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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Book Review: Hangman’s Curse

Hangman’s Curse
Veritas Project
#1

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. They’re sent to a high school in Washington where kids are falling mysteriously ill with symptoms of fear and paranoia. As the family begins to assimilate into the school, they’re shocked to discover how certain students are treated, both by other students and by the faculty. Can they discover who—or what—has the school’s most popular kids seeing a ghost?

This book and its sequel, both of which I read several times back when they were new, are a large part of why Peretti has been my favorite author since high school. This is the first time in at least 10 years that I’ve read it, and it did not disappoint. The core issue in this book hit me a lot harder this time, maybe partly because I’m older now, but also because I read Peretti’s semi-autobiographical book The Wounded Spirit last year for the first time, which describes heavy bullying in his adolescence, and that really put this book into a new perspective for me. While it certainly does not excuse the kids who have been bullied and then retaliated, it sheds a light on the incredible injustice that can be prevalent in schools.

One thing that I think could trip some people up about this book is that the very premise of the series isn’t realistic. The fact that it’s the president of the United States who establishes this investigative group specifically with a Judeo-Christian perspective, as well as the teenagers of the family being investigators themselves, it’s not believable in this day and age. However, like with others of Peretti’s books, I think it’s perfectly okay to not think of it as meant to be completely realistic, and think of it more as a “what if” scenario. And in that way, it’s very insightful. I also question the likelihood of a high school teacher at that time actually teaching kids that there is no right or wrong…seems pretty foolish, since at a school, they’d most likely want kids to believe that the rules are right and that breaking the rules is wrong. Otherwise, they’re inviting anarchy. In today’s society (only 20 years later), though, I would buy this a lot more.

One last thing I should mention is definitely a spoiler, so highlight the black text at your own risk. If you have an issue with spiders, you may need to be careful reading this book. My own phobia is pretty bad, but I was able to push through. I don’t know if that’s an indication of how much I like the book or how un-intrusive the issue was, but it’s there. I do love this book, though I don’t know how well I’ll be able to watch the movie. I own it and have definitely watched it more than once in the past. I’m not sure if that means my phobia has grown over time or if the movie just isn’t too bad. There is one sequel to this book (man, do I wish Peretti had written more of these), and I remember liking it even more than this one, so I’m pretty excited about it. I highly recommend this book to all fans of Christian thrillers, whether you’re a teenager or adult.

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Book Review: The Road Home

The Road Home
Echo Company
#5

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for a previous book in the series, ‘Tis the Season.

The fifth and final book in the Echo Company series takes us back to the base hospital where Lieutenant Rebecca Phillips is serving out her tour. Before long, most of the people she knew in-country have gone home one way or another, and then…it’s her turn. The prospect of returning to normal life is more daunting than the idea of staying in Vietnam for another year, but Rebecca does what she has to do. Arriving in the United States, being back home with her family, none of that is really what it should be—she’s just too messed up. And she’s not sure that will ever change.

The overall idea that war destroys more than the actual soldiers is strongly presented in this book. Granted, Rebecca did more than just stay on her base and deal with the casualties that came in as other nurses would have done. The tragic encounter that left her injured in book #3 was certainly closer to the experiences of a soldier than those of a nurse. However, that only made her more broken. The book makes it clear that seeing everything she did in the hospital was enough to make “normal life” very difficult.

I struggled a little with having the constant perspective of someone who never tells the full truth (almost never). I’m not saying it feels unrealistic though. Apparently even before the war, Rebecca tended to tell half-truths, at least to her parents. Their relationship has been strained since before she left—that’s a lot of why she left. However, from a fiction POV standpoint, for me, at least, it got a little frustrating to know she was holding back so very much, and I don’t mean just the stuff that it makes a lot of sense for her to not want to tell them.

It was also a little frustrating to see her get good advice from wise and kind people and basically just ignore it. Again, it might be completely realistic for real-life people suffering from such high levels of PTSD to act this way, but it did start to make me wonder what the point of the book was. If it was just to show us the depressing side of life after war, it wasn’t going to turn out to be my favorite at all. Things did end on a somewhat lighter note, though, and I do wish I could see some kind of follow-up for these characters. On the other hand, the realistic follow-up might not be something I’d want to see.

In the first part of the book, I found myself hanging on to everything written about Michael, the main character during most of the rest of the series. Apparently his change in personality in the last book didn’t bother me enough to make me dislike him. I’m still surprised that I picked up the first book in this series when I was a teenager, because it’s really not my norm. I didn’t read them all back then, I think just 1 and 2, but I’m really glad I went through it all now. Here, at the end of the series, I think I would still recommend it for readers who might be interested. There is some language and in the last book a decent amount of sexual references (nothing remotely graphic).

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Book Review: The Chance of a Lifetime

The Chance of a Lifetime
Cassie Perkins
#8

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 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 auditions for and wins a spot on a national singing tour for the election campaign of a man running for president of the United States. At first, it doesn’t matter to her what his position is on any policies because of the amazing opportunity and the exposure she’ll get as a singer. Besides, she’s too young to vote, so it doesn’t really matter whether or not she agrees with him…does it?

Very shortly after going with Andrea to New York City for Andrea’s chance as a fashion model, Cassie is off on another adventure, this time by herself. And for a while, it’s nothing but lights and music and fun. Not that it’s not hard work to memorize the songs and routines in the small time frame she and the other 7 singers are given, and I really liked the descriptions we’re given about how the rehearsals and shows go. I’m sure it could have gotten repetitive, since a lot of what happened was the same from day to day, or it could have just been skipped over and left a really short book. But Hunt made it interesting and focused more on things that did change from day to day, mostly things that happened with the singers, or meager encounters with the man they were promoting.

Then a medical situation forces Cassie to stop singing, and even to stop talking, and all that’s left to do is to listen. And she doesn’t like what she hears. As a teenager whose parents aren’t really Christians, Cassie has to wrestle mostly alone with the moral implications of endorsing a man whose stance on certain political issues go against the faith she’s still somewhat new to. I really like the way it all plays out, and I think it can give anyone who reads it encouragement to make the right choice when faced with a difficult decision like this ourselves. This book is a solid addition to the series in which I’m sad to only have one book left to read.

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Book Review: Star Light, Star Bright

Star Light, Star Bright
Cassie Perkins
#7

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 / 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.

When Cassie’s best friend Andrea wins a modeling contest and gets to go to New York City for a week, she invites Cassie to go with her. But fame and fortune affects Andrea in ways Cassie never expected. Will their friendship survive Andrea’s overnight success?

Cassie finally gets to show that she can be responsible in this story, as she’s expected to keep Andrea out of trouble when the two teenagers go to New York. Of course, there wouldn’t be a story if things didn’t go wrong in some way, so while what happens is unexpected to Cassie, it’s a bit expected by at least adult readers. Readers of the demographic this story is meant for may not expect it as much, but it’s hard to say in this day and age. I think what I question the most, though, is how on earth Andrea and Cassie are even best friends. Andrea has always been a less-than-faithful friend, ignoring Cassie for long periods of time if she’s interested in a guy or just annoyed with Cassie in some way. Suddenly at the beginning of this book, though, the two are thick as thieves again. Well, okay.

When I think about this series from when I read it as a teenager, this story was the one I remembered most. Though it was maybe a little less enthralling as an overall story than some of the others, I still liked it and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

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