Northern Lights

Title: Northern Lights

Author: Philip Pullman

Summary: Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The first book I’ve finished in 2020! Yes, it’s July. This year has been and continues to be A Struggle. Reader’s block is absolutely a thing. After starting and not finishing several books, I decided to give an audiobook a try. It came with its own problems, but I finished the thing, so it’s a win.

I had seen the recent BBC adaptation of this book, so knew the plot. I was actually counting on that to help me with actually finishing the book. And in fact, in some ways, it helped me enjoy the book more. Knowing what was coming, namely the tragic end for one of the characters, made moments earlier in the book and leading up to it hit much heavier than they would have. I was actually crying at a couple of points, understanding the meanings behind things and how certain aspects played out.

The book was actually quite dark, which I enjoyed. There were a few moments where I winced, thinking of younger readers experiencing the clear violence and trauma. But I do think it’s important that the book doesn’t shy away from it, either. It’s exploring the importance and anguish of the fantasy concept of having a daemon, and allows the reader to understand and connect with that deeply.

For me the characters were mostly very clear cut good or bad. Which is fine, though I prefer the morally grey. I loved Lyra, our lead character. She has such passion and intelligence and determination. I loved Roger, her best friend and side kick, and how they would obviously do anything for each other. I loved Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear, with his wisdom and kindness and strength. I hated Lord Asriel and the size of his ego–he might have been intelligent, but he was cruel. I hated Mrs Coulter and her false affection and manipulation. I didn’t hate, but found myself disliking Lee Scoresby and his brash American-ness. Though I am hoping some characters will become more complex and interesting over the course of the sequels.

What I enjoyed most were the main themes of the story. Daemons and the connections humans share with them. Dust and where it comes from and how it affects people. Parallel universes and trying to reach them. These and the characters I loved will be what draws me back to listen to the sequels. I’m quite excited about them, now I have no idea about where the story goes.

The Book of Forks

Title: The Book of Forks

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Castro Smith finds himself imprisoned within the mysterious Power Station, writing his Book of Forks while navigating baffling daily meetings with Poly, a troubled young woman who may be his teacher, his doctor, his prison guard . . . or something else entirely. Meanwhile, back home, Vera and Scarper’s search for their missing friend takes them through the chaotic war zone of the Bear Park and into new and terrifying worlds. With The Book of Forks, Rob Davis completes his abstract adventure trilogy by stepping inside Castro’s disintegrating mind to reveal the truth about the history of the world, the meaning of existence, and the purpose of kitchen scales.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: The third and final book in Davis’ The Motherless Oven trilogy, I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs on it. I was sad my copy didn’t come with a bookplate, as I had hoped to frame and display all three, but the book is obviously more important.

This book has as much weird and wonderfulness as the first two. With the main characters venturing out beyond the boarders of The Bear Park, where (almost) all of them have lived for their entire lives, we get to see new places and new ways in which these worlds are strange, bizarre, and fascinating. Guerilla postmen, exploding people, diseases as gods, and rotting corpses on the street. And of course we see more of Castro’s book (can you guess what it’s called?), which explores the history and nature of this world in all its peculiarness.

The art, as ever, is beautiful. Simple, but with such amazing detail. The faces are definitely my favourite, varying from plain and unobtrusive in wider panels, slightly more detailed in more medium panels, to perfectly detailed with amazing subtleties in expression and character in the really close panels. I could look at the faces alone for quite a while. Pages from Castro’s book are presented as a kind of divide between chapters and two alternating storylines, which worked well, and I loved the layout and illustrations, as well as the contrasting white-on-black of those pages.

People accept whatever absurdity surrounds them as reality. And yet, to question this absurdity is to become absurd.

