Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

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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.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I needed something lite to read after finishing In the Woods. (worst book hangover ever!) I picked up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for three reasons:

1. It was spooky and perfect for October.

2. It promised to be a quick YA read.

3. I already had it on my shelf.

I liked it. The main characters were well developed. The setting was fantastically detailed, with the sunken ship being my personal favorite. It was a good story about the relationship between a grandfather and grandson, discovering personal strength, and embracing one’s differences. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a solid young adult story with a fantastic setting. The story seamlessly jumps between 1943 and modern day. I personally loved how Rigg’s utilized old photographs to enhance the story. It was just good.

I don’t really have any complaints, though I would have preferred if this was a stand-alone novel. I enjoyed the setting and the characters but I didn’t turn that last page feeling invested enough to read the rest of the series. This is a personal issue I have with most young adult stories, and is the primary reason I steer clear of them. I just don’t want to dedicate my reading time to a YA series. I don’t have issues with adult series (I fully plan on reading all of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books). I just feel that most YA stories don’t necessarily need a full series…or that multiple books can be combined into one story….. I’m not out to start any arguments; YA series just aren’t my thing.

Anyway, I decided to watch the 2016 movie and I liked it as well. There are a number of changes, of course, to the characters and the latter half of the storyline, but I was totally ok with them. I felt the changes stayed true to the tone of Riggs story. I actually adored the end of the movie; it gave me the closure I was looking for in the book. Let me know what you thought of the book and/or movie!

November is here so the next month will be dedicated to reading all the Nonfiction and gritty murder mysteries. My tentative TBR will be up in a few days. Let me know if you have any suggested reads.

Lindsay

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The Altar Girl

The Altar Girl

by Orest Stelmach

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The daughter of uncompromising Ukrainian immigrants, Nadia was raised to respect guts, grit, and tradition. When the events around the seemingly accidental death of her estranged godfather don’t add up, Nadia is determined to discover the truth—even if she attracts the attention of dangerous men intent on finding out what she knows through any means possible.

Her investigation leads her to her hometown and to the people least likely to welcome her back: her family.

In this thrilling prequel to the Nadia Tesla series, Nadia must try to solve the mystery surrounding her godfather’s death—and his life. The answers to her questions are buried with the secrets of her youth and in post–World War II refugee camps. What Nadia learns will change her life forever.

I picked up The Altar Girl via the Amazon First picks deal ages ago. The book sat in my kindle library for a rather long time awaiting the perfect reading mood. That mood arrived after a couple of draining and frustrating weeks. I didn’t want my usual choice of fun and quirky cozy mystery; I needed a grittier mystery that didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of crime. I kept coming back to The Altar Girl.

It was good; it gave me exactly what I needed in a story. Nadia is Ukrainian-American. She is the estranged child of immigrants who is struggling with her muddled sense of identification when her godfather dies. Nadia knows it wasn’t an accident. So she heads home to discover the truth, confront her family, come to terms with her upbringing, and quench her need for a greater purpose.

The Altar Girl gives us a glimpse of two separate points in Nadia’s life: the first is the current hunt for her godfather’s this murderer and the second is her attempt at 14 to be the youngest teenager to complete the wilderness survival test. Stelmach utilizes different tenses in each timeline which adds a subtle depth to Nadia. The stories seamlessly entwine; her memories dragging the reader through Nadia’s modern decisions and illuminating the familial issues that haunt her.

All of the characters were fantastically developed as Stelmach doesn’t shy away from flawed and twisted traits. Nadia struggles with the guilt of no longer being a good child. Her mother twists the truth, manipulating her children in a sick expression of self hatred. And Donnie deserves his own character case study!

The Altar Girl was a fantastic read. I have a few negative points but they are too nit-picky to discuss here. This book was thrilling, gritty, and somewhat heart wrenching. Stelmach’s subtle writing techniques, such as never mentioning the godfather by his given name, entrenched readers in the unique culture of his upbringing. I loved reading about the history of Ukrainian refugees, their struggle to survive WWII, and the development of their own community in a new country.

I was pleasantly surprised by the gritty mystery full of family drama. The Altar Girl is something I would usually shy away from, but I’ve already picked up the next book in the series. Is anyone else a fan of Orest Stelmach? Let me know what you’re reading!

Lindsay

All The Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

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A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

I initially learned about All the Light We Cannot See from various Booktube reviewers. I was honestly hesitant to pick up the book because I wasn’t in the mood for a young adult story. I just figured it was YA because that is the predominant genre reviewed on Booktube. It turns out that All the Light We Cannot See is not YA (figured that out half way through the story) and that it was a fantastic book to take a chance on.

I loved how Doerr focused on sharing World War II from the point of view of two children. He did a fantastic job creating realistic, likable characters; each with their own fears, flaws, and strengths. Doerr masterfully weaves the stories of multiple characters through an intricate storyline, while still managing to provide realistic endings for all involved. All the Light We Cannot See touched on so many tough subjects, including love, sacrifice, personal conflict, intellectual passion, and the many small aspects of life during wartime. It is a story that makes a reader think, and even know, I still find myself contemplating the details of Werner’s role.

