Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

When we were young, nearly all of us at some time or another, were regaled with tales of the past told by relatives older than us. Details might have been emphasized or even forgotten, but the heart of the stories always remained the same. And in their telling, we the listener received the briefest glimpse of what our loved ones were like.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs starts out as just that. Jacob Portman grew up listening to tales told to him by his grandfather. Tales of invisible boys, girls who float, and other children who were just as unique. Jacob thought them mere fairy tales but his grandfather’s horrific death, his final words and the shadow monster in the corner of his eye, the young man learns that the stories just might be true.

Eager to see where his Grandfather grew up and perhaps understand his last words, Jacob travels to a tiny island of the coast of Wales. There he finds Miss Peregrine’s home but it is abandoned and has been for some time. Eager for knowledge, Jacob explores the house and learns several startling truths: the children his grandfather spoke of were real, their powers and their quarantine on the island did occur, and most bizarrely of all it was possible they were still alive.

Personally, I really enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. With it’s unique writing style and engaging story it’s easy to see why the book was a New York Times #1 Best Seller and was on the list for 52 weeks. Several reviewers have compared the story with the A Series of Unfortunate Events book series, and I agree. Both have that dark, macabre feel to them. The pictures included in the book (all real photos the author had collected over time) just adds to the feeling and helps the reader really get in to the story.

I think the only gripe I could find reading this book was how sometimes the characters felt younger than they supposedly were. Jacob Portman is supposed to be 16 but often his actions and reactions to events makes him feel younger. The same can be said for Emma, another character in the book. She too is supposed to be about 16 and I had to keep reminding myself that because at times it felt more like she was about 12.

While the book itself is touted as a “young adult” novel, adults of any age would enjoy this book. Younger readers might find it a bit too frightening, but every reader is different. Personally, when I was a young girl I would have devoured this book – something I actually did as an adult.

The copy of the book I got from the library had an excerpt from the second book in the series. The book itself has just hit the shelves in late February and I will be keeping an eye out for it at my library.

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith

Just as certain fictional characters hold a dear place in my heart (Sherlock Holmes being an example); so too do certain types of fictional characters. I admit to having a long time fondness for vampires in all their myriad shapes and forms. From the original vampires in Dracula and Carmilla to the newest incarnations in The Strain novels, I continue to find myself profoundly fascinated by them. So when I learned there was to be a sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the story would center on the enigmatic vampire Henry Sturges, I was thrilled.

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith follows Henry Sturges immediately following the death of his friend and protege Abraham Lincoln. He is not alone in mourning the death of his friend though as the country also mourns its President. Without Lincoln, Henry must once again try to find some kind of purpose in his undead life.

It is at this time that I am sure some of my readers are going ‘Now wait a moment….’ and believe me, I too had pause when I read the book jacket originally. All I can say is trust me dear Reader, all is explained in time.

With no reason to remain in America, Henry decides to return to his original place of birth – England. However he is soon called back to the States where he learns a mysterious someone has been killing vampires and its only a matter of time before they come after him.

From the Victorian era to modern(ish) day America, Henry sees history happen as only a vampire can; first hand. Along the way he meets friend and foe alike, from Nicola Tesla to Mark Twain, and from Jack the Ripper to Rasputin. If it had a major impact on history, then somehow Henry had a hand in it and a front row seat.

Supposedly narrated by Sturges to Grahame-Smith, the book has a bit of an Interview with the Vampire feel. Something Grahame-Smith himself makes mention of in the opening chapters when he is describing how the book came to be. There is also a tiny side plot with Sturges, his vampire sire and a child that also feels a touch familiar and I am sure the reader will notice it when they see it.

Like his other novels, Grahame-Smith has a gift for weaving stories. Here he seamlessly meshes real history with fantasy in a way that is completely plausible. Real life individuals are true to what history knows of them although admittedly a few have been given a minor tweak or two to fit in with the story line. There are also a few pictures scattered throughout that have been given the same treatment.

Having greatly enjoyed the first book, I was excited to learn of the second. It continues the story in a way that should appeal to a variety of readers. It is a sweeping tale covering decades of history in a most amusing manner. Personally I loved it and will definitely be reading it again.

House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

I am sure I have said it before dear reader, and I know for certain I shall say it again in the future, but allow me to state it once more – I greatly enjoy the tales of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Be they in the form of books, short stories, movies or even TV series, their adventures both old and new never fail to make my heart skip a beat.

With an introduction like that, it should not surprise you then that this week I am reviewing yet another book starring the famous fictional detective.

London, 1890. Art dealer Edmund Carstairs comes to Holmes saying he is being stalked. This someone has followed him from America and now terrorizes his home and business. It is when Mr. Carstairs home is broken in to and the thief later turns up dead that things seem to take a turn for the worse.

As they delve deeper in to the mystery of the motives behind Carstairs’ stalker, Holmes and Watson find themselves being pulled into an even larger conspiracy. One that is not isolated to the lowest levels of criminality, but spans from the highest levels of the government to the lowest levels of humanity. It is one that whispers to beware ‘the House of Silk’ and woe to those who do not listen.

Several weeks ago I reviewed Moriarty, the most recent Holmes’ novel by Anthony Horowitz. As it had been some time since I’d read this novel originally, I decided to go back and re-read it. And much like the last time, I absolutely devoured this book. If it weren’t for the fact that I had to do Real Life things like work, eat, and sleep, I’m sure I would have finished reading the novel in half the time.

