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The Graveyard Book
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on 19 June 2017
Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers. He's a brilliant children's author, he's an amazing adult author... The man can do it all. The amazing thing about his children's books however, is that they can also be read by adults and they don't feel like they're reading a children's book. This is what The Graveyard Book is. It's a children's book that adults can happily read without feeling like it should be a bedtime story for their two-year-old.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod's family.

Much like Coraline, The Graveyard Book is a children's book with underlying themes of horror. Gaiman tackles the boundaries of these two genres with ease and with perfection so that all age ranges can enjoy the horrors of a boy being friends with ghosts, who is also being hunted by a killer.

One of the awesome things about this book is that there are a handful of illustrations by Chris Riddell before every chapter. I love the way that Riddell draws, the illustrations are so unique and bizarre. After I had finished this book, I found Chris Riddell's Tumblr where he showcases all of his sketches and I think I was looking at them for a couple of hours! I loved every single one of them.

“It's like the people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn't work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” 
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

What was interesting about The Graveyard Book was in every chapter, the character of Bod was older every time. For example, in chapter four he could be eleven, and then in chapter five, he could be thirteen. For Gaiman to write like this was very creative as is conveyed how Bod changed over the years as he was growing up in the graveyard and saw how his friendships developed and changed. Each chapter also tackles a different 'problem' each time; we are introduced to a new horror and all of these new characters intertwine to build up towards the incredible ending.

I feel like the only thing that lets this book down is that it's a bit slow at the beginning and it takes about fifty pages to get into.

However, once you get past the slow start, this is an amazing book and one that I would thoroughly recommend for both children and adults.
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Don't deny it. Everybody has had fantasies of wandering into another world, or at least a magically-enhanced pocket of our own -- and Neil Gaiman is an expert on both. His "Instructions" is a delicately illustrated, whimsical little picture book that takes you on a guided tour of a fantasy world, and Charles Vess' delicate, elegant illustrations mesh perfectly with Gaiman's words.

"Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say please before you open the latch, go through, and walk down the path." Gaiman follows a cat-man in vaguely medieval clothes as he follows the various instructions. Obviously he starts off going through a mysterious door in a stone wall, which leads him into a world of ogres, palaces, wild woods, magic wells, princesses and red dragons.

Moreover, he gives you tips on the proper places to go and what you should do when you get there. For instance, he informs you what giant animals you are going to ride, what you shouldn't do (example: touch an imp doorknocker), and precisely what to say to whomever you meet.

Technically "Instructions" is a children's picture book, but it feels more like a whimsical poem with equally charming illustrations. Gaiman manages to make you feel like you wandered into a slightly tongue-in-cheek fairy tale and are just an observer rather than a full participant. It's a little like he's taking you by the hand and showing you the most interesting sights of the Fairy Tale World -- including some of the darker edges, like a haunted wood full of imps, or the incarnations of the year's months.

And Charles Vess' illustrations really give the book a magical air -- lots of gnarled trees, crows, clinging flowering vines, floating mists, green tinged forests and golden skies. His art tends to be rather delicate and full of dusty, vibrant colors -- and it often gives you the feeling that it's about to spill off the page.

"Instructions" is a pretty mundane name for a charming little picture book, with a lovely concept and even lovelier drawings. Lovely for the imaginative kid, and maybe a few adults as well.
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on 6 November 2009
Such a disappointment.

Occasionally there would be details that filled me with delight: the Sleer, the ghoul gate, the fact that Bod finds sleeping in a tomb totally natural, the way he learnt history from ghosts and this was often considered incorrect history when he briefly went to school. And I'll give Gaiman a lot of credit for the ending. He had Bod engineering the bad guys' ends, from various things he'd encountered in earlier years. Bod actively defended the graveyard. It made the story wrap up much tighter than I'd expected -- and that worked for me -- but it didn't prevent the book, overall, from feeling too thin.

Scarlett (a regular girl) says to Bod, after he's disposed of the bad guys:

"You aren't a person. People don't behave like you. You're as bad as he was. You're a monster."

And herein lies my biggest problem with this book: Bod is quite the opposite to Scarlett's accusation. He's too normal.

