The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Published: 18th June 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 William Morrow Books
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

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. 

I read this when it first came out and I bought the beautiful hardcover that Gaiman signed and devoured it in one sitting. This is where Neil Gaiman shines: writing dark, mysterious stories that are like a new breed of fairytale and yet they are still so real as well. I loved this book, it was mysterious, dark, funny, obscure, strange, all these things in this one little book.

I loved the structure of the story too, it’s framed in a way that makes you think you’ll get answers, but you don’t, not really. Not that this takes away from the beautiful storytelling. You never find out who the funeral is for, thought I think either we’re either not supposed to know because it is either irrelevant or it is obvious. You can certainly find your own answers based on a few snippets here and there but nothing concrete. This open ending only adds to the mystical nature of the story and though answers would be nice, they are by no means necessary.

What I like about child protagonists is that so little phases them usually, but they do get scared and they get scared excellently. So while little George seems to accept the Hempstock family and all their strangeness quite well, monsters and mysterious women unsettle him, and the way Gaiman expresses this fear was wonderfully done. It is an odd thing to like in a book, child fear, but this book is so much about what it means to be a child and Gaiman captures it beautifully and with a touch of magic.

You get caught up in the story that you kind of forget it is bookended, it is only a memory, a very vivid memory, and it is rather wonderful how Gaiman has connected everything together. Nothing is completely solved, but you understand that things will be ok at the same time. It is quite strange and certainly not the kind of story that would be enjoyed by everyone, but I certainly thought it was excellent and I loved this peculiar journey Gaiman took me on.

You can purchase The Ocean at the End of the Lane via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Published: June 29th 2000 (print)/1st April, 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harcourt, Inc. /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 93/1 hours 59 minutes
Narrator: Humphrey Bower
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

It’s time for another installment of ‘This Classic Was Underwhelming, Why Do People Rave About It?’ I’ve given it a four but that is because it started out as a sweet story and I was open and willing to explore the universe with this little prince. I enjoyed the strange planets and the different people, and it was cute to follow the prince around the universe. Then it becomes heavy handed and weird. I was intrigued having never really heard about the plot, just that it was filled with inspirational quotes and filled with the allegory about life. I didn’t hate it, I was just underwhelmed.

I understood what de Saint-Exupéry was trying to do, but it didn’t grab me. I was interested in his approach and I managed to enjoy the story, but I got to the end and went ‘ok?’. So obviously I missed the grand impact that he was after. It’s not that I didn’t get it, I understand the big meaning of life that was being expressed but I didn’t care. The last part of the story ruined the magic of the first part, even though I know they were trying to tell the same story.

I’m glad I went with the audiobook because I think I might have disliked it more if I read it. Bower does a great job telling the story and even though I missed out on the pictures, it didn’t really impact on the story too much. Perhaps I wasn’t connected enough to the prince given his journey. Without that emotional attachment perhaps the impact of it was lost on me. At least I can say I’ve read it now.

You can purchase The Little Prince via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond QBD

 

Dorothy Must Die (#1) by Danielle Paige

Published: 1st April 2014 (print)/1st April 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 452/14 hours 12 minutes)
Narrator:  Devon Sorvari
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a yellow brick road – but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

I’ve been trained to fight.

I have finally gotten around to reading this book and it is brilliant! This isn’t quite a reimagining of a classic, what it is instead is a look at what happened after the story has finished and the original narrative comes to a close.

There is so much to love about this story. I think Paige has been very clever in playing with the known story of Dorothy and Oz and she has transformed it into a new story in its own right while still connecting to its origins. It is dark and funny and fascinating to read about just how far Oz has fallen since we last saw it and what happened to the golden girl who saved a world.

Set in the present day we are introduced to Amy Gumm, a girl who lives in Kansas in less than ideal circumstances with her neglectful mother. When a hurricane hit their trailer, Amy is transported to Oz where you soon discover things are not quite right. Originally you think this is a simple reference to how Dorothy first got to Oz, but as the story goes on you learn it may not have been entirely an accident which adds more questions and theories to a story already filled with them.

