Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

I had read an interview with Ransom Riggs about his book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (MPHPC) in a magazine a while ago. I found the way he came up with the idea unique. I also have a fondness for old photographs because my brother and I go antiquing, and I always take great pride in finding photos that I know he’d like. If Ransom Riggs can incorporate found photos into a narrative, then I am in for better or for worse. It helps that the cover is haunting, appealing to my interest in all things mysterious.

MPHPC has a teenaged male protagonist! Yes, there are other YA novels with them, but they are few and far between. It’s refreshing to see one because we can’t always read about a girl falling in love with the bad boy. Jacob, sixteen and angsty, suffers a tragedy within the beginning pages of the novel as any good story does. He goes through a psychological trauma that brings his grandfather’s stories from when he was a child to the surface. Jacob travels to a small island off of Wales to visit Miss Peregrine’s school but soon finds that the monsters and mysteries of his grandfather’s life are a lot more plausible than anyone had imagined, including himself.

What I loved the most about this book was the inclusion of the photographs. They weren’t thrown in there like pictures you might find in chapter books but as part of the narrative. A character describes a picture and then it is included within the pages. Sometimes, it was a picture of actual characters the protagonist interacts with. While that might take away some imagination on the reader’s part, you do get a clear idea of what Riggs wants you to see. And that’s fine by me.

If any of you have been following my blog and reviews, you’ll know I like character development. Jacob did go through some character development, but for a while I was worried it would never come. He’s angsty, and perhaps sometimes too much so. That being said, I never wanted to smack him upside the head. However, the development was long in coming and perhaps MPHPC would have been better with more of it. While Jacob and his friends were a rainbow of personalities, there was one part that I found disturbing. I would love to tell you what that is, but I’m afraid it’ll spoil it for you should you decide to read it. Let me just say that I questioned the relationship between two of the characters. I’m ok with the possibility that it’s simply a quirk of mine!

It’s always frustrating to me when I get my hopes up really high for a book and it doesn’t live up to those hopes. I do my best to separate my disappointment from the execution every time I read. That was a little bit of what happened here with MPHPC. That’s why I use a two-point system—how I feel vs. how well written it is. As with anything, my word is not golden. It’s merely an opinion.

I’ll continue to read the series because it was interesting enough for me to do so, but in the later books, I would like to see a faster moving plot through the middle. Maybe Jacob will do something completely out of the ordinary in Hollow City that will blow me away. 7/8*

*See explanation of rating system

J. Giambrone’s Transfixion

I made the rookie mistake of beginning J. Giambrone’s Transfixion when I was slightly overrun with other thoughts. Distraction is not included in any comprehension recipe. So, I started afresh the following morning, and thank goodness I did. The first two chapters then made a lot more sense, and my appreciation for the text went up exponentially.

Transfixion is not your average YA novel, for several reasons. It’s close third person, isn’t a love story (shudder to think), and doesn’t tie up the ending in a nice, pretty bow. All of which make for a refreshing foray into YA literature that I welcomed with open arms. Whether or not anyone else will agree is up for debate, seeing as how reading is subjective. Transfixion follows Kaylee Colton after what is, essentially, the end of the world as we know it. When her life is no longer recognizable, what will she do? Fight or flight? She takes the third option. The one people don’t talk about—ignore. She ignores it at first. And I would too, which is what I liked about her. When your life is falling to pieces, not many people are actually going to jump into action mode. A lot of the time, people, myself included, before even starting to think about what to do, have to process it. We are launched into autopilot and seek our coping mechanism, the one thing that will comfort us when we need comforting, even if that means denial for a little bit. That’s what Kaylee does. She escapes long enough for her brain to repair before kicking into overdrive. After reading other reviews, I think that’s what a lot of others missed: They didn’t catch that development of her character, which is, to me, what makes her a character worth reading.