Bod is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and a probably-a-vampire. The details I mentioned above are wonderful, these little hints that Bod is fundamentally different to other children. But they were just hints, little personality quirks, and my overwhelming impression was of a normal boy who just happened to live in a graveyard. I think part of the problem is the length and format of the book. It's episodic, with little adventures or events being the focus of each chapter, and it's not very long. It doesn't take the time to really delve into what it means for Bod to have his upbringing; it's more about adventure than character-study. And I really wanted the latter.

In terms of his character, well, at least he's more active than Shadow and the Neverwhere guy. He tries to be kind to Liza, he goes after the bully at school, he saves himself at the end. He's curious and kind-hearted, but he's quite... bland. Liza (a ghost witch) is the most interesting character of them all. I loved how she bitterly related what happened her; she really had a voice.

She got a personality transplant later, though, when Bod becomes a teenager and she gets moody because that's what teenaged girls do with teenaged boys, yes?

Gaiman managed to pull out several of my Big Dislikes in fiction towards the end: the bad guys reveal important information to the good guy, a prophecy is involved, and at the very end, Bod loses his magical abilities the graveyard gave him for no particular reason. (Maybe the ghosts intentionally did it, not it automatically happening because he was older, but because they thought he needed to be among live people? If so, I think that could have been brought out a little more. Magic just fading with age is dumb.)

Another annoying episode was where Bod goes to school. He adapted very quickly, despite growing up in a graveyard, and quickly pursues bullies.

Admittedly, the ghosts are pretty much regular people with funny speech patterns and some cultural differences. But that could have been played on more -- making Bod struggle to fit in with 21st C kids, when he plays with kids from throughout the centuries. Even with Silas' modernising influence, I think Bod should have been at a slight cultural disconnect.

Overall: while I enjoyed little aspects of the book, it badly failed on the too-normal character of Bod and decreasingly interesting plot.
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on 24 November 2017
This is a remarkable book.

I do not think I could say otherwise considering the number of people who told me so when I said I was going to read it.

Although it starts with a scene that is grim and horrific in nature there is a touch of whimsy to it, for even as a family is brutally murdered by the sinister Man Jack, the overwhelming image is of the toddler escaping his cot, the house and wandering down the dark night time streets, avoiding his fate and ending up at a graveyard…

When I started reading I felt that each chapter was more like a short story, albeit with the same characters. Each one a progression of time in Bod’s (Nobody who was once the toddler). Each chapter seems to be a standalone piece, as Bod explores the graveyard around him, and learns more of the world he has become part of. From the ghosts who live beneath the stones, to the stories that come with them.

From there we are introduced to the mysteries of the Ghoul Gates, The Sleep, the unmarked dead, witches’ thieves and other forgotten souls.

But as the story progresses the strings that Gaiman has flung through the early chapters start to come together, being pulled tighter and tighter by a progressive plot, until all the apparently disparate stories come together into a glorious whole, which is a sure sign of why Gaiman is seen as one of this country’s pre-eminent writers.

There are some lovely touches throughout, one of my favourite being that every time a new ‘dead’ person is introduced we are gifted with a line from their stone, that tells a lot about them in a few words.

I think this is one of the strengths of the book, that the majority of the characters are dead, moved onto what comes next, living a polite and quiet existence around the stones where they were laid to rest, ironically feeling more alive than many characters thrown at the reader by lesser authors. Although there is no heaven on show, there is something strangely beautiful in the afterlife portrayed here. There are worse things that could happen after one bites the bullet.

There are a few tricks that Gaiman employs that I would say come close to being stereotypical, but even as you think ‘I have seen this before’ the concept is turned on its head and you find your expectations surprised.

The book ends with a dramatic climax, that does not disappoint, and ends in many ways with the bittersweet end of childhood. Although this is a fitting way to conclude the book, the change and what it means for Bod are strangely, both triumphant and sad.

Undoubtedly the book it not only the work of a great author, but of one at the height of his powers. It is well written, fresh ideas and some fascinating concepts. It travels at a great pace, but not too fast and leaves you wanting more.

