Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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A fascinating synthesis of beautiful story-telling and a collection of vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children exceeded my expectations. Jacob Portman grew up with his grandfather’s stories (and pictures) of monsters and extraordinary children with unbelievable talents. Now convinced by his parents that Grandpa Portman experienced so many horrors in WWII that he used tall tales to cover the pain, sixteen-year-old Jacob has grown out of believing the stories. However, under unfortunate circumstances, Jacob witnesses the aftermath of his grandfather’s murder by a horrific beast. Convinced by his family and therapist that he suffered a psychotic episode under stress, Jacob decides to take a trip to the island from Grandpa Portman’s fantastical stories. At the long-ago-bombed site of the home for peculiar children, Jacob – who may be “peculiar” himself – discovers a time loop in which the children under Miss Peregrine’s watch (the same children Grandpa Portman lived with as a child) live the same day over and over.

When I started Miss Peregrine, I honestly had no idea where the story was headed. But Ransom Riggs directed Jacob’s journey to a mysterious island toward a unique and beautiful discovery that will change his life forever. Coupled with Riggs’ genuine collection of old – and haunting – photographs, the story is about the redemption of a supposed young head case and the terrors he must face: his own sanity, the monsters of his grandpa’s stories, and even the terror of young love. The bad guys from the time loop and in Jacob’s world collide: Nazis, hollowgast, who murder and eat peculiar people, and well-meaning adults; but are met with some incredibly talented, improbable (and extremely old) children, including a girl who can create fire, an invisible boy, and a young man that can see the future.

This young adult novel is not just relevant to young adults. Jacob’s pubescent awkwardness and secret fears of insanity have been privately experienced by every human being, no matter how old. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has fantasy, drama, heartbreak, comedy, action, and an unlikely integration of vintage photos. This novel is everything I wanted it to be and more.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre and bildungsroman novels. This book is sincerely one of a kind. If you like to read, read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.


Rating

Plot: 5/5

Language/Voice: 3/5

Characterization: 4/5

Readability: Moderate

Overall Quality: 9/10

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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I had not heard of Robin Sloan before reading Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but I absolutely adore this novel. It is quirky, fun, and it holds the reader’s attention throughout.

Sloan tells the story of Clay Jannon, laid off in the recession and left without much real-world knowledge or experience. In downtown San Francisco, Clay comes across a peculiar bookstore open 24/7 with a Hiring sign. Clay meets the (even stranger) owner, Mr. Penumbra, who greets the new night clerk with the question “What do you seek in these shelves?” Mr. Penumbra is a soft-spoken, intelligent elderly man who sells more than just bestsellers in his bookstore. There is an entire section of books in the back – which Clay refers to as the Waybacklist – books filled with strange markings not found in any known language. Customers of the Waybacklist borrow specific books and trade them out for new ones in a seemingly random manner. Along with Kat, a Google employee in data viz; Mat, a special effects artist and designer of a miniature city within their apartment; Neel, the creator of a breakthrough boob-simulation software; the peculiar Mr. Penumbra himself; and several members of the mysterious Unbroken Spine, Clay works to solve the puzzles that the bookstore, and possible secret cult, hide.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a quirky, intelligent story with twists and turns that will keep a reader intrigued. The lovely and curious characters in Sloan’s novel all have different motives for wanting to crack the code to Aldus Manutius’s oldest book, but Clay is the most surprising. A once down-on-his-luck and cynical clerk, Clay becomes a motivated and knowledge-thirsty follower of the great Penumbra.

I adore the witty voice of Clay Jannon and the oddly talented cast of characters. Though a simple book, the story is brilliant and the final lines will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy.

I would recommend it to readers that enjoy fantasy stories (though this is not a fantasy, there are many aspects of it that remind me of such books, as well as allusions to fantasies), an easy read, or a book that will make you laugh out loud.


Rating

Plot: 3/5

Language/Voice: 4/5

Characterization: 5/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 7/10

Post-Mortem by Patricia Cornwell

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Post-Mortem is not for those that lose sleep over crime shows and horror movies. However, if you revel in forensic investigation and murder mysteries, Patricia Cornwell’s riveting novel is perfect. The story, told from the viewpoint of a middle-aged female medical examiner, Kay Scarpetta, is the first in a long Scarpetta series. Kay, a hardworking examiner in a field dominated by men, works hard to investigate the related stranglings of four women in Richmond, Virginia. In the meantime, she is convinced that someone is out to set her up and ruin her career. Balancing these tasks with watching over her niece, Lucy, whose ditzy mother elopes without a word, and dating the Commonwealth’s prominent attorney, who may not be as clean-cut as he appears in the newspapers, Kay’s sanity is tested and her patience strained.

With a believable cast of assorted characters, Cornwell writes a page-turner that will have you checking your closet before going to bed. Though slightly slow in the middle, Post-Mortem contains a fictional story with a side of reality that every woman fears. The honesty with which Cornwell writes is more frightening than the mystery of the story itself. By bringing your worst fears to the surface, she creates a daunting atmosphere you can’t escape. The final chapter had my heart pounding and my mind reeling.

This Scarpetta novel was written in 1990, when DNA testing and forensic investigation were not at the level they were today. Though the system is more complicated, the story is even more interesting and based more on gut feeling than evidence. Cornwell’s novel is and will continue to be relevant due to the badass female lead, the wide target audience, and the fascinating insight into the world of forensic science.


