Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Book: The Hazel Wood – Author: Melissa Albert

Genre: YA, Mystery, Fairy Tales

Description from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

My Review:

Where to begin!?! This book was amazing. I absolutely love innovative fairy tale books; ones that create their own fairy tale world and then force “regular” people to interact with them. This author imagined several completely new tales and managed to integrate them into the world in a way that was entirely believable.

As to the characters…I will admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Alice, the main character, at first. Kind of cranky and stand-offish, she took some getting used to. Though, her personality does end up getting completely explained and, by the end of the book, I was totally rooting for her.

On the other hand, I completely adored Ellery, Alice’s somewhat unwanted sidekick, from the get-go. I think it’s because he reminded me so much of myself. Completely smitten with a fictional world and rather awkward in this one, Ellery is determined to find a way into the Hazel Wood and escape the drudgery that is his “real life”.

And the stories…sigh. How I loved the stories. Jam packed with devastation, just like the much-loved original Grimm tales. The villains are horrific beings from long ago, the type that would rather eat you than help you. No “fairy godmother” in this book…or well, not a nice one anyway. There was real danger in this novel. It gripped me tight and didn’t let me go until it reached its conclusion.

I highly recommend this book for people who love old-school fairy tales. The ones where you aren’t entirely certain your favorite character will make it out alive.

Similar Book(s):

The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly



Mini-Reviews – Books for Bibliophiles

Hey all! I don’t really feel like doing a full review today, so instead I’m going to do some mini-reviews for Books for Bibliophiles. 🙂

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life (Annie Spence)

dearfahrenheit451Description from GoodreadsLibrarians spend their lives weeding–not weeds but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbors, at cocktail parties—everywhere. In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations.

My Review: I loved this book so much that I plan to purchase it as a reference book. The letters were funny and poignant, and the lists of “what to read when you don’t know what to read” were spot on. I highly recommend this for any bibliophile.

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading (Phyllis Rose)

theshelfDescription from Goodreads: Can you have an Extreme Adventure in a library? Phyllis Rose casts herself into the wilds of an Upper East Side lending library in an effort to do just that. Hoping to explore the “real ground of literature,” she reads her way through a somewhat randomly chosen shelf of fiction, from LEQ to LES.

The shelf has everything Rose could wish for—a classic she has not read, a remarkable variety of authors, and a range of literary styles. The early nineteenth-century Russian classic A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov is spine by spine with The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Stories of French Canadian farmers sit beside those about aristocratic Austrians. California detective novels abut a picaresque novel from the seventeenth century. There are several novels by a wonderful, funny, contemporary novelist who has turned to raising dogs because of the tepid response to her work.

In The Shelf, Rose investigates the books on her shelf with exuberance, candor, and wit while pondering the many questions her experiment raises and measuring her discoveries against her own inner shelf—those texts that accompany us through life. “Fairly sure that no one in the history of the world has read exactly this series of novels,” she sustains a sense of excitement as she creates a refreshingly original and generous portrait of the literary enterprise.

My Review: I dare you to tell anyone who is NOT a bibliophile that you are reading a non-fiction book about a lady who decided to read a random shelf of books in her library, and not have them look at you like you’ve grown a second head. To be fair, it DOES sound a bit crazy, but this book was actually very interesting. Rose not only describes the books, but the world in which they were written and the authors themselves. It was pretty fascinating…but also spoiler-y, so don’t read the sections about books in your TBR pile. 😉

84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)

84CharingCrossRdDescription from GoodreadsThis charming classic love story, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, at the time, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London at 84, Charing Cross Road. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books. Their relationship, captured so acutely in these letters, is one that has touched the hearts of thousands of readers around the world.

My Review: This really was a charming little book. Reading correspondence between a book seller and a reader doesn’t SOUND like it would be interesting, but it really was. It was also short, so it wouldn’t kill you to give it a try, now would it? 😉

The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster)

PhantomTollboothDescription from GoodreadsFor Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams…

My Review: Yes, this is a kid’s book. Yes, it’s not really about books. But it IS for lovers of language. This was a fun little adventure book and I think it would be a good introduction to word-play for children.

Read any good books-about-books lately? Post about them here! I’m always looking for suggestions!



Book Review – A Curious Beginning

Book: A Curious Beginning – Author: Deanna Raybourn

Genre: Adult Fiction, Mystery, Historical

Description from Goodreads:

London, 1887. – After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

My Review:

I had a feeling I was going to like this book, and boy was I right!

