Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

‘Original’ is a word I really don’t like, mainly because it’s the word my lecturers use. ‘Try and have an original idea’, ‘All you have to do is have something original’, ‘You need something original’. I mean, what even is original? I want to say yes, of course, let me just grab my hat of original ideas and pull one out for you. Is anything really original any more? Most books and films and essays and what-nots have been inspired by other books and films and essays and what-nots. You can’t stop yourself from being influenced or inspired by something.

This is the mindset I approach when reading most books. As a writer and a reader, I’m always interested to see if I can see what inspired them or what the book is like. For example, earlier this year I read Vicious by V.E Schwab and in my review I mentioned how incredible it was to recognise the retelling of Frankenstein. Then you have Frankenstein itself which is inspired by the myth of Prometheus. Everything is just one beautiful cycle.

Then came Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children;, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

I’ve been meaning to pick up this book for a while, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for over a month now. As it’s main genre is ‘horror’ (at least, that’s where we shelve it at work), I decided it would be a great read for Halloween – and that’s the day that I finished it, funnily enough.

The book astounded me, to put it lightly. I just found it so clever, and mesmerising, and enchanting, and just beautiful. The writing is fantastic, and the concept of the book is just so, dare I say original, that I just fell in love with it. However I was completely unaware that all of the weird and wonderful photos that are spattered throughout the book are actually real. Yes, the photo of a girl floating and the baby levitating are real. And somehow, Ransom Riggs collected all of these marvellous photos and managed to weave together a story out of them. It’s just so incredibly imaginative and new and exciting. I want to meet the author just to shake his hand and tell him that I think he’s a genius and one day I want to be him. Well, like him, but you get the idea.

I seem to be getting into the habit of not knowing that much about the books I start to read. All I knew for this one is that it was about children who had some kind of gifts, like X-Men, and it was classed at Waterstones as horror. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as I started the book, but as soon as you start to see photos and hear descriptions of the peculiar children you’re completely swept away. There is also a later concept introduced in the book called a ‘loop’, and so I don’t spoil anything I just want to say to those of you who do know the book: how bloody clever an idea was that? Again, I just want to say that Ransom Riggs is a genius. And I want his talent.

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the protagonist of the book. There were times where I wanted to like him, but most of the time I just wanted to yell at him. He just annoyed me for some reason, the exact justification for it still unknown to me, but that didn’t particularly detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel. Usually for me, if I don’t like the main character I’m set against the whole book. I think it was probably because this book doesn’t feel just like Jacob’s journey to discovery, but our own. I was desperate to know about his grandfather’s history for my own benefit, not Jacob’s. Never mind whatever drama you’re dealing with, let’s just keep exploring and – no, Jacob, why are you going back to town? Get your arse out of bed and go find out what’s going on because I swear if you whine one more time I’m going to find my way into the book and shake some sense into you.

If you’re interested at all in a book like this, and even if you’re not, you should read it. The photos really add such depth to the book, and for moments I can’t help but puzzle over what their true story is – Ransom sells this story, so I like to think that something similar actually happened. At least one thing is for sure – if there is such a thing as an original idea, this is it.

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The Rest of us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

Ever since working in a bookshop (oh, right, you don’t know that yet – HEY I NOW WORK IN A BOOKSHOP YAY, now moving on), I have encountered so many new books (no shit, sherlock) that I’d never seen before. I’ve also met so many wonderful people excited about books which, for a book nerd like me, is incredible. Being able to get excited about a book with someone is so much fun, and I love that social aspect of books. Yes, reading books is a very personal, individual experience, but being able to share your thoughts on a book with someone almost prolongs the magic and lets that book last just a little bit longer.

One thing that I adore about working at a book shop is recommending books and also being recommended books. I was especially recommended an author, a one Patrick Ness, after an event that included him. His admirers were everywhere, and so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that when I revealed that I hadn’t read one of his books a small mob began to form. I so felt inclined to buy his newly released book (and no, not just because it was signed, although that was a big factor) along with one of his most successful novels, The Knife of Never Letting Go. As everyone was talking about the new release, I thought I’d try that one first.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully asks what if you weren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions…

First thing to mention is, The Rest Of Us Just Live Here is definitely a teenage-Young Adult novel, but closer to the teenage fiction side of things. I went in expecting something a little older, but once I recognised that it was for maybe a slightly younger audience my expectations changed drastically.

