book review

An awfully big adventure: review of Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) by Ransom Riggs

What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’ sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too.

Hollow City

“Enoch elbowed Horace. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Enoch taunted. ‘Here’s your big chance to stay behind.’
‘I want to go adventuring, I really and truly do,’ Horace insisted. But I should also like to see my 105th birthday, if at all possible. Promise we won’t try to save the whole blasted world?’
‘We just want  to save Miss P,’ said Emma, ‘but I make no guarantees about  anyone’s birthday.'”

– Hollow City, Ransom Riggs

What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’s sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too. His particular talent is for seeing the monsters, particularly wights and hollowgast, that stalk the Peculiar children for unknown but undoubtedly sinister reasons. And when last we left them, they were on the run from their time loop haven in 1940 after rescuing their ymbryne, or bird-shapeshifting protector, Miss Peregrine from evil hollow clutches.

And the fact that Jacob is from our present, trapped in the wartorn British 1940 countryside, is the least of his worries. The hollowgast are on the Peculiar Children’s trail, and Miss Peregrine is injured and unable to escape her bird form. Worse, the other Peculiar havens have been destroyed, their ymbrynes kidnapped. If this seems like a lot to catch up on, it is: you don’t want to pick up Hollow City without having read the first volume of Miss Peregrine adventures.

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book review

A review of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6) by Alan Bradley

Flavia’s had a hell of a year, finding murdered bodies everywhere from her own garden to the church crypt. She’s met ageing philatelists, ciné folk, fortune tellers, puppeteers, and a flora-archaeologist, all while dealing with being the youngest sister in a family whose mother disappeared when Flavia was only a baby.

Vaulted Arches

“She stuck out a pale hand and touched each of them in turn on the forearm.
As she turned her head Flavia-wards, she gave me 
such a glare!
Feely had the knack of being able to screw one side of her face into a witchlike horror while keeping the other as sweet and demure as any maiden from Tennyson. It was, perhaps, the one thing I envied her.”

– The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches is a tough book to review without giving too much away. Book five, Speaking from Among the Bones, ended with a major cliffhanger, and this book picks up with a serious plot reveal. Forgive my vagueness, then: I don’t want to ruin the emotional impact for you with spoilers. Within the first chapter, I gasped several times in surprise. In the sixth installment of the wonderfully entertaining Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley, our heroine Flavia is now nearly twelve. She’s had a hell of a year, finding murdered bodies everywhere from her own garden to the church crypt. She’s met ageing philatelists, ciné folk, fortune tellers, puppeteers, and a flora-archaeologist, all while dealing with being the youngest sister in a family whose mother disappeared when Flavia was only a baby.

Old questions are going to be answered in this book, but there’s still plenty of juicy mystery. Who is the young man who gives Flavia a garbled message and then winds up dead beneath the train? Why is Winston Churchill there, and what is his cryptic message to Flavia about? Just what were the elder de Luces up to during World War II? And what do pheasant sandwiches have to do with it all?

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blog tour, book review

Penguin Canada’s Daily Delights: a review of In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

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Part of Penguin Canada’s Daily December Delights!

In Falling Snow

“When I came into the ward later in the morning on my way to reception, another was in the boy’s bed. I saw Miss Ivens on her way back to the theatre. I asked her what had happened and she said the end had been peaceful. ‘Sometimes that’s all you can do,’ she said. She must have read the sadness in my face. ‘It’s enough,’ she said. ‘Sometimes you can’t even given them that. And that’s the hardest of all.’

– In Falling Snow, Mary-Rose MacColl

An elderly Australian woman receives an invitation that brings memories flooding back from a time in her life she has tried hard to forget. She imagines being a young woman, in a field hospital in France, watching in wonder the first snowfall she has ever seen. That wonder suffuses the starker landscape of a France at war, of young men dying and strong women doing all they can to save them. Mary-Rose MacColl’s North American debut In Falling Snow is a beautiful World War I tale and a thoughtful meditation on the slippery nature of memory, as well as the roles of women in family, friendship, work, and war across the 20th century.

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book review

Never to be told: a review of Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

In Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret, it is 1840s New York City, where crime, social tensions, and playing-for-keeps politics form a potent, sometimes deadly milieu. And whodunit? is never an easy question in this twisty, brilliantly plotted world.Seven for a Secret

“Whimpering, Varker looked up at Val and made a timid effort to pull his hand free.
We heard a grind of loose bone, followed by a tiny shriek. My throat constricted.
My brother is a dangerous man.
‘I haven’t been paying attention,’ Val remarked in a conversational manner. ‘Damned if there wasn’t something else on my mind. So tell me—what play were you aiming to make with that snapper, drawing it like a heathen without a fair warning?'”

– Seven for a Secret, Lyndsay Faye

In Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret, it is 1840s New York City, where crime, social tensions, and playing-for-keeps politics form a potent, sometimes deadly milieu. Floods of Irish immigrants are arriving daily to escape the potato famine; people die of starvation with regularity, and there isn’t enough work to go around. Excitement, danger, and various illegalities are the norm, and Timothy Wilde, copper star of the newly minted New York Police Department, is doing his best to figure out whodunit. But whodunit? is never an easy question in this twisty, brilliantly plotted world.

