiring from the army. Athos goes back to his estate, Porthos settles himself down by marrying a rich widow and Aramis becomes a priest.

    When we go on reading this novel, we notice several facts about then Europe, especially France. The comedy of having duel with three persons on the same day actually reveals the madness of killing each other in the name of honor. The affair between the queen of France and the Duke of Buckingham or between d’Artagnan and Constance reflects the condition of morality that was present in most of then Europe. This novel also discloses the dangers to the kings and noblemen through which they have to spend their entire lives. We also come to know about what was actually happening at that time inside the palaces of Europe i.e. intrigues, assassination, treachery, adultery etc.

    Characters in The Three Musketeers

    If we come to the characters which are portrayed in this novel, we notice one thing, especially about the three musketeers. They happen to be very close friends but each one of them has unique and opposite personality compared to each other. For Athos, he is a reserved, prudent and sober person. For Porthos, he is a fun loving, humorous and romantic person. And finally for Aramis, he is a god-fearing but at the same time having affairs with many women, well mannered person. So many differences among them, but the bond of friendship ties them together. The confident, daring, adventurous, and loyal personality of d’Artagnan is the one that any woman would seek out in men. The Cardinal Richelieu’s personality naturally makes anyone to hate him, but at the same time, it makes one to admire his intelligent moves, generosity and his loyalty to France. The personality of Milady makes us to believe that such kind of a person could exist on earth. The character of Felton easily reveals the weakness of men.

    However, the three musketeers again meet d’Artagnan in the novel ‘Twenty Years After’ and the life of d’Artagnan ends in the novel ‘The Vicomte de Bragelonne’. Hence, these three novels are together known as the D’Artagnan Romances.

    Ted Dekker – “Skin”

    October 21st, 2008

    Ted Dekker has been writing some of the most compelling Christian fiction since C.S. Lewis (well, maybe since Frank Peretti, depending on your personal taste) for quite a while now.

    “Skin” is Dekker’s first book to make the New York Times bestseller’s list. It’s certainly his most secular book, but still chalk full of spiritual themes.

    The book takes place in the small town Summerville which has been the target of a serial killer that identifies himself as “Red.” It comes down to a few people to save the town from the killer: Wendy, an emotionally damaged woman that escaped from an abusive cult; Colt, a local cop; brother and sister Nicole and Carey; and Jerry, a professional video game player that only cares about himself.

    They find that stopping is Red is harder than they anticipated, though, because Red doesn’t quite seem human; his reflexes and speed don’t seem human, and they’re at a loss trying to figure out how to stop him. What’s even worse, Red seems to merely be play a game with them, while they are struggling just to stay alive.

    Dekker’s somewhat well-known for crafting twist endings that will leave one breathless. Not as well-known as M. Night Shyamalan, maybe, but he definitely packs his books full of twists and turns. And, unlike Shyamalan, who seems to craft some his movies seemingly with the aim of fooling people at the end, Dekker appears rather to want to tell an amazing story that just happens to leave you gasping for breath at the end.

    That being said, I think that the twist at the end of this book blows every other Dekker ending out of the water. Skin is a great addition to the growing library by this talented Christian fiction author.

    Thoughts on Marcel Proust

    August 28th, 2008

    Proust wrote about catalysts into the past. Catalysts can come in many forms.  For Proust it was a madeleine, music, and the smell of a certain flower.  For me, I remember one time, in particular, in which I caught one smell of orange blossoms in spring – in the town I grew up in, but left when I was 12 for Oregon.

    It was amazing.

    With one smell, I could recall hundreds of memories.  I remembered the time that my father got angry for leaving his tools in wood pile, and allowing them to get burned with the wood pile.  I remember walking through blackberry bushes, barefoot.  I remember digging in my backyard and searching for treasure.  Memories like that couldn’t be cued up on demand.  They were things that required a catalyst.

    What Proust says about such catalysts is that their efficacy dies away each time you rely upon them to bring back such memories.  If you overuse them, then you lose your ability to recall these things through the medium that you rely upon.

    If I sat all day in an orchard in spring, pretty soon those memories will have no more meaning.  If I thought over and over about the time I kissed my high school sweetheart under an oak tree, or the time I horse-jumped a fence on my uncle’s property in Oregon, or the time I stood up on Rattlesnake Rock and looked down upon the land that I would leave for college, then these things – these memories – will lose their meaning.

    If I look back too much, I will lose my ability to look forward. And, I feel, right now – moments after looking through the scrapbook that holds my college memories -  that I have little to look forward to.

    I feel that meaning can only be found in the past, but I truly want to believe that it is there for me in the future.

    They Thought They Were Free

    August 26th, 2008

    A fascinating entry from a book written from the perspective of Germans living during the Third Reich. It makes you wonder: Are we slowly, but surely, being coaxed in the U.S. into feeling “It’s not me, so why should I care?”

    What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.