Book Review: Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Title: Vicious

Author: V. E. Schwab

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Mild spoilers)

Victor Vale and Eli Ever. They were friends once, years ago. Two collage boy who found a similar keen intellect and a thirst for knowledge in each other. They had heard the rumours of people who were ExtraOrdinary, somehow more than human. Whilst researching how one can become an EO, Eli thinks he has found the key to gaining super human abilities. But then in one night, everything fell apart –  and two friends became bitter rivals.

Everyone is the hero of their own story. What they don’t tell you is there is a thin line between being a hero and a villain. But Eli knows, he knows he is the good guy. His mission is nobel, and he is the only one who can be trusted to do it. That was, until he discovers that Victor, his now nemesis, has somehow escaped from prison. This can only end in pain…

I’m a big fan of Victoria Schwab’s YA novels, which include The Near Witch, and The Archived series, and I also enjoy following her on social media so this, her first adult novel, has been high on my reading list for a long time. I also have a soft spot for X-Men style superheroes, so needless to say my expectations and hope for Vicious were very high. I am pleased to report that this book is one damn good read. I loved the process of having a near-death experience to become an EO, and found it clever how each person’s powers are linked to that experience and how they handled it/what they did to survive. This made each power unique and lead to an interesting dynamic between Eli and Victor’s powers: Eli can heal him self from any wound and Victor can cause pain. At first glance it would seem that super healing powers would mean that you couldn’t lose (or at least not easily), but how long would it take for your mind to break if would were tortured with pain for long enough? The characters were the other excellent part of this novel, my personally favourite being Victor (but I’ll admit I do love me a fictional bad boy). Despite being about superheroes, I don’t actually believe there are any heroes in Vicious, though Sydney’s story was quite sad, especially since she was only a child. I found Eli to be one of the most complex characters – he is the most terrifying type of villain, the one who unflinchingly believes himself to be a hero and who is dedicated to his own twisted set of ethics.

There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t enjoy as much. I didn’t really believe in the friendship between Eli and Victor, which was shown in flashback chapters throughout the first half of the book. I think because so little time was spent showing them as friends, most spent showing how they each became EO, the reader is told rather than shown this friendship. But then again, I think in some ways this was the point – that they had never truly been friends, but believed they had been. My main problem was the character of Angie, Eli’s girlfriend and Victor’s unrequited love. I felt that she wasn’t much of a character and before the read could get to know her she is killed off, simply to begin the feud between the two men. This is a widely used plot device within comic books and superhero stores, known colloquially as ‘women in fridges’, and I was very sad to see it appear in the works of a woman whom I admire.

Overall, this was a very good book, and with the somewhat open ending, I can only hope for a sequel.

4 stars.

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Book Review: Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell

Title: Mistwalk

Author: Saundra Mitchell

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

The family lobster boat will always hold a specially place in Willa’s heart – even if she does have to look past the dark stain where her brother was killed. For Willa, the sea is her calling, her home. But what seemed like a life of simple pleasures – marrying her high school boyfriend Seth, taking over the family business, eventually passing it on to her own children – has fallen apart since Levi’s death. The worst part is Willa knows it’s all her fault, as does everyone else even if they admitted out loud. Banned from the boat, soon to lose her best friend to college, at odds with Seth who keeps trying but in all the wrong ways, Willa doesn’t know what to do. As she stares out at the old lighthouse on Jackson Rock, she finds herself thinking of the legends that surround it. Not that she believes it’s really haunted by the Grey Man – until she catches sight  of mist shrouded figure on the rocks…

The Grey Man has been trapped for one hundred years, seduced by a beautiful woman who passed on this curse. Now he must either collect a thousand souls of those who die at sea, or convince someone to take his place. He can feel her out there – the one who is think of him. Now he finally has a chance for freedom: he must seduce Willa, must make her fall so in love with him she would be willing to die for him. And what better way to make her fall in love that to show her an escape from all her problems?

