The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1)by Published 30 Jan 2018
|The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1).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 (The Hazel Wood, #1)" Reviews
"And while they're being told, stories create the energy that makes this world go. They keep our stars in place. They make our grass grow."
You want to read a mysterious, crazily intriguing book, this is it. My heart was racing for the first 7 chapters because I had no idea what was going to happen and during the rest because I couldn’t wait to see where the Story was going (pun intended- if you’ve read it you’ll understand).
This is just so AMAZING. I don’t know how it possible to make something so interesting and addicting. I couldn’t stop even once, it’s crazy really, in the entire book not even one word was boring or out of place. I feel like I’m going to burst into hysterical laughter if I start talking about it because I can’t wait for the next book and I can’t accept the fact that the book is over. The whole thing was so well planned and the book did justice to the concept which was also great. The world itself is written very descriptively which helped picture the very fictional and fantastical world and characters. It was so much more interesting because nearly every other character had their own agenda and were playing their own angle.
In this world, Althea Proserpine was a famous writer who wrote the books Tales of Hinterland. This book is an enigma, there are no traces of it online and very few people have read it and those who have read it are borderline addicted to it and Althea, Once this book was published Althea Proserpine moved into an estate called The Hazel Wood and fans all over the world have tried to locate it with no avail. And just like that Althea Proserpine was never again seen on the face of the Earth and eventually the theories and rumours died down, but Althea’s daughter Ella moved out of The Hazel Wood when she was young and raised her daughter Alice away from anything related to Althea and her fairytales and forbade her from researching or reaching out to Althea.
But all her life Alice and her mother have been moving from place to place without ever settling down because if they ever stay in one place for too long bad luck just seems to follow them and bring a whole lot of destruction along with it. But a few years ago Alice got a letter informing her of Althea Proserpine’s death and at that moment onwards she built a stable life for herself and her daughter. But now Alice has been taken by someone who claims to be from Hinterland, the very world Althea based all her stories on, which now turns out to be real. And if the world is real so must be the stories.
The fairytales Althea wrote were not our average fairy tales with happy endings, they were gruesome tales generally with savage endings and characters who held no semblance of humanity. Now that Hinterland has proved to be real Alice will have to have navigate a world of the darkest stories in existence to rescue her mother, with the help of Finch who happens to be one of her grandmothers cultish superfans who remembers every story in the book.
This book grabbed my attention in the beginning and held it all the way to the end. The world within this world is one of the most interesting I have ever read. The concept of the Hinterland and the Hazel Wood was written with a lot of clarity which increases the pace of the book. Everything about this book dragged me in and the next book has a lot of intrigue to live up to. I rate this book 5 stars.
It's time for another unpopular opinion review! This book was literally the single biggest reading disappointment of the year for me. I really wanted to love this story. It was being marketed as a twisted fairytale, and those are my aesthetic for sure - the spookier and darker, the better - but this fell short in so many ways. Please remember that these are just my opinions! You are more than welcome to disagree or tell me your thoughts, but please do so respectfully. ❤
"I wanted that distance. I wanted that uncaring, 'here's your blood and guts and your fucked-up happy ending' fairy-tale voice."
→ genre marketing & writing ←
Marketing led me to believe that this was going to be the typical high fantasy world we see in fairytales. My first disappointment was in learning that the setting was modern-day New York, and the first half of the book straddled the line between contemporary and urban fantasy, at best.
The story doesn't pick up as an actual fantasy tale until after the halfway mark, and when it does, the writing immediately becomes much less enjoyable. Anyone who knows my reading tastes knows I love flowery prose, but many of the descriptions in the fantasy "half" of this book go far past flowery, straight through whimsical, and land smack-dab in nonsense.
I did get it, I did. And the shame of it boiled into something darker. Before my brain could catch up, I jerked the wheel and turned the car off the road, sending us rattling toward the trees.
→ Alice ←
Let me put it this way: The Hazel Wood is my 200th read of 2017, and there have only been two narrators out of the entire other 199 titles that held a candle to how terrible Alice is. She starts the book off poorly, rambling about her anger issues without giving us any reason as to why she's talking about them. As it progresses, she expresses actual, unwarranted physical violence towards other characters (including attempting to kill them via vehicular manslaughter because she feels guilty for her own poor choices).
