Friday, October 31, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After. Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather Abraham Portman.

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Using (generally eerie) vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs weaves a supernatural tale visually in addition to the traditional written word of a novel. Jacob Portman's grandfather has always been a little kookie. Grandpa Portman was sent to an island during World War II where he survived the Holocaust living amongst other child refugees, so his crazy stories have always been forgiven. However, his stories about the peculiar children with whom he grew up and the monsters who are after him only become more desperate with age. When tragedy strikes, everyone is quick to write Grandpa Portman off as a crazy old man; but Jacob is curious to find out just where his Grandpa is from and if maybe he wasn't so delusional after all.

It's difficult to review this book without alluding to spoilers, so forgive me if I'm vague and this review is short. The biggest draw of this novel is the incorporation of vintage photography used to tell the story. I really found this fascinating, creative and helpful in imagining the strange world Riggs creates. The photographs are often extremely creepy, especially in the beginning before the characters are placed into context in the story. I especially love that the characters matched with the photographs retain the original names alluded to in the photographs' titles. This made the story feel especially realistic and plausible. 

This book is full of themes of identity, true to most teen fiction. I especially enjoyed the categories of a person being "Peculiar", "Normal" or a "Monster". Similarly, the question is posed whether we are all extraordinary and how we use our abilities. These themes and ideas, coupled with the dry humor made this book more interesting and enjoyable than the darn and scary novel I was anticipating. 

Overall, this novel is not something I would ordinarily read. I'm not really into paranormal or fantasy and not knowing what to expect made the beginning particularly slow. But in the end I really enjoyed how Riggs broke apart the stereotype that "peculiar" is negative or useless. I wasn't sure if this would be a series I would want to continue after the first installment, but after finishing this book I immediately went off to find a copy of the second book, Hollow City. It may not have been anything I was expecting or thought I would enjoy, but I'm glad I read this book and that it expanded my reading horizons. 

Bottom Line: Even if you don't like fantasy, paranormal, or "creepy" books I still recommend giving this series a shot to get you into the "peculiar" mood of Halloween! 4.5/5 hearts.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

You don't know when you're twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three.

-from Landline by Rainbow Rowell

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Oh Rainbow Rowell, how much I love you, especially your adult fiction! Let me tell you, I liked Eleanor and Park, I related to Fangirl to the point of loving it simply for that, but when I picked up Attachments and Landline it was like Rainbow Rowell gave me everything I love in contemporary adult fiction wrapped in a bow. She brings the warmth and wit of YA with real adult lessons and each novel makes me a bigger Rainbow Rowell fan than the last.

Landline is the story of Georgie McCool, a Los Angeles based television writer and wife of Neal, her stay-at-home-dad husband. Georgie tends to take Neal for granted and put her own needs and dreams in front of his. She's not mean, bad or vindictive, she just is really driven toward her dreams. But when Georgie bails on their Christmas visit to Neal's family in Omaha because her dream television show might get picked up, Neal goes without her and leaves Georgie alone in Los Angeles to consider her real priorities. When Georgie stays the night in her childhood home, she rediscovers her old landline phone and calls Neal. What she discovers is a portal into the past through a telephone connection with Neal before he asked her to marry him.

I didn't actually read the full synopsis before I started reading this book, so when I got to the part about the magic phone I was like, "What kind of a book is this?!" I was surprised to find this magical element involved in a pretty realistic contemporary, but I trusted Rainbow Rowell and she didn't disappoint. Georgie's internal struggle between the grey area of what's "right" is such a strong part of this book. The people we love the most are who we take for granted most of the time, so I never really saw Georgie as being bad for not going to Omaha. But I was also able to relate to Neal and why he was so upset. I actually struggled between whether or not I liked Neal through most of the book, but I also enjoy how Rowell makes her characters so complex. True to form, Rowell doesn't just color in her main characters but crafts supporting characters just as vibrantly. Georgie's ridiculous mother, from her over-the-top love of pugs to her bedazzled yoga pants, was one of my favorites. I really enjoyed the complexities of Georgie's whole family dynamic.

