Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Recently I got an email from Quirk's Social Media and Marketing Manager
asking if I'd be willing to review the newly released paperback copy of

 Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

Amazon Synopsis:
Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: As a kid, Jacob formed a special bond with his grandfather over his bizarre tales and photos of levitating girls and invisible boys. Now at 16, he is reeling from the old man's unexpected death. Then Jacob is given a mysterious letter that propels him on a journey to the remote Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. There, he finds the children from the photographs--alive and well--despite the islanders’ assertion that all were killed decades ago. As Jacob begins to unravel more about his grandfather’s childhood, he suspects he is being trailed by a monster only he can see. A haunting and out-of-the-ordinary read, debut author Ransom Rigg’s first-person narration is convincing and absorbing, and every detail he draws our eye to is deftly woven into an unforgettable whole. Interspersed with photos throughout, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a truly atmospheric novel with plot twists, turns, and surprises that will delight readers of any age. 

The story follows Jacob, a young American boy, on his journey to not only find out more about his Grandpa, but more importantly, his own sanity. As it turns out, the two go hand-in-hand.

Middle Grade or Young Adult?
Based on the way the action paces itself, and how long children linger on terrible events, I'd actually classify this as more of a bridge book between Middle Grade and Young Adult, rather than a flat out YA novel. In other words, I think this book would appeal to both younger and older children... and I think it would be an excellent "read aloud" bedtime story book. (Er... for the children who aren't easily scared.... because while this book isn't a horror story, there is some very creepy imagery going on in it)

The storyline is adventurous, mysterious and fraught with perils, not to mention laced with history.
I always appreciate a book that can tie in real world history in a way that makes children more curious about the past... and if listening to Grandpa's stories, or the scene with Adam and the bomb doesn't do that, then I would think the Bog Boy at least would spark children's interest and imagination. Plus, the series promises to deliver quite a lot more in terms of historical referencing with the upcoming sequel.

The love story:
There are several love stories that unravel through the book, which for me was the more "YA" aspect of this story... but even though Jacob's own love story happened rather quickly, I found it entirely believable. For once, there was a YA love story with a good, solid reason as to why the girl would fall in love so quickly. All too often I read YA novels where the characters seemingly hate each other, and then three sentences later, they're in love. In Rigg's book, Jacob's "love" story is, as one would expect from a teenage boy, really something that began more with lust (as in, he thought she was really hot... and then all the "Oh, and she's pretty cool too" stuff came later). Maybe that is because this novel is written by a man, who actually had the benefit of experiencing life as a teenaged boy? I don't know, I just know when I read YA love stories, more often than not, I'm very aware that the teenaged boy in the story is acting NOT like an ACTUAL teenaged boy, but like a sappy, boring page from some starry-eyed teenaged girl's fantasy.

The Magic:
This book is fantasy fiction... and it uses the fantasy aspects to propel the story in compelling ways. Often times I read YA novels that have fantastical aspects and feel like I've read the same story I've read a million times over, except this time it was a Mermaid instead of a Vampire. The "Fantasy" is just a gimmick to draw kids in, but could easily be replaced with a million other things.
In Riggs' book, I felt that the fantasy was an integral part of the storyline. It wasn't thrown in casually, it was the mechanism that made this story run. Riggs was able to take moments in history and make them even more real to the reader by not only giving us characters who had been there and lived through it, but by using the magic in this world to allow the main character to experience it as well. The same magic will also allow the main character to delve into the past even farther, and that's something that I'm rather excited about.

The Villains:
I'm not going to say too much, that would be a bit of a spoiler... but I will say I really loved the villains of this story. Their whole reason behind doing what they do is perfect, and reflects a kind of child-like mentality.

The Writing:
I really enjoyed Ransom Riggs writing style. It's fast paced, with page after page of action to pull the reader along. He also does a great job of creating an eerie atmosphere. The book reminded me of one of the haunting stories from A.S. Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories... the forest is filled with monsters, BEWARE!

READ THIS BOOK! Read this book aloud to children!!! Everything about this story was a pleasant surprise, and I can't wait to read the next one.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

REVIEW: The Age of Ra by James Lovegrove

The Age of Ra
by James Lovegrove

Synopsis from Amazon:
An alternate history of the world where the Egyptian gods have defeated all others and have carved up the planet between themselves. Only a band of Freedom Fighters and their enigmatic leader can free the Earth from their divine tyranny.

