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

 

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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 – The Bone Witch

Book: The Bone Witch – Author: Rin Chupeco

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Supernatural, YA

Description from Goodreads:

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

My Review:

I like Rin Chupeco. The Girl From The Well was one of only a handful of ‘instant love’ books I’ve read all year. That said…this book will not go down in my list of favorites.

I did like the characters in general. I LOVE Tea’s “Sister Ashas”: Mykaela, Polaire, and Althy.  They seem lively and like they can kick some butt. (Can we get a book just about them?) But the others…I dunno. Most of them, including Tea, seemed a little flat. Occasionally Tea would get angry, but other than that everyone just seemed to kind of be there. (Though I did also like Rahim, can we get a book about him too please?)

I also liked the premise: a world where magic is accepted and magic users have a special niche; some for healing, some for fighting, even some for fashion. 😉 The daeva were interesting too; monsters that rise from their graves every few years and have to be reconquered. Sounds like a great setup for a fantasy, right?

I think the main problem I had with this story was the pacing. Each chapter was split between Tea as a young apprentice and Tea now as an outcast Asha. This might have seemed like a great way to keep the reader interested in the final outcome of the novel, but having to go from super-magical, war-starting Tea, back to “now I have to learn to dance and sing” Tea was really annoying. To be fair, apparently this is the first book in a series (which I did NOT know going in), so the author was probably just world-building. Maybe the next book will have more action?

Overall I’d say, if you are looking for a cool fantasy series, go ahead and try this one. The author writes really well and there are some exciting scenes. Who knows, the rest of the series might be completely awesome.

*One quick pet peeve! Look, I know authors like to give their characters quirky names and that’s totally fine. But if you have a weird pronunciation for your character’s name…SAY SO AT THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK! Don’t wait 300 pages to tell me that Tea is pronounced “Tey-uh”, especially when all her sisters are named after flowers and Tea is an actual plant with an actual existing pronunciation. It was Hermione all over again (though that one was my fault, not really the author’s).

Similar Book(s):

I’m not sure what to put here, so I’ll just go for fantasy with a supernatural twist. 😉

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

Revenge of the Witch – Joseph Delany

 

Library Haul – Mystery, Fantasy, and Books About Books

Another day, another library haul. 😉

Whose Body? (Dorothy Sayers)

whosebodyDescription from Goodreads: The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder — especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What’s more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.

Why I Picked It: Ever since I fell in love with Poirot, I’ve been slowly picking my way through the Golden Age mysteries. Having finished Miss Marple, I decided it was time to give another classic author a try. Dorothy Sayers is really well known and her Lord Peter Wimsey books sound right up my alley, so I decided to snag the start of the series.

A Study in Charlotte (Brittany Cavallaro)

astudyincharlotteDescription from Goodreads: The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar. 

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

Why I Picked It: I love Sherlock in most of his forms, so I’m usually up for ‘descendant’ novels as well. The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason seems like it had a similar vibe, if a bit steampunky, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. This one sounds kind of fun and the reviews were decent, so I figured I’d give it a go.

Odd & True (Cat Winters)

oddandtrueDescription from Goodreads: Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio. 

In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

Why I Picked It: I’ve been wanting to read this one for ages and I’m extremely excited that my library snagged a copy so early! I’m not sure what it is about Cat Winters, but I can’t seem to NOT binge read her books. Fingers crossed that the trend continues!

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.

Why I Picked It: Honestly, I was just checking whether or not my library had finally gotten Jenny Lawson’s last book, Furiously Happy, (spoiler: they didn’t) and I happened to notice that the entire shelf above that spot was books about books! This one sounds kind of fun…and like something I would probably do myself. 😉


So what are you currently reading? 🙂

Book Review – The Secret of Spellshadow Manor

Book: The Secret of Spellshadow Manor – Author: Bella Forrest

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, YA

Description from Goodreads:

What would you do if you spotted a man following a young woman, but no-one else could see him?

Like most sane people, student Alex Webber thought he was hallucinating – perhaps he’d consumed something bad at the party he’d been attending that night, or he was severely overtired. But when he sees the mysterious man following Natalie again the very next day, he can no longer disbelieve his eyes.

Although Natalie denies the man’s existence, Alex sees her walking with him down a road in his neighborhood he’s never seen before – and can’t help but follow. After a bizarre, but strangely short journey, he finds himself standing before a towering iron gate wreathed in gray ivy, behind which looms a decrepit old mansion named Spellshadow Manor.

