Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Jacob’s life has always been pretty average. An okay student with a job in the supermarket chain his family owns, probably the most interesting stories he has to tell belong to his grandfather – tales of children with mysterious abilities. Photographs of impossible children litter his home.

But Jacob stopped believing in all that years ago. Other kids in school beat him up for telling ‘fairy stories’ and the internet taught him that photographs can be manipulated. Jacob and his grandad, Abe haven’t talked about the peculiar children in years.

When Jacob’s grandfather dies under mysterious and violent circumstances, nothing is average any more. He is haunted by images of a monster he saw at the scene of Abe’s death –a monster his therapist has convinced him couldn’t possibly exist. Looking through his deceased grandfather’s belongings, Jacob rediscovers the photographs of the peculiar children, and what appears to be a letter from their leader, Miss Peregrine. In desperate need of answers, he travels to Wales with his father to determine whether the children exist after all.

Miss Peregine.jpgI first read Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs three years ago. I leant it to a girl I lived with at the time who soon moved out under mysterious circumstances (very fitting), without returning it to me. I don’t know why it took me so long to get another copy. While my memories of the plot had mostly faded, what remained when I thought of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children was a feeling. I guess you’d call it otherworldly. I fell back into it the moment I started reading again.

One of the aspects of this book I like most is the idea of inherited sadness – the feel the weight your family history has as it settles onto your shoulders. In Jacob’s case this takes a couple of different forms – without being too spoiler-ey, he basically has to go back in time to 1945, when his grandfather was young. He bonds with the people who populated Abe’s childhood, and takes on the role he left vacant, and all the responsibilities that come with it. In the present, the book also looks at the way that our grandparents are responsible for our parents. For reasons that become apparent the further you get into the story, Abe and Jacob’s dad had a very distant relationship. Jacob’s dad did not feel loved by his father, and he’s grown up to be a very disconnected adult. He shares that he can feel his marriage to Jacob’s mother slipping away, but doesn’t have the strength or resources to do anything about it. His mind is made of ever-increasing stacks of unfinished projects – all of them abandoned as soon as the first problem arose. He loves his son, but barely knows him really. I could go into all the ways that Jacob grew up as a disconnected kid as a result, but I’ll spare you. Sadness gets handed down through generations. So does the ability to fight monsters. More on that in a minute.

What Jacob comes to realise is that his purpose – at least for now – is to finish the work his grandfather began. He decides he is going to fight that which has been plaguing his family for decades. It’s the only way he can survive. I mean this literally. The monsters that were after his grandfather are chasing him now. I also mean this somewhat figuratively. It is only by facing head on the ghosts that have haunted his family for so long that he can have a better life than the men who came before him.

In this novel, Riggs is caught up in questions about time. Miss Peregrine uses time loops in order to keep the peculiar children safe from what’s hunting them. In doing so she has stopped them for aging. They are children forever, like Peter Pan but with a parent. By protecting them she has also made them easier to control. In keeping them as children she will forever be their superior. There is a real sense throughout of how these children haven’t developed – in their relationships, concerns or anything really, despite actually being getting on for one hundred years old. I’m fascinated the see the effects of the events of the first book in the sequel, to see how the children develop in a new world where not every day is the same, where certain relationships and power structures are irrevocably changed. I’m excited to see them leave the home they’ve always lived in and face what threatens them.

What I took from this book is the idea that you can only hide from or deny a destiny for so long. Rigg’s ends the book with the impression that life is always coming for you.

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Six of Crows

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo is so much fun. It’s a classic heist, told from the perspective of five of the six participants. The cast of characters are diverse, coming from all areas of the land of Grisha familiar to us from the previous books in the series. They are of differing backgrounds, abilities, sexualities and motivations, and yet the group gelled straight away.

Kaz Brekker plans to do the impossible: He’s going to break into the Ice Court, a prison famed for its impenetrability. With thirty million kruge at stake, he reckons he and his gang of criminals, The Dregs can pull it off.

Kaz: Notorious criminal mastermind. He controls vast areas of Ketterdam at only seventeen.

Inej: Also known as the Wraith. Silent as a ghost, she can scale any surface. You never know when she might be nearby, listening.

Jesper: A crack shot with a weakness for the card tables.

Nina: Grisha. A heartrender who can choke a man at twenty paces.

Matthias: A lost fjerdan with a weakness for a certain Grisha.

Wylan: A merchant’s son looking for adventure in all the wrong places.

23437156Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo is so much fun. It’s a classic heist, told from the perspective of five of the six participants. The cast of characters are diverse, coming from all areas of the land of Grisha familiar to us from the previous books in the series. They are of differing backgrounds, abilities, sexualities and motivations, and yet the group gelled straight away. The changes in perspective that came with each new chapter really added to the coherency of the gang. For much of the novel, we knew how they felt about each other even when the characters themselves were unable to see it. Experiencing each character in such an immersive way made the novel a totally absorbing experience. Now that I’ve finished reading, I actually miss these imaginary people and – in a way that is highly out of character for me – I can’t wait for the sequel.

