I’m still working on getting caught up with my old Book Of The Month reviews and I’ve already read through all the March 2018 books I ordered, so I should have reviews for those up early next week. I may alternate newer with older months going forward as I get caught up, so I can read their more recent picks and review them closer to the actual release date.
Out of the three books I selected for February 2018, I was expecting to like The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah the best. It actually ended up being the one I rated lowest out of three. I really liked it at the outset – historical fiction, Alaska, a young bold protagonist, what’s not to like – but it kind of fell apart for me at the end. Keep reading to find out why, and also why I gave my other two February 2018 picks a higher rating.
Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a low monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.
Book Of The Month is not paying me to promote their service. I just love it so much that I’ve turned my monthly deliveries into a feature on my blog 🙂 I do encourage you to try it though, because if you like hardcovers it’s a great deal. You can use my referral link to sign up if you’re interested in trying it. You’ll get your first three months for just $9.99 each plus a cute tote. And I’ll get a free book when you join. Win, win!
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: June 18th 2013
Published By: William Morrow
Length In Hardcover: 181 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.99
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. He is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark
Felt like a fairytale for adults. I didn’t really know what to expect exactly out of this short novel, because it was my very first Gaiman read (yes, really). It only took a few pages for me to feel immersed in the creepy, dark, and borderline scary world created by the author. The story line had the feeling of a legend – the kind you would tell late at night around a fire or that you’d find written in an old book of fables. I wasn’t sure if I’d be turned off by the magical elements, but they were executed well and felt convincing – like there was a whole world of monsters and spirits behind them that had been fully realized in the author’s mind and from which he was selecting his characters.
The writing. I’m assuming that the writing in The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is representative of Gaiman’s writing overall, and I can see how it might not appeal to everyone. His style is a bit out there, and unapolagetically so. There were parts of the novel that were harder to follow and almost felt like they didn’t make senses, but I found that the writing style actually played into the destabilizing and chaotic feelings that the story was meant to evince in its readers. There were other parts in which Gaiman’s writing became familiar and almost homey – for example his descriptions of the old houses, the food being served and the character’s clothing. It was a mix of comforting and outlandish that I thought worked really well.
The strong female characters. The story is told from the point of view of a young unnamed boy, but ultimately it was the female characters that stuck out for me in the novel. The men that appeared were not necessarily very inspiring, from the protagonist who is mostly carried along willy nilly by the evil and good forces around him, to his dad who is easily won over by a conniving spirit, to the boarder who exits the scene almost immediately at the beginning of the story. The female characters, on the other hand, were powerhouses – especially the three generations of witches living in the titular house by the ‘ocean’ down the lane. My favorite was of course was young Lettie, but even the evil female spirit she battles is pretty compelling. The strongest forces in the story, pushing and pulling against each other, are all female.
It felt incomplete. This is a very short novel, though I don’t think it’s short enough to qualify as a novella. I ended up feeling like there was much more that could have been explored and explained. I especially wanted to know more about Lettie, including what happens to her in the end and more about other adventures she may have experienced before or after the novel’s story line. Though it was interesting to experience the action in a very realistic way from the point of view of a small boy, I missed getting Lettie’s point of view and her family’s full backstory as well. Apparently Gaiman has included at least some members of the family of witches in two of his other novels. In my opinion he could do with a novel (or series) focused solely on them.
If you miss the feeling of reading a fairytale as a child that was just at the edge of what you could take in terms of creepiness, this novel will give you adult fable goosebumps.
The Broken Girls
Publication Date: March 20th 2018
Published By: Berkley
Length In Hardcover: 336 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.12
Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate. It’s called Idlewild Hall. In the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears.
Vermont, 2014. Journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near Idlewild Hall. When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored, a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced.
Structure and writing. Is anyone else out there as much of a sucker for a dual timeline as I am? Maybe it’s because I read so much, and having multiple timelines keeps me engaged and feels like something a little different from the average linear story line. I really enjoyed that the plot of The Broken Girls alternated between the past and present – it kept me engaged and wanting to know more each chapter. The writing was quite good for a mystery – there were atmospheric descriptive passages that were spine-tingling and worthy of reading out loud. Overall, the plot had a decent amount of suspense to it, a few twists and an original story.
