Hollow City

September 3, 1940. Ten peculiar children flee an army of deadly monsters. And only one person can help them – but she’s trapped in the body of a bird. The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. There, they hope to find a cure for their beloved headmistress, Miss Peregrine. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. And before Jacob can deliver the peculiar children to safety, he must make an important decision about his love for Emma Bloom. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

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I went into Hollow City, the second book in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series with some trepidation – second book syndrome is real, people – but my nerves were totally unwarranted. Hollow City is so freaking good.

Riggs uses the sequel to build on the peculiar world he introduced in Miss Peregrine #1, creating an atmosphere so richly imagined that to start reading it was to leave my own life altogether. There wasn’t a single occasion on picking this book up that I wasn’t instantly sucked into the drama playing out in its pages. And I am a pretty distractible person, so this was a big deal. I have talked before about how the Harry Potter books have this specific ‘feeling’ for me. There is a piece of me that I can access in the Harry Potter books that I don’t usually, even though I read a ton. Reading Hollow City was the closest I have come to getting that feeling outside of the wizarding world. It is an immersive experience.

This is in part because the novel consists largely of the peculiar children lurching from one disaster to another. Riggs doesn’t give us much in the way of breathing time before thrusting the children in the way of the next life threatening event, whether that was the Hollows, gypsies or running through London during a World War Two bombing. And, to throw another curveball their way, for the first time in years, the children are coping with all of this relatively alone. Miss Peregrine, after the attack of the Wights, is unable to revert to human form. With their matriarch and protector trapped as a bird, the children are for the first time leaderless. With no safe time loop to live in, no Ymbryne to care for them and evil forces getting ever closer, the situation is only set to get bleaker (which of course, it does).

After being initially put off by the Miss Peregrine problem (they went through so much to save her! How could Ransom Riggs do this?!?!?!), it was actually quite relieving watching the children operate without her. Characters who were somewhat side-lined (Olive and Bronwyn I LOVE YOU) in the first novel were allowed to come into their own. They’re forced into taking risks that Miss Peregrine would never have allowed them, and in doing that, their characters are finally allowed to develop. Which, after literally living the same day over and over for eighty-odd years, is a pretty big deal.

It was particularly interesting to me, toward the end of the novel, when the children are somewhat under protection again (not for long though….), how something about it felt… off. As if they are being forced back into a box in which they no longer fit. I hope that this theme is one Riggs will have time to explore further in the final book of the series.

Obviously I can’t end this review without talking about Jacob. Despite being over main character, and the voice through which we view the story, Riggs does a really good job of not making him into a special snowflake. I suppose that is an inevitable result of being one peculiar among many.

I think what makes Jacob’s introduction into peculiar-dom so un-annoying has to do with the slow release of his ability. There is nothing obviously peculiar about him. For much of the first novel he didn’t realise he was peculiar even as he was doing it. In this book he has to try and get a handle on his ability. And he has to do it while being responsible for the lives of his friends. And then there is the whole living in the shadow of his hero grandfather thing.

Oh yeah, and his parents think he is missing or even dead, and he doesn’t see himself getting back to them any time soon.

After falling into it in pursuit of answers in the first novel, it is during Hollow City that Jacob has to really choose the peculiar life. He has to decide to sacrifice everything he knew before – his parents’ sanity even – to save this world and people he has only just discovered even existed. He has to get over his grandfather’s ghost and embrace his ability as his own, rather than seeing it as an unfortunate inheritance. He has come a long way from the self-proclaimed whiny rich kid he used to be.

If you’re looking for some fantastical escapism, the Peculiar Children series is for you.

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Broke Bookworm

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Books cost money. This simple fact is one that I didn’t much consider when I decided to become a book blogger. At the time, I was just coming to the end of being a student, and while anticipating some, was not ready for quite the level of difficulty I would go on to have securing any kind of full time, permanent employment.

I am just starting my fifth job since graduation, in all its minimum wage glory.

When you’re working your way out of your overdraft, buying books gets difficult to justify.

This post is for any of the other broke bookworms out there.

I share your frustration.

I understand the intense feelings of book-related FOMO you experience when you log on to WordPress and see the new releases everyone is losing their shit over. I too have considered adding many a shiny new tome to my already spiralling credit card debt.

(Don’t do it. Trust me.)

I get the panic that nobody will visit your blog anymore because you’re writing about that random book from the library you’d never heard of rather than the latest time travelling romance.

