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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

YA Review: Hollow City

I honestly, truly tried to keep from writing this immediately after finishing the book. I really did. But I need to talk about it, guys. I need to talk about my feelings here! I need to at least get started, or I'm going to explode! Fair warning: this review will contain spoilers for the first book. It is, after all, a sequel.

(Wednesday Edit: I had to add three links to this and some minor formatting, and convinced myself I'd scheduled it. Whoops. This was supposed to be up Monday. I apologize for that!)

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Published: January 1st, 2014 by Quirk Books
Genre: Somewhere between YA Fantasy and Horror
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 396, plus the acknowledments and what not
Part of a series? Yes, it is the second book of the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series.
Got via: Quirk books sent it to me! Thanks, guys!
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): September 3, 1940. Ten peculiar children flee an army of deadly monsters. And only one person can help them—but she’s trapped in the body of a bird. The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. There, they hope to find a cure for their beloved headmistress, Miss Peregrine.

But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. And before Jacob can deliver the peculiar children to safety, he must make an important decision about his love for Emma Bloom. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

Review: You guys. I can't right now. I didn't really mean to read this in one sitting. But I was sitting there and reading, and a few hours later, I was staring an distressingly decreasing amount of pages left. Now I'm sitting here staring at the Goodreads page of the third book like Veruca Salt. "But I want it NOW." Guys, I really do. I think I actually liked this one even better than the first book, and if you read the review I posted last week, you know how much I enjoyed that one. This one worked just that little bit better for me, and I enjoyed it that much more.

Seriously, guys, enter the contest because you want this.

Plot Talk: Hollow City picks up right after Miss Peregrine (I'm not typing that whole title out) ends. Like same day, same hour, maybe like five minutes later. I don't have strong feelings about that, really. I'm fine with it, but I'm also kind of okay when books don't do it. Either way, I'm good. But I know my mom really likes when sequels pick up right after the last book ends, so if you're like my mom, you'll like that. Jacob and the peculiar children are now on the run, and they don't even know who they can trust or who they should be wary of, especially with Miss Peregrine, their teacher, protector, and more, still trapped as a bird. They have to go "loop" jumping to journey to London and attempt to find help - with only hope and fairy tales to keep them going.

Compared to Miss Peregrine, this book's plot is quite a bit more active. There's more action versus the creeping discovery of the first book. I think that actually makes this one less freaking scary because frankly, a lot of the tension of the first book nearly scared my pants off. Neither of them are bad, don't get me wrong, there's just somewhat of a change. This one also becomes partly a survival/on the run plot, which I do enjoy. Always makes you appreciative of clean underwear! There's also a large found family element that I think many of us are drawn to. That's in the first book, too, but I love how it's portrayed in this one.

Oh, and I think the romance is a little more prominant in the blurb than in the book. The romance isn't such a large part of the book that I would call it a paranormal romance, or a romance at all. Definitely a romance subplot, or element, but, you know, they have other priorities besides the smooching!

Characters: One thing I mentioned in my Miss Peregrine review was that I found Jacob's voice somewhat inauthentic for a teenaged boy, and that his characterization lacked slightly. In Hollow City, both have improved. His voice reads much more teenager to me, and he gets to be a deeper character. He grows, and I enjoy his growth, the peculiar things about him that are revealed, and his portrayal in this book all in all. I especially liked the mysteries he discovers about himself, but I also enjoyed the struggle he has with himself in deciding who he wants to be, and the line between growing up and trying to be his grandfather, which he knows isn't healthy.

I also really liked knowing more about the peculiar children, as almost all of them got much more time given to them, and we learned more about them. The book has a lot of female characters, and it's nice seeing a large group of women and girls, and how different they can all be. Bronwyn, for example, is one of my absolute favourite characters.

PG-13 stuff: Again, I think a lot of the stuff with the monsters is quite scary. Or at least it is to me! I find the wights and hollows terrifying, honestly, which is why I do catagorize this between fantasy and horror. There's also a fair amount of violence, and (trigger warning) a female character is groped by a male antagonist, and threatened vaguely along the lines of sexual violence. And probably some language, too, but I'm having trouble remembering that (I tend to not think too much about cursing in books, honestly), and I didn't make notes.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The only thing I wanted to mention was that there are a group of Romani people in the book, and the book solely uses the g-word. While the 1940s character would likely use that term, I would have liked it if Jacob knew that that word is along the lines of a racial slur, and not used it so liberally in his narration. Additionally, I think the depiction of them perhaps relies on some stereotypes (there's a "fortune teller" in the Romani group, for example), which may have been true at the time out of necessity of persecution, but I kind of have to question it. I'd like to hear from someone who is better versed in this stuff, but it raised red flags with me. Especially when the pictures that are supposed to represent the Romani people are almost entirely of people who are white, or white passing. I understand the limitations of the photography available, but it's disappointing to essentially whitewash characters of colour like that - and otherwise, there are not very many of those in this book.

