Category Archives: Review

Review – Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The blog is resurrected! But as in many horror movies, it’s come back…changed.

Why did the blog go away in the first place? May reasons: long hours at work, craziness in personal lives, and a lack of interest in the book club.

So, we’re scratching the book club for the moment (we can bring it back should there be interest, just let us know) and we’ll be using this site predominantly for article and book reviews, as well as whatever flights of fancy we deem worthy. And by we I mean mainly Diana since Meghan is set to begin her library science program soon.

That’s right, people; Meghan has come over to the dark side.

So! Without further ado, here is review of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

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Synopsis

From the book flap:

“Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie – magical, comforting, wise beyond her years – promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.”

(That last paragraph is a bit heavy-handed, I think. As “delicate as a butterfly’s wing”?  Although I do hope the last bit is a reference to The Graveyard Book.)

The story is told from the point of view of a middle-aged gentleman, mostly from his remembrances of being seven. As with most Gaiman books, this one is hard to explain further without spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I got it when it first came out last June, but it’s taken me this long to find the time to read it. A sad state, that.

Gaiman has a way of melding the mundane world with fantastical happenings and beings. It’s not really magical realism, per se; magical realism, to me, is a story that tells a realistic story with magical elements. No, a Neil Gaiman book if far more akin to reality taking a fantastical acid trip.

Don’t get me wrong on this! I’ll continue to shout it from the rooftops, I love Neil Gaiman and his works. He’s not an author, he’s a storyteller. It’s just that his writing is strays towards something else. Fantastical realism? I don’t know.

I had no idea where this story was going. Gaiman has said that he started writing a short story for someone…which turned into a novella…which morphed into a novel. This is his accidental novel, going places I’m not certain even he expected. There weren’t twists and turns, really, but like the seven-year-old boy in the story I had no clue what was coming next. I also realized the gravity of each situation as that little boy did. The story isn’t predictable at all, and I loved that.

I also enjoyed that we got a good deal of character development from everyone except the boy. This only seems right to me (and I can’t believe I’m saying that; character development is usually key to me liking a story). The thing is, the story is a remembrance by the little boy’s future self. He is what he is, and it’s so hard for someone to recognize their own development. The seven-year-old staunchly stays a seven-year-old throughout, except when he’s not. It made total sense to me.

Gaiman had a bit of help with the world-building, I think. A lot of the story seems taken from the landscape of his own childhood memories, and they’re the stronger for it. Think back to your child-hood home; do you remember every bit of it? Possibly, but probably certain details stick out and others are a bit fuzzy. So they are here. We don’t get a drawn-out description of everything, just the important bits and the parts that might stand out. Shale roads, where milk cans sat, stuff like that. Perhaps that’s one of the things that makes this take seem so genuine to me. There’s a lack of artifice, in a way. And then there’s Hempstock Farm, which is described as much as a seven-year-old can explain the ungraspable.

The ending, though. The ending. Have you even gotten to the end of a story or a movie, something, and it ends before you get all the answers and you’re left yelling at the book/television/what-have-you because of it? That’s not quite this book. There isn’t a neat and tidy ending, but there never is in life. The book ends at a good point, but there are still unanswered questions. Not in a “he’s setting up a sequel” sort of way. It’s hard to explain without giving the ending away. Suffice it to say that the book ends at a point where things aren’t resolved completely, and that this gives weight to the story.

That last bit, while completely the truth and the best way I can describe it, shouldn’t warn you away from the book. I think it’s great. It’s a genuine story, beautiful in its honesty.

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Review – Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies

Reader beware: here there be spoilers. This is a discussion, NOT a review. We (the glorious and fearsomely beautiful powers that be) shall be reviewing the book, yes, but we do so to open a discussion based upon intimate details in the plot. Please do not read further unless you’re either taking part in the discussion or you don’t care about being spoiled.

If you do and you are, don’t come crying to us.

You’ve been warned.

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Hello, dear friends, Meghan here! I know, I know, we’ve been missing for quite some time, but this past month has redefined the meaning of “March Madness” for myself and the lovely Diana.  However, we have returned and I have a great many thoughts on Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies.  

