Library Scavenger Hunt: October

This month’s challenge was to find a book with either an alliterative title or an alliterative author, and I knew immediately what book I was going to seek out; the final book in a series that I’ve been meaning to finish for ages (and also conveniently checks off one of my year-long reading challenges, which I really need to buckle down on in the next few months if I want to complete them… 😓): the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series…

LIBRARY OF SOULS
Ransom Riggs

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but may contain references to events from previous books in the series (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City).]

With their friends now missing along with their beloved ymbryne, Miss Peregrine, Jacob and Emma are forced to continue their rescue mission – through some of the world’s most dangerous time loops – with only the help of Addison the peculiar dog. Luckily, Jacob’s still-developing powers seem to have manifested in a useful new ability: controlling hollows…

The main problem with this series as a whole, I think, is that it tries to pitch itself as a scary story, when it’s really, really not. Or at least, no more so than any other adventure series (such as Harry Potter or Percy Jackson) that would probably be pretty scary to live through, but is not so horrifying to read. Even in this third book (the readers of which presumably all know exactly what they’re in for), there are comments – this time in the form of a mini author-biography – that try to play up the creepiness of the series; a creepiness that is barely present in the book itself.

This is on the publisher, however, not the author. Taken as the adventure series it is, the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series is interesting, well-written, and great fun. It’s certainly not without its flaws, and I personally felt that Hollow City and Library of Souls were much weaker novels than their precursor, but it’s a solid, entertaining series to read…

Some Library of Souls-specific things I wanted to bring up (since this is, in fact, a review of Library of Souls, and not the whole series): Jacob’s new hollow powers play a major role in the plot; so major that none of the other peculiars’ abilities are important for more than a moment, and they are able to deus-ex-machina many of the situations that Jacob finds himself in. I did find that they took the story in an interesting direction, however, and I enjoyed the strange bond that developed between Jacob and “his” hollow – though that was a thread of the story that remained sadly open-ended. The final few epilogue-style chapters also involved a very sudden and very convenient plot development, which was somewhat disappointing.

In regards to the photos, I found that the ones that were included in Library of Souls were both less interesting in and of themselves than those in previous books, and also less relevant to the plot. There are some notable exceptions (Mother Dust on page 252, the ambrosia dealer on page 229, the grimbear with its ymbrynes on page 185, and so on), but in most cases they only showed people or things that Jacob noticed in passing, without having much effect on the story. In fact, the passages in the novel where these things are mentioned often seemed shoe-horned in in order to justify including the pictures. I don’t know if it’s just that Riggs has already used his most interesting pictures or shown pictures of all his most important characters, or if the novelty of the combination has simply begun to wear off for me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both, but its a shame regardless of the reason, as the way the story and pictures worked together was a big part of what made Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children so compelling.

But despite all this, I did enjoy the book a lot. It’s both exciting and well-paced, with very few moments where nothing seemed to be happening at all. And there were a few important new characters introduced, too: most notably Sharon and Mr. Bentham, though I personally thought that Mother Dust was the most interesting of them all, both in terms of her peculiar abilities and her role in the story. I’m glad that I took the time to finish this series, but I doubt it’s one that I’d re-read, and I’m unlikely to be picking up the spin-off (Tales of the Peculiar).

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

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Library Scavenger Hunt: September

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with “journey” (or a synonym) in the title – was chosen in honour of my best friend and co-moderator, Chloë, who’s just moved to Japan. I didn’t really have any idea of what I was going to read for it, and actually abandoned my in-person search after a few hours without success (the only book I could find was Fear Itself: Journey into Mystery, which is something like the twentieth book in a series, so no thanks… 😓). My second go was via the online catalogue, and I’m happy to say that this time I found more success! The book I ended up picking was…

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Jules Verne

Brilliant but eccentric Professor Lidenbrock discovers a 300-year-old runic manuscript, which his nephew Axel is unexpectedly able to decode. It spells out the first step of what will become an extraordinary voyage – first to Iceland, and then on to the Earth’s core, with all kinds of unlikely discoveries to be made along the way.

