Let’s Talk Books — Hollow City

Warning: Spoilers!

Hollow City, the sequel toย Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, starts immediately after the ending of the previous book. So because I can’t think of a better way to start this review, why don’t we begin in a similar way?

The book opens with Jacob, Emma, and the other peculiar children lost at sea, trying to find land and, ultimately, another time loop with an uncaptured ymbryne to heal Miss Peregrine. I don’t think I explained the term “ymbryne” in my last post, mostly because it was barely used in the story. But since it’s a pretty common term in Hollow City I’ll explain for those of you that haven’t read the book. An ymbryne is more or less the caretaker of a particular time loop and controls the repeating timelines. Without one, the time loop falls apart, and that’s precisely what happened to Miss Peregrine’s when she was captured by the wights. They’re also in charge of taking care of peculiars and helping them develop and control their powers, educate them, raise them — basically, act as their mother.

Anyway, not to sell this book short, but Hollow City is almost entirely focused on the peculiars traveling through 1940s London trying to find the supposedly one uncaptured ymbryne, Miss Wren. They make a lot of stops, and there are noteworthy events that happen within the book, but… I don’t know. I can’t remember too many details about what happened. They find a home for peculiar animals, which has hands down one of my favorite characters in the series so far if only for his appearance alone. They meet up with some gypsies that know of and sympathize with peculiars. They get captured by wights and make a pretty cool escape thanks to Hugh, one of the main peculiars that controls bees that live inside him. They find a raided loop and rescue a pair of peculiar twins that can see through the dark using sonar and a telekinetic girl. They find Miss Wren, she heals Miss Peregrine, then a ton of really awesome and surprising things happen that I don’t really feel like spoiling. But that’s it.

I’m not sure if it’s because Hollow City falls victim to the dreaded “middle book” of a trilogy syndrome or if it’s because the peculiars never stay in one place too long, but I’m having trouble remembering a lot of scenes that stood out compared to the previous book. Which is strange, because in many ways I enjoyed Hollow City more. It improved on some of the flaws I had with the previous book, which I really appreciated. For one thing, the characters felt more developed. They don’t evolve into anything too complex, but I appreciate what was done. For example, Bronwyn, the girl with superhuman strength, is shown having more affection and care towards the younger kids and the injured Miss Peregrine, almost treating them like a mother would. There’s a small hint towards a romance between Hugh and Fiona, the girl who can manipulate plants. And Enoch, the boy who can animate inanimate objects, becomes one of the most negative characters I’ve ever seen, possibly because of his anger towards Jacob for hooking up with Emma. I was sincerely surprised and almost disappointed he didn’t become a bad guy out of pure jealousy; his attitude through the entire book screams future betrayal.

Unfortunately, Jacob doesn’t get much more interesting from the last book. In fact, narration aside, Jacob feels like just another peculiar tagging along rather than the main character. Which I guess may be a good thing considering he’s still pretty boring. His shining moments come from saving the group from hollows, which only he can see and is slowly learning to become better at detecting. But other than that, he’s a typical main character saying typical main hero things.

Emma remained my favorite character and is still one of the more complex, realistic people in the book. Funny, remember last week when I complained about other people complaining about her relationship with Jacob and how it’s wrong because of the “age difference?” Well now she has a problem with it too! Even though she was ecstatic with Jacob’s decision to stay with them, for some reason, towards the end of the book, she suddenly decides that it’s wrong for him to stay with the peculiars and for the two of them to be in a relationship. This fight more or less gets put on hold, but I’m curious to see where it goes. Does Emma really have some sort of moral dilemma with their situation, or is this just one of those scenes meant to have Jacob rethink and ultimately reinforce his decisions that he already made?

The old photographs are back, and… well, if some of them felt forced in during the first book, then Hollow City is even guiltier of this. In the first book at least some of the pictures made sense in context. You know, like Jacob’s grandfather showing him photographs in the story? Here, though, that’s pretty much lost. The photos exist primarily to compliment what’s happening in the story, and unfortunately, more scenes feel like they have to go out of their way to introduce a photo. Like the previous entry, I don’t feel like they’re unwelcome, but considering that the photos seem to be the one unique thing from an outsider’s perspective of the series, they don’t seem necessary and mislead readers into thinking it’s scarier than it is. It’s a fantasy series, not a horror one. I think something like Harry Potter‘s quirky illustrations at the beginning of each chapter would have been more appropriate.

Except for this photo. This one’s amazing. I frickin’ love this dog.