I five-star loved the first two books in this series, but unfortunately this book didn’t hit me with quite the same amazement. I really enjoyed this one, it just… It’s longer than either of the first two, but it also feels like less happens for some reason. I think the story races to its conclusion, trying to tie all the threads together, but is also trying to cram in a lot of new things (Castro’s personal story, his book, the other death states, the postmen…). It just doesn’t fully work. And as much as i enjoyed the pages from Castro’s book, they were often a little… much. Whole pages of text in a graphic novel, and switching from panels to full bodies of text and back again made for slow progress, an inconsistent reading pattern, and loss of focus. I loveloveloved Castro’s insightfulness and theories on the strange things the characters in this world accept as normal, but this book made me realise I loved them in context and in brief. Entire pages with numerous (useless) footnotes failed to keep my interest as high.

Overall I do love this series, and it will certainly be one I’d love to revisit. Likely i will choose to read this installment in two halves–the story told in panels, then all the pages from Castro’s book separately. I think I would enjoy it a lot more that way.

House of Many Ways

Title: House of Many Ways

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great Uncle William’s tiny cottage should have been easy, but he is the Royal Wizard Norland whose house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places: the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains — even the past.

In no time at all Charmain becomes involved with a magical stray dog, a muddled apprentice wizard and a box of the king’s most treasured documents, as well as irritating a clan of small blue creatures.

Caught up in an intense royal search, she meets a sorceress named Sophie. Can the Wizard Howl and Calcifer be far behind?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is the third book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy. It took me a while to get around to reading it, because as much as i flipping adored the first book, the second book was quite a disappointment in comparison… I was really worried this one wouldn’t be as good as I hoped either. BUT! I was so happy to fall for this book almost immediately.

Charmain was an instant delight. A main character with a ferocious appetite for reading is always going to win the hearts of book lovers. But she’s also strong-willed, and selfish, and unsympathetic… All the way through I was pretty much thinking, “Same.” So yeah, I loved her. Sent to look after the house of a distant relative by marriage and thrown in at the deep end with magic, she finds very little time to read. The only other characters we really see enough to properly get to know are Peter, an apprentice wizard who shows up on Charmain’s doorstop unexpectedly to join the party; and Waif, a delightful little dog who won’t leave Charmain alone. They were both wonderful.

And so, of course, magic and mayhem ensue. And really, it’s all such a freaking wonderful journey. I think it helps that Howl and Sophie and Calcifer are in this one a smidgen more than they were in Castle in the Air, but there was something about this book that just had the same fun chaotic energy of the first one. I could happily have read more about the everyday lives of Charmain, Waif, Peter, and Uncle William. The lot of them living in that enormous tiny cottage, tapping furniture for food, chatting with kobolds, and exploring the endless magical twists and turns.

I think that’s the difference–Castle in the Air seemed to meander in a dull way when I wanted the plot to speed up, but House of Many Ways could have meandered as long as it wanted, because I just loved spending time in this world. While the plot was almost secondary to the ups and downs of an average day for Charmain, it was also woven seamlessly into the ups and downs of an average day.

Almost every random crazy thing that happened came back around and tied into the plot by the end of the book, and in such an easy but satisfying way. The mysteries and questions raised in the story were answered, but the story also ends on a note of more excitement to come. And while I’d’ve loved to have carried on reading, getting the happy ending and knowing all these lovely characters have such exciting lives ahead of them is the perfect place to end.

The Can Opener’s Daughter

Title: The Can Opener’s Daughter

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Vera Pike lives in the cruel world of Grave Acre. Her mother is the Weather Clock, the megalomaniacal Prime Minister of Chance. Her father is a can opener. Charting Vera’s childhood, the second part of Rob Davis’ trilogy takes us from her home in Parliament to suicide school, and from the Bear Park to the black woods that lie beyond. In the present day, Vera and Castro Smith are determined to see their friend Scarper again – but is he even alive? Can anyone outlive their deathday? A darkly inventive sequel, The Can Opener’s Daughter answers many of the questions posed in The Motherless Oven, while asking plenty more of its own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is every bit as freakishly wonderful as its predecessor, The Motherless Oven. Name plates, suicide charts, and ink gods… there were so many new weird and incredible details. Details that are just so mundane and accepted by characters in the book, but that just make me smile and ponder possible deeper meanings. Whether there are deeper meanings or not–whether you look for them or not–doesn’t matter. I just as easily love this book for its random nonsense.

