Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa AlbertThe Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1) by Melissa Albert
Published by Flatiron Books on January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Ever read something so delightfully dark, strange and magical that you couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty you loved it so much, even with all the bloody parts? Though I confess I didn’t feel one bit guilty about loving all the gritty bloody parts of The Hazel Wood. My little black heart relished in all its grisly glory.

It’s about time we finally have a fairy tale that isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. That doesn’t necessarily end in “happily ever after” or with anyone being “saved”.  A fairy tale that is reminiscent of the long forgotten Grimm tales. Before they were all “Disney-fied” with a whoosh of a wand by a benevolent fairy god mother. Well friends, The Hazel Wood is the book for you!

Welcome to The Hazel Wood, where nothing is what is seems. Alice is enthralled with her elusive grandmother Althea Proserpine, the writer of an infamous collection of dark fairy tales called Tales from the Hinterland. Ella (Alice’s mom) is determined to keep Alice away from her grandmother or stepping foot in The Hazel Wood, Althea’s enigamous estate. Yet this never deters Alice from collecting bits of news story on her grandmother whenever she can get her hands on it.

Ella keeps them on the run; drifting from place to place trying to avoid the “bad luck” she is so adamant is always following them.  Now that Alice is older, she can’t help but wonder if all this moving has anything to do with her grandmother and the fairy tale world she created.  Soon enough Alice gets her answers when a note appears stating that her grandmother is dead, and soon after Ella goes missing.

 

Alone for the first time, Alice turns to the only person she feels can help her, a school mate named Ellery Finch who happens to be an uber-fan of Althea’s book.

Together they set off to find Ella, who Alice is convinced (due to mysterious  and grim clues left for her), has been snatched away to The Hazel Wood by the characters of The Hinterland.  Little does Alice realize how treacherous and bloody their journey is about to become.

This is not an Alice in Wonderland retelling. I’ve heard a few readers mentioning this, and though I found some similarities, I allotted that to how my own mind works.

Although, while reading I did keep thinking about how Ellery Finch reminded me of the White Rabbit leading an unknowing Alice down the void of the rabbit hole and straight into the hands of a variety of fairy tale characters. While not all of them are “mad” or “bloodthirsty” the possibilities for peril are always there.

I thought Twice-Killed Katherine (one of my favorites) reminded me of The Queen of Hearts, but instead of chopping off heads she just sucks you dry of your vitality and life. Even the Spinner could be seen as a combination of the mischievous Cheshire cat and the wise yet confusing smoking Caterpillar.

Then there is the stepping through “portals” from the mundane “reality” into the wondrous and ravenous world of the Hinterland.  Which is a bit like stepping “through the looking glass” but I also found it very similar to Belle crossing the invisible barrier in the forest that allowed her to discover the Beast’s castle. Or even hiding in a wardrobe and pushing so far in that you end up in Narnia.

The moment Alice finally finds and enters The Hazel Wood/The Hinterland is one of my favorite scenes from the book. I love how the author captured this moment, and made it her own.

I really liked Alice, though I could see where her “icy-ness” could rub some readers the wrong way. However before judging her too harshly keep in mind Alice has been through a lot. She has no stable home or friendships. She’s a teenager with lots of unanswered questions. To me, the hidden rage just below her surface is expected and what made her “real”.  I liked her fierceness, intelligence and independent nature. I also love all her book and pop culture references through out the story.

Another favorite part of The Hazel Wood were the tidbits and peaks of the stories from Tales of the Hinterland. These strange, ominous and creepy tales NEED to be a actual book one day.  The “stories” /characters from the Hinterland were intriguing and I really hope we get to find out more about them.  (PRETTY PLEASE MELISSA!!!)

For readers who want a bit of a “trigger warning” this book does contain unsettling, macabre and graphic violence. When I said earlier that this story is dark, I was not joking. No rainbows, sparkles, sunshine or pretty ponies. Okay? Enter at your own risk (::whispers creepily:: Do it….the dark side has cookies…or at least some type of booze/food at the pub found deep in the Hinterland where the “stories” hangout….).