Edit by Diana: Yes, crazy indeed! I now commute two hours each way to work everyday. This leaves time on the way home to read, but not much time to blog or be online (my commute to work is spent napping; I’m on a train, I can do that). So hopefully we’ll settle into a better schedule and you’ll be getting more content from both Meghan and I. We know you’ve missed us, lovely subscribers…oh, wait, that’s right. NO ONE’S SUBSCRIBED TO THE BLOG YET! Seriously people, get off your butts! You want to find out when we post something? To get involved with the reviews? To have a chance at winning this month’s participation prize? Subscribe! We don’t care about numbers, but we DO care about people taking part in these book discussions and knowing is half the battle in that respect.

Oh, and by the by, this month’s participation prize is a copy of Cassie J. Sneider’s Fine Fine Music. Say “pretty please” and I may even get it signed by her 😉

I have to admit, I haven’t read a huge amount of zombie fiction – it only really started to ping on my radar this past year and I haven’t had enough time to really get into the genre yet, although what I have read of the genre has made me insatiable for more.  With that in mind, let me just say that I liked Warm Bodies a great deal.

I was wary, at first, because I’d seen the commercials for the movie and I got the feeling that they’d… tweaked the book a bit so they could make into a zombie Twilight-esque rom-com for the masses.  Which, no.  Ew, no.  I was also relieved it wasn’t as Romeo and Juliet-esque as its marketing had made it out to be, because you guys, I’m sorry if I’m the first one to break this to you, but – Romeo and Juliet were stupid.  Plus, I really hate reading about lovers dying in a giant tragic ending of martyrdom.  (I’m a happy ending kind of girl, which you will learn about me eventually, I am sure.)  There were many small details that made you aware that this was someone taking Romeo and Juliet and turning it on its head, but you could also read it and not feel as though you were constantly reminded of this fact.

Despite my misgivings, once I started the book, I was hooked.  First confession: I have a great deal of affection for books where readers are just dropped right into the story, without a whole chapter of ridiculous back story.  Don’t TELL me what kind of world this story takes place in, who these characters are, what they’ve been up to – SHOW ME.  When it’s done right, you just feel like you’ve sunk into a really comfortable bath.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Either way, it took me about halfway through the first chapter, but I was able to sink right into this world once I got over the cynical half of my brain that was convinced I would hate this book and it would be a horrible waste of my time.

From the first page, readers see this new world through the mind of R, a young man of indeterminate age who also happens to be a zombie – and it’s definitely an interesting perspective.  R can’t remember who he was, where he came from, or anything else about his life before he became a zombie, but R still isn’t exactly your normal zombie.  Sure, he stumbles around groaning with the rest of the zombie herd he lives with at an abandoned airport somewhere in what used to be North America.  However, he also listens to Frank Sinatra on vinyl and wishes he could remember his name.  Although he doesn’t want to, R must eat living not only to keep existing, but also because consuming a living brain is the only time when R gets vivid, effervescent flashes of human emotion and life.  It is on a hunting trip for food (re: brains) that R consumes the brain of a human boy and effectively changes the world as they know it.  (Side note: how much do I wish I could change the world just by eating a burger? A LOT, THAT’S HOW MUCH.)

I really loved R as a character, which I was not expecting.  I loved the way that his quiet mind was so eloquent, but all those words were trapped inside a body that could barely get complete sentences out most of the time.  I loved the way he observed the world around him with such yearning, such aching to feel alive again, and yet such detachment from the actual world.  Perry’s memories were a nice part of the story as well.  The way that they interacted with R’s awakening and his relationship with Julie was well done, I thought.  I liked how they gradually built up from R simply experience parts of Perry’s life to R actually conversing with Perry in this memory/dream-like moments.  It would have been jarring had the audience not been gradually introduced to the idea that Perry was involved somehow in what was going on.  Also, the way Marion described the rest of the zombies and their interactions, hierarchy and routines was both interesting and hilarious.

