Book Review: A Map of Days

A Map of Days
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #4
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series.

After their victory over the wights and hollows, Jacob and Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children are disappointed in the assignments they’re given in the Devil’s Acre as part of the reconstruction process. Jacob, in particular, really wants to follow in his hollow-fighting grandfather’s footsteps, so he does whatever he can to make that happen. But peculiardom in America is vastly different from what he and the others are used to in Europe, and there’s a whole new menace to defend against.

It was really nice to see these “kids” who have been through so much have a chance at a little rest. Certainly not as much as they want or deserve, but the book started out more leisurely than the 2 before it. The explanation for why America’s peculiar community is so much wilder than Europe’s makes complete sense, and I loved the overall change of scenery from the first 3 books. I’m also perfectly okay with Jacob and Emma’s relationship cooling off, considering that it always weirded me out anyway.

This book was a lot longer than the previous 3, but it didn’t feel all that long. I don’t remember at any point thinking that something could have easily been cut out. It’s the set up to another 3-book arc in the series and unsurprisingly ends with a cliffhanger. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like continuing on in this series, but I’m excited to see what comes next!

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Book Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Chronicles of Narnia #3 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my favorite of the series so far. There’s so much adventure to get caught up in, even if one doesn’t look past the surface, and it’s full of magic and fun. It was nice to be able to see characters from the previous book this time (besides the Pevensies and Aslan), namely Caspian and Reepicheep, and the search for the seven Narnian lords who’d been sent off into the east was an good backdrop to the story.

The end to the story was emotional, and I really felt for the Pevensies in their loss. I wonder if it’s similar to what the disciples must have felt when Jesus left them on Earth. My favorite part of the book, though, was Eustace’s arc. It was brilliant, a true redemption story, and even realistic in that he certainly wasn’t perfect afterward, but he certainly was changed. While I’m sure I’ll need to go back through the series again to catch things I didn’t pick up on this first time through, I loved this book and am curious to see how things will change with the four Pevensies all “retired.”

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Book Review: Library of Souls

Library of Souls
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #3
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the trilogy, starting with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Jacob may have a shiny newfound ability, but it’s not as easy to control as he would have hoped, especially when most of the other peculiar children, as well Miss Peregrine herself, need rescuing, and it’s up to Jacob and Emma, along with the peculiar dog Addison, to save them. It’s time to navigate the seedy underbelly of peculiardom, and it definitely won’t be easy.

This book nicely ties up the 3-book story encompassing the first half of the overall series as it exists right now. I was sad that most of the other children were barely in it and that there weren’t many new characters involved either. The story is still inventive and full of action, though. The setting(s) for this book isn’t quite as interesting as those in the previous books—so much time is spent in one dark loop. The inclusion of “drugs” and addicts in peculiardom makes total sense, though it’s certainly sad and pretty appalling when the truth is revealed.

The ending was way too easy, but even as I say that, I’m okay with it. The books up to this point were intense and the characters went through a lot. They deserve something good happening. Overall, the book is even darker than the previous ones, which, coupled with the fact that it has more of an ending than the others that tended to leave on cliffhangers, left me feeling a little less overall excited about the book. I don’t think that’s the book’s fault, though. I’ll sum up by saying that I’m really glad I read these books, but I’m a little uncertain about continuing from here.

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Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

I grew up with the Gene Wilder movie by the same name, still love it to this day. I remember reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator when I was young, but do not recall whether I’d read this first, or read it as a follow-up to the movie. I’ve seen the re-make, and was really interested to discover that many of the things that were different in that movie, compared to the original, were actually in the book.

Anyway, about the book—I really enjoyed reading it. My eleven-year-old daughter read it before me, and she liked it a lot too. The characters and situations are often over the top, which certainly adds to the fantastic feel that the factory and Wonka’s inventions provide. It makes me sad to see how many people claim that Wonks is a slaver, considering that if you actually read the book, it’s clear that the Oompa Loompas were living terrible lives when he found them. They are fed and housed and seem to be genuinely happy. Anything past that is something we read into the story, as we have no way of knowing if they even want to leave this massive factory complex, nor what would happen if they did.

That’s my take on it, at least—I prefer to enjoy the story for what it is, not think about what kind of OSHA violations Wonka would have to deal with if the story took place in real life. I recommend it to kids who are up for a dark-yet-fun read.

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Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure, romance, humor

This was my first reading of Goldman’s “good parts version” of the S. Morgenstern classic. I’ve seen the movie, of course, enough times to appreciate how similar it is to the book, and the following review will include some comparisons. Overall, I liked the book, though it did have some downsides for me. In fact, I almost called it quits in the first chapter. Fortunately, I stuck with it, and really enjoyed the book once it took off.