She shouts and snaps constantly, has no respect for anyone (besides her mother), and judges everyone she meets hyper-critically. Her judgmental nature even borders on ableism when she meets a character who has been driven to a broken mental state by entering the Hazel Wood: Alice has several internal monologues about how little she trusts the woman's hygiene and the state of the woman's home's cleanliness, solely because she doesn't deem the woman "sane enough".
Even when she enlists the help of Finch, she is incessantly rude, critical, and offensive towards him. When she is finally called out on her offensive nature, she deflects, makes excuses, and has a general disregard for any harm she has caused. In one scenario, when he remarks on her misogynistic speech, her actual comeback is, "Oh, my god, Finch, go get a liberal arts degree" (I read this three times in hopes of making sense of it before deciding that she learned her snark from old men in facebook comment threads).
Beyond all of the ways in which Alice's character is incredibly harmful and is rarely - if ever - challenged for most of her behaviors, she's also just not well-written. She's hypocritical, self-contradicting, and outright boring.
Maybe Finch wasn't trying to be the sidekick in my story. Maybe he was trying to start one of his own.
→ Finch ←
Finch is introduced in a way that gave me actual optimism for the story: he's a classmate of hers who is kind and welcoming, seeks her friendship, and offers to face certain danger to help her find the Hazel Wood and her mother. Unfortunately, my optimism started to falter when I learned that Finch, the single black character in the story (in New York City, no less), is commented on multiple times as being unattractive and "a waste of wealth" - never challenged.
That was the first red flag - in a book with no commentary on anyone else's features, the single person of color is the only unattractive one? - but it worsens when Finch, despite being a very present figure throughout the story, is never fleshed out. He feels incredibly one-dimensional from start to finish, though some of this may just be to blame on Alice's refusal to let him speak for more than thirty seconds without telling him to shut up.
It felt like there was some small attempt to have a dialogue on racism and privilege when Finch talks to Alice about being afraid of racial profiling, but it's thrown away when Alice immediately insinuates that his father's wealth negates any racism he faces, and then further derails the conversation every time he tries to speak to her about it. By the end of the book, I resigned myself to the feeling that Finch was, in every shape and form, a Token Black Character™. His entire character arc felt so bad to read.
→ fairytales ←
Literally the only redeeming aspect of this book, for me, was the occasional time when we would get to hear one of Althea's tales. Sadly, they're incredibly few and far between - I think we only got two full tales in the entire book. I enjoyed those stories, and would probably read a bind-up of them, but within the context of the entire book, they weren't enough to salvage it.
→ FINAL THOUGHTS ←
This book was just a total disaster from start to finish for me, and the only reason I didn't DNF it at the 40% mark was because I was so desperately hoping it would improve by the end. I would more than likely not pick up any future books by Melissa Albert, and cannot, in good faith, recommend this story to anyone.
Thank you to Flatiron for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
You can find this review and more here on my blog!
Finally, I had an unpopular opinion………...but in the fun way!
Honestly, even though hating the books that everyone loves makes me feel #quirky and #unique and dare I say...not like other girls, it gets old. Hating the books your friends love = no fun.
Liking the books your friends hate, on the other hand: A BLAST.
All the shenanigans and special-snowflake-ness of an unpopular opinion with none of the pain and full-on suffering of reading a bad book! I should do this more often. Fingers crossed.
Now it’s time for the hard part of the review, when I have to explain why I liked the book. Which, in this case? Difficult.
Synopsis first. Let’s put the hard stuff off. Procrastination nation and all that!!!
Alice is a weirdo teenage girl who has been on the run with her mom, Ella, for her whole life. Not on the run from the law. As fun as that would be, this is EVEN MORE FUN: they are on the run from bad luck!!! Everywhere they go, bad luck follows them.
Then Alice’s grandmother dies. Ol’ Granny was the author of a cult-classic book of creeeepy fairytales. Alice has long been obsessed with her, but never met her - and never read the book, although she’s read all the information on it she can find. Once Grandmama dies, Alice’s mom, who she constantly calls by her first name like the lil rebel she is, is hype. She’s like, bad luck over! We’re moving to the Big Apple, baby.