Veronica is a wonderful character. Spunky, clever, and resourceful, she’s the kind of person you’d want to have on your side when you are in trouble. Though a bit prone to swooning, which is explained, she’s still one of the most capable women I’ve ever read in this time period. Think a slightly more restrained, Victorian-era Phryne Fisher with a bent towards science and you’ll be getting fairly close. 🙂

Her compatriot and soon-to-be-beau (not a spoiler, it’s pretty obvious for the majority of the book), Stoker, was also an interesting character. A bit hard-headed and quick to anger, he’s also very loyal and protective…and fairly open-minded when dealing with the extremely ‘modern-thinking’ Veronica. It was nice to see a male figure in a Victorian era book that wasn’t astonished that women might actually know a thing or two and can form their own opinions without relying on a man to explain things to them.

The mystery was intriguing. We are kind of thrown into the mix, just like Veronica, with no clue which characters to trust or what exactly is going on. Those are my favorite kind of mysteries, where you have to figure out the clues right alongside the main characters. I will say that I totally figured out the ‘big surprise’ at the end. Lucky guess really, but I’m still claiming it! 😉

The only thing that bugged me about the book was that Veronica completely refused to believe she could possibly be in danger for WAY too much of the book. There is such a thing as too oblivious and she was pushing the mark. How many kidnapping attempts and random attacks do you have to experience before you get the fact that these guys might be after YOU? It wasn’t a deal-breaker or anything, but I honestly would have sided with Stoker if he’d smacked her upside the head. 😉

Anyway, I really would recommend this one for mystery lovers, especially if you like books set in the Victorian era and/or strong female protagonists.

Similar Book(s):

Lady of Ashes – Christine Trent

The Anatomist’s Wife – Anna Lee Huber

Jackaby – William Ritter


Book Review – From Here To Eternity

Book: From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death – Author: Caitlin Doughty

Genre: Non-Fiction, Death, Funerals, Rituals

Description from Goodreads:

Fascinated by our pervasive terror of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty set out to discover how other cultures care for their dead. In rural Indonesia, she observes a man clean and dress his grandfather’s mummified body. Grandpa’s mummy has lived in the family home for two years, where the family has maintained a warm and respectful relationship. She meets Bolivian natitas (cigarette- smoking, wish- granting human skulls), and introduces us to a Japanese kotsuage, in which relatives use chopsticks to pluck their loved- ones’ bones from cremation ashes. With curiosity and morbid humor, Doughty encounters vividly decomposed bodies and participates in compelling, powerful death practices almost entirely unknown in America. Featuring Gorey-esque illustrations by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity introduces death-care innovators researching green burial and body composting, explores new spaces for mourning— including a glowing- Buddha columbarium in Japan and America’s only open-air pyre— and reveals unexpected new possibilities for our own death rituals.

My Review:

I went into my reading of Caitlin Doughty’s first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, completely blind. I was randomly perusing the non-fiction shelf and the title caught my eye. Reading the synopsis, I thought it sounded vaguely interesting, if a bit morose, so I gave it a shot. I was not disappointed. So when her second book was announced, I couldn’t wait.

Doughty has this ability, somewhat rare in my opinion, of being able to juggle getting in all the details people would want to know about a death ritual and still being respectful, not only of the dead, but the living who are participating in it. She comes to the rituals with an open mind, as someone who wants to understand what why the culture has created this ritual without putting her own moral judgement on it. As someone who loves learning about other cultures myself, I love that aspect of these books.

In this book, Doughty has included an nice mixture of rituals from around the world, including the Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico, Living Mummies in Indonesia, Natitas in Bolivia, Kotsuage in Japan, and many others. She even throws in a few options for the USA; alternatives to the usual burial or cremation. The rituals themselves are fascinating and seeing the contrasting opinions on how different cultures treat their dead was eye-opening.

I know a lot of you are going….”but its a book about DEATH”. Yes, it is, but part of what Doughty is trying to do with these books is make discussions about death more commonplace, especially in the USA where it’s such a taboo to talk about that some people actually get angry when you try. I mean, how is your family supposed to know what you would like if you never tell them? How does it honestly help the grieving process to NOT know how your deceased family member is being treated? How is it helpful to have to shell out thousands of dollars for something your relative may not have even wanted? These are the types of things that SHOULD be discussed, even in our death-phobic country.

I think this is a great book for anyone who is interested in anthropology, death rituals, or just wants to learn a bit more about what options are out there.