Like I’ve mentioned, getting both characters thoughts on a relationship – as well as the judgements of everybody else in the group – meant that we were really allowed to experience all the complexities of the feelings everybody had about each other. What this also meant, is that this book is simmering with potential romance. And I’m not referring to cringe-ey instalove either. Sometimes I worried that the weight of all that sexual tension might sink the boat before they even made it to the Ice Court. We get some forbidden love, complicated bad boy love and the slowly emerging crush that comes from flirty, shipboard banter.

I also loved the scenes exploring Inej and Nina’s friendship. There are few moments where it is only the two of them, and fleeting as they are, I was the left with a concrete sense of how much these two girls cared for each other. They are totally different people – Inej is quiet and reserved where Nina tends toward the loud and dramatic, but rather than conflict they seem to draw mutual strength from their differences. I have read so many adventure stories where the only two girls involved totally hate each other, so it was refreshing to see such a deep friendship that had not emerged from a place of aggression. Plus it leads to my favourite exchange in the book, between Inej and Matthias:

“Are you worried about Nina being out there?” Inej asked.

“No.”

“She’s very good at this, you know. She’s a natural actress.”

“I’m aware,” he said grimly. “She can be anything to anyone.”

“She’s best when she’s Nina.”

“And who is that?”

“I suspect you know better than any of us.”

He crossed his huge arms. “She’s brave,” he said, grudgingly.

“And funny.”

“Foolish. Every last thing needn’t be a joke.”

“Bold,” Inej said.

“Loud.”

“So why do your eyes keep searching the crowd for her?”

“They do not,” Matthias protested. She had to laugh at the ferocity of his scowl. He drew a finger through a pile of crumbs, “Nina is everything you say. It’s too much.”

“Mmm,” Inej murmured, taking a sip from her mug. “Maybe you’re just not enough.”

I don’t think I need much further evidence to prove that Inej is the best.

Obviously, I can’t end this review without talking about the heist. I love a good heist. Even in my sort-of adulthood, I still daydream about getting caught up in some ridiculous scheme. The adventure Leigh Bardugo takes us on does not disappoint. Kaz’s primary heist technique is pretty much to be as vague as possible. No one can wreck the plan, he supposes, if they don’t quite know what it is. This philosophy has varying levels of success. The Dregs simply have to believe that Kaz always knows what he’s doing. I’m not going to lie – their trust in this definitely wavers. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some serious shit goes down. There was not a moment where I didn’t feel like everything was about to go catastrophically wrong. Again, the shift is perspective did a fantastic job of maintaining this. So many times Bardugo would end a chapter with someone in peril, before starting a new one from a different perspective and place. Reading it was the best kind of pain.

This book grabs you by the shoulders and drags you ever forwards. Sometimes you’re running to keep up. No matter the circumstances, for me at least, I was simply happy to be there.

My Top Three Female Characters

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

I love female characters. I love to read women with depth, women who are complicated and not a mess of gender characteristics stuck awkwardly together by a clueless author.

Often when I watch television, I find the female characters fall flat. They are so frequently pushed into the same boring gender roles and their friendships reduced to shallow one way streets where the only topic of discussion is dating. Or, worse, the female character is only there to facilitate some guy’s character development and has no storyline of her own.

Unfortunately on TV this can start to feel like the norm.

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

So with that in mind, today I want to write about three of the women in young adult fiction who have stayed in my mind long after the end of the story.

Frankie Landau-Banks

From The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

frankie

This book should be required reading for all teenaged girls, I think. Frankie is a sixteen year old girl in the midst of a feminist awakening. She is keenly aware of what the people around her expect and want from her – a sweet, quiet girl who doesn’t want to cause any trouble – and she realizes more and more than she cannot be it for them. She’s smart and adventurous and she wants to be at the heart of the action even when it is in the end at the sacrifice of those things she always thought would make her happy. She is a girl in the process of figuring out who she is.

The ocean stirsthe heart, inspiresthe imgination&

Cather

From Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

I so wish that Fangirl had been published in time for my first year of university, because me and Cath had pretty similar feelings going in and reading about hers would have gone a long way toward convincing me that I was not in fact going crazy.

Cath is the suspicious type. She doesn’t let people in much, apart from her twin sister Wren, but since they went to university together and Wren decided to get a roommate who wasn’t Cath they haven’t talked much. Cath is fearful. It takes her weeks to go down to the refectory in her dorm because she doesn’t know how the place operates. She doesn’t get out much. She isn’t a party person.