What a fun book! It’s silly, but an incredibly good read. The story was well-paced, eventful and exciting, and though the characters didn’t seem too deep, their differing personalities made them interesting travelling companions. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Lidenbrock’s wild theories (which seemed mad, but more often than not ended up being right) and Axel’s anxiety over them (which was actually very sensible, but was treated as – and came across as – the attitude of somebody who was just closed-minded). Hans’ unflappable nature was also delightful, and whenever the party got into a pinch, it was always fun to see how Hans would save them…

The Extraordinary Voyages series is massive, and seems only to be thematically connected, so I don’t know that I’d be likely to seek out the rest of them. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to reading a few more, though, if I stumbled across their paths.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: August

This month has been so busy! I was afraid for a while that I wasn’t going to be able to complete the August challenge (read a book with two of something on the cover) at all – which would’ve been a shame, as I was really proud that I came up with this idea. (Obviously, my fears were unfounded, or I wouldn’t be writing this.) So without further ado, the book I picked out this month was…

ANCILLARY JUSTICE
Ann Leckie

Nineteen years ago, Justice of Toren was an Imperial troop carrier; an enormous starship with hundreds of human ancilliaries whose eyes she could see through and bodies she could act through all at once. Now there is only Breq, a single fragment of her former self, with no other bodies, or eyes, or voices. But if she’s lucky, her long mission may be nearing its end, and although it will not right the wrongs that were done all those years ago, it will bring them into the light.

If that summary was a bit nonsensical, it’s because this is a very difficult book to describe. I struggled a lot with the first few chapters, not because anything particularly confusing was going on, but because the idea of a protagonist who is simultaneously both an individual and a collective was a tough one to wrap my head around. There were several places early on in the book where I was taken aback by what seemed to be a sudden, jarring time-skip or change of scene (sometimes even in mid-conversation), only to realise afterwards that Breq/One Esk (Justice of Toren One Esk being Breq’s true name) was actually just looking through one of her other sets of eyes… My confusion was short-lived, however, and it’s a testament to Leckie’s skill as a writer that I was able to adjust to it so quickly, as it’s such a baffling concept.

It was also completely worth any initial struggle on my part. Ancilliary Justice is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and the best sci-fi I’ve read in even longer. Breq’s perspective was fascinating, both of the alternating timelines were entirely (and equally) gripping, and the the world that Leckie has built for this series is incredibly rich and detailed. Her use of gender was also really interesting, and Breq’s frustration whenever she needed to stop and consider it when she (as someone who is part of a gender-neutral society) had to speak to anyone in a language that specifies gender was kind of charming.

For me, however, the best thing about this book was its characters and the relationships between them. I’ve already talked about Breq, but Lieutenant Awn was wonderful, too, and although (like Breq) I really didn’t like Seivarden much when she was first introduced, it was really incredible how much she grew as a character as the story went on; by the end of the book, I liked her just as much as the much more generally likeable Awn… And the sharp contrast between how One Esk interacted with Lieutenant Awn and Seivarden was another thing that I really enjoyed; both relationships almost brought me to tears (of sadness/joy/laughter) in several places. Needless to say, I will be continuing on with this series at the earliest opportunity – I can’t wait to pick up Ancillary Sword!

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: July

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with either the word “metal”, or a kind of metal in the title – was somewhat random, and I had no idea what I was going to pick up when I first ventured into the library… but I actually managed to find something reasonably quickly while perusing the (quite small) comic book section; that something was…

THE IRON WAGON
Jason

A short and strange graphic novel, based on the 1909 Norwegian novel Jernvognen by Stein Riverton, which has never been published in English. It tells the story of a writer whose friend is discovered murdered, and the investigation into his death – which seems like it may be tied to the local of the iron wagon.

The sentence “Why won’t he stay dead?” in the blurb of this book was what initially drew me to it, despite my general dislike of murder mysteries, and my indifference towards what I’d seen of the art style from a cursory flip-through. And, now that I’ve read it, my feelings towards it are slightly mixed… On the one hand, there was not much character depth or development, and I managed to guess both of the story’s major twists early on. On the other hand, I was second-guessing myself a lot, and although this wasn’t the ghost story I was hoping for, it did manage to retain the eerie atmosphere of one.

