Monday, April 7, 2014

Review; Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   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. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reacting experience.

And here's what I thought:  I thought this was a great second book, and was really engaging, even though it had many dark moments.  The fact that these children are caught in a time loop in London during WWII is very frightening.  And the author doesn't shy away from these dark and scary things at all --- I was pretty worried at times during the book.  But, I like that -- I'd rather be worried about characters than not care about them at all.

I like how in the very first part, we are given the photos and names of the Peculiar children (which is helpful to reacquaint oneself).  The author also gives a bit of information about what happened at the end of the first book -- which was great, since it had been a while since I had read that first book.  I was able to pick up and just go, without needing to re-read the first book.

The author has a wonderful writing style, with a really visual element to the prose, so it's easy to imagine the settings and the children.    The fact that the settings are very real (most of them, anyway) make the tension in the book very palpable - it's easy to imagine these children in the dangerous situations they find themselves in.

And of course --- there is a cliffhanger ending.  Next book, please!

First lines:  We rowed out through the harbor, past bobbing boats weeping rust from their seams, past juries of silent seabirds roosting atop the barnacled remains of sunken docks, past fishermen who lowered their nets to stare frozenly as we slipped by, uncertain whether we were real or imagined; a procession of waterborne ghosts, or ghosts soon to be.  We were ten children and one bird in three small and unsteady boats, rowing with quiet intensity straight out to sea, the only safe harbor for miles receding quickly behind us, craggy and magical in the blue-gold light of dawn.  Our goal, the rutted coast of mainland Wales, was somewhere before us but only dimply visible, an inky smudge squatting along the far horizon.

Monday, March 31, 2014

And now, our regularly scheduled programming shall resume ......

Well, somehow the entire month of March has disappeared and I haven't blogged.  At least, I don't think I have ....  that's how bad it is.  I can't even remember what I did this month.

February went by in a flash, but I figured that once I finished the online class I was taking, I'd be able to get back to my normal schedule.   But ....
Apparently, during March, what I did was: go to work, bring work home, think about work, not be able to get to sleep right away because I was thinking about work, wake up and think about work .....     and fit all of that into the rest of my life, where one of our bunnies had a bit of an emergency happen.   So, I guess you can fit "vet visits" into all the work stuff somewhere.   This is what I feel like:
This bunny is not dead.   It is actually happily flopped and most likely sleeping.  I, however, feel like this bunny looks.

But, my bunny is much better now.  And, the work stuff should lighten up shortly (at least, the kind-of-work-related-but-not-actually-part-of-my-real-job project that I work on at home).  I am looking forward to getting back to blogging (because I actually have been reading some books).   So, it may be mid-April when it actually happens, but it will happen.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? 

And here's what I thought:   This book first came onto my radar when I was looking through reviews in journals (the ones I read for my job) and I thought it sounded good.  And then, I starting reading about some of the controversy that was coming up.  I decided to buy this for my library's collection (because hey, great reviews and some controversy?  That's my kind of book).   And I finally got around to picking it up for a read .... and finished it in a day.

This book is really realistic, which makes it difficult to read sometimes, but that's also what makes it a really important book.  And by that, I mean it's important to kids who read it, and also important for the grownups to read it, too.   Piddy Sanchez is a sympathetic character, with a completely authentic voice.  While I am not a Latina, I still felt that I could identify with her.  Even though the bullying I endured when I was growing up wasn't as violent as what happens to her, I still felt I could identify with her.   And I think that's what makes this a powerful book.

Not everything that happens in this book is fair, and while that's frustrating, it's realistic.  It takes a lot for Piddy to get to the resolution of the situation, which reflects real life.   The thing is, for a lot of kids who are bullied, there is no magical fairy (or magical grownup) who sweeps in and makes everything better in one amazing move.  

The author's writing style is descriptive, so it was easy for me to visualize Piddy, the people around her, and the settings.  I liked that she had a good balance of characters, as well, and that there were a few other story lines running through the main story line.  The pace is good, as well, with tension moving up and down throughout the story, which kept me turning the pages, because I was wondering what was going to happen next.

While I know that not every reader will love this book, I think it's an important book for a lot of people to read, if nothing else than to give them some insight into bullying.   For every person who doesn't feel like they've been bullied, there is someone who has.  And who just might need a book like this.

First lines:  "Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass."
A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school.  She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield.  She's tall like me and caramel.  I've seen her in the lunchroom, I think.  Or maybe just in the halls.  It's hard to remember.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wordless Wednesday --- Bibbit

It's nice to sometimes look at a Spring photo when it's winter:

Bibbit and dogtooth violets.JPG

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

And here's what I thought:  I had really been looking forward to reading this book, since I've enjoyed all of this author's other books --- and this one was no exception.    Laurie Halse Anderson tackles a subject that I think is really important, and did it in a way that really made an impression on me.  I think a of the time, the focus on PTSD is on the people who are suffering from it -- but what about the people who love them?   I thought this book had a great main character with Hayley, who is realistic, and has a good sense of humor (and herself, which was nice).   There are a lot of sympathetic characters here, and even though I sometimes got a little frustrated with them, I found I felt invested in their individual stories.  This book isn't just about Hayley, but it's about her dad, as well (and also about Finn, and the family issues he has).

One of the things I always enjoy about Anderson's books is that her characters aren't perfect -- they are realistic.  Which means they might make mistakes, or mis-steps along the way.  And I guess for me, that's what makes her characters interesting, and makes me care about what happens to them.