The reason Cath felt so real to me was that she never lost the deep reservations she had about life. Just because a lovely boy came along didn’t mean she instantly stopped being suspicious about relationships. Just because she made a couple friends didn’t mean she suddenly started going out to the kind of parties that she hated. Just because she left home she didn’t stop worrying about her dad, who has bi-polar and isn’t particularly stable at the best of times. Cath and her stresses came as a pair, and her journey to live her life in spite of them is what makes Fangirl such great reading.

Evie O’Neill

From The Diviners by Libba Bray

the diviners

In case it wasn’t obvious, I’ve recently got totally re-obsessed with The Diviners in anticipation of the sequel being finally almost here.

Evie is everything I wish I was. She’s extroverted, witty, brave and always up for a party. She is desperate to be famous, whatever the cost. She’s also… pretty haunted. She lost her brother in the Second World War and since her already frail relationship with her parents has completely broken.

Evie needs more than anything else to be noticed. She has been lonely ever since her brother died and tries to plug the gaping hole he left behind with the shallow attentions of… whoever she can get to listen. It goes without saying that the need for attention never ends.

But she’s also pretty selfless. She puts herself in positions of grave danger throughout the novel in pursuit of the murderer haunting the streets of New York. She almost dies chasing him, but she keeps going anyway because ridding the world of him is the only way to make people safe.

Did I mention I’m excited for the sequel?

Who are your favourite female characters and why? Let me know in the comments!

5 Weird Reads

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut

Sometimes real life gets kind of boring.

Boredom is contagious. It infects all areas of your life. Sometimes – and I hate to admit it – boredom even invades your sacred reading space.

YA has trends like everything else after all. There are only so many dystopian novels a person can read, you know?

I might have a solution.

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut:

1. Going BovineLibba Bray

going bovine

Cameron has mad cow disease. He’s going to die. Unless he does as the hot angel Dulcie tells him to, and takes his hypochondriacal dwarf buddy, Gonzo and an angry Viking gnome across America in search of a cure. And defeat the evil United Snow Globe Wholesalers in the process, of course.

2. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – Leslye Walton

the strange and beautiful sorrows of ava lavender

This book is a beautiful example of magical realism. The story weaves throughout the tragic history of the Roux family. Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings, traces back through the saddest stories in order to find her place in the world. Is she an angel, or just a girl? Can she be both?

3. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

the graveyard book

Bod is the only living resident in a graveyard. It’s hard to grow up around the dead, but it comes with certain perks. Bod knows about to fade, like a ghost. It’s a killer move for hide and seek, but sadly Bod doesn’t have anyone living to play that with.

4. Grasshopper JungleAndrew Smith

grasshopper jungle

Austin and Robby may have accidentally brought about the end of humanity by accidentally releasing an army of unstoppable, six foot praying mantises in Iowa. Unstoppable praying mantises who pretty much only eat and fuck, which wouldn’t be so bad if their diet weren’t strictly human.

5. John Dies @ the End – David Wong

john dies @ the end

This book isn’t YA, and absolutely isn’t for younger readers, but remains one of the weirdest pieces of fiction I have read ever. Basically if you take the soy sauce Korrock (evil God of evil) becomes your responsibility. You can’t un-learn about the invasion (led by Korrock). Once you’ve taken the sauce you must fight the forces threatening to enslave humanity. This might involve killing the same two headed creature with the same ax twice.

Audiobooks for Insomnia

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

In my case, that was at least partially due to the fact that my days were often twenty hours long, as I had pretty much lost the ability to sleep. Anyone who has ever had sleep trouble knows: lost sleep produces anxiety produces lost sleep. That plus university, plus the standard and not so standard problems of a nineteen year old girl, meant I was pretty much driving myself insane.

That is, until I discovered audiobooks. At that time nothing could quiet my frenetic brain like the sound of a stranger in my ears telling me a story. The only major downside to this discovery is that audiobooks cost a freaking fortune. As a result I have about six I can pretty much recite. But I really like those six.

My top 5 audiobooks for insomnia (or, almost all of the audiobooks I currently own):

5. Tommy Sullivan is a Freak – Meg Cabot

tommy sullivan is a freak

That I love Meg Cabot is obvious – who wouldn’t? A cute story of romance and self-discovery is exactly what you need during a meltdown at five in the morning.

4. I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections – Nora Ephron

i remeber nothing

A series of essays on such topics as lost memory, sexism in journalism and how restaurants are failing us. These essays go well with the 3am, early acceptance of the fact it is going to be a no-sleep-night mindset: reflective while gripe-ey, self-aware yet funny.

3. Bossypants – Tina Fey

bossypants

Tina Fey is a boss lady. It is difficult for me to contribute to the vast and interesting writing that exists about this book. All I will say is, while in despair at 4.25am as I checked the clock bang on the hour for the third consecutive time, her and Amy Poehler’s sketch as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton made me smile.

