Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

June 2011, Quirk Publishing

Young Adult fantasy

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

In all honesty, to summarize this review before I begin, this is the best book I’ve read all year. I only wish that I’d read it as soon as it came out so that the story could remain with me for the longest possible amount of time. This is an incredibly rich novel–the characters are well-balanced and three-dimensional, the settings are skillfully portrayed, and Riggs has put enough logic behind the magic of this fictional world to make it temporarily believable.

I only had to read the first two or three pages for this story to capture my imagination. I cared about Jacob almost instantly, and I wanted him to have the sort of adventure that he sought as a young child and to become a hero in his own right. The vintage photography sprinkled throughout the novel blends perfectly with the prose and makes the story all the more engrossing. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a dark and haunting novel that will surely be relished by lovers of the macabre, although its more morbid touches are not overdone, and the book will still prove enjoyable if the reader isn’t particularly fascinated by such things. The characters alone are enough to draw any sort of reader in.

From the narrator himself to the smallest players in the story, every one is at least reasonably well-developed and believable. Their various styles of speaking are easy to distinguish, their traits are balanced, and their personalities certainly match their photographic depictions. The less important side characters almost become part of the setting, contributing to the overall feel of the story scene by scene. The narrative seemed to change slightly along with the scenery as Jacob went from Florida to Wales. Simply put, the settings are remarkably vivid.

The only minor critique I have of this story is that the foreshadowing seemed a bit heavy-handed in places. Earlier plot points were fairly easy to predict, but it didn’t detract from the story as a whole. Later on, Riggs throws in some excellent plot twists, keeping readers on their toes.

This book is a YA must-read that will make you think, make you shiver and, above all, make you keep reading.

Rating: 5 stars

Review: Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck

Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck

January 2011, Splinter

YA fantasy/romance

The last thing Kelsey Hayes thought she’d be doing this summer was trying to break a 300-year old Indian curse. With a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Halfway around the world.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Face-to-face with dark forces, spellbinding magic, and mystical worlds where nothing is what it seems, Kelsey risks everything to piece together an ancient prophecy that could break the curse forever.
Tiger’s Curse is the exciting first volume in an epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more.

I read this book as a quick intermission from Susanna Clark’s formidable volume Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I was hoping for a break from all the small print and extensive footnotes–which I got. Unfortunately, Tiger’s Curse, while a refreshingly easy read, is not one of the better books I’ve read. Colleen Houck has set up an interesting back-story for this novel, but the plot quickly falls into predictable patterns and the characters fail to support the story.

Houck has clearly put in a lot of effort to research the culture and mythology of India for this novel, and I applaud her for that. The novel is full of rich description that really helps to set the scene and draw the reader in. I was fascinated by the abounding references to classical Indian mythology throughout the book–I would say that this is the strongest point of Tiger’s Curse.

However, I found myself predicting plot points early on and was surprised by very little. I was never fully invested in the central characters; in fact, quite the opposite. From Kelsey’s initial introduction, I decided I didn’t like her, and that opinion never changed. The male lead I found to be a sickeningly perfect romantic hero. As for the romantic story-line itself, I was painfully reminded of the Twilight Saga.

Contrary to the blurb’s claim, after finishing this book, I have no desire to move on with the series. Overall, I don’t recommend Tiger’s Curse, but if you’re looking for a quick, fairly generic YA fantasy/romance, this fits the bill.

Rating: 1.5 Stars

Review: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (Inheritance Cycle #4)

November 2011, Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult fantasy

Not so very long ago, Eragon—Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider—was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances.

The Rider and his dragon have come further than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaësia? And if so, at what cost?

This is the much-anticipated, astonishing conclusion to the worldwide bestselling Inheritance cycle.

What a long journey the Inheritance Cycle has been! From the first book about a poor 15-year-old farm boy to this final volume about a mighty Dragon Rider, the series has undeniably developed and matured along with its protagonist. I’ve been reading this series since I was about eleven years old, and I felt an acute sense of nostalgia as old characters and locations were revisited. The nostalgia wasn’t always entirely welcome, however: the long, arduous descriptions found throughout the series haven’t lessened in Inheritance, and neither have the meticulous political arrangements that are unlikely to fascinate the average reader.