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book review

The story I am in right now, with you: a review of MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

The end of the world has come and gone, and a handful of humans and post-humans are left in its wake. In MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood returns to the near-future apocalyptic world of Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood to tell us what happens next. Sort of.

MaddAddam

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”

– MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

The end of the world has come and gone, and a handful of humans and post-humans are left in its wake. In MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood returns to the near-future apocalyptic world of Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood to tell us what happens next. Sort of.

Before I can talk about MaddAddam, some background: I’ve had a difficult relationship with this series. I love much of Atwood’s wit and cutting social commentaries, especially in books such as The Handmaid’s TaleGood Bones and Simple Murders, and Lady Oracle. I enjoyed Oryx & Crake very much: an allegorical tale that examined transhumanism, genetic engineering, and all-powerful corporations in a mega-capitalistic near future. But then The Year of the Flood arrived, and I was so let down. The neat, clever lessons had been taken away from their allegorical underpinnings and thrust into a real-world setting. Suddenly more characters were operating within the parameters of a world I had never read as “real,” and certain things really grated for me as a reader.

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book review

Getting a callback: a review of Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

It’s the mid 90s, and Franny Banks is in New York City, trying to make it as an actor. She’s had a few successes–getting into a coveted acting class, working on a commercial, doing some theatre. But is it enough success to justify staying? Franny has given herself a three-year deadline.

Someday, Someday, Maybe

“I sit in the chair and do the monologue into the camera lens, my too-tight khakis split open in the back, my too-loose shirt gathered with an industrial-looking clamp sticking out from the middle of my back. From the front I look put together, but every other angle would reveal how false the front of me is, how much effort has gone into presenting a one-sided image of perfection.”

– Someday, Someday, Maybe, Lauren Graham

It’s the mid 90s, and Franny Banks is in New York City, trying to make it as an actor. She’s  had a few successes–getting into a coveted acting class, working on a commercial, doing some theatre. But is it enough success to justify staying? Franny has given herself a three-year deadline. If she can make it, really make it, as an actress in New York City by the end of those three years, she’ll keep at it. If she fails, she’ll go home and become a teacher like her dad. As the novel opens, Franny realizes she is six months away from her deadline and nowhere near fulfilling her dreams.

Debut author Lauren Graham is herself an actress who got her start in New York City. Beloved for her roles as Lorelai on Gilmore Girls and Sarah on Parenthood, it turns out Graham is no slouch at writing stories, too. Someday, Someday, Maybe is a light, charming novel, wonderfully witty and full of heart. Its setting allows for great moments of 90s nostalgia, from Franny’s dad asking her if she’s thought about “applying” to be on that Friends show everyone’s talking about to Franny’s religious use of her Filofax calendar. We get to see Franny’s actual calendar throughout the book, pages of her Filofax filled out in her handwriting and doodles (drawing of grass, note that said drawing is more interesting than her career at the moment; notes on meetings with agents, going for runs, grocery lists, doodled freakouts about possible dates). It’s a sweet way to put us directly in touch with Franny’s most private thoughts, and it’s also a cute nod to Bridget Jones’ Diary, an obvious influence.

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book review

The knock at the door: a review of Red Joan by Jennie Rooney

Red Joan by Jennie Rooney is nothing like what I expected, and it’s all the better for it. When I think of spy novels, James Bond springs to mind. Tense, generally unemotional settings, a main character who is thrust into dangerous situations in enemy locations, bullets flying and punches thrown. I wasn’t envisioning that exact scenario for Joan’s past, perhaps, but…

Red Joan

“Joan shakes her head as he speaks. She knows it is part of his charm, this ability to persuade people that they want to think like him, that they should see the world exactly as he sees it. ‘Don’t,’ she says. ‘I’m not at one of your rallies now. It’s not my fault my hands aren’t worn down by years at the Soviet coalface. I didn’t choose to be born in St. Albans but I don’t see why my loyalties should be any less legitimate than yours.’

– Red Joan, Jennie Rooney

A widowed octogenarian lives alone in her home in England, mourning her lost husband, taking watercolour painting classes, enjoying being the mother of a successful lawyer. And then she gets the news she’s always dreaded would come. One of her comrades has just “died quietly” after being questioned by MI5, and when she hears a knock at the door, Joan Stanley knows her past as a Russian spy has caught up with her at last.

Red Joan by Jennie Rooney is nothing like what I expected, and it’s all the better for it. When I think of spy novels, James Bond springs to mind. Tense, generally unemotional settings, a main character who is thrust into dangerous situations in enemy locations, bullets flying and punches thrown. I wasn’t envisioning that exact scenario for Joan’s past, perhaps, but I was still surprised throughout by what her role in World War II was—and why. Repercussions echo through her life some fifty years later.

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