The Hazel Wood has kept me mesmerized for almost a year now. I found the author’s take on the ever changing genre of fairy tales to be refreshing and brilliant. Melissa Albert crafts a fascinating tale filled with complex stories within a story that is haunting, unique and unforgettable.

If you want to find yourself lost in a magical moon-lit forest filled with “stories” that can lure you to your bloody end or all sorts of other mayhem,  enter The Hazel Wood. You won’t regret it.  I highly recommend it, and rate it 5 stars+.

UPDATE: THERE WILL BE MORE BOOKS!!!! The Hazel Wood will have a  second book and Tales from the Hinterland will also be a book!!! Every part of my  soul was dancing with happiness when I heard this news.

I can’t wait to return to this bewitching world in 2019 and 2020 when Albert will be releasing book 2 and Tales from the Hinterland.

A very special THANK YOU to Flatiron Books (Thanks Sarah!!!) for providing me with an ARC of The Hazel Wood in return for an honest review. As well as Melissa Albert for writing this delightfully wicked debut. 

 

Book Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Book Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa BashardoustGirls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Published by Flatiron Books on September 5th 2017
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale

At sixteen, Mina's mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

My Review: 

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is an enchanting and unique take on the tale of Snow White. This character driven story mainly focuses on two young women. The first is Mina, who thanks to her magician father has a heart made of glass. Because of this, Mina is unable to love or feel for others, causing her to focus instead on obtaining power. Eventually she finally succeeds in her quest by marrying a widowed King, who has a young daughter named Lynet. Little does Mina know at the time, that her own father takes part in Lynet’s creation by making her out of snow upon the request of the king in the exact image of his dead wife. At first this is not a problem, but as Lynet grows up Mina starts to feel she could lose her power and position in court to Lynet.

Melissa Bashardoust does a brilliant job when it comes to creating and developing her characters. Mina believes that the ability to love will forever elude her. She pushes everyone away, but is desperately lonely and wanting of love. As the reader, you can’t help but feel a bit of compassion towards her, and even understanding. Though you still have concerns about her obsession with power and how calculating her mind can be.

Lynet has been living under the constant shadow of her dead mother. Even her own father is creepily obsessed with how much she looks like his departed wife. Lynet struggles to find her own identity, and takes dangerous risks to prove she isn’t a fragile delicate thing. Even so, Lynet is left wondering if she’ll ever be free of her mother’s ghost. As well as how she can be her own person without betraying Mina – the only mother she has ever known.

What I love the most about Girls Made of Snow and Glass is that the author does not follow all the core concepts of the original Snow White. This tale isn’t about an aging, bitter queen hating on the beautiful young princess.  Their relationship is complex, like most mother/daughter relationships are. In the end they do work together to help one another, which isn’t what I was expecting. However, I'm happy that the author pushed away from the usual path most retellings take, and created something completely her own.

Aside from the wonderful character development, there are also some deeper and difficult themes that this novel addresses. From perceived gender roles, the relationship of Lynet and her father, and the complex relationship of a mother and daughter. All of which I am sure will make fantastic topics for discussion at any book club, or reading group.

While the world building needed more development and various plot points were not fully explained (i.e. Why/how Mina controls the Southern territories? ), I am still very much in love with what Melissa Bashardoust created within these pages (I want more!!!). It was refreshing to read a story that had such two very different, yet strong female points of view. Though the first half is on the “slower” side, it is necessary in order to give the reader the background needed for both characters, and to further their development.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a beautifully delicate and inventive snow-covered retelling that perfectly merges together the traditional Snow White with something delightfully new and unexpected. I would highly recommend it to all lovers of fairy tales, magic and femine empowerment.

Thank you to the Flatiron Books for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Pre-Order Incentive:

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust goes on sale Sept 5th, 2017, click here to find out about the sparkly gift you can receive if you preorder this magical book.

four-half-stars