This is a very quiet novel, set in a sleep Maine fishing village where the inhabitants have handed down their livelihood for many generations. The atmosphere is one of the best parts of this book: despite being set in the present day, Mistwalker has a somewhat timeless feel that I love. The writing from Willa’s POV is simple but captivating, in a honest almost raw way, which is nicely balanced with the Grey Man’s POV which is more poetic and slightly unsettling. I enjoyed reading the Grey Man’s side, he was creepy and fixated on Willa and his freedom but whilst his obsession was understandable given his entrapment it is never shown in a positive light. This is a good example of writing that shows sympathy for his predicament but doesn’t excuse creepy behaviour. I also loved the treatment of Willa, a teenage girl who has a simple dream and fights so hard to make it happen – to take over her father’s lobster boat, to marry her boyfriend Seth, and to pass on her family traditions to her own children. It’s nice to read a book that doesn’t push a teenager into making grand plans for their lives, that shows that some (like Willa’s best friend Bailey) will go to college and make big money in a glamorous city, but that not everyone has to ‘making something’ of themselves. No-one looks down on Willa’s dream, not the narrative or the other characters. Willa’s love for the sea is a beautiful thing, and the description might just make you fall in love with the ocean too.

As I said, this is a slow book that starts off just a bit too slowly, and the action doesn’t really pick up till about half way. The novel alternates chapters from both Willa and the Grey Man, but the first half focuses on Willa’s life after her brother’s death and it takes her a while to even think of the Grey Man and his lighthouse, other than mentioning it as a local folktale. This is mixed with the Grey Man insisting that he can feel some is thinking of him, which can be confusing at first. I was ok with it as I tend to re-read the blurb of every book before I start it, but for those who don’t do this it may take some a while to work out what exactly is going on.

I too have a specially place in my heart for the sea, and this novel near perfectly captures that love.

4 stars.

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Some spoilers.)

It is a dark time for Rakva: the Royal family are all either missing or dead, the Darkling rules, and the Sun Summoner has fled with the Apparat and a small group of loyalists. Hiding in an almost lost network of caverns, weakened by the darkness surrounding her, Alina knows she is nothing but a puppet being pulled by the Apparat forced into the role of a Saint. She still struggles daily with the idea of people worshipping her, but to make matters worse the Apparat refuses to let her go.

Alina knows she must escape, working with Mal and a small group of people who still see her as an actual person to rebel against the Apparat’s influence and power. Once out, Alina’s mission is clear: she must hunt down the Firebird and use its bones for the third and final amplifier, and finally destroy the Darkling. But that won’t be enough, she’ll need an army to bring down the Darkling’s forces. The only person Alina knows who could help is Nikolai – if he managed to survive the destruction of the royal palace…

It’s always emotional when you come to the end of a trilogy, especially when it’s one as good at the Grisha series. There are always high hopes and expectations, the building of anticipation as you wait for the last book to be published. The more I read, the more I wonder if our expectations are ever completely met. On some levels I think the readers will always be disappointed. Luckily, Ruin and Rising is one of the better endings I have read, and although I had some hopes for the ending that didn’t work out, I knew that they didn’t really fit with the nature of the story, so I wasn’t really let down. It’s a great book, just what you would expect from Leigh Bardugo, pack with action and romance, and a twist I didn’t see coming. I loved the evolution of Genya and the strength she found after being ‘ruined’ at the end of the last book. There is also a special place in my heart for Nikolai, whose charm and wit is still intact despite all he goes through in this book. Leigh Bardugo shows she can be so cruel to our beloved characters (though I should have known after Genya’s fate). Be warned, she will wring out your heart.