In fact, as I type this I feel less like calling Gaiman an author, because this book is a greater feat than that, in this he is a storyteller, weaving a tale that draws you into other lives, deaths and unlives, brings it vividly into the world and leaves strands clinging to you when you have finished, as though one is waking from the best of dreams.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 October 2008
Imagine Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Book"... but replace the animals with ghosts, ghouls, werewolves and other such supernatural creatures.

Such is the concept of "The Graveyard Book," which cleverly turns Kipling's classic story into an exquisitely-written, darkly witty fantasy. While it starts as the assorted supernatural adventures of a young boy raised by ghosts, the story slowly evolves into a beautifully ghastly confrontation between Nobody Owens and the people who want to do him harm.

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." A man named Jack kills an innocent family at night -- except for a baby boy, who toddles out to the graveyard.

With the approval of the Lady on the Grey, the Owens ghosts adopt the boy, whom they name Nobody (or "Bod" for short), and the mysterious not-dead-or-alive Silas is appointed his guardian. Bod slowly grows up, but his upbringing is hardly ordinary -- he is taught by a Hound of God, wanders into the horrific realm of Ghulheim, watches a danse macabre, and befriends a witch's spirit from the Potter's Field.

But the man named Jack is still out there, and for some reason he (and the organization he works for) still wants to kill Bod. And though Silas and the ghosts are trying to keep him safe, Bod is becoming curious about the world of living humans -- and about the man who murdered his family. And when they come for him, he'll be ready.

The world of Neil Gaiman is never a safe place -- it's always painted in shadows and shades of grey, and something horrible may be lurking around the corner. And the world of "The Graveyard Book" is no exception to this -- it's filled with strange supernatural creatures, hellish red cities with decayed moons overhead, and midnight parades where ghosts dance with the living.

The world of the graveyard is an intriguing one -- moonlight, crumbly headstones, a little stone church, and a creepy barrow where the Sleer lurk. From a lesser author this would be kind of boring, but Gaiman's beautiful prose brings it to life ("There was a silent implosion, a flutter of velvet darkness, and Silas was gone").

And Gaiman explores Bod's childhood with dark humour ("Can you imagine how fine a drink the black ichor that collects in leaden coffins can be?") and adventure. But the tone changes as Bod grows older, especially with the creepily professional Jack and his cohorts slowly closing in on him. It's a coming-of-age tale, and a bittersweet, sometimes terrifying one.

Bod himself is a lovable kid, who slowly explores first the world of the graveyard and then the world of the living. He's both ruthless and kind, sweet and strong. The mysterious Silas -- whose true nature is only revealed late in the book -- serves as a kindly but stern mentor, who pretty clearly loves young Bod like a father.

And there's a pretty wide supporting cast -- Bod's childhood friend Scarlett is rather bratty, but the ghosts make up for that. The snappy, witty witch Eliza, the kindly Owenses, Mother Slaughter, the fussy Mr. Pennyworth, and the schoolteacherish substitute guardian Miss Lupescu all round out the cast. And with only a few lines, Gaiman makes them seem practically real.

"The Graveyard Book" is a beautifully written, bittersweet coming-of-age tale with some moments of pure creepiness. A magnificent fantasy story, which is not to be missed.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 December 2016
Imagine Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Book"... but replace the animals with ghosts, ghouls, werewolves and other such supernatural creatures.

Such is the concept of "The Graveyard Book," Neil Gaiman's exquisitely-written, darkly-witty fantasy which cleverly turns Kipling's classic story into a coming-of-age tale in a graveyard. And the graphic novel adaptation does the book plenty of justice -- "The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel" has haunting, realistic artwork that loses none of the book's imaginative world, likable characters or supernatural beauty.

A man named Jack kills an innocent family at night -- except for a baby boy, who toddles out to the graveyard, and is scooped up by the ghosts who dwell there. With the approval of the Lady on the Grey, the Owens' ghosts adopt the boy, whom they name Nobody (or "Bod" for short), and the mysterious not-dead-or-alive (pretty clearly a vampire) Silas is appointed his guardian and teacher.