Marion was actually quite good at that, I thought, weaving together the darkness of this world that crumbled and descended into chaos and zombies and death and then also the funny, whimsical world that hummed inside R’s mind and then with Julie and Nora as well.  One of my favorite images was that of Julie’s house with her father, with its blank, white, lifeless walls – until you arrived at Julie’s room, where you had walls painted every color and covered in stolen Salvador Dalí paintings, flooding the room with enough life to almost make up for the blankness of the rest of the house.  Life and death.  A blank, white void and an explosion of color and personality.  I really liked the juxtaposition.

Seriously, don’t believe the movie trailers.  This is not some ridiculous romantic love story like Twilight except funnier and with zombies.  It’s actually a story that was thoughtful and subtle (until the end, at least), and a love story that deserves NOT to be linked with Twilight for the rest of its life, jeez.  As I hinted at before, the end might be a bit heavy-handed, in my opinion, but I honestly didn’t think it detracted from the quality of the story.

All in all, it probably won’t go down as one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, but I still enjoyed it a great deal and I still definitely recommend checking it out.  It was well-written with excellent pacing and fascinating world-building, I thought.  I found R’s inner thoughts to be the most compelling character of the story, with their combination of vague sadness and wistfulness and yet also a bright curiosity and hope.  Now, onward to find more brains – er, zombie stories – to consume!

PS – Did anybody else imagine Julie Taylor from “Friday Night Lights” the whole way throughout this book? No? Just me? Sigh.  I always see her face now whenever I see anyone named Julie.  Plus, I always get the urge to chant “Clear eyes, full hearts – can’t lose!” at the television whenever there’s a football game on.  Damn you, FNL, for infecting me with any kind of feeling about football!

PPS – Do any of you other lovely readers think the inclusion of Dalí was intentional?

PPPS – Did anyone else picture the show “Revolution” while reading this, and feel a bit bitter over the fact that it isn’t anywhere near as awesome as this book? Seriously, I had such hope when I heard about the premise for that show, and then they took those hopes and crushed them with terrible writing, inconsistent characters, and implausible plot-lines.

Okay, seriously, I’m done with my thoughts now.  What did y’all think?

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Review – Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

A friend posted this article on Facebook today.

Ron Howard in talks to direct Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

I can barely contain my glee. The Graveyard Book! As a movie! Be still my heart.

If you hadn’t realized by now, I’m a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan. OI mean, our first book to review is Good Omens. It even says “Neil Gaiman Enthusiast” on my business card. (Seriously, it does; right next to “World Traveler” and “Librarian Extraordinaire”.)

I felt I should take this time to review The Graveyard Book.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

From Amazon:

It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.

I live in New York and Hurricane Sandy (Superstorm Sandy? Holy-Crap-That’s-A-Lot-of-Wind Sandy?) hit us. We were without power for five days, which suited me fine because I just read by candlelight. As it was dark and the end of October, The Graveyard Book seemed perfect.

The story itself seemed very familiar. A small child, displaced and raised by Others, watched over, episodic… I’m ashamed to say how long it took me to realize that Gaiman had modeled The Graveyard Book on The Jungle Book. That made the story so much richer! I could see all the parallels, and the otherworldly atmosphere of the graveyard was a perfect parallel to the jungle. And the characters! This realization made me love the book even more.

My mother? Didn’t like the book so much. In her own words, “It’s just so fantastical.” Yes, a book about a small child being raised by the denizens of a graveyard is too fantastical for my mother. I believe it needs to be said at this point that my mother rarely reads (don’t ask how it’s possible that a I’m the progeny of a non-reader, I’ve been wondering for years on this point), and when she does she sticks to true crime stories or horribly depressing memoirs. However, I forced her to stick with it and she couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Bod in the end. She was hooked, and loved Gaiman’s descriptive detail once she got used to it.

I’ve contended for years that Neil Gaiman isn’t an author, he’s a storyteller, a bard, a weaver of tales. He transcends “author” and makes the reader part of the story; not in the way of Stephen King, where the reader is written into the story, but in a way where the world in the tale is described so eloquently that it becomes a tangible thing.

In short, you will love this book. I’ll describe it as YA, but it’s rich and vibrant and meaty enough for even the most adult tastes. It’s also very dark, just as Coraline was, but to another level. The opening lines are, after all,

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.”

How’s that for a hook?

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