Because Vera’s Mum is the Weather Clock, and a god to boot. Her dad is a simple manual can opener who gets locked in drawer for a year. She spends her days listening to ink gods, wandering around the parliament building she lives in, and admiring the Escher-esque paintings of the immortals. Totally normal things. Until her mum sends her to suicide school, where she avoids plotting and planning her own demise and instead decides to live forever. And it all makes sense, honestly.

I loved Vera in the first book, and I only loved her more in this one. She’s always been strong-willed, rebellious, and independent, and her face in this comic is just… she’s gorgeous, she’s smug, she’s angry, she’s over it. All the faces and characters (human and non-human) are brilliantly vivid and detailed in the book, particularly those of the three protagonists, but I’ve a soft spot for Vera. Maybe because her face can be so angelic but she’s actually anything but!

The story, other than Vera’s fascinating backstory, is very much a bridge between the first and last books. While the first can stand on its own (albeit with a gaping hole of an open ending, but I love those), and I can only assume the third and final book will have some kind of conclusion and satisfying end to the story. But this book doesn’t have much to allow it to stand up on its own. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. It has taken my love and intrigue from the first book and amplified it, leaving me only wanting more, and that’s not a bad thing.

And the art. It has so much depth and detail. Varies from quite simplistic to immensely intricate. If the concepts are bizarre and out of the ordinary, well, it’s only right that the art work is, too. The contraptions children have cobbled together to call parents–some as simplistic as a basic can opener, others as complex as torturous racing cars. The paintings and wheels. The garden full of growing gazettes. I really love the panel choices and framing of scenes. So many, simply as stand alones, are so striking and beautiful. The Weather Clock’s boobs, though, are absolutely terrifying.

So, yeah. I freaking love this book, and this series. Book three comes out in October and can’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs all over it.

The Motherless Oven

Title: The Motherless Oven

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: In Scarper Lee’s world, parents don’t make children—children make parents. Scarper’s father is his pride and joy, a wind-powered brass construction with a billowing sail. His mother is a Bakelite hairdryer. In this world it rains knives, and household appliances have souls. There are also no birthdays–only deathdays. Scarper knows he has just three weeks to live. As his deathday approaches, he is forced from his routine and strikes out into the unknown–where friendships are tested and authority is challenged.

This unsettling and fiercely original coming-of-age story from Rob Davis traces a journey through a bizarre, distorted teenage landscape: a world not so different from our own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, and I’m so annoyed I didn’t read it sooner. I freaking loved it!

This book is weird. I’m a fan of weird. So when the very first page is about it raining knives… yeah, i’m pretty much in love already. So many strange things are introduced quite rapidly, and all without explanation, as if it’s all humdrum and routine–which it is for the characters in this world. Weather clocks, kitchen gods, wheels people watch like a TV… and the only way to figure out what the hell all these things mean is to keep reading. It’s one hell of a hook.

So okay, the story. It follows a trio of new friends (Scarper, Vera, and Castro) as they chase after Scarper’s dad–a big brass vehicle that he made as a child–across the town. They escape the lions at school, turn summer on, and joyride someone else’s dad–all while running away from the police, who are old couples who travel in slow tic-toccing three wheeled carriages. All in the weeks leading up to Scarper’s deathday. It has some deeper meanings, but in a world this bizarre those are completely up for debate and interpretation.

