Hollow City

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Review #11: Fiction

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

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Alright, continuing on with Two-fer Tuesday, as promised, I give you my review of the second novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children collection, Hollow City.

If you have not read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children this review will contain some spoilers, so if you don’t care, continue reading, if you do, stop reading this review and get to your nearest bookseller or library and catch up.

Hollow City picks up immediately where Miss Peregrine’s Home leaves off, the children are running from the Hollowgast (the monsters that resulted from the past experiments on peculiars) and the Wights (the almost-human beings created when a Hollowgast consumes enough peculiar souls). Their time loop has been destroyed and they’ve recovered bird-formed Miss Peregrine from the Wights who kidnapped her. The problem: she can’t seem to turn back into a human. Another problem: the Wights are going to be coming after them. Jacob has chosen to leave his life in the future behind and continue on in 1940 with the group of peculiar children to help stop the Wights from kidnapping the other ymbrynes (the women like Miss Peregrine who turn into birds and look after groups of peculiar children in various time loops around the world). So first things first, they need to get off the island and to mainland Wales. Being in 1940, they need to do this in row boats, during an air-raid.

With some complications along the way, where they lose much of what they were able to bring with them, they eventually make it to land and continue searching for another loop to enter, to look for any remaining ymbrynes who can help them. With the help of a story from the book of Peculiar Tales, they are able to find one, where the inhabitants are mostly animals, two of which can speak. From these animals the children learn that the ymbryne of that loop, Miss Wren, has gone to London (the peculiar capital of the world) to aid her fellow ymbryne sisters. They also learn that Miss Peregrine has been poisoned, which is why she can’t turn back. Her only chance at being human again is with the help of another ymbryne. If she stays a bird much longer, a total of about three days, she will become the bird forever, with no human memory at all. Thus, the children hop a train to London now in search of Miss Wren.

After another tip from the Peculiar Tales, they begin looking for a group of peculiar pigeons that report to Miss Wren, and in their search, come across another loop, also without an ymbryne, and almost entirely without peculiars. They add one girl and two boys to their group, the girl being friendly with Miss Wren’s pigeons and able to get them on the path to Miss Wren.

The group ends up at a carnival, heading for the Freak Show which they know always hides a peculiar or two. From there they are pointed in the direction of the Peculiar Headquarters, where they find the building completely encased in ice… but they also find Miss Wren among the crowd. She leads them in, explains the small group that is living in the headquarters, preparing to fight the Wights, and the children explain Miss Peregrine’s situation. Miss Wren is overjoyed at hearing there is another ymbryne who escaped and sets to work to bring her back, a long, hard and dangerous process.

Jacob has been helping the children this whole time with his peculiar talent, the same his grandfather had: the ability to see the Hollowgast. The other children cannot, and without Jacob would never know when danger was coming. Though with Miss Peregrine on her way back to herself, and finding Miss Wren and the other small group, Jacob has done what he set out to do. At the insistence of Emma, his grandfather’s old flame and Jacob’s current flame (a little strange love story going on), Jacob has realized he should go home now, back to his own time and family. Only Miss Peregrine has the ability to send him back, since it was her loop he entered when leaving the present.

The end of this book throws some big twists at you, ones that I never saw coming, which I absolutely love. There was little to no evidence things weren’t looking up for this group, but something major throws everything back into chaos. Jacob cannot leave the group, the headquarters are surrounded and overrun by Wights and Hollowgast and the children and Miss Wren are being rounded up and kidnapped to be used in the Wights’ peculiar experiments.

When the book ends, the children are being loaded into a train in present day London, when a commotion breaks out and Jacob and Emma are able to escape, though the rest are left stuck on the train as it pulls away. Needless to say, this book, just like the last, sets up a brilliant cliff hanger and opens the door to even more adventure and danger and mystery going into the next installment. I for one cannot wait.

