Mini Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman

William Morrow Books
Released June 18, 2013
181 pages
Fantasy / Faerie Tale-esque / Kid Friendly Sort Of

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

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.

I am a Neil Gaiman fan girl. I won’t ever try to deny that. Gaiman single-handedly destroyed my preconceived notions of modern fantasy literate as an adolescent. Neverwhere is the first book that comes to mind when asked what my favorite book is. Sandman was my gateway into mature comics. Neil Gaiman may be my hero.

So I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Perhaps I knew that, once finished, I might not be getting new Gaiman words in my hands anytime soon. Maybe I was a little scared that the magic might have disappeared. Whatever it was, this book sat on my shelf for a little too long until it became the monthly book for my book club. I eagerly dived in and wasn’t disappointment.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a children’s tale with an adult wrapper. If you removed the first and last chapters, this could easily be a scary tale to read to children, all about witches and mysterious girls and creepy monsters from alternate realms. For most of the book, the narrator is a small boy, looking at a very strange time in his life in retrospect now that he’s a middle aged man. Whatever perspective you’d expect from a story told by a grown man is non-existent. This book is told as though it’s happening out right to the point that I forgot about the framework around the story being from the point of view of an adult.

Our main character is never named. He’s just a regular boy growing up in a house with his parents and his sister when one day, the family wakes up to find their boarder missing. This starts a bizarre adventure into a twilight world that only the boy seems to see. He meets Lettie, her mother and her grandmother, three slightly strange women that live at the end of the lane. Together they help him ward off evil and turn his life back to normal though not without some serious consequences.

This is a modern faerie tale, a quick read with a bit of a moral underneath the surface. It’s imaginative and written in that classic Neil Gaiman way that’s full of metaphors that seem to live off the page. It’s an incredibly quick read at 181 pages and it’s nothing complicated. This was a great palate cleanser after the number of YA books I’ve read that started blurring together without having to dive into an dense or serious literature. While it might not be a book that sticks with me like Neverwhere, Sandman or Stardust, it’s definitely a book I look forward to revisiting once my nephew is a little bit older and not quite so scared of his own shadow.


Trailer Park Friday: Mockingjay, Doctor Who, Panic! at the Disco Covers Queen & More

Happy Friday! We've been getting tons of rain here in Texas due to Hurrican Whatsitsname, so it looks like it's going to be a weekend of staying in and catching up on television. Perhaps I'll find some new videos for next week's Trailer Park, but for now, this is the batch I have for you.

I couldn't call myself a book blogger if I didn't include the trailer for Hungergames: Mockingjay Part 1 that came out earlier this week. The full movie comes out to theatres on November 21.

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor is starting to grow on me though the episodes are still pretty silly and often not very well plotted. Even so, I'm curious to know where all this stuff about Paradise and the crazy lady is going. The next episode is called "Time Heist" and airs tomorrow.

This next one for Dracula Untold could be campy bad entertaining or just horribly bad. I have a growing fondness for Dominic Cooper though, so I might test it out once it's on Netflix. It hits theatres on October 10.

I rarely read biographies, but Neil Patrick Harris is one of my favorite people in the world that I've never met. His memoir Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography comes out on October 14 from Crown Publishing Group. Here's the book trailer.

And this last one is a little unusual for Trailer Park Friday, but I love Panic! at the Disco. We recently saw them on their This is Gospel tour and they performed a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Earlier this week they posted a video of them covering the same song at a different show. It makes me happy.

What videos have caught your eye around the internet over the last week? Any cool new book trailers? Post links in the comments!


Comic Review: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction & David Aja

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon
Matt Fraction & David Aja
Marvel Comics
Released March 19, 2013
136 pages
Comics / Superheroes without Superpowers

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

The breakout star of this summer's blockbuster Avengers film, Clint Barton - aka the self-made hero Hawkeye - fights for justice! With ex-Young Avenger Kate Bishop by his side, he's out to prove himself as one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes! SHIELD recruits Clint to intercept a packet of incriminating evidence - before he becomes the most wanted man in the world. You won't believe what is on The Tape! What is the Vagabond Code? Matt Fraction pens a Hawkeye thriller that spans the globe...and the darkest parts of Hawkeye's mind. Barton and Bishop mean double the Hawkeye and double the trouble...and stealing from the rich never looked so good.

Because boomerang!

I would leave that as my review, but then it would only make sense to someone who has read this first volume in the latest Hawkeye series. If you’ve been hanging around Working for the Mandroid, you probably realize I’m a DC kind of girl. Most of my superhero comic reading has been various lines in the Batfamily, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Teen Titans and other assorted heroes from DC Comics. My exposure to Marvel has really been limited to the movies that have come out over the last few years, but everywhere I looked, people were saying that Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series was pretty awesome. So I took a chance.

