Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Russell Riggs

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Russell Riggs’ first novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” sat on my bookshelf for the past three summers. This Christmas, my older sister picked it up and read it, which of course left me very curious. I decided to read it as soon as she finished. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” follows Jacob, an apathetic, antisocial high school aged kid from Florida, whose family has grown very wealthy through the development of a pharmacy chain. Jacob isn’t close to anyone except for his elderly grandfather, who was a teenager himself during WWII and had to flee his native Poland because he was a Jew. Jacob’s grandfather often told Jacob stories of children with superpowers and monsters who were constantly chasing the children, but Jacob and his family dismissed these stories as grandpa’s way of coping with the trauma of WWII despite the bizarre photographs that Jacob’s grandfather had to offer up as proof. When Jacob’s grandfather dies, Jacob struggles to sift the truth from the fiction of his grandfather’s life.

 

What makes this YA novel super interesting is the incorporation of genuine, largely unretouched vintage photographs that Riggs’ borrowed from friends’ collections to use as plot supporters. The novel is peppered with these bizarre photographs that were most likely manipulated using burning, dodging, and double exposure techniques in the darkrooms of yesteryear. I’m giving this book a four star rating, rather than a three, mainly because I so enjoyed the plot’s embellishment with the vintage pictures (seriously, how original of an idea was this on Riggs’ part?!), some of which I’ve included below:

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I really loved this novel and it was the first one that I’ve read in a long time that I hoped wouldn’t end when it did. Unbeknownst to me, on the day I finished “Miss Peregrine’s Home,” Riggs released his second novel “Hollow City,” which serves as the second installment of what is now known as the “Peculiar Children Series.” I ordered “Hollow City” on Amazon and am looking forward to continuing the search with Jacob.

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Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

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I picked up Sarah Dessen’s “Lock and Key” at my neighborhood TJ Maxx, on the clearance shelf for $2. What a deal, right! And I figured that it would just be a quick, leisure read, but I was surprised that I was actually invested in the characters and really interested in the plot. “Lock and Key” tells the story of Ruby, a high school senior whose living situation becomes unstable, forcing her to move into the home of her wealthy and estranged older sister. Feeling like an outsider in the new home, the new school, and the new neighborhood, Ruby finds herself befriended by her neighbor, Nate, also a high school senior who is a popular—and incredibly handsome—varsity swimmer. Unlike a typical high school jock, though, Nate is incredibly nice; so nice in fact that Ruby feels that there might be something else going on with her new friend.

 

I think what works well in this novel is Dessen’s attention to detail and her ability to let a plot naturally unfold. The plot could have easily become predictable, but it happens so slowly and organically that each chapter kind of feels like its own episode, packed with information and detail that you’ll need to remember for later on.

 

“Lock and Key” may look like a long read, but don’t be fooled; it will pull you in and you’ll have it done in a few days, if that. If you’re into the YA scene, I think that this is a great book to pick up and spend some time curled up on the couch with.

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Stitches by Anne Lamott

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I first encountered Anne Lamott when a creative writing professor of mine asked the class to read Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” I enjoyed that well enough, so when I saw “Stitches” on display at my local library I decided to pick it up. “Stitches” is a very short read that you can go cover to cover on in about an hour. It is Lamott’s answer to the infinite question of “why.” Why me? Why is this happening? Why did they do that? Why do bad things happen? Lamott attempts to answer these questions using anecdotes from her life and her friends’ lives. I think that while these questions are obviously impossible to definitively answer, Lamott does a good job of dissipating the evil of the world by explaining that bad things can happen to anyone. While Lamott is ultimately unable to put forth an answer to the question of “why,” she is able to suggest solutions. This is a cute little book that I feel is worth reading, even if it’s just for a glimpse into the rationalization methods of a highly astute and intellectual woman. “Stitches” feels like it was written as much for Lamott’s own sake as it was for her audience. Overall, this was a thoughtful book, but perhaps I would have to read it again as I find that the main points Lamott argues are expected and, at times, unmemorable upon the initial read.

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

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While my younger sister was home for winter break she was flipping through channels and ended up watching Julia Roberts in “Eat, Pray, Love.” Because I heard that the book was much better than the movie rendition (obviously), I headed straight to the library and rented the memoir.

“Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia” tells the story of Elizabeth Gilbert, as she emerges from a difficult divorce, leaves the man whom she believes is the love of her life even though she knows their love is flawed, and leaves her home country of the US to find herself through travel. She battles depression, self-doubt, guilt, and anger with Italy’s pasta, wine, romance, and language; India’s devotion, hard work, yoga, and spirituality; and Indonesia’s relaxation, leisure, balance, and the beautiful island landscape of Bali. Along the way she is constantly learning about the world around her as well as the world within herself. She makes new friends and comes out on the other side a completely different woman with a completely different life.