I suggest using financial difficulties as reading opportunities. I, for example, picked up To Kill A Mockingbird at the library a couple weeks ago out of sheer desperation and now when the next person asks me what my favourite book is, I think I have an answer for them. To be totally honest, I would not have read it if it weren’t for a lack of other, newer options.

(A review is coming once I can gather my thoughts beyond OMG! LOVE! I SHOULD CHANGE MY WHOLE LIFE! LOVE! HEARTBREAK! I WILL NOW APPROACH ALL RUDE CUSTOMERS IN MY RETAIL JOB IN THE MANNER OF ATTICUS FINCH!)

I also totally get how annoying it is when you go to the library and all they have is sequels. What is with that anyway? Did they just never get the first book or did someone like it so much they decided to keep it forever, fines be damned? Also, why is the YA section all at least 5 years old? And why is so much of it by Andy McNab?

These are all questions the poorly funded library system is ill equipped to answer.

My technique for getting through this trying time so far is to reread everything. Books were not designed to be read once and filed away. They always have more secrets to share, if only you’re willing to take a second, third, fourth look. The book you really liked when you were 15 might even change your life at 23. All those books you spent your better funded years accumulating aren’t just decorations, after all.

You Know You’ve Read Too Many Contemporaries When…

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You start looking for your mum’s secret coke stash

I get that some parents are alcoholics and drug addicts, and that some parents leave. However, from most YA contemporaries, you’d think it was all of them. You could easily believe that there is an entire generation of young people currently pulling themselves up by their boot straps while their parents drink themselves to death in the next room.

I’m also bothered by characters who respond to their parents’ addiction by never touching substances. While this is absolutely true for some, it is by no means the rule. I would just like a YA book to address the fact that making the same mistakes as your parents doesn’t make you a bad person. Addiction has a genetic component, after all.

You think it’s totally normally to never ask your friends how THEY are doing

Have you ever noticed how self-involved most contemporary protagonists are? I know that we’re often experiencing the world from their perspective but… seriously. It’s a problem.

As much as I loved Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, when he talked about not knowing the story behind his best friend’s absent dad I was like SERIOUSLY? Are you that consumed by your own drama that in ten years it’s never occurred to you to ask the girl who comes to your house every night after school where her dad got to?

While Simon does come to see the error of his ways, most of the time this sort of shitty behaviour is never addressed. It’s kind of like how in Isla and the Happily Ever After she got everything she wanted despite being selfish and awful the entire book.

It’s not satisfying.

You can only think you’re pretty when a boy says you are!

Despite all YA ever, it’s actually true that you are allowed to think that you look good because you think look good, not just because some guy suddenly saw you. This annoying, and seemingly unavoidable trope grinds with me so much because it’s just another way of telling girls that they don’t have ownership over their own bodies.

What most books preach is that you become pretty when a guy says you are. And I’m supposed to think that’s romantic?

Um, no thanks.

I am here to tell you some revolutionary: You are allowed to think you look good because you think you look good.

(also because you finally figured out how to do that thing with your hair)

Romance is the LITERAL be all and end all. There is nothing else. Nope.

I’m adding this one somewhat tentatively.

Put your pitchforks away please.

I love a romance. I really do. I spend as much time on tumblr as anyone.

But, that said, there is more to character development than falling in love. Yes, it’s an important part of your life but it is just that. A part. I would love to read a contemporary where I felt like self-development was the main aim.

Life has many facets. It turns out that romance is just one of them.

 

 

On Louise

Louise Rennison died on Monday.

I feel like I should try and make this post funny to honour her, but I’m too sad.

Louise Rennison wrote the Georgia Nicholson books, which were honestly the books of my teens. Georgia and the Ace Gang’s ridiculous adventures brightened my days and made me laugh. Really laugh. It was when I read Louise Rennison’s books that I realised the painfully embarrassing (and totally normal) real life I was living could actually be… funny. The time Georgia shaved off her own eyebrows and had to stay home from school for a week until they grew back, and the boys she kissed who turned out pretty gross made all the stupid shit I had done that day feel less like the sort of thing I should never leave the house again over.

Louise Rennison made it so that I could lean into the silliest parts of myself. Those things that seemed so mortifying before kind of got… less. Because Georgia had done it too. And worse.

The Ace Gang taught me that my lady friends are the most important people in my life. They are the ones who hang around for the successes and the embarrassments. They taught me that you should always dance when the opportunity presents itself. While wearing Viking helmets, preferably.

