Gods and Lust; Complexity and Clichés; The Road to Revolution 

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Gods and Lust

In Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" (HarperCollins $26), the gods are products of human beliefs; they get their power from our worship and sacrifices. But as humanity's attention has turned to consumerism, technology and media, new gods are created and the old gods fall out of power and get real jobs. Shadow, the ex-con main character, gets torn in the conflict between the new and the old as he helps a Norse god, Odin, rally the troops for a holy rumble. Gaiman, creator/writer of the acclaimed DC Comics' "Sandman" series, demonstrates extraordinary creative wit and research showing how the lust for power corrupts even the fruits of humanity's sacrifices. — Jacob Parcell

The Road to Revolution

"Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it." We've been told that a thousand times, but history does not always make entertaining reading.

Jeff Shaara has found a way around that. In "Rise to Rebellion: A Novel of the American Revolution," (Ballantine Books $26.95) Shaara remains true to history, but makes it as compelling as a novel.

Shaara has done the historical research, but then he enters the mind of his characters as a novelist does, to let us know their thoughts and emotions. The results can be interesting, as when he tells the story of the Boston Massacre from the point of a view of a frightened English soldier.

Shaara's sympathies are clearly American, and his point is clear. As much as we now take the American Revolution for granted, Yorktown was never self-evident. He shows how John Adams himself had to "rise" to the point of rebellion over years. The more "radical" elements of Massachusetts and Virginia struggled heroically for years to bring the Constitutional Congress to declare independence.

Yet Shaara suggests that even they would have failed had it not been for an unlikely ally — King George: "This [revolution] was brought about by the blind arrogance of a government that believes it can simply force its citizens to succumb to any whim of their king."

The story is an interesting one. And judging by the flash points of the world, from Belfast to Palestine, it appears that the keepers of the empire are not reading any history. — Reyn Kinzey

Complexity and Clichés

Matthew Iribarne's debut collection of stories, "Astronauts," offers imaginative premises, but the execution of these intricate and tragic tales often leaves something to be desired.

Some of Iribane's work is original and striking, such as the plot of "Make Them Laugh"(which won the Nelson Algren award): A priest is demoted to a poorer congregation after he has a car accident while drunk. But within the stories are also some very unoriginal, staged scenes.

"A Dream, Not Alone," follows Rodney as he tries to fulfill his wife's dying wish to hold her grandson who was just born only floors above her in the hospital. Unfortunately, the reader never gets close enough to feel compassion or to truly understand Rodney, and instead the urgency of the plot feels forced.

The shining moment of the collection is "The Sun in the Sky," which follows Alma's life, from her father's abandonment of his family to her own search for contentment in relationships to her father's return for reconciliation. This piece is moving and more real than any other story in the collection: "Her mother told Alma to go ahead and leave too if she wanted, that it was time she found out about the world and all its secrets. Some good, some not so good. Like death, which was no secret at all, but sometimes felt like it the way people acted so surprised whenever it came."

The strength of the collection lies in its complex plots. The weakness is in its clichéd moments, where characters act like they do on TV instead of the odd, awkward ways of real life. This contradiction leaves the reader dissatisfied, as though the pieces are being kept from their full potential. — J.B. Shelleby

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