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I still really enjoyed my read of Hollow City, but I’d be lying if I said some parts weren’t a little dull. The last chapter, however, was so exciting for me. A bunch of stuff comes out of nowhere and really raises the stakes for everyone involved. Normally I don’t really care about spoiling stuff in these reviews, but the end of this book was such a welcome surprise for me I want you to be surprised too, if you’re reading this to get a feel of whether or not you want to get into the series. That being said, I think in many ways this book is better written than the first, but something about it wasn’t quite as memorable. So if you’ve read the first and aren’t sure if you want to continue, I unfortunately couldn’t give you a good answer one way or the other.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the review. I’m really looking forward to the next installment and giving my thoughts on it. Hope everyone’s having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Info for my edition of Hollow City:

  • Published 2014 by Quirk Books
  • Hardcover, 399 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-59474-612-3

 

Let’s Talk Books — Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Warning: Spoilers!

Boy, that’s a mouthful. Let’s see how often I can avoid typing that title in this post. (Or I can just copy and paste the title whenever I need to use it. Guess we’ll see.)

I didn’t really know anything about this book before starting it. A friend was reading it, it sounded interesting, I marked it in my to-read list, and now I have this book and its two sequels in my “borrowed from friends” pile of books to read.

I didn’t even know if I wanted to talk about this book before finishing the next two. I’m under the assumption this is a trilogy, but for all I know it could still be an ongoing series. I guess I could look it up, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the mystery for myself. :p

In the end, I thought it might be fun to review a series blind one book at a time, so here we are. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is about this teen named Jacob and his discovery of a hidden group of people with interesting powers and abilities. His grandfather had told stories of them as a child, but Jacob eventually stopped believing when he got too old. When his grandfather is killed by a monster that only Jacob saw, his family sets him up with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist eventually convinces Jacob to visit the home his grandfather grew up in, which was like an orphanage for these peculiar kids, so Jacob can develop much needed closure for his grandfather’s sudden death.

The house is in ruin, but some of the kids from his grandfather’s story appear when they hear Jacob exploring it. They think it’s his grandfather, but when they realize it’s someone else they flee. Jacob follows them and is eventually taken hostage by one of the kids, a girl named Emma. She thinks he wants to kill them and is very hostile for a while, but eventually warms up and brings him back to the orphanage — at a different time.

There are certain areas around the world that contain a space that continually loops through the same time frame, and this home is one of those locations. When Jacob visits the house during the present it’s in shambles, blown apart during WWII, but Emma can take him through some kind of gateway to visit the home in the past, before it blew up. That’s where/when these children live, with their caretaker Miss Peregrine.

Miss Peregrine generously lets Jacob come and go through the time loop over the next several days, and he learns more about his grandfather. His ability was that he could see the monsters that attack these peculiars, the hollowgast, or simply hollows (and for those that remember my anime retrospective, yes, I was thinking of Bleach the whole time). It turns out Jacob’s grandfather was killed by a hollowgast. Miss Peregrine wants Jacob to stay not only because he’s a peculiar, but because his gift is key to survival.

Eventually a hollowgast begins attacking the town around the house (in the present), and Jacob, Emma, and a handful of other peculiars get mixed up with it. There’s a complex series of events that involve the kidnapping of Miss Peregrine, the time loop on their house closing, fighting the hollowgast, and pursuing a wight (an intelligent, evolved hollowgast), and the book eventually closes with Jacob and ten peculiars setting out to find a new time loop.

I guess the first thing I should mention about this book is the use of photographs. Throughout the novel, there are a number of unsettling black and white pictures depicting many of the children and other events in the book. These were included from a collection of strange photos and while they’re interesting, they don’t always work or even seem necessary. In the beginning of the book, when Jacob’s grandfather is actually showing him pictures of the kids he’s describing, this is a useful addition to help visualize what’s going on in the story. Later, however, it sort of feels like the story is going out of its way to write around a photograph that may not even have been needed in the first place. At first it feels like they’re actual photos Jacob looks through, but then it sort of feels like a supplement for the reader. I do appreciate they’re included, though. The majority of them are pretty unsettling and interesting, and the ones depicting the children gave me a better idea of who they were than if I had just read the descriptions of them.

The pictures may give you the impression the book is creepier than it actually is, though. The first third or so is more unsettling than the rest of the novel, although it never reaches a level that I would classify as horror. The first part is more rooted in reality. There’s a really interesting section that describes how the stories Jacob’s grandfather told were just altered realities to numb the pain of the Holocaust. Being peculiar really meant being Jewish, and the home he grew up with was something akin to refugees, for example.

Once Jacob is introduced to the world of peculiars, however, the tone drastically changes to that of a fantasy novel. We’re suddenly being introduced to a different world and culture with kids that have a variety of unusual powers. In a way, Miss Peregrine and her peculiars sort of remind me of Professor Xavier and the X-Men. I’m not the biggest superhero fan, but from what I remember I think that’s a fair comparison. The mood shifts to something more adventurous, and I guess this can be viewed as a bad thing if you went in hoping for a creepy book. Since I had no expectations this didn’t really bother me, but I think the transition could have been a little smoother.