Christopher Paolini is an excellent writer. For the majority of the book, though, I felt this talent was a bit overused. For the first six hundred pages or so, the vivid descriptions of people, landscapes, mental states, weather conditions, and nearly everything else were an inescapable impediment to the action and flow of the story. This, in turn, made me a thoroughly disengaged reader for the majority of the book, and was in part why it took me several months to plow my way through the novel. The overuse of description and slightly heavy-handed plot set-up are my only real complaints about Inheritance.

Once the action really gets going, as the plot nears its climax, Inheritance improves immensely. The heart-pounding action and suspense really kept the pages turning for me as the final confrontation grew near. Paolini’s characters are, as always, delightfully varied and skillfully painted, from the haunting witch child Elva to the despicable King Galbatorix himself. The world of Alagaësia is enthralling, and it’s clear that Paolini put much time and effort into its development. It’s world-building at its best, and the sort that I aspire to.

Most fans of the Inheritance Cycle have probably already readInheritance and are “tsk-tsk”-ing behind their computer screens at my slowness. Fans of high fantasy who haven’t started this series yet should definitely try it. It’s a difficult-at-times but rewarding reading experience.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1)

December 2003, Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult fantasy

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

I adored Libba Bray’s most recent novel, Beauty Queens, so it’s a wonder I haven’t read the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, for which Bray is better known, before now. I’m sorry I’ve waited so long. This book is, simply put, utterly flawless.

A Great and Terrible Beauty starts off with a scene the majority of the readership will be able to relate to: a mother-daughter dispute. From there the story takes off and refuses to slow. Bray sets the scene vividly and shows sharp contrast between the three main settings, India, England, and the spiritual realms. Most of the characters started off as simple, but as I got to know them better through Gemma’s eyes, new layers of complexity were added and I found myself deeply invested.

Bray is known for confronting issues prevalent in her adolescent audience head-on in her writings, and this book is no exception. Things as light as high-school politics to as heavy as self-mutilation are seamlessly touched on, but I especially noticed Bray’s inclusion of girls’ budding sexualities in a society where showing one’s ankles is considered scandalous. Readers will undoubtably see portions of themselves reflected in the characters and perhaps even find comfort.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is dark, adventurous, romantic, fantastical–there’s something for everyone here. It’s consistently well-written and believable; it’s not particularly difficult to read–the thoroughly engaging plot forbids that–yet is anything but mind candy. I can’t wait to get on with this series, and, as an added bonus, there seems to be a movie planned for 2015 release. This book is a must-read.

Rating: 5 stars

 

Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (The Beka Cooper Trilogy, #3)

October 2011, Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult fantasy

Three years have passed since Beka Cooper almost died in the sewers of Port Caynn, and she is now a respected member of the Provost’s Guard. But her life takes an unexpected turn when her fiancé is killed on a slave raid. Beka is faced with a mixture of emotions as, unbeknownst to many, she was about to call the engagement off.

It is as Beka is facing these feelings that Lord Gershom appears at her door. Within hours, Beka; her partner, Tunstall; her scent hound, Achoo; and an unusual but powerful mage are working on an extremely secretive case that threatens the future of the Tortallan royal family, and therefore the entire Tortallan government. As Beka delves deeper into the motivations of the criminals she now Hunts, she learns of deep-seated political dissatisfaction, betrayal, and corruption. These are people with power, money, and influence. They are able to hire the most skilled of mages, well versed in the darkest forms of magic. And they are nearly impossible to identify.

This case–a Hunt that will take her to places she’s never been–will challenge Beka’s tracking skills beyond the city walls, as well as her ability to judge exactly whom she can trust with her life and her country’s future.

 Let me start off by saying that Book One of this series, Terrier, is one of my all-time favorites. It was exemplary in characters, action, and plot. Beka was ineffably believable in this volume, along with the rest of the cast. Things only went downhill a little in Bloodhound, as the plot got a bit less intriguing, but it was still an excellent book. In Mastiff, most of all the wonderful things about Terrier are lost. Beka seems an entirely different person, changed so much over three years that she is not at all recognizable as the shy but street-smart Lower City trainee of the first book.

The plot is well laid in Mastiff, and once all the pieces are put together, the horrible truth does make sense. However, the story is grandiose to the point of being obnoxious: instead of tracking down kidnappers and counterfeiters in cases staying within city walls, Beka gallops across the realm, dealing with various noble houses and overall getting involved in things much bigger than she is. This sort of story may appeal to many, but it’s jarringly different from the first two books of the series. It might have been more tolerable for me if it had moved along a bit faster–it wasn’t until the final hundred pages or so that I began reading at more than a snail’s pace.

