The Book List: The Hazel Wood


[this post may contain spoilers]


The Hazel Wood

by Melissa Albert

Alice and her mother, Ella, have been near transient for Alice’s whole life, pursued from place to place by the bad luck that has destroyed every ounce of stability they’ve managed to get their hands on.

When it finally seems that their long journeying may be over and they can take a rest and finally build a decently ordinary life, the bad luck returns in a flurry as Ella disappears amidst other strange occurrences and Alice is thrown into a new journey as she works tirelessly to find the mother who has always been there for her.

This book came highly recommended and now I must pass that recommendation on to you.

You see, I read The Hazel Wood in less than three days.

I am not a fast reader. I am in fact such a slow reader that when I recently finished Terry Pratchett’s Jingo a couple months ago it was after a full two year struggle to get through what was in fact a fairly good book about my favourite set of Discworld characters (the city watch).

A book really has to catch me in the first couple of pages if there is any hope at all of me getting through it. Let alone flying through during nap times, and even once – during a late chapter – a bathroom run.

While some readers have insisted that The Hazel Wood is some strange retelling of Alice in Wonderland, Albert herself has confirmed what I think obvious: that it is Not. She just likes the name Alice. Though, as she puts it, it is a ‘Loaded Name‘ when it comes to literary use. While there are references to the Carroll book within the dialogue and narrative, if anything, the latter half of The Hazel Wood resembles much more the trials of Through the Looking Glass. But it’s still not the main point of this incredible, original story.

Melissa Albert wove together this adventure mystery using every fairy tale element I could imagine to give us this masterpiece novel.

Either in obvious reference, allusion, or echoing taste just at the very tip of my tongue, Alice’s adventure seems to whisper of Harry Potter, Un Lun Dun, Perdido Street Station, Fables, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Silent HillOnce Upon a Time, Doctor Who, The True Meaning of Smekday/Home . . .

I think she must have read, in her lifetime, every book I’ve ever loved, and watched every fantasy tv series or movie I’ve ever enjoyed, because, stitched throughout The Hazel Wood were fragments, elements, flavours, and subtle (and not so subtle) pieces of literally every story that has ever captured my attention. As if this book, itself, like The Neverending Story, could read my inner depths and pull from them things I would recognize and relate to.

You know that part in Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets when Harry reaches for Riddle’s diary for the first time in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom and Ron stops him telling him it could be dangerous and lists all those confiscated books?

“And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could *never stop reading!* You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed.”

Well, he could easily have been talking about The Hazel Wood. It really was very difficult to pull myself away from it. It has a magic all its own.

I got my copy from my local library in the Teen Fiction section, so I suggest checking your local library for a copy.  The Hazel Wood is also available from various booksellers and inside some of those collection boxes you can subscribe to. It has been translated into several different languages. And I really think you should go read it.

The Book List: Neil Gaiman Edition

I had already read at least three of Neil Gaiman’s books, and skimmed a few of his graphic novels, when I arrived in Los Angeles in 2010. Unemployed and feeling extremely lost, I took refuge in my sister and brother-in-law’s book collection. Luckily for me, they have quite a few of Gaiman’s books, and I delved in, finally reading several more. Here are the ones that have stuck with me:


The Graveyard Book

In this fantastical adaptation of Kipling’s The Jungle Book, ghosts take up the roles of the animals raising young Nobody inside the wilderness of a large and sprawling graveyard.

I was fortunate enough whilst growing up to live mere blocks from a large and sprawling graveyard myself, and I spent the entire book picturing it, in a larger, dreamlike expansiveness. This book earns only 4 out of 5 stars due to some potentially awe-inspiring heroics that were only briefly mentioned – action that happened ‘off camera’ which I would absolutely have loved to read in full. There could have been more explanation of why the events of the story got started, but it works ok even without such detail. All around a great concept with decent execution.



Much like my favourite ever novel, Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, Neverwhere takes place halfway into each the Real London and an alternative world, in this case London Below. I am discovering a great theme of these alternate ‘ab-cities’ in my favourite books and stories.

Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, an ordinary man, as he loses every speck of a recognizable life and descends into this underworld, gaining much more than he could have expected from the strange events and places in which he finds himself.

One of my biggest regrets in leaving LA, or at least in not amassing a great enough fortune to visit regularly, is not being there to attend the west coast premiere of the stage production of Neverwhere at Sacred Fools Theatre, featuring my friend Michael Holmes in his dream role as Richard Mayhew. I recommend highly that you read here to learn a bit more about Michael’s experiences during production.

The more I read about the production, the more I wanted to reread the book. It’s in a long queue mixed with books I have yet to peek into.



My sister bought me a copy of this novel back in 2002 when we met in New York City to attend Susan Jaffe’s final performance (Giselle) with American Ballet Theatre. We arrived on different trains, but met up in the station, stopping briefly at a bookshop underground. She told me I would love the book, finding it much like a fairy tale, which has always been a favourite genre of mine. I somehow never got around to reading it and ended up misplacing that copy. Five years later, a movie adaptation was released, and I swore I would finally read the book, a new copy of which I purchased at the same little bookshop in which I first discovered Un Lun Dun, before watching the film.

I finished the book while house-sitting for friends who blessedly had a copy of the movie and a projector and screen. Fifteen minutes after I turned the final page I started watching. The book goes into much more detail than the movie does when it comes to the breadth of difference between the ordinary and the magical world, but the movie shows much more depth in each character. Both have become favourites. In fact, we watched the film version of Stardust at my bachelorette party.