Similar Book(s):

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty

Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers – Mary Roach



Book Review – Skulduggery Pleasant

Book: Skulduggery Pleasant (#1) – Author: Derek Landy

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult

Description from Goodreads:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant. Sure, he may lose his head now and again (in fact, he won his current skull in a poker match), but he is much more than he appears to be—which is good, considering that he is, basically, a skeleton. Skulduggery may be long dead, but he is also a mage who dodged the grave so that he could save the world from an ancient evil. But to defeat it, he’ll need the help of a new partner: a not so innocent twelve-year-old girl named Stephanie. That’s right, they’re the heroes.

Stephanie and Skulduggery are quickly caught up in a battle to stop evil forces from acquiring her recently deceased uncle’s most prized possession—the Sceptre of the Ancients. The Ancients were the good guys, an extinct race of uber-magicians from the early days of the earth, and the scepter is their most dangerous weapon, one capable of killing anyone and destroying anything. Back in the day, they used it to banish the bad guys, the evil Faceless Ones. Unfortunately, in the way of bad guys everywhere, the Faceless Ones are staging a comeback and no one besides our two heroes believes in the Faceless Ones, or even that the Sceptre is real.

So Stephanie and Skulduggery set off to find the Sceptre, fend off the minions of the bad guys, beat down vampires and the undead, prove the existence of the Ancients and the Faceless Ones, all while trading snappy, snippy banter worthy of the best screwball comedies.

My Review:

This was a fun one! It was a pretty quick but interesting read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I thought it might end up a little strange, having a 12 year old partner up with an adult, but Stephanie & Skulduggery actually play really well off each other. Stephanie can hold her own against the bad guys pretty decently for a newbie and can match Skulduggery one-for-one in the wit & cleverness department. It WAS a little weird that all the adults almost automatically took to having a 12 year old as part of their group, but considering the target audience for the book, I can see why the author just kind of let that one go instead of trying to explain it too much. Plus, like I said earlier, Stephanie can really hold her own.

The adventure was really interesting too. It had me on the edge of my seat quite a few times, wondering if our heroes would make it out of this one. The book jumped to conclusions a tiny bit quickly on occasion, but not too bad for a young person novel. And the author also held back some surprises for the reader that I didn’t see coming, which was nice.

I will admit that there were a lot of characters kind of thrown at the reader in the first half of the book, but considering Stephanie was just being introduced to this magical word, that makes sense. Ever start a new job or go to a new school? You meet a ZILLION people the first day and can’t keep track of ANY of them…but just like real life, the book quickly fleshes out the important characters and keeps re-introducing them so you can get them fixed in your mind.

Now, if you’ve heard of these books before, you’re probably wondering why I would list a children’s book as Young Adult. Let me explain. The writing in this novel was really well done, not too dumbed down, but that’s not really a factor for naming something YA; in fact, I love it when authors realize that children don’t need to be spoken down to. No, it was really the violence that caused my rating to go up. Yes, children can handle the death of characters (Harry Potter anyone?), but this was a little too much for a kid, in my opinion. If you have an advanced reader that can handle really decently scary situations and descriptions of death, then go for it, but for the average 10 year old? Maybe a bit TOO scary at times.

Overall, though, this was a GREAT book! I enjoyed it so much that I plan to pick up the next in the series on my next library run. 🙂 I highly recommend it for people who enjoy adventurous/magical/humorous novels…which, who of us doesn’t, right? 😉

Similar Book(s):

In feel, if not in content…

The True Meaning of Smekday (Adam Rex)

The Book of Storms (Ruth Hatfield)

Book Review – The Book of Lost Things

Book: The Book of Lost Things – Author: John Connelly

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy, Coming-Of-Age, Allegory

Description from Goodreads:

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, ‘The Book of Lost Things’.

My Review:

I am a huge fan of fairy tales and lore, plus a gigantic bibliophile, so this book sounded right up my alley. I was right; it was even better than I anticipated!

This book managed to be a classic fairy tale itself, with David having to go on a heroic quest, fight beasts & fiends alike, save the girl, and free the kingdom; while also incorporating (and reimagining) a ton of existing fairy tales. It was really interesting to see how the original tales were twisted to fit David’s perception of what they would be like in ‘real life’.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that I ended up putting this into the “allegory” category for a reason. In a similar fashion to books like A Monster Calls and Four Kings, everything that happens in the ‘fairy tale’ world has a meaning for David’s life in the real world. Nothing is really thrown in just for the sake of it; pretty much everything that happens has a purpose. Certain characters are manifestations of ‘real life’ people, with a twist based on how David perceives them; and the events that happen around them all have a deeper meaning, if you are willing to look for it.

