The One Memory of Flora Banks

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Review #36: Fiction

Audiobook Review #1

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Flora

This is my first real go at audiobooks; I’m not sure if this helped or hurt the story honestly. I feel like it may have been better having my own control over how the story sounded. However, for reasons that will be addressed, if I had to read it, every word, on my own… I may actually have put this book down without finishing.

Flora Banks is our narrator, and she is struggling with a form of amnesia. Due to health complications, she doesn’t remember much of her life after her tenth birthday. She is 17 now. What sparks the story is that she remembers something from a party she attends, a going away party for a guy named Drake. She remembers kissing him on the beach. And that’s about all she remembers, and talks about, for the next 300 pages.

As a narrator, Flora gets annoying. She is terribly redundant. This is obviously the point, her character has amnesia and only remembers this one event, the first thing she has remembered in years. It’s a big deal. But as an audience it’s off-putting. This is supposed to let us into Flora’s world, we experience her mind and her life through her illness and it gives us empathy and understanding for her character and her struggles. After a while though, it became quite difficult to hear the same passages over and over.

Flora has to be reminded every day about her illness, her memories, but we as readers do not, so it becomes grating. It’s a lot like if 50 First Dates were being told form Drew Barrymore’s character’s point of view. As a movie, this may have actually worked, being visual and fast-paced. But a book demands the reader encounter the same text over and over and over again for hours.

The one thing I will say about this concept – it is a really unique take on the unreliable narrator. Flora is not a narrator that is lying to us; this is not malicious or deceitful. Flora is innocent in her unreliability. Neither she nor we know if what she’s experiencing is the truth.

Flora has all of her memories up until she was about 10 years old. After this, her memory does not stick. One great detail in Barr’s writing is that Flora comes across as very young, very innocent, very curious. She does a great job conveying youth in this character. At times Flora is invincible and impulsive, and at times very scared and meek. Though she is actually 17 years old, we definitely feel her 10-year-old memory in her actions.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a little like Groundhog Day, though instead of living the same day over, we are living the same memory over and over; the only memory Flora has since her illness. We follow the same process as Flora finds out who she is every day, what happened to her, notes she leaves herself to know where she is and what she’s been doing recently. This is a very real detail, something that must undoubtedly be a reality for anyone suffering from such an illness. However, it is also one of the things that make this book so hard to get through.

It is difficult to be patient with Flora, and relive parts of her story that we’ve heard before many times. Eventually, I was just as curious as Flora to figure out why she has this one memory, and what actually happened to her so long ago, what the real deal with Drake is, and what’s happened to her brother. We are essentially thrown into a world where we are forced to only know what Flora knows, and what she knows might not be real. Though frustrating at times, Barr does create a very distinctive world in Flora Banks’s memory for readers to wade through.

Unfortunately, probably half this book is repetition. We must get through being told over and over again about Flora’s condition, why she’s doing what she’s doing, her one memory of kissing Drake, etc. Without this material being used again and again and again and again and again… the book would be much shorter, move much faster, and be much easier to get through.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

*Cover art from Amazon.com

 

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J: A Novel

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Review #28: Fiction

Blogging for Books #9

J: A Novel by Howard Jacobson

J A Novel

Jacobson’s novel, set in a possible future, revolves around the lives of those after WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. Though we are never actually told WHAT HAPPENED, it seems to be some sort of genocide, based on religious beliefs or genetics — it was pretty vague with no real facts of any kind to grasp on to to anchor yourself as a reader.

No one (or supposedly no one) in this future knows WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, their real history/pasts; they don’t talk about it, there’s no nostalgia for things, people, or times — no keepsakes or heirlooms. Everyone is very sheltered.

Ailinn and Kevern meet (by accident, we think, but learn otherwise), they become lovers and begin a relationship. Kevern’s teacher and Ailinn’s guardian seem to be hiding something from the both of them. Kevern is highly suspicious of everything and everyone; he thinks he’s being watched. Ailinn has been running from an imaginary foe (her fear) forever. They make a very neurotic and dysfunctional pair.