As the plot progresses, Kaylee changes physically and mentally. There is no easy way to describe this process without giving away spoilers, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that the reader’s relationships with the other characters are affected as much as Kaylee’s relationship with them is. Kaylee is our filter in more ways than one. Her whole character’s dynamic changes when she gains something she has been missing for the majority of the novel, and that makes her realistic, too. She’s not simply a raging-hormone teenager, or a child thrust into being a warrior and excelling at it without much effort. She is normal. She fumbles, makes mistakes, learns, grows, and craves those oh-so-human elements, like a hug and a physical object from when life made sense.

Another thing I really enjoyed about Transfixion was that it wasn’t a love story. Sometimes it’s nice to have people interacting on a level that is not hormone-charged, to have friendships and relationships and not constantly be focused on “Does he like me? What does it mean when he hands me a pencil? Oh my gosh, he kissed me!” There is more to life than that, and before two people can enter into a romantic relationship, they have to understand each other fundamentally as humans first. Perhaps I should say should instead of can “enter into a romantic relationship.” Because I am consistently disappointed in the betrayal of relationships in YA literature, it was nice to come across a novel whose author didn’t focus on it, and instead preferred establishing characters as individual people without feeling the need to follow one of the staples of this field and throw in a hot-and-heavy romance. Having said that, I realize that some people will dislike this book because that isn’t the focus. To them, I say, “That’s too bad, but to each his own.”

A book is more than one element; it’s several parts put together like a puzzle. And if the pieces fall correctly, it’s an adventure and an escape for the reader into a world that won’t hurt them. This was true for Kaylee, which you learn in the beginning of the book. Giambrone’s integration of Kaylee’s coping mechanism with the storyline is a nice touch that could be missed if you aren’t reading too closely. As it is, I think that it enhanced the story and the characters, and definitely made me smile at the end.

Speaking of the ending, other reviewers have said it didn’t have a resolution, but I don’t agree. I think the ending was perfectly appropriate, and in fact, I wouldn’t have changed it. Why do we need everything wrapped up in a bow? Life isn’t like that. In life, every ending is a new beginning. You finish college and move on to a job or another academic program. A relationship ends, and you rediscover who you are outside of one, so on and so forth. Giambrone’s “resolution” was what I wanted. I would have been disappointed if it were anything else. I was satisfied, which I hardly ever am with books.

The one thing I would change is the middle. I would have liked to have seen Kaylee assert her opinion earlier and more often, but with a solid ending and beginning, I can’t fault it too much. However, if the middle had had a more assertive Kaylee, I’d have been even more pleased with it. I think it would have better driven home the point that conflict can be resolved nonviolently. If the middle had been more like the last three chapters, I’d have no complaints. But I never discovered myself yelling at the book, which is a good thing. The one time I did, it was, “Oh thank goodness!” and out of relief, not anger. Let me just say that chapter 29 had my heart racing, and how Giambrone ended that ridiculously fast-paced climax was exactly what the doctor prescribed to calm my tachycardia.

As with any book, Transfixion has its ups and downs. But with a solid beginning and ending and a protagonist that’s more like you and me than we give her credit for, it’s worth the read. So, get yourself a copy and buckle up. 8/7*

Transifixion will be released tomorrow, 9th September. Watch out for it!

*See explanation of rating system

Veronica Roth’s Insurgent

So, Insurgent, the second installment in the Divergent series, did not live up to my expectations. Believe it or not, I want books to exceed them. I want them to be absolutely amazing and breathtaking. Sometimes they aren’t. This wasn’t.

If you remember my review for Divergent, you’ll know that I had trouble with the faction names and the transition from the middle to the climax. There wasn’t much of one. Setting aside all that, this book had one, actually two, major flaw that I could not get over. Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing happened. They went from faction to faction. They fought. People died. Tris and Four (Tobias) kissed. Tris and Four fought. They kissed. People died etc. Seriously, just like that, or so it seemed to me. It was almost as if Roth decided for every new character she introduced into the storyline, she’d kill off someone. Why? Why is that necessary? I know they were fighting a war and people die, but is killing off at least five characters imperative to the story? No. I can see justification for one or two of them maybe but five?