I got to meet Louise a few years ago at a book signing. She was funny and kind, and even though I was at the back of a queue that must have been getting on for a hundred people long, she really took her time talking to me about my life and she told me she liked my dress. She was wonderful.

Her loss is very sad.

One

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. After spending their whole lives tucked away at home, their parents’ financial issues mean that they are going to have to start attending school. Private school, but all the same: it’s the outside world.

The outside world isn’t kind to the different.

Most of it, anyway.

Yasmeen, who has HIV and her best friend Jon treat Grace and Tippi like they’re actual people rather than a walking tragedy. They invite them to join their adventures without hesitation. They are the first friends Grace and Tippi have ever had, except for their sister, Dragon.

But something is looming. A decision that could tragically alter everything. A choice after which nothing will ever be the same.

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Fair Warning: this is the sort of book you need to set aside a few hours for, because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop until you get to the end. The entire novel is written in non-rhyming verse, which makes it a really quick read, and it’s so atmospheric that putting it down to simply boil the kettle is disorientating.

One, by Sarah Crossan, aside from being the most beautiful piece of fiction I have read in a long time, is basically a mission statement for why we need more diverse books. Because, to be totally honest, outside of adverts for exploitative-looking documentaries, the experience of being a conjoined twin is one I’ve never even thought about.

And I’m the but what about disabilities? person.

The whole thing is told from the perspective of Grace. I really like that Crossan chose to only have one of the twins narrate. I think it conveyed really effectively the experience of the conjoined life Grace and Tippi shared. Together but separate. We got to see how much they loved each other, but also their differences, and the resentments that sprung from them. There’s this one scene where Tippi accepts a cigarette from Yasmeen, and Grace is totally mad at her for it. But it’s not all about resentment. Grace and Tippi’s lives feature a good deal of loving compromise. Grace loves to bake and Tippi doesn’t, but they bake all the time anyways.

This book totally challenged my perceptions. One of the first questions Grace and Tippi are continually asked is why they didn’t get separated. No matter the extreme dangers involved and that both girls would have to use wheelchairs for the rest of their lives (shared legs), if they survived at all. As far as we, the rest of singleton society is concerned, a conjoined twin must long to be separate.

Reading this book make me think a lot about the paradigms I experience life through. It made me think about what it even means to be an individual, and how tied up my self-worth is with that. Individuality remains a prize so many of us are competing for.

Not Grace and Tippi. Grace and Tippi don’t want to be separate. They are more than best friends… they are each other’s worlds. They couldn’t imagine life any other way. They wouldn’t want to.

‘Plato claimed that

We were all joined to someone else once,’ I say.

‘We were humans with four arms

and four legs,

and a head of two faces,

but we were so powerful

we threatened to topple the Gods.

So they split us from our soul mates

               down the middle,

and doomed us to live

forever

without our counterparts.’

If the point of reading is to experience new worlds, then I don’t see how any bookworm could bear not to pick up One at the nearest opportunity. It’s a beautiful story of love and identity that’ll crack your heart in two.

One is the sort of story that you just can’t shake, even weeks after you finish reading it.

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon Spier is being blackmailed. The black mailer is Martin Addison and he wants a date with Simon’s friend Abby. That Abby would never be interested is the least of Simon’s problems.

Because Simon’s secret isn’t the only one at stake.

Simon’s gay. Through looking at his emails, Martin hasn’t only uncovered this fact, but also Simon’s online potential-boyfriend, Blue. Since Blue won’t even let Simon know his identity, he’s guessing he won’t react well to having his private life scattered around the school gossip mill, either.

It could be an epic fuckstorm of a disaster. 

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Once again, I find myself asking why did I wait so long? As pretty much everyone on the entire blogosphere has said, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is awesomeness at its highest degree.

I fell in love with Simon straight away. He’s funny, insecure, self-involved and a total sceptic of all things relating to the high school experience. He’s confident and well-liked, but he feels like he’s always hiding.

Yeah. I fell hard for this guy.

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‘I take a sip of my beer, and it’s – I mean, it’s just astonishingly disgusting. I don’t think I was expecting it to taste like ice-cream, but holy fucking hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? Honestly I think I’d rather make out with Bieber. The dog. Or Justin.

Anyway, it really makes you worry about all the hype surrounding sex.’ 