That being said, even if you are looking for just a fun tale without any hidden meanings, you should definitely read this one! The adventure on its own was insane! It read like a true Grimm Brothers tale, with genuinely scary monsters & people and real danger for the characters, with actual death for some of them. I was on the edge of my seat for the vast majority of the book.

I highly recommend this one for people who love old fairy tales (the dark & dangerous kind) or just a great adventure/coming-of-age tale. 🙂

Similar Book(s):

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Four Kings – M.D. Elster

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Book Review – Bibliomysteries

Book: Bibliomysteries – Author: Multiple (edited by Otto Penzler)

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Books About Books, Anthology

Description from Goodreads:

If you open your dictionary, you will discover that there is no such word as “bibliomystery.” However, most mystery readers know that the word refers to a mystery story that involves the world of books: a bookshop, a rare volume, a library, a collector, or a bookseller.

The stories in this unique collection were commissioned by the Mysterious Bookshop. They were written by some of the mystery genre’s most distinguished authors. Tough guys like Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Loren D. Estleman, and Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. Bestsellers like Nelson DeMille, Anne Perry, and Jeffery Deaver. Edgar winners such as C. J. Box, Thomas H. Cook, and Laura Lippman.

Here you will discover Sigmund Freud dealing with an unwelcome visitor; Columbo confronting a murderous bookseller; a Mexican cartel kingpin with a fatal weakness for rare books; and deadly secrets deep in the London Library; plus books with hidden messages, beguiling booksellers, crafty collectors, and a magical library that is guaranteed to enchant you. The stories have been published in seven languages—one has sold more than 250,000 copies as an e-book (“The Book Case” by Nelson DeMille)—and another won the Edgar Allan Poe Award as the Best Short Story of the Year (“The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository” by John Connolly).  

Who knew literature could be so lethal!

My Review:

Bibliomysteries is an anthology put together by Otto Penzler, a well-known advocate of the mystery genre, and features fictional stories written by famous mystery authors which all involve books in some fashion. If you are a bibliophile (and if you’re reading this blog, that’s very likely) and especially if you are a devotee of the mystery genre like me, you will definitely enjoy this book.

Here’s the lineup:

– Introduction by Ian Rankin
– “An Acceptable Sacrifice ” by Jeffery Deaver
– “Pronghorns of the Third Reich” by C.J. Box
– “The Book of Virtue” by Ken Bruen
– “The Book of Ghosts” by Reed Farrel Coleman
– “The Final Testament” by Peter Blauner
– “What’s In A Name?” by Thomas H. Cook
– “Book Club” by Loren D. Estleman
– “Death Leaves A Bookmark” by William Link
– “The Book Thing” by Laura Lippman
– “The Scroll” by Anne Perry
– “It’s In the Book” by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
– “The Long Sonata of the Dead” by Andrew Taylor
– “Rides A Stranger” by David Bell
– “The Caxton Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly
– “The Book Case” by Nelson DeMille.

I don’t want to give too much away by describing each story with any more detail than they do in the description (with how short each story is, I’d end up telling the whole thing!) but I will say that each story is very unique and it was fun seeing how different writers would work out completely different tales using the same prompt.

I enjoyed all of the stories, with one exception, which is really good odds for an anthology. My favorite two stories were “The Book Thing” by Laura Lippman & “The Caxton Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly (definite favorite!), with close runners up in “The Scroll” by Anne Perry & “Rides A Stranger” by David Bell.

I’d highly recommend this anthology to anyone who loves mysteries, especially if they also love books. It’s not only a fun ride, it’s also a great introduction to authors you may not have read yet. I know I’m definitely going to be adding some of these authors to my “TBR” pile! 🙂

Similar Book(s):

I’m never sure what to put here for anthologies, so I’m just going to link to all the author’s Goodreads pages so you can get a feel for them yourself:

– Ian Rankin
– Jeffery Deaver
– C.J. Box
– Ken Bruen
– Reed Farrel Coleman
– Peter Blauner
– Thomas H. Cook
– Loren D. Estleman
– William Link
– Laura Lippman
– Anne Perry
– Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
– Andrew Taylor
– David Bell
– John Connolly
– Nelson DeMille