Category Archive: Reviews

Oct 04

Book Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

WHAT’S PLAYING: Erykah Badu “Bag Lady”


This week’s book is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

Sussex,England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, 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. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

This book came to me at an opportune time. I had just lost my mother and was suffering through yet another bout of pneumonia—the same disease that killed my mom. To tell you the truth, I was in a very bad place. Then one day, a package arrived in the mail. I opened it and found this:

A couple of years ago, I met Neil’s American editor, Jennifer Brehl, at a convention and developed a serious girl-crush on her. Lucky for me, she’s as kind as she is brilliant, and didn’t call security on me. Instead, we struck up a friendship over our shared love of books. When she heard about my troubles, she sent me the book pictured above, along with a copy of his Make Good Art speech. Both books now reside on a very special bookcase that no one but me is allowed to touch.

I am not kidding. Touch it, and I’ll beat you with a bag of oranges.

Gaiman is a master of creating worlds that are just a bit…off. I’ve read this deceptively short and simple book at least eight times, and it never fails to move me. It sinks its hooks into my soul and I’m left helpless, caught between wonder and terror.

And every time, I come away not quite sure where the mundane ends and the fantastic begins. 


Favorite Line/Image: “I saw the world I had walked since my birth, and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”


Bottom Line: Damn you, Neil Gaiman. You made me cry.


Coming up next: NOS4ATU by Joe Hill

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Feb 01

Book Review – The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle

WHAT’S PLAYING: Robbie Robertson “Ghost Dance”

When three strange women (one black, one brown, one white) arrive at a wayside inn called The Gaff and Slasher, Karsh, the innkeeper, takes them in against his better judgment. Two of the women—Lal and Nyateneri—are searching for their former mentor, a powerful magician who has summoned them to save him from destruction and worse at the hands of his most powerful pupil, Arshadin. The third, Lukassa, is a village girl whom Lal resurrected after she drowned and whose childhood love, Tikat, pursues the three, intent on regaining her. When these blighted souls converge on the inn, life there is forever changed as powerful forces wage ungodly battle for possession of the magician’s soul.

I first came across The Innkeeper’s Song ten years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite fantasy novels. Beagle is a masterful stylist, his narrative full of wonderful, unexpected metaphors and fierce musicality. There is poetry in this book few writers can manage, full of things left unsaid and subtle inferences. All of this comes together to weave a compelling story that is impossible to put down.

Told from various points of view, The Innkeeper’s Song is a multi-faceted fantasy, not just one tale, but several woven together seamlessly, flowing in and out of stream-of-consciousness. Hard to fathom, I know, but it works brilliantly because Beagle is a master of characterization. There is never any doubt who is talking, even when the differences are subtle.

In elegant yet simple prose, Beagle plumbs the nature of life, death and love by illuminating the shifting relationships among the various major and minor players (including an irascible shape-changing fox) who people this affecting tale.

Favorite Line/Image: My name is Karsh. I am not a bad man.

I am not a particularly good one, either, though honest enough in my trade. Nor am I at all brave—if I were, I would be some kind of soldier or sailor. And if I could write even such a song as that nonsense about those three women which someone has put my name to, why, then I would be a songwriter, a bard, since I would certainly be fit for nothing else. But what I am fit for is what I am, everything I am. Karsh the innkeeper. Fat Karsh.

They talk foolishness about me now, since those women were here. Since that song. Now I am all mystery, a man from nowhere; now I am indeed supposed to have been a soldier, to have traveled the world, seen terrible things, done terrible things, changed my name and my life to hide from my past. Foolishness. I am Karsh the innkeeper, like my father, like his father, and the only other country I have ever seen is the farmland around Sharan-Zek, where I was born. But I have lived here for almost forty years, and run the Gaff and Slasher for thirty, and they know that, every one of them. Foolishness.

Bottom Line: A fantasy masterpiece that has withstood the test of time, The Innkeeper’s Song is not to be missed.

Coming up next: The Peculiar by Stephen Bachman

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Jan 04

Book Review – Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Andrew Shaffer

WHAT’S PLAYING: Bo Durham “High School Party” (Yep, it’s that kind of book.)

This week’s book is Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Andrew Shaffer a.k.a. Fanny Merkin.

Young, arrogant tycoon Earl Grey seduces the naïve coed Anna Steal with his overpowering good looks and staggering amounts of money, but will she be able to get past his fifty shames, including shopping at Walmart on Saturdays, bondage with handcuffs, and his love of BDSM (Bards, Dragons, Sorcery, and Magick)? Or will his dark secrets and constant smirking drive her over the edge?

Fifty Shames of Earl Grey is a parody of E.L. James’s series, Fifty Shades of Grey. For those of you unfamiliar with FSOG, James’s book started off as Twilight fan fiction and morphed into a story about a captain of industry (Christian Grey) who lures an unsuspecting college co-ed named Anastasia Steele into the world of BDSM.

The good news is that you don’t need to read Fifty Shades of Grey to enjoy Fifty Shames of Earl Grey.

I seriously could not stop laughing at the barrage of one-liners, irreverent jokes, and hilarious Twilight references throughout the book. Shaffer’s writing is fast-paced, fresh, and entertaining. His ability to comment on the clichés of erotic and romantic literature without seeming pretentious is nothing short of brilliant. He creates a hysterical mood that shatters the illusion of romance by overusing clichéd words. The word “gaze” appears to be one of his favorites.

From his man crush on Tom Cruise to his propensity for wearing a silver thong with pink crocs, Earl’s antics are hilarious and entertaining, and Anna Steele is the perfect straight woman.

Let me be clear, this is not an erotic novel. The magick themed sex scene in which Earl Grey pulls multi-colored hankies and a dove out of Anna’s lady parts will have you giggling nonstop.

Shaffer hits all the right notes in this parody. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Favorite Line: “Ew,” I say. “Was that supposed to be sexy?”

“It was supposed to be. My dirty talk doesn’t turn you on?”

I shake my head. “Sometimes. But comparing a woman’s vagina to a fish is unacceptable.”

“What if I said ‘goldfish’? Goldfish are colorful and uniquely beautiful. Like you, my dearest Anna.”

I shake my head again. “Just stop. No fish.”

“Okay, then what did you have in mind?”

“Drop the double entendres and let’s move on to another F-word.”

“Oh, Anna,” he says. “I thought you’d never ask. Food it is, then! Let’s go eat in the dining hall.”

It wasn’t the F-word I had in mind, of course (it was actually two F-words: friending and Facebook), but it works. I’m hungry. Plus, I don’t even have a Facebook account.

Bottom Line: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey is relentless and shameless, in a good way.

Coming up next: The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle

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