I’ll start with what I liked. Both Inigo and Fezzik had full backstories that I thought at first would be dry to read about, but I was wrong! They gave those characters so much more depth. In fact, there’s more information giving in a lot of areas (not surprising when a book is turned into a movie, even when done well). Humperdinck is even more villainous than he is in the movie, the Zoo of Death being quite dark and a great setting for The Machine. To be honest, I don’t know what I would have thought about the book if I had read it before seeing the movie, since I’m sure some of what made it more enjoyable was having the well-chosen actors in mind when reading.

The story-within-a-story framework for this book is quite inventive. I’m sure Goldman fooled (and possibly still fools) many people into believing that there really was an original book written by S. Morgenstern that he then abridged. The fictional version of himself that he puts into the story, though, is pretty terrible. I struggled through the intro section in which he explains how he tried to track down the original book for his son, due mostly to the fact that during that part, he calls his son fat, blames his wife for his son being fat, and wants us to know how much he wants to cheat on his wife. Boy, am I glad the framework in the movie is just a kid and his grandpa. Then we get into the book and there’s so much focus on physical looks regarding Buttercup and other women for so many pages, after how disheartening the intro was…I put the book down and told my husband (who strongly wanted me to read it, whose favorite movie is The Princess Bride, and who also really liked the book when he read it some time ago) that I didn’t think I could go on. But I did. And I’m really glad I did. The book is really fun overall, but when I go back and read it again someday, I may start at chapter 2.

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Book Review: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia #2 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my first foray into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve seen the movies (or at least some of them), but only once when they first came out, and don’t remember much about the movie based on this book. This is yet another series I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I enjoyed it a little more than the previous book. Maybe that’s because the Pevensies aren’t newcomers to Narnia anymore, but I think it’s more due to the Narnians that they encounter this time. Reepicheep made my heart melt!

The story involving Caspian, as well as Peter and Edmund’s additions to the conflict, I enjoyed. I’ve never been one for reading battle sequences, so I appreciated that most of the fighting was summarized. Even the one full fight that was shown had a lot of interjection by other characters, so it was more fun than it probably should have been. I was not a fan of the sequence of events that followed Susan, Lucy, and Aslan as they gathered up the rest of the Old Narnians. It all felt a little strange to me and made me wonder what the purpose of it was. Most of what was shown didn’t really affect the rest of the story much.

It is possible I misinterpreted parts of this book, though it is meant for readers more like my daughter’s age, and I doubt she will get bigger meaning out of it than I did when she reads the book. However, aside from those areas, I enjoyed the book overall and think she will too.

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Book Review: Hollow City

Hollow City
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fantasy

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

On the run from monsters bent on killing them, or worse, Jacob and the other 9 peculiar children who escaped Miss Peregrine’s loop head for London in 1940, hoping to find safety and a way to help Miss Peregrine, who’s stuck in bird shape. They know the danger will only be higher in London, but they don’t have a lot of options. In a world where everything is already not as it seems, these (not exactly) children will have to decide who to trust while avoiding the further threat posed by the ongoing war.

I have been enjoying this series so much more than I expected. I find the overall story of the peculiar world inventive and fascinating. And in this book, what was set up in the first one really came alive. Rather than being completely lost and trying to understand, Jacob is…well, he’s still a bit confused, but there’s a lot to learn about, after all. As he begins to use his peculiarity with purpose, though, he gets to more involved in the mission. The other children have more of a chance to shine as well, both in personality and in ability. Though none of them is explored particularly deeply, with 10 characters going through most of the book together, I’m not very surprised or bothered.

I am fascinated by this story that is the ultimate example of using visual prompts to come up with ideas for a story. It’s a common exercise for aspiring writers, especially when they’re trying to come up with something to write about, and Ransom Riggs shows how well it can turn out. I still think he might over-describe the pictures sometimes, which makes those moments in the story feel a little forced, but I liked that he got away from every picture being an actual photo the characters looked at in the story, and many were just used to show us an illustration of a scene or a character.

The plot was definitely the highlight for me, as well as the world-building. I still think the actual writing could be better. I also don’t understand why just about every adult they run into immediately treats them with anger and hatred. There’s a scene at a train station that just seemed ridiculously unlikely to me. And I really could not care less about the relationship between Jacob and Emma—partly because she’s actually a lot older than him, even if she does look like a teenager, and partly because she was in love with Jacob’s grandfather. Both of these things just make it weird, in my opinion.

