Lev Grossman: The Magician King (review)

Grossman-MagicianKingUS_thumb[10]Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians made quite a stir back in 2009 when it was first published with its mix of Harry Potter and Narnia and the way it turned these YA stories into some serious adult fiction. I read it in 2009 and liked it a lot. I’ve had the second book in the series on my shelves for a couple of years and I picked it as one of the books to get me back into reading again.

And that was a smart choice. It was one of the books I read on this year’s summer holiday. I read it over three days. And enjoyed it a lot.

We’re back with Quentin and the other kings and queens of Fillory. Quentin is bored with his job as king of smooth-running Fillory and he is desperate for any kind of adventure. So when it is discovered that the Outer Island doesn’t pay tax to the kingdom, he decides to go on a quest. He readies a ship so it’s just like in the Fillory books, he grew up with, and off he goes. Turns out that what he’s really questing for, is a set of keys – and that Fillory’s future is heavily depending on him getting the keys. Only trouble is, that if you use the keys, you risk ending up somewhere you didn’t exactly plan to go.

What we also get in this story, is the story of Julia. One of my comments to the first novel was, that I felt that Julia flickered in and out of it and that her character wasn’t presented in  a satisfying way because of this. This issue is fixed in this novel. We get Julia’s backstory in probably even more gory details that we knew we wanted! Julia wasn’t accepted to the magical school of Brakebills so she had to find her own way to magical learning. A way that wasn’t exactly paved with flowers.

Just like a lot of fantasy novels play with the tropes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and like J.K. Rowling played with the tropes of British boarding schools, Grossman builds on what was started by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia novels with a nice dose of Harry Potter added to it.  But this in itself isn’t interesting. What is interesting, is Grossman’s way of taking this inspiration and not only making it completely his own but also making it more sinister – and definitely for adults only. And I like that. I like that even though this on the surface is a nice world from a children’s stories, you really can’t trust that we get any happy ending.

What I also like about these novels is, that Grossman is a guy only a bit older than me. This means that he has grown up with a lot of the same culture as me and this means that we have references to modern pop culture like Die Hard and a ‘We were on a break’-moment. As well as a shoot-out to Nicolas Tesla – all of which I really enjoyed.

More than anything this is a book about finding a sense of meaning and purpose for your life. From Julia who wants to learn magic and has to fight for what she knows will give her life meaning to Quentin who has everything he seemingly ever wanted but still isn’t satisfied and goes looking for adventure at the far end of the world.

I really enjoyed going with him – and Julia’s character is fascinating and her storyline is so interesting. This book ended with a bang – it was a very brave ending and I can’t wait to move on to the next novel.

First line: Quentin rode a gray horse with white socks named Dauntless.

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher: Plume
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 541 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

Christmas Gifts 2014

So even though my reading has been seriously lacking in the second half of 2014, I still got some beautiful books for Christmas. Lovely, lovely books that hopefully can get me back to reading regularly.

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My boyfriend and I have watched the Outlander tv-series and really enjoyed it – and it made me want to both start over on the series as well as read one. Outlander is a great series but I sometimes forget how much I enjoy reading it.
My Brother got me this second-hand version of Isabel Allende’s Paula, the book she wrote to her comatose daughter, Paula. I have been wanting to read more by Allende – and even though I’m pretty sure that this one will make me cry, I’m still looking forward to it.

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I also got the final book in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. I enjoyed the first book but haven’t read the second one, so I think I’m going to read the entire series now. And I got the first book in Stephen King’s new trilogy, Mr Mercedes. Not much to say about that – I like Stephen King.

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And I got two non-fiction books. The Danish Aarhus University publish a series of books that introduce various subjects in an engaging way. The one I received is written by Dan Ringgaard is about litterature and argues, that litterature is the art made with language – whether it’s on paper, digital or something else.
Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, argues that there are various ways of thinking and discusses why we make the choices we make as it delves into human rationality and irrationality.
So I had a wonderful Christmas time where my kids also got some great books I’m looking forward to reading to them. I hope you all had a great bookish Christmas as well and are ready for what 2015 will bring.

