Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read By: Neil Gaiman
Rating: 4 Stars
It's a little embarrassing to admit that I've prolonged listening to this short story as much as I could, only because I didn't want to leave behind Gaiman's voice. (I promise you, that sounds a lot creepier than it actually is!) Needless to say, the audiobook of this novel is mesmerizing. Gaiman doesn't just read this story in his astonishingly lovely accent, he narrates it, infusing life into the words he has written. It makes for an extremely atmospheric listen and has ruined me for all print Gaiman books, which poses an issue as I'll likely have to wait years to get my hands on another Gaiman audiobook if the waiting list at my library is any indication.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane neatly crosses over the line from childhood to adulthood, exposing the flaws we grow up to notice in our parents, the adult figures around us, and the general ambiguity of morals. It is haunting, digging into the corners of your mind with the nostalgia it evokes; shocking, much like that first gasp of air after your head has been underwater too long; silent, stewing in your thoughts, growing into a novel of much larger magnitude than its size deceives it to be.
Gaiman's latest forced me to think, making me connect pieces from childhood to adulthood, and I feel enriched having read it. It's a quiet story with quiet characters who lead quiet lives. It isn't pretentious, it isn't bursting in your face (or ears, in my case) with revelations and, chances are, its open epilogue will leave you with more questions than answers. If you're anything like me, though, that's more than just a little okay.
Title: World After (Penryn and the End of Days, #2)
Author: Susan Ee
Rating: 4 Stars
The long-awaited sequel to Ee's stunning debut, Angelfall, pales in comparison to its predecessor, proving to be a let-down after the excruciating wait for its release. Yet, when analyzed alone, World After is an entertaining, thoughtful, and unpredictable installment. In many ways, Angelfall is the story readers wanted: angel apocalypse, an unlikely alliance forged between enemies, and plenty of witty banter topped off with a kick-ass heroine, brooding hero, and scenes of resistance that keep the spirit of humanity alive. What's not to love? World After, on the other hand, is the story that readers need: the wake-up call into the brutality of survival, the flaws exposed in beloved characters, the struggle to persevere - alone - in a world that is, literally, changing. Although I won't be re-reading Ee's latest as much as I've re-read her debut, there is no denying that this is a powerful, vital, and necessary installment to the story arc of this five-part series. Susan Ee, once again, I applaud you.
World After struggles in its beginning, pulling readers into the world Penryn must now face, alone and saddled with her crazy mother and monster sister. It is a bleak place, one which seeks to destroy what it doesn't understand, namely, Paige. After being experimented upon by angels, Paige is no longer completely human. When she escapes the resistance camp where Penryn and her mother are lodged, the frantic search to re-unite their family begins once again. Where Ee excels as a writer is in the complexity of emotions that Penryn feels towards her family. Out of the three of them, she alone is in full control of both her sanity and humanity, which makes her connection to them burdensome. And yet, nothing is that simple. Penryn yearns for the security of a mother's embrace, the companionship of a sister, and the emotional safety that only a family can provide. Just because her definition of family is an unconventional one by no means disregards its value in her life.
Ee expertly weaves these complicated emotions into a heart-pounded storyline, filled both with action and desire. World After not only gives us a glimpse into these unusual family dynamics - filled both with love and bitterness - it also presents us with the much-needed world-building to propel this series forward. As an added bonus, we are given brief shots into Raffe's past - intriguing, to say the least - which only heighten his role in the series. While much of this novel centers around Penryn, a decent portion is dedicated to her reunion with Raffe and the events that follow. World After lacks the continued development we may crave from this couple, leaving us with a few dangling lines but mostly keeping this pair's interactions at the same level as they were in the previous novel. Needless to say, I am keeping my fingers crossed for an enormous amount of growth on this front in the sequel. At the end of the day, however, World After delivered with a heroine who is capable, strong, and flawed, not quite the hero we may think her to be, and once again, this is Penryn's series. While the secondary characters are enriching, none of them overtake the plot, which proves for a refreshing read. I can only hope the rest of this series continues on the same growth curve - up, up, up.