There are a lot of things in this book that I think worked, and that I liked. There were some aspects of it, however, that weren’t quite to my taste. To start with, I adored the concept. As a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan from when I was younger, immediately I could picture the rest of the Sunnyvale as Buffy and co. went off on their slaying adventures. Focusing on those who aren’t the chosen ones is an idea that just works. And so we are introduced to a group of teenagers coming to the end of their school career before university. There’s Mikey, our protagonist who reminds me of the typical character you expect from a John Green book – the gangly, awkward boy who is slightly stereotypically ‘nerdy’ – and, honestly, as a main character I never really decided whether or not I liked him. His best friend, however, was far more interesting – but maybe that was because he wasn’t just a boring outsider, and instead a sort of god of cats, which includes mountain lions. Along with this main pair, you have the sister – who has an eating disorder – and her friend, the kind of love interest, Henna.

Each chapter you get to see what the ‘indie’ kids are doing – aka the not boring chosen ones – and I loved the dry commentary, actually it was possibly my favourite part of the book. The tone of voice used to ‘fill in’ the readers on what was going on with the indie kids was just perfect.

There are of course ten thousand things going on with our main bunch. The main protagonist has severe OCD, and a large part of the novel focuses on his struggles with it. As mentioned earlier, his sister has an eating disorder, and there is also light commentary on sexuality. A lot of angst is placed on the unrequited love of our ‘hero’ if you will, but (don’t worry no spoliers) I appreciated how it ended.

The overall ending of the book was good, but there were a few moments where I couldn’t help but frown and purse my lips, like a true critique. Without giving any spoliers away – and, if you’ve read the book, please comment with your own thoughts but of course warn for spoliers – it had something to do with ‘treatment’ of mental illnesses, and for me it nearly ruined the whole novel.

After looking at some other reviews of the book online, it seems that thoughts on this book vary considerably. Many fans of the author stay as loyal as ever, waxing lyrical about it, yet others comment that it isn’t his best. In fact, someone told me that I should start with The Knife of Never Letting Go – so I’m biding my time until I can start it.

On that note, The Rest of Us Just Live Here did not put me off from reading his other books. Honestly, it was a nice read and I did enjoy it – I just maybe let a bit of the ‘hype’ after the event set my expectations too high. I’ll of course report back once I’ve read another of his books, but for now I give this one a firm three stars.

You win some, you lose some

I made a post earlier about shaming, in particular classics shaming – for those of you who haven’t read it, I’m essentially talking about those few individuals who feel it’s their duty to ‘shame’ other people for not having read certain books. For example, what are considered ‘classics’, or the canon etc etc. We’re talking Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, and so on.

As a Classical Studies with English student, I feel ridiculously guilty for not having read some books. Which is stupid, because there are millions of books and who the hell can read every single one? Anyway, I decided that I’d gradually make my way through (and by gradually, I mean gradually) a few certain books deemed ‘classic’. I started with Wuthering Heights and, thanks to a well-timed university module, I’ve just finished Frankenstein. Neither were what I expected.

I’m a sucker for a good romance. Don’t you deny it, a little mush is good for the soul (and the heart, surprise, surprise). So I chose to start with Wuthering Heights, knowing very little other than the fact that Heathcliff is a hunk and there is a fantastic Kate Bush song (and let’s not forget the dance).

What I read was not this. I did not read about a gallant male lead who was wonderful, attractive and who incites me to say ‘Oh, I love you, Heathcliff‘. No. I read about an abusive arse of a man who is shown to actually beat a girl. Beat. And he also beats a boy. Beats. He locks Cathy’s daughter in a room and refuses to let her leave until she does what he wants. He is horrible, abusive and, I’m sorry, but just plain awful. WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS GUY? This isn’t romantic! This is barely friendship! When is a man who beats people romantic? No, I’m sorry, but this is one classic that I just couldn’t enjoy for that sole reason. I went in expecting a love story, and left with a tale of abuse. The writing is beautiful, I can’t deny that, but Heathcliff is not.