I keep coming off like a buzzkill in these sections! But unfortunately, I do feel like I need to point these things out as a critical consumer, and an honest reviewer, so there it is.

Cover comments: Again, I love it. I love that it's creepy and strange, and just looks a little wrong when you look at it. I also like that it goes well with the first book, with the same font and detailing. I realize that's a little strange, but you know how book people are. We like things to match. Oh, and I'll mention here that in this book, the photos have a sort of dark brown background versus a dark grey/black background, and I like that.

Also, when you take the dust jacket off, the book underneath looks and feels very old-fashioned, with that rough textured cover that a lot of older books have. It also has a neat little detail on the cover that I'll let you discover yourself when you get this.

Conclusion: This book, and this series, so far, is so different and awesome. Unique. I love the blend of photography and storytelling, and the way they work together to tell the story. I really enjoyed the cast of character, especially the peculiar children, and how Jacob's voice has settled into itself. Ultimately, I think the diversity is lacking, which is the reason this one loses points with me. Other than that, I enjoy them very much, and I have high hopes for the third book! Four out of five roses, and fingers crossed that the third book ups the diversity for that extra half rose.

Other notes:

- Random note about how I hate when characters in books lose their stuff. Clothes or anything else. Or, I mean, I don't hate it, but it makes me all sad for them.

Remember to enter the contest! Trust me, you guys want this one.

Peace and cookies,

Monday, April 20, 2015

YA Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

I told you I'd post this! Are you surprised? I'm a little surprised. After you read this, go on and enter the contest for Hollow City!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Published: January 1st, 2011
Genre: YA and then... somewhere between Paranormal and Horror, maybe
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 347 before the extra stuff
Part of a series? Yes, it's the first book. The second is out, and the third should be coming out in September of this year.
Got via: I bought it with a gift card from Chapters and Indigo
Amazon (and the Kindle copy is only 3 dollars!) / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

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.

Review: When this first came out and people started talking about it, I was really jealous of everyone who got it! Then later when I got the offer to review Hollow City, I was like "oh my gosh, yes!" At some point I got a giftcard for Chapters and... lost it for about a year... and then found it! So I had 50 dollars to spend on books, Hollow City, and I still really wanted this. So I bought it, and I am so glad I did. Also, I got a pretty good deal. I bought this, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, and 8 other books. (I'm a very good shopper. I may have gone slightly over the giftcard, too, but not that much. Plus I got free shipping!) And that doesn't have anything to do with the book, but I'm always proud of a good deal.

Now, if you're not familiar with this, this book is liberally peppered with black and white vintage photos. One of them, for example, is on the cover. Which you should look very, very closely at. Most of the photos are like that, with something strange or unusual about them. I think the book could stand without them, but they add something very, very cool, and really enrich to story. The pictures themselves are also just super cool. Some of them are seriously creepy, but you also want to spend time just looking at a whole lot of them. It all works together very well, and one wouldn't be the same without the other.

Plot Talk: I'm awful at plot, but basically - Jacob loses his grandfather, and something he says, and some things he leaves Jacob, prompts Jacob to travel to where his grandfather spent part of his youth to try understand him and learn more about what shaped his grandfather. Along with his father, Jacob travels to a tiny island in Wales. Once there, Jacob begins to discover his grandfather's secrets as strange events happen around him.

...that was pretty good, huh? I liked the pacing of the plot, myself. Not rushed, but not slow, and if that kind of thing concerns you, the ending isn't cliffhanger-y. It definitely sets it up so you want to read the second book, but it isn't a matter of where you don't feel like the first book is resolved.

Characters: The characters in this are interesting. Jacob's parents start out almost Roald Dahl-esque in how unrealistic they are. As the book goes on, though, his father especially becomes more of a real character, and gets deeper, and you realize a lot of their lack of depth is Jacob not realizing exactly that his parents are real people, and not just parents. And I think that's a really neat thing in a book, although I kind of wish there'd been more time for his mother to be treated like a person, not just his father.

Jacob himself has an interesting voice. I don't think it's the most authentic teenager voice I've ever read, though. There were, unfortunately, times where I thought that just wasn't how a kid his age would say something. While that did throw me off at times, I think in general the more adult, literary voice could also be a draw for those kids that like to skip YA and go straight for adult. It's a very mature book, and I think strong readers would enjoy Jacob's voice. Reluctant readers, however, may not be as drawn towards the voice. His voice definitely could be pretty formal at times. Basically, I enjoyed Jacob as a character, but sometimes I wanted him to loosen up!

