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For these gods, an earthly respite

In Marie Phillips's novel, 'Gods Behaving Badly,' Artemis walks dogs and Dionysus runs a bar. (Don't ask about Aphrodite.) Meanwhile, two mortals are stuck in the middle.

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Courtesy of Niall McDiarmid/Little Brown & Co.

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I remember leaving an elementary school book fair one afternoon, proudly clutching a copy of "D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths." It was an extravagant investment, oversize and heavy, at a time when my Scholastic book catalog purchases also included $1 kitten posters. But I adored that illustrated book of Greek gods.

Marie Phillips, who studied anthropology at Cambridge University, writes a debut novel that reads like a D'Aulaire's for the adult set. This time around, though, the gods are packed 12 into a rundown London townhouse. In "Gods Behaving Badly" they are still immortal but slowly weakening, compelled, in part from boredom, to work at earthly jobs more or less matched to their skill sets. Apollo, for example, plays a TV psychic and Artemis walks dogs, while Dionysus runs a bar and Aphrodite works as a phone sex operator (which makes for a few racy scenes).

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When two mortals (Alice and Neil) are unwittingly pulled into their godly orbit, the meek pair must figure out how to muddle through their own budding romance – and how to save the world. Phillips's novel is at once a witty, effervescent romantic comedy and an irreverent primer on Greek mythology. Grade: A–Teresa Méndez