The Ocean at the End of the Lane

A word to the wise: Don’t stay up late reading a Neil Gaiman book and expect to get any sleep. I’m dragging today after finishing The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it was worth it.

If you’re at all familiar with Gaiman’s work, you probably already know that this book, like so many of his others, is creepy, magical, strange, and thought-provoking. It’s written for an adult audience, but there’s something childlike about it as well. It explores the fears of a young boy and how he views the terrifying world around him. Did everything happen just as he remembers? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, while delving into one man’s memories of his childhood, also explores the themes of hope, facing one’s fears, accepting help, and believing in magic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins with a man returning to his hometown for a funeral. In an effort to escape all of the condolences being offered, he decides to explore the area once so familiar to him. He goes past where his childhood home once stood and makes his way to the lane leading to the Hempstock farm. It is here that he begins to remember the events that took place when he was just seven years old.

When he was seven, he met Lettie Hempstock, a girl who seemed larger than life and who believed that the pond at the end of the lane was an ocean. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother were all wise, magical, mysterious, and somehow timeless. They knew things that no normal person possibly could. The boy didn’t know quite what to make of these ladies, but he intrinsically trusted them.

Following the death of an opal miner, a strange darkness entered the world. The boy looked to Lettie Hempstock to beat the darkness back, but it somehow found a way into his life–into his very body.

The seemingly impossible events that followed shook the boy to his core and terrified him completely. The darkness that plagued him took human form and threatened every aspect of the boy’s life, even the sense of safety he should have felt in his own home, with his own family. How could he possibly fight something that scared him so deeply? Where could he look to for help?

Only the Hempstock family had the power and knowledge to help the boy. But how? What could these women possibly do to rid his world of this ancient evil? What would have to be sacrificed to save his life? And would that sacrifice ultimately be worth it?


I’m still pondering some of the mysteries in this book. Gaiman, a master storyteller, doesn’t give readers all of the answers. Some things are left to our imaginations (which is awesome).

A few unanswered questions:

  • What is the main character’s name? We never know his name or the names of his family members. Only the Hempstock ladies and a couple of other memorable characters are named outright.
  • Who died and precipitated the main character’s visit home? We know it’s not his sister, as it’s mentioned that she’s waiting on her brother. Is it his mom? His dad? Who led him home?
  • What’s the deal with the Hempstocks? Are they three incarnations of the same person? Perhaps some version of the Triple Goddess–the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden? I honestly don’t know, but this seems the most plausible explanation given the events of the book and what we learn about this family.
  • Why does it take revisiting the “ocean” to jump-start the main character’s memories? One would think something so traumatic would have been impossible to forget. Also, what exactly is this ocean? Where did it come from, and what’s the source of its power?
  • Did the events he remembered really happen? Were they the imaginings of a child to cope with something he couldn’t understand? Or is it the adult who forgets in order to cope with something that should have been impossible? How does the man as an adult explain what happened?

Maybe you’ve figured out the answers to all of these questions. Maybe not. As for me, I’ll be thinking about these things–and a few more–for a while.

Like I mentioned before, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written for an adult audience, but some teens may enjoy it (particularly if they’re already Neil Gaiman fans). It’s deep, intense, and it does play with your mind a bit, but give it a whirl if that’s your kind of thing.

For more information on this book and others by Neil Gaiman, check out the author’s website.

Dark Side of the Rainbow

Read all of these Dorothy Must Die books and novellas before continuing with this post. (Yes, I’m serious.)

So…you’ve no doubt gathered that I recently finished reading yet another Dorothy Must Die story. Yes, I’d say that’s pretty obvious. The latest story, Dark Side of the Rainbow, is the eighth prequel novella, and it focuses on Polychrome, the fairy in charge of the Rainbow Falls region of Oz. If you’re familiar with this series, you’ll recall that Polychrome plays an important role in The Wicked Will Rise, and this novella gives a bit of backstory to Polly’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the war brewing in Oz.

Polychrome really can’t complain about her life. She’s the Head Fairy in Charge of Rainbow Falls, the hottest vacation spot in Oz. She spends her days partying, surfing, chilling with her pet unicorn (which is not actually a unicorn), and having a grand old time. She doesn’t get why her cousin, Ozma, is always so serious. Ozma needs to loosen up and enjoy life a little, like Polly does on a regular basis. Oz will take care of itself.