Just as with the first book, there are the real (and real creepy) photographs throughout, again seamlessly eased into the narrative and plot and help create the mood and setting for this novel that spans decades, even centuries, in time as the children travel in search of safety. There are some really great moments that showcase the hardships and horrors of WWII era London and again a brilliant narrative about fitting in, about life and loss, and about survival during the harshest of conditions. Riggs is a phenomenal writer and seems to present a complicated and intriguing story effortlessly. These novels are roller coaster rides of excitement, adventure, terror, and danger and should not be missed. Hollow City packs an even bigger punch than the first novel, deepening the plot and showing no signs of this story slowing down.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*cover image from Amazon.com

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Review #10: Fiction

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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I just finished reading Hollow City, the second novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children collection, and I thought, why not write two reviews (of the first and the second book) in one day. Brilliant right? So here’s the first; I’ll get cracking on the second posthaste.

Okay, so let’s get into in.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one of the most imaginative, and creative (in both content and execution) YA novels I’ve come across. And it only gets better going into the second installment. I will say, I am glad these are coming out now, because they are rather creepy, and I am a complete wuss when it comes to things that could go bump in the night. I think I would have shied away from these in my teens, but for those kids now who like a good chill down your spine and eerie images burned into your mind, run don’t walk to pick these books up.

The first novel starts with Jacob Portman, who had grown up with his everyone-just-assumed-he-was-crazy grandfather and his mysterious stories of children who could do strange things. These are stories from WWII and before, when Jacob’s grandfather was a young man. Because of these odd photographs his grandfather had of the children, when Jacob was younger he believed these stories, but as he grew up, he started to believe as the rest of the family did–that the stories of strange children on a mysterious island in Wales, and the dangers surrounding them, were merely delusions of an aging man.

One night, Jacob get’s a disturbing call from his grandfather, and assuming he’s having an episode, Jacob goes to check on him at his home. When he gets there, he finds his grandfather in the woods behind his house, covered in his own blood and dying. He then sees a man, or monster, with tentacles where a mouth should be watching from the woods before vanishing. As he’s dying, Jacob’s grandfather tells him to find a letter, and a bird, to know the truth.

After this traumatizing experience, Jacob sees a psychiatrist because obviously no one believes he saw a monster kill his grandfather, and it’s this doctor who believes it may help Jacob get closure if he follows the letter that he does eventually find, to an orphanage on a Welsh island. Jacob goes with his father, and while exploring the island alone, finds what he’s looking for and then some.

It is here that Jacob learns his grandfather’s stories were not just stories, but the truth of a life he once lived, and he realizes that, like his grandfather and the children he meets at this orphanage run my Miss Peregrine (who can turn into a bird), he is also peculiar.

There are dangers for this peculiar group, who are stuck in a time loop in 1940. Other peculiars who want to harness the unique nature and create god-like rulers over the non-peculiar world, are hunting the children, and all other peculiar people, to use for experimentation. When the orphanage’s time loop is raided, and Miss Peregrine (in bird form) is kidnapped, Jacob must decide where he belongs and what path his life must take: stay with the peculiars and help them in their fight for their lives, or return home, with his family to a normal life.

I love this book, mostly because it really encompasses what a good YA can do, and that’s provide insight into difficult subjects that are all parts of growing up. From feeling different and not knowing where you fit in, to having a tumultuous family life, to losing loved ones, YA is a unique genre that can tackle these issues in creative and constructive ways, and Miss Peregrine’s Home is a brilliant addition to this style.

The most amazing aspect of this book are the images and the way the story is written around them. There are peculiar photographs throughout the book, all the strange and eerie creatures and evidence of the powers of the children, pictures of the mysterious island and images of the war. The best part: they are all real, they are all found images that Riggs has collected, or received from others to use. The story is literally written around these incredible photos that come from vastly different places and people, and the novel does not once feel that way. It doesn’t feel like the images are forced, or like they are simply thrown in. They make sense, and it really is a fantastic achievement.

I think some elements of the world that Riggs builds are under-explained. We are left with a few questions, though I rightly assumed that with the next installment in the collection, many of them are fleshed out. It effortlessly sets up a continuing struggle to face in the next book, but also means that you cannot pick these up out of order; you would have no idea what was going on. But since it’s a great read, that shouldn’t be a problem.

My rating for this first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: 4 out of 5 stars.