When a woman in town, her lover, and her husband are all murdered, Kevern becomes a suspect because he once kissed the woman. The detective does not actually suspect Kevern, but uses this investigation as an excuse to keep tabs on him, to learn more about him, to search his home. This investigator is a conspiracy theorist about WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, and thinks Kevern and Ailinn are pieces to the puzzle he’s working on.

Jacobson creates interest and intrigue from the beginning, drawing us into the mystery of WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, and what Kevern and Ailinn have to do with it. He weaves in a bit of romance with Kevern and Ailinn’s relationship, but that flame fizzles out, as does the mystery of WHAT HAPPENED as the story progresses. I really like the book to begin with, but around the middle to the end, the story lost speed and appeal. Some passages and flashbacks seem disjointed and ultimately unimportant to the novel as a whole and pull readers away from the main story Jacobson is telling.

Throughout, Jacobson uses beautiful language, however, some areas felt over-the-top and forced…like these large words and intricate sentences were unnecessary to get the point across. Different language and different tones would have helped the story flow more smoothly.

The book is described as 1984 meets Brave New World, which is a pretty spot on description. That connection does not disappoint.

Overall, I’m not really sure anything actually happened. The story (of the past) was semi-told through flashbacks of Kevern’s family, Ailinn’s family, and Ez’s (Ailinn’s guardian) family, among others. The events of the current story seemed to be setting up an ending that would have been more definite, more certain. Some plot points were started and never wrapped up, leaving us with the feeling that they weren’t important to the novel at all — why include them if they won’t be material in the end? A future to this future was hinted at but not put into motion enough to feel content with it as an end to this novel.

J: A Novel starts with a lot of potential, but falls a bit flat in the end.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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

The Final Silence

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Review #19: Fiction

The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

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*I received this book as an advanced readers copy at the Book Expo America in New York City in May, 2014. The hardcover goes on sale October 28th, 2014.

The newest novel from award winning crime/thriller writer Stuart Neville is a roller coaster of gruesome murders and deadly secrets. This is the fourth installment of his Belfast novels, revolving around now disgraced investigator Jack Lennon.

Rea Carlisle, whose father is a prominent politician, inherits her uncle house after her mother’s brother dies. While cleaning out the house, Rea comes across an upstairs bedroom that is locked. After prying the door open with a crowbar, Rea discovers a secret book. The contents of the book describe several grisly murders; journal entries about committing the crimes, newspaper articles, and even hair clippings and fingernails of the victims.

Rea wants to take the book to the police immediately, however, her father (thinking of his political aspirations) wants to keep the whole thing quiet. Not knowing what to do, and not wanting to keep the book and the crimes a secret, Rea reaches out to an old friend — Jack Lennon. Since Jack is not currently working on the police force, he can’t do much other than look into Rea’s suspicions. But after the book goes missing and another horrible murder is committed, the Belfast police become fully involved.

DCI Serena Flanagan takes the case and, in a sense, (secretly) teams up with Lennon to track down the book, and the killer, before more murders pile up.

The plot moves at breakneck speed, with lots of secrets, lots of lies, and, well, lots of murders, both in the past and the present. Neville sets up an intricate web of good guys, bad guys, and every type of person in between. There are a few twists, and a handful of quick shocks that keep the story moving, and the pressure on DCI Flanagan and Lennon to find the incriminating book, catch the killer, and, in a way, begin to clean up Lennon’s heavily tarnished reputation.

Neville creates deep, flawed, real characters that move this story along just as smoothly as the actions do. Each has a very unique voice, and detailed and specific view of the world and the events that take place, and are genuine in their personalities.

With these characters and the action-packed and chilling plot, Neville does not disappoint old or new fans.