Oh, if only Polly were right…

One day, a familiar face arrives in Oz and throws everything into chaos. It’s Dorothy, the Witchslayer. Polly, who doesn’t pay a ton of attention to the goings-on in Emerald City, doesn’t know how things have changed since the reappearance of Dorothy. She doesn’t know that Cousin Ozma is no longer on the throne. She doesn’t know that Dorothy is a power-hungry psycho. She doesn’t know that fear permeates everything now. All she knows is that Dorothy is visiting Rainbow Falls, and she wants to be friends. Why, though? Why is Dorothy so determined to get close to Polly?

A new friend of Polly’s, a handsome fella named Bright, tries to warn Polly about Dorothy and what she’s doing to Oz, but Polly doesn’t believe him…at first. Soon enough, however, she sees what’s happening, and she tries her best to stop it from reaching her own domain. It may be too late, though…

When Dorothy’s true nature is revealed, Polly must do whatever she can to stop this madwoman from destroying Rainbow Falls completely. Will her efforts be enough? Will this laid-back fairy give in to Dorothy, or will she become the leader Rainbow Falls needs in its darkest hour?


Maybe it’s just me, but I’m seeing parallels to American politics in a Dorothy Must Die story here. Anyone else? Something to think about.

While this wasn’t my favorite of the Dorothy Must Die novellas, I did like it, especially considering how things end up for Polly and company in The Wicked Will Rise. (No, I will not spoil it if you haven’t caught up.) I wish her relationship with Bright had been explored a bit more, but we still got a pretty decent look at how their relationship began.

Now that Dark Side of the Rainbow is out, we have just one more novella, The Queen of Oz, and the fourth and final novel, The End of Oz. Both have a publication date of March 14th. I’ll probably read the novella first and then move on to the novel. We’ll see how it goes, but I will definitely be reading both stories as soon as I possibly can.

For more information on the entire Dorothy Must Die series and Danielle Paige, connect with the author on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

Stealing Snow

Last night, I finished reading Danielle Paige’s latest novel, Stealing Snow, which is a retelling of The Snow Queen. I figured that, since I adored Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series, I would be equally enamored of her new book. That wasn’t exactly how things worked out.

I did enjoy some elements of Stealing Snow, but I like the Dorothy Must Die books much more. It may have something to do with the subject matter. I’m much more familiar with the Land of Oz than I am with the story of the Snow Queen. (Most of what I know about the Snow Queen comes from Frozen, and I think we can all agree that movie doesn’t come close to the original story.) The convoluted love story also didn’t really work for me. I liked the twist at the end of the book, and I fully intend to read the rest of the series, but Stealing Snow wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be.

When Snow Yardley was just a little girl, her mother sent her to live at Whittaker, a psychiatric facility for “troubled” youth. Snow doesn’t think she’s crazy, but she can’t deny that she has odd dreams and a tendency to be filled with icy anger. (It’s hard not to be angry when you’ve been locked in an asylum for most of your life.) Her only friend at Whittaker is Bale, but even that is taken from when he turns violent shortly after their first kiss.

Snow can’t explain Bale’s sudden violence–and even more sudden disappearance–but maybe there’s someone out there who can. A new orderly at Whittaker tells Snow that there’s a world that lies beyond these walls, and all she has to do to claim it is meet him at the Tree that haunts her dreams. But how can this be possible, and what does it have to do with Bale?

Snow eventually finds a way to escape Whittaker and find the Tree in question. Beyond the Tree lies the mysterious land of Algid. Snow doesn’t know quite what to make of this strange world…or her place in it. Algid is ruled by King Lazar, a brutal, powerful man…who is also Snow’s father. According to prophecy, Snow will soon overthrow her father or join him, making his hold on Algid even more absolute.

Snow isn’t convinced of all that’s being thrown at her, but she has to play along if she has any hope of finding Bale. At the very least, she needs to learn to control her newly discovered powers. As her name suggests, Snow has the power to control snow.

Snow needs to use her new power against the King’s minions, and several interested parties want to help her do just that. There’s the River Witch, who has her own reasons for wanting King Lazar out of power. There’s Kai, a boy who can be standoffish but who Snow feels connected to. And there’s Jagger, the boy who posed as an orderly at Whittaker, and his band of Robbers. Snow doesn’t know who to trust, but she’ll do whatever it takes to save Bale…even if she’s not entirely certain anymore that he’s the love of her life.