I enjoyed Amy’s character, she knows the story she has entered into but she doesn’t know it inside out, she also doesn’t fall into the frustrating trap of accepting her surroundings instantly where after a day or two gets the hang of things. Paige retains the part where Amy is out of her comfort zone, and while she is adaptable, at times she also defies rules and logic to do what she things is right based on her real world knowledge.

There are some repetitions and some moments where Amy’s character frustrates you, but these moments are few and for the most part not too disruptive. I enjoyed her exploration of the world and how we’re never sure who we are meant to trust. Everyone has their own motives and with Amy a newcomer, she has often no choice to trust who she can or trust no one.

The pace is gradual but the story moves along with ease. Paige doesn’t jump time unnecessarily and each day plays out but never feels drawn out or boring. No part of this book felt boring; the surprises are unexpected and there are numerous mysteries to keep your mind turning over. I loved how twists came from nowhere and I never found myself predicting things, or if I did I was so far off base it didn’t count.

I loved the contrasts between the characters we know and love and what they have all become in Dorothy’s new Oz, and I love the exploration of the surrounding Oz area and the new characters we interact with. This is one reason to drive you into the rest of the series because I need answers about how this happened and what happened to end up with the world we’re introduced to. If you have been thinking about reading this book I promise it will be worthwhile, and if you love classic stories getting reimagined then this story is for you.

You can purchase Dorothy Must Die via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | QBD

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Published: October 1st 1998 (print) / 1 May 2017 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Perennial / Bolinda / BBC audio
Pages: 248 / 2 hours 32 minutes
Narrator: Eleanor Bron
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

I had watched the movie years before I even knew it was a book, and was glad enough time had passed that I didn’t remember it so I couldn’t compare the two. I listened to this as an audiobook too which was actually a full-cast dramatization from the BBC. That made it a really great experience, aside from the fact they get a bit too detailed and you have to listen to people talk while they’re eating and drinking which for me was super uncomfortable to listen to. The cast did a great job telling the story. It had great voice casting as well as accompanying soundtrack and sound effects. It was a little something extra than a normal audiobook experience.

One thing I found really interesting about this is that it felt like a short story, even though it was a full novel. The whole book had this duel sense to it, it had a simple premise but it felt full whilst reading it, and it felt substantial even when it wasn’t an overly busy plot.

Tristran is naïve in a way, he is in love which makes him idealistic. He doesn’t pick up on cues from Victoria about her lesser interest in him and he is determined to win her heart. On his quest to find the fallen star we see his good nature shine, and we become involved with his story and worry for his safety because there is no telling where this story might go. The unexpected and the cruel happen much like any fairytale story, but there is still a sense of good shining through.

The thing I love about magic is how the rules can be interpreted and how the regular rules of the universe don’t work. I loved the way Gaiman told this story, I loved how magic is used and how the rules of the magical world play out in the human one in different ways. There are twists and turns and for a simple find and recover story, there are intricate subplots happening that intertwine and connect, even when you don’t realise it. This is where Gaiman is good at his storytelling, creating a story that captivates you and pulls you in, without making it needlessly complicated or grand, yet still providing substance and beauty.

One thing which I both enjoyed and was a bit struck by, was the ending. It is great certainly, but it does end rather abruptly. You get a satisfactory ending for the story that’s told, but I feel like more could have been said just to round off the edges better instead of cutting it so sharply. But that may be the way of the fairy tale Gaiman was trying to tell.

When I finished I did sit down with the intention to rewatch the movie, but from the first instance I saw the differences I turned it off. Even if it was a decent adaptation, one of the things I loved most about the book was changed in the movie and I chose to preserve that memory instead. The way Gaiman uses magic was some of the best parts and when that didn’t translate I chose to not continue, though I’m sure it was a decent movie, it was more a personal choice than that it was a poor adaptation.