Though this novel stands completely on it’s own, and does a good job of integrating any relevant background information on Lennon and his career and relationship with his daughter and deceased wife’s family, I found my lack of complete understanding of Jack’s history a little annoying. There is a lot of mention of past events dealing with Jack’s police work, his wife and family life, and trauma in his life and his daughter;s that, though ultimately holding no real bearing on the plot, disconnected me from Lennon as a character because I didn’t know the full story. This is not a detriment to the book or Neville’s writing; anything really important was fleshed out, but I was always wanting more information. Whenever something from the past came up, I wished I was being reminded of information I already knew rather than hearing about it for the first time. So, my only issue with reading this novel is that it was my first Lennon book but the fourth in Neville’s Lennon collection. I would suggest anyone interested in this title and Jack Lennon’s story start with Collusion or it’s prequel The Ghosts of Belfast (where Jack is introduced as a minor character).

Basically Neville writes a fast-paced thrilling murder mystery that incorporates a collection of flawed (though in most cases well-intentioned) characters that sends shivers down your spine from the shear twistedness of the crimes.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*cover art from Amazon.com

Summer House With Swimming Pool

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Review #18: Fiction

Blogging for Books #3

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

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I haven’t read any of Herman Koch’s previous work, but apparently he is known for his unlikable characters, and on this point, his fans won’t be disappointed. I found each character either unremarkable to the point where I didn’t care at all, or unlikable to the point where I wasn’t all that interested in how the story played out for them. I read to find out where Koch was going with this plot, to see how he would tie all the ends together, but for the most part I was not engaged with the characters.

I do enjoy a good unlikable character, but I always feel like at least one needs to be likable enough to keep me rooting for them throughout. Each character in Summer House was either forgettable or reprehensible. Bad things happened to bad people and I guess I just wasn’t concerned with how it all ended, because no matter the consequences, they’d earned it.

That said, Koch clearly knows how to write these characters; he did a wonderful job making each one just horrible enough that you could never really decide which was a worse person than the last. The adults in the novel were awful to each other and the men especially awful to women. I suppose this was all part of creating the unlikable characters, but the blatant misogyny and sexism, though effective, wasn’t my cup of tea. Even the children, save the two youngest, were rude, self-centered, and conniving. Again, it’s clear that Koch is a master of the unlikable character, so if that’s the type of story you gravitate toward, this might be a great read for you.

The story revolves around Dr. Marc Schlosser and his patient and famous actor Ralph Meier. Schlosser runs a general practice and Ralph comes to see him about a lump he’s found. Soon after, Ralph is dead and people begin looking to Schlosser for answers.

We’re given the story from the present, when Ralph’s wife confronts Schlosser at his office, accusing him of murdering her husband. We’re then taken to the previous summer when Schlosser’s family spent time with Ralph’s family at the Meier summer home. Through the events that happen at the summer house, we’re given glimpses into the awful lives the adults are living, and the addition of their children (two girls for the Schlossers and two boys for the Meiers) we see their actions and behavior as even more despicable.

Something happens at the house that turns Schlosser against Meier, though the true facts are kept from him and reader until the end of the book. The meaty part of the story is finding out what really happened at the summer house, what in turn happened to Ralph (and if Schlosser was involved), and what comes next. Though we are finally told what really happened at the summer house, and exactly how Ralph died, we are left without the “what comes next” part. We see Schlosser and what consequences he could be facing for his actions throughout the book, but we never see if he gets what’s coming or not.

I was interested in finding out the truth behind the tragedy at the summer house, and also how Schlosser was connected to Ralph’s death, but I was disconnected a bit. I didn’t care that Ralph was dead because he was such an unlikable character. I was concerned with the truth of the events at the summer house, however, I felt let down when it was finally revealed; it was all a bit lack-luster. And as I also cared very little for Schlosser, not seeing if he had to face the consequences of his actions left something to be desired. I wasn’t looking for a happy ending, I just felt like there wasn’t an ending at all. It felt a bit open-ended. I would have rather known definitively if he got what was coming to him or if he didn’t rather than, perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t.