Like it or not, Snow is tied to the future of Algid, and a day is coming that will reveal to her more than she ever wanted to know. She’ll discover hard truths about Bale, her parents, herself, and what she needs to do to control her own fate.


As I said before, I wanted this book to be so much more than it was. It felt kind of disjointed at times, and the “love rectangle” really got on my nerves. Snow’s back-and-forth between Bale, Kai, and Jagger was grating and often nonsensical. I get why she was connected to Bale, but she just met Kai and Jagger. I didn’t see any reason for her to be all swoony over them. They could have been complete psychopaths for all she knew. (Of course, Bale had his share of psychotic moments, and she was nuts over him.) I just wanted to reach through the pages, shake Snow, and tell her to deal with her own issues without worrying about all these guys. I mean, seriously, she had enough problems without the male of the species making things more confusing. (And that last sentence may as well be my own personal philosophy on getting through life.)

Anyhoo, Stealing Snow, despite its flaws, was an enjoyable read. I liked the curveball at the end of the book. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it was.) That surprise made up for a lot and made me want to read more of this series.

Speaking of the series as a whole, there are two prequel novellas that are already available. The first, Before the Snow, tells more about the River Witch and her connection to King Lazar. The second, Queen Rising, gives a closer look at Margot, queen of the Robbers. Since I found both of those characters to be quite interesting in Stealing Snow, I’ll give those two stories a read very soon. The second full-length novel, which is currently untitled, will be out sometime in 2017.

If you’d like more information on Stealing Snow and Danielle Paige’s other books, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, and Goodreads.

Ruin and Rising

Before proceeding, you MUST read the first two books in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm. There may be spoilers ahead.

If you’re still reading this post, you’ve probably figured out that I recently finished reading Ruin and Rising, the third book in the Grisha series. I had every intention of reading this book months ago, but other things kept getting in my way. This week, in an effort to escape reality, I decided that it was time to finish this breathtaking trilogy. That was a good call. (Given that I just wrapped up my fall book fair today, I really needed that escape.)

Ruin and Rising picks up where Siege and Storm ended. Ravka is now firmly in the Darkling’s control, and Alina Starkov is under the thumb of the Apparat, a priest who is “protecting” the Sun Summoner. Alina has been weakened by her recent showdown with the Darkling, and being sequestered in the White Cathedral, deep below ground and away from much-needed sunlight, has not helped matters. Her confidence is crumbling, and she wonders if there’s any way to defeat the Darkling and restore light to the world around her.

Hope is not lost, though. Alina and many of those loyal to her (including Mal, Alina’s fiercest protector and the boy who still has a hold on her heart) manage to escape the White Cathedral and make their way to the surface. They are now on the hunt for the firebird, believed to be the third amplifier and possibly the only thing that will allow them to finally stop the Darkling and his minions.

As Alina and company are searching for a creature that may not even exist, they are reunited with Nikolai, former privateer and current heir to the throne of Ravka. Nikolai arrives in the nick of time and spirits Alina and friends to his stronghold in the mountains. Together, they make plans for their continued quest for the firebird and the upcoming clash with the Darkling.

While in this mountain fortress, Alina also learns more about her adversary than she ever hoped to know. The Darkling’s past has defined his present and explains so much about his quest for power. Alina, in many ways, understands the Darkling and cannot deny that they have a connection, but she still seeks some way to destroy him…especially when he invades her allies’ hideaway, ravages many of her friends, and forces them to flee and regroup.

Now, Alina’s search for the firebird is more dire than ever. But it may be closer than she knows. What if the power to defeat the Darkling has been beside her all along? What will Alina do when she realizes that possessing this power could mean losing the one thing that allows her to hold onto her humanity?

No matter what, Alina and her allies will soon face off with the Darkling. Will they be overcome by his dark power, or will they find some way to unleash the light and defeat this seemingly unbeatable foe? Who will live? Who will die? Who will be left standing when all is said and done? Find out when you read Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.


If it’s not immediately obvious, let me say that I adore this series. It ended with a bang and was quite satisfying. I have every intention of reading all of the novellas that go along with it as soon as I can. (I’m not sure if I’ll blog about them here, but I will read them.)

