Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review--Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

   Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, is an odd one indeed, but enjoyably so. This quirky tale of love and adventure is mingled with an bizarre, somewhat creepy, assortment of vintage photographs, and it is these images that truly make the book extraordinary.
   The story on its own is nothing special, in fact it is a tad rambling and disjointed. Rather, it is the presence of the many photos--assembled by the author from the collections of real people fascinated by the unusual moments in time captured in the images--that really adds quite an wonderful perspective to the story. I found myself wondering if the author simply spread out all the photos and built the story entirely around the images, or if a framework for the adventure already existed. I find it hard to believe that it could have happened any other way; the photos are that strange and evocative.
   It seems a second book must be in the works, for the the story was left with many unresolved issues, and I for one am looking forward to what comes next... though, I must admit, I am more curious about the upcoming photos than the story, itself.
   All in all, though, Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children is worth a read, especially if you are craving something a little... peculiar.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


    Scott Westerfeld's book, Uglies, ended up being much more interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking, than I was anticipating. The title had me concerned; I feared a shallow romp through the teenage land of angst, with  cookie-cutter girls whipping their super-straightened hair to and fro. I was not entirely wrong, but the refreshing surprise came with the vigorous critique of this "culture of pretty".
    In Uglies, our fed-on-television culture has morphed into a world where the only goal in life is to become pretty, which is defined by a computer program that determines the optimal features for each person, whereupon they, as a teenage right of passage, undergo severe reconstructive surgery at the age of sixteen to turn them into members of the biggest clique in history.... New Pretty Town.
    Two-dimensional, air-headed adults populate this new reality, and they party their way through life, all the while being unknowingly controlled by the subtle alterations the doctors have made to their brains. To rebel against this culture is to become an outcast. Who would want to remain an "ugly", when life is so fun as a "pretty"? No more worries, no concerns, just blind faith in those who tell you what to do.
   In this first installment in a series, Scott Westerfeld lays out a blistering condemnation of the throw-away, wasteful, and shallow culture we have become.
   Part environmental rant, part thrill-ride, Uglies was a pleasant surprise, and I can't wait to see where the author takes things in the next book, Pretties, which I promise to review at a later date!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review--The Girl of Fire and Thorns

   I cracked open this book, the first in a trilogy, with much excitement, and it did not disappoint. The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, is a richly imagined fantasy set in a world filled with deceit, romance, fast-paced adventure. Best of all, it sports a complex story-line... thank you, Rae, for not dumbing-down the narrative, a bothersome trend in many young adult books these days.
   The landscape is grand and sweeping, with terrifying forests, forbidding mountains, and barren deserts.The heroine, Elisa, is refreshing and unexpected, an imperfect, over-eating princess, who sets off to fulfill her destiny, to marry a neighboring land's king to keep peace across the borders.
   Expecting her future husband to be old, fat, and unpleasant, she is pleasantly surprised upon meeting her betrothed, who is equally impressed by the unexpected nature of his mate. But, married life between the two secretive kingdoms is not all comfort and romance, for there is a twist, several twists, in fact.
   Elise has something special about her, a faceted magical stone that has been part of her person since birth, but she knows nothing of managing the power that pulses from the Godstone that has the potential to topple kingdoms and turn greedy men to ill deeds. She is challenged at every turn and must dig deeply to find the strength to lead a revolution.
   I am eagerly awaiting Rae Carson's next two books, which I fully anticipate will be as complex and as inviting as The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which hits the shelves September 20th. Put this one on your list! It's not to be missed.

Review--The Other Countess

   As a fan of historical fiction, I was looking forward to reading The Other Countess, by Eve Edwards.  Two pages in, I began to get worried.... here was an Oxford educated author, falling prey to one of my grammar pet-peeves: "Though only two years older than her..." (than SHE, geez!), and I feared more of the same going forth.
   As I ventured further, though, the alluring world of Elizabethan England pulled me in, allowing me to overlook the few other similar stumbles. With each page filled with speeches as flowery as the dresses, I was soon swept up in the pageantry, and the romance that bloomed as the story progressed.
   Following a favorite theme of many classics set in times gone by (Jane Eyre, Tess of the D'Ubervilles), The Other Countess introduces us to a heroine who is immediately appealing, but has the world's weight upon her shoulders, and the cards stacked against her. In a time when love means little, and marriage is merely a contract, being a penniless beauty, with brains, no less, means being at the mercy of the Crown and all those who play Queen Elizabeth's courtly game.
   Rich with period detail and not shying away from the religious conflicts that overwhelmed Elizabethan England, The Other Countess was a pleasure to read, once I forgave the few grammatical blunders. The romance between Ellie and the young earl, Will, was sweet and believable, unlike many obligatory love stories that have been cropping up in books lately. There was conflict, excitement, tenderness, and a thorough understanding of the historical period, proof that Eve Edwards learned something while at Oxford.
   If you enjoy period stories, give this one a try.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review--The Passage

   And now time for something completely different! I am venturing decidedly outside of the Young Adult genre with this review, but there are plenty of teens who will enjoy The Passage, by Justin Cronin, so here we go.
   I grabbed this book after hearing the author interviewed by David Sirota on the radio. I was taken most by Cronin's description of how he came to write the book in the first place. His daughter challenged him to write a story about a girl who saved the world, quite a tough order, indeed. The Passage--and the books that are destined to follow--are the result of that challenge.
   Let me just get it over with now, so it is out there... this book is about vampires... sort of. Called virals in Cronin's dark futuristic world, these vampires are a result of human experimentation gone wrong, in an effort to make the ultimate fighting machine. Of course, all hell breaks loose, and a new world unfolds, with survivors hiding behind high walls ringed with light, the one thing that can keep the virals at bay.
   At times the book gets a tad flaky, but the concept is intriguing and extremely complex, leaving plenty of room for exciting tangents in Book 2, The Twelve. 
   This book is no Dracula, but it is a thrilling romp through a terrifying world, nonetheless.

Monday, July 4, 2011


   After reading a number of quite mature, edgy novels recently, Entwined, by Heather Dixon, came as a refreshingly innocent contrast. A retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, this charming novel was filled with dance steps and giggling sisters. Magic surrounded the youngsters, as they defied their grieving father, the King, and flouted the rules of mourning, sneaking away to an enchanted pavilion to dance the nights away, leaving their dancing slippers in tatters each morning.
   Of course, the cold, handsome fellow who awaits them each evening is not who he seems, and trouble soon surrounds them all. Led by the eldest sister, Azalea, the princesses have to upset the magical curse that has hung over the palace for generations.
   As delightful as the familiar story line was, I found Dixon's version of it rather disjointed at times, with clarity lacking, leaving me trying to figure out just what was occurring. Hindering the flow, the dialogue was rather simplistic and unimaginative, falling flat on the ears.
   The expected romances were silly and predictable, leaving me nostalgic for a bit more of the edgy teen books I have recently read. All in all, though, Entwined was a charming throw-back to more innocent days of story-telling.
~ Karina

Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, absolutely blew me away. Telling the story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief, and narrated by Death, this World War II story burns with intensity. Spectacularly written in a unique, lyrical style, and full of characters that will touch your heart, this tragic and important story will stay with you long after you have finished it. Just be prepared to be using a lot of tissues. I don't normally cry when reading books, but The Book Thief squeezed more than a few tears out of me.

Death makes for an interesting narrator. Instead of being malicious and mean and enjoying his job, Death is tired of his job and scared of humans, after watching us kill each other for ages. This is an excellent book, the kind that is so good, I want to press it into the hands of everyone I know, and say, "Read this book."