The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneI was very pleasantly surprised with The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman because I had no expectations when I started reading. A beautifully written story, it is both touching and a bit dazzling.

Our narrator returns to his hometown for a funeral and finds himself drawn to one of the farms neighboring his childhood home. Once there, he revisits an old memory of an adventure he had when he was seven years old. The boy is a lonely child and a bit self-deprecating in a sadly humorous way. Because of this, he is very excited to meet the little girl from the neighboring farm, Lettie. Lettie is mature beyond her eleven years and our narrator is instantly stricken by her wisdom and bravery to face danger as an adult might.

Gaiman does a fantastic job of allowing the reader to get inside the head of a child and I really enjoyed it. There is a really interesting divide between adults and children and the boy refers to the grown-ups in his life as though they are a set of different species.

A few of my favorite lines from the book:

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

“I lay on the bed and lost myself in stories. I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.”

I really recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is one of those books with lines and ideas that stick with you long after reading it.

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark Dark WoodI refuse to waste the time I spend commuting back and forth from work so I’ve been listening to audiobooks over the last few months. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is the latest of those audiobooks. A creepy murder mystery, this one had me sitting in my car once I arrived home just to keep listening to the story.

Leonora, a crime novel writer, finds herself in a situation just like one of her plots when she goes to the bachelorette weekend of her old friend Claire. Leonora and Claire lost touched many years ago and haven’t spoken since they went to school together as teenagers, so Leonora is confused about her invitation to the weekend. Despite having a bad feeling about the whole thing she goes anyway. A couple days later she wakes up in the hospital with scratches and bruises all over her body and doesn’t remember how she got there. Someone has died, that much she hears from the police outside her room, but she doesn’t know who has been killed or how she’s involved.

Leonora describes the house they stay in next to the woods as a glass castle with the feeling that something or someone is outside watching which creates a creepy tone for the story.

At times I was frustrated by Leonora for going to the bachelorette weekend when she didn’t want to and for not standing up for herself when she felt uncomfortable. Her character did grow on me a bit throughout the book though and I really enjoyed the story. Definitely pick up In a Dark Dark Wood for an engaging and descriptive mystery!

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

Winter Street

Because I’ve been reading a lot of eerie mystery thrillers lately (which I love, don’t get me wrong), I was in the mood for something light. That’s exactly what I got with Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand. It’s a light easy read that I flew through just in time for the holidays.

The story is set in a nice bed and breakfast, the Winter Street Inn, of Nantucket. During the first few pages we learn that Kelley, the father of the family and inn owner, walks in on his second wife Mitzi sleeping with another man. Only a couple days before Christmas, Mitzi leaves and chaos ensues from there. Patrick, the eldest son, has made a huge mistake that could ruin his family. The second son, Kevin, thinks that he has found the love of his life. Ava is now in charge of the annual holiday Christmas party at the inn and can’t get her boyfriend to commit to her. The youngest son, Bart, is fighting in Afghanistan and no one has heard from him. Kelley’s ex-wife Margaret, a famous news anchor, might be just the person that can hold the family together when everything looks like its spiraling out of control.

At the end of the story, the loose ends are tied into a neat bow, which is both satisfying and expected. As a story set during the holidays, it was an enjoyable read filled with images of cozy decorated rooms and elaborate meals.

The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg

The Ice PrincessI’ve been waiting to read The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg for a while now, the eerie blue cover taunting me every time I pass my bookshelf. I don’t know what I was waiting for though because this book is a great mystery novel! One filled with seemingly unconnected characters and horrifying hidden secrets, I couldn’t put it down.

A scandal rocks Fjällbacka, Sweden, when a woman is found dead in her childhood home with her wrists slit open. No one knows what Alex was doing back in her hometown and why she would take her own life until details come out that it couldn’t have in fact been a suicide. Erica Falck, the childhood best friend of Alex, is coincidentally in town when the tragedy hits and is quickly pulled into the murder investigation. The more she learns, the more Erica realizes that Alex has changed in their 25 years apart, becoming distant and elusive over time. Clues pointing to the killer elude police until Patrik, a local detective, and Erica work together to piece together the mystery. As the story goes on, it’s clear that this murder isn’t the only scandal in the small town’s history…

A novel full of characters and storylines, I was fully engaged until the very last page in an effort to sort out how each story is intertwined. I really enjoyed this book and plan to read many more by Läckberg in the future!

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

At the Water's EdgeThis is one of the books that helped build my love for Scotland, its green countryside, and the lively people. Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants, has returned with another great book, At the Water’s Edge.

The story centers around Maddie, a young woman from high society Philadelphia. During World War II, she travels to Scotland with her husband and his best friend in an attempt to locate the Loch Ness monster, following a trail left by her father-in-law. After behaving poorly at a party, Maddie and her husband, Ellis, hope that finding the mystical monster will win back his favor.

Maddie has grown up in a very restrictive environment, bound by the rules of society and distant parents, but doesn’t realize how much so until she arrives in Scotland. The Scottish barmaids and inn owner open her eyes to an entirely different world and she finds herself drawn to it. In the Scottish countryside she also finds out that the man she married may not be who she thought he was. Her charming husband turns out to be a nasty brute while a new man in Scotland may win her heart instead.

At the Water’s Edge has a snowball effect, picking up speed as the story goes on. With an intense ending, I was gripping the book until the very last page. I really liked the story and found myself rooting for Maddie the whole time!

Books for Every Reader this Holiday

As we move into December, the rush for holiday gifts is here and will only build over the new few weeks. I may be a bit biased (I definitely am…), but I always think that a good book can be the perfect gift. The trouble is finding the right book for each person. Not to worry though, I have a few recommendations!

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica KnollFor the mystery lover: The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll – this a quick, engaging read with an interesting look into the life of a woman living a lie.

The Boys in the BoatFor the sports fanatic or history buff: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown – an excellent read, this book focuses on the crew team from the University of Washington that rowed in front of Hitler and won gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics against all odds.

Tiny Little Things by Beatriz WilliamsFor fans of historical fiction and/or romance: Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams – filled with great characters and surprising plot twists, this story set in the 1960’s is one of my favorites from this year!

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy NelsonFor YA adult readers: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – An imaginative and illustrative read, this story is filled with quirky and fun characters including a set of very competitive twins.
The NightingaleFor everyone: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – This is an excellent book centered around two woman in France during World War II and how they each deal with the Nazi occupation. It’s a very powerful book that I think everyone should read.

Happy holidays and may the season be filled with books!

A Few Favorite WWII Historical Fiction Novels

As we get older our reading choices develop and change. Over the last couple years, I’ve found myself drawn to historical fiction novels more than ever, especially those focusing on Europe during World War II. A terrible time in history, I find these stories both horrifying and fascinating. Three of my favorite books of this period also happen to take place in France during this time.

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin HannahThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – This is an excellent book sharing the powerful story of two sisters and how they each cope with the Nazi occupation in France. I was completely taken away by the bravery of these women and have recommended this book over and over again.

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Another great book, this is a beautifully written story with flashes of scenes between characters and time All the Light We Cannot Seeperiods. Two characters, a young blind girl in France and a brilliant German boy who is recruited by the Nazis, offer readers very interesting perspectives. As the book goes on we see how their worlds collide during wartime.

  1. Sarah's KeySarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – A haunting twist in the book has caused this story to stay with me years after reading it. In an attempt to save her brother from the Nazis during World War II, a little girl hides the boy in their special hiding place. Throughout the book we see her journey to get back to Paris and her brother.

These books are all so well written and I continue to look for other books by these talented authors!