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

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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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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

Afterworlds

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Review #16: Fiction

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

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*I received this book as an advanced reader copy from Book Expo America in New York in May. The hardcover will be available 9/23/14.

I absolutely loved Uglies which I read for the first time this summer, and Scott Westerfeld quickly became an author I would read anything by. I was so excited to get this advanced copy at BEA I don’t know how I went so long without reading it. It looks daunting, what with the 600+ pages and all, but it’s a quick, fun and engaging read and in no way felt like it dragged on. So let’s get into what makes Westerfeld’s newest novel so great.

First of all, the premise/execution of it are phenomenal. The book is a novel within a novel essentially. One story line is about Darcy, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate who has written this amazing book (Afterworlds) and sold it for over $100k to a New York publishing house. She moves to New York to work on her edits and to write a sequel (which is part of her contract) and begins meeting YA authors and going on book tours and learning about life in NYC. Darcy’s story revolves around new relationships and her dreams and career verses her parents’ dreams for her to attend college regardless of her writing career. She has a younger sister, Nisha (who is one of my favorite characters) who acts as the middle man between Darcy and her parents and also as Darcy’s financial adviser as she starts living on her own in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

The other aspect of the book is Darcy’s novel itself, which revolves around Lizzie dealing with the blurring of lines between life, death and the afterlife. Lizzie endures a near-death experience and finds herself being able to pass into the afterlife, and interact with ghosts while dealing with her own relationship with her divorced parents, her mother’s childhood secret, and dating a death god. These parts of the book incorporate the Hindu religion in ways that are truly unique in the YA market right now, and blend with the characters from the other story, Darcy’s story, as she is a young Indian girl whose family (loosely) follows Hindu traditions.

The way these two stories melt together is perfect. They are presented in alternating chapters, and at first I thought it would be off-putting, as if I was picking up a different book every chapter. However, we read about Darcy’s thought process through her rewrites in her story and then understand why certain things are happening in Lizzie’s story. They play off of each other in ways that I was not expecting and truly tied both stories, both girls and their struggles with growing up, dealing with secrets, and navigating new relationships, together.

Westerfeld is an imaginative and inspiring writer. Not only did I enjoy both stories, I related to both girls’ struggles in different ways, and he brings much needed diversity to the young adult market. He gives us an Indian protagonist, themes of Hinduism throughout both stories, and two strong, independent and fleshed out female main characters. What he also does is give us both a heterosexual love story and a homosexual one, and the truly amazing part is that it is all woven together seamlessly. It all makes sense, it all feels right and it made me feel that much closer to his characters. Westerfeld has written a novel that the YA market has been missing for far too long; it is everything a modern young adult book should be–diverse, insightful, accepting, thought-provoking and relatable.

I want to give it to everyone I know and tell them to read it now. Westerfeld does so much in these 600+ pages: he pokes fun at the YA writing community; he highlights the publishing industry and its triumphs and shortfalls; he tackles death, murder, and loss; growing up and moving on; following dreams; new friendships and new romantic relationships; and gives a voice to minority subjects and characters with his inclusion of Hinduism and LGBT themes. It’s an important work for YA and is brilliantly executed by an author that I didn’t think could get any better, but with Afterworlds, Westfeld has truly outdone himself.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Young World

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Review #13 – Fiction

The Young World by Chris Weitz

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*I received this book as an Advance Reader’s Copy while attending Book Expo America in New York in May. It has since become available in print (July 29th, 2014).

I’m not sure where to start this post. Let’s just say I was not altogether impressed.

The premise of The Young World is that some kind of virus (“the Sickness”) was released and killed off all the adults and young children in the world. Basically those left are kids/teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 or so. And they’re not safe, because the virus is held at bay in their system by hormones that show up around age 12 and fade around age 18, so everyone will eventually die by becoming an adult. This story takes place in New York City, focusing on a bunch of the teenagers who are living in make-shift communities, basically just surviving, about 2 years after “What Happened”.

Our main group of teens have made Washington Square their home, and after his older brother (and leader of the group) Washington turns 18 and immediately succumbs to “the Sickness” and dies, Jefferson is chosen to take his place as leader. Jefferson’s brainiac friend (aptly choosing the new name Brainbox for himself) says he found an article abstract in the nearby library that may shed light on “What Happened” and possibly lead to a cure. Of course, this means the full article needs to be found, so Jefferson rounds up a group of five people (himself, Brainbox, Donna, Peter, and SeeThrough) to make the journey to the Mid-Town library to find it.

As is expected, they find opposition from other groups of teens along the way, moving through territory that has been claimed by others. Upon reaching the library, they eventually find the whole article and Brainbox works out the location of a lab on Long Island that may be the place of origin of this virus and therefore the place where they could possibly find a cure. It wouldn’t be much of a story if they didn’t decide to make the trip, so they head off on this new adventure.

Again, they have to make their way through several other already occupied/claimed territories, finding trouble among a make-shift market that has taken over Grand Central, roam through abandoned subway tunnels, escape wild animals in Central Park, and move uptown into Harlem in search of way to Long Island.

