Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

By Ransom Riggs. Published 2011.

Lots of books I’ve been reading lately guys! Or at least lots of book reviews I’ve been getting done.

I had heard nothing about this book until I happened to be checking books in and somebody returned it. The cover is immediately arresting (let’s be honest, we all judge books by their covers) and after flipping through the book I decided to check it out.

I’m not sure what came first, the story or the photos, but Riggs has created a story around 2 dozen or so weird and absolutely beautiful photographs. Most amazing of all is that they are all real, by which I mean that they were not created or manipulated for the story in any way. At some points the attempt to fit interesting photos into the story feels a little forced, but they are all worth seeing so it does not matter so much.

The protagonist, Jacob, is sixteen years old. He is rich and friendless and lives a completely unremarkable life in south Florida made interesting only by the unusual stories his beloved grandfather tells him of his life living in an orphanage with “peculiar” children (with many photographic examples) and traveling the world. Except recently, his grandfather seems to descending further into his dementia. Jacob goes to check on him one evening, only to find that he has been brutally murdered and worse, murdered by a monster that only Jacob can see. Eventually, after months of psychiatric treatment, Jacob and his family feel that a trip to Wales to visit the home his grandfather grew up in would be the best solution to helping Jacob get over his death.

Except once there Jacob wanders into a loop; a loop that has been protecting Miss Peregrine and all her peculiar children from harm and the dangers of the monsters and the wights who serve them. We get to meet all the children his grandfather grew up (with more photographs!) and realize along with Jacob that his grandfather’s stories were true.

The story ends fairly neatly, although there is clearly a sequel in the works (or at least desired by the author). If so, I look forward to reading it. I love graphic novels and I love novels with beautiful illustrations. A novel with gorgeous and unusual photographs is something different and unique. I would love to see more of them.

Advertisements

Graceling

By Kristin Cashore. Published 2008.

I recently reread Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I’m still not really sure how I feel about this book. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s never as satisfying a story as I wish it was. And there are several bits of the story that just rub me the wrong way.

Katsa is the niece of King Randa of the Middluns. She also has eyes that are two different colors, one green, one blue. This trait marks Katsa automatically as Graced, someone born with an exceptional skill. Sometimes the skill is good vision, or strength, or swimming. But Katsa’s Grace is killing which makes her particularly dangerous and extremely valuable for her uncle the king. She has trained herself to control her Grace making her one of the most dangerous people in all of the seven kingdoms. But Katsa is not happy being her uncle’s thug and has secretly created the Council with her cousin (the heir to the throne) and various other nobles. The Council intends to improve conditions in the seven kingdoms for people in an attempt to curb the abuses and inconsistencies that have been thrust on people by a series of weak and/or indifferent kings in all of the kingdoms.

It is on one mission for the Council that Katsa rescues the father of the Lienid king and father also to the Queen of Monsea, a kingdom known for its wise and kind ruler, Leck. Katsa brings the old man back to the Middluns court for safety and healing and to attempt to find out why the man was kidnapped in the first place. The old man’s grandson and the youngest of the Lienid Princes, Po, shows up and becomes Katsa’s friend and travel partner as they attempt to find the truth behind the kidnapping and discover that King Leck is not what he seems.

It was an interesting story, and it was cool to see Katsa grow out of her belief that she’s not just Randa’s personal killer. Po actually points out that Katsa’s Grace might not even be what she has always thought it is and events in the story prove that he is correct.

The problems I have with Graceling revolve mainly around Katsa herself. Yes, she’s a fighter and Cashore goes to great lengths to prove that Katsa is strong and very stereotypically tomboy-ish. Hence, no dresses, her hair is always a mess, and she takes no interest in looking nice or in getting married. There is nothing wrong with those things but, honestly, we get it. Katsa is a Strong Female Character for sure. Another thing that bothered me is the very modern view of marriage/childbirth that Katsa has. The story is set in a group of kingdoms that seem to have fairly traditional views of marriage (man head of the family, wife a helper to cook, clean, raise children, etc.), yet Katsa has no interest in getting married or having children because she doesn’t want to be tied to anyone. Which is a reason so breathtakingly selfish that I have problems liking Katsa at all. Especially since she eventually takes Po as a lover and routinely eats some herb that acts as a birth control. Granted, my views as a Christian are conservative and traditional, but I fail too see why Cashore felt the need to make Katsa so out of place in that way. Was it just another way to show how isolated Katsa was from the culture and society around her? I don’t know, but it just seemed like such an unnecessary character trait.

Cashore has written two companion books to Graceling. One, Fire, looks at the origins of the villain Leck through the eyes of a young noblewoman Fire. The other book, Bitterblue, was just published recently as a sequel to Graceling. I have read Fire and liked it a little better than Graceling but there was still a lot in it that bothered me, just like Graceling. I plan to read Bitterblue when I can, although I imagine I’ll end up with the same conflicted feelings about it, same as the other two.

The Magician King

By Lev Grossman; Sequel to The Magicians.