I felt the representations of the children were unique as Marie Lore is a young blind girl from a loving home in France and Werner a incredibly intelligent young man from a hard childhood existence in Germany. The way they processed the world around them, how they both struggled to survive, and the way their lives inexplicably come together like two trains on a head-on collision were just enthralling.

My only complaint would be the storyline involving the cursed stone. It wasn’t my favorite. I really can’t explain why because I loved the art history and natural science of the story, and I understand the stone could represent the desperate hope of those fighting to survive. Sadly, this plot line just didn’t draw me in as completely as the rest of the book.

With that said, All the Light We Cannot See is fantastically written. Doerr’s expert melding of different settings, characters, and times leaves you feeling as if you’re dancing through the story instead of bouncing from page to page. It is a wonderfully different story about the Second World War and great for readers of all ages!

Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? Let me know what you think! And Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Lindsay

The Most Dangerous Game

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Connell

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The Most Dangerous Game features a big-game hunter from New York who becomes shipwrecked on an isolated island in the Caribbean and is hunted by a Russian aristocrat.

When asked ‘what is your favorite short story?’ (because that happens often..) my immediate response is always The Most Dangerous Game. I have no idea how old I was when I first read it, though I am pretty sure it was per a school assignment. I do; however, vividly remember reading it for the first time. The emotions evoked by The Most Dangerous Game were intense, from the confusion at Rainsford’s predicament, through a shared sense of shock, to the wild fear coursing uncontrolled in my gut as I frantically turned through the pages. It was brilliant!

Rereading it as an adult will never be the same as that first time, but each reread stirs up that memory. That haunting and chilling memory still leaves goosebumps racing up my arms.

The story is simple, with a basic writing style that modern readers may find overly simplistic. And yet, Connell manages to connect to your primal emotions despite a writing style that lacks the detailed, showy language of modern literature. I think the simplistic style easily allows the reader to tap into their imagination, triggering a deeper emotional response. In my reread, I was also realized the historical aspects of the setting. Reading it for school meant discussing emotions and the moral complexities of big game sport hunting, but this time I recognized that the General and Rainsford both survived the Great War. I was able to acknowledge Zaroff’s Cossack heritage and the evolution of his life after the Russian Revolution. And of course, I was fascinated at this unique approach on how boredom affects a mind. There is just so much packed in those 20 pages.

I will always recommend The Most Dangerous Game. Always. It takes everything for me not to restart it each time I turn that last page. So, do yourself a favor, and pick this story up for a late October night read.

Is anyone else a fan? Let me know so that we can nerd out together!

Lindsay

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins

by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.

Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

I’m not going to provide a summary as the synopsis is perfect and I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything. I will admit that I was quite hesitant about picking up Beautiful Ruins because it promised a story about flawed individuals. I am not a huge fan of fiction that doesn’t include some kind of mystery because it typically means spending 300-400 pages reading about barely likeable characters as they struggle to find meaning in their life. So I wasn’t going to read this at all but the cover just kept drawing me in. I’m a sucker for the picturesque coastal cliff towns that populate the Mediterranean. And lets be honest, I needed to push myself to read a different type of historical fiction. So, a story about Italy and old Hollywood wasn’t a bad place to start.

I didn’t necessarily dislike Beautiful Ruins, but even after finishing, I can definitely say that it is not my type of book. I probably wouldn’t have finished if I hadn’t picked up the audio version from my local library. I know what you’re thinking, because I have thought this about many a reviewer in the past: why in the world did this woman read this book if she knew she didn’t like contemporary fiction. Because I am trying to broaden my horizons as a reader! Sadly, this is still not going to be a genre I readily embrace.

But don’t hold that against Beautiful Ruins. Yes, there are a number of barely likeable characters. Yes, I found their parts of the story boring. And yes, it was a well written story, with complex characters, beautiful settings, and an ending that made the book worth reading. I adored the fluid imagery provided by Jess Walter, as I had no problem visualizing Pasquale’s quiet village, the maddening race across the United States, and the vibrant set of Cleopatra. The story is riddled with a snarky, subtle humor and I was honestly surprised to find myself chuckling a number of times during my daily commute. At the same time, I wasn’t surprised to find myself rolling my eyes in disgust when forced to focus my attention on characters that didn’t deserve it. And then I would read a brilliant scene,like the one about paintings on a bunker wall, and would be immediately drawn back in. I found Beautiful Ruins surprising in its ability to pull empathy from me, and yet strangely predictable when it came to character issues and life lessons.

Would I recommend Beautiful Ruins? I honestly don’t know. Yes, if you like these types of stories or are interested in a different historical fiction. No, if you want a lighthearted read or something to keep you on the edge of your seat. I have mixed feelings about Beautiful Ruins, but I’m not disappointed that I finished the story. 

Did you like Beautiful Ruins? Are there other Jess Walter books I need to check out? Let me know. 

Lindsay