*cover image from Amazon.com

The Accident

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Review #9 – Fiction

Blogging for Books review #1

The Accident by Chris Pavone

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The Accident by Chris Pavone promised so many things that I like in a book: a mystery, murder, scandal, insight into New York City Publishing… but unfortunately, even with all those things (they were all there, the promise of them was kept) this book lacked any real punch.

The plot revolves around a mysterious, anonymous manuscript that is dropped off at literary agent Isabel Reed’s office. This manuscript describes some seriously illegal actions of one of the biggest international media moguls, his partner, and his father, and it implicates the CIA in some of the illegal business. Basically, it’s a bombshell, not only for the media mogul but also for the United States and the CIA because of their involvement. Snippets of this manuscript are sprinkled throughout the book, giving the reader details and pieces of the scandal here and there.

Obviously, there are people who do not want this manuscript published, and they are going to great lengths to prevent just that, while also trying to find the author — but even they don’t seem to know who exactly that is.

Isabel knows how import the manuscript is, and gives a copy to a friend (an editor) to read and hopefully move forward publishing. Copies wind up in several hands without her knowledge: her assistant, a subsidiary rights director at the editor’s publishing house, and a film director in LA among others. When these people begin to die suddenly, and Isabel suspects she’s being followed, she meets up with Jeffrey (the editor friend) and leaves town, trying to save their lives.

The thrill of this novel is based on giving clues as to what “The Accident” was, how this media mogul was involved, how it was covered up, and how the CIA became involved with growing the media empire that now exists. The accident is revealed rather quickly, as is the cover up, and some of the murders that start to pile up.

The second half of the book trudges slowly, dangling just the pieces regarding the CIA as well as the author’s true identity, in front of the reader for nearly 200 pages. When more people who had access to the manuscript are found dead, it’s expected merely because all the others had gone before, not to mention we aren’t really given relationships with those characters, so them dying just feels like par for the course; we aren’t invested.

What we care about is Isabel and Jeffrey, and the author. There is a twist as to who the author ends up being, and also regarding Jeffrey’s role in the situation, though we are given a lot of lead up to both these revelations, and I personally was not surprised. This was an interesting book, and I think rather intriguing considering the specific conspiracies that are laid out. It’s a fun read, but I think rather front heavy.

The Accident starts off with a bang, from the first half of this book, I was on board, turning pages as fast as I could to find out where it was going, what the secret was, how would it all end, etc. But then the mystery just fell off and turned into a cat and mouse chase that obviously had to end at some point. It was like a reverse stick of dynamite. Too much of the thrill, the interest and intrigue was given at the beginning and it didn’t continue throughout. The big twists were used too early, and the little twists that came at the end were given away in bits and pieces so that the shock value was gone.

That sad, the intricacy of the story is great. So many characters were involved, in so many ways, some ways that were unexpected. A few characters ended up being people I didn’t expect them to be, and some events, including “The Accident”, didn’t play out the way we’re led to believe. These are the things that are done well: the intricacy of the plot, the knowledge of the publishing industry, and misdirection of events and characters. However, with all the twists and turns and shocks that are loaded into the first half of the book, I was expected something really big, something incredibly unexpected for the ending. In reality though, it merely fizzled out.

It was a good read, interesting and well conceived, especially for someone working in publishing (it was fun to see this fictionalized scary, suspenseful, dangerous side of the industry), in the end, I was expecting more from the finale. Chris Pavone is an engaging writer, and I would be interested in picking up his other novel, The Expats, to see how it measures up.

I’d give this 3.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Trial By Fire

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Review #8: Fiction

Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini

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*I received this book as an Advance Reader’s Copy from a panel while attending Book Expo America in New York in May. It will be available in print this September.

17 year old Lily Proctor, who lives in present day Salem Massachusetts, has always found it hard to fit in, what with her strange allergic reactions and her body’s tendency to overheat all the time. Also because she’s in love with her best friend Tristan, who is naturally the biggest play boy of their high school. When he humiliates her at her first real high school party, she finds herself wanting nothing to do with him, or her life.

Fortunately for her, in the Salem in another dimension, there is another Lily listening to her wishes to leave. This other Lily, who goes by Lillian and is the all-powerful and pretty evil ruler of this other Salem, brings Lily to this other dimension in order to help her stay in power. Lily quickly realizes that Lillian is evil and joins with the other dimension version of her sister and Tristan, along with characters not present in her own Salem, to lead the resistance against Lillian’s evil plans.