When my brother’s girlfriend—also an avid reader—learned that I was reading “Eat, Pray, Love,” she told me that she found Gilbert hard to read and wasn’t able to make it past the halfway point in the book. To this, I say, proceed with caution. In the beginning of the book, Gilbert is dealing with extremely trying albeit common life struggles. Coupled with her intelligence and a personality that can sometimes read as dryly witty, it is true that Gilbert is hard to read, especially through Italy and India. There were many times where I looked up from the page and wondered, “How can she be complaining! She has the time and money to drop everything and travel around the world!” But as a reader, you have to remember that Gilbert uses “Eat, Pray, Love” as a place to explain, vent, express, and share her innermost feelings with her audience. If my every thought was recorded on page, I would definitely come off as sometimes ungrateful or whiny as well!

That being said, by the time Gilbert arrives in Bali, her emotional journey is rounding out and what felt like a burdensome search for inner peace becomes an adventure. So, stick with it and you will definitely understand why this book is a New York Time’s Bestseller!

As for the movie: still haven’t gotten around to watching it.

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Why We Broke Up by David Handler, Illustrated by Maira Kalman

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One afternoon, while I was browsing the shelves of the YA section of my local library, I was attracted to the look of the cover of a book written by an author I had never encountered before. When I flipped to the inside jacket to read the synopsis and the author bio, I was incredibly overjoyed to find that the author of “Why We Broke Up,” is the same author that wrote the popular children’s books “The Series of Unfortunate Events” under the penname Lemony Snicket. Because I was a huge reader of “The Series of Unfortunate Events” (I was onboard with the depressing tales of these three orphans and their diabolic uncle while everyone else was infatuated with the boy who lived.), I was so ready to read this YA novel.

“Why We Broke Up” tells the story of an unlikely high school love affair between Min, an independent young woman who loves classic films and was never one to buy into what society expected of her, and Ed, a jock who revealed himself as genuine and kindhearted. The novel reads like a catalog, with Min pulling mementos of the relationship out of a cardboard box and telling the story of the items significance and then putting a spin on why that item should have revealed the end of the relationship. Each chapter is complete with an illustration of the item being described, done by illustrator, Maira Kalman.

I really enjoyed reading this book because Daniel Handler does a fantastic job of inhabiting the young, scorned, female teenager. Min is a multidimensional character who, when describing her failed relationship, emotes sadness, pain, anger, jealousy, confusion, regret, and so many of the emotions that one would experience with a breakup. However, the characters in “Why We Broke Up” rarely come off as whiny or petty. Daniel Handler is able to tell typical teenage love story that could easily become a droning account of tiny misgivings in an incredibly subtle and heartbreaking way.

A quick and easy read, I would suggest this to anyone who is or was a fan of “The Series of Unfortunate Events” or is in the mood for a little teenage drama.

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Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

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Ah, Nicholas Sparks, the great romance writer of our time. I picked up Dear John because I hadn’t yet seen the movie with Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum and I wanted to read the book before doing so. I’d be surprised if most potential readers don’t already know the plot but I’ll quickly outline it here anyway. John is the product of a single parent home, raised by his father in his mother’s absence. He went through a troubled teenage period, but finds his center after joining the US Army. While on a break in deployment to Afghanistan, John returns home to his beach town to visit his dad and ends up meeting Savannah, a young, beautiful college girl who is kind, spiritual, and giving. The two fall in love but struggle to make their different worlds meet.

I have read many Sparks novels, but for some reason this one stood out. The story isn’t stuffy or idyllic and it deals with the war against terror, something that makes the story feel real and modern. Furthermore, in this Sparks novel, I didn’t feel like the plot was overly plausible or foreseeable; I was genuinely surprised by some of the plot points, which, of course, heightened my emotions.

After I finished the book, I did watch the movie. Basically- stick to the book. The ending in the movie is altered and the story told in the book is much more poignant.

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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I read Gone Girl solely because of its popularity and it didn’t disappoint! The book tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a young married couple, whose marriage seems to be going well but, of course, suffers from many small cracks. As their anniversary approaches, Amy mysteriously disappears and Nick finds his home in shambles: evidence of an intruder, a struggle, and a possible murder. As Nick struggles to find his wife, he is also burdened by the fact that he is a prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of his wife.

Gillian Flynn does a fantastic job in this novel of using both Nick’s and Amy’s voice as narrator. As the story unfolds, the reader is privy to both Nick and Amy’s internal thoughts, struggles, and motives. As I was reading the book, I found myself identifying with both characters, which only adds to the suspense of the plot because these characters are at odds and yet the reader doesn’t know whose side to be on.