Bod slowly grows up, but has little idea of how the world works,. Since he has the right of the graveyard, his upbringing is hardly ordinary -- he's a boy who is taught history by the people who were actually there, ventures into dark places ruled by the Indigo Man and the mysterious Sleer; makes a friend from outside the cemetery, a young girl named Scarlett; falls in with a gang of ghouls who drag him into a terrible underworld; awaits the ghosts dancing the Macabray, and eventually begins attending school in the outside world.

But growing up brings new problems -- Bod finds that he's changing while the graveyard residents do not, and his old friend Scarlett returns to the area. But she finds that Bod is no longer the innocent boy he once was, and now wants revenge for his family's murders. What he doesn't realize is that Scarlett has also met a mysterious man with a sinister interest in the graveyard boy -- and he will need all the power of the graveyard to keep them both safe.

The world of Neil Gaiman is never a safe place -- it's always painted in shadows and shades of grey, and something horrible may be lurking around the corner. And the world of "The Graveyard Book" is no exception to this -- it's filled with strange supernatural creatures, hellish red cities with decayed moons overhead, and midnight parades where ghosts dance with the living. The world of the graveyard is an intriguing one -- moonlight, crumbly headstones, a little stone church, and a creepy barrow where the Sleer lurk.

Bod himself is a lovable kid, who slowly explores first the world of the graveyard and then the world of the living -- a kid who is both ruthless and sweet, strange and oddly down-to-earth. The mysterious Silas serves as a kindly but stern mentor, who pretty clearly loves young Bod like a father despite the fact that they are not of a kind. And his paternal love for Bod means that he wants the boy to be safe, even as he struggles to accept that Bod needs to be among his own kind.

And this adaptation does a magnificent job bringing the story to life -- each part of the story has a different illustrator, but they maintain a fairly consistent tone and look. They tend to be dominated by blues and deep greens (except for the fuschia and grey of Ghulheim, or the delicate earth tones of the living world), and be drawn in a fairly realistic style. There are a few snags ("The Hounds of God" has a bit too much facial expression in the first half, David Lafuente's illustrations have rather exaggerated expressions and over-stocky figures) but overall it's very lovely.

And most importantly, the art effectively brings Gaiman's magic to life -- you feel the homelike quality of the graveyard, the slimy claustrophobia of the barrow, the nightmares of "ordinary" people, and the power that Silas holds as he sweeps around in his flowing cloak. And some clever measures are taken to communicate how things sound or feel (the Sleer's dialogue is entirely communicated through creeping grey-brown clouds that whirl around Bod).

"The Graveyard Book Graphic Nove" effectively brings to life the magic, darkness and beauty of Neil Gaiman's little graveyard world, and the gripping story of Nobody Owens.
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on 16 July 2016
In The Graveyard Book, Nobody Owens (also known as Bod) is saved from murder by Ghosts. As a toddler, Bod, crawls out of his cot and walks up the hill to The Graveyard in the dead of night. Meanwhile his family are being murdered in their sleep by a man named Jack.

Jack tracks Bod up to The Graveyard. The ghosts save Bod’s life after Mrs Owens makes a promise to the Spector that is Bod’s mother. The ghosts agree to raise Bod and grant him the Freedom of The Graveyard.

Bod is to be raised by ghost surrogate parents Mr & Mrs Owens, with Silas who belongs to neither the world of the living or the world of the dead acting as Bod’s Guardian.

This is the start of a truly remarkable adventure story. Bod is taken through a gravestone that leads to a desert and city of the ghouls, he develops a friendship with a dead Witch and a living girl, he is taught how to fade, he goes to an ordinary school and uses fear and dreamwalking to deal with bullies, he learns the ways of The Sleer and finally learns the truth of why his living family was murdered, why the man Jack is still after him and has to fight off The Jack’s order.

The Graveyard Book is the most wonderfully imaginative story that I’ve read in a long time. As the plot unravels the reader is captivated throughout and ponders on the mystery of why the man Jack murdered Bod’s family and why he continues to search for Bod to finish the job of wiping out his family.

The characters are superbly surrounded in mystery with hidden talents that make each character brilliant.

