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.

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Possessed

After another trip to the local library, one of the books that found its way home with me was Possessed, by Kate Cann. The book read like a pretty creepy ghost story, but the main plot didn’t really involve ghosts.

Rayne has decided that she needs to get away from her mother, her three-year-old brother, her boyfriend, and the overall busyness of London. She finds a job at a country estate, Morton’s Keep, that is steeped in history. She has finally found the silence and the space that she so craved, but the eeriness of the mansion and the stories and sounds keep her up at night. Before too long, she meets a group of other teenagers her own age, who immediately befriend her. St. John, the group’s unofficial leader, also decided that he likes her and the two begin a relationship.

Things aren’t as they seem, though, and Rayne soon feels like her inclusion in this group is just for show and that she is being used. Rayne speaks to the owner of the house and discovers that quite a bit of evil occurred at the house, and that every so often, there are “reoccurrences.” And he feels like it’s happening again. Soon, Rayne is able to see things, and people, for what they really are and discovers the secrets of the house as well as her new boyfriend.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. Parts of it, specifically some of the dialogue, didn’t seem to flow as easily as it could have, although this might be because the author is English and stayed true to local dialect. It wasn’t very distracting, though. The writing also seemed geared towards the younger age group of the YA genre, even though the book mentioned sex, which seems to not to be directed at a younger age group. Anyway, I found it entertaining, but I probably won’t read the sequel.

First Grave on the Right

Another Goodreads win…

First Grave on the Right, a debut novel and first in a series by Darynda Jones, was definitely a different type of young adult fiction than I’ve read recently. It was sexy, surprising, sophisticated, snarky…. I had a hard time tearing myself away from it. I absolutely had to know what happened next.

Charlotte “Charley” Davidson is a private investigator, and the Grim Reaper. She’s always been able to see dead people. They come to her often needing help with their unfinished business, or to cross to the other side. Most recently, it is three lawyers that were murdered, asking for her help in solving this crime. Charley’s Uncle Bob works for the police department and depends on Charley’s unique abilities.

Lately, solving crimes and seeing dead people just doesn’t seem to quite describe her life. There is also something happening that she can’t explain. She is visited at night, and then during the day too, by someone, or something, as she knows he is more than just a man. With him, her nights are full of pleasure, but she just can’t quite solve the mystery of who, or what, he is. So, she does what she does best; she investigates to find out. The ultimate answers to her questions are not those she would have ever expected. And while it definitely brings somewhat of a thrill to their relationship, it also introduces certain dangers.

I definitely enjoyed this book, and like I stated earlier, it was a bit different than some other young adult books I’ve read. There was explicit language as well as other explicit scenes, which is a bit more than what I expected. That being said, I have no complaints, but I wouldn’t recommend this to a young teenager either. I believe I’ll definitely read the rest of the series.

A Young Wife

I received an Advance Reader’s Edition of A Young Wife, by Pam Lewis, through a Goodreads giveaway. From the moment I began reading, I was completely engrossed. While mostly a serious read, it was also a quick read and very entertaining.

Minke van Aisma, 15 years old, is chosen by an older wealthy man to travel to Amsterdam to care for his dying wife. The day his wife dies, Sander DeVries proposed marriage to Minke within days they sail to Argentina. Minke doesn’t really know her husband’s business details, but she believes he is a merchant and will open a store when they reach Comodoro Rivadavia. Minke is completely in love with her husband, even after his true colors begin to show.

Shortly after reaching Argentina, Minke discovers that she is pregnant. She loves being a mother to their son Zef, and is excited when she learns that she is pregnant again. Her husband does not seem to share her enthusiasm. Soon, Minke’s sister Fenna arrives from the Netherlands, very unexpectedly, but it turns out that Sander has sent for her, claiming she is to help Minke with Zef. On one of her daily trips to the beach, riders appear and kidnap Zef before her very eyes. Inquiries are made, but with no results. Sander claims to get a confession out of a young man, one of Minke’s only friends, and kills him. He must leave Argentina immediately. He and Fenna go to New York, to find work and set up a house. Minke is too advanced in her pregnancy to travel, so remains behind with Sander’s physician uncle, Cassain.

After Elly is born and is old enough to travel, the three go to New York. Terribly excited to see her beloved husband, Minke is left disappointed at her frosty reunion. Knowing something to be amiss, she soon discovers exactly what. Conditions not what she expected, she is forced to find a job. With the help of her employers, she unravels the mystery of what happened to her first child, Zef.

In the acknowledgements, Pam Lewis explains that this book is loosely based on the events of her grandmother’s life, who was also born in the Netherlands, moved to Comodoro Rivadavia, and subsequently New York. There is no other information provided about the similarities between the lives of Minke and her grandmother, but I would be interested to know more. While the story was also a coming of age story for Minke and about how she found her own strength and independance, the personal cost was also quite high. (However, Minke was only in her 20s at the end of the book, with plenty of time for a lifetime of happiness.) I can only hope that the grandmother’s life began on a happier note.

I enjoyed the story and the writing style. There were also a few emotional scenes, but I felt that these could have been improved with more in depth character development. There were also characters that I would be interested to know more about, but as that information was not necessary to the plot, I understand why it was left out. Also, I felt that the end was a bit abrupt. I will assume that Minke has a happy ending, (not that the book ended unhappily, quite the opposite), but a bit more confirmation of that would have been nice as well.

Overall, A Young Wife, is a book I very much enjoyed. It actually reminded me a bit of Honolulu, by Alan Brennert, in that it was about a young wife coming to America with a less than ideal family situation. Anyway, full of adventure, a bit of mystery and romance, A Young Wife held me captivated.