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Jim Butcher: Grave Peril (The Dresden Files #3)

Grave-PerilWhen I was a kid, I liked ghost stories. My father had some books about white ladies and he told me about castles which have their own private ghosts. He didn’t believe in them. I think he just wanted to make my world a bit richer, just like I tell my kids how their grandparents had to run from dinosaurs when going to school and how their father saved me from a dragon.
Now I don’t believe in ghosts as white sheaths moving softly through walls. But I do believe that extreme sadness, pain and anguish can leave behind some kind of remnants that we – or some of us at least – can feel.
Now, Jim Butcher is not this subtle. When he lets Harry Dresden go up against ghosts, he doesn’t just find some whimpy moaning white lady to pit him against. He of course creates the worst kind of ghost imaginable and lets this ghost have the most powerful helpers – and then he lets Harry, poor messed-up Harry, face off with these and takes us along for the ride.
Now it’s not like Harry hasn’t got any help. Taking a back seat in this story are Harry’s normal helpers such as Karrin Murphy, a police officer from Special Investigations and also to some extent Susan Rodriquez, Dresden’s girlfriend. But they are put on the back burner to make room for interesting new characters such as Michael, a Knight of the Cross, and his family. Now Michael comes with a special connection to God and a magnificent sword and while constantly lecturing Dresden on how to be a decent person and a better man, he knows how to handle himself when trouble comes around.
The intrigue in this book also allows us to delve into the Nevernever for the first time – an experience which is not altogether pleasant for our dear Harry. It also allows us to experience the Vampire courts more intimately than earlier – again not altogether pleasant for Harry. It also introduces faeries, especially Harry’s godmother Lea.
If you ask me to say exactly why I like these books, I’m not quite able to get you an answer. I can give you all the normal reasons – it’s a thrilling exciting read with an interesting main character and it’s just the right thing to loose yourself in. But so is a lot of books. I haven’t  yet pinpointed what it is that so far makes me enjoy these books. But I do enjoy them and I guess I’ll keep reading ’till I can find out what it is that attract me about Harry Dresden.
Other than he is a cool, but not too cool, wizard living in Chicago trying hard not to destroy any and every modern technology he gets remotely close to while attempting to help ordinary people exposed to supernatural situations and creatures while trying to have a somewhat normal relationship with his girlfriend.

  • Title: Grave Peril (The Dresden Files #3)
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Publisher: Roc 
  • Year: 2001
  • Pages:  388 pages
  • Source: Own collection – Kindle
  • Stars:  stars out of 5

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Robin Hobb: Assassin’s Quest (The Farseer Trilogy #3) (review)

