Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

I immediately spotted Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, as I was browsing in Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago. It had a very unique cover, and when I picked it up I found that it was filled with strange, and sometimes disturbing, photographs. After I read it, I could say that the written text and the pictures combine beautifully to create this unusual story.

Jacob, a teenage boy, is the narrator. He has a very close relationship with his grandfather, who used to tell him all sorts of wild tales when he was younger. As Jacob grew up though, these tales about the levitating girl, the boy with bees living inside him, and the monsters, just didn’t seem as real as they did when he was a child. And he begins to believe that his grandfather has only been exaggerating or making up the stories. But then, after a panicked phone call from his grandfather, Jacob rushes to his home, only to find him in the woods, dying from being attacked. His last words to Jacob are something about a letter and September 3, 1940. Then Jacob looks up, and he sees a monster.

His grandfather’s words and the clues he’s left behind lead Jacob, and his father, to a small island, where his grandfather lived in a home for orphans and refugees during the war. On the island, he discovers the past about his grandfather, new and peculiar friends, and that even his grandfather’s darkest tales were true. Any person with an unusual ability is defined as “peculiar.” These abilities can be just about anything, such as abnormal strength, being invisible, making inanimate objects come alive, and being able to see the monsters. Miss Peregrine, also a peculiar, is able to manipulate time, and she has been replaying September 3, 1940 on a loop for the past few decades.

However, even with the safe haven Miss Peregrine has created for her children, there are still dangers and those that seek to destroy the peculiars. Jacob finds that he has inherited his grandfather’s ability to see the monsters and knows that he must do his part to ensure the safety and survival of his new friends, even if it means leaving his own family, and time, behind.

This book was magical, and I was so excited that it was truly original. From the cover, I’d expected it to be a bit creepy, but instead of horror, it just had some dark plot twists. The ending was left open for Jacob and his friends to continue their adventures, and a sequel is reportedly coming out sometime in the Spring of 2013. Honestly, I’m not sure exactly how I feel about a sequel to this book. I feel like it stood for itself pretty well and I just don’t know how a sequel might impact that.

The Night Circus

The circus arrives without warning.

Well, that’s not completely true. I was given a warning about how incredibly good this book is! The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, was recommended to me by the same person who recommended A Discovery of Witches, so needless to say, I ordered this book straight away. This was such a unique read that I’m still finding my thoughts difficult to describe.

Le Cirque des Rêves, The Circus of Dreams, functions as the venue for two dueling magicians who are forced to compete in an undefined game. As children, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair are bound and begin training for this game. They grow up not knowing who their opponent is, until one day, when Celia auditions as an illusionist for the circus. Marco is the proprietor’s assistant and recognizes Celia right off. But as Marco is not as directly involved in the circus, it takes Celia more time to discover that he is her opponent. However, the circus is not a contained area and it involves other performers, those behind the scenes, and countless spectators. Both Celia and Marco are responsible for holding the circus together, and in a way, the family formed by the circus.

As Celia and Marco fall in love, they want the game to be concluded so that they can truly be together. But neither one of them suspects that the only ending the game will have is when one of them ceases to endure. Then lines become blurred and winning seems like the ultimate loss. Celia cannot bear imagining a world without Marco, so she begins devising a way of taking herself out of the game. Her plans do not come to fruition, however, much to the credit of another circus performer, who is a bit concerned about how the circus will continue to function without Celia’s abilities and the way she holds it all together.

I will not say whether the ending is a typical happy or sad one. But it was perfect.

The book itself is written is present tense, which I only found distracting in the beginning. After becoming immersed in the story, it only added to its charm. Also, interspersed between sections and chapters are blurbs written in second person, describing what you would see and feel and hear and smell at the circus.

The timeline of the circus skips effortlessly to past and present, telling the story of Celia, Marco, and the circus, as well as the story of Bailey, a young man who begins as a spectator, but becomes enamored with the circus. Towards the end, the timelines converge, as do the stories of the characters, only to be woven into the larger tapestry of the circus.

Not always straight forward, but always enchanting and captivating, The Night Circus has earned a coveted spot on my bookshelf. I very much look forward to reading the future works of this author.

The Summoning

On my last trip to the library, I picked up an armful of YA fantasy books. I did the same thing around this time last year in an attempt to jumpstart my brain for NaNoWriMo. One of the books I picked up was The Summoning, by Kelley Armstrong.

Chloe Saunders is a rich teen attending a high school for the arts. Her mother died when she was young and her dad travels a lot, so she is basically left with her nanny/housekeeper. While at school one day, puberty finally happens, and with it, some other changes that leave Chloe scared and confused. She begins to see, and hear, ghosts. Of course, this can’t be normal, and her Aunt Lauren, a physician, gets her a spot at the highly recommended Lyle House.

