“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

fantasy, Novels

I adore Neil Gaiman. I hadn’t read any of his books until early last year, and still haven’t rocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_coveread many of them, but every one I have read has been everything I’d hoped it would be. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot of this one. Some of the reviews I read prior to diving in to this book revealed a big part of the story that I wish I had been able to discover myself, so I am going to be careful not to give anything away.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautiful story about a man who returns to his childhood home (or where it used to be) and is drawn to the old farmhouse at the end of the lane where he remembers playing as a boy. He finds the house still inhabited by the Hempstock women and begins to recall the strange events that took place when he was seven years old, many years ago. The man’s memories come flooding back to him when he makes his way to the pond near the farmhouse, or what his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock referred to as “her ocean.”

The thing I liked best about this book is how imaginative it was. It was written beautifully and I could picture every event that took place without it seeming too much like a fantasy. While this book is definitely categorized as fantasy, nothing seemed over the top or ridiculous. If I had described the entire plot to you, you would say, “that sounds completely ridiculous,” but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written in such a way that you are seeing the world through the eyes of a seven year old boy. Even things that don’t seem real can still make complete sense, and sometimes it’s the not making sense that makes them more real. Things just are. A major theme that stood out to me in this book was the mind of a child and how different it is from the mind of an adult. One quote in particular was my absolute favorite:

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’m not sure what else to say about this book, but I think that quote really sums it up. It’s a quick read, only 180 pages. I easily could have read it in one sitting had I not had to go to work. If you like fantasy, or if you aren’t sure you like fantasy but are a little intrigued, give it a try.

Rating: 5/5

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“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

We are simply going to ignore the fact that I haven’t posted a review since February.

atwoodIf you haven’t read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, stop everything you’re doing and go read it. I’m serious. I love this book. This is my second time reading the dystopian novel, and it was just as good as the first. Written in 1985, “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t exactly hot off the presses, but a surprising amount of people I know haven’t heard of it. Now you don’t have an excuse.

Atwood’s novel takes place in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead in the near-future. Society as we know it has collapsed and a new military has taken over, fueled by extreme religious motives that begin integrating their way into society slowly, at first, and then flipping the world upside down. In this new society, women are expected to go back to their original biblical purpose of existing only to be at the disposal of men. In this new society, women have been made barren from chemicals in the air, nuclear disasters, and sexually transmitted diseases, so those who have the ability to conceive are collected and re-educated into Handmaids, who will repopulate the Republic of Gilead. Those unable to conceive are declared Unwomen and sent away. Those who are lucky are made Wives of Commanders, but they are few and far between.

Offred, a Handmaid and our narrator and protagonist, exists for one sole purpose: to conceive. She lives under the control of her Commander and once monthly endures his visits in hopes she may become pregnant and avoid being declared an Unwoman. Like all handmaids, she is forced to wear long red dresses and white winged habits that block her vision and prevent her from seeing her surroundings in her cruel world. She lives a life in which she has no rights. Her name is not even her own, literally meaning Of Fred, taking the name of her Commander.

As we learn about Offred’s world and life in Gilead, we discover that this frightening dystopia is not far off from the present. Offred remembers a time where she had her own family, her own job, and a happy life where women were equal to men.

While many might think that this book sounds a little too far-fetched and feminist to be taken seriously, for me it shows just how quickly things can really go south. In a matter of a few years, everything Offred knows is taken from her and her life is completely changed. While the premise might sound impossible to those of us living the privileged life in the Western world, Atwood makes a point to keep things real by ensuring that all the events that have happened in the Republic of Gilead have also happened, at some point, in real life. If you’re looking for a good read that’s beautifully written and a bit of a reality check, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is definitely for you.

4.5/5

“Poison Study” by Maria V. Snyder

YA Fantasy

My initpoison studyial thought when beginning Poison Study was that it was definitely going to be a hit or miss. Luckily, it was closer to a hit for me.

Although Poison Study may not be the most sophisticated book, for YA fantasy it was surprisingly good. Yelena is a teenage girl in jail for murder, something she openly admits to. Unapologetic for her actions, she has been rotting in the dungeons of Ixia for months when she’s offered the position of Food Taster for the Commander, which essentially means if anyone attempts to poison Ixia’s leader, she’ll be the one getting poisoned first. Trained by her handler Valek, Yelena must learn to defend herself and her Commander and hopes to plan an escape. However, Yelena quickly finds it will be much more difficult to survive outside the castle walls than she thought (mostly because she’s a murderer, even if she had a good reason for it). All in all, Poison Study is a book about a girl who for the first time in her life must learn not to run away, but instead to confront her past while attempting to stay alive in her present.

I personally tend to feel that YA fiction can be pretty predictable. While some of Snyder’s storyline was typical for the genre, the world-building in Poison Study provided an awesome backdrop for Yelena’s story. The kingdom of Ixia was believable and interesting, and the culture she created made Yelena’s character seem a lot more real. The characters were great. I could see Yelena change and grow throughout the book as she shed the girl she was in the dungeon and tried to figure out who she was supposed to be. Snyder threw in quite a few twists that I hadn’t seen coming and had me changing my opinion on one specific character time and time again, and didn’t leave any of the characters one-sided or forgotten.

My one and only complaint about Poison Study is the Yelena and Valek storyline, which probably makes me cynical and annoying. While the emotions felt real, that YA romance has been told time and time before.

All in all, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder was a pleasant surprise. While I’m not sure I’m in it for the long haul through the entire series, it was a great start. (Followed by: Magic Study)

Rating: 4/5