423053_10150667428926823_1450689760_nIt wasn’t Tolkien and Lord of the Rings who taught me to love fantasy. Nope. Weis and Hickman’s Chronicles Trilogy from the DragonLance shared world series is responsible for that. I fell in love with this story of – of course – unlikely heroes who go on a quest to save the world of Krynn and I fell in love with this world of kenders, draconians, gully dwarves and so much more.
It’s been about 15 years since I read this trilogy and since then  I have loved fantasy – and I have read and loved Lord of the Rings too. However, I feel that it’s hard to find good fantasy. More often than not, fantasy is either a band of unlikely heroes – as in LOTR and in DragonLance Chronicles – or one hero facing overwhelming odds but still finishing their quest – like in Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1). There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s done in a new and refreshing way.
The Farseer Trilogy is of the second kind. This is definitely one hero against the world – and never more than in this third book. When we left Fitz in the second book, he had been tortured by Regal, died and had been brought back to life by Burrich and Chade, his sort of adoptive father and his sort of uncle. When we meet him in this one, he is slowly trying to learn to be alive and a human again – after having survived by letting his soul live inside of Nighteyes.
He becomes more and more himself but with a lot of anger inside after being tortured in the Buckkeep dungeon. Anger which he lets loose on Burrich which makes both Burrich and Chade leave him alone to grow up and learn to be his own man. So what does Fitz do? He goes after Regal who has crowned himself king and has moved his entire court away from the coast and left Buckkeep and the coastal duchies to fend for themselves.
But Regal and his group of Skill users are not an easy target which Fitz learns the hard way. This forces Verity to interfere to save Fitz and by doing this, he puts a quest in Fitz’ head – to find Verity.
Verity left on a quest to bring the Elderlings back to safe Buckkeep and save the kingdom and is somewhere beyond the Mountain Kingdom. Followed by Regal’s guards and his skill users, Fitz flees towards the mountains and picks up a group of – yes, you guessed it – unlikely heroes on his way. Most noteworthy of course is always Nighteyes. Fitz’ wolf companion is a huge part of what makes this book special and Hobb manages to create great scenes and amazing action both when Nighteyes is around and when he joins a pack of wolves and leaves Fitz to fend for himself for a period of time.
This is the longest book in the trilogy and it is a bit too long in places. Part of the traveling gets longwinded but still, the book has amazing characters. Kettle and Starling end up as part of the group traveling with Fitz and especially Kettle is a mystery. But even more of a mystery is, why Verity has been gone for so long and what, if anything, he has discovered.
Despite it’s flaws, this is such a good book. Even when I thought it a bit long-winded, I was still intrigued and read every chance I got. I just wanted to know what happened to Verity and Kettricken and if they would ever find each other again? To the Fool who disappeared with Kettricken when they fled Buckkeep and Regal. To Molly, Burrich, Chade, the Lady Patience and all the other characters we’ve grown to love over these three books.
And especially what happened to Verity. Without revealing too much, I have to say that he finds what he was looking for – but that it maybe wasn’t quite what he expected when he set out on his quest.
Finally the cover of this book promises dragons – or at least one dragon – and yes, there are dragons. Not your regular fantasy fire breathing dragon though. These are much more complex creatures – and I absolutely loved them.
Without revealing the ending, this is definitely not your typical ending. Because of this, because of these books being so good and because I want something to come after this for Fitz and Nighteyes, I’m really happy that there are more books about Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. This series has rekindled my love of the fantasy genre.

First line: I awake every morning with ink on my hands.

  • Title: Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy #2)
  • Author: Robin Hobb
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Year: 2007 (original 1996)
  • Pages: 838 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus (review)

NightCircus.final_.2‘You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.’ (p. 499)
Back in June 2012 I bought The Night Circus. I had been desperate to get it for some time and the first time I saw it in a store, I just had to get it. So I did. And then promptly put it on my shelf and waited 1,5 years to read it. Not because I forgot about it – no. It was more like I was scared. See, I kept hearing that this book was amazing and I kept building it up in my head. So much, that I was afraid to start reading it because I didn’t want it to not be able to live up to my expectations and as long as it was just standing safely on my shelf, I could keep on believing it was good. But finally I decided that that wasn’t the proper way to handle a potentially amazing book and so I decided to read it this year.
When I started it, I did feel like it didn’t live up to the hype I had created for myself about it. But I read on and just got more and more intrigued by the circus. I recently read someone writing about how Lord of the Rings was more about the setting for them, the world Tolkien created, than it was about the characters and the adventure. And to a certain extent this was how I felt about this book. I loved the circus. This amazing black and white wandering circus filled with the most intriguing tents, each more wonderful than the next with beautiful scenarios, extremely talented artists and just pure magic. I loved reading about it and about the new tents that pops up from time to time.
The circus is the background for a magic competition. Two men competes with each other about which school of thought about magic is the best when they are working within the same environment. Celia and Marco are the two children who are taught to create things in two different ways and then pitted against each other in the wonderful Le Cirque des Rêves. Both are extremely talented at creating various illusions but the problem is that of course every action has consequences and this means that more and more people get involved in the circus – and none of these seem to age. And that’s just one of the consequences of the circus.
Well, except the twins born on the first night of the circus, Poppet and Widget. The twins grow up in the circus, the only ones who seem to grow. These two red-haired kitten training twins are only two of the amazing characters in this book. Others include Prospero, the Enchanter, Celia’s father, and Alexander, the man in grey who trains Marco. Tsukiko the contortionist. Bailey, the boy who loves the circus. Herr Thiesen, the amazing clock maker who becomes the first fan of the circus and starts a whole movement of people following the circus around.
Which is difficult since the circus arrives with no warning and with no announcements preceding it, only being open from sunset till sunrise. It just appears out of the blue somewhere close to a city and immediately draws people in. And I would really want it to show up here. I don’t particularly like circuses – they have clowns, they travel around with animals who don’t belong in a circus – but this circus doesn’t appear to have any clowns or mistreated animals. Just amazing sights, illusions and cute performing kittens. The Night Circus is a beautiful and fascinating books with endearing characters who just grew on me even though I started out just loving the setting. It is a beautiful fairytale set in a city resembling Victorian London. It’s a lovely fantastic ride which I will definitely return to – sometime after sunset when the circus is in town.