The art, too. All black and white and shadows. The faces of the three main characters are so expressive and speak just as loudly as their words. The parents, being odd contraptions built by their children, are all strange and unique and fascinating. And the just the bizarre nature of things being captured… raining knives, stark white against the black nights; daily wheels, intricate in their repeated patterns; and summer, turned on by mines on chains rising from the ground to hover over the town. It’s so weird, and so mindbogglingly amazing.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, this is one of my new favourite books. I adored it. It’s the first in a trilogy, with it’s sequel The Can Opener’s Daughter moved swiftly up my to-read list. The third book comes out in October and I already can’t wait.

The Scorch Trials

mrstTitle: The Scorch Trials

Author: James Dashner

Summary: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he would get his life back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to…

Burned and baked, the earth is a wasteland, its people driven mad by an infection known as the Flare.

Instead of freedom, Thomas must face another trial. He must cross the Scorch to once again save himself and his friends.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: I read The Maze Runner about a year ago, and it left with a lot to say. While i loved the story, setting and mystery of the book, the writing was atrocious. The writing in this sequel did not improve, and unfortunately the story, setting and mystery only went down hill. So much so, i couldn’t bring myself to finish the book.

I gave up a little over halfway through, when i realised there was nothing about the plot that was fascinating enough to keep me reading–to keep me reading a book written this badly. I disliked it so much, i don’t even think i can bring myself to write much about it. I’ll take it one aspect at a time:

The plot: This started well, with the safety the kids think they’ve found turning on them. Things changed quickly and so dramatically it was easy to stay interested, to want to keep reading. This lasted through their time in their limited dorm-type space, through the tunnel of molten head-eating machines and up to their exit into “the Scorch”. After that, things started to go downhill. A few days of the boys slogging through the heat, getting nowhere fast, nothing happening… it was dull, to say the least. When they finally made it to the city, to buildings, to other life forms, i thought things might pick up. But after that, it just seemed like action for the sake of action, rather than anything the was driving the plot. IDGAF about underground tunnels and cranks too far gone–i want to know more about WICKED and what the hell they’re doing to these kids. It was at that point i had to give up.

The characters: Minho was still my favourite. I think because he seems the most real. His emotions seem close to the surface, but he’s also pragmatic and wants to get shit done. Despite there being a smaller number of characters, we still don’t get to know many. In fact Thomas, our (still lack-luster) lead, comments a few times that he can’t even name a lot of them. Way to be a dick, Tommy. I guess that way you don’t have to emotionally develop when they die. Talking of Thomas, i hate him. A large part of that is because we’re experiencing this from his POV, and the writing of that POV is absolutely terrible. Some of that is because he lacks any kind of emotional depth. He doesn’t mention Teresa, the girl he shared such a deep and meaningful connection with who went missing, for several chapters, then suddenly claims she’s all he can think about. He’s sobbing and angry when he finds her but has to run and leave her behind, but as soon as a new girl shows up he’s eyeing her up and getting touchy feeling within minutes. There are a dozen male characters, they can’t get hooked up with the new girl? With each other? You can’t have a female character who isn’t a love interest?

Finally, the writing: It is bad. So bad i have to wonder if this was even edited. Did they accidentally print the first draft? Dashner can not write. It’s all tell, no show. Things stated plainly with no feeling or mood. Questions asked blatantly, outright leading the reader rather than enticing them along. Settings described in unnecessary detail, but the emotional states of the characters and evocative atmospheres are consistently absent. His pacing is off, he fails to use language to immerse the reader into the moment, instead dragging them along awkwardly. While i was reading this sequel, my partner attempted to read the first book–operative word: attempted. He didn’t get past the first chapter, and it took him so long because we were sitting together reading out the best examples of the appalling writing. It was fun for 20 minutes or so, but only when you have someone to share the cringe-worthiness with.

I’m throwing in the towel on this series. I officially don’t care how it ends. Call me when someone opens a kickstarter raising funds for a decent author to re-write the entire thing.

