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Tag Archives: fantasy

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

As I wrote previously in my post about my summer reading list, I obtained The Ocean at the End of the Lane knowing absolutely nothing about the novel and only that the author was highly recommended to me.  Upon finishing the novel, I’m still not entirely sure what it’s all about – only because it is so imaginatively written that it is extremely difficult to put cleanly into one genre or the other.  The best way I can describe it is like a Percy Jackson book for adults.  It is much darker than Riordan’s series, but follows the same vein of the mix between real world and what else might be out there – be it magic, mythology, or some other element.

The story begins when man returns to his hometown in England for a funeral.  He drives aimlessly, and arrives at a house he vaguely remembers having a playmate at as a child.  On impulse, he stops in, and finds who he believes to be the girls mother still living there.  He remembers the girl, Letty Hempstock, talking about an ocean on the property, which could have only been a pond.  The protagonist asks Mrs. Hempstock if he can walk to see the pond, and upon doing so, a flood of memories of his interactions with the family and their ties to things beyond our known world rush back to him.

When he was 7, his parents began renting out his room to boarders to make ends meet.  The first boarder stole his father’s car, drove it down the lane to near where the Hempstock farm was, and killed himself in it.  Shortly after, strange things begin happening, which according to 11 year old Letty Hempstock, the protganist/narrator’s friend, all has to do with some other worldly beings her grandmother refers to as “fleas”.  She takes our narrator with her to take care of said flea once and for all, but things don’t go exactly according to plan.  The next thing our narrator knows, the flea has taken human form as a nanny in his house and is controlling everything.  The protagonist knows she’s evil, but can’t get rid of her – no one will believe how awful she is, and she can read his thoughts and appear anywhere on the property in a moment’s notice when he tries to escape.  All seems hopeless, but it gets worse still.  There is a hierarchy of magic beings, and when “fleas” like Ursula the nanny get loose in the world they aren’t supposed to be in, they attract more powerful and terrifying things to come and feast on them – putting everyone in danger.

This was a fantasy book unlike any I’ve read before, and I did enjoy it.  I read the whole thing in a night, mostly because it was too frightening to put down before resolution had been attained.  If you enjoy fantasy, mythology, or a good scare, you’ll enjoy this book.  Also interesting and different, the pages are illustrated, which is something I don’t usually see in adult books but really enjoyed.  If you need something truly unique to break you out of a reading rut, I recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane... and I give it 3.5 stars! ★★★1/2

– Becca

 

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

It’s been awhile since I read a fantasy novel, so I decided to try George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, since I’ve heard so much about it.  (I read the first book, not the whole series.)  I am not entirely sure what I think of this book.  It certainly is well-written, with plenty of plot twists.  It is not like the fantasy books I am used to reading.  The plot centers around political intrigue for the most part.  It’s an interesting concept for a fantasy novel, but I did miss the more adventurous storylines that I am used to.

There were a lot of characters in this novel.  They are all well-drawn, but many if not most are unlikeable.  This does make sense, given the type of story.  Many of the characters are political enemies of the protagonists, and even some of their allies are ruthless and power hungry.  Quite a few of the characters are children or teenagers, which made some of the violent events in the book especially hard to stomach.  I also had to repeatedly remind myself that some of the characters I found annoying were still very young.  (I might have hated Sansa for most of the book, but an annoying, bratty twelve-year-old is after all a realistic character.  And I have a feeling she’ll grow out of it-it looked like the series was headed in that direction.)

The thing about this book that interested me the most was a minor plotline that I could tell will be more important later.  As the main characters are bickering over thrones and power in the kingdom, threats are building outside of it.  The reader realizes, as most of the characters do not, that the kingdom will soon be under attack by people (and perhaps magical beings) who do not care about political alliances within the kingdom.  This is what I keep wondering: when winter comes and the northern border is not sufficiently protected, will these characters be able to work together to save themselves?

It’s hard to think of who I would recommend this book to.  Given its popularity, it seems like readers who like fantasy series have probably already read it.  All I can say is, if you enjoy the TV show and haven’t read the books, give them a try!  (But I’m always saying things like that….)  I would just warn any readers who are sensitive to violence, especially violence towards children, to proceed with caution.  This book could upset you, although I will say that the violence was not gratuitous-it moved the plot forward.  If you are an adult reader looking for a good fantasy series, this one is something out of the ordinary.