‘”Don’t look at me like that,” he says, “as if you think me inhuman.” “I can see through you,” Celia snaps. “It is not particularly trying on my imagination.”‘ (p. 392)

First line: The circus arrives without warning.

  • Title: The Night Circus
  • Author: Erin Morgenstern
  • Publisher: Anchor Books
  • Year: 2012
  • Pages: 508 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Robin Hobb: Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy #2) (review)

RoyalAssassin-UKSo if anyone has any doubts about how I feel about this series, just look at the pace I’m reading them at. The first two books have been read in 10 days. 1200+ pages. I have definitely found a new favorite fantasy author and I have been longing for that. These books are clever and intriguing with well-fleshed out characters.
Including our main protagonist Fitz. When we left him at the end of the first book, he was in the Mountain Kingdom, having been poisoned several times and almost killed by Prince Regal but was saved by his very first puppy. Yes, Nosy showed up, saved the day and gave his life for the boy he had loved. How happy I was to see that Burrich hadn’t killed Nosy as both Fitz and I believed.
He struggles home to Buckkeep where he is greeted with joy by many – but not all, of course. One of the first days back, he happens to walk around in the small town next to the keep and is drawn to a young wolf pup who has been caught and put in a cage by an animal trader. Fitz buys him with the intention of feeding him and making him strong enough to survive on his own in the wild. But slowly the wild animal breaks down the walls Fitz has erected around him after having lost two bonded animals and the two slowly become pack. And so Nighteyes is added to the cast of characters. ‘My mother named me Nighteyes. I was the last of my litter to get my eyes open.’ Nighteyes is an amazing addition to the cast of characters and it is very clear that it wasn’t enough for FItz to bond with a dog – he needed a strong and wild animal, a woolf. But of course, bonding with a wolf and keeping a wolf at a keep is not necessarily an easy task. Not only does the wolf not quite understand boundaries – which can be awkward if you wish to get intimate with someone – but being Witted, being able to bond with animals this way, is not really allowed. If you’re caught, you risk being hanged over water and then burned. So of course Fitz try to keep Nighteyes a secret.
But with more and more tasks given to FItz from the King-in-Waiting Verity and with these tasks requiring fighting, working together with a wolf can be hard to hide. Especially since Fitz is not necessarily is the best fighter and Nighteyes sometimes have to save his life. As Verity comments at one point in this book, ‘The most distinctive part of your fighting style is the incredible way you have of surviving them.’
While Verity is working to save his kingdom from Outislanders attacking the people and turning them into emotionless zombies, the Forged ones, his half-brother Regal is doing his best to gain as much power as possible. And at the same time, king Shrewd is apparently being poisoned by his new man-servant Wallace and it seems that the only one paying any attention to the king is the Fool – who also happens to be one of the most mysterious, enigmatic and interesting characters in the book.
As is Kettricken, the Queen-in-Waiting, who struggles to find her place at a court which is so very different from the one where she grew up – and who is becoming dangerous to Regal when she finds ways to impress the people of both the keep and the country.
So what this boils down to, is some very clever fantasy. I love these books. Fitz is annoying at times but I’m still desperately rooting for him to succeed and find love with Molly, his childhood friend. And I think it is a compliment to Hobb’s writing that she can make her readers care about a main character who sometimes is rather annoying. Also I just love the animal aspect of these. I love the bond between Nighteyes and Fitz and there’s a lot of humor in the description of their relationships – especially when Nighteyes interferes where Fitz doesn’t want him!
I am so happy to have found a fantasy author who can make just want to read and read and see what happens to these wonderful characters – and who luckily has written a lot of books and seem to write a new one every year.