Maybe I wasn’t in a very forgiving mood while reading it. It doesn’t negate the fact that I kept seeing what was wrong with it and what annoyed me. Granted, I did not have the best of weeks, but I hardly think that was why I didn’t like it. Based on other reviews I’ve read, I’m not the only one who had trouble swallowing this book. Writing a series is difficult. You have to carry your characters through a number of books, not to mention come up with a storyline that is complicated with twists and turns to keep your readers guessing. It’s not easy. JK Rowling accomplished it successfully with Harry Potter. Unfortunately, Roth has not. I haven’t read Allegiant yet so maybe it’ll get better again. Sometimes it is simply Middle Book syndrome, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Forget the plot, or lack thereof. What might be worse than that are the inconsistencies in character behavior. Tris and Tobias (I’m calling him Tobias now. He doesn’t even deserve the nickname Four anymore.) were more like angsty teenagers than they were before. What happened to the brave Tris, who did whatever she could to survive? What happened to the quiet and formidable Tobias, who was intimidating just to look at? Why were they replaced by a girl that cried all the time and wanted to die, and a boy who lost his nerve and needed the girl to survive? It makes no sense. Yes, Tris suffered major losses at the end of Divergent. I will allow for grief, but not to this extent. It doesn’t make sense with her character. She should have gotten angry and fought back, not scared to move or do anything, including breathing. The five stages of grief are as follows: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In that order. She skipped the first three and went straight to depression.

I don’t want her to be chipper and perfectly content with what happened. That’d be absurd and also completely against her character. But I do want her to try. Is it too much to ask for her to try to do something, anything? Then again, there was no plot for her to do anything anyway, so maybe her languor is appropriate? And as for Tobias, I don’t know what happened to him. He was needy, clingy, and riddled with hormones that didn’t seem to be there in Divergent. The secondary characters were rather minor, more so than usual, so when they died, I didn’t really care. I cared enough to say, “Another one?” but not enough to be sad. I adore fleshed out secondary characters, like Voldemort and Snape and Dumbledore to mention a few. Roth forgot to do that for the characters in Insurgent. She did, however, do a much better job in Divergent. Keep your fingers crossed that it’ll go back to the way it was before in Allegiant!

Tris seemed to wake up about 75% of the way through. Tobias took a little longer and came around at about 97% of the way through. I know this because I was reading the Kindle version this time. That’s too long. It should have been right from the start. I will say this, though. I kept flipping pages despite no plot and uncharacteristic behavior. Why? Because I wanted to know when on earth they were going to get their acts together. I hate giving such a negative review for a book that reached the bestseller charts and is loved by many. Then again, you can’t please everyone, and Roth certainly did not please me this time.

Insurgent lacks plot development and movement, while simultaneously flipping the characters on top of their heads so they’re hardly recognizable from the first book. If you’re like me, you’ll read it anyway because you have to finish any series you start. Just beware: Divergent set the bar too high for Insurgent. 4/4*

*See explanation of rating system

Veronica Roth’s Divergent

Now that I’ve finished up my series on Jane Austen, I thought I’d read some YA and MG novels for a while. I haven’t read either for several months, so it’s about time. I’m trying to come up with a new series of classics to read. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments or email me. Otherwise, you might have to suffer through a letter describing a mastectomy without anesthesia, everyone’s favorite dinner topic! Here’s to cleansing my palate!

Veronica Roth began writing the Divergent series while she was in college, and at some point, found herself an agent. The rest is history. I don’t want to get into the fact that she’s younger than me and already has three books published and a movie based on one of them. There isn’t even the slightest bit of jealousy on my part. But in all honesty, how can I be jealous when I haven’t finished a novel well enough to even send it to agents? Seeing as how this is supposed to be a review of her book and not a self-reflective essay, I’ll move on to Tris, Four, and the other initiates.