Most of the other characters in this were pretty neat, too. I liked the Wales setting, and how people who live on a tiny, remote island act. (I feel that, hard. Small town Saskatchewan in the winter can also feel like a tiny, remote island.) And as for the other characters... well... some of them were very peculiar, indeed.

PG-13 stuff: While there is some language, I think the majority of the mature content of this book is in the atmosphere and the real meat of the plot. The book is, frankly, kind of creepy! That's actually why I had trouble placing the genre. I think it's really on the line between paranormal and horror, but I personally read very little YA horror these days, and my experience with it is mostly RL Stine, Christopher Pike, and other Point Horror type things! On who I'd recommend this for, it'd really depend on the reader. Scary things are sort of personal - some people love them, some people don't do well like this. I think readers who liked Coraline but also enjoy a little more of a challenging read may really enjoy this. And Coraline is one of my favourite books!

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: One of the only things I didn't like was how the attitude towards mental illness came off. After the initial plot event that starts the book, Jacob spends a lot of time in therapy trying to deal with the after effects of what happened and what he sees. You all know I love therapy in books, but I don't like when books or movies use mental illness as a scapegoat. You know what I mean? Like when someone is called "crazy" because they see things other people can't, but they're not really "crazy" because those things are totally real! Why can't you have those things be real, and also have a character be mentally ill?

Okay, this is a touch of a spoiler, so move on to the next section if you don't want to see it (you can probably figure out from the synopsis, though), but I want to go into a bit more detail about what exactly I mean.

Early in the book, Jacob sees a creature and ends up having very bad after-effects, like nightmares and obsessive behaviour, and eventually is convinced by his therapist that he had "acute stress reaction". Later in the book, we find out that the monsters are real. I wish that the book had acknowledged more that, yes the monsters are real, but hey, maybe seeing monsters can cause some acute stress reactions! You can have both - monsters can be real, but so can mental illness. One doesn't need to cancel out the other. I can't imagine combat with monsters is easier on your psyche than combat with humans, personally.

We need more good depictions of mental illness, including ones in fantasy, and this kind of erasure is a trope I do not like, so that loses points for me, unfortunately.

Cover comments: I love the cover. The black and white photo aspect of it is just nifty as all get out, The little details of the swirls and shapes and the face in the white, and the font that looks like chalk handwriting, it all adds something that is just wonderfully creepy. And the picture itself is almost deceptively normal until you look closely. I love it.

Conclusion: I really loved the book. The aspects I mentioned did bother me, and I wish they had been addressed better, but they weren't dealbreakers for me. I think it's important, though, to be a critical consumer of media, and address things like this. Otherwise they become accepted to the point of being ingrained in our culture. So I personally need to point those things out, but in this case, I still enjoyed the book otherwise. I loved the mixed media aspect, which is something you might see more in MG but rarely in YA, and something that I absolutely adore. I also really liked the stuff included with the paperback telling about the process of collecting the photos, and the interview with the author. Nice touch there!

All in all, I really enjoyed this, and I am excited to read the second one as soon as I finish this review! (And, you know. Probably do some homework first, because I am a responsible adult. Sort of. Edit later: And get over my stomach flu, because the world is cruel.) Four roses!

Other notes:

- Oh, this is funny. I have note saying the beginning is set in or around Sarasota, Florida. Fun fact: Sarasota is one of those places that has weird laws (like fines for elephant parking) because of the history of the circus. Sarasota used to be where circuses would stay for the winter.

- Also, I wanted to show you guys the pen I used working on this book, because it amused me.

Birds, man.

Remember to leave a meaningful comment for an extra entry in the contest!

Peace and cookies,

Friday, April 17, 2015

Contest: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - CLOSED

Well, now, I have not done one of these in ages! About time we had another contest around here, right? And Quirk Books generously agreed to help me give away a copy of Hollow City by Ransom Riggs!

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, Book 2)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was the surprise best seller of 2011—an unprecedented mix of YA fantasy and vintage photography that enthralled readers and critics alike. Publishers Weekly called it “an enjoyable, eccentric read, distinguished by well-developed characters, a believable Welsh setting, and some very creepy monsters.”

This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

Complete with dozens of newly discovered (and thoroughly mesmerizing) vintage photographs, this new adventure will delight readers of all ages.

(Summary from goodreads.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I personally loved Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and am very excited to start Hollow City. (I had a bout with stomach flu that prevented me from doing much of anything, but it's happening very soon!) This one's gonna be open to US and Canada only, and just enter via the Rafflecopter widget! Please log in using your email, and not Facebook. (I don't trust Facebook, sorry!)

If you have any other questions, leave a comment or send me an email!

Peace and cookies,