First line: Why is it forbidden to write down specific knowledge of the magics?

  • Title: Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy #2)
  • Author: Robin Hobb
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Year: 2007 (original 1996)
  • Pages: 752 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

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Robin Hobb: Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1) (review)

tumblr_static_assassins_aprenticeFor some reason, it’s important which book you start the year with. If you start the year with a lousy book, you sort of have to spend the rest of the year trying to make up for it, whereas if you start with a good or even great book, it’s like the year can’t go wrong. So a huge amount of pressure rests on that first book.
My first book this year was the first book in Robin Hobb’s The Farseer TrilogyAssassin’s Apprentice is a book I’ve been waiting to read for a while after my good friend Henrik told me about it. However, he also told me that I would cry my eyes out while reading it – and that sort of book demands a certain kind of mood. And even though I’m not quite sure how to describe that mood, apparently that was the mood I was in when I started reading this book – and it turned out to be perfect.
Assassin’s Apprentice is the story of the bastard Fitz. Fitz is born to the King-in-Waiting Chivalry and when his grandfather delivers the six-years old kid to the castle, he sets more events in motion than anyone could foresee. Fitz is handed over to the stable master Burrich who is told to take care of him. Burrich is the best at his job – at taking care of dogs, horses and falcons but not exactly skilled at taking care of boys. Still he does the absolutely best he can – by putting the boy in with one of his dogs and her puppies. Fitz survives but bonds with one of the puppies. Normally no one would mind that a boy bonds with a puppy but Fitz has a certain ability, the Wit, which makes him able to sense what animals see, smell, experience. And Burrich will not allow this bonding because he’s afraid that Fitz will turn into a dog himself as the old legends say will happen. So he takes the puppy away and Fitz is heartbroken.
However, Fitz’s uncle, the King-in-Waiting Verity interferes and orders that the boy is taken to the keep and trained properly as befits a boy of the royal blood – even if the boy is a bastard. Still, Fitz has to grow up in a hostile environment. He’s the bastard and his father gives up his position, apparently because of the shame of fathering a bastard and what this means to his barren queen. So just by being born, Fitz has upset the kingdom.
But king Shrewd recognizes the importance of a bastard and he lets the boy know that whenever the boy needs him, he can come see him. But despite all this, Fitz has to learn everything the hard way and not everyone wish to see him succeed. Especially his other uncle, Prince Regal, is keen to get rid of him.
But Fitz grows up and makes some friends – among them Verity and also his late father’s widow the Lady Patience who even gifts him a small terrier, the second animal Fitz bonds with. Smithy becomes Fitz’s strength in a harsh life that includes training as a assassin with the mysterious Chade. But even more important is Molly, the candle maker’s daughter he meets in the small town next to the King’s keep. The children spend many happy hours playing and growing up together – even though Fitz always hides from her that he’s the royal Bastard.
And when the kingdom of Six Duchies is attacked repeatedly by raiders who not only kill and destroy but also does something to the people they capture that leaves them as bare shells of themselves; shells that are still capable of killing whoever they come in contact with, Fitz has to prove his worth. These Forged ones, as they are called, and their destruction becomes one of Fitz’s first duties for his king.
This was fantasy when it’s best. It was just so very clever throughout. I could see some of Hobb’s tricks at times and whenever I noticed one, it was to marvel at how clever she was at creating a world with a believable magic that doesn’t overpower the world or the story. In this world, there’s two types of magic – the Wit which is bonding with animals and the Skill which is a sort of telepathy. Only the Skill is socially acceptable and actually a part of the Royal line whereas the Wit is frowned upon and therefore Fitz has to hide his bonds with animals and his ability to sense their thoughts and feelings.
I really liked how the people in the Royal family are named after the traits, they are hoped to possess. So we have King Shrewd, his three sons Chivalry, Verity and Regal, we have a lady Patience and much more. I also really really liked the way she describes the animals and Fitz’s connection to them. Here’s Fitz and Smithy on their way back home after meeting Molly: ‘All the way up to the keep Smithy keep prattling to himself about all the perfumes he’d smelt on her and how she had scratched him ust where he could never reach in front of his ears and of the sweet biscuit she’d fed him in the tea shop.’ (p. 282-283) And I liked that the characters are not just black or white but have several shades of grey. The bad guys are bad yes, but there are reasons that explains at least part of why they are the way they are. One of my favorite characters was Burrich. This big strong man who would do anything and everything for his master, king-in-waiting Chivalry and who is very hurt by being left behind at the keep when Chivalry abdicates. And even though he is a stern teacher, he takes care of Fitz as he knows best – and he can be a real mamma bear when someone hurts Fitz.
All in all I just flew through this one, enjoying everything about it. It was engaging, interesting and exciting. This is what fantasy can be when it’s strong. I am in love with this world, Hobb has created and I’m so glad that not only is this the first in a trilogy but there are several more trilogies taking place in this world – and some even claim that this is the weakest trilogy. Whether that is so or not, I’m looking so much forward to spending more time in this world.