At Lyle House, Chloe is one of about six teens in residence. All of them have some sort of problem or issue, which is their reason for being there. Simon is charming and cute, and seems to be there only for his foster brother Derek, who has phenomenal strength. Tori is obnoxious and mean, and Rae has a special love of fire. Chloe is diagnosed with schizophrenia, but soon comes to realize that there is something else going on, something that binds them all together that is not mental illness.

I thought this book was okay. I really wanted to like it more, but the way it was written made it seem geared toward the younger portion of the YA target audience. Within the first few chapters, Chloe got her period for the first time. While I realize that this was just to mark the beginning of other changes happening in her life, it actually only served to annoy me. The plot was very good and parts were definitely entertaining. The book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, and it did seem like the next book promised to be better, considering where the story was headed. However, at this point, I don’t know that I’ll ever actually finish the series. There are just too many other good books out there.

The Poison Eaters

I gave Holly Black another chance. This time, I didn’t read one of her novels, but a compilation of some short stories. The Poison Eaters and Other Stories includes twelve short stories, with subject matter that runs the gamut. Vampires, werewolves, faery, devils, elves, and other magical beings are just a few of the characters contained in these pages.

I believe my favorite story is Paper Cuts Scissors. It is about Justin, a young man who is trying desperately to get his girlfriend back after she has folded herself up and put herself in a Russian novel. He begins studying for a library science degree and finally gets a job organizing books in a man’s private library. After midnight each evening, characters come out of the book and have a party, hosted by the librarian. Justin returns one night with his girlfriend’s book, and watches as she comes out of the pages, meeting other characters and jumping into other books. But maybe she doesn’t really want out of the books after all.

Most of the stories here were very raw, dark tales. Many included sex, drugs, and alcohol. I can’t deny that that the author’s writing was excellent, but I can definitely prefer other types of characters and stories. It seemed like many stories were about very trashy people. That’s fine, it’s definitely real life, but that is not the only way to go, either.

So, basically, while I overall enjoyed this short story collection, I still haven’t made up my mind about this author. She’s a very talented writer, that can’t be denied. I have read about some of her newer books, and the story lines look very interesting, so it’s still possible that I will read more of her work in the future.

Immortal Beloved

Immortal Beloved, by Cate Tiernan is the first novel in a trilogy. It is (of course) another YA paranormal fantasy series.

Nastasya, or Nasty, is 449 years old, one of the immortals. In an effort to distance herself from the emotional pain of her past, she doesn’t let anyone get too close. She’s constructed a hard shell around herself, and she’s been living the party girl lifestyle for the past hundred years. Part of being an immortal is possessing magick. One of her partying friends using that magick in front of Nastasya for something terrible and she finally has a wake-up call. She doesn’t want to be dark anymore.

She has a memory of another immortal, River, from 80 years ago, who offered to help her. Not knowing what else to do, Nasty seeks her out. It turns out that River runs a sort of rehab facility for wayward immortals. There, she meets the stunningly gorgeous Reyn, (pronounced like “rain”), and feels oddly connected to him in some way. As the teachers at River’s Edge help Nasty to learn about herself and her magick, memories of her past sneak back into her mind, forcing her to evaluate where and who she has been, and who she now is. She slowly uncovers more about her legacy and past lives, including many terrible times she has gone through. Strangely enough, she sees Reyn’s face in one of her horrible memories. Nasty has finally found a place where she wants to belong, but is unsure if she can get past the strange and terrible way that she and Reyn are linked together. She is also unsure if she will be able to stay away from him.

I definitely enjoyed this book more than the last one I read, and I liked how the author left quite a few unanswered questions and mysteries that make me want to keep reading Nasty’s story. I enjoyed the magick elements, but they were not overpowering. I did have a bit of trouble getting through the first couple chapters. I didn’t like Nasty’s character at all, until she finally made a decision to try to be better than what she had been. The main complaint I have is that while Nasty is supposed to be hundreds of years old, she still spoke like a teenager. “Like, I looked at him, and like, thought….” It was a bit off-putting. Still, I’m eager for the next book, (to be released January 2012) to see what happens next, and whether Nasty continues in her new course of life.

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. Written by a professor of history, aspects of the book have obviously been thoroughly researched. There is so much detail that it is impossible not to have an astonishing visual image of the times and places mentioned. Also, it’s another book for book lovers, too, (reminding me a bit of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova in this sense).