Divergent and the entire series has a premise, a tagline, which is “One choice can transform you.” Words to live by. Like those times I don’t get a nonfat caramel macchiato at Starbucks and end up feeling nauseous. Bad choice. Or when I decided to study abroad for a year at the University of St. Andrews and fell in love with Frances Burney, who was vital in my dissertation a few years later. Good choice. Divergent begins with a choice (another trope of YA literature) that will determine Beatrice’s (Tris) future. Well, if it weren’t such a regular thing for sixteen-year-olds in YA literature, I’d be a nervous wreck. Alas, I’ve grown used to the life-and-death choice, or the sudden discovery of a power, magical ability, or any other trait that distinguishes a nobody into a somebody good or bad. That doesn’t diminish the excitement for me, though. She has to decide on which faction she lives in for the rest of her life. Here are the choices: Abnegation, Amity, Dauntless, Erudite, and Candor.

One of my issues with Divergent, not a very legitimate one at that, are the names of the factions. I, apparently, took issue with the fact that they were real words that described exactly what the factions believed. I thought it was a copout, an easy way to name, involving far less creativity than I would use. I would never say it’s wrong; it’s just not the way I would have done it. Save that, I liked the characters. Unfortunately, I never was surprised by their actions, the love interest, or the ending. Predictable? Yes. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I still enjoyed it immensely. I didn’t have to chant “suspend disbelief,” as you all know I did with another book, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, itching to read what would happen next because I had absolutely no idea.

It was a page-turner with an interesting premise, and intriguing characters, however, I would have preferred a less abrupt ending. It didn’t fizzle out like Graceling, but I noticed a definite break from the middle to the end. As in, I was swept away with the flow of it and then, “Oh, wait, we’re doing this already? Ok…” I would have liked more buildup but also, less buildup. Let me explain. The beginning was fine, and the middle, too, until she tried to transition to the climax. It was void of a transition, in my opinion. Lack of transitions causes you to stumble when you read, and a pause is a problem. A pause allows the reader to step back, maybe put the book down. Or they could even get confused. That’s not what happened here. It was more like a speed bump or a pothole you don’t see when you’re driving; your brain sloshes from side to side for a couple of seconds until settling back in. So that’s why I wanted more of a buildup. I needed a transition to the climax. To be perfectly honest, it was as if Roth drops in a hint of what the ultimate climax will be and forgets about it until she’s ready for us to plummet into the midst of it. And do we ever. I root for transitions all the time, but I’m not good at them. In fact, a couple of my professors at uni said that my writing was clunky and chunky. That’s the root of all my problems, the reason for my noticing the slightest off-section, no matter how minute. Also, probably, why I can’t write a good ending because it always sounds clunky and chunky.

As for my wanting less buildup, that would have to do with the middle. Or as I once heard it referred to, the muddy middle, the part where you have to keep the pace up to maintain readers’ interest, while not rushing it. My first draft of my MG novel had the worst middle section ever. But Divergent’s middle was full, too full for my liking. The transition to the climax and resolution was thin. I want to pull some of the middle into the ending, and then smile at a smooth book through and through.

What Divergent does do right is taking an old idea—the dystopian novel—and making it her own. Her characters are varied, all with their own weaknesses and strengths. Every good novel needs an assorted cast list. Roth has it in Divergent. Lucky for me, the love story didn’t surprise or anger me! I was pleased. It had more development, more explanation, and showed the vulnerability of each character to the other. That’s what relationships are all about, right?

With compelling characters, Divergent is a must-read, especially for those who are fans of the Hunger Games. But when you find your mind a little jostled toward the end, shake it off. After all, maybe it all makes sense in the later books. 8/7*

*See explanation of rating system

Kristin Cashore’s Graceling

My friend, who will be referred to as Smarty Pants from here on out (I should make it clear that he doesn’t actually behave like a know-it-all unless it concerns me because apparently thirteen years of friendship means he knows everything about me? Psht.), likes to laugh at me because it took me months to find a copy of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. Obviously it took me months because no one had it in stock, much to my chagrin. I even called him once to complain because I was staring at a bookshelf in Barnes and Noble that had a gap right where Cashore should have been. The thing was I had seen it there a few weeks before so why wasn’t it there when I was out to purchase? Smarty Pants would tell you, and very lovingly reminded me, that it was because every time I want to buy something but decide to wait and think it over before I splurge on it, it disappears. They sell out. Or it goes out of stock never to be seen or heard from again.