2. Is It Just Me? – Miranda Hart

is it just me

It isn’t just her. The book is full of tales of embarrassment, self-acceptance and sticking two fingers up in the face of society’s expectations. A You-Can-Do-Anything! book for the manic phase that begins at around 5am at which time the non-sleeper will believe, for at least the next three hours, that they in fact have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs/Sheryl Sandberg/Kim Kardashian.

1. Yes Please – Amy Poehler

yes please

‘Everyone has a moment when they discover they love Amy Poehler.’ – Mindy Kaling.

Never a truer word. Also in this book, Amy reads a chapter about her own sleep issues! Despite the fact that generally speaking, I (thankfully) sleep a lot better these days*, I did actually listen to this at 4 in the morning with the familiar sense of despair of my ability to ever sleep again.

I felt less alone. I felt this throughout the book, actually. You should seriously read/listen to it. I know that people are generally biased toward their own experience of something, but I think listening to it is better cause it’s just so Amy.

*Brief and unscientific cures for insomnia

  1. Eating cheerios and drinking tea (post 3am only. Be aware that housemates/family members/partners will be pissed in the morning when there is no milk. Blame others if possible.)
  2. Writing down a list of your worries (despite my best intentions I only ever open my diary to write lists of worries. At 2am. If it is ever found in the future, my legacy will be of the most neurotic person who ever lived.)
  3. Opening the window, waiting till the room totally freezes and then making a hot water bottle to restart the warm snuggling process that was lost to sweat and exasperation several hours earlier.
  4. Giving up and binge watching Parks and Recreation until morning (or any other sitcom. They soothe anxiety. Try to leave it until 4am when you are ready to start bashing your head against the wall).
  5. Therapy. Can’t recommend this one enough.

100 Sideways Miles

100 Sideways Miles is an interesting read. It’s pretty preoccupied with death, but that’s unsurprising considering it’s about a kid with a serious illness whose mother was crushed by a falling horse when he was only a toddler. Finn Easton is definitely a boy you’ll want to spend time with.

I am beginning to see the potential for Andrew Smith to become one of my favourite authors. I sometimes find myself in a bit of a reading rut, where all of the narratives bleed into one and the characters start to feel somewhat the same. It’s sadly inevitable in a trends based book market. But Andrew Smith’s work exists outside of that.

100 Sidew100 sideways milesays Miles is about Finn Easton, the epileptic boy who sees the world in miles rather than minutes. He has heterochromatic eyes and a scar on his back that looks something like this :|:

Finn’s dad wrote a book about angels who invaded the earth, scars exactly like Finn’s own on their backs from where they removed their wings, the evidence of their true nature. The angels also happened to be cannibals. The book was pretty popular and very controversial among religious types, so when people see Finn’s scar they tend to freak out. He doesn’t take his shirt off much.

The main character in his father’s book is also called Finn. His father says they aren’t the same person, but Finn isn’t so sure. In fact he’s pretty certain that he’s trapped inside of his father’s book, his whole future mapped out for him.

What I like about Andrew Smith’s writing is its unflinching study of human character. Finn Easton is an angry kid. After he has a seizure he wakes up and tells the world to fuck off. He even wishes that he would die sometimes. He’s in love with a girl called Julia, but he doesn’t feel grown up enough to have sex with her yet. He feels highly inadequate compared to his best friend Cade Hernandez, who seems like he has everything figured out.

It’s much harder for kids with disabilities to feel like they can take control of their lives. In Finn’s case, with his seizures, there is a genuine danger that he could do himself serious damage if left alone. He can feel his family watching him constantly, checking and worrying and waiting for the next seizure to come around. And it always does. You can see why he would feel his life had already been determined for him.

It was interesting for me to read this one. My brother has epilepsy, and I am forever trying to make sure that he doesn’t have to feel the burden of our mum and I worrying about him. I know that he probably does anyway. Sometimes when you look after somebody you get into the habit of thinking of their disability as you experience it – as the person doing the caring – so it was good for me to spend some time thinking about the experience of actually having the thing.

As much as I enjoyed it, the book wasn’t without issues. I would have liked to get more of a sense of Julia, Finn’s girlfriend. She’s a rape survivor, which is brought up once then never again. Finn tells us that the boyfriend responsible is beaten to death in prison, but this information doesn’t seem to have any effect on the actual story. I had such an in depth sense of Finn and the issues he had to deal with, the lack of development of Julia was particularly noticeable. It also seemed to me as if their relationship happened very quickly, so much so that I didn’t have the opportunity to get as invested as I might have liked before Julia was leaving again.

100 Sideways Miles is an interesting read. It’s pretty preoccupied with death, but that’s unsurprising considering it’s about a kid with a serious illness whose mother was crushed by a falling horse when he was only a toddler. Finn Easton is definitely a boy you’ll want to spend time with.