The group they meet in Harlem agrees to take them to LI in exchange for the cure if they find it. This Harlem group has a boat, and they set out. Once there, they are all taken hostage by a drugged out group of tweens (no one over 14) and brought to the very lab they were searching for. They find the person running the lab – “The Old Man” – someone they had only heard rumors of. This man has some sort of hormone imbalance/condition that stopped him from getting the virus and also knows how it was created and why (biological warfare, clearly), and has been working on the cure. However, our Washington Square heroes have now been taken hostage and will be used as human guinea pigs to test his work. Brainbox is able to save his life in exchange for helping The Old Man with his work and within a few days they think they’ve found the cure. However, The Old Man is in no hurry to let anyone go in order to keep testing, and Brainbox is forced to trick him, kill him, and help his friends escape, because he knows something no one else does – [SPOILER] the adults are not really all dead! And a Navy chopper full of adults is making its way down to the lab, which is where we find the end of this book.

Obviously something like this had to happen, otherwise I don’t know how this was supposed to be a trilogy, but it all just seems very played out. I think it’s safe to say that dystopian novels are getting to be a dime a dozen, and they need to be extremely new and fresh in order to stand out in the over-saturated field. This novel does not do that. The plot is alright, it feels a little under developed and a little too familiar. And the writing didn’t really help.

The story is told from two points of view throughout, alternating every other chapter. These points of view are Jefferson’s and Donna’s. Jefferson’s parts were good. I liked him as a character, as a doesn’t-want-to-be leader (though this is a character that has been done time and time again, I think it still works), and as the voice of not giving up and surviving even if they’re all only going to live to be 18. Donna’s chapters, however, were tough to get through.

It was as if Donna was made up of every teenage girl stereotype Weitz could think of, and then to make things interesting, he made a point to tell us she is a feminist. Throughout Donna’s account of the events that are happening around her, we are subjected to her constantly worrying about her looks, whether or not she loves Jefferson (or Washington for a while), and the word ‘like,’ the phrase ‘or whatever,’ and tons of text abbreviation. Chris Weitz is also a screen writer, and it comes across (in a bad way) by his lack of understanding that people do not read the way they talk. Dialogue that will be read aloud to the audience is different than dialogue that the audience is delivering internally to themselves.

This screen writer mentality also comes out in the way the dialogue is presented in Donna’s sections. When characters were talking in Donna’s POV chapters, it looked like this:
Me: “Dialogue.”
Peter: “Dialogue.”
Jefferson: “Dialogue.”
Me (feeling embarrassed): “Dialogue.”

I think it was quite possibly the most annoying thing I’ve come across in a book for some time. It took me right out of the story. I would read the name as if it were the beginning of a sentence, or someone else was saying the name, and then have to regroup and tell myself that was the name of the person speaking. It would be a lot different if this were the way all the dialogue throughout the book was, but it wasn’t; this only happened every other chapter.

I could probably go on and on about Donna as a character and how she turned me off to this book. I’ll try to keep it short. She begins by addressing the reader, breaking the character/audience wall and telling us she will try to be a reliable narrator. I don’t understand; is she aware that people could be reading? Are her sections of the book a journal or something? We don’t find out, at least not in this book. Also, she isn’t in love with Jefferson until another girl shows up and gets his attention, and then she does love him (and she begins referring to this other girl by names like Sexy Mcsexerton and Tits McGhee – super feminist of her.) She was my least favorite character, and she narrates half the book. It was difficult to get through the whole thing.

Other than Donna, and the overdone feel of the dystopian world, the book was also pretty grim. There was a lot of violence; violence against animals, violence against girls (I’d say women, but the whole point is that no one is over the age of 17, which made it that much worse.) The whole thing had a very misogynistic and rapey vibe to it. I know the book is a YA and these tend to deal with more mature content and all that, but at 25 if I’m baulking at certain scenes, I can’t imagine how the 15 year olds (this book is suggested for ages 15 and up) are taking it.

I don’t want to come off like there’s nothing good about this book. The pacing was done well; as a dystopian novel the whole point is survival, and therefore you need a lot of obstacles that threaten the survival of your characters to move the story along. Chris Weitz gives us obstacle after obstacle for these characters to get through. He sets up a clear objective—get to the Long Island lab—and then he makes it really difficult for the group to get there (and he does it using the world he built and with obstacles and complications that made sense.) If you’re into dystopian stories and don’t mind if they overlap in areas of subject matter, you might like this. If you don’t mind some graphic violence, you might like this. If you don’t mind under-developed and one-dimensional characters, you might like this. I like dystopian and I don’t mind some violence, but I could not get passed Donna. Maybe if she hadn’t been a co-narrator and only showed up as a character from Jefferson’s point of view it would have worked better for me. Actually, I’m sure I would have had a much more positive reaction to this book had it been narrated entirely by Jefferson. As it is, I highly doubt I’ll be picking up the next one to see what all these not-dead adults are up to.

My rating: 2.5 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

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

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