The Graveyard Book has made it on to my top shelf – where I keep my favourite books and there is no doubt in my mind that it is a book I will read again and again. It was a book that I honestly didn’t want to ever end.

At the end of the book, in an acknowledgments section Gaiman writes that this book was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, that Gaiman read as a child, and also inspired by his own children at a certain age. This inspiration shines through as I found myself thinking that The Graveyard Book reminded me of the story of The Jungle Book, way before getting to the end acknowledgements section.

I would highly recommend that anyone and everyone reads The Graveyard Book, which is available to buy on Amazon and at all good book shops.
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on 3 March 2014
Bod Owens is a normal boy, except for the fact that he has been raised by ghosts and a vampire and lives in a graveyard.
An assassin of legendary reputation has been given a simple job or wiping out the Dorian family. He kills Mum and Dad, easily enough, and the little girl tucked in her bed with her teddy too. But somehow baby Dorian has escaped from his cot, slid downstairs using his nappy to cushion his bottom and slipped out of the front door that Jack neglected to close behind himself. But Jack soon picks up his trail that leads him up a hill to a grave-yard so old that its become a nature-reserve. But at the graveyard the baby’s trail disappears. This is the first-time that he has failed to complete a job and Jack is avowed that he will one day finish what he has started. The baby, however, has not disappeared. At the bequest of his dead mother, the graveyard’s ghosts have agreed to give the baby the freedom of the graveyard, to be raised by Mr and Mrs Owen (who hadn’t had children during their lives) and with Silas (the vampire) to be his godfather and bring him food. Bod grows up to learn everything that the ghosts of his graveyard can teach him, including a number of supernatural powers, like turning invisible and walking through walls. He’s going to need all of his abilities soon, because Jack is still outside somewhere looking for him.
The book follows Bod in the latter half of his childhood, though his misadventures and lessons in life (and death) from the odd denizens of the graveyard. Despite his strange upbringing and postcode, Bod comes across as a normal boy, curious about the world around him (and beneath him), bored off lessons and somewhat lonely. His friends consist of a long dead, but still young at heart and in appearance, witch and a living girl called Scarlett who has to move away after visiting an ancient tomb beneath hill. This being a Neil Gaiman book, we are also treated to a whole panoply of quirky characters, including the ghosts of the graveyard, ranging from Roman Britain up to the Victorian period, Silas, the velvet wearing vampire, and a bunch of ghouls (notable mentions, the Bishop of Bath and the Duke of Wellington). It is the vast supporting cast that really make this book so enjoyable and worth reading.
The main setting of the story is the graveyard itself, with its little chapel, Egyptian walkway, a ghoul gate and its unhallowed ground. Really, the graveyard is as much a character in the book as its stuffy and mortified residents, to the point that through reading the book, the graveyard will become as familiar a place to you as it is to Bod, and you will be able to sense its moods too. There are a few brief detours during the course of the book to a secondary school, Scarlett’s house, the Dorian house, the ghouls’ world and Africa too.
This book is pitched by the publisher as a children’s novel/YA, but the opening is rather chilling and serious. Despite the intended audience, Gaiman writes as flawlessly as ever, never condescending in tone or style, and that will no doubt be a huge factor in the longevity and universal appeal of this book. Its definitely made favorite books list and is amongst Gaiman’s best.
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on 24 September 2013
This story begins with a multiple murder of a family asleep in their beds. The assassin's name is Jack and he wields a knife. He fails to kill the last family member, a toddler, who while the other murders were taking place, managed to climb out of his crib, descend the stairs and crawl out the front door. When Jack realises the crib is empty, he rushes down the stairs and out the door and is just in time to see the child entering a graveyard some distance away.

The graveyard is inhabited by ghostly residents including a couple, Mr and Mrs Owens, who find the baby. They then see the ghost of a woman who has recently been killed and is begging them to protect her child from the man who killed her. They agree to do so. When Jack arrives at the graveyard there is no sign of the baby, only a strange man who convinces him that he was mistaken about seeing the child.

