Hi! I'm Jo, a college student reading my way through various books. I particularly enjoy YA, fantasy, and horror, but I'm also beginning to delve into sci-fi, paranormal, and other genres.
If I could recommend one book to read this summer, this year even, it would be The Ocean at the End of the Lane for its beautiful, clean prose and the depth of the story behind it.
Although slow going at first, the novel quickly picks up. Gaiman masterfully teases out childhood fears and brings them to the forefront of the story, making the reader shiver and wince by alternate degrees. There is a dreamlike quality to the fears expressed by the narrator and how they manifest. As someone who is fairly unshakeable when it comes to horror in fiction, I was surprised by how much Ursula frightened me as a person, as opposed to her more fantastical form. Lettie Hempstock, her mother, and grandmother are wonderful characters and are probably the biggest reason why I was drawn into the novel. I loved the suggestions of the old country that they came from and of the powers that they carried with them. I know that some of the gripes have been that the magic isn't described in more depth, but I actually found that there was a perfect amount of mystery surrounding them that didn't need to be explained away. The ending was surprisingly gentle and wrapped up just enough to be satisfying without explaining away any of the magic in the earlier chapters.
There's so much I could say about this book, but at the end of the day, all I can really do is recommend it wholeheartedly. It's one of Gaiman's shorter reads, and although different from his other works, still carries his voice and unique perspective on fantasy. This is worth buying, as you will want to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane over and over again.
Half-Sick of Shadows is one of those books that left me unsure of whether I had actually enjoyed reading it or not. After having read Apocalypse Cow by the other Terry Pratchett winner, Michael Logan, I wasn't sure what to expect - only that it would be, at the very least, whimsical, and in that sense, the book does deliver.
The first half of the novel is fascinating and beautifully framed. The descriptions of the Manse and its cemetery, interspersed with Edward's commentary on family life keeps the pages turning. I love the references to Tennyson. Daily life just touches the edges of the strange and fantastical, without actually delving too closely into it. Logan is very good at subtly pushing the reader towards the truth behind Edward's childish conclusions about his family, and this is by far the best, and most well thought out part of the novel.
However, it takes an unexpected downturn in the second half. Edward becomes a selfish, strange character that fails to intrigue and engage the reader. The other characters equally become lacklustre and disturbing without actually contributing to the plot. In particular, Sophia's promise is far too flimsy an excuse to keep her inside the Manse permanently, and although Logan hints at other factors, the promise, quite frankly, doesn't hold up. Although the action increases dramatically, especially towards the end, it feels meaningless and unnecessary, with no satisfying conclusion to any of it. I'm not sure what Logan was trying to achieve with the multiple deaths towards the end of the novel. As other reviewers have noted, it seems like he had run out of time to think about it. When reading, there's no time to process the deaths, and so they become trivial when I feel like I should be getting more out of the carnage. Equally, Edward's decision to run off with Alf comes out of absolutely nowhere and leaves the other characters without conclusion. The only saving grace of the novel's half-baked ending is the writing itself, which will keep you reading if nothing else.
Overall, while the premise and first half are excellent and compelling, the story feels unfocused, as if Logan couldn't decide whether to choose between the Manse or Edward and his achievements. The wonderful questions brought up at the beginning of the novel lack follow-through and the ending is unsatisfying. Alf, who is supposed to be one of the biggest focuses of the novel, becomes part of the problem, as Logan fails to develop him, or the world that he exists in. Still, it's definitely worth a read, as the story can be fascinating and engaging when given space to breathe. Borrow it from the library if you're uncertain.
Another side note: I'm not sure why it's being sold as a time travel adventure. Half-Sick of Shadows has very little to do with time travel and is more about the exploration of innocence and its loss, the origins of creativity, and family dynamics.
The Way of Shadows is one of those novels that could leave you giddy from turning page after page. It certainly did for me. Azoth/ Kylar was an interesting character who developed nicely over the course of the book, and some of the plot twists were wonderful. I loved watching the characters grow up and fight each other and fall in love. There was something really appealing about Azoth's vulnerability in the beginning of the novel and the shocking events that followed. I also enjoyed Logan's side story especially where he manages to be brave and snappy while trapped and gloriously naked .