(And here’s where the spoilers start:)

My personal reservations with Ruin and Rising were centred around Mal, and his relationship with Alina. I liked Mal in the first book, despite it literally taking Alina’s disappearance to realise that he was in love with her. In the second book, however, Mal becomes far too whiney and clinging, jealous of Alina while she’s trying to fight against the Darkling. He seems to calm down in the final book, deciding to be useful instead of annoying by using his tracking skills to find the Firebird. He throws himself into becoming her weapon, even to the point of getting a huge sun tattooed on his back. I’m personally getting sick of this trope in YA novels, the ‘why do you love me, I am not worthy’ cliche, that usually means one person just ignores the other’s wishes, then ends with one person selfishly leaving for ‘their own good’. I personally feel that these characters are so self deprecating that their ‘noble’ act of leaving is actually a way of saying that they know best. And I feel that this is what Mal became in book two, the self loathing, ‘I don’t even deserve you’ love interest, and though he was fair less annoying in this book his character has been tainted to me. I will say though that the last chapter, which showed Alina and Mal together in the future, was very sweet. Also, I’m still unsure about Mal being the third amplifier. I was surprised, I didn’t see the twist coming, but even after I finished the book I was still torn about it. It was clever, but I feel it wasn’t explained properly, and ended up just sitting wrong with the rest of the plot. And lastly, I felt the Darkling was killed off fair too easily, it was not the epic show down I was hoping for.

So, all in all, a good finish to a great series, but there were just a couple of things that didn’t feel completely right to me.

4 stars.

Book Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

12930909Title: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Author: April Genevieve Tuchoke

Series: Between #1

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Contains some minor spoilers.)

Violet White spends her days in a dreamy, tranquil haze: reading books in the sun, relaxing on the beach by her home, or exploring the old mansion that has been left to her family since her grandmother died. Sure, her parents have used the last of their family fortune to run off to Europe to pursue their art, leaving her with a brother who can’t seem to stand her and a house that’s slowly falling apart. In fact, money is so tight she’s resorted to renting out the guest house in her back garden. Which leads River West to her door, and into her life. With his charming smile, easy nature, and striking good looks Violet is powerless to resist him.

But something strange is happening in the sleepy town of Echo. Children are in the graveyard at night, hunting the Devil with stakes, Violet’s friend Sunshine sees a monster eating human flesh in a cave in the woods, and the town drunk suddenly slits his throat in the town centre. This horror couldn’t possibly be linked with River, but as mystery surrounds him and his lies build up without him caring whether Violet knows or not, she finds herself doubting him. Is he evil? Does he care? And, to make maters worse, does she care? Violet’s grandmother used to warn her about the Devil, but she never thought she might be holding his hand, sleeping next to him, or kissing him. She knows she should listen to her grandmother’s teaching but she can’t help herself – because despite everything Violet is falling for River.

It’s clear that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is going to be a book that you will either love or hate. It has elements that will seriously frustrate some readers, like the slower pace, the what some have called ‘insta-love’ romance, or the deceitfulness and arrogance of the character River. Other readers, however, will love it. I am one of the latter. With it’s gothic atmosphere and slower pace which added to the feel of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But that’s not to say it’s without any problems.

What April Genevieve Tuchoke does best is the timeless feel to the town of Echo and Violet’s mansion. The novel uses almost lyrical descriptions and feels like it could be set in almost any decade from the 1930s onwards, with classic movies in the park and comments on art running throughout. This is also used with the character of Violet, who wears her dead grandmother’s clothes and love to read and paint. There is also a strong gothic tone, especially in the scene with the children in the graveyard armed with stakes to fight off the Devil, which was delightfully creepy. This book has also been accused of using the dreaded ‘insta-love’ trope, but I disagree –  there is no ‘insta-love’ in this book. What there is is the intense, unpredictable, and sometimes scary attraction or first love that teenagers often experience at least once. There is no declarations of love, no talk of fate, no promises of being together forever and ever. Violet falls for River, even as she knows it’s a bad idea, because people can’t help who they fall for, especially when you’re a teenager and not only are your hormones going crazy, but you have little to no experience about what love actually is. I believe everyone has fallen for someone who is bad for them at least once, and this book perfectly captures the feeling of fierce passion mixed with helplessness, fear, and slight self loathing.