I was at a crossroads. Do I keep looking? Do I give in and succumb to the inevitably that the universe did not want me to read this book? I chose the former because nothing can subvert my reading desires. Luckily, my perseverance paid off, and I found it sitting on a shelf at one of the five (yes, five) local Half Price Books. Half Price Books feeds my reading addiction at a relatively low cost, keeping me solvent and sated at the same time. But I digress. I bought that sucker without a moment’s hesitation and then proceeded to not read it for a few more months.

For those of you interested, it should be noted that Smarty Pants was with me and had to point out that it was my own ineptitude that prevented me from finding it earlier because every time he had gone to the bookstore, it had glared at him in many shiny copies. But his opinion doesn’t matter because it’s not like he bought it for me when I wanted it and couldn’t find it.

This is getting long-winded, and I haven’t even started the review. So let’s skip on ahead, shall we? Graceling is another YA novel that is best described by the blurb on the back of the book:

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…

Well, this is something new. A protagonist who’s an assassin. Most people would tell you that readers should either love the protagonist or love to hate them. And most protagonists, for me anyway, are ones that I love because they’re great people. But what was Katsa going to be? I like to read books when the blurb has me asking questions and wondering what would happen, and Graceling was one of them.

Katsa was an interesting character for the most part. You think she’s a cold-hearted assassin at first, but within a few pages, you realize that she’s not and would rather be anything other than the king’s thug. That leaves her with a choice: Continue to do the king, her uncle’s, bidding? Or make her own way in the world no matter what the king might do? We can all guess what she chooses, and that’s what makes this book get moving. Graceling sets out to explore Katsa’s development as a person from a somewhat reluctant assassin to a hero.

It would come as no surprise to find that Katsa and Po develop romantic feelings for each other because, as I mentioned in my review for Lament, YA novels like to capitalize on the raging hormones teenagers have. Give them what they want has never been so à propos. I could go into details about their relationship, but I won’t because you should read it for yourself. I will say that it had much more development than Deirdre and Luke’s in Lament, however, it also had a surprising bit to it. That part outraged some, while others cheered. All of which you can read on Goodreads reviews. I was neither outraged, nor was I cheering it on. I was surprised and slightly confused, but I had no intense emotions either way. It is what it is, and that’s ok for the most part.

The part of Graceling that really got to me was the climax and ending. This book is a whopping 471 pages, pretty lengthy for a YA novel. The beginning 410 pages geared me up for an epic climax and denouement that would leave me breathless. (That’s a bit of an exaggeration perhaps, but you get the idea.) But after the 410 pages, the climax came and went like a small breeze you hardly feel, and I was disappointed. The ending wasn’t much better. So I ask, “How could a book that started off so well and even had a fast-paced middle, which is often where books fall flat, lose its steam when it was so close to the end?” My answer: I have no clue. I still don’t understand what happened to the plot (not what the events of the plot were but rather why it fizzled out), and I still feel disappointed. If you’re anything like me, you invest a lot in a book’s characters and the trials and tribulations that are thrown at them. You want the characters you like to succeed and the one’s you hate to fail miserably, floundering in a cesspool of their own creation. And you want it all to happen after building up considerable tension and making the protagonist use every effort they have to overcome the baddies. But in Graceling, the tension was there, and I was ready for something larger than life. It didn’t happen. It came quickly and ended even more quickly. A matter of a few pages and the baddy was defeated without much effort from our protagonist.

That’s too bad really. Katsa had a lot going for her in the beginning. She seemed like a wise assassin and yet naïve in normal things, like boys. They mystified her, and to me, that is pretty realistic for a lot of teenage girls. They think they understand boys, but then one does something  that confuses them, and they take it to their girlfriends to sort out what he meant. Katsa didn’t have that circle of friends. She had her cousin Raffin, but sometimes a girl needs a girl and not a guy friend. We’ve all been there.  For the most part, I liked her. I liked how she was a more complicated character than you sometimes find in YA novels, but I think that set me up for disappointment when it was all said and done.