First line: A history of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers.

  • Title: Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1)
  • Author: Robin Hobb
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Year: 2007 (original 1995)
  • Pages:  460 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (review)

17026_413852478709121_1163712783_n‘Growing up, I took so many cues from books. They taught me most of what I knew about what people did, about how to behave. They were my teachers and advisers. In books, boys climbed trees, so I climbed trees, sometimes very high, always scared of falling. In books, people climbed up and down drainpipes to get in and out of houses, so I  climbed up and down drainpipes too.’ (p. 203)

So The Ocean at the End of the Lane was one of the books I was most excited about this year. I’ve been following it’s ‘conception’ on Neil Gaiman’s twitter and blog and in part because of my partaking in the process of the creating of the novel, in part because of the epitome of coolness that is Neil Gaiman and in part just because I like what Neil Gaiman creates and stands for, this was a novel that I knew I would buy and read as soon as possible. Add to this a gorgeous cover – even in the paperback version which is the only one I’ve seen in Danish bookstores – and I was at the point of no return.
Of course, this is extremely dangerous because you then hype the novel so much in your own head that you almost inevitably set it up for failure (which is why I haven’t read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern yet. I have build it up so much that it will be very difficult for it to live up to my expectations and so, I just don’t read it and that way I can keep thinking of it as an amazing novel. Not sure how well this approach is working since I then don’t read the books I’m anticipating the most… Anyway …). But to not make a bigger fuss about this than it need to be, I read the novel as soon as I could and as quickly as I could and I really liked it. I didn’t love it but I have the feeling that it is a novel that will keep growing on me and that I will return to – much like I feel about Neverwhere.
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home in Sussex to attend a funeral. While there, he decides to return to his childhood home and haunts. The home doesn’t bring back all that many memories but then he continues on towards the end of the lane, to the Hempstock farm. And while there, sitting on a bench, staring out across a duck pond, a whole flood of memories return to him.
He suddenly remembers his seventh birthday where no one came which he doesn’t seem all to sad about since he still received The Chronicles of Narnia, a cute black kitten and more. Even though his parents seem a bit distant and not all that caring, they give him just the perfect gifts. But things are about to change. His parents experience some financial trouble which necessitate taking in a lodger and this force him to share his little sister’s room.
The first of these lodgers is an opal miner who brings with him a lot of bad luck. He starts out by running over the kitten, then he gambles away all his and his friends’ money and finally, he steals the family’s car and uses it to commit suicide in and with.
This tragic event sets dark things in motion and causes our protagonist to get to know the women at the Hempstock farm. Three women living together. The oldest remember the Big Bang. The youngest is just 11 – but has been 11 for a long time and claims that her duck pond is really an ocean.
Neil Gaiman manages to create a totally believable reality where you don’t question the fantastic elements the slightest. Does what comes next really happen or are it just a child’s way of explaining things? It really plays on childhood fears and sometimes the fantastic makes more sense than the harsh realities. At least to a child.
It reminded me of NeverwhereItAmerican Gods … and even a bit of Pulp Fiction (mostly because of Harvey Keitel). At the same time the book feels extremely personal. I keep picturing a young Neil Gaiman having all this happen to him – or some version of this at least and the book is the result of him having turned these events over and over in his imagination throughout all these years.
It’s been a while since I read it but I don’t remember it as a 4 stars read. I actually remember being a bit disappointed by it which is probably because of how much I had hyped in. Gaiman brings up themes of memory and the unreliability of it, reality v. fiction, good v. evil, myth v. faith – all themes that I’m interested in. And it is a book I think back on very fondly. It’s a novel that feels that it could be explored a lot further and that it will be more rewarding on subsequent reads. So it’ll get a 4 stars rating from me and then I’ll hope to return to it and one more visit the women at the Hempstock farm and see how a duckpond can truly be an ocean.