Like with Moriarty, in The House of Silk, you can see why Horowitz was tapped by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate to pen this tale. His writing is very reminiscent of the original stories Doyle wrote all those years ago. Told from the point of view of Dr. Watson, as all the stories were, the writing it tight and the action is fast paced. The various plot lines are woven together masterfully; what seems like some random happening early in the novel later on becomes a vital clue.

What at times seems like a jumble by the end makes complete and perfect sense. This seems to be a recurring theme with Holmes; the fact that we, like Dr. Watson, “You see, but do not observe”. It is a small piece of advice, but one that holds very true, especially within the pages of this novel.

I honestly hope Mr. Horowitz will continue to write Sherlock Holmes mysteries. He is one of the few authors I have found who truly seem to capture the voice of such a beloved character. I shall continue to check the shelves of my local library for his future works.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Turn on the news and more often than not there will be a story about some new “super-bug” that has sprung up somewhere in the world. So it is with no surprise when one day in the near future another one of these bugs shows up.

Being highly contagious, it spreads quickly and soon makes its way across the globe. For most who catch this virus, the illness mimics nothing more serious than the common cold and recovery is quick. However for roughly 1% of those who contract this bug, the disease has a rather more nasty outcome. The virus causes a type of ‘lock in’, where the victim remains awake and aware but are unable to move. No matter the stimulus the person cannot respond. As the virus affects people from every walk of life, the world changes and meets the challenge presented.

Roughly twenty-five years have passed and the disease now has a name – ‘Haden’s syndrome’. There are now millions of individuals who have become ‘lock ins’. In that time technology has made leaps and bounds allowing those who are locked away in their own bodies to live a better life. Neural networks allow them to interact with the outside world through personal transport robots and Integrators – persons who contracted Haden’s but did not become a lock in but still had their brain altered. It is in this world where FBI agent Chris Shane lives and our story takes place.

In Lock In, Chris Shane is a rookie FBI agent and it’s his first day on the job. Partnered with Agent Leslie Vann their first assignment together is a Haden related murder and the prime suspect is an Integrator. If the Integrator had a Haden client controlling their moves, then naming the suspect for the murder suddenly becomes that much more difficult.

As Shane and Vann dig deeper in an effort to unravel the story behind the murder, it quickly becomes clear that it’s only a small part of a bigger story. The world is constantly changing and there are those who would manipulate it for their own gains. The two agents are in a race against time to find the true murderer before a new law comes in to effect and changes everything.

The main characters of Lock In, Agents Shane and Vann, are like two sides of the same coin. Both of them developed Haden’s Syndrome in life but their outcomes were different – Shane became a lock in while Vann became an Integrator before becoming an FBI agent. Vann doesn’t hold Shane’s hand or treat him as an invalid as they work together. She asks for his thoughts and input as the case goes on. To Vann, Shane is her partner and she treats him as such.

Lock In was one of those books I picked up at the library because it sounded interesting. I tend to do this quite often when looking for books to read and while I have been disappointed on occasion, on other occasions I have found a most excellent and entertaining story. This book definitely falls in to the latter category for me. While I did find the sheer amount of techno-babble at times a bit daunting, the well paced story and likable characters balanced it out.

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

I freely admit, dear Reader, to being a bit of a history buff. There are certain time periods and cultures that I favor and over time have become fairly well versed in. There are others that while I am not completely familiar with the history, I do enjoy a good tale set in that time period on occasion. The late 14th and early 15th centuries are just one of those ages and where our current novel is set.

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien follows Katherine de Valois from French Princess to Dowager Queen of England. Wed in an arranged marriage to King Henry V at 19 and then widowed by 21, she finds herself thrust in to a game of politics with the prize being her hand and potential control of the throne through her young son. Just as there are those who see her as a prize to be won, there are those who see her as the woman she is. Katherine must learn to tell friend from foe, not only for herself but for the good of England.

While The Forbidden Queen is based on actual events, historically there unfortunately very little on the actual person Katherine de Valois. Some points are known and are true; such as she is the daughter of Charles VI of France and was married to Henry V where she bore him a son, Henry VI. She was sent to the convent at Poissy at a young age but whether it was because her father was insane and her mother wished to be rid of her or whether it was so Katherine could receive a proper education is up for debate.

How content she was in her marriage to Henry is also another point of contention. During that time women, especially high born ladies, were seen as little more than chattel. They were regarded only as far as how much could be gained through their marriage to another. In effect, women were considered little more than animated property and title deeds. And unfortunately, history paints Katherine de Valois with such broad strokes.

What kind of person Katherine truly was is virtually unknown. Generally she is regarded as being not all that bright, the stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ if one prefers. Yet to have survived for so long in the cutthroat court, Katherine must have had at least a modicum of intelligence. And that is how O’Brien paints her – not as some dim-wit but as an intelligent woman.

With her rather lacking upbringing, Katherine is somewhat emotionally stunted by the time she reached adulthood. Something O’Brien plays upon as throughout the novel Katherine constantly doubts herself. She believes herself to be in love with King Henry and her tender heart is broken when he does not return her feelings with the same fervor. Some years later when she develops feelings for Edmund Beaufort, she is devastated to learn that his only reason for courting her was for her crown and the power it held. So when Owen Tudor tries to claim her heart she initially pushes him away. It is when she comes to realize that he does not see her as some prize but as a woman does she allow herself to be happy.

Anne O’Brien’s version of Katherine de Valois is a truly memorable one. The real woman is mentioned only briefly in history and not very flatteringly. This version is an intelligent woman who throughout the tale learns to trust her feelings. Though she starts the story as little more than a pawn, by the final pages she emerges as a true queen.