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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

15 Dec

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenMy Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Expectations are everything in life, aren’t they?  I got about 25 pages into this book annoyed that this author thought we readers were so naive.  Then I realized that this is a book written for young adults.  I was expecting ‘grown up creepy’ instead of ‘tween creepy’.  Tween creepy – yawn.  Once I adjusted my expectations, my impression of the book changed and I started enjoying it.  For a minute.  And then I got so confused by the plot even though it’s a book for young adults!  Seriously, I would pay someone to explain to me what exactly is going on with this home and these peculiar children.  I won’t divulge and details here – you’ll have to read it yourself and see if you can figure it out.

So I adjusted to the PG rating and decided not ask too many questions about the paranormal aspects of the story, only to realize I was getting a Harry Potter vibe.  C’mon people! The storylines have a lot of differences, but still – teenage boy, finds out something out about himself and his family, which sends him on a journey where he meets people ‘like him’ and then decides that this is his real family.  Hmmmm….

Okay, fine.  If I set THAT aside too…I sort of liked it.  Unique in many ways and there is certainly some creepiness (even if it is PG).  I liked the pictures in the book, it was exciting at the very end and set itself up for a sequel in a big way. I will make sure I have the appropriate expectations when I go to read the sequel!

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Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins

13 Aug

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2)My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Properly prepares readers for the final installment of this series!

Who will like it best: Women and men ages 13+ who have already read the Hunger Games

Words to describe it: Fast-Paced, Action, Sets Stage

Will I add it to my personal library: Yes

Will I read it again: Yes, with my kids who I hope will read it too!

Catching Fire is the second book in the Hunger Games series. I couldn’t wait to read this to continue the story of Katniss and Peeta (and Gale) after she survives the Hunger Games.

The middle book of a trilogy always gets a bad wrap because it’s never as exciting and glamorous as the books that come before and after it. But while it seems like the 2nd book is ‘forgettable’, it is absolutely critical to making a trilogy work. In the first book, the novelty draws readers in and they want to read on and in the last book, everything is concluded, which is also exciting for readers. This leaves the middle book to provide enough interest, information, character development and storyline to basically move the story from point A to point B. But that is so important, even if it isn’t as impactful. Without that middle book ‘gearing up’ the readers, they won’t be appropriately anticipating the third installment. And without that anticipation, they will be disappointed in the last book and the whole series will get a bad reputation. A roller coaster ride would not be good if it didn’t have some calm between hills. Catching Fire filled its role better than I expected. It contained its own surprises and held its own action-wise while still properly preparing us for the grand finale, Mockingjay. The only criticism I have is that the pace of the story was a little  more choppy than I remembered Hunger Games being. It was a little harder to follow. I also felt Katniss’s thoughts and actions were a little choppier too. She seemed to be more conflicted in this book and changed her mind more often. She was a little harder to keep up with as well. Well, let’s not forget she is a teenage girl!

This series is completely entertaining and worth everyone’s time. I recommend it to just about anyone from ages 13 on. This book by itself isn’t that strong, but it doesn’t need to be because it serves its purpose and properly prepares the reader for the final Hunger Games installment.

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

10 Aug

Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars

Who will like it best: Women and Men 20+ and experienced readers

Words to describe it: Thought-provoking, literary, serious

Will I add it to my personal library? Yes

Will I read it again? Maybe

This book has shown up on many reading blogs and conversations I’ve seen over the past year so I put it on my TBR list several months ago.  I finally selected it because I read the movie based on this book is being released later this year.

I didn’t actually know too much about the book’s plot beforehand which I actually think enhanced my reading experience.  I recommend that everyone read this book without knowing the synopsis in detail.  Trust me!  In fact, I’m skipping the entire Synopsis section of this review for that reason!

Here’s what you do need to know about it:

  • It’s told in the first person by a woman named Kathy H. reflecting on her time away in boarding school.
  • It can be read by both men and women (it’s not chick lit).
  • It deals with ethical social dilemmas.
  • It is perfect for a book club and required high school reading – you will want to have someone to discuss it with.

My Review

As I mentioned above, this novel stuck with me for a while after I finished it.  It did so for two reasons:  First of all, its uniqueness has taken some time to process.  I keep going back to the details of the book and reflecting on them – why was something a certain way, why was something else a certain way.  Secondly, I cannot decide if I should rate it as a 5!  The coveted 5 rating means I will want to read it again someday and will recommend it to my friends as a ‘must read’.  I’m not positive I feel that way on either count.  This book was pretty dry.  I understand that if I’m still thinking about it, it is a good piece of literary fiction.  I loved the journalistic style of the writing.  The author did a great job of giving Kathy and all of the characters an almost child-like perspective into adulthood, because of their very limited experiences.  The descriptions were detailed and interesting.  I thought the concept for this book was ingenious.  The book unfolded properly for me (because I didn’t know what it was about) which added to the overall impact. And ultimately the social and ethical questions this book poses are important to think about.

But, on the other hand I really did feel like I just needed a bit more.  Of something.  Maybe?  I’m not even sure myself anymore!  I think I could have used more background about the world outside of Halisham.  I had trouble understanding what Ruth’s deal was.  And I didn’t get Tommy’s animals either (I mean I understood his theory but not why he chose animals and why they were so good).  Lastly, I think the wrap-up at the end (after meeting with Madame) was a bit too short – I felt like the characters deserved a less abrupt conclusion.   I wonder if me having those questions actually is a positive for this novel though – again, it’s making me think.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Besides all that, though, I don’t think that this book is for everyone.  This is a great fit for readers who like to reflect on what they’ve read and discuss it, but some might find it dry or too serious to be read for entertainment.