Idlewild Hall. The dilapidated home for wayward girls that is at a the center of the narrative is a delightfully creepy setting for the denouement of the action and almost an additional character in the novel. I really enjoyed the supernatural elements (whether real or imagined) that the haunted manor had roaming its halls and grounds. These magical realism elements were not overdone and added to the creepy atmosphere of the story. I think haunted girls home is just behind haunted asylum and haunted prison in terms of fear-factor. You may not want to read this one right before touring some old mansions on the East Coast.
The historical story line. I did enjoy shifting between past and present throughout the narrative, but I have to admit that the historical story line felt much more captivating to me than the present day one. I think it boiled down to the fact that the 4 young women who are at the center of the past story line are just more interesting characters than present-day journalist Fiona. I was fascinated by the way in which St. James gave each of the four original Idlewild roomates – – her own personality and backstory, as well as her own grisly secret to hide. I also like that the author brought some of the girls back as characters within the present day sections that pop up as Sheridan investigates the history of Idlewild Hall.
The romance. This mystery did not need a gratuitous romantic storyline for one of its heroines, thrown in just so it seems like she’s not solely focused on her career but has a hunky boyfriend she falls asleep next to. Fiona’s policeman paramour was sadly very one-note – just a beefy guy whose jeans kept hanging off his hips (you know, the way jeans tend to) and who desperately wanted Fiona to commit to him. The whole thing felt cheesy and pointless and detracted from the actual meaty and satisfying mystery. The novel also closed at a slower pace compared to the action and revelations of the beginning.
An original historical story combined with an ominous supernatural atmosphere and some interesting characters make this one more than just another solid mystery.
The Great Alone
Publication Date: February 6th 2018
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Length In Hardcover: 440 pagesGoodreads Rating: 4.35
Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within.
Leni and her mom. This novel is ultimately Leni’s coming-of-age story, but also the story of the unbreakable bond shared between mother and daughter. Both women are strong but flawed and doing their best to keep it together against serious adversity. I like the way in which the author explored their connection – including the crucial moment in every teenager’s life when he or she realizes that their parent is far from infallible. Living in Alaska deeply changes Leni and her mother in the span of just a few years, and it’s ultimately the two women’s ability to connect with Alaska’s essence that allows them to survive.
The writing. I felt that Hannah’s writing in The Great Alone had more depth to it than her writing in The Nightingale (my review here). The Nightingale is ultimately the better novel, but one in which the story and the characters rather than the writing were doing the brunt of the work. For The Great Alone, on the other hand, Hannah’s writing style turns higher-caliber, more literary and less over-dramatic, though at its best in the first half of the novel rather than in some fragmented and slightly manic sequences in the second half. Alaska itself is portrayed beautifully, and for someone like me who is in love with the idea of Alaska itself, the parts of the novel describing the state were a joy to read.
Ernt. Leni’s father is a very important counterpoint to Leni and her mother’s struggle, but unfortunately his character falls flat. After the first few angry and raving scenes in which he stars, I realized there was no additional nuance to be had in his portrayal. Aside from a few mentions of his likely PTSD from Vietnam, there is little to nothing redeeming to him. He turns into a caricatured, big bad wolf sort of nemesis, and it was hard for me to feel for or care about him. That really removed a lot of the potential tension that could have resulted from a more complex depiction of an abusive husband and father.
Slow and inconsistent pace. Most of the novel has a pretty slow pace with long descriptive breaks between significant action. I like descriptive sections as much as any other lover of classic literature, but there were sections about the family’s subsistence against the Alaskan elements that felt quite repetitive (though possibly intentionally so). In particular, the relationship between Mathew and Leni progress at an unrealistically snails pace for two living/breathing teenagers. By the time they hold hands, it feels like they must be wearing promise rings we haven’t been told about. Then, everything changes, with a frantic burst of action that brings everything to a head in a matter of a chapter or so, followed by a grueling, melodramatic epilogue that I had to honestly skim over because it was so trite it was painful.
An interesting historical novel set in the beautiful Alaskan landscape about the bond against all odds between mother and daughter, with some flaws in execution.
Have you read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, The Broken Girls or The Great Alone? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my January 2018, December 2017, November 2017, October 2017, September 2017, August 2017, July 2017, June 2017, May 2017, April 2017, March 2017, February 2017, and January 2017.
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