This book is full of “one step forward, two steps back,” to the point where it feels like the characters (and, by extension, we the readers) will never be able to stop and catch their breath or have good news that doesn’t turn bad. But then I got to the end, and wow! Though I’m usually not a fan of cliffhangers at the ends of books, I’m totally okay with this one! (Granted, it helps that I don’t have to wait for the next book to come out.) For now, though, I’ll stick with the recommendation I made for the first book: If you’re thinking of reading this series because you’re looking for a creepy story to go along with the creepy pictures, you may be disappointed. If you’re looking for an interesting speculative fiction world with kids with super-hero-type powers that first have to save themselves, and then quite possibly the world, this might be worth reading.

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Book Review: The Compass

The Compass
The Adventures of Niko Monroe
#2
by Tyler Scott Hess

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fantasy/sci-fi

It’s been a year since Jack’s unexpected adventure in the mind of Niko Monroe some time in the future, with no new rumblings from the map and letters that sucked him in. When new markings appear on the papers, he’s not prepared for what happens next to Niko and his friends, for whom a year has also passed.

Though I enjoyed the book that preceded this one, I had some difficulties with both storylines of book 2. There are basically two different stories being told—that of Jack in present time, hoping to complete a group social studies project in time for Christmas Eve and that of Niko dealing with a future where a specific group of people are heavily persecuted for their beliefs. In the present time, Jack and his friends are 11 years old working on a project where they’re supposed to create a people group complete with culture, language, etc. While it makes some sense for Jack’s glimpses into Niko’s life and the future world to influence his work on this project, it doesn’t influence him in ways that make much of sense to me. In fact, the kids’ discussion of the project doesn’t always make sense to me in general, and they seem to go around in circles a lot. These kids also talk and act far older than 11, and one of them is way too quick to resort to violence in response to even mild joking. Along with some other issues I had, it all led to me feeling really disconnected from this side of the story.

Unfortunately, I also felt pretty disconnected from the other side of the story too. Niko spends all of his time either in prison (sometimes the prison is plush, but it’s still prison) or on the run. But his counterparts spend a lot of time learning, doing, and acting. Then Niko hears about it after the fact in very vague snippets, as they are always hesitant to give him any real information. So the reader doesn’t really know anything either, until things are revealed near the end, which are too little, too late. It all felt a little too contrived to provide suspense, but mostly I just felt left out. And on that note, I was really hoping that the Maiden would not turn out to be who she ended up turning out to be, because it seems too cliche and I don’t really get it.

I think what I was really missing, though, was the “why.” I mentioned in my review of the first book that the beliefs the persecuted people are following is probably meant to be Christianity, but it’s not stated all that clearly. They reference the “King” a lot, but there weren’t even any references to God in this book, while the previous book had at least a few. In fact, the one thing from the previous book that had seemed to be God intervening turns out to have been an act of man! Essentially, the people in this book are being persecuted for not falling in line with the government more than anything else. They even state themselves that what they most want is just to be left alone, to be free. It’s usually a secondary statement that they would also want to share their beliefs with others. But what beliefs? Because I really don’t know what they believe other than that “the King” will guide their paths, even though it seems more like it’s the Maiden who’s been guiding their paths.

As is the case with so many reviews I write, it’s clear that there are plenty of other people who really enjoyed this book, so please be sure to check out their reviews at the link below if the book is of interest to you.

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Book Review: Rabbits

Rabbits
by Terry Miles

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, suspense

There’s a game that may not really be a game. Players aren’t supposed to talk about it, at least not in specific terms. They call it Rabbits, and playing involves finding patterns in the world around you, coincidences or even discrepancies. Follow the clues and try to win, because winning means unimaginable rewards that no one knows for sure exist, just like no one knows for sure who the winners of the first 10 iterations of the game were. A man named K has been obsessed with the game for years, so when he’s approached by a man rumored to have won in the past and told that something is wrong with the game, and it’s up to K to fix it before the next iteration begins or the entire world is in danger, of course he has to try to help. But will he be too late?

The synopsis of this book (which is better written than mine above) really intrigued me. I loved the idea of a mysterious game with the entire world—universe, even—as the playing field. Unfortunately, the book was mostly just bizarre and repetitive and lacked the real punch and follow-through I was looking for. I read the book pretty quickly, not because I was excited and caught up in it, but because I was confused and a little frustrated and wanted to push to get to that place where everything is explained and suddenly makes sense. Sadly, that moment never happened.

After the possible former winner approaches K and tells him that he has to fix the game, the story mostly consists of the same format repeated over and over: K (and sometimes his friend Chloe too) researches/digs/looks for clues, hits a dead end and gives up, suddenly has a revelation that generally comes one of two ways—either someone randomly gives him a clue or he just happens to see a random item in the room he’s in that makes him think in a new way—then is off digging again before hitting that next dead end. During this repetitive meat of the book, K is remarkably knowledgeable about almost everything he needs to know to solve these things. He has to look up one or two things, but for the most part, he’s versed in movies, music, & books (foreign and domestic), art, architecture, and constellations. No real reason is given for him having all of this knowledge (he has an eidetic memory, but he’d still have to have been exposed to a lot), and to make it worse, the fellow-sort-of-player that is helping him through all of this, Chloe, never really has the surprising and sudden knowledge at just the right time.

