The Hazel Woodby Published 30 Jan 2018
|The Hazel Wood.pdf|
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.
"The Hazel Wood" Reviews
Thoughts tk at some point when I have time, sorry!
Did her insides match her outsides? Was the way my life dripped off me like water, barely leaving a mark, normal?
Okay, so this was not a book for me. I really wish I hadn’t received an arc of The Hazel Wood and had instead waited for more reviews to roll in first.
The blurb makes it sound exactly like the kind of dark fairy tale goodness I love, but if someone had - more accurately - explained that this is a book about a girl called Alice who gets sent to Wonderland the Hinterland where she meets tweedle dee and tweedle dum many colourful characters who talk in riddles, and she finds herself doing bizarre and random things like attending an unbirthday party singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Landslide” in a Tudor-style pub… well, I’d have passed. I’ve already read Alice in Wonderland. Once was enough.
I know this will be much more suited to a specific type of reader who likes dreamy, nonsensical prose, heavy on the metaphors. Perhaps those who enjoyed books like Caraval. Those who are more forgiving of no one saying what they actually mean and talking all mysterious for no other reason than “shh, this is the rule of fairytales” because we all know it's more magical if nothing makes sense. For me, it was honestly irritating to have characters withhold important information just ‘cause.
The book opens with a bit of background about Alice, her mother Ella, and her reclusive grandmother Althea Proserpine - an author of a dark fairy tale collection, Tales from the Hinterland, that gained a cult following some years back. Alice has never met her grandmother, but Ella has constantly insisted on the two of them packing up and moving again and again, running away from bad luck that clearly has something to do with her grandmother and the book she wrote.
When Ella disappears, seemingly kidnapped, Alice teams up with long-time Althea fan, Ellery Finch, and uses his knowledge of the stories to find her grandmother's secret estate - The Hazel Wood.
This first half(ish) seemed very slow and longer than necessary. It is mostly a road trip where the characters rely on fairy tale logic along the lines of if it wants you to find it, you will instead of smarts and deduction to keep the story moving. A romance develops but, to the author's credit, she never allows this to become a romantic book overall.
I found a lot of the story really hard to get through. Maybe because I struggled to form a connection with any character. Alice herself is cold and bitchy, without the depth and complexity needed to make these traits interesting. Ellery Finch is super hipster and must gaze at the moon and quote Shakespeare every few pages in order to keep functioning. He has a tattoo of a Vonnegut quote, of course. And the problem is these two are the only really valuable or memorable characters in the book.
The second half basically is Alice in Wonderland. Which may or may not sound appealing, but my tolerance level for random weirdness isn't that high.
My favourite parts were the Tales from the Hinterland fairy tales within the story, which were deliciously dark and creepy, but I disliked it every time we came back to "reality" with Alice and Finch. I kinda wish the author had written a book of short stories instead and let me skip out on everything else. I could definitely see myself enjoying a creepy short story collection from Albert.
So, yeah, definitely not for me, but I would recommend this for those who like Wonderland retellings, and those who enjoy really lyrical prose over characters and/or plot.
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That was one of the most mesmerizing, creepy, and creative stories I've found in a long time! I absolutely loved the writing, but the plot itself wasn't really my cup of tea.
Alice grew up moving from place to place with her mom whenever "bad luck" and weird situations caught up to them. (Ex: she was kidnapped once when she was a kid, but the guy just bought her blueberry pancakes and then showed up a decade later at Alice's job looking the exact same age). Her grandmother wrote a book of dark fairy tales and became a recluse with a cult following before dying on her estate (the Hazel Wood). Alice never met her, though, and just has her mother:
"She took care of me and I took care of her, in a symbiotic relationship that looked cute on TV but felt fucking exhausting when you're moving for the third time in a year and don't even have a bedroom door to slam."
One day Alice's mother is taken in a string of creepy incidents and it becomes clear that the Hinterland (the world from the fairy tale book) is real. It's next to impossible to get a copy of the book, but a guy at Alice's school is flat out obsessed with the stories. He knows every detail, so they embark on a mission to get Alice's mother back. I loved his reasons for being such a huge fan:
"There are no lessons in [the book]. There's just this harsh, horrible world touched with beautiful magic, where shitty things happen. And they don't happen for a reason, or in threes, or in a way that looks like justice. They're set in a place that has no rules and doesn't want any. And the author's voice – your grandmother's voice – is perfectly pitiless. She's like a war reporter."