I don’t want to create any spoilers around this book (because I definitely think you should read it for yourself) but, like many readers, I can’t decide if I am satisfied by the ending, which is left incredibly–and purposefully–open by Flynn, who has claimed that the ending she provides for her readers is the only plausible ending she could imagine if the characters were truly being honest with themselves and with their situation. I don’t believe that there will be a sequel to this novel, so if you find yourself feeling extremely frustrated by open endings then steer clear of Gone Girl. However, the ending is the only thing that readers seem to be on the fence about; besides that, it is a wonderfully engaging and thrilling novel. Definitely looking forward to reading more of Flynn’s work!

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Update!

Hi Everyone,

I haven’t blogged here in a LONG time, my apologies for that. But I have been spending all of my extra time plowing through some books on my to-read list (Gone Girl, lots of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, a YA fiction piece from the author known as “Lemony Snickett,” Dear John…), so there will be posts galore once I have some time to do them justice post-finals frenzy.

I’m also going to try to use wordpress as one of my more prominent social media platforms, so if anyone has any favorite blogs that they follow please feel free to share. I’m only following about 5 blogs now, so I think that if I got more tailored-to-me incoming media I would be more apt to log on here.

What are your favorite wordpress blogs?
What’s on your to-read list this month?

Izzy

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Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

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Before my trip to Portugal this August, I picked up some books for my kindle very last minute around 1am the night before my flight. Because I had spent the summer cruising through the rest of Emily Giffin’s novels, I decided to add “Heart of the Matter” to my reading list. I didn’t actually get to read this book until the plane ride home, which was about five hours long. I was able to finish the novel and also watch half of “The Hobbit” (in Portuguese). So, needless to say, this Giffin book is no different than the rest: a purely for-pleasure easy summer read.

“Heart of the Matter” tells the story of a top child reconstructive plastic surgeon who crosses the line with the mother of one of his patients while simultaneously hitting some rough patches with his all-too-perfect wife. The whole book is basically one big crescendo because you know his wife is going to figure out he’s having an affair. You know that there is a decision to be made. The only question the book really raises is will she stay with him or dump him? I mean, of course there are more nuanced issues like whose fault the cheating was and how good people can still do evil things, etc. etc. But basically, the whole plot is pretty black and white.

I don’t have too much to say about this book, besides the fact that it is interesting enough if you have nothing else on your to-read list and you want something fast and easy. One thing that was kind of cutesy was that Giffin ties in the characters from her other novel, “Something Borrowed,” in a quite interesting way (as the relationship between Dex and Rachel was also centered around infidelity). So, if you’re going to read “Heart of the Matter,” you  might as well read “Something Borrowed” as an investment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas

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I picked up Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas after it was featured on my local library’s book of the week list. As soon as I began reading it, I loved it. There was so much about the plot that I related to and I really fell in love with the main character, Steve York. Steve is a senior in high school, living with his divorced mother in California. The story chronicles Steve’s fall from academic grace. At the beginning of the book you know that he is incredibly intelligent but that his talent has been left unused for some time. Steve’s guidance counsellor tells him that he will be missing some credits and won’t graduate on time, however he offers Steve a deal: he can write an extended essay of his choosing in order to graduate on time. Steve follows the “write about what you know” rule, and decides to open up to his guidance counsellor and tell the story of how he got to where he was today. Readers learn about Steve at the same pace that he reveals himself to his guidance counsellor through his writing. We learn about Steve’s bad relationship with his father, a former astronaut living in Texas, whom Steve believes to be too perfect with expectations of the same from his children. We learn of his parents’ divorce and Steve’s unfounded decision to side with his mother. Finally, we learn about Steve’s first real romantic relationship and how it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The writing throughout this book is excellent and the way the story is presented is very entertaining. Thomas keeps the readers attention by alternately switching between giving the reader glimpses of present-day Steve mixed with glimpses of past-tense Steve via the protagonist’s essay. Almost all of the characters in the novel are flawed in some way, but in the most human ways. Steve is an incredibly relatable protagonist; reader’s find that in writing about himself he learns about himself, a concept that I can totally get behind.

I think that everyone should give this book a try. If you enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I think you would also enjoy this short novel. Below is one of my favorite quotes from the book:

‘Do you learn to write that much better in college?’ I asked Sky. ‘It’s not so much learning as it is living. You can improve your technique through classes and through reading, but you’ve got to have some truth to put behind the language. Otherwise, no one will connect to it. It’s tough, for example, to write about love until you’ve had your heart broken.  -179

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