There’s nothing I love more than books about books.
No, scratch that. There’s nothing I love more than books about books that are written well.
If I had to be very specific, I’d say I love plotlines that are along the lines of “don’t do X or Y will happen”. I love plotlines that are “you shall put up with general life-threatening doom because of [family member]”. I love these kind of stories. I love ’em. And The Hazel Wood is exactly like that.
As if this hasn’t been quite hyped up already, I AM HERE TO ADD TO THAT HYPE POOL. And if you know me at all, you know I try to avoid hyped books, but this one sounded too cool to pass up. And I was right.
Also: Thank you, Flatiron Books, for sending me an ARC! You should’ve seen my face when this showed up in my box. I might’ve screamed at the post office, but you know, the people there are used to me and my books.
That. That is pretty close to my reaction.
I don’t know if it’s dark magic or a knack for genius-ness, but it felt as if Melissa Albert peered into my brain, figured out what, in my opinion, constitutes a great story, and wrote it. This was a very me book, you know? The fine-tuned details, the little aspects that I nit-pick like there’s no tomorrow on, those small inconsequential things were all nailed down. Fabulously.
But let’s delve deeper into this. Via a list.
And oh! Let it be known that this is a pre-review (because this book doesn’t release until about four months from now) and is just a little list-y compilation of my thoughts while reading it. A proper review will come .. some day. But today sure isn’t that day.
Anyways. Let’s do this.
It’s one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read this year.
And I like creepy, okay? Especially because I am not an easily creeped out person, but here? There was scary stuff going down, and I love it. Alice and Finch get stalked, and observed, and have to go through hell and back with a bunch of monstrous thingies tracking them down. (This is where it felt the most The Raven Boys-esque.)
I love being on the edge of my seat. I love putting a book off until morning because it’s too scary to read at night.
I love it.
The Hazel Wood takes small, familiar aspects .. and fuses them into something completely new.
Let’s be honest now, shall we? When you read, and when you read avidly, you undoubtedly start to notice … patterns of sorts. Trends. Tropes, if you will. And while there is nothing wrong with the familiar storyline itself, I would surely not say no to having fresh content .. despite the fact that writing something 100% original is next to impossible nowadays (or anydays, as a matter of fact).
And yet, I have never read something quite like The Hazel Wood.
If I could compare it to any other reads of mine, I’d say THW is a cross between The Raven Boys, Scarlet, and the Spiderwick Chronicles. And if you’re looking at me in horror going, Nina, those books have next to nothing in common, allow me to soothe your intense discomfort and say: Yes, they are kinda similar. How? Well, they all make up THW.
THW has the atmosphere of The Raven Boys (with the urban fantasy aspect, and the road trips, and the general creepiness), the “grandmother-y quest-like structure” (and I use this term very very loosely) of Scarlet, and the – okay, hold up. Before I continue, you guys do know the Spiderwick Chronicles, right? Right?
If not, allow me to have a mini-nostalgic rant here: it’s that MG series by Holly Black (and another author that I’m too lazy to look up at the moment) and they’re my first bookish-true-loves that I read and re-read and binge-watched the movies when I was, like, 8 (I was that kid that never read HP, and I still haven’t *ducks flying tomatoes*)… SO THEY MEAN ALOT TO ME. And THW felt so so very similar to them that I just loved The Hazel Wood x300 times more for making me remember MG books I haven’t thought about in like years.
Alice and Finch’s romance was a zero-calorie Diet Romance, which I adore.
No, they’re not “just friends” … but they don’t spend whole chunks of this book declaring their undying love for each other and describing each other’s beautiful beauty. They are logical. Practical. They are focused on not dying, which is a pretty high priority, if you ask me.
Yay for Diet Romances. Yay for focused leads.
Also: They are the type of duo that are not fully dependent on each other. Alice could carry the story fine on her own, as can Finch. And that just screams EXCELLENT (!!) CHARACTER (!!) DEVELOPMENT (!!).
I miss urban fantasies .. and this cured that for me.
It’s been a bit of a while since I stumbled upon a good magicky fantasy set in a big city (I like that setting .. sometimes. Lately, I do. I’m a bit moody, what can I say) and The Hazel Wood is basically that. It’s set in New York, which isn’t exactly the newest thing ever, but it somehow is exactly what I was looking for in the moment.
Which is weird, because I don’t normally miss that? But I did then? And the book showed up exactly when I suddenly miss the genre??
*mildly freaking out*
This reinforces my Melissa-Albert-can-read-my-mind theory, don’t you think?
The characters are presented in a way that doesn’t “force” the reader to like them.
One of my pet peeves is reader manipulation. What is that, you ask? Reader manipulation, as defined in the Mir-Nina-riam Webster Dictionary (yes, that is an actual dictionary shhhh. Miriam Webster copied me), is:
(n) when an author keeps going on and on about how a great a character is .. without supporting the idea. Also known as show-not-tell. Want an example? Kindly pick up any book by Cassie Clare or SJM. Focus specifically on the love interest.
Do you get it now?
Yeah. And I hate that. I like disliking a popular character, or liking an extremely flawed one. It’s so much more realistic.
In the book in question, our MC is a bit .. rough. She lashes out at people. She has a bit of a dry sense of humor. She can be rude. She admits she can be rude. And this is not once romanticized or covered up or anything of the sort. It’s presented very openly, and I really really appreciate what I like to call an honest writing style.
This? This is rare.
[side note: see, this is what I meant when I said that this book nailed down everything miniscule thing that I nitpick for. Again: mind. reading. alert.]
The cover is very gorgeous, it made my other books feel jealous.
You can see them scooting slightly away from The Hazel Wood when I place it on my bookshelf. All my other books frown at THW and try to trip it or whatever and I occasionally have to step in and police order. It’s quite stressful.
Okay, silliness aside, that cover is pretty. And metallic. And has an I-Spy feel to it. And it is FLAWLESS. Have I found my favorite cover of 2017? YASSS.
Yes, this is a point that needs to be addressed. Of course it has to be. Forget what you learned as a kid, ALWAYS JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER. #NinaGivesSoundAdvice
Anyways. Bottom line, delivered as eloquently as possible, is this: This book. It is fabulous. Nina liked it very much-ly.
I cannot wait for everyone to read this in January and join me in flailing over the fabulousness that is this book.