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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Description: Film Noir Fantasy. A road trip across the imagination. Shadow, a recently released convict, is drawn into the orbit of Mr. Wednesday, who is a con-man, a grifter and a very old god. There is a war brewing between old and new American gods and Shadow has his part to play.

A dream. A vision. A tour de force. I love Neil Gaiman. I want his library. I love to read his books. His work deals in mythic arcs and mythic archtypes. And yet is funny, sad, human.

This book is no exception.  Shadow is a great character. Quiet with miles of surface beneath the still waters. He does what's right. What has to be done. Is a hero. 

The gods are an incredible cast of rogues and thieves. Crotchety old men and beautiful women. Because that's how gods are. And there are a lot of them. Entire ranges of mythos.

And one must not forget one of the main characters. America. A landscape of strange road side rests and wonderful cities. I guess it takes an outsider (Gaiman is British) to get a glimpse of America. I love the idea that in other countries people build temples on sacred spots. Here we put the world's biggest ball of twine. Because this is a big vast new place. Even when its old.

For anyone who wants to read fantasy with a brain.

The Darklord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Description: Fantasy. A fantasy world is decimated by roaming bands of tourists from our world. But the oracles promise that if the mild mannered Wizard Derk is named Dark Lord for this year's tours, everything will change. Trust me. It does.

This book manages to be a fun light hearted romp, but still have some serious underlying issues. Taking charge of your own life. Finding out who you are. Developing your own abilities. Coming to know your own family.

But really, it's a very funny book. The Wizard Derk is basically an engineer who does magic. At the meeting where everyone is explaining his responsibilities, he drifts off and contemplates the next magical creature that he will create. Then there are his children. The human ones and the griffin children that he created from cat, bird, and he and his wife's DNA. 

And then there are his other creations. A supporting cast of flying pigs, flying horses, carnivorous sheep, invisible cats, intelligent geese, etc.

Although, it's a very thick book, you don't notice it. The pace is fast and adventurous. We constantly discover new things. When I got to the end, I was both surprised and impressed at how Diana resolved the clues that she had scattered throughout the book.

An excellent read for a hot summer's day.

The Mint by T.E. Lawrence aka Airman Ross

Description: Autobio. Lawrence/Ross chronicles his enlistment in the RAF in the 1920s.

It's a shame that Lawrence only wrote the two books. Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a tour de force of adventure and emotion. The Mint is equally good, although in a different way.

Less introspective. Less adventure (well, there's no war on). No camels (I should hope not in Southern England). No desert (see previous). And yet, Lawrence had this incredible gift for getting the reader into his head. 

The Mint is Lawrence's attempt to chronicle how the military takes recruits as raw material and mints them into something shiny and new. It is a very successful attempt.

It also serves as a kind of bookend to Seven Pillars, in which Lawrence fell apart from internal stresses. The Mint is about how Lawrence recreates himself into something whole again. Makes himself into a part of a community that serves something greater. Not as the great man leading the charge, but as one of the cogs and wheels that make the whole thing go.

If you're in the mood for an interesting and intelligent book, take a look.

Seven Up by Janet Evanovich

Description: Mystery. Stephanie Plum, Jersey girl and bounty hunter, needs to bring in a little old mob man but he keeps eluding her grasp. Her spacey friends disappear and she's caught between a rock (vice cop and boyfriend, Joe Morelli) and a hard place (fellow bounty hunter and man of mystery, Ranger) on the home front. Wisecracks, motorcycles, and mud wrestling are only the beginning. 

I absolutely love the Stephanie Plum books. I read the first one on a Friday and by the following Thursday, I had bought and read all seven in the series. Seven Up is the latest and Stephanie is at her best.

She never meant to be a bounty hunter, but when she get laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer, her only option is to take a job with her cousin's bail bond service. She's not a very good bounty hunter. She's afraid of her gun and has to call for help taking down the serious bad guys, but she's got plenty of spunk, a keen fashion sense, and amazing luck. She reminds me a lot of Amanda on Scarecrow and Mrs. King only more sassy.

In this her seventh adventure, Stephanie is looking for Eddie DeChooch, a little old man who's retired from the mob, but got caught keeping his hand in by smuggling cigarettes. Now he's jumped bail and making Steph look like an idiot for not being able to catch one little old guy. In the meantime, her stoner friends have disappeared and she's not the only one looking for them.

On the romance front, she and Joe Morelli are finely engaged, but it's not all smooth sailing. Especially since Ranger, her enigmatic fellow bounty hunter, has started expressing his interest. Ranger may be drop dead sexy, but she knows next to nothing about him.

It all makes for a great mystery with some moments that are side-splitting funny (including any scene with her grandmother), some that are scary, and some that sizzle. I'd recommend the whole series to any one who likes mysteries and kick ass chicks.

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