The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert

Posted On 10 February 2018

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hazelThe Hazel Wood is a book that is a combination of quest, redemption and dark fairy tale all rolled into one. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The writing was really good but more than that the book actually spoke to me, and I realise that probably sounds a little bit sentimental but this was about change, coming of age, discovering who you are and having the courage to alter those things that seem set in stone.  It also gave me a serious case of the goosebumps that were bad enough to stop me reading late into the dark – I don’t know why, perhaps I’m just a bit of a wimp.

As the book begins we learn about Alice.  Alice and her mother have been on the run for as long as she can remember.  A long time ago Alice’s grandmother wrote a book of dark fairy tales that became a cult classic. Very few copies of the book can be found and although it appeared to be adored, and indeed inspired a strong following, very few people now know much about the stories. It seems like the people who read the book become somewhat obsessive and one of Alice’s earliest memories was of a man abducting her and trying to take her to her grandmother.  Since then, Alice and her mother have barely kept one step ahead of the perpetual bad luck that seems to follow them around and which has, in fact, with the death of her grandmother, finally caught them up. Alice returns home from school one day to find her mother missing and against advice knows that the only place to look is her grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood.

The setting is a combination of contemporary and fairytale.  A good portion of the story takes part in New York where Alice and her mother have finally put down tentative roots and indeed seem to have momentarily forgotten to keep on the move. The latter chapters of the story take part in the Hazel Wood and are a riot of mixed up fairy tales that make Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland seem almost sane.

Alice comes across as a fairly hard character.  She can be brutally honest, she doesn’t particularly mix well or make friends easily and in fact can be a bit difficult to get along with.  However, stick with her.  She’s definitely flawed and maybe not always easy to like but then a life on the run has made her develop a protective armour of snarky indifference and her character flaws become somewhat more understandable as the story unfolds.

Ellery Finch is the other main character of the story.  He’s one of Alice’s classmates and, as it turns out, a strong fan of the stories penned by Alice’s grandmother, which given the obsessive nature of some of the fans, did give me a slight feeling of unease.  Two things about Ellery – one good and one maybe not so much.  I must admit that I really appreciate that Ms Albert didn’t make him into a romantic lead but as much as I appreciated that aspect at the same time I couldn’t help feeling that his story was a little bit contrived in terms of moving the plot forward.  Given Alice’s time on the road I think it would have been more than plausible if she had managed by herself.

The plot is the real winning element of this book, and of course the lovely writing.  The two together combine to make an intriguing story that you feel compelled to read.  As I said above there were definitely mystery elements to this book.  I needed to find out more and to be honest I would have loved to have learned more of the original fairy tales explored here as the few snippets that were on display made fascinating reading.

In terms of criticisms.  I think some readers may find the start of the story, which is predominantly contemporary with a hint of creepiness thrown in, a little longer than they might wish for.  Particularly so as it feels that the fantasy elements of the story only really take a hold during the latter stages of the book.  I didn’t have a problem in that respect but thought I should raise the issue as some readers may be more interested in a full on fantasy read.  Obviously there’s the fact that Alice can be a bit abrasive – although, again, I found her character to be understandable.  So, I think the only real criticism that I can share, with the above provisos in mind, is that this is one of those stories where the main character is kept in the dark about so many things – by a number of people – and it’s actually quite annoying.  For example Finch – he’s read and loved all Alice’s grandmother’s stories but does he tell her all about them all?  No, of course not, because that way would lie the way of spoilers.

Overcall, whilst there were a couple of elements that gave me pause for thought overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It had me hooked to the page trying to find out more about Alice. and the mystery that surrounded her family.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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25 Responses to “The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert”

  1. proxyfish

    This sounds like a beautiful read! It sounds like the negatives are weighed out in general by the positives so I’d love to give it a go. And that cover 😀 😀 😀 gorgeous!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really enjoyed it – it’s a little like a book of two halves but I enjoyed it and loved both sides.
      The cover is lovely isn’t it.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    I can’t wait to read this! I have read several reviews where readers were disappointed in the beginning, but I love stories that combine the real world with the fantastical, so I’m sure it will work for me.