I also plan to read Bardugo’s duology, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, very soon. From what I understand, these two books also take place in the Grishaverse, and that’s awesome. I’m not ready to leave this world just yet.

If you or someone you know, teen or adult reader, is into fantasy, I’d definitely recommend Leigh Bardugo’s work. I know she’s got an adult series in the works, as well as Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and I’m eager to read those as well.

For more information on Ruin and Rising, the other books of the Grishaverse, and other books by Leigh Bardugo, check out her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

A Darker Shade of Magic

It’s extremely rare for me to take more than a month to read a book, but that’s what happened with A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. This book took so long partly because it’s been a crazy busy time at work. (November is looking to be no better.) When I get home, it’s all I can do to stagger to the couch and stare blankly at the TV. When I do make time to read, I want something light and fluffy, and those words definitely do not apply to this book. Also, I’ve had several other books that, for whatever reason, took precedence over A Darker Shade of Magic, so I had to put it on the back-burner.

During the past week, though, I devoted a fair amount of time to this first book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic series. While it took me a while to really get invested in this book, once I did, it was full steam ahead. I was captivated by the characters, their complicated personalities, and the worlds that both drew them together and very nearly tore them apart. As a long-time comic book reader, the concept of multiple or parallel universes isn’t exactly unfamiliar, but A Darker Shade of Magic had a different spin on the concept, and I look forward to exploring it further in the rest of the series.

Kell is one of the last of his kind. He is an Antari, a blood magician with the ability to travel between the different versions of London. Kell is from Red London, a land of prosperity and magic. He travels to Gray London, a city without magic, and White London, a brutal place ruled by the sadistic twins, Athos and Astrid. Only Black London, a city consumed and destroyed by magic, is closed to him.

Kell was raised in the palace of Red London, alongside Rhy, the heir to the throne, but he’s not exactly a member of the royal family. Kell knows he’s useful to the throne, but he also uses his power and position for his own ends. You see, he’s something of a smuggler, and he’s been known throughout Red, White, and Gray London to provide glimpses of magic for a price.

During one particularly dangerous and sobering trip to White London, Kell comes into contact with an object that should not exist. It’s a piece of Black London, and the power within this artifact is both repulsive and seductive to Kell. He knows he must be rid of this object–even as he thirsts for its power–but he’s also determined to find out who placed it in his hands…and what their endgame is.

Before Kell can get the answers he needs, however, he travels to Gray London and comes into contact with Lila Bard, a girl whose greatest aspiration is to be a pirate. Lila, brilliant pickpocket that she is, steals the piece of Black London from Kell, not knowing what she’s nabbed or the events she’s set in motion.

When Kell and Lila reunite, it becomes clear that they’ll have to work together to do what needs to be done. But what treachery lies ahead? Can they trust those around them or each other? Who is pulling strings to harness the power of Black London, and can Kell and Lila stop them in time to save their worlds…or themselves?


The worlds within A Darker Shade of Magic are rich, stark, complicated, and convoluted…much like the characters that inhabit those worlds. I’m actually glad it took me so long to read this book because I feel like I really got to know and spend time with Kell, Lila, Rhy, and the entire supporting cast–some of whom I think I’ll see again. I’m also looking forward to seeing more of each version of London in this story, perhaps even Black London as well. We shall see.

The second book in this series, A Gathering of Shadows, is already out, so I’ll hopefully make my way to that book soon. Book three, A Conjuring of Light, is expected to be released on February 21st, 2017.

For those wondering if A Darker Shade of Magic is suitable for purchase for school libraries, I would say it’s okay for high school collections. Not so much for middle schools. This series isn’t a YA series*, but I think many teen readers, particularly fans of fantasy, will enjoy it.

*According to the author, if her books are written as V.E. Schwab, they are written for an adult audience. If the first name is Victoria, it’s for middle grades or young adults.

If you’d like more information on A Darker Shade of Magic or other books by V.E. (Victoria) Schwab, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Ella Enchanted

Once again, I bring you a book that I probably wouldn’t have read if not for the faculty book club at my school. This month, we’re reprising an old theme and reading classic children’s books and/or books we’ve always meant to read but never made time for. I had loads of books to choose from, but I decided to go with Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

I don’t know if Ella Enchanted can be called a classic–even though it was a Newbery Honor Book in 1998–but I have always meant to read it. After all, I do love a good fairy tale. I know there’s a movie adaptation out there–which I’ve never seen–so I figured I’d read the book and then see how the movie compares. Well, as of yesterday, I’ve completed one half of that equation.