I’ve already said that the art didn’t initially grab me, but as I grew accustomed to it, I liked it more and more. I wan’t a huge fan of the character design – which completely gave away one of the book’s two plot twists – but the black-red-and-white colour palette was incredibly striking, and really added to the unsettling tone of the story…

I feel that this is a book to be enjoyed more for its strangeness than for its story or characters (or even art), but I did find that I enjoyed it. And, as a book that only takes around half an hour to read, it’s well worth picking up for anyone who’s even a little curious. I’m not sure that I’d be likely to go looking for more of Jason’s work (or Stein Riverton’s), but I also wouldn’t reject it out of hand.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: June

This month’s Library Scavenger Hunt challenge was a pretty easygoing one – read a book with a one-word title – and I managed to find my book quite quickly, but it’s taken me a little while to finish reading it, due to various preoccupations (i.e. video games, mostly 😅)… But I’ve finally finished, so here’s my review:

HURT
Tabitha Suzuma

Mattéo Walsh is Britain’s star diver, and everything looks to be on track for him to enter – and have a good shot at winning – the next Olympics. But then disaster strikes: something happens at the National Championships in Brighton, and it’s not something that Mattéo comes out of unscarred. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, he seems to be falling apart – and worse than that, telling anyone what happened could mean losing everything he cares about…

My feelings on this book are somewhat mixed. I genuinely liked and felt for Mattéo, and Suzuma’s evocative writing helped a lot with that. I also really love the way she portrayed family relationships in this book; the friendship and trust between Lola and her father Jerry was wonderful to read, and the affection between Mattéo and Loïc provided a wonderful contrast to the strained distance between them and their parents. The plot was also very engaging, and the various twists and turns kept me guessing right up to the end of the book; there was a really good balance of hints and red herrings, and although I did end up being right about the “what” of what happened in Brighton (which I was less than certain about), the “who” (of which I had been utterly convinced) came as a huge surprise.

On the other hand, I wasn’t massively happy with Lola’s role in the book; I found the intensity of her romance with Mattéo a little unrealistic, and I really didn’t like her part in the novel’s conclusion, though I suppose I kind of understand why Suzuma had the book end the way it did. And I also felt that the story as a whole (and particularly the second half) was drawn out for far longer than it needed to be.

Hurt is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now, and I’m glad that I finally made the time for it, though it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. I’d say I liked it about as much as I did Forbidden (the only other one of Suzuma’s books I’ve read), which was similarly hard-hitting, but a little more problematic in terms of its subject matter.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: May

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, guys! I’ve been so preoccupied with first Persona 5, then Fire Emblem Echoes, that I’ve barely even been reading, let alone writing… 😓 That said, I did finally manage to finish this month’s LSH challenge – read a book with a monochrome cover – for which I picked a book I’d been super-excited about…

THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B
Teresa Toten

Adam Spencer Ross’ life is turned upside-down when the amazing Robyn Plummer joins his OCD support group. She’s beautiful, she’s fun, and she gets him in a way that almost nobody else ever has; it must be love! Now all he has to do is fix himself ASAP, so that Robyn will love him back… How hard could it be?

I’m sad to say that this book ended up being a huge let-down. 😞 I was really excited to pick it up, and I really wanted to like it – and there wasn’t exactly anything about it that I specifically disliked… it was just really, really boring. Most of the characters (with the exception of Adam and, to a lesser extent, Robyn) were completely bland; we were given a brief, fairly shallow description of each of their personalities early on in the book, and none of them developed even slightly as the story progressed. And the romance between Adam and Robyn was entirely unconvincing. Adam decided that he loved Robyn before she ever opened her mouth, and that love was unshakeable the whole way through the book. I don’t have a problem with instalove in books, as long as there’s some kind of subsequent relationship development, but The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B decided to take love-at-first-sight along its dullest possible path.

Which brings me round to Robyn, who had more than a little of the manic pixie dream girl to her, in the sense that she her only real importance to the story was the effect she had on Adam. Granted, the way her presence influences Adam was interesting, but, similar to most of the side characters, she had very little in the way of character depth or development, despite Toten’s efforts to make her seem mysterious.