However, there were several important aspects of The Way of Shadows that made me less enamoured with the novel, particularly to do with the ending. Although I enjoyed some of the revelations, the ending is an enormous info-dump of 'plot twists'. Momma K, Durzo Blint, and Kylar - pretty much everyone except Roth/Rat - are redeemed for whatever misdeeds they've carried out. Nobody is really a villain apart from the obvious Roth. Part of me would have liked to see a little more flaw in the characters, since all of their apparent faults are revealed at the end as misinterpretations for attempts at doing good. Furthermore, Durzo Blint and Momma K are in sweet, tragic love with a child between them - something that made the ending sickly sweet.
The other problem I had with the novel was that the world is so large and confusing that although I got some of the details correct, I didn't care about certain people, or understand their motivations. There was a whole subplot that just blew straight past me because of all of the unfamiliar jargon. And while a lot of the writing was strong, there are some clumsy moments during exposition that pulled me out of the story.
One last issue that I had was Elene, or Doll Girl - beautiful, pure, and kind of dull. As a character, she doesn't develop particularly, and doesn't seem to be anything more for the story than a carrot to dangle on a stick in front of Kylar to propel him forward during times of crisis. I would have liked to see her take more initiative, and to have more a personality.
Overall, however, I did enjoy the book. Although sometimes I wanted to put the book down, most of the time it was a fun read that kept me going into the early hours of the night. I would still recommend this book as a 3.5, rather than a solid 3. If you can get past the stock female damsel character and occasionally cliched plot, the story gives you a pretty good run for its money. I consider it worth the buy, but if you're hesitant, it's definitely worth a borrow from the library.
The Night Circus is about two magicians, who, locked in an ancient contest of unknown standards, place their two assistants into their own magical contest - and the formation of the Night Circus. The catch? Neither assistant knows who they're up against, the stakes or even how a winner is determined. As the displays become increasingly incredible, the Night Circus - and everyone in it - are tied up in the fate of the winner.
This book is just beautifully written. The descriptions of the circus are what had me at the beginning; lush, vivid writing that lets you hold the scene in your mind's eye with ease. The phrase "lost in a good book" comes to mind.
On top of that, the character dynamics are fascinating. While at times it is difficult to follow all of the different story lines, overall, all of the characters have individual stories that are intriguing on an individual level and eventually come to impact the novel as it progresses. Celia and Marcus, the two assistants, are brilliantly written. There is a quiet power within Celia that I particularly admire, whereas Marcus' studious and artistic nature is a perfect complement to the circus.
In dystopian Chicago, sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior has one day left to choose which of the five factions she will dedicate the rest of her life to: Candor (the honest), Erudite (the knowing), Amity (the peaceful), Abnegation (the selfless) and Dauntless (the brave). However, when her choice splits her from her parents, she is torn between who she was, and who she has chosen to be. She must also fight for a place in initiation because she'd rather be dead than become one of the ostracised factionless. And while she cannot trust her friends, who all seek to gain limited places in their new faction, she relies on Four, her coach, while suppressing newfound feelings for him. But Beatrice is more than she appears, and her unique position gives her a shock when it allows her to see the corruption beneath the apparent harmony of the factions.
When I finished this book, I felt exhilarated. This book is all about choices, whether right or wrong, and Beatrice makes some very difficult ones throughout the novel. What I liked about this was that there were consequences, some of which were quite condemning. I particularly loved Beatrice, who is tough, but still willing to display kindness to those around her. What's really good is that SHE IS THE SAVIOUR - she doesn't need a man to save her. In a genre where girls are pretty much helpless, it's satisfying to see some girls toughen up and become strong protagonists.
I was also happy with the world building aspect of it; I could easily believe in Roth's vision of a dystopian Chicago (although I've never been there) and I really enjoyed aspects like the train jumping. Most of her characters are well developed and evolve throughout the novel.
The only real issue I had with the plot was the larger conflict at stake, which I felt did not have enough motivation behind it (or, if so, was not explained to an extent where I could understand the resulting actions). I also felt that in the climax, some of the more minor characters just went along with it. Sort of like, "The world's ending? Okay, let's go have tea!" Panic, funnily enough, wasn't exactly on their minds. But these were all relatively minor complaints, and you know what they say about opinions being subjective and all that...
Ultimately, the characters were interesting and gripping, which made up for any flaws that I'd perceived, and forced me to read onwards! AND TO THE SEQUEL (which will not be out for a while).