Graceling should be on your list of books to read but be prepared to be let down by some aspects, especially the last 61 pages. Maybe you won’t be able to make it that far if you have a short attention span, but I say give it a go and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? You waste a couple of hours reading before you realize that it’s not your cup of tea. Don’t worry. It won’t kill you. But you’ll be one step closer to discovering what exactly you do like in a book than you were before. Even if I hate a book (which doesn’t happen too often), I don’t regret reading it because each one expands my horizons in one way or another, and life is all about learning and experiencing new things.

Katsa’s development as a character brings this story to life and is the driving force behind it. However, the plot fizzles out in the end, leaving you wondering how such a strong character could be dealt such a flat ending. 6/7*

*See explanation of rating system

Maggie Steifvater’s Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception

I’m switching directions for this week. It’s YA (young adult) review time! Don’t worry. I’ll be back with Austen’s Northanger Abbey next week.

I like faeries. By faeries, I don’t mean Tinkerbell and those happy Disney ones. I mean real faeries from folklore that are not nice and sweet but rather conniving and, on some occasions, vicious. Those friendly ones are boring anyway. Who wants one that’ll help you out instead of causing mischief? Not me. Where’s the fun in that? I like the faeries from Irish folklore so much so that I decided to write my own novel about them and incorporate other Irish mythology into it. When I came across Maggie Steifvater’s Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception, I had to read it. Not only does she spell “faerie” the way I like it, critics said it was steeped in Celtic faerie lore. Perfect.

And then I read it. It left me with a sour taste in my mouth. More on that later.

Lament follows sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan, a cloverhand (someone who can see faeries), as Faerie converges on all aspects of her life. Luke, a mysterious boy (one of the staples of the YA genre), materializes in her small town to help disrupt her quiet life. Needless to say, Deirdre falls head over heels in love/lust with him. But guess what. He might have ulterior motives because a teenager’s love life cannot, for all intents and purposes, be normal. Her best friend from forever, James, gets caught in the middle, adding to her angst, as Deirdre fights the Fearie Queen.

Overlooking the somewhat cliché mysterious boy, it’s an excellent premise for a book. Faeries. Young love. Angst. All the things that incorporate an exciting read. But there was a problem. I couldn’t stand Deirdre’s behavior. I constantly found myself chanting this mantra (aloud, mind you), “Suspend disbelief. Suspend disbelief.” As every reader knows, fiction is not real, and in order to enjoy it, you have to put aside your disbelief. However, her behavior frustrated me so much that it was difficult. I did try, though!

What was wrong with her behavior? She was way too infatuated with Luke way too fast and let him know it. I like more character and relationship development than what I found in Lament. Although I do realize books can’t be thousands of pages long to give me extremely detailed development, I think there could have been more. I wanted more. I wanted to know exactly why she liked him, and why he liked her, and how they fit together well, and why they should be together. In fact, I have to say that this novel reminded me of Twilight, which is a whole other matter that I don’t care to get into. I’m not saying one copied the other. But in the sense that girl-meets-mysterious-boy-and-falls-in-love-with-him-despite-the-dangers-he-poses-to-her-livelihood is a major theme in both.

Don’t get me wrong. Lament is a very very quick read and will suck you in to its craziness even if you can’t stand some aspects of it. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t think it was the best writing. I didn’t think it was the best story, but it was fast-paced enough that I finished it in two days. Not everyone will agree with me. Some will love it, especially the romance. Some will hate it and not bother finishing. Reading is all subjective, anyway. I suggest giving it a go if you love the Twilight series, or YA novels about teenage love without needing the gritty development details. Skip it if you can’t tolerate those things.

As for my rating system, I decided that one number isn’t good enough. I’ll be rating the books based on “how much I actually enjoyed it” and “objectively, how good the writing was.” There can be a wide difference in both. Sometimes, you hate a book that is well-written and vice versa. Each number will be scored out of 10.

Although I wanted more and disliked some parts, it still did what a novel is supposed to do—keep me flipping pages. 5/4 (how much I enjoyed it/how good the writing was)