I approached the next classic with trepidation. Frankenstein. Oh boy. I know the stereotype images of a square headed monster coloured green all stitched together. Once again, I had no clue what to expect. Once again, how I felt at the end was the exact opposite of my expectations. Wuthering Heights wasn’t a good time for me. Frankenstein was one of the best. I adored every page. The writing, the story, the later analysis I did in class on the relation to the myth of Prometheus. It was pure class and I wish I had read it sooner so I could have gushed about it sooner. Frankenstein and his monster, his creature, were so complex and interesting and just so different. They had motives that I could understand; the wish to create, to discover, to find love, to find a place to belong (cue music from the Disney Hercules soundtrack). It was just perfect.

So, you win some and you lose some with classics. You might feel like you’re obligated to like them, but I’ve discovered first hand that this isn’t the case. Wuthering Heights wasn’t really up my street, so what? Frankenstein is one of my favourite reads of this year – and not just because it meant that when I read Vicious by V.E Schwab I understood references to it.

Moral of the story (/stories), try something different and you might find that you like it – or hate it, but then you can write a blog about it and get out all those pesky feelings.

Vicious by V.E Schwab

I’ve been meaning to review this ever since I finished it, but was sidetracked by my university reading – the first book of which is Frankenstein that I finished about three minutes ago. And I’m very glad I chose to read it, one of the reasons being that I realised how V.E Schwab uses the story of Frankenstein in her book.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same ambition in each other. A shared interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl with a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the arch-nemeses have set a course for revenge but who will be left alive at the end?

I will just say now, that I will have a short spoiler section at the end of this review, but there will be plenty of warning before you see it. I’ll also be talking about Frankenstein in this section.

Are we surprised this is yet another fantasy novel? No. Probably should rename this blog ‘alwayslovetoreadalotoffantasy’. Back to the book, Vicious is the superhero book I’ve always wanted to read (and write). I’ve always loved the concept of superheroes, ever since watching The Incredibles when I was a child up until recently reading All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. Vicious is a book about superheroes for adults – and the term ‘superheroes’ is one I use loosely, particularly the ‘heroes’ part.

This book turns every idea you have about superheroes on its head. It turns the concept of who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’, who the ‘hero’ is and who the ‘villain’ is, completely upside down. The book follows Eli and Victor, who start off as friends and become enemies. The layout of the novel is gripping, jumping back and forth between the past and present to slowly unravel what the hell is actually going on and how it got to this point. You see Eli and Victor as teenagers, full of curiosity and ambition, then the next page you see them as adults, entirely vengeful.

Not only do you have such complex main characters, but the ‘sidekicks’ all have their intricate backgrounds and even more interesting abilities. I loved seeing the different relationships, especially that of the sisters and how their abilities affected their relationship. I don’t want to say so much more on this, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to spoil it.

Which means, it’s time for some spoilers. Along with some Frankenstein context. For those of you stopping here though, if you enjoy anything fantasy, with action, revenge, and fantastic characters – this is the book for you.

Continue reading “Vicious by V.E Schwab”

Book Shaming

I love reading. I think we’ve established that. I love books, I love talking about them to the point I’ve set up a blog about it and I want to one day write them. When other people talk about loving books, I love that even more. Sharing your love for a book with someone is so wonderful it’s hard to describe, but it fills me with joy – it’s one of the reasons why I love working in a bookshop. Books to me mean happiness and lots of good, positive vibes. This is why I absolutely hate it when people create a negative out of them.

Book shaming. You’ve probably done it without thinking about it, but the two most common sorts of book shaming are classics and Harry Potter. I’ll start with Harry Potter – a fantastic series, no one can argue against that, but not everyone has read the books for reasons of their own. However, this series has a following of millions of passionate people and, unfortunately, when they meet someone who hasn’t read the books, they start an argument. It can be lighthearted teasing or full out scolding. ‘You haven’t read them? What the hell are you doing with your life? You need to read them!’

