Saturday, August 24, 2013

what makes you special?

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fantasy
Review: This book is a wonderful mix of the fantastic and the mundane.  It's an ordinary world, but some people have "peculiarities" - invisibility, the ability to levitate, or create and control a ball of fire, and the like.

Although the premise of ordinary-kid-finds-out-he-has-extraordinary-powers is a bit worn-out these days, Riggs manages to turn it into something new.  I don't know whether it's the somewhat-disturbing photos that are sprinkled through the book that keep it grounded, or the fact that Jacob's "peculiarity" doesn't seem all that phenomenal, but whatever it is, it makes this book read more like fiction than fantasy.  I'll take either, and don't mean to make a judgment-call about fiction over fantasy here.  I only mean to say that Riggs has a very deft touch as a writer.

Unfortunately, his touch his not so deft when it comes to explaining the idea of a "loop".  The idea is that the "peculiarity" exhibited by some people is that they can create a loop of time that continuously resets itself as long as its creator can maintain control over it.  I get that, and I can even wrap my head around the seeming-inconsistency that, although the people outside the loop are completely unaware of it, what happens to people inside the loop is permanent (everyone inside the loop remembers everything, if someone dies, they stay dead, even after the loop resets, etc.).  What I couldn't make square was that people from both inside and outside the loop can enter and leave at will, as long as they know where the entrance is, without there being any impact on the loop itself.  There are going to be more books about the peculiar children, so perhaps this will be explained, or perhaps I just need to take it on faith, but as it stands it detracted from an otherwise very enjoyable, and subtle, story.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

what if...?

Fallout by Todd Strasser
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: What if the Cuban Missile Crisis had not been peacefully resolved?  What if the Soviets had detonated nuclear bombs over Long Island?  And what if your family was the only one with a bomb shelter?  This is the premise of Todd Strasser's book.

But this is not a philosophical treatise.  We aren't asked actually asked "what would you do if...".  Rather, we are presented with the situation as it is, and through Strasser's very vivid writing, asked to put ourselves in the shelter and experience it through Scott's eyes.

Neither is this a political treatise.  Strasser keeps the focus so tight on Scott, his first-person narrator, that we can't even quite tell what's going on politically or militarily.  We only know tensions are rising on the world stage.  It's a very realistic portrayal of how the world looked to a 12 year old in 1962, but the technique has it's pitfalls as well, the biggest one being that I am not 12 years old and would have liked a bit more insight into what was going on in the wider world.

Although this lack of information bothered me while I was reading the book, looking back, it seems almost a nitpicky complaint about a book that is so strong and readable.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

the comet that disappointed

Night of the Comet by George Bishop
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: I enjoyed George Bishop's first novel, Letter to My Daughter and was excited to read this book, his second.  I was not disappointed.  Bishop explores similar themes in this book, as his narrator looks back on his childhood and the lives of his parents.

Alan Broussard, Jr. looks back on his freshman year of high school, when he fell in love for the first time, his father was his science teacher, his parents' marriage fell apart and came back together, and the comet Kohoutek didn't quite show up.  Bishop is adept at bringing his characters to life and managing all of the threads of his narrative.  The story isn't complicated or startling, but it's believable and satisfying.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.