Tag Archives: young adult

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

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Looking Into the Future

Dystopia would appear to be the new go-to genre for young adult literature. There’s the standing classic, now present in film form, The Hunger Games, and some similar, moderately popular novels that came afterwards, such as Ally Condie’s Matched and Divergent by Veronica Roth, which I have yet to read. Across the Universe by Beth Revis is a less well-known gem of the genre, and one of my favorite books. Like any literary craze, there’s the good and the great, the bad and the worse.

Thanks to my required summer reading, I’ve started delving into pre-Hunger Games YA dystopia. I’m currently reading Feed by M.T. Anderson, and, while I’m only about halfway through, I think it’s safe to say that it’s an excellent contribution to the body of futuristic literature. It manages to be an entertaining satire as well as a chilling commentary on our society and where it could be headed. Out of all the other YA dystopias I’ve read, Feed reminds me most of Across the Universe–or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Across the Universe reminds me of Feed, since Feed came first. Both volumes center of fairly ordinary teenagers, feature a good deal of futuristic slang for  the reader to pick up on, and seem to have a focus on fighting societal expectations and norms.

Actually, the rebellion against society theme is a common trait among most of the dystopias I’ve read. This combined with the general fixation on the future shows that, as a people, we’re afraid of turning into a homogenized society. We’re expressing our fears and ideas through our literature, and also using it as a warning. If we spread a spirit of individualism now, such a future could be avoided.

What are some of your favorite dystopian novels? Do you think that we should be paying attention to the lessons they teach?

 

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

On The Use Of Strong Language In YA

Warning: this post contains some cursing to demonstrate my points. Anything that one wouldn’t find in, say, a Harry Potter book is censored, but still, if you’re easily offended by that sort of thing, I wouldn’t recommend reading this post.

I, for one, have never understood the controversy over swearing in books intended for teenagers. It’s nothing they haven’t heard, and likely used, when talking to their friends, or haven’t been exposed to from films and TV. It’s certainly not as if strong language is used gratuitously in most YA literature–I can understand why parents/educators and literary critics alike would be opposed to swearing just for the sake of swearing. When well used, however, it serves a purpose: impact and realism.

Suppose that, as a writer, you wanted to make your readers hate a certain character. You wanted to make them feel angry and defensive. Consider these two options for a bit of dialogue:

He glared at me and insulted me.

Yes, it gets your point across, but it still allows your reader to skim over it with little emotional reaction.

He glared at me. “You little bitch,” he spat.

Not only does this version allow for more description, but it gets that emotional reaction you’re looking for. Think about Mrs. Weasley’s final duel with Bellatrix in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. That stopped readers in their tracks. Sometimes, when looking for impact, a choice swear is the only way to go.

Then it comes to realism. Say your main character is a 17-year-old drug addict who dropped out of high school and lives in a rundown apartment with her ailing mother (not to stereotype, but imagine a typical hardened YA character). Do you think this embittered and jaded teen is going to be using elementary-school substitutes for curse words? With this character in mind, which piece of dialogue sounds more realistic?

“This piece of junk isn’t working. Now everything is messed up.”

or

“This piece of s**t isn’t working. Now everything is f**ked up.”

Strong language can be a necessity to develop characters’ personalities and set the scene, and so there’ll be more or less of it depending on what type of story it is. If it’s a fantasy set in the Middle Ages, the cursing might be decidedly more Shakespearean, or perhaps it’ll sound like the French Taunter from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” If it’s a fun story about a bunch of nerdy types, maybe everyone will be cursing each other out in Latin. Strong language is just part of the literary landscape, and authors should be free to use it at their discretion.

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

Books Waiting in the Wings

One of the worst parts of slogging through a long, somewhat boring text (coughInheritancecough) for me is looking at all the books you have around that I have yet to read. Here are some of the books that I’ll be reading after Inheritance.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

Even if this book weren’t an international bestseller and Book of the Year, the premise would be enough to get me interested in reading. I’m starting to venture into the realm of “regular” (i.e., adult) fiction, and this looks like a good book to start off with.

Escape from Verona by David Gray

This one was a gift from a friend. I love Romeo and Juliet and tear up every time I see an adaptation on stage or screen. Mercutio’s death really gets me. Anyway–I admit the premise is of this book is somewhat cheesy (Romeo and Juliet faking their deaths in the tomb and escaping), but I’m willing to overlook it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Jane Austen plus zombies is an instant win for me. What more can I say? I can’t wait to read this one.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I’ve heard nothing but good about this book, from book blogs, professional reviews, and friends. The story sounds quite original and just the sort of thing I’d like. I highly look forward to reading this one, as well.

Have you read any of my books waiting in the wings? What did you think? What do you think I should read first? Tell me in the comments!

Inheritance: A Progress Report

My current reading situation is one that I am entirely new to. Going back into my January archives, you’ll find references to my failed attempts to read Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance at a somewhat decent pace. Any reasonable person would assume that by now I have either given up or finished and forgotten to write a review.

I am still reading it, and just approaching the halfway point. This may well be considered an abomination to reader-kind, an act of blasphemy against the reputation of a bibliophile. I must assure you that I have conquered books just as formidable as Paolini’s work in a much shorter time. What is it about Inheritance that is making it so difficult to read?

My first theory is that it has been such a long time since I read the first three books in the Inheritance Cycle that I have ceased to care about the characters or the story. Correct me if I’m wrong–actually, don’t, because even as slow as this reading process is going, I don’t want spoilers–but I have a sneaking suspicion that our hero, Eragon, will triumph, and I’m just following him on his arduous journey to success. As I continue reading, though, I’m getting more and more intrigued as to how this is all going to turn out. Nevertheless, I don’t have the deeply personal interest in the characters’ well-being as I did a few years ago.

Secondly, the plot has taken a good deal of time in building and laying out a framework for how the rest of the novel is going to go. The action is really starting to take off now and I find myself reading more and more every day. Maybe this long, foot-dragging reading experience will end now and I can finish off Inheritance within the week.

Either way, my preliminary assessment of the book so far is overall good–not fantastic, but good. Readers looking for a rollicking thriller from page one may want to avoid it. There have been lots of plot elements left hanging that need to be finalized, and I’m curious to see how Paolini does it.