And I giggled like a fool while reading it on an airplane. This book is so much fun. It doesn’t have all the doom and gloom that seeps out of the pores of DC or the vapidness of the current Green Arrow series (comic, not television show). Clint Barton is great, but Kate Bishop, who I had no exposure to before, stole the book for me. That she is just as much Hawkeye as Clint makes me a very happy not-usually-represented-well-in-comics girl. The final issue in this collection is a bit of an origin story of how Kate took over the name Hawkeye from Young Avengers. Now I have to pick up Young Avengers.

Each issue opens up with a scene of Clint in trouble with the captions “Okay --- this looks bad…” before turning back time to tell exactly how Clint found himself getting shot at or falling from a building. It’s so much fun to read about a character without superpowers, who is fearless and reckless in the name of doing what’s right. There is danger and stakes are high with assorted big bads and twist upon twist, but it’s all so much fun and full of exciting adventure.

The art by David Aja is extremely distinctive and the roughness is a fitting match to the difficult situations that Clint often finds himself in. Many of the sequences are saturated in purple. Clint’s apartment is purple, his clothes are purple, his car is purple, and Kate’s get-up is purple. Everything is purple and it’s very striking, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in other comics.

My Life as a Weapon was a great introduction into the current Marvel universe. Even though it has the tie-in to Young Avengers, I didn’t feel like there was a black hole of history that I was missing to truly understand the weight of the story. I’d easily recommend this to people looking to get into comics, but might be wary of superhero continuity. I know little about Hawkeye, but now I want to read everything he’s ever been in. Or at least everything Matt Fraction has written.

Also… boomerang!


Mini Review: The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

The Fourth Bear
Jasper Fforde

Viking Adult
Released August 3, 2006
382 pages
Fantasy / Twisted Faerie Tales / Psychotic Gingerbread Men

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

Jack Spratt and Mary Mary return in their second adventure from the inimitable Jasper Fforde

Five years ago, Viking introduced Jasper Fforde and his upsidedown, inside-out literary crime masterpieces. And as they move from Thursday Next to Jack Spratt's Nursery Crimes, his audience is insatiable and growing. Now, with The Fourth Bear, Jack Spratt and Mary Mary take on their most dangerous case so far as a murderous cookie stalks the streets of Reading.

The Gingerbread Man, psychopath, sadist, genius, and killer, is on the loose. But it isn't Jack Spratt's case. He and Mary Mary have been demoted to Missing Persons following Jack's poor judgment involving the poisoning of Mr. Bun the baker. Missing Persons looks like a boring assignment until a chance encounter leads them into the hunt for missing journalist Henrietta 'Goldy' Hatchett, star reporter for The Daily Mole. Last to see her alive? The Three Bears, comfortably living out a life of rural solitude in Andersen's wood.

But all is not what it seems. How could the bears' porridge be at such disparate temperatures when they were poured at the same time? Why did Mr. and Mrs. Bear sleep in separate beds? Was there a fourth bear? And if there was, who was he, and why did he try to disguise Goldy's death as a freak accident?

Jack answers all these questions and a few others besides, rescues Mary Mary from almost certain death, and finally meets the Fourth Bear and the Gingerbread Man face-to-face.

I have a theory about Jasper Fforde and that’s why this is just a mini review. My theory – and this is backed up only by the empirical data taken from my book club – is that if you A) have an English degree, B) love meta things, or C) Have spent a lot of time critically examining the structure, constructs and tropes just because you like to, you will love Jasper Fforde. It helps if you also enjoy British humor and strange takes on classic characters. I easily check off all those items, so it’s no wonder that Fforde is my go-to guy when I want a silly, ridiculous book, and The Fourth Bear didn’t disappoint.

This isn’t Fforde’s best book, but it still has all the meta craziness that makes The Eyre Affair and The Big Over Easy, you’ll probably like this book. It’s somehow manic and meandering at the same time as Jack Spratt tries to solve the problem of Goldilock’s death and explosions that seem to be killing all the award-winning cucumber farmers in Reading. Fforde plays with detective tropes, the main characters make references to plot devices and the third wall is more or less non-existent.

There is also an alien creature as a police officer. His native language is binary. He owns a spaceship in his garage. There are aliens in Britain and they work for the police. Honestly I think that alone will give someone unfamiliar with Fforde’s work a good enough idea of the craziness that are within the covers of this book.