Regardless, Koch did a great job of making his characters unlikable, though I personally found them therefore be uninteresting and found myself disconnected from the story surrounding them. I like that we start in the present to set the scene and then are taken back to the summer (and given short scenes from even further back to when Schlosser was in med school), then back to the present where we move forward with the characters.

I’ve seen reviews of this book where people say the story is too graphic. I, however, found it appropriately graphic for the most part. Some of the graphic descriptions help depict the awfulness of the characters and their thoughts and actions. This is also an adult novel, so language and graphic visuals shouldn’t really be much of a shock. We’re also dealing with a medical novel. The main character is a general physician and he goes into detail about his work (and what he hates about it) and I found those passages to be necessary for both mood and character building. To this point, I think it’s very much personal preference; I don’t find it overly graphic, though Koch does not sugarcoat anything, so don’t expect that.

In the end, I read to see what happened, but I in no way found myself unable to put it down. It was not a page-turner, it was well-written and seemed well-researched when it came to the medical aspects, and the characters are brilliantly written (if not personally enjoyably). I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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

We Were Liars

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Review #17: Fiction

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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I really enjoyed this book; it was fast-paced and intriguing, it kept me guessing, kept me curious from start to finish. I think it was well thought out, and the characters were perfectly described and fleshed out. Lockhart did a great job in creating this perfectly imperfect, wealthy East Coast family. I read this in less than 24 hours, with roughly a 10 hour nap in there somewhere, so it’s a quick, easy read that grips you and pulls you along; it demands to be read.

Cady is the oldest grandchild of the Sinclair family, she’s nearly 18 and is recovering from an accident that she can’t quite remember the details of, and we as readers find out about as she does along the way. We see her growing up through various snapshots of her summer vacations on an island in Martha’s Vineyard where her family owns several houses — there’s a main house (Clairmont, where her grandfather and grandmother live during the summer) and three other houses (one for each of their daughters and the grandchildren.) Cady has two cousins that are roughly her age, just a bit younger, Johnny and Mirren. She has a few younger cousins as well who come to the island every summer. When she is 8 years old, the nephew of her aunt’s boyfriend comes with, and together she, Johnny, Mirren and Gat become inseparable during the summers. They are the liars.

Gat and Cady start forming a more romantic bond around when Cady is 14. Around that summer, her grandmother dies, and this puts a lot of strain on her grandfather and the relationship between him and his daughters. The aunts are always fighting, always arguing over who gets what, whose children will get what, and the four liars are witness to this outwardly perfect and pristine family falling apart on the inside.

When Cady is fifteen, she has her accident. She wakes up in the ocean, has hit her head, spends a lot of time in the hospital recovering. She gets migraines that leave her unable to function for days at a time. Her father, who divorced her mother when she was younger, takes her on a trip to Europe the next summer and she misses going to the island. She doesn’t hear from the liars while she’s away, and she fears she is losing them as friends. The next summer she gets to return, she still has headaches, still doesn’t remember her accident completely, and finds that her grandfather has completely renovated the Clairmont house, she assumes to deal with the loss of her grandmother.

She reconnects with the liars, and finds that no one will talk to her about her accident. Everyone has been instructed by her doctors to let her remember on her own. She spends the time collecting little pieces of memories, trying to put it all together. She remembers the aunts fighting, she remembers the liars being fed up with how everyone was acting. She remembers a fire.

The end of this book is brilliant. I was trying so hard to put the pieces together myself and just couldn’t get there. Lockhart reveals everything perfectly and seamlessly, and once you know, you find you knew the whole time. All the clues were there, and they make perfect sense. The crumb trail that is weaved into the story is so delicate and precise, you can’t help but be in awe of Lockhart’s imagination and writing. She does a wonderful job as a story teller.

Throughout the book Lockhart’s writing is very lyrical; she uses unique line breaks and repetitions in areas that I think really help the reader. I loved how the line breaks forced me to slow down and take in those moments of the story, and the repetition of certain lines and names clued me into important messages and Cady’s thoughts. I thought it was poetic and hauntingly beautiful; it really made this work stand out in its delivery and not just in its content.