I only have two reservations with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Firstly, considering it mentions the Devil in the title, and the official blurb emphasises the idea that River may actually be the Devil, this book had very little religious overtones. The idea of the Devil was barely used at all, the only real mention is with the kids who freak out in the graveyard. I was hoping for a book that looked into the idea of religion and had an actual Christian devil, instead of an ambiguous paranormal creature who is still pretty much a mystery by the end of the book. The other problem was the portray and subtle slut shaming of Violet’s friend Sunshine. Sunshine is a character who embraces her sexuality – she loves flirting with boys, enjoys drawing attention to her body, and choices to act in a way she thinks boys will notice and enjoy. I personally have no problem with this. Women enjoy sex as much as men and should feel no shame in this, however they decide to show this sexuality, and had she been left alone, Sunshine would have been a perfectly fine character. However, compared to the virginal Violet, who’s narrative subtly condemns her attitude by comparing them both, and Sunshine association with Luke, Violet’s brother, who is sexist, messes around with several girls at once and treats Violet like crap, Sunshine is portrayed as a slut. This word is only ever uttered by the villain in this book, but his accusations are never challenged. What’s worse, after the trauma of having her parents being tricked into unknowingly nearly killing her, Sunshine changes – she stops flirting, becomes more serious and begins reading, like Violet. It’s often that people who have a near death experience decide to change their life for the better, but this is just another way of showing that Sunshine was in the wrong and needed to change. The slut shaming in this book is not obvious, and is similar to the problems that are common in real life, so it may have even been unintentional, but it is there and this is a problem.

These problems aside, I am very interested to see where the next book goes, and hope the sequel keeps the amazing writing and ambience.

4 stars.

On a slightly unrelated note, I keep thinking that the title of this book is Between the Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean, I song I really enjoy by a gothic metal band called Nightwish.

Book Review: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

13246736Title: Antigoddess

Author: Kendare Blake

Series: Goddess War #1

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

Athena thought that being a god meant she couldn’t die, but choking on the owl feathers that cut through her lungs are proving her wrong. She’s not the only one: Hermes is wasting away slowly, Hera’s flesh is turning to stone, and Poseidon has become a mindless monster, eating his own creatures. What could be killing these gods? In their hunt for answers and a way to stop their slow destruction, Athena and Hermes are pointed towards a young woman called Cassandra – the reincarnation of the prophetess Cassandra of Troy, who was cursed by her lover Apollo so no-one would believe her visions. Somehow, they believe she will save them.

Cassandra knows nothing of the gods’ affairs. To her these names are nothing more than ancient legends, most of which she doesn’t even remember. All she worries about is her relationship with Aidan and her ability to see into the future – until what used to be a way to freak out her school mates by predicting the outcome of coin tosses shows her visions of people dying horribly. Aidan realises that she is being hunt by his family, for he is in fact Apollo and his beloved has no idea. But like it or not, Cassandra will soon find out the truth, for Hera is hunting down the other gods, in an effort to kill them and prolong her own life. And to her, Cassandra is nothing more than a weapon.

Antigoddess is a very enjoyable book, but with a couple of reservations. Whilst full of interesting characters, lots of action, and links to Greek mythology that was used very well, I feel that the book suffered somewhat from its modern setting. The few scenes of Athena reminiscing about her life as a full goddess were some of the most interesting, but the rest of it felt a little detached from the original mythology the book is based on. It would have been amazing if we had seen Mount Olympus, and met Zeus and Hades, and I can only hope these ideas are used in the next book. The character of Athena, who was pretty awesome anyway, also suffered from this modernisation. She spent a little too much time thinking along the lines of ‘once I would have turned a mortal to stone for less, but times have changed’, which felt like Kendare Blake was telling rather than showing how badass Athena is supposed to be. Despite this, Athena was a very likeable and interesting character, who is strong enough in her own right to face the threat of death by both Hera and the mysterious curse that has claimed all the gods, but also struggling with the self appointed role of battle leader.

Most of the other characters were also interesting, though not quite as much as Athena. Odyssey and Hermes were enjoyable and stood on their own fairly well, but I felt Cassandra could have been expanded more, and Aidan/Apollo seemed solely concerned with his relationship. It’s interesting having the male character preoccupied with his love life more than the female, but it still isn’t particularly interesting to read about. He is meant to be the God of the Sun but just seems two-dimensional and a bit boring. Also, he is never held to account for his original cursing of Cassandra – she gets mad at him, but the action never gives them a chance to actually talk about what happened, so he’s never really punished for it.