Under the Mercy Trees

Under the Mercy Trees, by Heather Newton, is another book I won in a Goodreads giveaway. The author has written short stories before, but this is her debut novel.

Martin Owenby currently lives in New York City, having escaped the place of his childhood, Solace Forks, North Carolina. He is an unsuccessful writer, drinks heavily, and has meaningless relationships with various men. Martin is forced to return home to his family when his brother, Leon, goes missing. Bringing the Owenby siblings together again causes them to confront their past, and even present.

The author effortlessly weaves the past within the present story, showing how characters have been shaped and how they have come to be who they are in the present. Martin, a gay man who left his best friend Liza, the woman who loved him. Ivy, who sees ghosts and has been mourning the suicide of her son for twenty years. Bertie, Martin’s sister-in-law, who left her husband James for a three-day affair, who came back pregnant. And then there are the siblings’ children and friends who contribute their part to the story as well.

While I wouldn’t call this book a mystery, there was the question of what happened to Leon as well as the individual mysteries of the past. It is definitely a haunting, and even somewhat dark, family drama.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. Initially, I did find it difficult to really get into it. It just didn’t capture my attention and I really didn’t want to read about “mountain people.” And keeping a written family tree and or cast of characters would have been helpful in the beginning as well. That being said, about a third of the way into it, I became engrossed with finding out what really did happen to Leon, as well as what happened during the past of the other characters that caused them to be who they were. I didn’t like all the characters, but that’s definitely a sign of a good story. Also, reading this book was almost reminiscent of some of the required reading from high school. In a few years, I believe it is very likely that this novel with be considered a true piece of literature.

Sepulchre

Another review I’ve written in the past…

I recently read Sepulchre, by Kate Mosse. It is second in a “trilogy,” and I use that term loosely, as the first two books can stand alone. (The third book is due to be published sometime next year.) The book is set in both the late 19th century and the 21st century and tells the stories of two young women whose lives are connected.

One tale begins in 1891. Léonie Vernier is 17 years old and lives in an apartment in Paris with her mother and her older brother Anatole, whom she adores. She knows there is something going on in his life, but he hides his secrets from her, believing her to still be a child. He is attacked on the street, his good name is slandered in the newspapers, and he and his family recently attended the funeral of his lover. Out of the blue, an invitation arrives for Léonie and Anatole to escape city life for a few weeks to visit their aunt, Isolde, at her country estate, the Domaine de la Cade, close to Carcassonne. Isolde is the much younger widow of Léonie’s mother’s half brother. The invitation seems to come at a perfect time, as Anatole feels that he needs to get out of Paris.

Upon arriving at the Domaine, Léonie hears rumors of something evil that resides on the estate and hears stories of wild animals. She senses that there is something sinister lurking somewhere on the estate. Upon exploring the library, she discovers a book written by her uncle concerning the Tarot and his experiences with a mysterious building on the estate called the Sepulchre. Léonie takes it upon herself to have an adventure and discover the location of this building. She does find the dangerous structure and begins to understand the experience her uncle recounted in his book.

Meanwhile, Anatole is unaware that a maniac in Paris is hunting him down, having killed his mother after trying to obtain information concerning his location. Victor Constant’s syphilitic mind can only focus on revenge. Anatole stole his love, and he would take what he could from Anatole, including his life if he is able to do so. Using his wily means, Constant finally locates Anatole at the Domaine.

While this is happening, the reader discovers that the funeral the Vernier family attended was a ruse. Anatole and his love believed that was the only way Constant would leave her alone and finally let her go. Anatole and his “aunt” (no blood relation) are now finally together at the estate and make plans to be married. It is also learned that Anatole will soon be a father. But, their happiness is short-lived, as Constant discovers their hideaway. Anatole has also finally decided to confide in Léonie and treat her as an adult.

The other story takes place in 2007. Meredith Martin is a graduate student from North Carolina who has come to Paris in order to conduct research for her biography of Claude Debussy, who happens to have lived in the same apartment building as the Verniers. Meredith is also in France for personal reasons. She was adopted by a distant cousin after her birth mother’s suicide, and all she was left with was a piece of music, with the simple heading Sepulchre 1891, and a photograph of a soldier. While in Paris, Meredith finds herself drawn to a flyer advertising tarot card readings. When she arrives at the address listed and gets a reading, the reader tells her that lines between the past and present are unclear, which is not something that she normally sees while giving readings. Also, Meredith finds that the image of a woman printed on a tarot card has a striking resemblance to herself, unnerving her. Fleeing the room, the deck of cards is pressed upon her as a gift. She arrives later that day at an old restored hotel, the Domaine de la Cade.

As she is driving to her hotel, she swerves to avoid hitting a woman who is standing in the middle of the road. However, when she gets out of her car, she finds no one there. Throughout the next few days, she also experiences feeling the presence of this woman and even dreaming of her, able to picture her green eyes. At the hotel, she does discover pictures displayed on the wall that resemble her photograph of the soldier. She learns that the people in the picture are Anatole and Léonie Vernier and Isolde. Meredith also becomes friends with Hal, the nephew of the current owner of the hotel, and he eventually becomes her love interest. At the Domaine, Meredith finally does discover the secrets of her family and the terrifying and dreadful events that unfolded at the Domaine more than a century before.

Kate Mosse is a very talented writer and I am looking forward to her next installment in the set. The historical pictures that she painted were fantastic. I loved the supernatural elements, and found the book to be strong in elements of mystery, obsession, and revenge. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for an entertaining and fulfulling reading experience.