The story itself was magical, gritty, and unique, but the writing was what really drew me in. This book was just SO easy to read. I mean, the writing is seriously amazing. There were several times I wanted to put it down because I usually prefer stories that are more... glitter and lightheartedness? Whatever. My point is this ended up being a bit darker than I expected and I never really enjoyed the story, yet I still could not put this book down.
I've heard this compared to The Raven Cycle and do see a slight similarity, buuuut also think that series was more whimsical. This was more like a creepy Wonderland retelling.
The fact that I cared about the main character even though I didn't necessarily like her shows how strong the writing was. And I still appreciated how flawed, messy, and real Alice was.
I also loved how much of this book was about the power of stories (and Stories). Alice marks locations by whatever she was reading at the time and so many of my favorites were mentioned. This is just a weird book to rate overall because I honestly wasn't that huge on it, but really did love the writing and so many elements!!
I don't want to say much more about the actual plot because the book isn't released for another 6 months. But I would recommend preordering this one if you like magical realism and creepy stories.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC. The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.
"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."
You know those Disney princess fairytales, the ones where the damsel in distress is saved by Prince Charming and they get married and live happily ever after? Yeah, this isn't that story. Think of the old school Brother's Grimm fairytales, and then imagine something even darker and you'll have a clear picture of what this book holds for you. That's not a criticism; one of the surest ways to get me to commit to reading a book is to tell me it's an old school fairytale. I am a hardcore sucker for these wicked little snippets into an alternate world, and this debut felt like it was written by a seasoned pro with all the bells and whistles you could ask for.
When Alice was born, her eyes were black from end to end, and the midwife didn't stay long enough to wash her.
We're dropped into the story about midway; the first few chapters are meant to give us some background on Alice, her mother Ella, and her grandmother Althea Prosperine, who became famous by writing a book of fairytales. This book was titled Tales From The Hinterland and it contained a total of twelve brief stories. The cool part about The Hazel Wood is that we get to read a couple of these first hand within the story (Three Times Alice and The Door That Wasn't There), while also getting brief snippets from most of the rest of them toward the end. This aspect was so unique and compelling that I felt a little breathless at the end. I wanted every story verbatim! I feel like, if the author so chose, she could write Tales From The Hinterland, binding and fully fleshing out all twelve stories in a volume to sell as a companion novel and we the people would EAT. IT. UP. Seriously, please please pretty please?
So Alice remembers being kidnapped at the age of six by a strange man with red hair claiming to take her to visit her recluse of a grandmother, but she was never harmed and never laid eyes on Althea. Strange things begin to happen, such as Alice spotting the mysterious redheaded man a decade after her last sighting of him, her mother and herself receiving a letter stating Althea has passed away, and finally, Ella disappearing under very strange circumstances. Alice has no one to turn to other than a recently made acquaintance named Ellery Finch, who is a mega super borderline stalker fan of Althea's work. His money and affluent nature allow them to forge a shaky bond and they decide to set off on a journey to do the very thing Alice's mother warned her not to do-visit the Hazel Wood. <---Name of Althea Prosperine's vast estate in upstate New York
I hated needing something from someone when I had absolutely nothing to offer back. You'd think, after the upbringing I'd had, I'd at least be used to it.
I wouldn't call Alice a likable character, but she was certainly a compelling lead. I felt just as befuddled as she did along this journey; I honestly had no clue where this story would take us and was just as shocked as Alice at every twist and turn. While there was no sexual content whatsoever in this book (at least that I remember), it still made me give pause to what age range this book would be most appropriate for. Certainly the older side of the spectrum, as this was disturbing, unsettling, and contained a good bit of graphic violence/horror within the stories. I was warned many times over about how truly dark this book is, but I didn't think it was something I'd blink an eye at, not with all the graphic murder mystery/thrillers I read, but this was different. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly provoked this sense of unease I felt; perhaps it was the not so light way the story was wrapped up? There isn't much levity to be found here; if you're the type of reader looking for a happy ending you most certainly have come to the wrong place.
Originally I gave this book 4 stars, but I've decided to bump it up to a full 5, seeing as it's been almost a full week since I finished it and I cannot stop thinking about it. This quirky little novel has been jostling other stories I am currently reading, vying for attention in my head and further pondering, so for that reason, I think I need to give credit where credit is due. This book certainly won't be for everyone, but I think the fans of dark fairytales and things that go bump in the night will wholly appreciate the author's ability to conjure up such a complex tale that was detailed and, quite frankly, brilliant. Highly recommended!
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my copy.
Book #4 in my Nebulous November challenge!
ARC provided by Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.
“Once upon a time there was a beautiful queen who thought words were stronger than anything. She used them to win love and money and gifts. She used them to carry her across the world.”
