Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

cover of the graveyard book by neil gaiman
Click here for the Amazon link

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

Hands down, one of the very best books I’ve read… not just this year, but ever! The Graveyard Book is gripping from the first moment, and sends chills down your spine. At the same time, it is written in such a way that it should be read aloud, and shared by the entire family.

The Graveyard Book begins with a baby, who narrowly escapes the man who murdered his entire family. The baby is taken in by the Owens – a pair of ghosts who had never been able to have a child of their own.

The problem with writing a review about a book THIS good is that you feel wholly inadequate to really describe it. It’s hard to put words to how great the entire experience of this book is. So instead, I’ll include a personal experience with the book.

I was reading the Audible version, read by Neil himself (coincidentally, @neilhimself is his Twitter handle if you’d like to follow him). I had three wisdom teeth taken out, and the dentist allowed me to listen to my Ipod during the surgery. So, hopped up on Nitrus Oxide, Neil Gaiman became like my father figure – reading softly to me as they pounded on my jaw with a tiny jack-hammer. It was incredibly calming, although I’ll admit I had to rewind and listen to those parts again… I wasn’t paying too much attention to the story. Just Neil’s voice. =)

So pick up this one. If you only pick up one of my recommendations, this should be it. It’ll thrill you, chill you, make you laugh, and cause your eyes to sting. Well done, Neil.

Content

Age: Marketed to Children and Young Adults

Language: No.

Violence: Yes, but not at all graphic.

Sex: No.

Themes in Fablehaven Book 5 – Keys to the Demon Prison

Picture of the Cover
Amazon Page for Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison

There seems to be a generation of Harry Potter fans who are looking for the fun, adventure, and growth that we experienced in that series. When cop-outs like Percy Jackson came out, we snatched them up in order to quench our thirst for more. What we got from these wanna-be stories is a sense of fun and adventure, but a lack of something deeper.

Don’t get me wrong. I both read and enjoyed the Percy Jackson books. They were adventurous and a whole lot of fun. However, I think most people would agree with my assessment that held up to Harry Potter, it was missing something.

Fablehaven is no cop-out. It’s a fantastic story that bows to no cliche’s without stretching them. It is a story about kids thrown into a world of magic, kids that still have families. (I know right? For awhile there we began to think that kids HAD to be orphans in order to have adventures.)  It has the fun. It has the family-friendly appropriateness for all ages. It has the depth of character and theme. One of the strongest themes of the series is in the different types of heroism displayed by the two main characters.

Kendra vs. Seth

Kendra appeals to the sense that purity wins. She has her stuff together, she thinks things through, and she follows the rules (unless it would be more prudent not to). Throughout the series, this attribute, combined with her pure intentions, have won the day several times over.

Seth, on the other hand, is headstrong, rambunctious, and a little bit of a troublemaker – a man after my heart. In another world, he might have been named Calvin. Seth is consistently breaking rules, with the best of intentions, and making a mess of things. His mistakes needlessly throw others into danger, and though Seth does care, he doesn’t ever seem to gain his sister’s cool head.

Both are heroes. We have the pure hero, and the one who screwed up and has to fix it. Thematically, we have two lessons; first, that it is better not to screw up in the first place and second, that if you’ve already screwed up, you can learn from this by doing what you can to make it better.

But theme isn’t the only thing the book has going for it. With a world full of fairies, demons, Eternals, powerful artifacts and satyrs who are addicted to TV and junk food… well, to quote a certain Star Trek character,

“You don’t have to take my word for it”

Go pick one up for yourself. Or better yet, for us students, borrow from a friend – this is a series worth discussing with buddies.

Bartimaeus Returns in The Ring of Solomon

cover for ring of solomon
Amazon Page for Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon

Since I mentioned it on my Literature Lineup, I thought I might as well jot down a few notes. Six years ago, hungry for a good read after Harry Potter, I was scanning the Middle-Grade section when I saw the cover for The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1) It looked magical, shiny and oh-so-blue.

I picked it up and read the first paragraph, and from that moment I was hooked. Bartimaeus is, to this day, my very favorite first-person host. If I were to get a chance to hang out with one fictional character, it would be him; so long as he was under strict orders not to eat me. I ate through the book and the second in the Trilogy, and eagerly awaited the release of the third.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy is, to this day, at the top of my favorites list in regards to Middle-Grade Fantasy. The Ring of Solomon is, as far as I can tell, a single book released for readers who love Bartimaeus. Readers like me.

And it didn’t disappoint. I got all the same things I loved about the other books – magic, adventure, pithy remarks, and reflections on the affect power has on those who hold it. It restores “Self-sacrifice” as the definition of heroism, as opposed to “kicking butt” (though there is a lot of that, too).

This book is good enough to stand up on it’s own, without need for the Bartimaeus Trilogy. However, as is to be expected, the Trilogy has a lot more to feed one’s appetite, explores the themes more deeply, and delivers a stronger payoff. With the same amount of skill and finesse displayed in all four books, the trilogy is obviously going to be stronger, since it has more to work with.

And so, in short, if you haven’t read Bartimaeus yet – start with the Amulet of Samarkand. If you love the trilogy and just want more Bartimaeus, pick up The Ring of Solomon to find yourself whisked away on a magic carpet. (Which is actually a regular carpet held up by a particularly potent djinni. Make sure to get your incantations correct…)