Lily must learn to control her power, which is harnessed and used with crystals, and by transferring it to others to use (these people are called Mechanics), and must decide if she wants to stay in this dimension to help end the rule of her evil alter-self, or if she wants to use the power she has in that world to figure out how to get back home, and leave the others to figure out for themselves how to live in their dimension.

It’s a pretty fast-paced novel, it really grabs you and pulls you in with the intriguing balance of other dimensions and alternate realities. This other Salem almost feels like the Salem of the past, during witch trails and uprisings for power, but it’s also a more developed Salem; witches rule the territory, there is no understanding of life outside of this Salem–no other cities or states or countries to go to, weapons and magical powers are blended together to create sophisticated military-like forces, and science has been outlawed in favor of magic — which is the underlying reason for the rift between Lillian and those in the resistance. Lillian stays in power as long as magic rules. 

The characters are well-developed and are nicely set apart from one dimension to another, it was fun to see how the personalities differed between the same characters in present day Salem and witch-ruled, magical, medieval-esque Salem.

I think the world building was also done pretty well. I got a good sense of this other dimension Salem, of the setting, of the circumstances and the situation with the revolt and the resistance. The way magic is used is also pretty fleshed out. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some aspects that made me question what was being described, or that some descriptions weren’t a little confusing. Though I think for the most part, the magical element and it’s usage is not only new and exciting, but believable in the sense that I found no gaping holes in the execution and implementation into the story.

This is the first in a trilogy, and the various subplots that are introduced really help to see this as something that could continue on. I think without those, it really would stand alone, and any other installments would seem to just drag out. I was not a fan of the way we are left at the end of this book, however. Right at the most pivotal moment in the fight against Lillian, Lily finds herself flying through dimensions again and that’s it. Yes it sets up the obvious, that there will be other installments to come, but at least for me, personally I would have liked it to go just a beat further and have her land somewhere. Just get her first impressions, that moment of, “What happened? Where am I? Where’s the battle that was just raging around me?” etc. I’m not a big fan of novels in a series that don’t really finish anything within each installment. The conflict of this trilogy was started in this book, and it was about to come to an end, but still leave the various subplots open to being resolved in later books. The way this ends, a lot of things start, and nothing finishes. It kind of just leaves you wanting, and I think also places a lot of pressure on the next installment to provide some answers. 

Overall, a good read; well written, solid characters, pretty complete world building, and there’s a good chance I pick up the second one out of curiosity.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

*cover art from Amazon.com

Shiver

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Review #7: Fiction

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

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This was a slow start, I thought maybe werewolves just aren’t my thing. I’m glad I stuck with it though, the story picked up, the characters gained more depth and some small twists made it a fresh, though obviously not completely new, take on a werewolf-driven plot.

Small town Minnesota native Grace has been obsessed with the wolves that roam the woods behind her house since she was a little girl, since she survived an attack by those very same wolves. She’s felt a connection to them, and eventually learns why. These wolves are werewolves, and one in particular, the one who saved her from the attack when she was younger, happens to be (when in human mode) a boy around her age.

The obvious happens; they fall in love while he’s a human, and Grace secludes herself from her friends to be with him and because she doesn’t think they will understand. Some unexpected twists are thrown in, a boy in the neighborhood (Jack) who everyone believes to have died from a wolf attack has really become another werewolf, his sister seeks Grace out to help her find him and help him, and Grace’s best friend understands about the wolves more than Grace realizes.

Another new twist: eventually the wolves stop becoming human again. Grace is afraid if Sam (her wolf) changes back to a wolf, she may never see him again as a human. Meanwhile, the people of the town begin a campaign against the wolves after the attack they believe killed Jack, and take to the woods with shotguns. Though all of this seems to be leading up to a dramatic conclusion, the end is pretty anti-climactic, however, obviously leaving some loose ends to lead into a second novel.