‘Grown-ups don’t look like grownups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t many grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.’ (p. 152)

First line: It was only a duckpond, out at the back of the farm.

  • Title: The Ocean at the End of Lane
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Publisher: headline
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 248 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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Jim Butcher: Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)

91477‘Don’t mess with a wizard when he’s wizarding.’ (location 3055)

So immediately after finishing Storm Front, I picked up Fool Moon. In part because I was intrigued and wanted to keep on reading about Harry Dresden and in part because I just wasn’t ready to dive into anything more serious.
I had a good time reading Storm Front but didn’t love the book. But there’s no question about it – Fool Moon is the better book.
As usual – or can’t you say that when it’s only book two? – Harry is in serious need of work and money. But luckily he is called in to help the police and finds himself at the scene of a rather grizzly murder. A scene with large paw prints, a victim which seems to have been halfway eaten – and it’s a full moon. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that werewolves play a part in the plot.
But if it were just werewolves, it would be too easy. So as it turns out, there are different kinds of werewolves – and they don’t necessarily look with friendly eyes on each other. Or on the private eye wizard trying to figure out what’s going on…
There’s not much new under the sun. The plot follows roughly the same pattern as in the first book. There are several recurring characters who do pretty much the same as in the first book and Harry seems to react in the same ways. But there’s is something about these books and as the writing has improved from the first book, I’m still game.
Something I really like about this series is, that Harry doesn’t always seem to always know exactly what he’s doing and even though he’s a trained wizard, he sometimes overestimates his own abilities. And that works well for creating some great action. Another clever move is that Dresden can’t use modern technology so he can’t just look things up online because anything electric basically self-destructs whenever he gets near. This is such a smart move on Butcher’s part.
I also really like that Butcher doesn’t fully explain a lot of things. We are still left guessing about what a lot of things are and how the magic really works. Like the Nevernever. I’m pretty sure that Harry will go there at some point and I like that we are kept waiting.
But I think my favorite part of this book was the potion making. He makes a fade-into-the-background potion as well as a pick-me-up potion and the ingredients just makes sense – in a funny way. The fade-into-the dark potion is filled with boring stuff – like lettuce for taste and elevator music to camouflage the spirit whereas the pick-me-up potion contains morning doughnut, fresh soap, dawn sunshine, a to-do list, some bright cheerful music – and coffee! I’m really not sure it makes sense if you think too hard about it but it doesn’t have to. It works in the book.
So all in all, this book has more humor and feels better written than the first book in the series. Oh, and he mentions Benji too, a childhood favorite of mine. So again, an enjoyable read and I’ll definite read further on in the series at some point. Probably soon because I’m starting to fall asleep again when reading in bed at night…