I give this book three stars.  I’m still not sure if it’s “my kind of book,” but I am interested enough to give the second book in the series a try.  ★★★

-Elizabeth

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordin

Since I work with kids, I like to try to read a few of the books they are reading.  One series that is very popular (I taught a 4th grade class where every kid but one had read at least the first book) is the Percy Jackson books.  I recently read the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief.

Percy Jackson is a kid that has a lot of trouble at school.  He is usually in trouble, and he changes schools every year.  But this year has been different.  He finally makes a friend, finds a teacher that believes in him, and starts learning about Ancient Greece and Rome.  Then, he starts to have run-ins with monsters, one of which used to be his Algebra teacher…

When Percy’s mother and his new friend Grover find out what is going on, they insist that Percy go to a summer camp where he will be safe.  But Camp Halfblood is no ordinary summer camp.  Percy soon learns that it is a special camp for half human children born to the Greek gods, which means that Percy’s father must be a god as well.

One of the fun things about reading this book as an adult is that the mythological characters are probably familiar from high school or college English classes.  As a result, you might find that you recognize certain characters (especially the villains) before Percy and his friends do.

I enjoyed reading this book.  Although the target audience is children, it is an imaginative book that adults can enjoy.  It’s easy to see why so many kids are fans of the series.  I would give this book four stars, and I’m considering reading the next book in the series sometime.  ★★★★

-Elizabeth

Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Hello again, everyone, and happy (almost) Mardi Gras!  In honor of that festive holiday, I’d like to share a review of a very nonsensical book.

My book club’s theme for this year is “seventh grade reading list.”  We took a real 7th grade core literature reading list, voted for our favorites, and the twelve books on the list that received the most votes are our books for the year.  For January, we all read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and we had a tea party at our monthly meeting.

This was not the first time I had read Alice in Wonderland, but I find that I like it better each time I read it.  To be honest, I think the first time I read it I was thrown off by the lack of a plot arc.  The book is very episodic, so much so that many of the chapters could almost stand alone as short stories.  I was also surprised to find how different it was from the Disney movie I had grown up with.  (Actually, several parts of the movie are taken from Alice through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland.)  The lack of a plot arc was quite intentional on Carroll’s part; the lack of structure also reflects the nonsensical nature of the book.

The thing I enjoy the most about this book is Carroll’s talent for playing with words.  From poetry to puns, his playful use of language is, in my opinion, what makes this book stand out.  It’s a classic for a reason, and I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone.  I give it four and a half stars, because it is still so enjoyable after three readings. ★★★★1/2

Some scones

Some scones

I want to conclude by recommending tea parties as a great theme or activity for book club meetings.  Alice in Wonderland is just one of many novels that lends itself to this theme.  And while a tea party may sound fancy, it can be as simple or as elaborate as you like.  You can pick up pastries from a store or bakery (scones are my favorite) and mugs with tea bags (or even hot chocolate) work just fine if you don’t have a tea set.  Or go all out with tea sandwiches, little cakes, and other finger foods-whatever you prefer!

-Elizabeth

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

After reading travel memoirs over the summer, my book club decided to go with something completely different.  We decided on a classic young adult fantasy novel, The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin.  This book is a classic that I seem to have missed, so I was happy to give it a try.

The main character of the book is Ged, a young wizard.  He grows up in a rural area, where people gradually realize that he is a very talented wizard.  After a few adventures, he is sent to a wizarding school.  While showing off to his classmates, Ged accidentally summons a shadow from another world.  At first, he is forced to leave school to run from the shadow and travels to a variety of places in the process.  Eventually, he takes on a quest to find and defeat the shadow.

The plot of this book may not sound overly original, but keep in mind it was published in 1968.  At that time, fantasy novels with a young protagonist were much rarer.  The non-violent plot-line was also unusual-while a quest is an extremely common plot-line, most fantasy novels that Le Guin’s original readers would have been familiar with featured battles and wars.  The Wizard of Earthsea was very different because of its smaller scope.

In other words, this book is a classic for a reason.  If you are a fan of fantasy or are interested in the history of that genre, don’t miss it.  This book was a turning point.  There is a reason it is so often taught in schools.  However, if you are just looking for a good fantasy novel to read, this would not be my first suggestion.  The genre has continued to develop, and while other books may not be able to claim to be the first of their kind, they may also contain better stories.  For one thing, the female characters in this book are pretty one-dimensional, and many modern readers have come to expect strong female characters (as well they should!)  After all, fantasies with characters that young people can relate to aren’t hard to find anymore.  I will give this book three stars, because while I appreciate that it took a genre in a different and very positive direction, I am aware of a lot of other books that are simply more fun to read.

★★★

-Elizabeth