Let me just start this off by saying that I normally only one star something if it has very problematic content. This book only has one element that made me uncomfortable (that I will talk about later on), but the main reason I’m giving this one star is because it was so ungodly boring.
Next, and this could be completely my fault, I feel like this is marketed as a YA Fantasy, when it takes the reader almost 250 pages, out of a 360 page book, to even get into the fantasy aspect and by that time I couldn't care less about some pseudo Alice in Wonderland. This reads like a YA Contemporary Mystery and that is not a genre that I enjoy reading in the slightest, so maybe that is the main reason this didn’t work for me.
So the basic premise of The Hazel Wood is that a seventeen-year-old girl named Alice has been on the run with her mother, Ella, for as long as she can remember. They go from city to city, house to house, sometimes sleeping in their car, always on the run from the “bad luck” that follows them. Alice’s grandmother, Ella’s mother, is a very famous author who wrote a collection of short stories that are incredibly hard to find in today’s world. The short stories are very dark fairytales, that have netted her grandmother a very cult-like fanbase that totally gave me some Nightfilm vibes if I’m being completely honest.
Alice has never met her grandmother, and she’s never visited the exclusive estate she lives on called the Hazel Wood. But after Alice’s mother is kidnapped, she is desperate to find any means possible to finally visit the mysterious estate and to get her mother back once and for all.
But this book was so incredibly slow. I had to bribe myself with chocolates to even finish it. This is a 360 page book, and it took me SEVENTEEN days to read it. That’s a little over 20 pages a day. And that’s honestly all I could do, because I was so uninvested. And it’s actually mindboggling to me that this book is even 360 pages long, because I feel like everything could have taken place in 150-200 pages, too.
And Alice is such an unlikeable main character that isn’t supposed to be an unlikeable main character. She’s so rude, and self-centered, and unable to recognize her privilege because she can’t get over the fact that she grew up poor. She talks over people, and is demanding, and refuses to acknowledge her mistakes. I could never and will never connect with her, and it was honestly miserable to be inside of her head.
So, the problematic element is the treatment of the biracial side character who Alice spends most of the book with. Finch is the only person of color in this book, and Alice constantly remarks on how unattractive he is, and it feels really bad. Then, when they get into an altercation with a police officer, Finch tries to explain to Alice about racial profiling and how he feels uncomfortable being around cops and being noncompliant around cops, while Alice just completely disregards his very valid feelings by saying he’s rich and privileged. Like that negates the color of his skin and the racism he faces every single day because of it, because she grew up poor and on the run with her mom. On top of the fact that Alice will never let Finch speak, because she’s always interrupting and talking over him. It just reads badly and made my very uncomfortable while reading. Also, Alice even got physically abusive a couple times and I just wasn't there for it at all.
The other minor thing that just made me feel a little uncomfortable while reading was that this book kind of romanticizes kidnapping. Like, Alice has very fond memories of being kidnapped when she was six and it feels almost like glorifying it. Maybe this just rubbed me the wrong way because I was always deathly afraid of being kidnapped as a child, but I didn’t enjoy reading her memories on kidnapping whatsoever, either.
And the last thing is that the deus ex machina in this book is very strong. So many things just so conveniently happened, especially at the end of this book when we are finally in a fairytale land, to wrap up this story.
The only thing I truly liked about this book were the two chapters that were stories that Finch was retelling to Alice from inside her Grandmother’s book, Tales from the Hinterland. Both of these were honestly great, and I enjoyed them immensely and it showcased that the author does have talent for writing. Unfortunately, this is only two chapters of a thirty-one chapter book. But both of those short stories were good and I enjoyed each one more than the rest of this entire book combined
Also, have you seen the finished copy of this? With its foil sprayed pages? Holy moly, it’s honestly one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever laid eyes upon. But you all know what they say about judging books by their covers…
This book just wasn’t for me or my tastes. We aren’t even in 2018 yet and I can tell you that this will 100% make my most disappointing publications of 2018 list. And from all my friends’ reviews, I truly think this is going to just be a polarizing book! People are going to hate and dread picking it up, or they are going to be completely engrossed, love, and devour it. And you guys know that just because I disliked this book, it doesn’t mean that your feelings are invalid. If you liked this book then I am truly happy for you, but this book just really didn’t work for me. And if you do decide to pick this one up, I hope you find way more enjoyment within its pages than I did.
Content warnings for underage alcohol consumption, drug use, self-harm, talk of suicide, and mild violence.
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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.
Buddy read with Jenn and Destiny! ❤