Overall, the writing was good, a little slow at times (and printed in dark blue ink which really threw be off while reading–is it black ink now?, no still blue, weird–not a good call on the publisher’s part). Eventually Grace and Sam grew into their characters and for the most part created a love story I’m at least a little interested to see continue. The subplots really helped develop the new ideas with the werewolf theme and created depth in the world that Stiefvater has built. It’s an easy read, and in was a fresh take on an often over-saturated theme.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

*cover art from Amazon.com

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

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Review #6: Fiction

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Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

I absolutely fell in love with this novel. King writes a voice for Vera that just completely captured my attention and invited me in like an old (young) friend. I went along for this ride with her; feeling her happiness and sadness, her guilt, her reservations, at times her shame, and her fear. And at the end, I felt her relief, and her liberation. I am unable to personally relate to almost all of the events in this novel, and yet, through Vera, King is able to put me in the story, in Vera’s shoes, and make me feel as if this were my story too. Her writing is flawless, and even if the actual story wasn’t exceptional, I still would have enjoyed reading this. But lucky for us, the story IS exceptional.

(The possible spoilers start here.)

Vera’s ex-best friend Charlie, whom she’s been in love with forever, has died. Almost everyone assumes it was an accident/possible suicide, but Vera and one other person know the truth. Vera knows she’s the only one who would come forward to clear Charlie’s name, but she doesn’t know if she wants to, if he deserves that. It’s been a long, long time since she and Charlie were on good terms, and he’s done a lot to hurt her. However, now that he’s gone, his ghost (or memory might be more fitting) comes to her, trying to get her to help him move on, but more importantly, to get her to forgive herself.

This novel goes back and forth from past to present to tell the story of this doomed friendship, the hardships and tragedies that brought Vera and Charlie together in the first place, and the painful everyday growing up moments that pushed them apart. The story mainly focuses on Vera in the present, how those past events shaped her, how Charlie’s betrayal hurt her, and how that played into his death. We’re also along for the tumultuous ride that is Vera’s relationship with her single father. He seems to be that dad who ended up raising a daughter on his own and had no idea where to start, so he chose to work hard (read: a lot) and push her to be her best, to be better than he or her mother were, but inadvertently almost ends up pushing her away.

It is also a suspenseful, mysterious read, since we as readers are unaware of the actual circumstances surrounding Charlie’s death until the end. And  my heart broke for Charlie, and especially Vera, when those circumstances were finally revealed. This novel is one of strength and courage, of heartache and growing pains. It is sad yet funny,  about loss and discovery, and both heartbreaking and heartwarming. I cannot recommend this novel enough to not only avid YA readers, but anyone who appreciates a story about loss, love, friendships, and relationships with others, but also with ourselves.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com

A Little Something Different

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Review #5: Fiction

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A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

Disclaimer: I received this as an advanced reader’s copy at a panel while attending Book Expo American in New York in May.

Right off the bat, I love the concept of how this book came to be. Swoon Reads is the first of its kind, providing an internet forum for writers to post, share, and comment on others’ work. Essentially the staff at Swoon Reads monitors this site (where authors are uploading the manuscript of their books and readers are reading, commenting on, and rating the work) searching for the best stuff. Based on their own interest and the feedback from the crowd, Swoon Reads selects titles they want to work with and publish through the traditional publishing house platform. A Little Something Different is the first book to be selected and will be published and available in print (as well as ebook formats) this coming August.

I thought it was extremely cute and that it had a really unique and fresh concept with the multiple points of view, none of which were the view of either of the main characters (and some were even inanimate objects or animals). It really was something a little different and endearing in its simplicity start to finish.

However, it definitely read like it was crowd-sourced; it felt a bit underdeveloped, and that might change before it’s fully published, but maybe not. I felt the characters at times were a bit juvenile for the age group they were supposed to be representing. It felt like it should have been a high school story rather than a college one, and it was a bit choppy. I did like the points of view, but some (like the squirrel, the bench, and the Chinese delivery guy) should either have been utilized more or removed–those sections seemed a bit like they existed purely for the sake of having more perspectives rather than truly adding to or enhancing the story. The ending felt very “10 Things I Hate About You” which worked for me. It was a grand, public, and poetic declaration of love, and I am always one to enjoy gestures like that.

Overall it’s a quick, cute read and I think a really good debut for Swoon Reads.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

*cover art from Amazon.com