Lockhart also has Cady retell her family’s story as a fairy tale several times throughout; different “variations” of her family’s life. She makes her grandfather the king and her aunts and mother the princesses, and integrates the themes into those stories to further underline main topics, and to help the readers understand the Sinclairs. It’s as if Cady uses these stories to cope with her family’s issues, and at the same time they help the reader relate to Cady’s feeling of needing to cope with family issues. I thought these additions were really unique and a pleasure to read; they were stories within a story and were just as imaginative and heartbreakingly emotional as the story itself.

You could say there are aspects to this story that have been done before (that is all I will say because I am not going to give any spoilers for this one, the ending is too good, you need to read it for yourself) but I think everything around those aspects is fresh and lively. Lockhart puts a new twist on some been-done-before plot devices, and you should not miss her take on them.

The only thing that bothered me was the use of the word “Mummy.” Cady calls her mother Mummy, and it is just one of those words that I personally cannot stand. I think it does help to show the kind of class and wealth that belongs to the Sinclair name, but I was not a fan. Every time I read it, in my head I heard a little girl whining or a twenty-something man complaining to his mother (think the blue-blood guy Christina Ricci almost marries in the movie Penelope.) It just turned me off, and then every time I it came up, I was removed from the story a bit; the spell was broken just a little.

Overall, this was beautifully written and just really shows a master at work. Do not pass up Lockhart’s We Were Liars.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*cover art from Amazon.com

The Secret Place

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Review #14: Fiction

The Secret Place by Tana French

Secret Place

*I received this book as an advanced reader’s copy from the Book Expo America convention in New York in May. The hardcover publication date is September 2nd, 2014.

At St. Kilda’s, an all-girls boarding school in Dublin, a boy from the neighboring Colm’s, an all-boys boarding school, was found dead somewhere in the wide lawn surrounding the school. He had been struck in the back of the head and found with nothing on his person but four hyacinths and a condom. The killer was never found.

One year later—Holly Mackey fakes sick from classes and instead walks into Detective Stephen Moran’s office. He’s working Cold Cases, but has been waiting for his shot at Dublin Murder Squad. Holly shows him a picture of the boy who was found dead a year ago, Chris Harper, from when he was still alive, the words, “I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM” cut and pasted across the image. She explains about “The Secret Place,” a board in a hall at St. Kilda’s where the girls write their secrets and pin them anonymously. This is where Holly has found the card. She had been a witness in a trial when she was younger, and Detective Moran had been working with her through it all. Because of that she thought of him when she found the card. And just like that, Detective Moran has his shot at Murder Squad.

He immediately brings the card to the murder detective that was on the Chris Harper case, Detective Conway, who is a badass, no nonsense woman. She allows Moran to continue to work with her, basically on the condition that if she ever feels he’s in her way, or not helping, etc. he gets the boot. Their working relationship plays a big role throughout, but pretty obviously enough they hit a few snags, though each is grateful for the other in the end.

They go up to the school and have to deal with a head mistress that is not too happy to see them and teenage girls who are easily spooked and manipulated. They’ve narrowed down who pinned the card on “The Secret Place” to eight girls: Holly, Becca, Selena, and Julia—Holly’s group of friends and roommates at the boarding school, and a group of four others—Joanne, Gemma, Orla, and Allison—a group that is essentially the arch nemesis of Holly and her friends. The detectives figure they can find out who killed Chris by finding out who posted the card, but this proves to be as hard to figure out as it was to find the killer a year ago. They have to navigate through girls who want to get each other in trouble for the fun of it, girls who are lying to protect themselves, girls who are lying to protect their friends, and those who are being manipulated into doing someone else’s dirty work. Needless to say, it gets real complicated real fast, and the detectives are running out of time. With an angry head mistress trying to keep the girls from leaking any information about Moran and Conway showing up again to any parents, and Holly’s father, another detective who is not too happy to find his daughter caught up in this investigation, in addition to them not really getting the okay to work the case, they need weave through all the lies and figure out who did it before they lose Chris’s killer for good, and possibly their jobs.