And they do. Ella marries a reeeeaaaaally rich guy. Alice goes to a private school and works in an overpriced pretentious coffee shop. They’re living large.
Until Ella gets kidnapped, and Alice is forced to do exactly what she was told NOT to do: Team up with one of Grandmummy’s crazy fans (her semi-attractive classmate, Ellery Finch) and go to G-ma’s estate (The Hazel Wood).
I love fairytales, dark and creeeeepy ones most of all, so...pretty ideal for me. Yeah.
Now, good news or bad news first? Let’s do bad news.
Yes, the main character of this whole shindig. We do indeed spend the lion’s share of our time in her head. It’s not a buttered-popcorn-flavored jellybean level of unpleasant, but it’s not awesome.
Alice is very mean. Unnecessarily so. I am okay with a mean character sometimes, if they are also badass and/or smart, but Alice is not extremely either of those. It makes for a bumpy ride.
She is really obsessed with her mom, too. Like, actually the only relationship in her life is with her mom. It’s pretty toxic stuff. Never corrected, because of course not, but there are more books. Fingers crossed.
Alice sucks, and partner-in-crime extraordinaire Ellery Finch (who goes by his last name, as is the habit of the worst kinds of pretentious YA rich boys), is eh at best. So not off to a good start.
The other characters (Alice’s stepfather and stepsister; Ella; people who hop in and out of the narrative as is convenient) are not awesome either.
In most books, without-exception-sh*tty characters would be a dealbreaker. But not here, my dear boy! Au contraire, mon frère! They make up for it, almost, but not to the degree that I’d give it any more than 3.5 stars.
As mentioned, I love fairytales, and this feels very fairytaley. Which is extremely rare in YA, I think. It’s a particular feeling. It’s also really creepy! How cool is that! Also so rare! This book is atmospheric as hell and it full-on nails it.
I also lovelovelove the writing style. It is, as I literally just said, fairytaley/creepy/atmospheric. It is also beautiful, AND SO RICH IN DETAIL I COULD DIE OF HAPPINESS. I am obsessed with fun facts, but I don’t think those work super well outside of contemporary.
So it’s cool that this book did one better: it just entwined lots of details and allusions and names and places and objects and books and people and artists into the text, and made me Google. I LOVED IT. I Googled so many things and read so many Wikipedia pages in the course of this book. What more could you want?
It makes such a detailed, realistic world (v helpful for magical realism as bonkers as this) and is also just the best reading experience.
Also. Also also also: NO ROMANCE.
YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY.
NOOOOOOOOO ROMANCE WHATSOEVER.
Okay, maybe traces. When you read “partnered up with semi-attractive boy of her own age,” or whatever equivalent phrase I wrote in my handy-dandy synopsis (yes, I am literally so lazy that I won’t scroll up in my own review, what of it) I’m sure you assumed “ah, there is the romance.”
Me too, baby blue. (Look at me making up expressions. It’s almost like this is the seventh review in a row I’m writing.) Anyway. There are romancey moments between Finch and Alice. Alice almost-but-not-quite feels something for him. It might be friendship.
Either way, they don’t end up together. (Spoiler?? I don’t know who cares! Does it count as a spoiler if it’s a good thing that should convince you to read the book?? Sorry if it does but also I disagree with you!) I don’t think they kiss either, unless I’ve forgotten a beautiful romantic moment between descriptions of pee-scented pillows.
And a YA fantasy without a romance is more refreshing than I can say.
Also, I want to read Tales from the Hinterland (Grandnanny’s book) so badly. If Melissa Albert is smart, or loves me or the world or both, she will write that spinoff.
Bottom line: I’ve never read a YA fantasy book like this!!! And it wasn’t perfect but I’m going to chase that feeling of uniqueness baby!
finally a reverse unpopular opinion!!! finally a book i like that none of my most trusted reviewers do!
is this supposed to teach me empathy? because i still feel fun and unique AND i had all the fun of liking a book.
review to come!!
an interesting way to read a book is by assuming it's an alice's adventures in wonderland retelling just because the protagonist is named alice and then slowly realizing it has nothing to do with that at all
but this is going swimmingly, considering
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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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! ❤
This was in the February 2018 OwlCrate box!