Of all of Neil Gaiman’s novels, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is probably the one most suited for a stage adaptation. While stuffed full of magic and monsters and other such fantasy, it’s more of a quiet story at heart. Introspective, even. A story about what we choose to remember and what we don’t. About a boy who has to grow up a bit too quickly. And it’s these elements that Joel Howrood’s adaptation, the basis for the critically acclaimed National Theatre stage production, focuses on. Perfectly capturing the feeling of wading through an ocean of memories, Horwood’s script faithfully adapts Gaiman’s novel with all of the adventure and emotion you’d want. I haven’t seen the play yet, but the script is a breathtaking piece of writing all to itself. And I can only imagine how brilliantly it translates on stage.
NOTE: This review contains mild spoilers for both the original novel and Joel Horwood’s adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane Adapted by Joel Horwood Returning to his childhood home, a man finds himself standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. When he meets an old friend, he is reminded of a name he has not heard for many years: Lettie Hempstock. And is transported to his 12th birthday, when Lettie claimed that this wasn’t a pond at all, but an ocean…
Plunged into 1983, our young protagonist struggles with the ripples of a disturbing event that makes him question his deepest assumptions about his fractured family. Striving to come to terms with his newly unknowable world, together with his new friend Lettie he must reckon with ancient forces that threaten to destroy everything and in turn learn to trust others to find his own feet.
If you loved They Threw Us Away, the first book in Daniel Kraus’s Teddies Saga, then you’re gonna love They Stole Our Hearts. As the second part of this series, They Stole Our Hearts offers everything that made the first book so intriguing alongside a healthy helping of world-building, character development, and big answers. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, and quick read. And I dare you to stop yourself from reading the whole thing in a single sitting. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of They Stole Our Hearts from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
They Stole Our Hearts Written by Daniel Kraus; illustrated by Rovina Cai The teddies—clever Buddy, brave Sunny, sweet Sugar, and wise Reginald—have managed to find a child. Life with Darling is far better than any they’ve known. But something’s not right—the promised bliss of Forever Sleep hasn’t come. And they are kept a secret from Darling’s mother, hidden underneath the child’s bed in the dusty darkness.
Then the inevitable happens: Mama discovers the teddies. And like all adults they’ve met thus far, she responds with fear and anger. The teddies must watch as one of their friends is destroyed. The remaining trio barely escape, thrust back into a world that does not want them.
Disillusioned and lost, the teddies embark on a journey back to the factory where they were created. En route, they find a civilization of discarded teddy bears. The comfort of a town of teddies has its allure…but the need for answers weighs heavy. And there’s something definitely off about these new teddies. Will our heroes accept their strange rules? Or must they dig deep for one more grand adventure to finally learn why they were thrown away?
Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in a single book is a monumental task. Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in less than 500 pages is a nearly impossible task. And yet that’s exactly what Barry Singer’s Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond attempts to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really hit the mark. For those hoping for a glimpse behind the scenes of their favorite musicals, Ever After isn’t the book for you. It’s less of a historical account and more of a collection of reviews. In that context, it’s not too bad. However, the first half of the book is particularly hard to power through and the book’s general lack of depth hinders much of the enjoyment. (3 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of Ever After from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.
Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977-2020 Written by Barry Singer Before Ever After appeared in 2003, no book had addressed the recent past in musical theater history—an era Singer describes as “ever after musical theater’s many golden ages.” Derived significantly from Singer’s writings about musical theater for the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker, Ever After captured that era in its entirety, from the opening of The Act on Broadway in October 1977 to the opening of Avenue Q Off-Broadway in March 2003. This new edition brings Ever After up to date, from Wicked, through The Book of Mormon, to Hamilton and beyond. Once again, this the first book to cover this new, pre-pandemic age of the Broadway musical.
What happens after you die? Is there a Heaven? A Hell? A whole lot of nothing? It’s a question that we’ve been asking ourselves for as long as we’ve known what death was. And in TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door, Reapers and Ferrymen usher the recently deceased from the world of the living to whatever form their afterlife takes. For most, this transition happens without a problem. But for some, like Wallace Price, it’s quite a difficult affair. Under the Whispering Door is a gorgeously written, expertly plotted, and deeply emotional read. Perfectly balancing humor, melancholy, and deep sadness, Under the Whispering Door dives deep into what it means to be a good person. It’s a thrilling fantasy, a sweet romance, and an emotional exploration of grief. All in all, it’s a must-read.
NOTE: I received a review copy of Under the Whispering Door from Macmillan/Tor and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead. And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead. But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
With Russell T. Davies set to return as the showrunner of Doctor Who in 2023, it seemed like the perfect time to finally read The Writer’s Tale. Published in 2010, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale explores the final two years of Davies’ original run of Doctor Who – from the earliest days of season four to the final days of filming the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration special. Told through emails sent back and forth between Davies and Doctor Who Magazine writer, Ben Cook, The Writer’s Tale chronicles the good, the bad, and the in-between of producing these episodes. It’s less of a how-to-write book and more of a book about writing. And for that, it stands apart from the crowd of various behind-the-scenes books for TV shows and movies. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter Written by Russell T. Davies and Ben Cook When The Writer’s Tale was published in autumn 2008, it was immediately embraced as a classic. For this extensively revised and updated paperback edition, Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook continue their candid and in-depth correspondence to take in work on the last of Russell’s 2009 specials – and the end of David Tennant’s era as The Doctor – while also looking back to the achievements of the first three seasons. With over 300 pages of all-new material, including new photos and original artwork, The Writer’s Tale is a fitting tribute to Russell T Davies’ phenomenal achievement in bringing Doctor Who back for a new generation of fans.