A couple of minor irritations before I move onto the things I did like about this book: Firstly, the characters’ adoption of superhero identities in their support group seemed at best gimmicky and pointless – an excuse to use the phrase “Batman and Robyn” far more than was necessary – and at worst a reason to get out of having to flesh out the characters any more. After all, knowing that Iron Man (whose real name I can’t remember) identifies with Marvel’s Iron Man makes him fully developed already, right? What more do we need to know? 😑 Secondly (and I’m aware that this is petty), I found the constant use of the word “superior” (as a  substitute for “awesome” or “amazing”) really grating. Is this slang that people actually use? Maybe, but every time a character used it, it still made me like them a little bit less.

On a more positive note, Adam himself was a great character. He was likeable and sympathetic, and although his life experiences were so far removed from my own that I didn’t find him particularly relatable, people who’ve been through similar things probably would relate to him quite well. And Toten has also done a really great job of portraying his OCD as something that affects his life in a way that is serious, and at times quite sinister. There are two moments in this book where the OCD, plus everything else that he’s going through just become too much for Adam to deal with, and both of these scenes were powerful and emotional.

And if half of the plot revolves around Adam’s romance with Robyn, then the more interesting half involves his relationship with his equally (if differently) messed-up mother, who has been receiving threatening letters. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the whodunnit that I’ve seen it pitched as, but I did find it intriguing, and probably would have enjoyed it even more had I not guessed who the letter-sender was so early on.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: April

This month’s challenge was to read a book that was published the year you were born – 1989 for me – and required a lot more research than I’m used to having to do for the LSH, as well as several different library trips, since several times over, I wasn’t able to find the books I was looking for… :/ Luckily, I eventually managed to find this list, and a couple of the books on it were available in my local library! 😀 The one I eventually picked (which was originally published in 1989, although I actually read a more recent edition) was…

SEEING VOICES
Oliver Sacks

An exploration of Deaf culture and identity; of the history of Sign language (and American Sign Language in particular); of how languages (both visual and auditory) effect the brain; and many other related topics – from the perspective of somebody who is not part of the Deaf community, but clearly has great admiration for it.

This was a difficult book to review (and to rate) for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have no connection to the Deaf community whatsoever; in twenty-seven years of life, the only exposure I’ve had to Deaf culture is in the occasional (and usually not particularly prominent) deaf character on TV, and pretty much everything I know about the community (or deafness in general), I’ve learnt from this book. So I am entirely unqualified to make any argument concerning Sacks’ right- or wrong-ness. Secondly, I read fiction almost exclusively, and have never before reviewed a book that was not a novel (or short story), so many of the things that I’ve trained myself to think about when I read (plot progression, character development, world-building, etc.) really don’t apply here. Nevertheless, I will do my best to produce something coherent.

In regards to the content of the book, I will say this: Much of it was completely over my head, but I progressed through it feeling interested, and ended it feeling informed – if not as informed as I might have been, had I understood more of it. Sacks’ lack of objectivity is evident, but I don’t think it was trying to be an entirely objective scientific/sociological study so much as a documentation of Sacks’ own journey into the world of the Deaf, and all the interesting things he learnt along the way. And – as an outsider myself – his outsider perspective made the book relatively easy to follow.

My main problem with the book was actually the way it was formatted. Around a third of the main body of text (i.e. discounting the bibliography/references/etc.) was notes – many of which were extremely long – and constantly having to flip back and forth between sections meant that I was continually losing track of what Sacks was trying to say (and losing my place). True, there’s no need to read the notes if you don’t want to, but I found that they contained some of Sacks’ most interesting observations.

The rest of the text was divided into three sections (A Deaf WorldThinking in Sign, and The Revolution of the Deaf), the first two of which had previously been published as self-contained essays, and therefore reproduced much of the same information. Reading A Deaf World, of course, this information was all new to me, but Thinking in Sign (the longest section of the book) dragged quite a bit in consequence. The Revolution of the Deaf – a documentation of the Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University in 1988 – was the only part of the book that was written specifically for Seeing Voices, and was very different to the rest of the book; less scientific, and more sociological. It’s also the most easily accessible part of the book, though when I was reading it, I appreciated having the background information provided by A Deaf World and Thinking in Sign.

As a final note, I’d like to suggest that anyone who’s unsure about reading this book check out some of the other reviews on Goodreads, which are, for the most part, considerably better-informed and better-articulated than my own.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]