So, first off... tell me what you think when you look at that cover... no, really, stop and think about it?
What do I think? Kurt Russell, James Spader... Stargate... yes. There I said it. Stargate. 

That aside, I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Due to my own confusion over how to feel, I went out and read several other reviews... some of which loved the book, and some of which hated it... and here's what it boils down to for me: I agree more with the folks who didn't exactly enjoy it.

I think this review by Nathan Brazil over at The SF Site really sums it up... the book just did not reach its full potential. Any veteran Science Fiction reader should have been able to see the plot twists coming from a mile away... and the things I *hoped* would happen to add variety and originality to said twists did not... instead they followed a very cookie-cutter path.

There was so much potential in the character of David Westwynter, and how he could have interacted with not only other main characters, but with the gods themselves... but it just felt like none of that was really explored. When he did interact with the gods, it left me wanting more... a lot more, and a lot more explanation as well... and when he interacted with the other human characters... well... it left a lot to be desired. Other than knowing that he's a "Generally good guy who doesn't like deep emotions"... well, David didn't strike me as much of anything special. By the time we reached the end of the book, I barely cared what happened to the humans in the story anymore.

The gods were a lot more interesting to me, but mostly because I enjoy reading the tales of different mythologies... and this was no exception when it came to filling you in on a bit of the Egyptian Gods history with one another. I was disappointed though, by who the "Big Bad" turned out to be. This is probably a bit of a spoiler (this next sentence)... but yeah, if you know anything about Egyptian Mythology... and who their prime betrayer often is... well... it's not much of a shocker. It's kind of like any story about Norse Mythology... you can pretty much expect Loki to be in there, causing major trouble somehow.

The most interesting part of the book to me, sadly, was the very end when there is a meeting between a human and a god (unknown to the human)... but by that point, I found I just didn't care that much anymore... plus, as far as I can tell, "The Age of" god series that Lovegrove has going is just filled with one-offs that are bound together by theme only... so why should I care about the end of the book or what happens to the character? I don't... and it's sad.

I'm still going to read the second book, and hope for something better, since I've heard good things about Lovegrove... because I'm not going to lie, I really want to get to the third book in the series (The Age of Odin)... and I hate reading things out of order... even if it's just the order they were written in.

In Conclusion:
I don't think I'd recommend this book... perhaps if the second book is excellent, I'll still recommend the series and just tell people to skip the first book... but I just felt like I learned very little about the characters. Their motivations all felt superficial, or totally dictated by their nature... and when it comes to "The Ancient Gods have returned" type books, I've read better.

Top Ten Tuesday

 Click the image above to visit The Broke and the Bookish, and join in the fun!

Top Ten Books on my TBR List for Summer 2013!
1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Have I been hearing anything other than rave reviews about this book?
Nope. I want it, I want it now!

 2. The Long War by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
I'm always up for some Pratchett, and with Baxter's tendency to blow up the world,
this could prove to be an interesting book.

 3. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I received this one as a request to review... so it's next on my list. :)
The funny thing... even though I was contacted to read this... I'd always wanted to read it anyways.

4.The Age of Zeus by James Lovegrove
So, I read The Age of Ra... and honestly, I'm still not sure exactly how much I did, or didn't, like it... so I figure I'll at least try to make it through two or three in the series before making any final decisions... the story was amusing, but of course, the gods were entirely predictable.

5. Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey
I just read the first in the Sandman Slim series... so, yeah... all the Kadrey books on this list are part of Sandman Slim's book series. I loved the first one, it's a GREAT summer read. I devoured book one in a matter of hours.

6. Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey

7. Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey

8. Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey

9. The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
I LOVE Leviathan, Goliath and Behemoth... soo, so, so much, so I figured I'd give another Westerfeld book a try and see if I love his writing style as much as I love those books.

10. We, THE DROWNED by Carsten Jensen
I'm going to be honest... I don't know a thing about this book. I saw it on the shelf... and lately I've just not been feelin' the YA genre, so I've been branching off and grabbing adult fiction (Sandman Slim, The Age of Ra? Yeah...) and this just happens to be one of them.