These few problems within Antigoddess are not enough, however, to deter from the pleasure of the book itself. The action and mythology are captivating, and I am definitely coming back for book two.

4 stars.

Book Review: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

17286817Title: Conjured

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

Her name is Eve now – not that she knows what it used to be. In fact, all Eve really knows is what Agent Malcolm has told her: that she’s in a witness protection program and has undergone multiple surgeries to change her appearance, to hide her from a serial killer. She must pretend to be a normal teenager, living a normal life, and hope that her memories return so she can help catch the monster who’s after her.

But it’s hard to know what ‘normal’ is when you can do magic that causes you to black out and have visions of hauntingly creepy carnivals and people with antlers or snake scales. Between the agents of WitSec who keep relentlessly pushing her to remember more, a trio of non-human teens who can also do magic, and an alluring boy who works with her at the library, who can use her magic when they kiss, who can really be believed? Eve must learn who to trust when she can’t even trust herself.

I have only read one other book by Sarah Beth Durst (the beautifully written desert fantasy Vessel), but already she is fast becoming a favourite author. The imagery she uses and the amazing ideas are what has hooked me to these books, and I’m eagerly waiting for more of her work. Though Conjured is a stand alone novel, I would love to see more of this world – or more accurately, worlds – as the brief glimpses of the worlds Eve and Zach jump through towards the end of the book were fascinating, and would have made a great setting for another book. The carnival setting itself was also beautifully done, in a creepy but captivating way, and Eve’s visions of her time with the Magician were easily the best part.

Conjured is a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Between Eve having no memories of who she is and what has happened to her, not knowing who to trust with everyone telling her to trust them and not the others, and randomly losing weeks or even months of her life, neither Eve nor the reader has any idea what exactly will happen next. The only downside of this is that some of the best scenes, when the carnival is revealed and we finally meet the Magician himself, are left until right at the end. Also, I wasn’t completely sold on the character of Zach, and thus his romance with Eve. When he’s first introduced, he talks way too much about random knowledge he has, which seems a little to much like showing off, then without warning tells Eve there’s no way they can ever “just be friends” and that he wants to kiss her. Creepy, much? Yet, when Eve meets him again, after she has lost some weeks of her memory, he’s suddenly shy. Though his character improves and becomes more likeable, Zach is just too inconsistent in the beginning and not fully fleshed out, leaving the romance a little bit forced.

Despite this minor hiccup, Conjured is an awesome book that comes highly recommended, and I can only hope for more in this world.

4 stars.

Book Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

13539162Title: River Road

Author: Suzanne Johnson

Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #2

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

It’s been three years since Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans, and through DJ’s life, but she has come to terms with what happened and is settled with her life working for the Elder wizards along side her close friend and FBI enforcer, Alex. But when, out of the blue, undead pirate Jean Lafitte contacts DJ about conflict between two clans of merpeople and the debt she owes him for saving her life, DJ must investigate before poisoned water spreads and harms the humans of the city. Whilst breaking up fights between the mermen, and judging whether to trust Jean and his advances on her, DJ also has to juggle a werewolf who likes her but may not be able to control himself, her parner Alex who is suddenly acting funny around her, and the elves who want to meet (and probably use) her. Maybe running off to the Beyond with an undead pirate isn’t the worst idea in the world…

River Road picks up three years after the events of Royal Street, and though the time gap may seem a little much, the main characters have , thankfully, not changed. This book is in fact an improvement over the first: the pacing is a lot more even, the events are better connected to each other and don’t feel hastily thrown together (as the last book suffered a little from), and DJ on the whole felt more sure of herself without losing any of her humour, stubbornness, or practical mindedness. She is a character who is not afraid to get her hands dirty or push her limits. Though this is a trait often found in Urban Fantasy heroines, DJ doesn’t fall into the trap of being too headstrong to make rational decisions that end up putting herself in danger. When danger does arise, she uses the backup help Alex offers her, without insisting she doesn’t need him or taking his offer to mean that he thinks she isn’t strong enough.