This is not a book for children. There is a 7 foot tall psychotic gingerbread man running around trying to dismember people. If that sounds like something you want to know more about, then pick up this book. You’ll have a giggly good time.


Blog Tour: The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on Caragh M. O'Brien's tour for her upcoming YA science fiction novel The Vault of Dreamers. This is a captivating story that takes place in a not-so-conventional boarding school where things are nothing like they seem. I'm happy to say that O'Brien and Roaring Brook Press have provided a copy of The Vault of Dreamers for one lucky Working for the Mandroid reader. You can find the entry form after my review.

The Vault of Dreamers
Caragh M O'Brien

Roaring Brook Press
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.
Releases September 16, 2014
432 pages
YA / Science Fiction

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

I have always been fascinated by boarding school stories, probably because as a child I had some romantic notion that attending boarding school would have been exponentially more interesting than normal public school. Alas, I wasn’t able to ship myself off to another part of the country to attend school, so even now as an adult, I find myself living vicariously through boarding school books. The Vault of Dreamers is probably the oddest yet fascinating boarding school book I’ve ever had the opportunity to read.

At some point in the future, a prestigious art school in the Midwest decides to maintain a live feed of all their students, creating what would become an incredibly popular reality show. Rosie, our main character, has the great fortune of being one of the handful of new students to join the school and its reality show. She comes from a poor family that lives in a boxcar, but she’s always dreamed of making films. The Forge School is a dream come true, though they make her and her classmates take a medication to sleep for 12 straight hours each night, claiming it enhances their creativity.

So right away this school is a little sketchy. I mean, they knock the students out 12 hours a day after filming them 12 hours a day. That is not normal boarding school activities. When Rosie skips her nightly pill and sneaks out of bed, she discovers that some other sketchy nonsense is happening at night when she watches the school doctor infuse a classmate with something that gives her seizures. The rest of the book becomes a cat and mouse game as Rosie attempts to unravel the mysteries of the Forge School while avoiding the very sketchy dean and his staff.

Rosie is a somewhat generic YA heroine, determined and a little self-righteous though also full of self-doubt. She’s found herself in an unknown place without an ally and not knowing who to trust. She meets a kitchen boy named Linus, who might help her unravel the weirdness that seems to chase her. Linus is a mild boy bad, introduced by getting punched in the face by the school chef for little to no reason. Small elements are tossed into his back story, but he remains a pretty hazy character. As Rosie doubts his motivations for staying close to her, so did I. Linus doesn’t seem to have much motivation and at times is just a convenience mouth for exposition.

While the start of The Vault of Dreamers is a Fame-esque boarding school drama with a slowly unraveling mystery, the final third is a great example of “WTF” science fiction that kept me engaged and prevented the book from leaving my hands. As Rosie digs deeper into the conspiracies behind the Forge school, the madness of her situation becomes clearer. The very last chapter left my jaw on the ground as I wonder “Did she seriously do what I think she just did?”

It’s not often that a book leaves me inspired so that I want to write the continuation myself, but The Vault of Dreamers did. The plot is familiar, yet innovative and full of unexpected surprises.  Any flaws that might have come up with lack of full characterization were quickly forgotten by the time the crazy hit the fan. The Forge School is not a boarding school I would ever hope to attend, but I can’t wait to return to Rosie and the Forge School to see where O’Brien takes her.


So does The Vault of Dreamers sound like a book for you? Enter to win a copy from the author. The contest is open until midnight on Friday, September 26, and is open to anyone with a mailing address in the US. Good luck!

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About the Author:

Caragh M. O’Brien is the author of the BIRTHMARKED trilogy and THE VAULT OF DREAMERS, both from Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ms. O’Brien was educated at Williams College and earned her MA from Johns Hopkins University. She recently resigned from teaching high school English in order to write young adult novels.

You can visit Caragh at her website here. She will also be taking part in the Fierce Reads book tour this fall. Here's the schedule, so you can see if she'll be stopping by a book store near you.


Visit the other stops in The Vault of Dreamers blog tour:

September 9 | Ex Libris Kate & The Book Monsters

September 10 | Book Hounds & Candace's Book Blog

September 11 | Mundie Moms & Word Spelunking

September 12 | My Bookish Ways & Working for the Mandroid

September 13 | Fiction Fare

September 14 | Icey Books & My 5 Monkeys

September 15 | SciFi Chick & Supernatural Snark

September 16 | YA Interrobang & I’d So Rather be Reading

September 17 | Fiktshun & Book Briefs

September 18 | Michelle & Leslie’s Book Picks & The Irish Banana Review

September 19 | Alice Marvels & Forever Young Adult

September 20 | Good Choice Reading & Step into Fiction