Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

With a nod to Halloween, book club chose the genre of thrillers for October. I was happy for that because it meant I didn't have to read horror (which they'd already read before I joined). A thriller could have been anything, and I really had no idea what to read since this is outside my normal taste in books. I happened to be having a conversation with a colleague about the book she was reading at lunch, and she steered me towards Ransom Rigg's first book. I remember seeing the cover when it first came out and there was a bit of a buzz around the book - the cover is darn creepy. The synopsis sounded interesting enough, so off I went on a bizarre trip to Wales...

October 2014: Thriller

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs
352 pages

Jacob is quite disturbed after witnessing a family tragedy. The teenager carries fond memories of his grandfather and the weird stories he used to tell. In order to try solve his grandfather's mystery, Jacob convinces his dad to journey with him to Wales, to visit the orphanage his grandfather grew up in. Once he gets to the isolated Welsh island of his family's past, Jacob discovers the orphanage is gone...or is it. He eventually finds a time loop, and all the peculiar children of his grandfather's past. The children are being hunted by Hollowgasts and wights, and Jacob could be the only one who can help them, if he leaves his own time. Whatever will he do? Cue dramatic climax! Cue cliff hanger to set up the sequel/a series!

The book is less disturbing than the creepy cover. I thought Miss Peregrine would be an evil headmistress or something, but I don't think she is although she is a bit of an enigma (she can turn into a bird after all). The book is less scary than I thought it would be too - because it's actually a Young Adult book! I really did think it was an adult book, until half way through when I became somewhat disappointed with the easy surface quality of the prose and the cheesy teenage almost kissing scenes. YA, yep, that explains it. But yay because I think an adult book would've been much scarier. I found the first half a bit slow and the second half a bit fast so that evens out?

Riggs definitely has created a unique and interesting world. The peculiar children are...peculiar in their talents and abilities, the monsters are scary and a bit different than the usual, and the whole concepts of time loops was undeniably clever. I hate time travel stories however, and wouldn't have read this is I knew there was time travel in it. As far as that goes though, it wasn't as annoying as I usually find time travel, and necessary to the story, so I get it.

The best part of the book is the vintage black and white photographs throughout. They apparently are found photographs (actual, real, collections of the author's friends), but Riggs has mostly seamlessly incorporated them into the narrative. I say mostly because every once in awhile it would feel like he had to make the story/scene fit the photo, but for the most part I thought this was handled quite cleverly. The photographs really made the story, and created an extra layer of atmosphere and general creepiness.

This story would make a good film too - which is already in production, as directed by Tim Burton. Perfect.

I would recommend this book to anyone who like weird YA books. Would I read the sequel? Maybe, if only to see the photographs, but it's not really my thing. My colleague reckons it'll be a long series, and I'm not sure I want to get into that, but if you like YA and the cover image doesn't creep you out too much, you might enjoy it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Veronica Mars: The Ten Thousand Dollar Tan Line

I'm a Veronica Mars fan. The TV show was good, and the movie was good closure. Imagine my surprise then when I found out they were doing a series of books to follow up the movie!

Veronica Mars: The Ten Thousand Dollar Tan Line
By Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
336 pages

This book picks up right where the movie left off. [SPOILER ALERT] Veronica has moved home, her dad is recovering after his "accident", and Logan is on a Navy ship somewhere. We follow Veronica as she (with Mac and Wallace's help) tries to keep the detective agency afloat. (Un)fortunately, there is enough crime in Neptune, and an incompetent sheriff, to keep Veronica busy. She takes the cases of two missing spring break party girls. What follows is an almost episodic story of Veronica tracking the perps, getting into an unhealthy dose of trouble, and meeting some old characters.

I found the story to be very much like a tv episode. Besides the format shift, it felt very much like I was reading what I used to watch on tv. The characters are all there, their mannerisms intact. The banter and dialogue is all there. The episode format (trouble, case, trouble, solved case, more trouble, until next time) is all there. So in this respect, if you were a fan of the tv show/movie, you'll probably enjoy the book(s). I thought it was a nice continuation of the canon, and I'll probably try to read the other books in the series when they come out too (next one is due out January 2015).

