Archive for ‘Young Adult Fiction’

July 21st, 2013

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Author: Ransom Riggs

Published: June 2011

Number of Pages: 352

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

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 [From Goodreads]

Quote:

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”

Review:

This is the sort of book that is impossible not to judge by its cover. The cover is awesome. I think that was what initiated the book club girls’ interest in it. Thankfully, the book itself is great, too.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not at all what I expected. I was hoping for a bit more creepiness and scare-factor, but I was generally satisfied by the read. I enjoyed that history was woven into the story quite deftly by the hands of the author. The premise was interesting and the development of the plot fun to observe, but I found that the characters were lacking life.

That’s quite a statement about a book that I still rated 4/5, but let me explain. There was nothing particularly unlikable about the characters. Some of them were witty, some were sweet, some were gruff but kind. They had personalities, sure. However, their personalities were packaged, two-dimensional, and rather uninteresting. I felt like there was little or no character development. Jacob, in particular, seems much younger than he really is. This, along with the character’s two-dimensional-ness, caused the romantic subplot to feel forced and awkward. Actually, one of the characters I found most intriguing was Jacob’s dad, and he plays a rather insignificant role in the story. Characterization and character development were undoubtedly this book’s greatest flaws, which is disappointing to a person who reads primarily for characters.

All the same, it’s the premise of the series that saves it. I love the ideas that Riggs toys with and am excited by the direction in which I believe the story is headed. The magical elements are fascinating and allow the book to stand out from the sea of YA titles. Riggs does a good job of revealing the character’s secrets and abilities, answering just enough questions and revealing just enough through the course of the story to keep the reader satisfied but curious.

Jacob’s voice, despite his character’s static qualities, was another high-point of the novel. His occasional wittiness was just the sort of spark that the book needs more of. I wish the dialogue had been as witty and less scripted (a confusing description, considering this is a book and therefore “scripted” by default, but you know what I mean). Overall, being inside Jacob’s head is enjoyable and comfortable. His bits of insight are welcome but not conspicuous enough to disrupt the narration.

In the end, I found Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children‘s greatness relies heavily on the use of old photographs. Riggs spent hours going through people’s collections of photographs in order to find some that fascinated him, and then he worked those into the story whenever he could. I appreciate that hard work and can attest that it pays off. The photographs add an awesomely unique dimension to the book and were possibly my favorite element.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not a perfect book, but it is a good one and a promising start to the series. I’m excited to see where Riggs’ efforts will take him and what adventures he has in store for these delightfully peculiar children. I heartily recommend the book to book clubs, as it was a huge hit with mine. There are some good discussion questions online, too.

July 14th, 2013

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Clockwork Princess

Author: Cassandra Clare

Published: March 2013

Number of Pages: 592

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.

Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.

As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?

Danger and betrayal, secrets and enchantment, and the tangled threads of love and loss intertwine as the Shadowhunters are pushed to the very brink of destruction in the breathtaking conclusion to the Infernal Devices trilogy. [From Goodreads]

Quote:

“No one can say that death found in me a willing comrade, or that I went easily.”

Review:

I was plagued the entire second semester of school by anticipation of this book. My friends were reading it and frantically whispering about it all the time. Now, having read it, I know why.

Clockwork Princess is the perfect ending to this incredibly fun series. It’s full of surprises, and therefore certain to disappoint some who hoped for a less bittersweet conclusion, but I thought the ending was quite appropriate. The Infernal Devices is not a cheery, uncomplicated series. Clockwork Princess reflects the conflict and struggles that the trilogy deals with, but it also testifies of the importance of love and family, a virtue that I believe is at the core of the entire story.

Perhaps that is why I loved the series so much. It isn’t “preachy” at all, but it, through the story and characters, testifies that the bonds of family are stronger than the force of any adversary, any darkness. It sounds corny, I know, but life is corny. Well, the good parts of it. So, at risk of being corny, I have to say that I appreciate the sentiment at the core of this trilogy and recommend that everyone read it. You get a fantastic message cloaked in action and Victorian-era London and steampunk awesomeness.

Plus, the awesomeness of the characters is mind-blowing. I love the cast of characters in this series, and it’s in this book that they have the opportunity to show their true colors. They rise above awful circumstances and fight to be honorable. The ending is so satisfying because there’s a sense that everyone has done all they can to be good people, they’ve risen above challenges, and they’ve held onto their loved ones. They’ve managed to remain optimistic in a dark world, and they’ve discovered the light in it.