K has a lot of strange things happen to him throughout the course of this book, and Chloe often asks him if he’s okay. Even after he’s admitted to her some of the mind-bending things that he’s seen, he still inevitably lies to her when she checks on him and tells her he’s okay. Literally every time, it’s, “I’m fine,” with almost no variation. And then there’s the heavy language throughout the book. Even when I was in high school, I knew that people who liked to drop the f-word into every other sentence didn’t have much in the way of a vocabulary. Apparently that is the case with every single character in this book, without even the allowance for the possibility that anyone they meet along the way may not talk the same way that everyone else does. I don’t read a lot of books with heavy language like this, but never before have I gotten to the point where it felt like the author was an 11-year-old who was out of hearing of his parents and cussing just because he can. That’s what this made me feel like.

(Warning, this paragraph contains some minor spoilers.) Even with everything I’ve said above, I probably would have given the book a little higher of a rating if it weren’t for the utter lack of a payoff in the end. There’s this science presented in the 2nd half of the book that was pretty baffling to me, but I was hanging in there, doing my best to understand just enough to see how the plot paid off. I’m not sure how much of what didn’t make sense to me was due to my lack of understanding of this kind of thing and how much was due to the author sort of hand-waving some of it, but I was hanging in there. Then we get to the end and…all of that, all of the science and urgency, is just…brushed off. We’re presented with 2 new theories about what’s been happening, and then the book ends with no real answers and with everything I was doing my best to understand is just thrown out the window. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a book wasted the time it took me to read it more than this one did, and the only reason it’s 2 stars is because I really do think the idea is good, the beginning was good, and I’m sure a lot of work was put into writing and editing this book.

As for whether or not you might like it…if you’re a major gamer, into fringe culture, or know anything at all about the darknet, you really might like this book. It reminded me of Ready Player One, in that there were quite a few references to movies, music, and games, a lot of it vintage. And like RPO, a lot of it was completely unnecessary. A major setting in the book is an arcade, and when a character just happens to be leaning on a game cabinet, I don’t need to know what the name of the game is unless it’s going to matter to the story. On the other hand, my husband would probably love to know because he spent a lot of time in arcades as a kid (he also liked all of the references in RPO more than I did). So definitely make the decision for yourself, if this book sounds interesting. You can also check out other reviews at the link below.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Throughout all of Jacob Portman’s 15 years, his grandfather has told him stories about his past. Incredible, unbelievable stories about monsters and kids with special abilities and an island where he and the other kids hid from the monsters. As he grows up, Jacob realizes that the stories are fictional, or at least an exaggeration of a childhood shaped by fear of persecution and annihilation, for Jacob’s grandfather’s family was Jewish in Poland during WWII. Then tragedy strikes, and Jacob begins to feel he’s losing his mind, haunted by his grandfather’s monsters. The only solution he can think of is to go to the island where his grandfather once lived, where he hopes someone who knew his grandfather might still be. But he could never have prepared himself for what he would find there.

I really did not know what I was getting into when I started reading this book. Apparently some people expect it to be horror, but it really isn’t–more creepy at worst. It’s more mystery and suspense with some adventure, definitely sci-fi/fantasy elements, and even some historical fiction thrown in. I really liked the mystery and intrigue as Jacob tried to decipher his grandfather’s cryptic message. I also think the world-building around the safe house and the way it’s kept safe are incredibly interesting and well-done. The main character starts out as a self-important, bratty kid, and…well, he may still be that at the end of the book. But a self-important, bratty kid with a mission is better than one with no aim whatsoever, so there’s that.

I was really caught up in the book almost the whole way through, but when I slowed down to think about it, I realized the writing could have been better. And the inclusion of the photos sometimes flowed well, but other times the explanation for why there was a photo of a particular person or event just felt too forced. However, I think I approached this book the opposite of most people–rather than being excited about these creepy, vintage photos that the story is written around, I didn’t really care about the photos in advance, read the book for itself, and looked at the pictures as they came up. If you’re thinking of reading this book because you’re looking for a creepy story to go along with the creepy pictures, you may be disappointed. If you’re looking for an interesting speculative fiction world with kids with super-hero-type powers that first have to save themselves, and then quite possibly the world, this might be worth reading. Be warned, though: it ties up most of the story from the book, but the ending is a jumping-off point for the next book, which I’m looking forward to continuing.

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