Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read Harder Challenge: Could Be (Fantasy novel)
Star Review: ♥ ♥♥ ♥ (+½) /5
Why: Neil Gaiman’s writing has captivated me since I read American Gods many years ago. I actually haven’t read nearly as much of his work as I would have thought, having yet to venture into his comic books such as the well-received Sandman series. That being said, I always have high expectations going into any Gaiman story, this one being no exception.
A small boy all grown up comes to visit a friend and remembers suddenly how they separated years prior. The ensuing pages chronicle his memories of a lodger’s suicide unraveling an evil menacing the world. The boy’s mistake when he was young puts an otherworldly friend to sleep … or something like it.
What I love most about Gaiman’s writing is that it’s like what he seems to be as a person – both British and a complete weirdo. In this book, as in much of his writing that I’ve read so far, there’s the sweetness of a pure child-oriented fantasy world, mixed with the grittiness that makes of every day life, and the taste of wrongness that exists in subtle horror. Gaiman’s genius lies in his unveiling of a story, and in his turns of phrase. He takes a reader on a journey from unknowing to understanding and it’s truly a thing of beauty to witness or, even better, be caught up in. The way Gaiman writes makes me half-smile more than half the time I’m reading. I can’t recommend going on this particular journey with Gaiman enough. I left this one thinking about the nature of youth, good and evil, magic, time, memory, and guilt. Not bad for under 200 pages.Read it now!
Title: Voyager (Outlander Series #3)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Read Harder Challenge: No
Star Review: ♥ ♥ ♥ /5
Why: This book is the third in the Outlander series. I began reading this series at the recommendation of a coworker. The recommendation coincided with the time that the series was regaining popularity (thanks, Starz television show!), and it came with the label of a “historical fiction” story, so I was in. When I read it, I was concerned that a professional colleague had suggested it for me – there are some sexy scenes in there! Essentially the series follows Claire, a WWII nurse-cum-wife who accidentally steps through some magic stones to a time two hundred years prior, where hijinks ensue and she falls in love with a headstrong Highland Scot. She has gone back and forth in time a few times thus far in the series, and in the third one, she has come back to the 20th century for what she thinks is the last time. However, in her research on her 18th century husband, she realizes he still lived in his continued timeline (she thought he had died after she left), and so she must return. This book chronicles her return and the all-new hijinks that they involve themselves with.
I am invested in the main characters, Claire and her love/18th century husband, Jaime. This love story is impactfully told by Gabaldon, and I shed tears over their commitment to one another. That said, the length of this particular installment was a challenge for me. I enjoyed meeting new characters, as I generally do. An example is Lord John Grey, who I suspect will make a reappearance in subsequent books. I do fear, giving the shifting focus of this book, that it will be only natural for Gabaldon to spend less time with Jaime and Claire and more with other partners and characters that are appearing as time goes on. The book itself had just enough historical relevance and barely plausible plot to remain entertaining despite is length. At the end of the book, they wash up on the shore of America in the 1770s, so I am sure it will be another historically interesting romp that scrapes the bottom of the plausibility barrel for the new setting. As an American, this one will be slightly more familiar to me, and whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.
An interesting note: Claire (and Jaime’s) daughter Bree – who was raised in the 20th century – and her future husband could both “hear the stones” when they helped her mother back to Jaime’s time. I suspect they will be doing some time traveling of their own soon enough. I will read the next book, but may tire before the sequel ends, hence the noncommittal rating that leans just over the line of average.