What I didn't love about this book is that at times it seemed to be meandering a little bit. I almost got bored with Georgie's calls to Neal from the past, but fortunately Rowell would pick up the pace just when I was feeling this way. Similarly, I wasn't completely fulfilled by Georgie's best friend, Seth. I thought he was a great addition to the dynamic of Georgie's story, but I didn't feel satisfied by his presence the way I think Rowell aimed for me to feel. Neither of these things ruined the story, but maybe stalled the experience for me a little bit.

As a newly-married woman (WHAT?!) I think this book is an important story to read upon starting a marriage and maybe during the same season of marriage as Georgie. Much like What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, I think it helps the reader reconsider the start of their own love story and evaluate the things that have happened between now and then to bring you where you are.

Bottom Line: Soak it in like every other Rainbow Rowell book! Great characters, great message and a little bit of magic! Highly recommended for anyone who is married, getting married, or in a seriously long-term relationship. 4.5/5 Stars.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

By the time Lincoln realized that he hadn't sent a warning to Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder -after who knew how many offenses, three? half a dozen? - he couldn't remember why not. Maybe because he couldn't always figure out what rule they were breakuing. Maybe because they seemed completely harmless. And nice. [...] 

And also... Also, he kind of liked Beth and Jennifer, as much as you can like people from reading their e-mail, only some of their e-mail.
-from Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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 You guys, I'm getting married on SUNDAY! Crazy, right?! In celebration of that wonderful day, I'm sharing my review for one of my favorite romantic novels that I've read this year! Enjoy! 

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I've been trying to resist the Rainbow Rowell mania for some time now. I liked Eleanor and Park but I didn't love it the way I was told I would. I liked Fangirl a lot more, but it was really long. When I started Attachments, I figured this would settle whether I was a real fan of Rowell or not and I must say, less than 24 hours later when I finished this book, I decidedly became a HUGE fan.

Lincoln works on IT security for a newspaper, The Courier, in 1999. His main job is to read flagged interoffice emails and to prepare for the big Y2K scare. He starts becoming attached to two women in the company who email each other and get flagged all the time. Eventually he begins falling in love with one of them and begins to question his ethics with the invasion of her privacy. Bigger than just a love story, Attachments is a modern day coming of age story that also examines attachments between parents, friends and things that we depend on that might act as a crutch and prohibit us from finding out potential.

As always, Rainbow Rowell sets the bar for crafting smart, flawed, realistic characters that jump right off the page. Each character, whether a main character or supporting, has dimension to them and it's obvious the time Rowell spends developing them. Parents are never stock characters in Rowell's books, and in Attachments, Lincoln's mother (whom he lives with) can be the subject of a book all her own. Her attachment to Lincoln and the psychology of why give this story its greatest added layer that proves Rowell's superiority as a writer. I similarly noticed various characters' attachment to religion as a subtle theme throughout the book, despite most not acting "religious" or living particularly pious lives. There are plenty of examples of attachments, but these were my favorite non-obvious ones.

Another great example of how Rowell crafts her characters is how much I loved Jennifer and Beth simply based on their emails alone. The reader gets the exact same experience as Lincoln because we don't learn anything more about these women than the contents of their flagged emails. I was able to relate so much with Beth throughout the entire novel, which helped me love her and feel what she was feeling; from being familiar with an empty dead end relationship to her quirky use of sarcastic comic relief for everything and her discontent with her arms (This was one of my favorite parts of the book! Also, please God, let my arms look good on my wedding day!), Beth was so much fun. Experiencing these characters the exact same way as Lincoln really made the entire experience of this book much more fulfilling, but this method may not have been as successful without Rowell's expertise in characterization.

Finally, my most whiny complaint about Rowell's work is that often times I think the book is too long for the content. With Fangirl I still kind of hold my ground (even though I loved it), but Attachments helped me recognize that Rowell doesn't take the easy way out to end a story. She allows her characters the time and opportunities to grow (and fail), to get something right the right way. This offers the reader a more fulfilling resolution than a cheesy one. I might be happy with a cheesy easy ending, but I'll think about the book much more if a character is smart, sincere and (in the case of Lincoln) stays true to his moral compass. I'm okay with a book being a little long to get this kind of ending.

Bottom Line: This book might not hit everyone the way it hit me, but it's an absolutely fantastic romantic story with more depth than the premise lets on. I think if it sounds like something you will like, you will probably love it. 5/5 Stars