You can probably guess what I mean by book shaming now.

Shaming someone for not reading a certain book just isn’t right, to me. And, hell, I’ve had this happen to me more times than I care for. I read all kinds of books, and it started with horse books and Judy Moody, then went into teenage and contemporary, and now I find myself reading more fantasy than ever. For university, I read ancient Greek and roman plays, poems and history books along with a few selected books for English. Harry Potter is a series that I just never read. My brother read them all, and I remember a time when I wanted to be so independent that I refused to read them just for that fact – the amount of times people asked me whether I was always trying to be like him had me very sensitive. Then I remember trying to read the first one towards the end of primary school, and I just couldn’t get into it past the first chapter. So I put that book down and tried something else – I just never picked it up again. When they came out, I went to see the films and enjoyed them. I liked the world, the fantasy, the references to classical mythology – but I just didn’t read the books. I also don’t have any plans to read them, but that doesn’t mean I deserve abuse from peers, friends, colleagues or strangers just because of it.

Ok, enough about Potter shaming and on to classics shaming. You probably have an idea of what counts as the classical book ‘canon’ as such. It’s books like Pride and PrejudiceJane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, Little Women, Of Mice and Men etc, etc. You get the idea. Now people absolutely love to shame those who haven’t read these books termed as ‘the classics’. Reading these books have become a chore for some people just so they can say they’ve read them, rather than out of enjoyment. I am desperately trying to read as many classics as I can, because reading them before has never interested me. In secondary school I was more interested in books like the Hunger Games and, sadly, Twilight in my earlier years. Yet, now that I actually want to read these particular books, all I get is grief. ‘You call yourself an English student? What do you mean you haven’t read them?’ blah, blah, blah-de-bloody-blah. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and if they’ve read the books then they feel automatically superior. I read Wuthering Heights all the way through for the first time a few months ago, after many failed attempts to finish it when I was younger, yet when I happily told someone they immediately started the shaming spiel.

It’s a shame, excuse the pun, that these particular books have been so much adored by some people that those who haven’t read them are deemed failures immediately. Or even if people do love them – say someone saw an adaptation of Jane Eyre and now idols her, or if they’ve watched the Potter films and consider themselves a fan – that people still tell them off for not reading the books. Tell them that they don’t truly appreciate them because they haven’t read the books, so automatically their love for them should be revoked.

It’s not good, people. Not good.

The Girl With All the Gifts

Blind Reading is something that’s new to me – and I don’t even know if that’s the official name for it, or if there is an official name for it, but by a ‘Blind Read’ I define it as starting a book with no idea what it’s about. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R Carey was one of the few Blind Reads that I’ve done, and quite unintentionally.

I picked up The Girl With All the Gifts because I was in Waterstones (a typical occurrence) and I needed one more book for the ‘3 for 2’ deal. It was placed on a table surrounded by books with darker covers, so it stood out with it’s bright yellow cover. The blurb was a small extract from the book and that was it. I picked up this book at the beginning of the year and it sat patiently on my shelf up until a few weeks ago. I needed something to read on the tube to work, so I picked up my ‘To Be Read’ jar and picked out a piece of paper, which had The Girl With All the Gifts on it. Not one to challenge the jar, I took this books with me and started it – this was the first time that the journey felt painfully short.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

My goodness. Goodness golly gumdrops. I mean, bloody hell. I was not expecting this book. I had definitely entered a reading slump when this book came bursting out with a baseball bat, swinging like there was no tomorrow. This book consumed me (which I want to make a pun about, so if you do read the book please come back to read this review again and tell me how you appreciate the inside joke so I don’t feel inadequate). I don’t know what I expected exactly, but it certainly wasn’t this. I thought, from the cover, that maybe this girl had superpowers, then from the blurb I thought she had some sort of disability and this was a pointed tale about discrimination against the disabled. I just can’t deal with it. If there was ever a book to get me back into the reading game, this is the one.