There’s a lot of interwoven events in this story. It’s a great mystery, one that had me guessing the killer was someone else probably 3 or 4 times throughout (along with the detectives). But the great thing is that this story is not only about the mystery of who killed Chris Harper, but also why they did it, and how they got away with it (for a year at least). It’s also a heartwarming and heart-wrenching story about friendships, how they change and evolve; how they sometimes fall apart or get brought back together. It’s very deep, has many, many levels and takes you back to those teenage years when all that mattered were your friends, and the real world wasn’t a thing.

We’re also invested in Detective Moran. Will he or won’t he help with this case? Will Conway send him packing? Will he be the one to figure it out? Will Conway acknowledge his help if they figure it out together? Will they both get demoted to a desk job for the rest of their careers for not exactly going by the book in their investigation?

I love that this story was so multifaceted. I cared about everyone: the St. Kilda’s girls and their friendships, Chris Harper and who killed him and why, Detective Moran and his shot at Murder Squat, and Detective Conway and her lost case. I think French was brilliant in making that possible.

I don’t want to talk too much about plot, because I think this is one story where every little detail brings you into the story and moves you along from page one, and I don’t want to be the one to give away even a spec of evidence if you’re like me and trying to play along at home with the investigation. The one thing I will say, and this is the only area that turned me off just a bit, is that there’s a strange sub-plot that brings in some supernatural happenings. Holly’s group of friends have found a way to sneak out into the glade at night. The first night they do this, Julia tells them about a boy from Colm’s who groped her without her consent, and then and there they all make a vow to not get involved with any guys from Colm’s or anywhere else, until they’ve left St. Kilda’s. They make some sort of pack that feels like it involves more than just the four of them, somehow taking into account the moon and the mysterious, hidden location of the glade (which they have claimed as “their place” from then on, a location that gives the title a double meaning). After this happens, the girls are able to do things with their mind, they are essentially becoming telekinetic; they can turn lights on and off, make light bulbs burst, levitate objects in their hands, heat things, and spark fire, etc. Not that I’m against supernatural story lines, this one was just not fleshed out enough for me. It came up every so often, softly, just little hints of it, though it didn’t play a major part in the story. It affected a few things, but I think I would have rather seen it expanded upon exponentially and been a main focus of the story, or had it removed altogether and had another way to have certain things happen. Like I said, it was a small grievance, and really didn’t make the story worse, just made me wonder and therefore pulled me out of the narrative sometimes.

Tana French writes this from both the past and the present, alternating every other chapter. The way she sets up the story, the present is at one end of a line while the past is at the other, and each chapter brings the reader closer and closer to the middle where the answers lay. The most impressive part is that the present is told from Detective Moran’s view point, written with attention paid to the adult world, the Murder Squad world of the story, while the past is written from the POV of various girls from St. Kilda’s – mainly Holly, Becca, Selena, and Julia. The way French writes, it is easy to slip back and forth from past to present as well as from adult mentality to teenage mentality. She gets the dialogue exactly right, especially with the teen sections. She includes some text talk, using the OMGs and the WTFs and the Amazeballs here and there, sometimes seriously, sometimes in a mocking sort of way, but also gives the girls’ intelligent and complex conversations and thoughts. She really captures that middle ground between childhood and adulthood and uses the dialogue perfectly to do it. She does not make them all stereotypical boarding school bratty airheads, but makes each of them their own character, well-rounded and unique.

Overall, I really liked the story. It kept me guessing and interested, and wasn’t at a break neck pace, trying to fit too many clues and twists in constantly. It was relatable from all points of view, and the writing was beautiful. Tana French has a way with words, setting scenes and creating characters and scenarios like very few authors I’ve read can do. I am looking forward to checking out the other books in her Dublin Murder Series (this is the 5th, though they do not seem to need to be read in order).

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com

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