You can purchase Stardust via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | QBD

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Fishpond | Wordery | Angus & Robertson

Chasing Odysseus (#1) by S. D. Gentill

Published: 1st March 2011 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pantera Press
Pages: 353
Format: ebook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Weak-eyed Hero is the beloved daughter of Agelaus, a Herdsman of Mount Ida, which looms over the fortified citadel of Troy. Hero, raised under the gentle hand of her father, in the protective company of her three wild, but noble, brothers, is ruled by a fierce piety, and tormented by her Amazon heritage. 

The Herdsmen of Ida hold a sacred trust. Throughout a 10-year Greek siege, they have been feeding the citizens of Troy using the secret tunnels that run beneath the fortress walls. Faithful and fearless, they traverse the ancient passages that only they know. Now Troy has fallen, and despite having led the survivors out of the carnage, the Herdsmen are falsely accused of betrayal. 

Agelaus is murdered by the anguished Trojans. The Herdsmen find themselves hated and hunted by both the Greeks and their friends, the people of Troy. They are forced into hiding, labelled cowards and traitors. Desperate to free their people from the stigma of treachery, young Hero and her brothers accept a magical ship from Pan, their beloved woodland god. They chase after Odysseus, the strategist of those who laid siege to Troy. Only he can explain how the Greeks entered the city, and in doing so cleanse the Herdsmen of the stain of treachery. 

I have wanted to read this book for ages and totally forgot I’d gotten a copy from NetGalley (bad reviewer!). What I found though when I did start reading it, was that it was quite underwhelming. I had been so intrigued by this book for ages and heard good things that I genuinely thought I would enjoy this more than I actually did. I like Greek mythology and I like The Odyssey but while this had familiar characters and references, it did not hold my interest. I found myself skimming just to get through faster.

The story begins up in the mountains that overlook Troy with the herdsman Agelaus and his four children; Hero and her three brothers, Machaon, Cadmus and Lychon. We are introduced to their lives as the Trojan War enters its tenth year and we’re shown what life has been like for those outside the city. We learn early on of Hero’s heritage as an Amazon and how she was rejected by them and left with Agelaus because of her poor eyesight and she is adopted into his family.

The main story kicks off with the fall of Troy and Agelaus is accused of being a traitor who helped the Greeks raiders get into the city. This of course sparks outrage and backlash and it falls on Hero and her brothers to clear the name of her father and discover how the Greeks breached the walls of Troy. This of course means chasing after Odysseus in an effort for him to reveal how he got into the city.

The premise of the story seems intriguing enough, but it is the characters that I feel let it down. I didn’t like Hero as a character. I kept waiting for her Amazonian heritage to come into play and have her be some mighty force, even with her poor eyesight. Instead she is subdued and focuses more on praying to the gods than doing much in terms of helping. Her brothers constantly mock her for her devotion to the gods, and I will say I did like the reminder that just like the present day, not everyone believed in the gods. Her brothers aren’t that interesting either. They all kind of mixed into one another and I didn’t feel connected to them at all.

As for the story, I was intrigued by the premise but it just seemed so strange and mediocre. Gentill does well to reference the original story of The Odyssey, following Odysseus after he ransacks Troy and all the places he visits, but aside from that familiarity I wasn’t that interested. Nothing seems to happen, following after Odysseus isn’t very captivating and even though Gentill tries to add danger and suspense, my lack of interest in the characters didn’t make me concerned for their safety or success and following an already established story didn’t add any real mystery as to what might happen next, probably not in the way Gentill expected it to.

There are heartfelt moments and sad moments which tries to give depth to the narrative, but not executed well enough to feel substantial in my opinion. This is only the first book in a trilogy so it is highly possible all the characters will get some kind of development and growth as the story progresses. The only problem with that though is my interest hasn’t been piqued enough in this book to want to keep going with the series.

You can purchase Chasing Odysseus via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Fishpond

QBD | Angus & Robinson

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries