Book Review: Rise of the Elgen

Rise of the Elgen
Michael Vey #2
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. And he’s not the only one with electric abilities. Together with some of the other teens like him, and some without powers, Michael sets out to rescue his mom from Dr. Hatch and the Elgen.

I both enjoyed and was annoyed by this book. For plot and intrigue, I give it a thumbs up. For characterization and writing style, I give it a thumbs down. The story itself kept me interested, and I sped through it. Evans has some interesting ideas involving the electric powers and how they can be used by both sides (though there are some aspects I’m not sure are completely thought out—for example, if Zeus’s electric powers are sapped, wouldn’t water not affect him so much? How does Ian’s echolocation allow him to read printed text?).

However, the group of hero teens generally fall into two categories—the boys are strong, alpha males who just want to flirt and smash. The girls are silly creatures that think fluffy animals are cute (except for the rats). The only exceptions to these stereotypes are Michael himself and his best friend Ostin. And then there’s the bad guy, who makes me feel like Evans did a study in how to do one better on the evils of Nazi Germany. The things they do are just over the top evil, it’s disturbing. As for the writing, I hate to say it, but it made me feel like I was reading my own early attempts at writing as a 12-year-old. I rolled my eyes several times at the immaturity. I know this is written for a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean it has to be quite so silly.

In the end, though I wrote down several notes of things that bothered me, I look back and mostly see an exciting, fast-paced book (which might be interesting, since I’ve read several reviews that say this book was slower than the first). While the downsides are the kind of thing that I don’t expect to get any better in future books, as long as the good parts are still there, I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

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Book Review: The Prisoner of Cell 25

The Prisoner of Cell 25
Michael Vey #1
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. In the space of a few days, Michael discovers that he’s not the only one with powers and that there are sinister forces that are looking for him. When his mom is kidnapped, Michael has to go on the offensive while figuring out what his powers can do.

I enjoyed this story overall. The writing was nothing special, but the story is interesting. I think I liked Michael’s powerless friend, Ostin, most. I kept imagining him as Ned from the more recent Spider-Man movies. Hatch is a sufficiently interesting bad guy, who I assume majored in psychology, because he really knows how to manipulate people. Though I do think he makes some obvious errors when trying to break one of the characters, so that was a little off-putting. It might just show how completely deranged he is though.

For as atypical as Michael is supposed to be, he sure seems to bring a lot of tropes and cliches to the book. For example, he has a crush on the cheerleader and can’t talk right around her. He’s also scrawny and victim to some intense bullying, yet is able to understand their motivation super quickly and easily, which is definitely not likely to happen in a situation like this. But while most of the characters don’t get a lot of development and there’s an amazing coincidence involving two kids with powers that happen to go to the same school that is never explained, the story overall moves along quickly and kept my attention. The climax may have been a little on the easy side, but I don’t mind that, especially in a book for a younger audience. The story this first book sets up is intriguing, so I’ll definitely be continuing the series.

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Book Review: The Desolations of Devil’s Acre

The Desolations of Devil’s Acre
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #6
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

With a larger-than-life villain creating larger-than-life henchmen and a prophecy to fulfill, Miss Peregrine’s wards will need to use every tool at their disposal to keep peculiardom from being enslaved.

What started as a unique, interesting idea has devolved into a repetitive, boring mess. There are characters and relationships I just couldn’t care less about (though that has been an issue for me from the beginning). There is more than one deliberate mislead that just made me feel lied to by the time I’d finished the book. Riggs basically mangles his own foundational lore in this book. And in the end, it all just felt like a watered-down rinse and repeat of the first trilogy’s end.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that Riggs should have stopped after the first trilogy, because he’d already created an interesting world that has a lot of possibilities. However, he definitely should have put more distance between the two trilogies, whether that meant evolving Jacob’s abilities in some way, having a different main character (because, let’s face it, with Jacob’s peculiarity, there’s only so much variety in what he can help fight against), or maybe even finding an entirely different group of peculiars to focus on. I now own every book in the series, buying them along the way, but wish I’d have read the last few before deciding to purchase them. I prefer to only own books that I plan to re-read someday, and while I may go back through the first trilogy, I would know to stop there in the future. For anyone else reading this series, certainly keep going if you’ve enjoyed it so far; plenty of others liked the this book more than I did anyway.

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Book Review: The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #5
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

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

Find V. Keep Noor safe. Avoid war between American peculiar clans. Of course, Jacob can’t do all of this alone, so it’s a good thing his friends are willing to overlook his stupidity and bring him back into the fold. But then the prophecy rears its ugly head, almost literally, and Jacob may not have what it takes to save the future of peculiardom.

This was my least favorite book of the series so far, though the story itself was good overall, about as good as the rest, to me. But I feel like either Ransom Riggs is getting more lazy or I’m just noticing it more. The most glaringly obvious is Noor. I was never a fan of Emma and Jacob’s relationship, so I don’t care that Jacob has a new romantic interest. However, Noor herself, and the development of their relationship, is like a rinse and repeat of Emma. Riggs seems to have no imagination for major female characters, especially those of the love-interest variety. And in this book, Jacob remarks that his relationship with Emma was “chaste,” to which I respond, “Compared to what?!” This is quite a ret-con of the earlier books, during which Jacob and Emma were definitely fairly physical. I really don’t understand the author’s thoughts in all of this.

This is not the only example, though, as a prophecy that was written in many different languages and cobbled together into English just happens to rhyme in English (and this happens again later with a shorter text). A loop that is locked just happens to let 2 people in, but keep all others out (nothing nefarious or planned, simply no explanation given). And the climax seems like it should be impossible (not saying more to avoid spoilers), but no explanation is given to make it more believable.

I think Riggs has done something decent here with this series, though I do wonder if he should have stopped at the first trilogy. Or perhaps made the second trilogy more of a removal from the first. A lot of people don’t really care for the villain in this 2nd half, and while it doesn’t really bother me, I get the frustration. I don’t know if he plans to continue with more books or not, but even though this book was less fun for me, I’m still looking forward to reading the culmination of this 3-book arc, and possibly of the entire series.

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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: Princess in Love

Princess in Love
The Princess Diaries #3
by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA contemporary fiction

Still preparing for her impending trip to the country for which she has recently discovered she’s a princess, Mia Thermopolis finally has a boyfriend. The only problem is, she doesn’t really like him that way. When he claims to love her, all she can do is thank him. And she doesn’t really enjoy kissing him. In fact, she’s in love with someone else…who has a girlfriend of his own.

Mia’s dire, the-world-is-ending proclamations are less common in this book, compared to the previous ones, which is nice. She still complains a lot though. Overall, it seems like a fairly simple high school (overly)dramatic story, but where the MC is also adjusting to being princess of a small European country. I really don’t think I would have liked it nearly as well if I hadn’t listened to the audiobook that was narrated, or really more like acted out, by Anne Hathaway. I did enjoy it, though, but I don’t think I’ll read any more of this series, since this is the end of Anne Hathaway’s narration.

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Book Review: Nightmare Academy

Nightmare Academy
Veritas Project #2

by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian thriller

The Springfields are a family of investigators—Dad, Mom, and twin siblings Elijah and Elisha—for the Veritas Project, which seeks to find the truth behind strange mysteries and crimes when others are unable or unwilling to see past the surface. When a teenage boy shows up on a highway in Idaho with no idea who he is or why he’s there and can only answer questions with “I don’t know,” the Springfields are brought in to investigate. Elijah and Elisha go undercover and are soon enough caught up in a world with no absolutes and no way to escape.

For as much as I liked the previous book in this series, I like this one even more. I always have, I’m pretty sure, since I read these several times soon after they came out in the early 2000s. While the warning presented within this book might seem extreme to some, I think it’s an insightful look at what happens to society when truth is left up to the individual. When one rejects God and the Bible, upon what foundations can “right” and “wrong” be based? Only one’s own feelings, beliefs, assumptions, desires, etc. And when that person’s version of right and wrong clashes with someone else’s, who wins? That is what this book examines in a somewhat true-to-life setting. Though some of the mechanics involved in the book are certainly beyond what technology can do these days, the study of “what if” is again the focus in this book, like it was in the previous.

If you read this book and don’t see any parallels to what is going on in real life, you might not be paying very close attention. I know this approach isn’t for everyone, but I do truly believe that the only truth that can really be known is found in the Bible, and the more we get away from that, the more dangerous it can be. Peretti has a way of cutting to the heart of things that I have always loved, and I really wish he had written more in this series. I highly recommend this book to all fans of Christian thrillers, whether you’re a teenager or adult.

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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: 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 Glory of Love

The Glory of Love
Cassie Perkins
#9

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Cassie returns home near the end of a long summer to find her family has become enthralled with her step-brother Nick’s new friend, a giant of a man named Dustin. Cassie doesn’t appreciate being thrown together with him just because Nick and Andrea, Cassie’s best friend, happen to be dating. Even as Cassie finds herself liking him more and more, he’s about to ship off to be in the army for 2 years, so she does everything she can to guard her heart.

Here at the final book in the series, I find that my reaction to it is related at least as much to how it calls back to the rest of the series as it is to this story itself. For example, Cassie immediately dislikes Dustin, mostly just because everyone else likes him. That’s been a rather tired recurring theme for her throughout the series, as she dislikes almost everyone new, and not always for the same reason. Overall, though, she’s clearly just not very accepting of change. She also has shown this amazing ability to turn the head of a lot of guys in the series, often just by being “different” from everyone else around. And finally, despite the lesson she should have learned from the previous book where she “fell in love,” she again convinces herself that she can date a non-believer and change him.

Also like some of the other books in the series, I had a feeling I knew where this story was going to go. Fortunately, it didn’t quite follow my predictions completely (which also happened with some of the other books too), and the story came out interesting in the end. I think I would have liked something a little more final for the last book in the series, but Cassie is still a teenager at this point, so a satisfactory wrap-up to this particular story would be difficult to swallow anyway. And since these were written in the early 90s, I don’t have much reason to hope for a follow-up. The series overall averaged about 4.5 stars for me, and I’m so glad I read through the whole thing again recently. I will be recommending the series to my daughter (currently 11) and do think it’s worth looking into for other Christian girls in the middle school to early high school range.

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