The Graveyard book tells the story of how a young boy comes to be raised by ghosts, and a guardian, Silas, who is neither dead nor alive (although it is not clarified his characteristics suggest he is a reformed vampire). They name the boy Nobody Owens and everyone calls him Bod. Bod is very inquisitive (which is just as well as this saved his life in the first place), and as such he gets himself into all sorts of trouble. It is made clear to him that he needs to stay inside the graveyard to be safe from the dangers outside. Does he obey and remain inside the graveyard? Of course not.

All the while the man Jack continues to search for him in order to finish the job he was contracted to do. It is a mystery as to why Bod's family were murdered and why it would seem someone is out to get Bod as well. Silas goes away a lot and it transpires that he is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.

This is a wonderful read for children of an appropriate age. Although the premise sounds scary, the plot is not (okay maybe just a little). What I got from it was more about the importance of family and friendship and the lengths one will go to to protect the ones they love.

It is extremely well-written and I would highly recommend it for encouraging a non-reading child to do just that (get reading that is).
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on 10 February 2015
I've long been a fan of Neil Gaiman, as he is one of those writers who can mix the fantastical with the real and make it feel somehow natural. His writing has a kind of credibility that means when Neil Gaiman tells you something unbelievable, you start keeping half an eye out for it, just in case.

I've read most of Gaiman's novels and short story collections, but had never dipped into the writing he aims at a slightly younger audience. Given that his writing often makes me feel like a child again, I wasn't anticipating any major difference in his writing for the different audience, particularly in a collection of short stories.

That is exactly what I got, as "M is for Magic" is a collection of stories specially selected for the audience, but not written specifically for the audience. Indeed, of the eleven stories contained within, I had read eight of them previously, as four stories are featured from each of his previous collections aimed more at adults; "Smoke and Mirrors" and "Fragile Things".

As is usual with his collections, Gaiman provides the reader with a huge range of reading experiences. He opens with a story that combines nursery rhyme characters with a Raymond Chandler like Private Investigator, but does so with a humorous touch that keeps you smiling all the way through. This was my favourite of them all, as I'm a huge fan of Chandler as well as Gaiman, but no matter what your interests, there is almost certainly going to be something that will appeal to you on some level.

Many of the stories take old ideas and bring them right up to date. So you get children's bedtime stories given a modern twist, the Holy Grail legend landing on a suburban street and you find out what happens to the phoenix. Cats fight the devil on a nightly basis and you discover that sometimes when you chat up a girl at a party you may get a little bit more than you bargained for.

I suspect that the reason why Gaiman works so well as a writer for both adults and children is that he has the kind of imagination that allows him to stand with one foot in the adult world and one in the younger world and take the best bits of both of them. The subject matter here suggests that he has a firm grip on that which enthralled him in the past and a way of passing on that feeling that ensures it enthrals the reader as well.

At no point did I pay any attention to the fact that Gaiman was re-telling updated versions of bedtime stories or nursery rhymes, or stories that really should have appealed to me several years ago. He mixes subject matter and style so well that you're never quite sure what to expect and you're deeply involved before you know it. Even in his version of a ghost story, you finish wondering exactly who is haunting who. Gaiman keeps the reader off balance, but always a part of things which is what I've always loved about his work and love again here.

In the end, the only disappointment for me was that so much of the content here wasn't new to me. Strangely, it's because I'm such a huge fan of Gaiman that this happened, as a less dedicated fan or a newcomer to his work would find all the stories new and refreshing, as I have frequently done with his work over the years. In this respect "M is for Magic" was very much like a "Greatest Hits" CD, in which the main aim is to attract new fans, with only a couple of new items thrown in to try and appease the existing fans.

That said, as with any "Greatest Hits" album, for an artist to have reached that point, it means that the content is likely to be amongst the best work they have ever produced and you know it's going to be good. That is definitely the case here and for any reader, young or old, who can give their imagination free rein, this is a wonderful collection of stories. I may have read many of them before, but they are always worth reading again and again, so I didn't mind too much at all and if you've not read any of Gaiman's short stories before, this is something you'll be able to return to over and over again, just like you can with all the best stories.

This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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