I want to start a proper review now about the fantastic language and the process of thought for different characters and the clever use of perspectives and pointed messages about what we take for granted and ugh just everything goddammit. But I can’t, because I don’t want to ruin this book because I think everyone just needs to pick this book up, read it, love it, and pass it on. When I understood what was actually happening, there was that wonderful ‘Ohh, it’s that kind of book‘ but up to that point there was this brilliant confusion that had you guessing at every page. It was like being in a hall of mirrors with no clue what was going on or where you were going, but you knew that something was going to happen. Maybe someone would jump out at you, maybe you’d reach the end and find candyfloss, maybe you’ll walk straight into a wall. Who the hell knows. It’s brilliant, it’s stupefying, and it will have you unable to deal with anything else. I spent most of my shift itching to get back to this bloody book so I could find out what was going on so I could get back to living my life.

If this doesn’t make you want to read the book, then I can’t force you, but seriously you need to go read this book. I need someone to read it so I can just vent about everything and discuss and whatnot SO if you do read it, leave a comment down below (but of course signpost for spoilers). This book turned me into a hungry reader.

My recent favourite reads on Kindle

A lot has already been said on the subject of ‘ebooks vs print’, a topic which I even briefly discussed in 2013 – two years ago, for those who are extraordinarily bad at maths, and it’s safe to say that technology has come very far since then. What I do mention in a few of my blogs on alwayslovetowrite is that I always consider myself to have very different book-buying habits on Kindle than I do in print. I’ve recently got back into buying ‘proper books’ that I can display on my shelves, and I usually veer towards fantasy or big, chunky, ‘thought provoking’ reads. However, on Kindle, I usually stray towards contemporaries, and more often than not smutty romances that I can finish in a day. So, for today, I’m going to mention five of my favourite recent reads on Kindle – although, warning, in my opinion I’d say the main audience for these reads are majority female.

1. Every Last Breath by Jennifer L Armentrout

Jennifer L Armentrout was one of my first Kindle purchases, and I’ve bought every book she’s written since. I first found her when she wrote Obsidian, a new (you guessed it) fantasy/sci-fi book about aliens – a series that I devoured. When she released her novella Bitter Sweet Love I expected a very smutty romance, and what I discovered was a something completely different. Her Dark Elements series is about gargoyles, yes, you read that right, gargoyles, and demons. I’ve not encountered a book about gargoyles before, which was the same about aliens with Obsidian, and man did I love it. Every Last Breath is the third and final book in this series and it did not disappoint. I don’t care what people say about love triangles being ‘done’ – Ms Armentrout makes a good one. I mean…GARGOYLES people, how cool is that?

2. Moonlight on Nightingale Way by Samantha Young

A book that can be read as a standalone, but I’d advise to read all of the books in this series by Samantha Young. All contemporary, romance novels set in Scotland, Ms Young just knocks out one after the other with characters you can’t help but love. If you want a bit of love and drama (and some fantastic heroines) then definitely check these out.

3. Ride Steady by Kristen Ashley

Kristin Ashley has a formula for her writing, and it works. You know what to expect, when to expect it, and know you’re still going to read a great, fun book. Ride Steady is part of a spin-off series that focuses on the members of a Motorcycle Club. If you’re a fan of Sons of Anarchy, you might just find yourself loving this series by Ashley. I think you could get away with reading this as a standalone, but I’d again recommend going to the start and working your way through.

4. Rock Chick series by Kristen Ashley

For some reason, I never picked up this series by Kristen Ashley until recently and I just don’t know why. Once again, as I said above, these books follow a formula that works. You have a sassy heroine who you’re always rooting for, hilarious dialogue, action, a great love interest, and just a lot of fun. I think that’s how I’d sum up all of her books. When you read them, you just have fun – which is something that is completely underrated these days.

5. When You’re Back by Abbi Glines

Abbi Glines is another go-to buy, as her reads are just so sweet and heartwarming. I don’t think I’ve ever not finished one of her books in one sitting, or at least within a day. When You’re Back is the sequel to When I’m Gone so I don’t want to give spoilers, but I did not expect to happen what did happen (how vague can I be?), which is surprising as I always expect to be able to anticipate where the story is going. This book was a surprise for me, and I loved it.

Bloody hell, there is seriously a gif for everything, huh?