I suppose you might want to know what the story, whichever version, is about!

Ordinary seeming Tristran Thorn finds there is much more to his past than he ever imagined and embarks on a fantastic adventure to prove his love for the beautiful Victoria Forester by bringing her home a fallen star. Along the way, he meets bizarre characters who prove just how extraordinary the world of Faerie is compared to Tristran’s home town of Wall, and Tristran finds that he is capable of much more than he ever dreamed.

An excellent adventure with greater moments than I can tell you here.


Until next time, Go read, yo!

The Book List

As a kid, it took me a little extra time to learn how to read. It wasn’t that I disliked books but that I had a great struggle in comprehending the words. By second grade I was separated from the larger portion of the class and put into the remedial readers category.

I grew up with many books that were very important in my family. I loved them and relish many of those stories still to this day.

 But I still have the trouble that I did as a small child. I understand the words better, but the speed at which I digest them is extremely low. When I start reading a book, it has to grab me really fast or I lose interest out of tedium. There are few and amazing exceptions to this, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing writing, publishing, and reading. We discussed several books we’ve both read and some projects that I’m working on. In the midst of all this, she informed me that if I gave her a list of the books I like, she’d probably love every one of them, as so far we’ve had very good luck that way.

As you all know, I don’t always like giving out recommendations because I am Book Selfish. But I do love talking about my favourite books. So, I decided I would, after all, post a list of books that I appreciate here and write a little about each one, whether it’s how I discovered it, if I have a significant issue with it, or if I refuse to let anyone else talk about it, etc.

I’ll try not to give any spoilers, but I can’t promise there won’t be any, as I get so involved that I sometimes forget that the tidbits of knowledge from a favourite story aren’t commonly known.

OKAY, here we go.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This book reads like a history text book in the form of a novel, complete with footnotes often lasting several pages. So believable that when reading actual non-fiction accounts of the time, specifically Our Tempestuous Day by Carolly Erickson, I find myself waiting for the appearance of fairies during the accounts of the madness of King George. A well represented but quiet love story dances beneath the struggle for power between the fairy world and normal society, and is beautifully overwhelmed by the frustrated friendship between two magicians vying for an unattainable superiority. This is one of the few books I have managed to get through that was so incredibly slow. It’s over 700 pages long and the action doesn’t pick up until halfway through, and even when it does, it’s only by the slightest acceleration. Even so, the subject matter is so jam-packed with interest that I couldn’t put it down, no matter how drudgingly I moved through it.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

I just finished this one a few weeks ago, after several years of trying to read it. This description may contain major SPOILERS, so please be aware and move ahead if that bothers you:

This book is dark, beautiful, dirty, and could not have conceivably produced a happy ending. It was perfect and sad. I needed a break after finishing it, moving on to something much lighter, but will return to the world of Bas Lag after finishing a couple of books in the queue.

King Rat by China Mieville

Again, potential SPOILERS:

A story somewhat of the pied piper in modern England. Strung together with the movement of Drum and Bass music, which I have only since completing the book become familiar with, and bringing forth a long ago suppressed fear of underground trains.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

I read the first book during a difficult and very lonely time in my life. It was haunting and lovely and I adored it immediately. I reread it over the past few weeks, in preparation for its sequel.

Miss Peregrine’s is a strange tale of Before and After. Set in both the modern world and the time of World War II, it mingles coming of age, old family secrets, and ferocious beasts that prey on those with peculiar powers. Obviously a First Novel. Simple but Captivating. All surrounding a collection of bizarre antique Found Photographs. Hell of a concept that did not translate well into the second novel.

Hollow City is even more obviously a First Novel than the actual first book. Keeping with the photographic theme does not work in the sequel where the characters are traveling after a disaster and have no possibility of taking or seeing the included images. There are editing errors in both books, but most pronounced in the second are the continuity errors. So much is packed in that it seems the author is trying much too hard, making too heavy a point of the peculiarities of the characters and the situations, and creating confusion by the late establishment of ‘facts,’  instead of allowing the simplicity of the first book to more greatly inform the story’s progression. I want so badly to love Hollow City as much as I loved Miss Peregrine’s, but I groan at every page, finding a beautiful moment only every few chapters that reminds me why I’m reading it in the first place.


Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

This is a book I have difficulty sharing because it is very personal to me. It is my inner monologue. It is my favourite book. My very favourite book. And I bought it with my last $12, years ago in a small bookshop in Easley, South Carolina. All because of the description on the back and because of the following letter to the reader in the front of the book:


Note to Reader

People speaking British English and people speaking American English mostly understand each other fine. But there are a few words we use in Britain that you might not recognize, or that we use differently from you. Should you encounter a strange or difficult word in the story, please flip to the short glossary, which is located in the back of this book.


That right there sold me. I have hated for years the mutilation of books, such as the Harry Potter series (another major favourite), changing words that I know or would have liked to know, into American forms that in my opinion dumb down an entire nation instead of teaching its people to go to the library and look in the dictionary.


I adore Un Lun Dun so much that I carried it in my wedding in place of a prayer book, wrapped in ribbons and covered in flowers. In honor of all the times that I had Nothing.

Prayer Book(photo by Steve Badgley


There are a few other books I plan to tell you about, but I have to get ready for work, and I need more time to refine my thoughts about each other story. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about your favourite books. And if you know of a book that you think I might like, please leave it in the comments, but please please please, NO SPOILERS!


[I apologize for the screwy formatting. No matter how many times I change it, it won’t stick that way. Hopefully I can fix it this afternoon. Ciao!]

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