Beka wasn’t the only character who changed in this book. Favorites from prior volumes, such as the classic trio of “rushers,” Aniki, Kora, and Rosto, were all but nonexistent in Mastiff. As Beka expands her horizons, the wonderful world of the Lower City created in Terrier disappears in readers’ sights. It was, frankly, depressing, and the final pages left me discontented and disappointed.

Tamora Pierce, however, continues using her well-earned trademarks of strong female protagonists, intricate plots, and scrupulous description in Mastiff. Glimpses of Beka’s former life are breaths of fresh air throughout the story. Call me an old softy, but Pierce could have done better to stick with the Corus area and her fantastic older characters throughout this otherwise wonderful series.

Rating: 3 stars

Review: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments #2)

March 2008, Margaret K. McElderry Books

Young Adult urban fantasy

Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go—especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil—and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings—and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

As I continue on my quest to read the Mortal Instruments series in its entirety before the movie, slated for release in 2012, comes out, it’s fairly easy for me to see where this story is going. This isn’t entirely a bad thing: I can be a big believer in the classic storyline. Cassandra Clare’s true talent doesn’t lie in the realm of creating a storyline, but in the crucial ability to draw readers in. Clare has created a rich and addictive New York underworld that can be very hard to leave; it’s fully a sensory experience, replete with intriguing detail.

Clare continues to create strong characters to inhabit this world. Clary still isn’t one of my favorites, but everyone else is fantastic. The variety of supernatural creatures is astonishing, from grotesque demons to the elegant fey, with a few of our beloved vampires and werewolves thrown in the mix. (Have I mentioned how relieved I am that these vamps don’t sparkle?)

There’s plenty of action in City of Ashes, and this volume certainly has its fair share of angst. It isn’t markedly different from the first book in this series, but expands on the same themes, adding a few welcome new characters and subplots. This isn’t an extraordinary series, but one worth reading; I’ll be looking forward to reading Book Three.

Rating: 4 stars

Review: Lovesick by Tonya Hurley

Lovesick by Tonya Hurley (Ghostgirl #3)

July 2010, Little, Brown & Company

Young Adult paranormal romance

Before she can rest in peace, Charlotte Usher must return to the tragic site of her death: high school. She still has one last assignment to complete, but no one explained what happens if you fall in love with your class project.

Charlotte would die (again) for love. But when her only chance at an afterlife means having to face the dreaded, all-too-familiar pains of being invisible, it may be too much for her to withstand.

The Ghostgirl books are not easily forgettable. The first one, simply entitled Ghostgirl, made a strong impact on me–I’d even go so far as to say it changed my life. Twilight this isn’t. I feel guilty about slapping the “paranormal romance” label on it, because this, along with the previous two in the series, is a well-written, at times satirical, and carefully planned book that could be enjoyed by all sorts of teens and adults. And think of all the stigma attached to the genre! This is one of the best examples of it, and one that stubbornly refuses to become a franchise. It should be more well-known than it is.

Tonya Hurley knows how to manipulate readers’ emotions. If you’ve read books one and two, Lovesick will wrench you heart, threaten to rip it in two, and leave it in a bittersweet state once the book is closed. Over the course of the series, I grew to care so deeply about Charlotte and her human best friend, Scarlet, and seeing them both change from the forms I met them in was a bit painful. And Petula–the trendsetting prom queen we’ve all grown to deliciously despise–will definitely surprise fans.

(If said fans haven’t read it already, that is. I waited for this one to come out in paperback. Ahem.)

Hurley continues to meet her standards of smart, sharp, and mostly realistic dialogue, excellent scene-setting description, and vivid characterization. The book’s beautiful design in both paperback and hardcover editions will draw old and new readers in–but please, if you’re just getting into the series, start at the beginning. It’ll only confuse you, and going in without any background will take away half of the experience.

I will admit that the plot gets a little repetitive in Lovesick; the same thing happened with book two, Homecoming. I didn’t care too much, though. This is, overall, a great installment in this fascinating series, which, if the closure–The end?–is to be believed, will be as infinite as any afterlife, whether Hurley continues to write it or not.

Rating: 4 stars