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

My Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars

I had a lot of trouble rating this one. When I first finished it, I remember being very impressed by the ending so I wanted to rate it really high (4.5 stars). However, I decided to give it a day and let it digest, but now I am conflicted. I like to keep my highest book ratings (my 5’s and 4.5’s) for books that I know will stay with me for awhile and I’m still not sure whether or not this one will. Nonetheless though, this story was really good and I’m really glad I picked it up. Here is what this story is about….

Description

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.

Will this Story Stay With Me?

As for whether or not this story will stay with me… I guess the only way to find out is with the passing of time. In the meantime though, I don’t want that to be a deciding factor over whether or not YOU should pick this one up. I think this is the perfect book to read if you want a terrifying story that will make you genuinely fearful for the main character. I would suggest reading this around Halloween time because I think that would be fun. So please just know that this was a great book and that I highly recommend it.

Overall

I think the biggest thing I got from this book is that there are no limitations in this world! I came to this conclusion from the story and just thinking about how Neil Gaiman’s mind came up with this storyline. Seriously, how in the world?? It kind of makes me wonder if he had some sort of nightmare one night that gave him this idea. I say this because, that’s what this book felt like to me— A nightmare that I might have had as a child (or now too I guess). However, I really shouldn’t have been surprised by this since this is Gaiman’s specialty. This book was whimsical, mystical, terrifying, fairytaleish (not a word), and unique. Man, that’s a lot of adjectives, but honestly I can’t describe the story using less. I have now read his books Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and this one. And I definitely want to read more.

 

The Feelings I Felt While Reading

I felt a combination of fear, hate, trust, and wonder while reading this. The characters seemed really real and I am only realizing now as I sit down to write this review that the main character didn’t even have a name! That is crazy and I feel so stupid for only realizing this now! I suspect that this was done on purpose in order to make it feel as though the reader is experiencing everything personally and it totally worked! I genuinely felt like I could trust Lettie with my life, that the Hempstocks would keep me safe, that the parents couldn’t be confided in, that Ursula would destroy my happiness, and that I should feel guilty for letting go.

Quotes

There were a lot of really great quotes in this story and here are some of my favorites:

  • ” Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one in the whole wide world.” She thought for a moment Then she smiled. “Except for Granny, of course.”
  • “Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”
  • “Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”

 

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Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 Stars

Goodreads Description (shortened version):

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.

Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

Overall

I really enjoyed this book. It was mystical, magical, and enchanting. Basically, this book was right up my alley with things that I enjoy in a book. It made me feel like magic is real and it had quirky/unique characters. I loved Bailey and I thought the idea of the reveurs for the circus was really cool. The reason I couldn’t give this one four stars though is because I think I read it too slowly for all of the details that were needed to be remembered (I was in a reading slump). There were a lot of confusing things in this story, but I am hoping that this was done on purpose. The competition taking place in the circus is supposed to be very unclear to the two main characters (Marco and Celia), therefore, it is very unclear to the audience as well. I don’t have any problem with that though! I think that is what helped make the story so magical, because magic should not be able to be explained. However, the switching between different times and the foreshadowing (especially when some characters knew the future) messed with my mind a bit. I think I might need to read this one again sometime in the future, now that I have a better understanding of it. Maybe then I will have a better experience.

Trusting the Reader to Assume Things

I’ve never thought about this aspect of a book before, but for some reason I thought that this book did a really good job of it. The Night Circus is supposed to be a giant enigma, therefore, if Morgenstern would have had the characters explain everything that they were thinking and talking about, then the story would not have been the same. There were a lot of places in this story where I just had to infer as to what the characters were trying to allude to and I kind of enjoyed that.

Atmosphere of the Story

The atmosphere and the setting of this story is almost incomparable to anything I have read before. The creativity behind what was inside each of the circus tents was so fun to read! I will admit though, that I did lose focus while reading the descriptions of a lot of the magical places and had to go back and reread them. This is because I’m not fond of reading too much into the setting of places in a story. However, I think it says a lot about the book that I did find reading about the circus enjoyable (whenever I was able to focus).

Quotes

There were a lot of quotes in the story that I really liked. Here are a few that I marked…

  • “People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told they see.”
  • “It is too difficult to see a situation for what it is when you are in the middle of it,”Tsukiko says. “It is too familiar. Too comfortable.”
  • “People don’t pay to much attention to anything unless you give them reason to.”
  • “I am haunted by the ghost of my father, I think that should allow me to quote Hamlet as much as I please.”
  • “And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur […]”

Conclusion

I feel like I have been really lucky lately because I can’t think of any bad book that I have recently read. Thankfully The Night Circus didn’t break this streak!

