18 February, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Perculiar Children

From Goodreads: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And 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 who once lived here - one of whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive.

Thoughts: This book came from my Books from Other Blogs list. On the whole, I enjoyed it - took me just over 24 hours to read and had more than enough to keep me turning the pages. I've read reviews that compared it to the X-Men and it's easy to see where the comparison comes from - secret school/ house for children who are different, displaying strange gifts such as levitation, incredible strength, controlling fire and invisibility. However I do think the direction Riggs takes the story in is very different from the X-Men story.

Riggs has constructed the story in such a way that it's very easy to keep turning the pages - what happens next? Why did that just happen? His vague construction of Jake's family left me feeling slightly frustrated, but I think it portrayed the distance Jake himself felt from his parents.

I loved the use of photos in the book and was thrilled to discover that they were actual photos. I love the idea of an author seeing a photo that interests them and building the story around it - something I've frequently done myself in my own head. 

On the whole I enjoyed this book and look forward to seeing where Riggs takes the peculiar children next - a whole new adventure obviously awaits them!

Challenges: Ebook Challenge

Book Review - Les Miserables: Volume 1 - Fantine

From Goodreads: Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean - the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread - Les Misérables (1862) ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope - an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

Thoughts: Les Miserables is over 1200 pages. It's a big ask to read, so I am breaking it down into smaller parts reading and reviewing each volume (there are 5), most probably with a break in between each one.

The first volume is called Fantine and introduces us to the main characters of the book. I must admit I found Victor Hugo's massive tome a lot easier to read than I thought I would, although he does tend to be a bit wordy! Really, the man would not describe in three words when he could use fifty, would not use a paragraph when he could write a chapter. Despite this, I found myself not skimming as I normally would. As always, reading the book gives you so much more insight into the story than the movie. You get a full feel for the charity and kindness of the priest, the desperation and despair of Jean Valjean and the inflexibility of Javert. Fantine's broken love affair and her abandonment of Cosette is so much more heart breaking and cruel.

I must admit that being familiar with the story through the musical is making it easier to read - those parts where I'm not sure I really understand what is happening are easier to work out as I know the story. I will also admit to singing appropriate parts of the sound track in my head as I read!

While I am eager to read the next volume (Cosette) I am enforcing my break rule as I know I will over load if I don't. As I said in my first post about Les Miserables, this one is a year long project so I don't feel the need to rush.

09 February, 2013

This One is a Year Long Project...

It was inevitable that after seeing the movie I would once again attempt the book. I've always been a fan of the musical and after performances such as this one by Anne Hathaway, how could I not give the book another chance?

However this time I am taking a different approach. Instead of thinking I must read the entire 1232 pages in one go, I am giving myself permission to put it down and pick up something else whenever I find it too much. I also reading it on the kindle - a much easier format than the brick the book is. My first aim is to read at least 5% (I have to give myself some rules!). That way I get a sense of achievement when I reach it and bonus points if I go beyond! I'll most probably review as I go too. As they say, once more into the breach!

And finally this one because it's my favourite.

Book Review - Between Shades of Gray

From Goodreads: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. 

Thoughts: Over at Goodreads, Ari reviewed this book and she summed it up perfectly for me - Step on my heart, cut it wide open, rub it with salt and feed it to the sharks.. Or just make me read this book, because this is how it feels like reading this story.

Between Shades of Gray is beautifully written. Descriptions of the horrors people faced during these dark, dark times are stark and gut wrenching. The characters are just there, waiting for you to reach out and save them...but you can't, you can only stand by and watch as they struggle to stay alive, stay sane, stay human. As a mother I found this hard to read. The thought of my children going through something like this is impossible.

Every time I read a book about the Holocaust or events such as those that took place across the Baltic states I'm floored. How could this happen? How could one human think it was ok to treat another like this? How? Maybe as long as we can't answer these questions, or stop these events happening, we will keep asking.