  • Title: Fool’s Moon (The Dresden Files #2)
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Publisher: Roc 
  • Year: 2001
  • Pages:  421 pages
  • Source: Own collection – Kindle
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Stephen King: Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower #4) (review)

wizard-and-glass2So after having loved the third volume in Stephen King’s amazing The Dark Tower series, I just continued straight on with the fourth book, Wizard and Class. The third book, The Waste Lands, sees the ka-tet fully formed with Eddie, Susannah and finally Jake (and Oy) as Roland’s partners on his quest to reach the tower. And it ended with a cliffhanger so I just needed to keep on reading – even though Wizard and Glass is the longest in the series with it’s 845 pages (my edition).
And it continues right where The Waste Lands left off. Our group of unlikely heroes have boarded Blaine the mono rail and are ready to try their luck at outsmarting him in a game of riddles, thus preventing him from killing himself while they’re still on board. Not an easy task since Blaine has seen it all and heard it all – he knows any and every riddle. Luckily – and necessarily because otherwise this book would not be 845 pages long – they manage to outsmart him and after having stepped out of the train, they find themselves … in Kansas, of all places.
But our group decides not to press on on their quest but instead, sit down, take it easy and listen to Roland tell the story of his youth, the story of why he is emotionally stunted and unable to love, the story of Susan.
And that’s pretty much the rest of the book. As young teenagers, Roland and his two best friends, Cuthbert and Alain, are sent away from home to keep them safe. But of course, they find themselves in even greater danger because they end up in a city strongly supporting the good man, John Farson; the man, the boys’ hometown Gilead is fighting against. The boys pretend to be send to count horses, fish nets and other things that can support in the battle against John Farson and quickly finds out that they are lied to by just about everyone in town.
Except Susan.
Roland and Susan meets accidentally one night and Roland walks her home – and that’s it. Roland is lost and in love. But Susan isn’t exactly free to fall in love and she comes with a past which may be important in the job, the boys are trying to do. So pretty soon, the young teenagers are sneaking off and making love all over and Susan is helping the boys with their attempt to prevent John Farson for getting what he wants.
But being young and in love isn’t always the best way to be when you are also trying to sneak around some very dangerous men and a whole town, in fact, so Roland’s friends are extremely worried. And for good reasons because if the men in town aren’t dangerous enough, there’s also a witch to take into account. A witch who finds herself the guardian of a pretty pink stone; a stone, which has powers – and a will! – of it’s own.
Even though it’s nice to get some backstory to Roland, I would have preferred it to be shorter, I think. I really like spending time with Eddie, Susannah, Jake, Oy and Roland and their attempt to get to the tower and in this book, we hardly get any closer. Well, we do a bit, but not much. And knowing Roland, we know that the love story will not be a happy one – and to add to this, King uses so so much foreshadowing to let us know that things will not turn out the way the young lovers want them too, that it actually gets to be a bit too much.
One think I did like was the riddle game in the beginning, played between Blaine the mono rail and our group of heroes. I’m pretty sure that King was inspired by Tolkien when writing this – the riddle game played by Bilbo and Gollum in The Hobbit (read an interesting post about it here), especially since both authors seem to emphasize the history of riddles and the tradition of riddle contests.
I also really liked the shout-outs to The Wizard of Oz even though I have to admit that I have neither watched nor read it. I have watched a little bit of it and I did like what I saw (and not only because Toto is a cairn terrier just like my Kayleigh (except a different color)) but I didn’t finish watching it because I hadn’t seen it from the beginning. Anyway, I liked how King incorporates elements from The Wizard of Oz into the book – and how Kansas apparently has a special connection to magical worlds!
I think if this book had been anything but a part of the Dark Tower series, I would have liked it a lot more – it just didn’t fit quite in to the series for me. Or maybe it will be a better read when one rereads the series and does know how it all ends and isn’t all eager to find out. All I know is that I didn’t feel the need to just read on in the series after finishing this book as I did after finishing the third volume. But it’s not a bad book, mind you – I realize this review makes it sound like a bad and boring book and it’s really not. It’s just not as good as The Waste Lands and that is very obvious when you read them back to back.

  • Title: Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower #3)
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher: New English Library – Hodder & Stoughton
  • Year: 2003 (original 1997)
  • Pages: 845 pages
  • Source: My boyfriend’s collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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