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 Stars

Goodreads Description

     Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

     In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Overall/ Writing Style

     I picked this book up because it looked interesting, it had a lot of hype, and it was an Oprah Book Club pick. I definitely think that this book lived up to the hype and Cora’s journey showed the extreme brutality that African slaves went through in a very clear way. This book has a unique writing style that caught me a little off guard when I first started reading it. It is written in a way that throws the facts right at your face and leaves the emotion out of it. That’s not to say that this story is not incredibly disheartening, but it did seem that Cora didn’t talk about how she felt about the things that happened to her. I think that Colson Whitehead did this on purpose in order to convey a message (maybe he didn’t, but I’d like to think that he did). Cora has been through so much sadness in her life, that the way she thinks is just her analyzing her surroundings and the events that happen to her. It is as though she has been forced to become detached from how she feels about things otherwise it would become too overwhelming.
     I have never read a story such as this before. It is a very unique historical fiction read. I usually enjoy books where I am able to understand how the characters in a book feel, but that just wasn’t how this book was written. That is why I gave it 3.5 stars instead of 4 (It was just a personal preference). However, I am very glad that I did read this book through because I think it showed the story of a slave girl in a light that is important for all people to understand. For that reason, I think anyone who loves historical fiction should pick this one up. I honestly don’t think that this book could have been written any other way and still have had the same effect.

Creativity

     I really enjoyed how the underground railroad was an actual underground railroad and not just a metaphor. I think most kids who learn about this part of history in school initially think that it is something literal (myself included). I watched some interviews of Colson Whitehead talking about his inspiration for writing this story and he mentioned how he had thought the same thing when he was a kid. I think the book had the perfect combination of a child’s view of the underground railroad and the real facts of the hardships that occurred.

Quotes

  • “Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.”
  • “Cora didn’t know what optimistic meant. She asked the other girls that night if they were familiar with the word. None of them had heard it before. She decided that it meant trying.”
  • “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes–believes with all its heart–that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.”

 

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
    I went into this book knowing nothing other than that it was supposed to be a retelling of Russian fairytales and I’m kind of glad that was all I knew. I feel like it’s been too long since I started reading a book that I didn’t know the plot to. That is why I’m going to leave the description at the bottom of this review so that you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. Granted, I had also only heard good reviews on this which ended up giving me a lot of confidence going in.
    I really liked how much I felt like I was in a fairytale as I read this. I was absorbed and at some parts (especially at the end) it got so mystical that it felt like a dream world. Personally, as I began reading this, I kept being reminded of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This was because the main character, Vasya, was looked upon by the villagers as a wild, demon child just like Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. Also, the priest, Konstantin, reminded me of Arthur Dimmesdale because of his overly pious nature and how he was haunted by his great sin. I doubt that Katherine Arden meant for these similarities to be made, but I couldn’t help thinking of them as I read the book (those were about the only comparisons you could make though).

I found these three quotes in the book (towards the end of the story) that I really liked…..

  • “Blood is one thing. The sight is another. But courage– that is the rarest of all, Vasilisa Petrovana.”
  • “Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”
  • “Sleep is cousin to death, Vasya,” he murmured over her head. “And both are mine.”
    One big thing in this story that I found really interesting and frustrating at the same time was the lack of choice that a lot of the characters had. The women basically had two choices in life- join a convent or marry a man that was picked for them. And sometimes they didn’t really have those choices either if their father decided to send them to one place over the other. This lack of choice over the characters’ own destinies was probably historically accurate and definitely carried the story along in an interesting way, but I couldn’t help feeling so bad for their sense of hopelessness no matter if they were a bad person or not. However, reading about Vasya’s defiance throughout the story against doing anything other than being independent and free was really refreshing against the restrictiveness of the time.
    There are many Russian words and references to old Russian tales in this story, but I didn’t find that too confusing because there was a glossary in the back of the book if I got confused. The thing that was a little confusing at first was the fact that each character had a lot of different names because that is how they did things in Russia. What I picked up was that each name used for a person depended on the situation and the relationship between the two people conversing. Near the middle of the story, I actually found this to be quite enjoyable. I loved it when the characters would use “schka” at the end of someone else’s name because it seemed to me that they did this as a way to show caring, love, or concern. Some examples in the book were Vasochka, Alyoschka, Dunyaschka, Maruschka, etc. I thought it was really lovely and I kind of wish that was a thing in my life.

Please read this if you want to read a beautiful fairytale!

Here is a description of the story from Good Reads, but please don’t read it if you want to go in without any knowledge of the plot!

