William
William

William

William is from Sussex, UK.

He has a passion for literature and enjoys reading all sorts of books. His hobbies are numerous and consist of medieval/viking reenactment, writing, karate and of course reading.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Book Review 19, Jun

“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”

The Graveyard Book is essentially a children’s book, but that does not limit this story merely to that demographic. I believe that its lighthearted tone, philosophical life lessons and engaging nature makes it a book enjoyable for all, of any age.

I remember reading The Graveyard Book six years ago, when I was twelve, when my English teacher recommended it to me, after studying the first chapter in lesson. Although I loved it, I could now only vaguely remember a boy named Bod, a man called Jack, and some mischievous adventures. So, when my brother, Ed, listened to this on Audible, I thought it was time to dive in again.

“It's like the people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn't work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.”

This book is about a boy called Nobody Owens, Bod for short, after his family are killed by a man named Jack. He grows up being curious and inquisitive, like most children, but what makes Bod different is that he is raised by the ghosts of the graveyard. 

The story is essentially a coming of age story about Bod, with each chapter forming what is practically a short mischievous tale, with a lesson and type of character growth from each. This structure put it nicely into bite-sized chunks that you can read in one small sitting. These essentially small stories link together and slowly drop more information about the world and plot in a very subtle manner that all builds up to a big finale.

I think anyone who has read a work of Neil Gaiman’s can agree that no matter the substance of the story, his prose is brilliant. There is a reason that he is one of the bestselling authors of all time, and part of that is how fluid his prose is. He manages to craft the perfect tone for his stories, and his skill as an author is shown by how this changes from book to book, with the melancholic tone of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, to this whimsical tale.

“If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”

Neil Gaiman loves a story that incorporates the world we live in, with a magical underbelly, like in Neverwhere, or Stardust. He does this brilliantly, and The Graveyard Book is another story that takes on those fun and intriguing aspects, whilst offering a new spin that differs from his other novels.

Sometimes with Neil Gaiman’s works, I feel that his characters are not as successful as they could be, and this is often my only critique. But, no need to worry with The Graveyard Book, fore in this story Neil Gaiman delivers a wonderful cast of characters each with their own amusing mannerisms and intriguing characteristics, from the serious yet kind guardian Silas, to the witch Liza Hempstock, to Bod himself. Neil Gaiman said that he wanted to write a different version of The Jungle Book, hence the relationship in title to The Graveyard Book, and in the ensemble aspect of this story, Neil Gaiman again delivers brilliantly.

“You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.”

As with The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman narrates this audiobook. I think to appreciate his skill both as a writer and narrator, you have to listen to more than one of his stories, because he changes his entire tone and pacing according to what suits the story. Some narrators are great, but they are not malleable, and sometimes use the same formula for every book, which loses some of the potential. But, Neil Gaiman wonderfully crafts the whimsical tone and light-hearted atmosphere whilst equally conveying Bod’s curiosity that made me intrigued. One of the best narrations I’ve has the pleasure to read.

“You're alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you're dead, it's gone. Over. You've made what you've made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”

The Graveyard Book is a wonderful story suitable for those of all ages, with something for everyone. It is reasonably short, and each chapter is structured into basically what is a short story, so you can bead this in reasonable chunks that leave you satisfied at every stop. One of my favourite reads of the year so far. It was really a joy to return to this tale that I had largely forgotten, and I hope this review encourages others to read this magical coming of age story.

5/5 STARS

We Are the Dead (The Last War #1) by Mike Shackle - Book Review 05, Jun

We Are the Dead is a brilliant debut that marks Mike Shackle as an author to keep an attentive eye on. One of my favourite reads of the year so far for sure.

 

Firstly, I want to say a thank you to Filip Magnus for this great buddy read, which made the reading experience of We Are the Dead even better.

 

So, after hearing glowing reviews of We Are the Dead by many of my favourite reviewers, I thought I would enjoy this. But, I was surprised by how much I did. I loved it. This is a brilliantly constructed story, with a fast pace, engaging plot, compelling themes and a fantastic range of characters. Mike Shackle explores each aspect of storytelling and pulls them all together to form a great story.

 

“We are the dead who stand in the light. We are the dead who face the night. We are the dead whom evil fears. We are the Shulka and we are the dead.”

 

We are thrust into a world that seems to be heavily inspired by Japanese culture. The Shulka are a warrior elite who appear to be a cross between Spartans and Samurai, who have protected Jia from the Egril for centuries. But this has led to overconfidence, so that when the Egril launch an invasion and take over the country in eight days, Jia has no plan. We see the people oppressed in this new regime where you must either submit or hide to survive. Everyone feels the threat of death’s cold touch on a daily basis, with no respite and no retribution of freedom in sight.