Concerning the plot, this is the faster-paced of the last two books in the series. It’s insanity from the very start. Magic and betrayal and death all play a part. Naturally, those three “characters” mean surprise after surprise. I was listening to the audiobook in the car, and every time a disc finished, I had to pull over or have a passenger put the next in immediately because the suspense was just too much. All the relationships, all the mysteries, all the conflicts come to an exhilarating climax. Mortmain lives up to his frightening reputation, his character sick and menacing and strangely pitiful. The clockwork creatures become even more powerful and despicable. Meanwhile, Tessa is developing into the sort of heroine she reads about. As you can see, a lot happens in the 592 pages.

This series is fun. It’s full of humor and has a dash of silliness, but it is so much more. It has a deeper level and message, and that’s one of the things that allows it to surpass The Mortal Instruments in my esteem. There’s more spirit in these books.

If you’re interested in steampunk, this is a series for you. If you’re interested in a story about family, this is the series for you. Sure, it’s not perfect. It’s not a literary masterpiece. But it’s dynamic. Three-dimensional. Give it a read.

July 10th, 2013

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Clockwork Prince

Author: Cassandra Clare

Published: December 2011

Number of Pages: 528

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

In magical Victorian London, orphan Tessa found safety with the Shadowhunters, until traitors betray her to the Magister. He wants to marry her, but so do self-destructive Will and fiercely devoted Jem. Mage Magnus Bane returns to help them. Secrets to her parentage lie with the mist-shrouded Yorkshire Institute’s aged manager Alyosius Starkweather. [From Goodreads]

Quote:

“It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them.”

Review:

So… I was a little late to the game with this one. Sort of. I got the ARC ages ago, but life got in the way (don’t you hate it when that happens?), and I found, over a year later, that the only way this was going to be read was if I listened to it to and from school. I decided to do just that, and I am so glad that I did. Clockwork Prince sealed the deal: I enjoy The Infernal Devices trilogy even more than The Mortal Instruments. Why?

Clockwork Prince is not the most action-packed book ever. Instead, Clare spends time developing characters and atmosphere in order to create a book that I could feel. This was particularly exciting because this isn’t just any old book – it’s Victorian-Era steampunk. Who doesn’t want to become engrossed in that world, enveloped by the oxymoronic eeriness and charm of late 19th-Century London? Furthermore, snuggled within Clare’s Victorian London is the Shadowhunters’ London Institute, which houses some very endearing people.

You’re introduced to the cast of the trilogy in the first book, Clockwork Angel (review), naturally, but I didn’t feel like I got to know them until I was entrenched in Clockwork Prince. These characters became so dear to me that the inevitable Jem-Tessa-Will love triangle didn’t irritate me as much as most love triangles do. Instead, I sympathized. These three people love each other so much that the love keeps them kind. It keeps them devoted. There was no back-stabbing or deceit. Their love and its strength allowed me to respect them no matter what mistakes they made. I appreciate and admire them for never compromising their beliefs or dreams while keeping each others’ feelings in mind. This is how I wish all people behaved. A love triangle usually turns people against one another, but this one simply emphasized the integrity and nobility of these characters. (How cool is that? I’m still jazzed about it.)

Beyond those three, the secondary characters step up and become integral to the story. Quirky Henry, patient Charlotte, poor mislead Jessamine, wise Sophie, quiet Gideon, naive Gabriel – these are people the reader gets to meet and, even more importantly, gets to know in Clockwork Prince. Their varying levels of charm make them a very entertaining and (in most cases) lovable cast of characters.

As I said before, this is not the most action-packed of Cassandra Clare’s books, but it has its own merit. It tells a story of people, not things or events. It does a fantastic job of escalating the anticipation of the moment when the Shadowhunters will finally confront Mortmain, the “Hand of Death,” their enemy. The man with an odd fascination with Tessa. The man with the ability to make metal come to life. He’s certainly a gruesome character, and the second installment in this series only serves as further proof of this. The mysteriousness of Mortmain is only matched by the mysteriousness of Tessa herself. She continues to wonder what she is, where her strange powers have come from, and what her purpose is. And the reader aches under the pressure of curiosity, too. It’s just splendid. Clockwork Prince increases the suspense of the trilogy’s story-arc and plays the part of “the quiet before the storm.”

When I finished, I looked everywhere for an audiobook of the final book in the trilogy, Clockwork Princess. When I finally located it, I delved in. It’s the perfect conclusion to the series. Review coming soon!