    • @lynnsbooks

      It just worked really well for me, I’ve also read reviews saying that Alice isn’t really likable – but, I didn’t really mind her and in fact I think her character is as you would expect with her own curious upbringing.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Ashley Rae

    I’m so looking forward to the next book! 💜

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    When a book is so compelling – and from your review this comes across quite clearly – we tend to forgive it its small flaws, even forget them, as we are swept away by the story. One that I would like to read, indeed… Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I was really looking forward to this and it worked well for me, I think sometimes I feel the need to point out little niggles just to be more balanced. The writing was lovely in this and I enjoyed the contrast between the two different halves of the book.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Carmen

    Great review, Lynn! I went to Netgalley to request this book after I saw it on several critics’ lists among the best publications of the year, but the ARC is no longer available. Too bad, I really wanted a fix of this dark fairy tale. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Ohh, that’s a shame. It was a lovely dark fairytale and almost a story of two halves in the way it unfolds because the start is very much of this world. You could check out if your library has a copy??
      Lynn 😀

  6. Book Club Mom

    Great review – books that reach a reader come from all places – that’s the best feeling, isn’t it?

    • @lynnsbooks

      It really is – sometimes it really feels as though the author has the inside track on your deepest thoughts and is really aiming the book just at you.
      Lynn 😀

  7. DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape)

    Fantastic synopsis! I was actually quite sad when it was over and realized you gotten on to your liked and disliked of the story 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Why thank you 😀 To be honest, there was very little that I disliked really – it was a very good read and just my sort of thing.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I just finished this, loved it! It’s actually strange to me how much I enjoyed the first half, even though that is the half with less “fantasy”. The only part I was kind of iffy about was the ending. My favorite character was Finch, and well, I just don’t like how everything resolved, if you know what I mean. I’m glad there’s going to be a sequel, because I don’t want it to end there!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I do know what you mean about Finch and I wonder whether there might be more to that story in the next book? He was a great character after all – I don’t think Alice needed his help in some respects because she was quite tough but I think he brought something different to the story. I think my only real criticism with this, and other books that use the same ploy – is the holding back of information to the main protagonist. Of course I can see why but I can’t help thinking that if I’d have been Alice I would have had Finch tell me all the stories! I really enjoyed this and like you enjoyed the first half of the story. I think the fairytale element was very intense and I think it would have been too much to have that feel throughout the story if you know what I mean.
      Lynn 😀

  9. imyril

    I’ve seen such mixed reviews of this book (…from bloggers whose tastes I’m less familiar with), but you make it sound right up my street.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really liked it but then I liked The Book of Lost Things – which in some respects is similar to this. I liked the mysterious element and found the first half quite creepy then it was followed by the fantastical fairytale elements that were strange and dark. I can see maybe this wouldn’t be for everyone but it worked like a charm for me.
      Lynn 😀

      • imyril

        Now that’s still on my wishlist too – and it really sounds like my jam 😀

      • @lynnsbooks

        Ahh, I just loved that book – I hope you get a chance to give it a try. I’d be interested to see what you make of it.
        Lynn 😀

  10. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    As long as the fantasy elements that come later dont feel like they come completely out of the blue, this sounds really good

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, the first half is creepy and you’re aware that things are not quite normal – especially as the story develops. There’s always a mystery about why Alice and her mother are on the road and then there’s this desire to know more about Alice’s gran and her book of dark tales.
      Lynn 😀

  11. sjhigbee

    What an excellent review, Lynn. Many thanks – I think I will pass on this one. The spikiness of Alice, combined with an extended contemporary setting doesn’t sound like a perfect fit for me, despite that wonderful cover…

    • @lynnsbooks

      Understandable – although I really enjoyed both elements it’s not something that works for everyone.
      Lynn 😀

  12. Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Hazelwood by Melissa Albert – a very good, compelling dark fairy tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed this and can’t wait to read No.2.  This does seem to be a book that has divided opinion a little so I guess I had concerns going in but, as with the others, there was no need.  This book just worked for me. […]

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