The world of this series is expanding, be it slowly. River Road heavily featured merpeople, nymphs, and their relation to the human world, but also mentions the River Styx (a place in the Beyond), the fact that the Beyond has links to different time periods, and the elves (who seem to be becoming an increasingly bigger part of DJ’s life as she tries to research her own elven heritage). Once again the Beyond is visited, but only briefly, giving the reader an almost infuriatingly small glimpse of this huge world. As DJ learns more about herself, and discovers yet more ways the Elders are trying to keep wizards from travelling to the Beyond, I can only hope that this means a greater amount of time spent there.

The other big part of this book is the romance, and all the male character are written so well, it’s hard to know who to choose. Though slowly taken, DJ has not one but three romantic interests, each with their own charms and faults. Her partner and friend Alex seems the obvious choice, as the relationship they have is both sweet and funny – in any other series he’d be the only guy to root for. Whilst his cousin Jake also seems sweet, his struggle to control himself since he became a werewolf makes him dangerous, but also sympathetic and vulnerable beneath his tough exterior. Lastly, Jean Laffite is the wild card, both dangerous and attractive. Though he (mostly) behaves in this book, the fact that he not only hurt DJ in book one but actually tried to kill her, makes him unstable and untrustworthy. Had that incident not happened, I would have been a big fan of Jean.

In summery, River Road takes everything that was good in Royal Street and makes it better. Add some more journeying into the Beyond, and the next book may even be a five star read.

4 stars.

Book Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

7962513Title: Bitterblue

Author: Kristin Cashore

Series: The Graceling Realm #3

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

It’s been eight years since the death of the monstrous King Leck, but the kingdom of Monsea is slow to heal. Leck’s daughter Bitterblue, now Queen, struggles to help her people – stuck in an office signing paper all day, she feels useless and isolated from her people. One night she decides to visit her capital in disguise to find out what her people are really like, and meet two thieves, Saf and Teddy, who also run a printing shop. Drawn to these men and the need to know her kingdom, Bitterblue realises that her advisors are lying about the state of her people and are trying to forget what Leck did to them. Bitterblue, and her people, need to know the truth of what Leck did to them – before whoever is killing truth seekers kills her new friends.

Bitterblue is, above all else, a novel about healing from trauma, from the grand scale of an entire kingdom getting past the atrocities of a mad king, to the smaller scale of one young woman trying to face her abusive father. Whilst the moral of the novel seems to be that in order to heal you need to face what has happened, as suffering alone can cause a person to do horrible or destructive things, it does address the fact that some details are better left alone. This is a longer, quieter novel than the first two of this series, with far less action and more focus on politics and the need to find answers. Though it is easy to become slightly frustrated at the slow pace, and the fact that answers to many questions aren’t discovered until the every end, it felt right that Bitterblue should be a more gentle novel than its predecessors.

The character of Bitterblue is a sympathetic and relatable one, who is curious and above all else determined to do right by her people. She is only eighteen, but has to live with the responsibility of helping her kingdom heal whilst the stigma of being the daughter of the very madman who hurt so many people in the first place. She feels useless at her lack of knowledge, and frustrated at not being able to find any answers to all the problems that seem to be piling up on top of her. The other characters in this novel are also engaging, from the familiar faces of Po and Katsa, to the new, like Death the Graceling librarian or Thiel her most trusted but haunted advisor. The only somewhat dislikable character was Saf, the romantic interest, who when he discovers Bitterblue’s true identity, overreacts and treats her unfairly for a good portion of the novel –  though he does eventually come to see his selfishness and apologises. The romance as a whole felt a little unnecessary, as though it was just added in to tick all the boxes, but it doesn’t take away too much focus from the main plot.

Although longer and slower pace than Kristin Cashore’s other books, Bitterblue is a sweet story about the healing process and the strength we take from other people in these times. It is also unafraid to show the trauma and consequences of people trying to suppress what has happened to them rather than face it, and makes some bold, almost shocking choices as to how certain people deal with their pain. It was a pleasing ending to the series that leaves room for more stories from this world.

