Saturday, August 20, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Rating: 2 stars; PG

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jacob grew up on his grandfather's stories of an orphanage filled with children who weren't entirely normal: strongmen, invisible boys, a boy with bees in his stomach, a girl who ate with the back of her head. As he grew, the stories seemed less and less real, until, in the aftermath of his grandfather's death, Jacob finds out they're all too true.

Opinions: This book had a really rocky start for me. I was really about to stop reading it, because it just wasn't interesting. All the narrator does for the first few chapters is whine and complain. I was really disappointed, because conceptually, this book should be excellent. The idea of placing weird vintage photos into this paranormal, mystery-type book is a really good one. It's interesting and new. Unfortunately, it really just didn't live up to expectations. The first chunk of it was just boring, and I felt like the photos that were so important conceptually were just thrown in. Part of this may be because I read the ebook version, so there was no “two page spread” sort of thing, but still. The pictures almost felt unnecessary.

Granted, the book got better as it went on. After awhile I started to actually care about what was happening. But still, I did not like the narrator, and there was just something lacking about the writing. I felt like a lot of things were thrown in just to confuse the reader without being particularly relevant to the plot. It also seemed like a lot of things were too convenient, particularly the identity of the antagonist.

It was really hard for me to finish this book. I just wasn't all that interested in. I wasn't invested in the characters like I should have been. I found that I didn't really care what had happened. There was nothing really age-inappropriate, though some of the children and the monsters may frighten younger kids.

In short, if you are interested in the concept of this book, you can try reading it, but otherwise, it really isn't worth the time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Touch of a Thief by Mia Marlowe

Rating: R; 3 1/2 stars

Summary: Lady Viola Preston is odd for a jewel thief on multiple counts. First, she's female, and titled at that! Second, when Viola touches a gem, she hears it speaking to her. If she lets herself, jewels draw her into visions of what has happened in their history. As interesting a gift as this is, it is also rather painful. After all, admitting to such a thing in Victorian England could find Viola committed.

Greydon Quinn's problems are more of a political nature. After spending time in India, he is trying to stop a dangerous rebellion from some unhappy Indians. His method? Locating a priceless jewel that was stolen from an Indian temple and returning it to its rightful resting place. Lucky for Quinn, he has Viola Preston by his side. Of course, no one said that trying to steal a gem like this was simple, and he hadn't counted on the Mayfair Jewel Thief to be female!

Opinions: I checked out this book because of the interesting premise. I knew that it was a romance novel, but I hoped (somewhat naively, I might add) that it wouldn't be an explicit romance novel. I was wrong, very wrong. This novel isn't as graphic as some, but it is definitely, well, steamy. That being said, it was the plot and characters that had me going through this book so quickly. I read close to half of it in one sitting, and finished the whole book in like 2 1/2 days.

The concept of being able to “hear” gems simply by touching them intrigued me. This isn't an ability that is common; I certainly haven't read another book that so much as mentioned it. Considering a great deal of what I read is fantasy (or at least, stories with fantastic elements), it is rare that I come across something that I really haven't seen before. This was one of those things. So concept is what brought me to the book, what got me to start reading. But, what kept me reading was definitely the plot and characters.

The plot had a sufficient amount of mystery to keep me guessing at what would happen. The mystery didn't overwhelm the definitely-romance feel of the book, but it did make me feel like I was reading more than just a love story, something with a little bit more meat. I also have to admit my love for/obsession with India was a key selling point for me. Although most of the novel did not take place in India, the entire work was touched with just a bit of India. And it was wonderful.

I also really liked the characters. I felt like they were well-developed; they all had their secrets and motivations. I also liked how all the characters played off each other, especially the main two, Viola and Quinn. Their dynamic was just really interesting, and it was fun to watch it develop. They had several misunderstandings, that I've come to understand are staples of romance, but not so many that it felt like a rom-com (I hate romantic comedies. My reaction to them is “Argh, why won't you just own up to your feelings and tell the truth!). For the most part, everything felt realistic to the time-frame. I mean, it's a romance, so certain...familiarities were played with much sooner than would happen in real life (I hope...), but nothing was so ridiculous that I was unable to suspend disbelief.

In general, this was a very light read (as romances often are). It's a perfect beach read, although now that summer is ending, maybe it's better suited for overstressed college students. :) This is definitely for an older crowd—there are definitely books out there that are more sexually explicit, but this is far more than YA-explicitness. Still, this is an enjoyable book for anyone that is partial to romances, historical fiction, or fantasy. In my opinion, those that read adult historical fiction and fantasy will see nothing out of the ordinary in the sexual content, but others may disagree.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Rating: PG; 4 stars

Summary: The P siblings, Kate, Michael, and Emma, have been shunted from orphanage to orphanage for as long as they can remember, each one growing progressively worse. Kate knows they're not orphans, she remembers her mother telling her that she'd be back for them. But that doesn't stop everyone from calling them orphans. After the Edgar Allen Poe Home for Incorrigible Orphans, the P children wonder how any home could possibly be worse. But as it turns out, the quality of the food and beds is the least of their concerns. Upon arriving at their new home, the children discover a magical book and are promptly taken back in time. Although Kate and Emma find their way back with no problem, they soon realize that Michael was left behind. The two sisters journey back in time, hoping to save their brother and return to their own time. But there are many in the past who have different plans for the trio...

Opinions: The Emerald Atlas begins on an enchanting note. The first chapter, to me, was very reminiscent of the beginning of the Harry Potter series, and not in a copy-cat way. It just had the same magical spark. I'm predicting big things for this series. As a whole, the book reminded me of Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and A Series of Unfortunate Events, all excellent book series. The book was fast-paced, but still took its time on the details that can make a story like this really shine.

I thought that the P siblings were what really made this book wonderful. They are all uniquely their own person, but each had qualities that nearly any child could relate to: outward toughness with inward uncertainty, bookish, reluctant leader, etc. I found myself relating to Kate because she is the oldest, but also with Michael because of his academic leanings, and also to Emma because of her devotion and loyalty. I think that most readers will find something of themselves in each of the children.

I also felt that the worldbuilding was very well done. Everything fit, from the different races, to the magic system. The “nameless” characters of the townspeople were realistic. The villains and monsters were frightening. In short, this has everything that should make a series like this a big hit.

I gave this story 4 stars because although most of the time the familiarity and comparison to other books was welcome, there were times when I felt like I'd read this before. They were few and far between, but still, originality isn't appreciated today the way it should be (ahem, the 18 million vampire novels out there). The orphan angle has been done a lot, and there isn't much new to do by it. Other than that, this book was truly endearing to me. I rated it PG for some frightening moments. There isn't a lot of one-on-one violence (as opposed to a battle, where although many people may be hurt, you don't hear about it). There's no swearing that I can recall, and seeing as this is a middle-grade book, I'm sure I'd remember if there was some.

In short, this is an excellent book. I recommend it to anyone who likes Harry Potter, Lemony Snickett, or the Chronicles of Narnia. I'm waiting eagerly for the second installment of the series.