Summary

After much deliberation I’ve decided to rate this book a 5 out of 5 stars, even though earlier in my review I wasn’t sure I would consider it a ‘Must Read.’.  I decided that I do think everyone should read it, because it is simply an awesome work of art.  It’s really brilliant.  It has thoughtfully designed characters and a unique approach to ethical issues.  It might not seem fast-paced enough for some, but I think it is still worth it.  I suspect this book might end up as required high-school reading too.

Book Review: The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins

28 Jul

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 Stars

Who will like it best: Women and Men 13+

Words to describe it: Satisfying, Exhilarating, Action

Will I add it to my personal library? Yes

Will I read it again someday? Yes!

The Hunger Games has been on my ‘To Be Read’ list for a very long time.  This science-fiction book came out in September 2008 and has been a NY Times bestseller since, for the past 97 weeks.  It is the first book in a three-part trilogy, the second book of which is called Catching Fire and has also been on the best seller list for a whopping 46 weeks.  The third book, Mockingjay, will be released on August 24.  Never heard of these books?  It might be because they are on the Children’s Chapter Book best seller list which is for readers 12 years and up.   I’ll admit that was one reason I was hesitant to read this book – I was afraid it would be totally dumb and boring. I learned my lesson about tween books the hard way with Twilight (grrr…believe me, I wanted to like them!).  That combined with the fact that it’s science fiction made reading this novel pretty unappealing to me all the way around.  But because of the hype, I felt I had to at least try and see what it was all about.  And guess what…it was a really good book!

I’ve read that Lionsgate has purchased the rights to make this trilogy into a movie and the author, Suzanne Collins, will write the screenplay.  The most I can find on that now is at IMDB (www.imdb.com) has this movie listed as ‘in development’.  If it does make it to the big screen I’m anxious to see how this is done – I think this book would make a great movie.  What I hope doesn’t happen is that it comes out looking like a made-for-tv-movie on the SciFi network, which will completely undermine the work of art the book is.

Synopsis

This story takes place in a post-war North America called Panem.  The land has been reorganized into 12 districts and a Capitol.  The members of the Capitol rule over the districts and to remind them of this, every year they force each district to send 1 girl and 1 boy to compete to the death against each other in what is called the ‘Hunger Games.’  These games are televised and are required to be watched by everyone across Panem.  Katness Everdeen is the girl sent to represent District 12.  She is 16, but is tough and self-sufficient and has been taking care of her mother and little sister since her father died. The book follows her through her experience competing in the Games.  I won’t tell you how it ends explicitly, but you can probably guess since it is the first of three books.  Don’t worry – knowing that doesn’t ruin the reading experience at all.

Here’s an excerpt – I like how much this short paragraph tells you about the world of Panem.

The train finally begins to slow and suddenly bright light floods the compartment. We can’t help it.  Both Peeta and I run to the window to see what we’ve only see on television, the Capitol, the ruling city of Panem.   The cameras haven’t lied about its grandeur.  If anything, they have not quite captured the magnificence of the glistening buildings in a rainbow of hues that tower into the air, the shiny cars that roll down the wide paved streets, the oddly dressed people with bizarre hair and painted faces who have never missed a meal.  All the colors seem artificial, the pinks too deep, the greens too bright, the yellows painful to the eyes, like the flat round disks of hard candy we can never afford to by at the tiny sweet shop in District 12.

My Review

As I mentioned, I was concerned with the teen-ness of this novel but in the end I actually liked that it was more ‘PG’ than not.  The relationships lacked any adult point of view as I expected, but that was okay because the relationships weren’t the only focus.  And it was definitely a less complex overall but I was fine with that too because it made it easy for me to adjust to the science-fiction aspect.  And honestly, the sci-fi wasn’t overwhelming at all.  You do have to adjust to a society beyond what we know, but it’s pretty simplistic actually and not distracting when following the story. This book has a (much less detailed and headache-causing) George Orwell1984-vibe with the big brother and government control themes.  I also really liked Katness.  I believed in her and her abilities.  This made me excited to watch her compete and see what ultimately happened to her.  Lastly, this book is extremely well paced.  It moves quickly which enables the reader to easily keep up interest through to the end.

The one question that kept coming back to me as I was reading this book was, “How did North America get like this?”  There is no year given, but it says that Panem “rose out of the ashes” and this is the 74th year of the Hunger Games, so I can only imagine how far into the future this book is set.  What was at work and for how long to leave the entire continent reconfigured?  Perhaps some of that will be revealed in the next 2 books.

I had a couple of minor issues with the way this novel ended.  First, I cannot believe this situation is coming up for the first time in seventy-four years of the Hunger Games.  It seems like 2 other contestants could have worked out what Katness did at some point before.  Secondly, I don’t understand why the Capitol is so angry about it.

I would recommend this book for sure and for many categories of readers:  Male and female readers both young and old.  I don’t recommend it to those who are heavily into adult science-fiction – I suspect that they would find it a little too ‘light’ compared to what they are used to.  The story is unique, the characters distinctive and likeable.  It’s well paced, not too heavy on the science-fiction but enough so to transport you to a somewhat unfathomable but believable society.