4 stars

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

16078220Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

What makes us who we are? How much of ourselves is created by our memories? When a forty year old man returns to his childhood village for a funeral he rediscovers the home of an old friend, Lettie Hempstock, who believed the pond in her back garden was actually an ocean. As he explores Hempstock Farm, he finds memories, hidden inside his mind, unfolding and revealing a battle with a monster from another world when he was just seven years old.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is both a strange and beautiful novel. It manages to portray grand ideas and themes, such as memories and the changes we all go through from childhood to adult, on a small, almost isolated scale. The whole novel has a sense of being only a small part of the bigger picture, leaving a feeling of being almost uncompleted. This mirrors beautifully the unnamed narrator’s situation – as a child he never fully understands what is happening to him, since adults often don’t explain themselves to children in a possibly misguided belief that they won’t understand. As an adult, however, he still doesn’t see exactly what has happened as he realises that he has forgotten his adventure until he visits Hempstock Farm.

The narrator is a very sympathetic character. He is a lonely young boy who feels isolated and struggles to communicate with his family. The monster, disguised as Ursula Monkton, who infiltrates his family pushes him away from them even further, and the fact that the family never realise her true nature makes it even sadder. The young boy has to live with the trauma caused by her manipulation of his father, which is never resolved or even addressed, as no-one else remembers what happened. This brings up the question as to whether the whole novel is in fact the narrator’s way of dealing with this trauma, a fantasy conjured up because he couldn’t face what had actually happened and no-one else knew or talked about it.

The Hempstock women – Lettie, Mrs Hempstock, and Old Mrs Hempstock – are another part of the mystery in this novel. Reminiscent of the Pagan Maiden, Mother, and Crone, they are magical and mysterious, but again, never fully explained. As a child, the narrator barely questions them and is satisfied with the vague answers he gets. Who are these women exactly? How old are they, and are they immortal? What exactly is the Ocean in their garden?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautifully written, dream-like novel that captures the imagination throughout – but ultimately leaves a feeling of being incomplete. Whilst it does create a sense of nostalgia, a lingering feeling of quiet sadness stayed with me many days after finishing the book – and I believe that this shows Neil Gaiman’s great skill as a writer.

4 stars

Series Review: The Too-Clever Fox by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to a special series review, where I review all the books in a series I love in one go. This week’s series is the amazing Grisha Series by Leigh Bardugo; a Russian inspired world where one girl discovers she is the Sun Summoner, gifted with the power of light, and must fight against the darkness spreading over the land, and the man who can control it.

Lastly, this is the second short story and most recent in the series The Too-Clever Fox.

17790188Title: The Too-Clever Fox

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha #2.5

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

There is such a problem as being too clever. Koja, the runt of a litter of foxes, has learnt to survive on his wits alone, as his cleverness has saved him several times already. It has helped him escape traps and gained him friendship with some of the more dangerous animals in the woods. When a hunter so skilful they enter and leave the forest with no trace begins killing his friends, Koja believes his cleverness can save everyone – but in doing so he learns the difference between confidence and arrogance.

The second of Leigh Bardugo’s fairytale short stories, The Too-Clever Fox is another success: well-written, quaint, and very entertaining. After reading Siege and Storm, the comparison between the fox Koja and the privateer Strumhond is very clear, as they both rely on their wits and charm to weasel their way out of problems and win friends. Koja’s exploits are enjoyable to read, and despite the briefness of the story you find yourself engrossed with the plot and the friendships he forms.

In terms of the message this story gives, it is more heavy-handed than the first fairytale, The Witch of Duva. It features similar morals: you can’t always trust appearances, and women are more that their fairytale stereotypes. However, the hunter, the villain of the piece, felt a little too two dimensional. It’s not shown what goes on in their mind, and they never fully explain why they killed the animals other than “because I can”. They just brag about how they cleverly tricked all the animals, which links in to the story’s moral but isn’t much of an explanation.

Another great addition both the series and the world, we can only hope that a full collection of these fairytales will be in the near future.

4 stars.