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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10 Reasons Why I Started This Book Blog

   So apparently it is National Book Lovers Day! I didn’t even know that was a thing, but since it is, I thought it would be fun to do a post in honor of it. I just recently started this book blog and I can’t believe I didn’t start doing this earlier (it is so fun). Here are some of my reasonings for why I decided to take the plunge and join the book loving community on the internet….

  1. I have been watching booktube, reading book blogs, and following bookstagrams for probably 3 years now and I figured that I might as well join in
  2.  I thought that it would be nice to get to know other people who post about books and love them just as much as me!
  3. I wanted to be able to share my book recommendations, so that I could help other people find something good to read. I found a lot of my favorite books from the people that I follow and that really inspired me to do the same
  4. I wanted a place where I could write book reviews/share my thoughts and hear other people’s opinions
  5. I find it really fun to take pictures of books…. this could be weird to some people, but I’m glad it’s not weird in the book blog world
  6. This blog encourages me to write more
  7. This blog encourages me to read more
  8. I like the fact that I am able to be creative with the things I post
  9. I wanted to challenge myself to learn new things about blogging and think critically about what I’m reading
  10. I still can’t get over the excitement of having other people read what I write. So if you are reading this post, please know that you have made my day:)

Are any of these reasons why you started your blog? If not, what were your reasonings? Let me know in the comments!

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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!

Beautiful, Wordless Music for Reading and Studying

    If you are anything like me, then you find it hard to concentrate on things such as reading or studying when you are listening to music with words in it. I don’t always have music on in the background when I read or study, but sometimes I think it makes things more exciting. Here is some of my favorite music for when I want to listen to something and not get distracted.

 


Lindsey Stirling

    I first saw Lindsey when she was on America’s Got Talent and I have loved her music ever since. This girl is crazy talented. She plays the violin and dances at the same time. I love so many of her songs and I think you should definitely check her out!

Here are some links to Youtube videos of her playing the violin:

Lindsey-Stirling-Lindsey-Stirling-Album-Art_20130109_102328-1024x1024

The Piano Guys

    These two guys (one is a pianist and the other is a cellist) are fun to listen to because they play a lot of popular music with just their instruments. They also have really cool youtube videos of their covers.

Here are links to Youtube videos of their covers:

Paradise (African version) by Coldplay  (This one has words, but I can’t understand them so they aren’t distracting to me)
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Ludovico Einaudi

    Ludovico is a talented pianist who I found a long time ago. I haven’t listened to all of his work, but that is because I have a lot of my favorite songs of his on repeat (that’s how I usually do things haha). He is one of my favorites (his songs are amazing). I would really recommend listening to them!

These are three of my favorite songs of his:

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Helen Jane Long

    Helen plays the piano and I only just recently found her music. I think I had heard some of her songs before I knew who she was (they seemed very familiar). I haven’t listened to too much of her music yet, but I really like what I have heard so far!

Here are some Youtube videos of her songs:

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Mozart in the Jungle Soundtrack

    I have also started watching the show Mozart in the Jungle and I am really liking it. I think it is just so hilarious and addicting. Since the show is about the New York Symphony, it is not surprising that it features a lot of really good music. I have found myself playing the soundtrack from time to time and I would definitely recommend listening to it as well as watching the show!

Here are some songs off the soundtrack:

Lisztomania  (This is the show’s intro music)
Veridis Quo by Daft Punk  (Not really classical, but it was played on the show an
mozart-in-the-jungle

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.

 

Tricks to Come Up With Writing Topics

      I definitely love to read (hence the book blog), but sometimes it can be fun to write about my own made up stories as well. I think writing is good for everyone and making it a habit can be fun and good practice for yourself. However, it can be hard if you don’t have anything to write about. I find that I’m more likely to write frequently if I have options about what I want to write about. When I have options, I enjoy writing short little stories that go off in all sorts of directions. These short stories sometimes aren’t even more than a page long, don’t have a conclusive beginning or ending, and contain many grammar mistakes that I don’t bother to fix. However, that’s okay because the important thing is that I’m getting something down on paper.  
    I personally find that the hardest part about sitting down and taking some time to write, is figuring out what the first sentence should be. If you don’t have even a vague idea about what you want to write, then how are you going to write a first sentence? If you have ever felt the same way and want to practice writing more frequently, here are some tricks to use to come up with topics….

1. Pick a random sentence from a book and make that your first line

   This is the one that I find myself using most often. Just turn to a random page in a random book, point at a sentence, and create a story from there. Depending on your sentence, you’ll probably need a lot of imagination to get your story going, but I think just having a first sentence makes it a lot easier to begin.

2. Find a stranger and write their story

    If you’re out in public, write a description about someone that you see and and use that as your first sentence. Then, continue to write a story about them.

3. Pick a location that you know well and use it’s description as a first sentence

    This one can work really well if you like coming up with ideas based on where a story takes place. If you are the type of person who can come up with settings easier than characters, then this one is for you

4. Use a line you heard as your first sentence

    This one is similar to picking a line from a book, except now you are using a line you heard someone say, you heard on the news, you heard in a song, etc.

5. Describe an object that you see and write its story

    You could write about where the object came from, how it ended up where it is now, what its past owner was like, etc.

 


     Once you have your first sentence/topic to write about, you can just write freely for as long as you’d like. Try not to worry about grammar or whether your story is possible. It is best if you just rapid fire write whatever comes to your head. Your best ideas can sometimes come when you aren’t worrying too much about it. I like to call this “word vomit” even though that is a less than satisfying phrase. Nonetheless, whatever you end up doing, I hope it works for you and I hope that these tricks will give you motivation to have fun writing more frequently!