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Castle in the Air

castle-in-the-airTitle: Castle in the Air

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: Far to the south in the land of Ingary, loves Abdullah. By day he is a humble carpet merchant, but in his dreams he is a prince.

Abdullah’s dreams suddenly start to come true when he meets the lovely Flower-in-the-Night. When a hideous djinn carries her off into the sky, Adullah is determined to rescue her, if he can find her, and if he can avoid all the ferocious villains who seems to be after him. But how can he possibly succeed, with only a bad-tempered genie and an unreliable magic carpet to help him?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After being left nearly incoherent by my love for the first book, Howl’s Moving Castle, I was excited to get into this book. I soon came down to earth with a bump–this book is sadly not nearly as wonderful as the first.

My expectations had a big influence on my enjoyment. I wanted to see a lot of Sophie and Howl, after all they were the things i loved most about the first book. The blurb may be about Abdullah and his genie, but I’d imagined a lot of help or involvement from Sophie and Howl. Instead, they were only in it right at the end and not nearly enough to sate my want. Their missing presence is the really the biggest qualm i have.

However, despite the lack of my favourite characters, this book wasn’t perfect. The start dragged too much for my liking, with not enough excitement or disruption to keep me completely engrossed. When things did finally get shaken up, it was far too briefly and the narrative soon settled into doldrums for several more chapters. It isn’t until the final handful of chapters that things finally start happening, but then, because everything is happening, it all happens too quickly!

I did like most of the characters in this. Abdullah is a little timid, but endearingly determined, and his expressive and complimentary epithets were some kind of wonderful, often making me grin. Flower-in-the-Night, other than having a ridiculous name, was wonderful. A level-headed, intelligent female who didn’t need rescuing so much as she needed a few items to aid her own escape. In fact all the princesses were pretty awesome with getting on with shit, rather than bemoaning and waiting to be rescued. The solider was intriguing enough to keep me guessing, and i loved his love for the cats. Of course, by the end of the book, Sophie and Howl steal the show.

Despite a strong showing of capable and independent female characters, there was a certain aspect of the book i couldn’t quite stomach: the subtle sexism. The idea of men ‘owning’ women; of marrying several and giving daughters or relatives away to other men. I don’t care what era or culture is being represented, don’t include aspects like that if you’re not going to critiquing them. Also fat-shaming! Just… so many details that, though small and seemingly throwaway, disappointed and upset me.

As i own the third (and final!) book in this series, I do think i’ll read it. However my expectations will be suitably curbed following this reading experience. Is more Sophie and Howl really too much to ask for!?

The Maze Runner

mazerunnerTitle: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Summary: When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas can remember is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible maze.

Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there, or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything to find out.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: This book found its way onto my to-read list thanks to the film they made out of it and, of course, my desire to read the book first. A couple of year later and i finally got around to reading the book. Billed as “a must for fans of The Hunger Games”, the dystopian science fiction and the draw of the puzzling maze… all these things had me hopeful and excited.

The entirety of the 3.5 stars i am giving this book are based solely on its plot, genre and ideas. They are fascinating, original and left me eager to keep reading. I had so many thoughts and ideas and questions that i had to keep reading to explore and find out more. Where is the Glade? Why are all these teenagers being sent there? Where (if anywhere) does the maze lead? ETC, ETC. However. The 1.5 stars this book did not get, is mostly what i find myself needing to talk about.

Firstly, Thomas. Our lead character. I didn’t hate him, but neither did i like him. I wasn’t rooting for him, because ultimately i couldn’t get a genuine feel for him. He seemed like a non-character. He was wildly inconsistent; he would decide he liked someone, then in the next chapter they would do something he didn’t appreciate and he’d decide he didn’t like them. I specifically noticed this with Chuck, Minho, Newt and Alby–Thomas was constantly liking then disliking then liking them again. He was also a contradiction in himself; one example that sticks in my mind was one minute he wanted to avoid people, then the next he didn’t want to be alone. And the thing that bothered me most about these swift changes in attitude was how sudden and out of the blue they were. There was no plot-driven reason, or even situational reason, it just seemed like he needed to think and feel something, so it was just bunged in without thought.