I recently read The Magicians and loved it. I had high expectations for The Magician King and they were fully met. Both of these books are completely different than most fantasy. Like I mentioned in my review of The Magicians, these books are a bit depressing. But I think they seem depressing because they are so realistic and that is what makes them unusual. If you haven’t read The Magicians, I would recommend not reading this post, not because of any spoilers (although there probably will be some), but just because I don’t think you’ll really understand what I’m talking about.

The Magicians ended with main character Quentin invited to go back to magical Fillory and become one of the rulers along with friends Eliot, Janet and former classmate/crush Julia. All goes well until one day, when out on a hunt, something happens that pushes Quentin to want a Quest. He misses his first chance but a second presents itself soon after so he and Julia sail off to the far East of Fillory. After a few adventures, they come across a golden key; a golden key that unlocks a door in the air and sends Quentin and Julia back to Earth.

And this is where the story gets interesting. Quentin and Julia are now stranded on Earth with no way of getting back to Fillory. And even if they can get back, will it even matter? Fillory time moves differently than Earth time and there’s no telling how long they will be away. During their attempts to find a way home, we also get to see some of Julia’s history. Julia never went to Brakebills although she took the entrance test. And the attempt to erase the memory of that failed. So Julia becomes a hedge witch, someone who learns magic through an underground system of safe houses and skill levels. And it costs her almost more than she has to give.

Julia and Quentin do get back to Fillory and fortunately only a year has gone by in Fillory for three Earth days. They come back to find Eliot in the midst of a quest to find the seven gold keys of Fillory’ the only thing that can save Fillory from imminent destruction. We get a tantalizing glimpse of Quentin as a true Magician King before the end of the quest and eventually Fillory is saved and the story ends as it should. Perhaps not as happily ever after as most readers are used to fantasy stories ending, but this ending was much more satisfying.

I don’t know if Lev Grossman has any plans to write more stories about Quentin but I hope he does. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good these books are and how much I like them. I would highly recommend them both.

The UK cover. I’m putting it here because I like it a lot better than the US version seen at the top.

Let the Right One In

Vampires have terrified me ever since I was a little kid. I think it’s the fact that vampires can hide themselves to an extent. Theoretically, that person you just passed on a dark street could be a vampire! You would never know until they started sucking on your jugular. And Dracula? Still the scariest book I’ve ever read.

However, I have this strange perversion that insists I read and watch as many things I think are scary as possible. For example, ghost stories and horror films with cheap scares and building tension ensure that I will have trouble sleeping for the next few nights. Monsters and gory movies I tend to avoid though, mainly because I think they are either boring or disgusting. (Sometimes. Not always.)

So thanks to this perversion, I checked out the Swedish movie Let the Right One In knowing that it was a vampire movie and knowing that it would give me nightmares. I was pleasantly surprised at how not scary it was.

Oskar is a 12 year boy living with his mother and bullied by classmates at school. One night a young girl moves in next door. Eli is 12 too. Kind of. She lives with her father and over the course of a few nightly meetings, Oskar and Eli become friends. Oskar provides companionship for the lonely Eli and Eli gives Oskar the encouragement to stand up to his bullies. Oskar eventually discovers that Eli is a vampire and it’s interesting to watch how their relationship progresses after that revelation. Because that’s really the point of this movie, the relationship that develops between two lonely, hurting people.

I also loved how traditional some of the vampire characteristics were. Vampires can’t enter homes until they are invited and sunlight is immediately destructive.

Ultimately, this is how vampire relationship movies should be made. (Twi-hards I’m looking at you.) Highly recommended.

Eyvind Earle

I had never heard of Eyvind Earle until a few days ago when I saw this blog post by eMORFES (and you should be following that blog if you aren’t already; they find the most beautiful and interesting art I’ve ever seen).

Earle was a prolific artist and lived from 1916 to 2000. He illustrated books, designed magazine covers and worked in animation, both on his own and with Disney (including Sleeping Beauty). He had a fascinating life and you can read about it on his official website here.

Autumn Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus Forest

Gothic Figures In Blue

Gothic Forest

Medieval Promenade

Blue Garden

Seven White Horses

Bonsai

San Luis Obispo

Three Noble Horses

Beautiful, aren’t they? See lots more of his oil paintings, sketches, and sculptures on his official website.

Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey was an odd and unusual man yet in spite of that, or maybe because of it, he is one of my favorite illustrators. You’ve most likely seen the “Mystery!” TV show opening with his animation:

Gorey dabbled in many different areas including costume and set design for theater and opera productions but he is known mostly for his illustrating. He wrote and illustrated a large number of short works, many which can be found compiled in the Amphigorey series. He has a very distinctive style that is instantly recognizable and I love looking at what he’s done whenever I can.

So I was pretty excited the other day when I ran across this article. I had never seen any fairy tale illustrations of his before but these are some truly lovely illustrations for the respective stories.

Little Red Riding Hood

Jack the Giant Killer

Rumpelstiltskin

See the article for more information and pictures.