There are so many passages in the book like this that just plastered a happy grin all over my face. There was a similar level of real-ness to all the characters in the book. He has Abbey, his confident cheerleader friend, and Nick, the cute gamer guy with the guitar. Even Martin, the supposed villain of the piece, is impossible to truly hate. His awkward and hilarious antics in no way make up for the shitty things he does, but I could summon up far more pity for him than I could genuine resentment. My favourite characters (other than Simon, obvs.) were his best friend Leah and his younger sister Nora. They are both in the painfully self-conscious phase I think most of us bookish types probably went through at some point.

The central theme of the novel is concerned with finding identity. While Simon knows himself and understands his sexuality, he struggles to share it with the people who love him. He feels trapped by the image of him that his family and friends hold, and is exhausted by the reactions he encounters whenever he deviates from their expectations.

‘… I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.’

What I also liked about Simon is that he is a total hypocrite in this regard. Even as he laments the way that his family box him in, he accuses his younger sister Nora of not acting ‘like herself’. Throughout the book Simon comes to realise that people can’t be boxed in. The boxes are imaginary.

‘… people really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.’

And I must say before I sign off, the Spiers are my favourite family since the Chathams of Saint Anything. Becky Albertalli has no time for disappearing parents. Simon’s parents are present and excited. The family watch Bachelorette together. Afterwards they Skype about it with Alice, Simon’s sister who’s away at university.

(my mum and I did a similar thing with Broadchurch).

The only word I can use to describe this book is authentic. There was such depth of heart to every character. Becky Albertalli has created a cast of characters you’ll want to read over and over while gently prodding us to re-evaluate the paradigms we experience life through.

‘It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement. I guess this is sort of our version of the Homosexual Agenda?’

Book Boyfriends for Valentine’s Day

Because boys in books are just better.

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Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot

Lady Victoria Arbuthnot is not amused. She’s been shipped from India to England to live with her less-than-ideal relatives, the Gardiners and their zoo of children. If that weren’t bad enough, she’s also being forced to keep her engagement to the charming Lord Malfrey a secret.

It’s all very tedious. As if the family circumstances weren’t enough, Victoria can’t seem to shake the infuriating Captain Carstairs, whose primary hobbies consist of vexing Victoria and spreading rumours about her new fiancé.

For Lady Victoria Arbuthnot, it’s a long road to happily-ever-after.

Captain Carstairs: The, he’s-mean-to-you-because-he-likes-you type. As much as I loved this book it sent me barking up a lot of the wrong trees throughout high school. Totally worth it.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Since Cath started university and her identical twin, Wren ditched her, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After spending her teens immersed in the world of her Simon Snow fanfiction, Cath honestly doesn’t know how to operate in the real world.

One thing she absolutely does not feel ready for is falling in love. With anything. So the sudden appearance of new friends, new passions and potentially a new boy in her life have her beyond freaked out.

Will Cath figure out how to open her heart before it’s too late?

Levi: Your best friend who you can’t help but fall in love with.

First and Then by Emma Mills

Devon has been crushing on her best friend Cas since forever. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Devon doesn’t even mind any more. She’s pretty much given up on it ever happening.

The butterflies in her stomach haven’t, however.

The drama begins when Devon’s weird cousin Foster comes to live with her family. Foster immediately bonds with Ezra, captain of the football team and prized jackass.

A prized jackass who also happens to be super-hot.

Devon’s life is about to get complicated…

Ezra: The broody one with the tragic history.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

From the outside it seems like Annabel has everything.

On the inside, she’s crumbling. The girl she thought was her best friend is trying to destroy her. Her family is coming apart at the seams. Her sister is trying to starve herself to death. All Annabel wants is to disappear.

Then she meets Owen. Owen is obsessed with weird music and his radio show, Anger Management. He doesn’t take any bullshit.

He sees the cracks in Annabel’s façade. And he doesn’t leave

Owen: The guy who’s working through some stuff. The one who’s life you can’t help but fall into.

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver planned to be best friends forever. Then Oliver’s parents split up and his father kidnapped him.

Ten years later, he’s back and Emmy has no idea what to do. He’s her best friend and a stranger and the defining disaster of her life to date. Oliver barely remembers her… until he does.

As they grow closer, Emmy has to ask herself, is it possible for them to get back to the people they were supposed to be?

Oliver: The cute guy who got kidnapped by his dad. You know the one. The guy who disappeared for ten years then made you feel like he was never gone.