 

When you see that on the cover it says ’No More Heroes’, you get the feeling this is going to be a gritty read. And oh, We Are the Dead delivers in that arena. It is not extreme, but there are many Grimdark elements to this story. I think that Mike Shackle depicts violence in an authentic manner that avoids being gratuitous, but allows the brutality of the world to feed into the plot and further build on the circumstance and motivations of course characters.

 

"You should never make fun of a man with a knife."

 

I really enjoyed the structure of this story. Each section is a day in the world we enter, and within this we as the reader are greeted by short-ish chapters that together form a fast pace that does not let up at all. In this, we have five perspectives:

 

- Tinnstra, the daughter of famous General, Grim Dagen, who is a well-trained warrior, but considers herself to be a coward. During this book she must either break or face her fears.

- Yas, a single mother striving to earn money for her mother and baby son, but in doing so it pulled into political intrigue.

- Jax, a famous general of the Shulka, until the country was taken over and he lost his arm. He is now a leader of the Hanran, a resistance group, who is striving to keep the hopes of a revolution alive.

- Dren, a rebellious teenager consumed by anger who is the leader of his own group who oppose the new rule of the Egril.

- And then Darus, one of the most sadistic villains I have encountered. He has the ability to heal all wounds. The greatest gift anyone can be given. But, he uses this skill to heal those he tortures, so that they do not die and that he can be entertained by their endless suffering.

 

These are five great perspectives who each engage with their own interesting storylines and themes that expose their vices and virtues. Mike Shackle asks the question of whether revolution is worth the deaths of innocents caught in the middle, and to do so he presents these questions to each perspective, where they justify their approach and the reader is left to make their own judgement. We have antagonists and anti-heroes who you at times simultaneously feel sympathy, aversion and attachment.

 

“It had always been a fool’s hope from the beginning.”

 

The prose wasn’t out of this world, nor was the concept. But that does not demean it in any shape or form. I see a lot of people see this as a detractor in books they read, but I don’t see why. Mike Shackle took what he could do best, and wrote something I would say was fantastic, equal to those books people say does perhaps explore prose and contribute something radical to the genre.

 

We Are the Dead is one of the best debut’s I have had the pleasure to read. Echoing what I saw Petrik say in his review, it is crazy this has not had more attention and a wider readership. Honestly, this is a fantastic story that I think everyone would enjoy. Every aspect, from prose to characters to plot is just superbly crafted. Please read this!

 

5/5 STARS

 

 

“That was in the year 867, and it was the first time I ever went to war. 

And I have never ceased.”

 

I finally began my journey into The Saxon Stories. I cannot fathom what has taken me so long to delve into The Last Kingdom. I love Bernard Cornwell’s writing, and I love the concept for this tale.

 

This is one of those rare occasions where I have watched the adaptation before reading the book. But, no worries, this did not take away from the experience. The disparity been book and program is large, with a significantly larger period of time spent with Uhtred’s childhood than in the singular episode round-up in the series. It was something that I actually longed for in the program, and I was glad that the growth of Uhtred into an adult was treated more slowly and effectively.

 

This is a retrospective tale from the perspective of Uhtred, who recollects in this first instalment his early days, and the beginning of his forging of a reputation as a great warrior and leader. He is an unreliable narrator who, as the Goodreads summary states, is a dispossessed nobleman who was born a Saxon but raised a Dane This conflict of interests and loyalties becomes a key part of the story, and I believe will continue to do so throughout this series. It is a very interesting, rarely explored dynamic, in which Bernard Cornwell shows the reality that there is no 'right' side.

 

“The preachers tell us that pride is a great sin, but the preachers are wrong. Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation... Men die, they said, but reputation does not die.”

 

Bernard Cornwell is known as one of the greatest writers of action sequences. It is a reputation that is of course, well earned. Bernard Cornwell immerses you into each and every battle, for the most part. By that slight detraction I mean that sometimes he suddenly changes from an adrenaline pumping sequence, to suddenly changing to a summary of the rest of the battle. I found this to be slightly jarring. But that is about the only criticism I have of this story.

 

Bernard Cornwell maintains strengths in all arenas of writing, but I would say his most impressive strength is his characterisation, and the ability to forge a cast of wide variety. Many authors are amazing at creating a certain type of figure, and they stick to their comfort zone. Any character is Bernard Cornwell’s comfort zone. From a pacifist priest, to an amoral raider, he has each one nailed down, without being stereotypical.

 

“Destiny is all”

 

Overall, I of course thoroughly enjoyed this tale. I love Uhtred’s character. I love the historical period. I love Bernard Cornwell’s prose and battle sequences. He successfully formed a gritty tone and atmosphere of 9th century, war-torn England, with an engaging plot and compelling characters.

 

4.5/5 STARS