First lines:  It started in detention.  No surprise there, right?

Detention was invented by the same idiots who dreamed up the time-out corner.  Does being forced to sit in time-out corner.  Does being forced to sit in time-out ever make little kids stop putting cats in the dishwasher or drawing on white walls with purple marker?  Of course not.  It teaches them to be sneaky and guarantees that when they get to high school they'll love detention because it's a great place to sleep.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  I first met my demon the morning that Mum said Dad had gone. 

Alex Connolly is ten years old, likes onions on toast, and can balance on the back legs of his chair for fourteen minutes. His best friend is a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen. When his depressive mother attempts suicide yet again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya. Still bearing the scars of her own daughter’s battle with schizophrenia, Anya fears for Alex’s mental health and attempts to convince him that Ruen doesn’t exist. But as she runs out of medical proof for many of Alex’s claims, she is faced with a question: does Alex suffer from schizophrenia, or can he really see demons

And here's what I thought:  I so, so, so enjoyed this book.   I found I couldn't put it down, and when I did, when it was time to make dinner, I was picking it up again for just a page and then talking about the book to my husband.   In fact, I started reading something to him from the book ... and then had to take care of dinner.  I always tell myself, the book will be there, the book can wait.  Burned dinner isn't fun.

The story has some different threads running through it.  We have Alex, the boy who says his best friend is a demon named Ruen, and we have Anya, a child psychiatrist who is determined to help Alex, but who has some issues of her own.   And, we have the backdrop of not only Belfast, whose history influences its present-day, but also a play that Alex is starring in: a modern retelling of Hamlet.  You wouldn't think that has much to do with anything, but it does, especially when you think about the story of Hamlet, and how Alex has a missing father.

So let's start with Alex.  We get his perspective in the story through his diary entries, which he always starts with a joke.  The jokes tend to be darkly funny, and he explains that "I want to start every entry with a new joke so I can keep in character.  That means I can remember what it feels like to be the person I'm playing, which is a boy called Horatio." (p 7)    Alex is pretty mature for his age, but when you consider that his mother doesn't take the best care of him, and he's more in the position of taking care of himself, and of her, then that makes sense.   He first meets Ruen when he's at school, and explains that "I wasn't scared because I didn't know a demon was a thing.  I thought it was just the name of the shop near my school that sold motorbikes."   As a reader, you have your own ideas about what a demon is, however, and none of them mean that a demon is a good creature at all.  You are sure he isn't really there to help Alex.  However, Alex isn't afraid of Ruen (at least, not at first), and even though Ruen can appear in a scary manner, he sees him as a friend.  In fact, he explained "Now I'm ten I'm much older so I kind of know more about demons but Ruen's not like that.  I think everyone's got it wrong about demons, just like they did about rottweilers."

And what about Ruen?  I found him to be an interesting character.  He's dark and he is scary, mostly because there is a menace that surrounds him.  However, I found him to be fascinating. Alex states that Ruen is 9000 human years old and can speak more than 6000 languages.  And, he tells Alex that he is a "Harrower," although we don't learn for a long time what that means.  And when it is revealed, we learn that a Harrower is close to the top of Hell's hierarchy.  There's a lot about how the purpose of demons is to remove choice from humans (which is pretty bleak).  Ruen, through Alex, tells Anya, (p 143) "My job is to go in after the barriers have been broken, after the action has been taken, even after regret has sunk its fangs deep into memory.  And then I rake the soul until it is ripe for the seeds of doubt and hopelessness for which no human language has adequate lexicon."   This is written in a way I found beautiful, and haunting.   I can tell the author is a poet, as well (she is, and has won awards for her poetry).

So, is Ruen real?  The way that Alex talks about him, and what Ruen says through Alex, starts to make it seem that he might be real.  And as I was reading this, I started to wonder what was real, and wasn't real, and where this was all going.

And what about Anya?  She comes into the story as Alex' psychiatrist, called in to help him on the anniversary of her daughter's suicide (this is not a spoiler - this is up-front when we meet her).  Her struggles with her own daughter's schizophrenia have a huge influence on her, personally and professionally, and it seems to drive the connection between herself and Alex.  But, professionally, she is trying to do the right thing, and figure out how to help Alex.  When she encounters Ruen, herself, you can feel her reeling for an explanation, and actually, it feels like she is unraveling a bit, as well.

I got completely swept up in this book.  The combination of the beautifully crafted prose and the characters, and the steady pace, caught my attention and held it.   And then .... I got the big surprise.    And no, I'm not giving away what it is.   Suffice to say, once I finished the book, I started combing through it all in my mind, looking for clues.

And that's what made this such a fantastic read --- that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to start it over again.   I could imagine these characters in my mind so clearly, that I almost didn't want to let them go.  I found this book to be an exploration of deep personal pain, of characters who reach for any kind of comfort they can find, in the dark, when it's just themselves and their demons (whatever, and however, those demons may be).  At first, I thought it would just be a psychological thriller, but the way the author delves deeply into her characters really made this an outstanding read.

First lines:  People look at me funny when I tell them I have a demon.
"Don't you mean, you have demons?" they ask.  "Like a drug problem or an urge to stab your dad?"  I tell them no.  My demon is called Ruen, he's about five foot threee, and his favorite things are Mozart, table tennis, and rice pudding.

I chose this book from my TBR (to be read) jar ---  I'm determined to choose at least one per month.   

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