Imagine an alternate twentieth century. One that’s been plagued by a deadly pandemic, a multi-decade-long war, and a ton of social upheaval. Imagine that in the wake of all of this chaos, a unifying global government rises to power. And imagine that you’ve played a part in the development of one of that government’s key policies. That’s the world of Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson’s You Feel It Just Below the Ribs. Taking the form of an in-universe memoir, You Feel It Just Below the Ribs explores the history of this New Society through the eyes of a scientist who worked for them, Dr. Miriam Gregory. At times, it’s a bit meandering. The pacing is all over the place, and there’s often a lack of urgency. But at its heart, it’s an emotional, thought-provoking reflection on the fragility of memory and the importance of trying to do the right thing. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of You Feel It Just Below the Ribs from Harper Perennial/HarperCollins and Edelweiss+. All thoughts are my own.
You Feel It Just Below the Ribs Written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson A fictional autobiography in an alternate twentieth century that chronicles one woman’s unusual life, including the price she pays to survive and the cost her choices hold for the society she is trying to save.
An idyllic town hiding an unsettling and disturbing underbelly is one of my favorite horror tropes. There’s just something inherently scary about places that seem too perfect. And it’s a trope that Daniel Kraus uses to perfection in The Autumnal. Featuring a tense and emotional script from Kraus, some hauntingly abstract artwork from illustrator Chris Shehan, and gorgeous colors from Jason Wordie, The Autumnal delivers a rumination on generational trauma that’s as emotionally satisfying as it is scary. It’s a traditional creepy town story wrapped around an emotionally raw story about a mother and her daughter just trying to survive. And it’s a delightfully haunting read. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(Note: I received an ARC of this graphic novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. Additionally, mild spoilers follow.)
The Autumnal Written by Daniel Kraus Illustrated by Chris Shehan Colors by Jason Wordie Following the death of her estranged mother, Kat Somerville and her daughter Sybil flee a difficult life in Chicago for the quaint—and possibly deadly—town of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire. From NY Times best-selling author, Daniel Kraus (The Shape of Water, Trollhunters, The Living Dead), and rising star Chris Shehan, comes a haunting vision of America’s prettiest autumn.
Alien first contact stories are a dime a dozen. They always focus on the immediate impact of extraterrestrial contact – how does humanity survive that first encounter? But what about the aftermath? What happens months later when the dust has settled and the shock dissipates? What are the long-term impacts of knowing humanity isn’t alone in the universe? This is the question at the heart of Lindsay Ellis’s Truth of the Divine. Picking up where the first book, Axiom’s End, left off, Truth of the Divine simultaneously expands the world introduced in that first book while delving even deeper into the psyches of its characters – human and alien alike. Truth of the Divine takes everything that worked in Axiom’s End and makes them even better. And it’s a thrilling, thought-provoking read that stays with you long after the first page. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(Note: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. Additionally, mild spoilers for both Axiom’s End and Truth of the Divine follow.)
Truth of the Divine Written by Lindsay Ellis The human race is at a crossroads; we know that we are not alone, but details about the alien presence on Earth are still being withheld from the public. As the political climate grows more unstable, the world is forced to consider the ramifications of granting human rights to nonhuman persons. How do you define “person” in the first place?
Like many adults of a certain age, I grew up on Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. To say that book series had quite an impact on the world of children’s literature feels like an understatement. Sure, it didn’t have the wild, uncontrollable fervor of Harry Potter or Twilight at their heights. But it still left a sizable impression on many young people. And now, after 13 A Series of Unfortunate Events books, 4 All the Wrong Questions books, and a handful of picture books, Snicket is back with a new novel, aimed at a more mature audience – Poison for Breakfast. While on the surface, Poison for Breakfast looks like Snicket’s past books, it bears little in common with them. Poison for Breakfast is not a mystery novel, even though there is a mystery at the heart of the story. Instead, it’s a leisurely stroll through Snicket’s thoughts on various topics – including how best to prepare an egg, various philosophical ideas, and the very concept of literature. Fans of Snicket’s voice will adore the book. But those looking for a mystery with a bit more meat on its bones should, perhaps, look elsewhere. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. All thoughts are my own.)
Poison For Breakfast by Lemony Snicket Over the course of his long and suspicious career, Mr. Snicket has investigated many things, including villainy, treachery, conspiracy, ennui, and various suspicious fires. In this book, he is investigating his own death. Poison for Breakfast is a different sort of book than others we have published, and from others you may have read. It is different from other books Mr. Snicket has written. It could be said to be a book of philosophy, something almost no one likes, but it is also a mystery, and many people claim to like those. Certainly Mr. Snicket didn’t relish the dreadful task of solving it, but he had no choice. It was put in front of him, right there, on his plate.
If you’ve ever seen a slasher film, then you’re familiar with the Final Girl. She’s the girl who makes it through the end of the movie, vanquishing the Killer and surviving the bloodbath. But what happens to a Final Girl after the credits roll and the story’s over? How does she cope with all of that trauma and survivor’s guilt? Is she ever able to move on and escape the shadow of the Monster that hunted her? Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group explores all of these questions, acting as both a love letter to slasher films and a deconstruction of the genre and many of its tropes. It’s a fast-paced, thrilling read that you won’t want to put down. Hendrix delivers a novel that’s every bit as action-packed and horrific as the best horror films. But he also deftly explores the trauma of multiple Final Girls – all of whom are inspired by some of the most popular horror franchises. If you’re a fan of horror movies, The Final Girl Support Group is a must-read. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
(NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. All thoughts are my own.)
The FInal Girl Support Group Written by Grady Hendrix Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For decades she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized—someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece. But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and that no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife…they will never, ever give up.