Leading on from that was the fact that Thomas asked a lot of questions. And i don’t mean to the other Gladers, when he was trying to get information or figure things out, but i mean, in his head. He posed questions straightforwardly, prompting the reader to consider certain things–pushing them in a certain direction. Essentially, it’s a poor writing device. Instead of leading the way with action and description, Dashner decided to point the way with neon road signs.

There were a few things that felt forced, contrived and unnecessary. The first and most obvious thing was the slang language of the Gladers. Words like ‘klunk’, ‘shank’ and ‘shunk’ which to me had no specific definition and all seemed interchangeable with ‘shit’ and/or ‘fuck’. The other thing that felt unnecessary was, i’m sorry to say, Teresa. The token female, she brings nothing to the book for being a female other than a vague attempt at a romance and a few poor-taste rape jokes. Why not just make the entire group a mix of males and females? From what we learn towards the end of the book, am i to assume penises make a person more intelligent? Because if so, fuck you, James Dashner.

For all its mystery and world building and hooks and set up, at times this book was rather predictable. The large-scale plot and back story is almost impossible to figure out precisely, but the small plot points and the details were simple enough that i saw them coming immediately. And for a group of oh-so-intelligent teenagers, it leaves me highly unimpressed that they missed these things. Who set the fire was obvious before the fire was even mentioned, and WICKED was literally staring them in the face, to give but two examples.

Although i devoured the second half of this book in a couple of hours, it still had its issues. The action-packed climax was not smoothly written; i was never so caught up in what was happening that i forgot i was reading. There were even times when things were unclear and i was confused, which caused me to go back and re-read parts. I want to be immersed in the action, not stopping to figure things out or rearrange things in my head. Action scenes, particularly, need to be edited to hell in order to make them run smoothly and effortlessly for the readers. These ones weren’t.

The last few chapters and the last few reveals were… a little rushed. So much changes, but at the same time, so little is actually revealed, that i felt very unsatisfied by the non-answers to the entire book’s set up. Instead of a satisfying end to this book, i felt like i had read the first few chapters of the next. And that’s bad form, as far as i’m concerned. Screw the sequel, you need to give closure to this book–to this story, before you start writing a big ellipsis and thinking about all the money you’ll make from a sequel.

Saying that, i think i will read the sequel. I’m not overly optimistic about it, but there was enough interesting plot and world in this book that i’m still thinking about it; still, in some ways, want to be reading it. So, i will give Dashner one more chance. I’m pinning my hopes on him having taken a writing class and hired a better editor between writing The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials…

The biggest downfall of this book, 100%, is the writing. At best, it’s mediocre. It’s all tell no show, it’s so basic and straightforward. It lacks passion and atmosphere, it lacks interest and development. Although a few characters were interesting, i got the impression this was an accident, and they were never explored deeply enough. It’s one of those books i can so easily see being so much better, and that disappoints me more than anything–so much wasted potential. As i have read in other reviews, if this book and its premise and ideas had been in the hands of another author, it could have been incredible. Instead, it’s only halfway decent.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: An Asian main character.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl'sMovingCastle_B_PBTitle: Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: “How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contact I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’m not sure I know where to start with this review. I guess I start by saying I bloody absolutely loved this book. I did not expect to fall this hard for this book, but here I am. I had seen the film, many years ago now, and very much enjoyed it. But the book. Well, no surprises that it’s better, but. It’s left me barely able to write full sentences, apparently. I’m not even sure how to put words to why I love it. When I first started reading and I was so engrossed and I couldn’t put it down I thought, “What is it I love so much about this books?” And damn it if I could answer.