Spellshadow, with its beautiful yet sinisterly decorated hallways, ever-changing outdoor scenery and very unusual residents… Alex will quickly learn it is a place that is as wondrous as it is deadly.

Especially for a normal person like him.

What if you found yourself recruited to an institute of magic, only to discover you really couldn’t do magic?
What if your enrollment there was all one big, terrible mistake?

If you were at Spellshadow, you’d keep it a secret. A deep, dark, deadly secret…

Because Spellshadow’s elusive Head is hiding a secret of his own, one that Alex soon realizes he and Natalie must uncover at all costs if either of them wishes to leave the Manor alive… and before it’s too late.

My Review:

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. It’s been plastered all over my Facebook & Goodreads and keeps being touted as “the next Harry Potter”, which usually just has me rolling my eyes and passing on by, but something drew me in this time (honestly, it might have just been the really cool cover, lol).

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I picked this one up from the library. It was a quick, easy, and FUN read. I ended up binging it in less than 3 hours, even with it being almost 400 pages; though, to be fair, the font was HUGE in my copy and there are chapter breaks everywhere, so it’s probably really only a little over 300 pages worth of content.

The main characters all seem very personable. I liked Alex a lot. He seems pretty affable (no angsty HP here, folks) but is still fairly stubborn and extremely protective of his friends. Natalie is also very likable and, thank goodness, not a wilting flower when it comes to danger.

I have to say once again, I am not a huge fan of romances, so I was pleasantly surprised that this novel didn’t really have any. Even though the main characters are older teenagers and a boy & girl, there wasn’t even a hint of a romance between them (at least not in this volume). I liked that. It was nice to run into an author who understands that boys and girls CAN just be friends. We’ll see how that plays out in the rest of the series.

The mystery in this series is really interesting. The kids jump to quite a few (possibly erroneous) conclusions, but did the best they could with the information they were able to acquire; and they DID spend quite some time researching what to do instead of just hurling themselves into danger, which is usually what happens in these types of books…well, there was a BIT of hurling, but not thoughtless hurling. 😉 I’m curious to see where this story is heading and who exactly is going to end up being the Big Bad. Something larger is definitely afoot and the danger is NOT resolved in a neat little package at the end of Book 1.

But there won’t be too long of a wait until I can find out what happens! Apparently the author has already written the entire story and has published all six volumes this year. Seriously, this book was published in March and the 6th (and final) book is already out! Whoohoo! Time to hit the library again! 😀

Similar Book(s):

‘Harry Potter’ series – J.K. Rowling – (Book #1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

‘The Tapestry’ series – Henry H. Neff – (Book #1: The Hound of Rowan)

 

Book Review – Furthermore

Book: Furthermore – Author: Tahereh Mafi

Genre: Middle Grade/Childrens, Fantasy

Description from Goodreads:

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow 12 rates three things most important: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. Father disappeared from Ferenwood with only a ruler, almost three years ago. But she will have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. Her only companion is Oliver whose own magic is based in lies and deceit. Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

My Review:

This was a cute, quick read.  I LOVED the author’s style of writing. It’s fun, quirky, and, at times, immensely beautiful. I mean: “Laughter was a silk that would soften even the roughest moments.” Isn’t that one of the loveliest sentences you’ve ever read?

Her world building is also very good. The descriptions of Ferenwood & Furthermore, their history and people, are all really brilliant. She doesn’t go TOO much into the background of the characters, other than Alice, but she does give all the info needed for the story. Which is really the best option in a kid’s book, I suppose, though I personally love hearing the backgrounds.

It DID take me a while to get into the story on this one. I’m not sure why, since I liked the writing so much and the premise sounded interesting, but the first couple of “chapters” seemed to really drag. Once Alice and Ollie finally made it to Furthermore, though, the action picked up quite a bit.

I was also confused for quite a lot of the book, which I think was kind of done on purpose. This book really reads like Alice in Wonderland (yes, Tahereh, we get the reference 😉 ), with strange places and dangers coming from completely out of the blue. I didn’t really follow all of it, but it was extremely imaginative and I think would hold a middle grade kid’s attention much better than something more bland and complex.

Similar Book(s):

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles – Julie Andrews Edwards