Book Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

All-too-familiar Caveat: This is a review for the second book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. That means there will almost certainly be spoilers here for the first book. Rather unavoidable, really.

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Now, then. I have finally gotten around to the the second book in the Miss Peregrine series (Yay!). If you’re interested, you can read my review of the first book here.

So the kids, led by Jacob and Emma, have escaped Cairnholm Island with a severely injured (and unable to transform) Miss Peregrine in tow. On their own in 1940, the children, already exhausted from their battle with the wights, must journey through the bomb-scarred British countryside to find someone capable of healing Miss Peregrine. The war-torn landscape gives perfect cover for hunting wights, and the children must race both time and their enemies in order to save their ymbyrne.

Okay I’m going to come right out an say it: this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the first one. The first book gave us the joy of experiencing new worlds, new folks to meet, and while we got a good dose of creepiness, it was still fun. Hollow City is, in a word, grim. Traipsing through the wartime English countryside is not really an enjoyable pastime. The antique photos, used to such great effect in the first book, take on a new cast here, sometimes seeming like the sole factor driving the story at points. And be warned, some of the photos in the book are of dead bodies. I don’t have a problem with this in and of itself (after all, dead folks are my field), but photos of actual dead people in a young adult book is a bit surprising. Maybe I’m being too delicate. After all, I’m old, and don’t know what the young people are into these days (presumably dead folks. Good for you, young people).

So bottom line: Hollow City isn’t nearly as good as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but it’s still a fine example of the young adult genre. I’ll hold off on judging the series as a whole until I’ve read the third book.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
This was a charming, engaging story inspired by fairy tales of the Russian wilderness.

Vasya is the daughter of a Russian lord, and the granddaughter of a suspected witch. Growing up in the vast forests in the north, fireside tales of friendly spirits and dangerous imps dominate her childhood. Vasya knows to leave offerings for the guardian spirits of her home and stables, to placate the water demons and to pay obeisance to the guardians of the forest. When her father marries a high born woman from Moscow, the folk traditions of Vasya’s youth are branded as heresy and witchcraft, and the orthodox church forbids any practice of the old ways.

But something evil is stirring in the deep woods, something ancient and hungering. As the strength of the old ways wanes, it seems that Vasya may be the only one who can stop what is coming.

Fairy tale retellings are in vogue nowadays, but it is rare that an author takes the material and makes it their own. The usual fare simply regurgitates the story while incorporating an excess of teen angst. Arden manages to take the tropes of the fairy tale and make them into a story with familiar elements, but which is her own. It reminds me of the Sevenwaters books by Juliet Marillier, a compelling series based on English myth and fairy tale.

I suspect this book may be shelved in the young adult category, but it will appeal to older readers nonetheless. Fans of fantasy and magic will find a lot to like in this story. In all, this is a very strong debut novel and I look forward to Katherine Arden’s future work.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Bear and the Nightingale will be available for purchase on January 10th, 2017.

Book Review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Iron Cast Destiny Soria.jpg

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Welcome to Boston, 1919. Well, perhaps not the Boston you are accustomed to. For you see, hemopaths (those infernally talented souls who would have been called witches in a bygone age) live among us; and their ability to ensnare the senses and manipulate ordinary, hardworking people is an ever-present threat.

Or so they would have you believe. Meet Corrine Wells and Ava Navarra, Wordmith and Songsmith, respectively. Ava and Corrine are part of a crew of misfits who work at The Iron Cast, a nightclub/underground entertainment venue on the eve of prohibition. Life isn’t easy as a hemopath, civil, lawful society has made their existence more or less illegal. But within the smokey atmosphere of their speakeasy-style club, hemopaths can feel at home.

That is, until Johnny Dervish, the owner of the club and de facto leader of the hemopaths it employs, is murdered. Suddenly the outcasts have nowhere to go and no one but themselves to turn to. With government agents, rival clubs, and difficult relations circling, Ava and Corrine must find out who is willing to kill to shut down The Iron Cast.

This book is a very enjoyable YA offering that drops you right into the middle of the action without so much as a ‘by-you-leave’. For many books, this is an irredeemable sin, but Destiny Soria manages to lead you through uncharted territory in an exciting way until you are able to find your own way through the world. The story is set in Boston on the eve of Prohibition. The Great War has ended, Jazz is king, Bolsheviks are to be feared and anarchists lurk around every corner. The entire book is infused with the energy of the era. I found Soria’s use of magic to be original and interesting: different types of hemopaths (wordsmiths, songsmiths, thespians, etc.) have different, and well defined abilities. I also rather liked how many of these gifts are tied to a form of creative talent.

In all, if you enjoy the young adult fantasy genre, magic, or the vaguely steampunk, you will likely enjoy this book.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Iron Cast will be available for purchase on October 11th, 2016.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children By Ransom Riggs

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

I confess I got this book solely on account of its cover. The creepy, black and white photograph of a (very children-of-the-corn looking) girl, standing stock still, staring directly at the camera, as if contemplating how best to eat your soul stood out like a corpse at a holiday party. And the title? How could I resist? I plucked the book from the shelves and brought it home. Then (as you already know, if you read my post from a few days ago), I got distracted (things were shiny), and the book languished on my shelf. Then low and behold, the book will soon be a movie–directed by Tim Burton no less–and I didn’t even want to look at the previews without reading the book first.

Miss Peregrine’s is a young adult novel, but one that transcends the genre and is enjoyable even for those of us who have left high school far in the past. The best books in the genre (think Harry Potter) feature young adult leading characters and high school age problems, but also rise above the mundane to speak to the problems of a bigger adult world. The less enjoyable books in the genre (sparkly vampires *cough*) leave you wondering if you might have enjoyed the book when you were thirteen, but fairly confident you were never that insipid (though, obviously, all teenagers are insipid by nature).

Miss Peregrine’s is one of the better books in the genre. Following the death of his grandfather, sixteen year old Jacob finds out that the fairy stories his grandfather told him as a child–about a magical island inhabited by children with paranormal abilities–may not have been just stories after all. Jacob sets off to learn the truth about the island with its mysterious house of peculiar children, all watched over by a bird who smokes a pipe.

The story is accompanied by photographs throughout the book, all black and white, with that particular creepy vintage vibe you get if you google search “scary Easter bunny”. The pictures are all quite striking, and serve to add to the atmosphere of the book. When you learn that all these photos are actual vintage photographs (most unaltered), collected by the author, it adds to the creepy vibe (what were those people doing?) rather than detracts from it. The book is largely an adventure story suffused with all the creepy atmosphere an ancient, fog-shrouded island off the coast of Wales can deliver. There are a few scary/creepy/violent moments, but these are generally around the level of the dementors in the Harry Potter novels (as, after all, this is still a YA novel, creepy atmosphere not withstanding).

In all, this is a great read, and a fine example of a YA novel not only accessible for adults, but enjoyable as well. The characters are interesting and generally well done, and the backdrops, first of Florida, and then the Island are fully realized and contribute well to the tone of the book. I enjoyed my time with Miss Peregrine’s and can’t wait to read the second book in the series.

I do, however, reserve judgement on the movie version.