Ella of Frell was burdened with a curse when she was born. A well-meaning fairy named Lucinda “gifted” Ella with obedience. From then on, Ella had to obey any direct command given to her. When she tried to disobey, she would be afflicted with terrible pains, and they could only be assuaged by doing as she was commanded.

It’s difficult for Ella to be true to herself when, at any time, her own will can be subverted. She does, however, find little ways to counter some of the commands sent her way. Ella’s true wish, though, is to find a way to break this horrible curse, once and for all.

Following the death of her mother, it’s more imperative than ever for Ella to find a way to break this curse, especially when her father unexpectedly marries a wretched woman, and Ella is forced to become little more than a servant to her new stepmother and two stepsisters.

Ella’s curse even causes her to break ties with her closest friend (and possibly the love of her life), Prince Char. If any one of Char’s enemies learns that she could be commanded to do anything, that could put Char at risk. Ella simply can’t allow that to happen.

Ella despairs of ever being free of this curse, but a series of events–including a few royal balls and a bit of fairy magic–may just change things. Ella may find that the power to break her loathsome curse lies within and only needs a little push to be gone from her life forever.

What will give Ella reason enough to break her curse? Find out when you read Ella Enchanted!


Ella Enchanted is, of course, a spin on the traditional Cinderella tale. Readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales or fairy tale retellings will delight in discovering the similarities to the tale they know and the differences that make this version so distinctive. They may even be prompted to seek out even more versions of the tale. Some novelizations that could pique interest are: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George, Ash by Malinda Lo, and Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer, just to name a few.

I think Ella Enchanted is a great read for anyone in upper elementary grades on up. It’s fun, aggravating at times, and bewitching. It could lead to discussions on why being obedient could be seen as a bad thing or why the other “gifts” bestowed by Lucinda weren’t gifts at all.

All in all, I’m glad I finally read Ella Enchanted, and I will definitely recommend it to my students. Now, I have to settle in to watch the movie version and see how it compares to the book.

For more information on Ella Enchanted and other books by Gail Carson Levine, visit the author’s website.

 

The Bronze Key

A word of warning: Proceed with caution if you haven’t read both The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet, the first two books in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This post might be a little spoilery if you’re not totally caught up.

This may not be my standard post. I’ve been awake since 3am, and I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open, much less stringing sentences together. I’ll do the best I can.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Bronze Key, book three in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This book continues the story of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, three young mages trying to figure out this whole magic thing. They are students at the Magisterium, and Call and Aaron are both Makars, or mages with an affinity for chaos magic.

As The Bronze Key begins, Call, Aaron, Tamara, and their frenemy Jasper are being honored for their action against Constantine Madden, known as the Enemy of Death, and his minions. What most people don’t know is that the soul of the Enemy of Death is very much alive…and residing within Call.

Call worries that he’ll become an evil overlord one day, but that’s only part of his problem at the moment. At the party honoring Call and his friends, one of the Magisterium students is mysteriously killed and another attempt is made on Call’s life. It’s clear that someone is out to get him, but why? Does someone know his secret, or has he outlived his usefulness as a Makar?

Soon enough, Call and company are back at the Magisterium, and the mystery deepens. There is a spy in their midst, and it could be anyone. Call doesn’t know who to trust, and he even looks at his best friends with a certain degree of suspicion. He’ll have to figure out what’s going on fast before he–or someone else–meets a rather sticky end.


I’m going to stop there before I give too much away. It’s enough to tell you that some bad stuff goes down in this book, and it wallops you in the heart before all is said and done. I, for one, wish I could dive into book four, The Silver Mask, right now so that I could see where things go from here. Sadly, that is not going to happen.

Speaking of The Silver Mask, it is set to be released sometime in 2017, but I’m not sure exactly when. My guess is early fall.  The fifth and final book, The Enemy of Death, will follow in 2018.

For more information on The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, The Bronze Key and the rest of the Magisterium series, visit the official website. It’s got lots of interactive goodies that you may enjoy.

Note: The Iron Trial is a nominee for this year’s South Carolina Children’s and Junior Book Awards. In my opinion, the entire series is a good fit for fantasy lovers in upper elementary grades and up.