Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman transforms a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders—where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality, obscured by smoke and darkness yet brilliantly tangible, in this collection of short works by a master prestidigitator.
I was first introduced to this book when my friend made me read the short story Babycakes, in which the animals disappear and babies - yes, babies - take their place as lab subjects, leather suppliers, and a food source.
Babycakes and stories like it fill the pages of Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of Gaiman's short stories written over the years and all compiled into one place. Some of them, like Babycakes, are terrifying and disgusting. Others are silly but fantastic, while still more are serious. A few are sexually explicit and even pornographic. They all contain elements of fantasy, ranging from creepy to entertaining.
Every story is of a high caliber, since it's Gaiman writing them, but as usual a few rise above the rest. They're the creepiest or weirdest ones. Some of them even make me afraid to turn out my light. That would be because they all seem very, very real, like if you were to be observant enough, you might find a troll under your nearest train bridge or a fictional H.P. Lovecraft town off the highway. Fantasy lovers will be thrilled with this anthology, as will any Gaiman fans who haven't read it yet.
Unnatural Creatures by Various
A collection of short stories about the fantastical things that exist only in our minds—collected and introduced by Neil Gaiman. The sixteen stories gathered by Gaiman range from the whimsical to the terrifying. The magical creatures range from werewolves to sunbirds to beings never before classified. E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Gahan Wilson, and other literary luminaries contribute to the anthology.
It's incredibly difficult to write a review for an anthology. There are so many different stories and styles that just can't be lumped together. And of course some of the stories are better than others. Gaiman did a pretty good job selecting stories with monsters that haven't been seen a thousand times, and even the stories featuring werewolves and such were rather inventive.
Some of the stories were more silly than anything, while others sent a chill down my spine. They were all written simply but entertainingly, so both middle grade and high school readers could enjoy Unnatural Creatures. On the whole, the anthology is an interesting and quick read, but it didn't quite live up to expectations for me.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
Where do I even begin to express my love for this book? The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the epitome of “short but sweet.” Gaiman’s impossible tale of magic, fear, and bravery is clever and mysterious. It feels old, like a story that’s been waiting to be told, and Gaiman is the one to tell it. His mastery of the ability to make readers believe and his careful crafting of the lovable, relateable, fantastic characters make this book an instant favorite.
Read this book if you want to remember what childhood innocence is, if you want to remember why you didn't want to grow up. Read this book if you'r
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist.
My friend recommended this book to me, and I’m glad she did. I was laughing by the time I’d finished the prologue and cast of characters, and I kept laughing throughout the book. As much as Good Omens was funny, though, it was also quite serious. I love the ideology worked into the text; the idea that humans are not inherently good or evil but rather both, and that angels and demons are not so unlike each other, plus a few more brilliant ideas that would spoil the ending for you.
I love that the “In the Beginning” section is chock-full of foreshadowing, and all of it comes to fruition by the end of the book. No strings are left dangling, and while in some ways this wraps the ending up almost too neatly, it also leaves it fairly ambiguous. Another great facet to this book was the portrayal of the Horsemen, the Antichrist, and the angels/demons themselves. It was completely unique, and avoided getting very involved in religion while still acknowledging the religious undertones, which I very much liked.
Overall, Good Omens was a truly incredible read that I absolutely loved, which met and then surpassed all of my expectations and totally blew my mind.
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