Between Shades of Gray is the quality young adult fiction our young people should be reading. Unlike the last YA book I reviewed, where I was obviously not the target audience and was left feeling nothing, this book is for everyone and left me feeling almost too much. But that's ok, it's right that I feel overwhelmed after reading a book such as this - we need to keep feeling about these books, we need to know about it. 

Sepetys crafted this book so well. Every scene, every sentence, every word builds Lina's world, delicately and fragile like her own existence. Sepetys has family that experienced much of what she talks about in this book and you feel that she desperately wants to honour them with this story. Not only does she honour them, she shows the reader the ugly, horrible truth of what happened, validating their stories and bringing them out into the light.

03 February, 2013

Book Review - Flash and Bones

From Goodreads:Kathy Reichs...returns with a riveting new novel set in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring America’s favorite forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan. Just as 200,000 fans are pouring into town for Race Week, a body is found in a barrel of asphalt next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next day, a NASCAR crew member comes to Temperance Brennan’s office at the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner to share a devastating story. Twelve years earlier, Wayne Gamble’s sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring racer, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette. Lovette kept company with a group of right-wing extremists known as the Patriot Posse. Could the body be Cindi’s? Or Cale’s?

At the time of their disappearance, the FBI joined the investigation, only to terminate it weeks later. Was there a cover-up? As Tempe juggles multiple theories, the discovery of a strange, deadly substance in the barrel alongside the body throws everything into question. Then an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes missing during Race Week. Tempe can’t overlook the coincidence. Was this man using his lab chemicals for murder? Or is the explanation even more sinister? What other secrets lurk behind the festive veneer of Race Week?

Thoughts: I've always quite liked Kathy Reichs Dr Temperance Brennan books. Good fast reads that keep you interested. This most recent one is no different. Body found in strange circumstances, people trying to hide what is going on, Brennan unwilling to back away, few dramatic scenes, pieces come together nicely and once again case closed can be stamped on the cover. And I have no problem with this given it's exactly what I was looking for.
If I do have one problem with the formula for these books is how often Brennan finds herself in the clutches of the killer....again and manages to escape or be rescued...again. Surely there are only so many times you can do that and get away with it...really.

Challenges:  Ebook Challenge, 13 in '13 


Book Review - The Elephant Keepers' Children

From Goodreads: Peter and Tilte are trying to track down two notorious criminals: their parents. They are the pastor and the organist, respectively, of the only church on the tiny island of Finø. Known for fabricating cheap miracles to strengthen their congregation's faith, they have been in trouble before. But this time their children suspect they are up to mischief on a far greater scale.
When Peter and Tilte learn that scientific and religious leaders from around the world are assembling in Copenhagen for a conference, they know their parents are up to something. Peter and Tilte's quest to find them exposes conspiracies, terrorist plots, an angry bishop, a deranged headmaster, two love-struck police officers, a deluded aristocrat and much more along the way.

Thoughts: This is one of those books where I feel I should have got more out of it than I did. That's not say I didn't enjoy it, I'm just not sure what it was all about.
The elephants referred to in the title are not literal elephants, instead they are elephants that some of us carry inside, the things that elephant keepers have inside them that is much bigger than themselves and over which they have no control.
Peter and Tilte are concerned that their parents elephants have lead them to do something dangerous and desperate. Rather than trust the authorities to find out what is going on, Peter and Tilte set off on a fantastical, at times dangerous, at others funny journey to find out what is going on.
Peter is the narrator. As a fourteen year old boy he had some pretty incredible insights. His sister, Tilte who (I think) is sixteen has the most amazing effect on people, being able to get them to do what she wants. Personally I found her a tad annoying.  
The whole story is slightly (very) unbelievable. Events happen that make you question their authenticity and whether or not what is happening is real or simply the product of Peter's very active imagination. He himself is a very intense and resourceful character, lending an air of boys-own-adventure to it. The prose became a bit wearing after awhile, with constant promises of explanations later and things heading off of seeming-less pointless tangents. In the end most of it comes together, but  in all truth by then I just wanted it to be over.