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Ken Follett - Pillars of the Earth

This was an excellent tour de force about the building of a cathedral in 12th century England.  It follows the journey of the Kingsbridge Cathedral's start-and-stop-and-start construction over many years.  The people building it change, and there are villains, intrigues, and memorable heroes.

Framing the story is the question of successorship of the throne of England, and it's neat to see how Follett weaves the characters' fictional lives into actual history as behind-the-scenes players.

I found it a very edifying and satisfying read, as you get to learn a lot about the period, and about construction of cathedrals.  And it's an immersive read because the characters' motivations and knowledge are so deeply tied to the mindset of post-Norman England.  It's interesting to think about what master builders of that period new and didn't know about engineering a cathedral.

Ken Follett writes simply; he does not dazzle with his use of language or artistry, and the plot is engaging but methodical, kind of like a protracted Elton John melody.  He excels most due to his great characters. 
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American Gods

I finished Neil Gaiman's American Gods.  

The premise of the book is that gods get their power from the worship of men, and avatars of various gods have come to America with people who believed in them, only to be left behind when the popular consciousness moved on.  Now they are barely scraping by, but immortal.  Meanwhile, newer gods, such as "Media" and a young guy known only as "the technical kid" are doing very well, and seem to have it in for the older gods, and a battle between gods new and old brews.

The main character, Shadow, gets caught up in all this mess by drinking the mead of a god called Mr. Wednesday (thereby becoming his lackey), whose true identity isn't clear until later.

The gods are insatiable, sustained, depending on the god, by a variety of things, up to and including human sacrifice.

I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to people who like the premise, or who are interested in seeing the huge and detailed variety of gods Gaiman draws from history, myth, and modern zeitgeist.  Sure there are Norse and Hindu gods, but there are a bunch of others that will be obscure to you.  There were lots of interesting little details and some inspired moments.  However, Shadow wasn't a very interesting main character, until the end, when he stopped barely reacting to everything and actually started doing something, and even then he seemed strangely resigned.

It didn't live up to promise of Gaiman's great short story Snow, Glass, Apples, which is the story of Snow White told from the queen's perspective, and in which Snow White is actually an evil vampire.  I really enjoyed how that story seamlessly mixed gritty realism with fairy-tale elements.

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