However, amid all the wonderful history, alchemy, and scientific research, there is also a love story, a timeless conflict promising to result in war, secrets of the main character’s power that others want to harness for their own benefit.

Diana Bishop, descended from powerful witches, lost both of her parents when she was seven years old. Since then, she has wanted to forget about witchcraft and has been intent on living her life without using her powers. In the midst of her research, she calls up a manuscript from “the stacks” that has been missing for a very long time. Upon getting her hands on Ashmole 782, she can feel the magic within the book. So she promptly takes her notes and sends the book back. But now that she has been able to recall this manuscript, she has attracted the attention of creatures, all intent on having the book for themselves. Other creatures, such as witches, vampires, and daemons.

Matthew Clairmont is one such creature. The vampire is immediately drawn to Diana and has an overwhelming desire to protect her from those who would harm her. Their suspicion of each other eventually turns to trust and to love. However, to love another creature unlike yourself is forbidden by the covenant made by the Congregation, a governing body made up of three of each creature, so many years ago. But Matthew and Diana don’t care. They refuse to allow others to dictate who they can love. Of course, this creates a world of other problems as well.

The romance between Matthew and Diana is intense, like a slow burning flame. There is quite a bit of sexual tension as well, which is still present at the end of the book. However, things are happening very quickly, and they’ve only known each other for a little over a month.

I enjoyed this book very much. It did have a bit of a slow start, but that part of the book was just introducing Diana and showing her “normal” day-to-day life, too. After Matthew was introduced, the pace did pick up quite a bit. I have read a few bad reviews of this book, and I believe those stem from the slow, meandering, very detailed pace. So for those who want to rush through life and not take time to enjoy the finer things, this book is not for you. But if you enjoy slow burning romance and appreciation of history, good wine, and of course, books, you should definitely read this book. The only complaint I have is that the next book is not yet published and I have to wait to find out what happens next.

Blood Moon

I won Blood Moon, by A.W. Gryphon, in a Goodreads giveaway two months ago, in May. After a month of waiting, I contacted the author to make sure that my copy hadn’t been overlooked or lost along the way. She was very nice and said that she was sending it out via FedEx the next day. So I waited, for another month. I contacted the author again, letting her know I never received my copy, asking if maybe the book was available in e-book format, if that would be easier to send. Once again, I received a very nice reply, and she said that the book had been sent via FedEx and that apparently the package had been opened, marked “return to sender,” and was now at my local FedEx facility.

I hope I didn’t bother or annoy the author too much, but based on the synopsis and other reviews of the book, it was one I definitely wanted to read! So, after picking up the book, I devoured it in a single day. I wasn’t disappointed.

For seven-year-old Amelia Pivens, The Craft had always been a part of her life. And then she witnessed her mother’s murder during a Wiccan ritual. At that point, she summoned every entity possible in an attempt to save her mother, but it was too late.

Her father took her back to London and they didn’t speak of The Craft for many years. Amelia wanted to leave that part of her life behind her anyway. She grew up as a “normal” British girl, found a career she loved at an art gallery, and fell in love with Wolfgang, a German musician. It seemed that her life was finally coming together, until on her birthday one year, Wolfgang was hit by a black town car, fatally wounding him. She never stopped grieving his death. A short time later, her father became very ill, giving her a letter just moments before he died. Now, completely alone, Amelia was forced to turn back to The Craft, whether she wants to or not.

Many years ago, a legend was born about the coming of “The One,” a witch who would have ultimate power and who would be able to end the civil war between the witches and a group known simply as The Organization. This witch would be of the blood line of an ancient High Priest and High Priestess, coming from one of their children, twins separated at birth. Amelia’s friends, Jeremy and Summer, believe she is “The One,” but whether they are right or wrong will be determined on Amelia’s 28th birthday, Samhain, under a full blood moon. She will be forced to take a stand and witches everywhere will be affected by a final battle.

However, as Amelia’s power and intuition grows, much is unclear and nobody is who they seem. Has Amelia misplaced her trust? Have her attempts to release the past and let go of her feelings of anger and desired revenge for her husband’s death, in order to prepare herself to possibly accept the power, actually worked? The end of the book definitely had some twists in it, and I’m very much looking forward to the next chapter of Amelia’s story.

The story is set in modern times, but is rich in historical references. I don’t know much about Wicca or The Craft, but it did seem as if the author was very informed and had researched everything in her book. The book did have much magick in it, but it was almost more of a mystery or suspense novel when reading. But no complains. I very much enjoyed the book. It is considered the first book in the Witches Moon trilogy. I don’t know when the next book may be available, but it’s definitely on my to-read list.

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