     At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

     After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

     And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

     As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

 

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars

Description

    Americanah is the story of two Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, who fell in love as kids in Nigeria. As they get older, Ifemelu heads to America for college, but Obinze is unable to get a visa to America and forced to live an undocumented life in London. This story follows their lives as they experience the struggles of immigration, racism, and the ability to stay close to their loved ones from far away.

Overall

    I first decided to pick up this book after watching a really good Ted talk by the author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I will link her talk at the very end of this post if you are interested in watching it (you should, it’s very good). Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Beware, it is long, but it is so worth it. In order to write this reivew, I think I am going to talk about the book through three adjectives that I would use to describe it- Honest, Clever, and Empathic.

Honest

     The things that are said throughout this story, can very easily be classified as honest. The story is told through the eyes of Ifemelu and Obinze as they observe the world around them. The observations that these two make throughout the story hold nothing back regarding their new experiences of being black in England and America. This book takes racism and the hardships of being an immigrant and talks about it in a very truthful way. I loved that the book seemed to cover so many different subtopics in regards to race and immigration through all of the different characters that Ifemelu and Obinze interact with. When I say subtopics I mean that it included mental health, interracial relationships, finding a job as an immigrant, growing up as a minority, returning to your home as an immigrant, maintaining your identity, etc. This book was able to go deeply into each of these subtopics without becoming boring because of the honest thoughts that the main characters provided.

Clever

     This book had so many clever lines throughout it! Obinze had good lines, but I got a big kick out of some of the things that Ifemelu would say and think. Ifemelu was a character that had a hard time not saying things that she truly thought and some of the things that came from her were so funny. I especially loved reading her blog posts. A lot of the time, her chapters would end with a blog post that she wrote with her observations on race and her posts were so clever (I could describe her posts using more adjectives, but I think the word “clever” sums them up best). I also really enjoyed reading Ifemelu’s journey of becoming a blogger since I am just starting out my own blog.

Empathic

     I think the best thing about this book is the fact that it evokes so much empathy for the struggles of minorities and immigrants. I definitely found this book eye opening and I hope that I have become a more empathetic person from reading this. The characters seem so real because the things that they go through are things that many real life people have gone through. Chimamanda was born in Nigeria and came to America for college, which lets you know that a lot of her experiences probably translated into this story. I don’t think that I’m going to forget too much of what I read in this story and I hope that it stays with me.

Lastly…

     I know that Chimamanda also has other books such as Purple Hibiscus, The Thing Around Your Neck, Half of a Yellow Sun, We Should All Be Feminists, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Suggestions, etc. I would definitely be interested in picking up another one of her books after reading this one. Most likely, We Should All Be Feminists as I imagine it is a lot like her Ted talk. Also, I think it is a much quicker read than Americanah, which was 588 pages. Overall, Americanah is a book that I think could benefit everyone in some way, shape, or form.
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Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

 

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars
    I think this is the perfect book to start off my new book blog because it is now one of my favorite books of all time. I’m serious…. this book blew me away. I’m not one to go around throwing out praise if a book doesn’t deserve it, but this book definitely does. There are 3 major components that I would like to include in this review and they are character development, plot, and writing style.

Goodreads Book Description

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love. 

1. Character Development 

       In this book, Zafon does a great job of giving a believable backstory to each one of the major characters. Each character has so much detail and depth to them. He does this so well, that you truly feel as if you are reading about real live people. He also does a good job of making you despise the characters that you should and fall in love with the characters that you should. There is one character, Fermin, that quickly became my favorite because he made me laugh, but at the same time had such a hard back story and a really beautiful heart.

2. Plot

       The plot of this story was so unique and like nothing I have ever read before. It was so detailed that I had no doubt Zafon knew everything about the stories he was creating. The mystery in this story kept me on the edge of my seat and I didn’t want to put it down (even though I was forced to participate in real life). Towards the middle of the story, it slows down a little and I can see how it could become a bit hard to continue for some people, but the information that we learn is essential to the plot of the story. Nevertheless, there are so many twists and turns in the story that leave you questioning everything you had previously thought was the answer until you are left thinking “who can I trust?….. Apparently nobody”. This story made my heart race.

3. Writing Style

          Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing style is why I am going to make it my mission to read more of his books. I don’t know what it is, but the way he crafts sentences makes you feel like you are listening to music. The writing in this story was so beautiful and wonderful. Here are some examples so that you understand what I’m talking about…..
  • “…few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think have left behind, accopmpany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory …”
  • “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens”
  • “Fools talk, cowards are silent, wise men listen”

Overall

      Overall, I think this book would appeal to anyone who loves books, mystery, suspense, love, and thrill. This is the type of book that I have always wanted, but never knew was out there.