As a mystery though, well, if you have never heard of Veronica Mars you'd best start with the tv series and work your way up. I'm not sure how well it stands alone as a mystery, nor is it necessarily a shining example of quality literature. They did do a good job of providing plenty of background summaries to characters and events for new readers though, which I would have found annoying and tedious but since I didn't remember certain things they were a nice reminder.

It was a quick and easy read, definitely recommended for Veronica Mars fans! I hope Weevil plays a bigger role in the next book...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review: Seconds

I read another book for fun (yeah ok it was short)!

By Bryan Lee O'Malley
336 pages

I read Scott Pilgrim and it was weird but ok, so I thought I'd try O'Malley's newest graphic novel (and the cover was cute and anime-ish, so there's that). It was a neat story idea, so that got me through. Katie is a chef who is opening a new restaurant. A few bad things happen in her life (as they do). She discovers a house spirit, named Lis, in her attic apartment. Lis tells her to write down a regret, then eat a special mushroom. When Katie wakes up, life is as if the regret never happened. Yay! But then Katie finds the mushroom patch and eats a whole bunch to fix a whole bunch of things that went wrong, and then everything goes wrong. And then there's a bad house spirit and the world is all screwed up and how will she ever get back to life before the mushrooms, oh no! Character crisis. And then it all works out. The end.

I was enjoying the story, but the climax was slightly unsatisfying, although I liked the ending, if that makes any sense at all. The art is cute and quirky and very visually appealing for the most part. I found the heroine to be more unlikeable than likeable (because she makes stupid decisions and is whiny but who doesn't/isn't?!) but she does redeem herself. It's definitely a weird story like Scott Pilgrim was, but seems like a more adult and refined plot line.

Though not a huge graphic novel fan, I'd recommend this one, especially to any woman who's ever wanted to change a decision made along the way (and who doesn't). The past is the past - you can't go back. Onwards and upwards everyone!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Book Review: Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective

September's book club genre was children's literature, and thank goodness because this month has been extremely busy and I haven't had time to read anything! I initially thought I would read a flimsy novel, but alas, I didn't even have time for that. At work, I've been organizing a monthly "librarians read to the day care" initiative, so while I was browsing our library's children's collection for books to read to the kidlets, I came across a picture book that I figured would make a great read for book club. Probably I should've picked a best seller or an award winner or something with literary merit, but reading about a bug detective just sounded so fun! And there are three in the series so put together that's an acceptable amount of reading, right?

September 2014: Children's Literature

Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective
By David Biedrzycki
40 pages

Ace Lacewing is a bug detective in Motham City (!). Queenie Bee has been kidnapped and Mayor Buzzbee puts Ace on the case. With the help of Sergeant Zito (a mosquito) and the beautiful Doctor Xerces Blue (a butterfly and Ace's girlfriend), they track down the culprit and save the day.

(You can listen to this book for free on Tumblebooks here. Very cool and animated way to enjoy a story!)

The tone of the book is very film noir - it felt like I was inside an old detective mystery movie narrated by the main character, trench coat and fedora and all! And though it's a kids book, there are clever visuals hidden everywhere that will be funny to adults, like the 'got milkweed?' milk moustache billboard, or all the glow worm lights, or the police tape that says "Police Bug Off". There are also clues hidden in the pictures, so pay attention to the newspaper headlines. Also the blood at the crime scenes is green. Tee hee. And the S.W.A.T. team carries fly swatters. Very clever

Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective: Bad Bugs Are My Business
By David Biedrzycki
44 pages

Ace Lacewing and his friends are back! This time someone has stolen Scratch the Flea's well earned money. The usual suspects are on the case.

The climax/solution to this mystery seemed a bit more contrived, but the puns and sight jokes were still everywhere and it was worth those 5 minutes of my time.

(Preview this book from A Story Before Bed.)

Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective: The Big Swat
By David Biedrzycki
44 pages

Motham City's baseball team, The Stinkbugs (sponsored by everyone's favourite credit card company, BEESA), usually stink, but this year they have a top rookie, Bugsy, who has led them to first place. But someone has stolen Bugsy's bat!

I could only preview the first bit of this book, but it sounded quite promising. Who doesn't love bugs and baseball??

(Preview this book from A Story Before Bed.)

The Ace Lacewing books are cute and clever, fun for kids and adults. They'd make great read alouds, especially if you do that film noir NY accent voice over!