Rating

Plot: 5/5

Language/Voice: 4/5

Characterization: 4/5

Readability: Moderate

Overall Quality: 8/10

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

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At first glance, this book is a classic bad-guy-meets-good-girl love story. However, I must say that I became addicted to Beautiful Disaster after just a few chapters. Abby Abernathy, a cardigan-wearing freshman at a tiny college, meets Travis Maddox, whose job is fighting in an underground ring at their school. Travis is exactly the kind of guy Abby left home to avoid. However, it becomes more and more clear that Travis has no intentions of leaving Abby, or “Pigeon,” as he calls her, alone. As time goes on, she rapidly becomes immune to the instincts telling her that he’s bad news. Their turbulent friendship turns into a roller coaster of a love, but somehow they manage to keep each other in check. Over time, we also find out that Abby may not be as “good-girl” as the cardigans she wears. And when her gambling father finds her, Abby and Travis are pulled into his baggage, which could damage their relationship beyond repair.

Though Beautiful Disaster is a page-turner, it is fairly predictable. The novel is a beautiful story, told from the point of view of a broken young woman whose life is flipped upside down by a womanizer-turned-lovesick-protector. Their strangely addictive relationship will leave you wanting a Travis or an Abby, too.

I would recommend this book to anyone (probably over 16) that likes a good-old, young adult rocky romance novel.


Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 3/5

Characterization: 4/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 6/10

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

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Odd Thomas is an unconventional novel with a protagonist who lives up to his name. Dean Koontz has outdone himself with this sincere story about a simple man with the ability to see the dead. Odd Thomas is a fry cook in a small town, surrounded by a cast of wonderfully quirky and lovable friends, including Stormy Llewellyn, his believed soul mate and sidekick. Other interesting community members include a neighbor that needs Odd to tell her every morning that she is not invisible, Little Ozzie, who has six fingers, and even the late Elvis Presley himself. Odd is the only one born with this strange gift, and he uses it to aid the dead in their quest to finish business on Earth in order to move on. Life is certainly complicated for Odd Thomas, and becomes even more so when Bob Robertson moves to town, followed by black apparitions that sense when there will be bloodshed. As Odd investigates the frightening man, he becomes more and more suspicious of Robertson’s intentions for their quaint little town, and the events that unfold are anything but predictable.

The adventures of Odd Thomas – communicator of the afterlife, fry cook, and volunteer investigator – will make you fear to turn the page without the ability to stop yourself. Dean Koontz has created a character that anyone can relate to, because his secret thoughts are ours. Koontz really brings readers into the mind of Odd Thomas, and we are forced to connect to this character on a level that would normally be impossible for a fictitious person. Odd is original, beautiful, and individual, and his story will become your world.

The ending to this novel is brilliant and unforeseen (at least by me), and will leave you wanting more. The good news: there are sequels! The bad news: there will be violence (if you consider that bad news). Odd Thomas is not only a mystery/fantasy, but it includes a shade of reality that will make you sincerely believe in the world of Odd.

I would recommend this book those that enjoy mystery/crime novels, sad love stories, or quirky young people trying to find their place in the world.


Rating

Plot: 5/5

Language/Voice: 4/5

Characterization: 4/5

Readability: Moderate

Overall Quality: 8/10

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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ImageAlthough the whole dystopia thing has recently been slightly overdone in the young adult genre, Veronica Roth has outdone herself within the faction-divided world of Divergent. This story describes a futuristic Chicago after a devastating war, where each citizen is placed into one of five factions based on their values and characteristics. Divergent follows Tris, who leaves behind the selfless faction she was born into in order to join Dauntless, where the fearless protect the city from what lies beyond. However, when taking the aptitude test to decide where she belongs best, Tris’s results are inconclusive. The test proctor hastily informs Tris that she is Divergent, which means that she cannot be defined by one simple quality. As Tris is trained to be a courageous member of the Dauntless faction, she realizes that she could be killed for being Divergent. With the help of a trainer they call Four, Tris’s adventures become more and more risky, and she must stay under the radar or suffer the consequences.

Divergent is a page-turner. The high-paced life of the Dauntless and the rivalry between Tris’s old faction, Abnegation, and Erudite, the faction that values knowledge, keep the story fast-paced and action-packed. From a feminist perspective, Tris is a new kind of heroine able to stand up for herself even in a faction of Chicago’s strongest, against all odds.

Roth’s concept of a post-modern future may be a bit clichéd, the author brings an original, awkward adolescent voice to be the speaker in a unique dystopia. The plot is riveting and the characters believable.

I would recommend this book to all YA fiction fans and action buffs.


Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 3/5

Characterization: 5/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 7/10

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

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Bastard Out of CarolinaThis is a heavy novel, but it deserves all the acclaim it has received and more. Dorothy Allison takes the reader into the mind of a ten-year-old girl, Bone, growing up in the middle-of-nowhere, South Carolina in the fifties. The women in Bone’s life are tough but rely on the men of Greenville County to support them. Bone’s mother marries an abusive man, and Bone, though a strong and quick-tempered young woman herself, has no choice but to endure the abuse for her mother’s sake. Over time, her stepfather gets steadily meaner and Bone grows more and more defiant. The conclusive interaction between Bone and “Daddy Glen” will leave a reader feeling drained and even weary.

Bastard Out of Carolina is certainly not a feel-good book, but the language is sincere. The speaker’s voice is hauntingly real. Bone’s point of view is raw and her vernacular amateur and child-like, but the reader has no choice but to believe the validity of the story.

I would recommend this book to those that enjoy an emotional page-turner or an honest rendering of a together-to-the-end country family.

 

 

Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 5/5

Characterization: 4/5

Readability: Moderate

Overall Quality: 8/10