On reflection, I think the biggest thing I loved was that when I was reading it, I was fully immersed in the world of the book, in the story. I wasn’t sitting in my chair reading words on the page, I was in Ingary with Sophie, I was in Howl’s castle, I was racing across fields in seven league boots. I was all in with these characters and their world. And really, that’s the best feeling any book can give me.

It was all the little things really. It was all the things, really. I loved the way you get thrown into this world and are expected to keep up. There is no explanation for anything, it’s just presented as fact—accept it and keep reading or GTFO. I hate to be bogged down in too much talk around and about things, and this book has none of that. There is magic and curses and a floating castle and fire demons, oh and also Wales and electricity and computer games and cars. No reason as to how or why all these things exist, no in depth details about the world.

The characters. Oh, yes, I loved them all. Sophie’s determination and strong-will, yet also her insecurities. Howl’s aloof allure and harsh words, yet also his kind actions. Calcifer’s tricky ways and grumbles, yet also his need for company. Everyone was so real and fleshed out, but it was all done so well and so subtly, so as never to be too obvious about it.

This might be a book for a younger audience (I don’t like to say ‘young adult’, as that comes with connotations of genre and subject matter, for me), but it is definitely a book that can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to get lost in a magical adventure.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: About a curse, kiss-ass female hero and purple on the cover.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

oateotlTitle: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Summary: This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:

A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse; An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made; A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile; And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.

These are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edges of things. The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I have only read one Neil Gaiman book before, American Gods, and i really enjoyed it. I didn’t know much about Gaiman’s other books, or his general writing style, so i still didn’t know what to expect from this book. Now i’ve read it, i can say i still don’t know what to expect for the next one.

I loved the fantasy aspect. The Hempstock family, their other-worldliness and mystery as well as the monsters, Ursula Monkton and the Varmints. I wanted to know more about them, even if the things i found out only left me with more questions. I loved all three Hempstocks, and maybe especially Lettie. The end then, though quite a shock, was simultaneously the best and worst part of the book.

The narrator is not named, and most of the book is told from the point of view of him as an adult remembering the events of when he was seven. I liked how this allowed for the seven year old perspective, but with adult reflections of what was happening and what it meant. I loved how he just accepted the Hempstocks and their strange abilities, as any self-respecting seven year old should. I loved hearing about his life and, most especially, about his love of reading (do people who love reading ever get tired of reading about characters who love reading? I don’t think so).

Now, the things i didn’t like. First of all, the narrator’s family’s “financial troubles”. They claim to be struggling so much that the mother has to get a part time job. They’re struggling so much that they offer rent and board to women to watch the kids for a few days a week. They’re struggling so much they have a couple come in to do the gardening and cleaning. This is not struggling, this is middle class. And the privilege that was not being checked throughout the entire book goaded my annoyance every time it was mentioned.

The only other thing that really bothered me, didn’t really bother me. It was just… potential. I think the book has more. I never felt the narrative was pulling me anywhere. There was nothing i was really wondering, no place i was waiting to get to. There were several small, and quickly remedied plot points, but no over-arcing plot stringing them together. Then i read the questions to the author at the end of the book, and this fact only made more sense. Gaiman said he wrote this without knowing what was going to happen. He said he was writing with a limited view as to what was to happen. He said that the twist at the end caught him by as much surprise as it does the reader. And really, that style of writing really shows in this book. It meanders, it plods along, it takes a few twists, but it doesn’t wrap up nicely or have running themes or motifs, and it lacks a lot because of that, for me.

For a long way through the book i was hoping it would be left open at the end, as to whether the story that was being told actually happened or was all the imagination of a seven-year-old boy. And the idea is touched upon, with Old Mrs Hempstock pointing out that no two people will ever remember events the same. But in the end it was definitely left more on the ‘it did happen’ side, with only the idea that maybe it didn’t happen exactly as we’d been told.

I did enjoy this book, and very much look forward to reading more Gaiman in future; having read American Gods, i know he can do better.