A lot of the book could use a little more polishing, if I had to nitpick. I’d say as a whole the book was pretty good in terms of sentence structure, but some parts of the book needed a little more transitioning. There’s a pretty hefty information dump about the hollowgast and how they came to be that could have been introduced a little less forcefully, and we could have gotten to know more of the kids better instead of the standard “this is x, he’s got the power to blah, and this is y, she can blah” (although that seems to be pretty standard for these types of stories, so I don’t hold that too much against the author).

The characters could use a little more development too, although I wouldn’t say any of them are bad. Most of the peculiars only have their ability to go by in terms of personality, and I unfortunately ended up getting confused about who was who fairly often (but at least I remembered the important ones!). Emma’s pretty interesting; she can conjure up fire and she has an angry, emotional temper that makes her feel more real. Along with the fact that she had feelings for Jacob’s grandfather and dealt with his rejection all these years and hear news of his death, she’s definitely the most interesting character.

Jacob himself isn’t bad, although a number of reviews have said otherwise. He’s got a typical “my parents want me to be this but I want something else I don’t quite know yet” vibe going on, but his concentration on processing and coping with his grandfather’s death made him feel relatable for a while. When he’s introduced into the peculiars’ world, however, he becomes a pretty standard every man that serves more or less as the link between us and their world. He gets everything explained to him, and he’s pretty awestruck by everything. He also develops a lot of standard, young hero tropes pretty quickly too, such as proclaiming he’d rather die than sell out his friends, demanding truths that have been kept from him by Miss Peregrine, etc. Again, not bad, but he displays a lot of run-of-the-mill qualities you would expect from a main character when you wish he would be forming more of an identity for himself.

Jacob and Emma also develop a romantic relationship. In regards to characters, this is the other major complaint I found a lot of people had with the book. When Jacob’s grandfather was young and living with the peculiars, I guess they had either a relationship or developing feelings for each other, and it was hard on Emma after he left, grew old with someone else, and died. Emma, along with the rest of the peculiars, didn’t age at all during the time loop, so even though she’s decades old, she’s still a teenager with teenager emotions. So a lot of people see this as a 70 or 80 year old woman hooking up with a teenager and frown upon it.

If she was actually an old woman this would be an issue, but since it’s a fantasy story and this is one of those weird situations where age and body aging aren’t in sync with each other, I think it’s important to note this isn’t the same thing as pedophilia many people insist is happening. Despite the number of years they’ve lived, the peculiars have been stuck in their young bodies and still act like children and teens. They’re teenagers, just, you know… for decades. I mean, the entire concept of Twilight is largely accepted, right? It’s okay for super old Edward to creep on high school Bella because he’s been a teenager for all these years, right? I don’t know. This criticism just seems stupid considering how fairly common this is in fantasy type stories. What’s next, is Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter not allowed to flirt with Harry and Ron just because she’s a kid ghost that’s lived for 60 or so years after her death? Give me a break.

What is a good criticism is that Jacob’s hooking up with his grandfather’s ex. Despite the rules of aging this book presents, that fact is kind of messed up. To be fair, the novel addresses this several times, and Jacob does resist Emma for a while. But in the end, it still feels like he gave in a little too easily. It feels awkward in that way someone you know might start dating his brother’s girlfriend just after breaking up.

Honestly, though, I like the romance. I thought it was cute. Part of me was reminded when I was a kid, just on the verge of becoming a teenager. Becoming part of a fantasy world and getting involved with a girl from that world seems a lot like a daydream I would have back then. So there’s a nice sense of innocence there, at least from my perspective.

And there’s also room for a darker perspective, too. Jacob’s a single teen, of course he’d like to be with a girl he’s attracted to and who’s attracted to him. But then there’s Emma, who’s been more or less trapped in the same house with the same people, pining over the same man for like 60+ years. Then here comes a new person her own age (you know what I mean), and he looks very much like the guy she’ll never be with, and she forms an immediate attachment to him. Does she like Jacob? Is she just using Jacob to feel like she’s with his grandfather? This relationship has so much potential to get beautifully complicated. At the end of the day it’s a YA novel and I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but… well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed this gets explored a little more. ๐Ÿ™‚

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. If this book was self-contained, I’d say it was more disappointing. But since it very much feels like the first part in something larger, I’m comfortable admitting I had a good time with it. It could use some polishing, but it was definitely one of the better YA books I’ve read lately. I’d say give it a chance, just understand it might not be the creepy little horror experience the front cover may suggest it is. If all goes well, I might have the second book finished and a new review up by next week. But it may take a little longer, so we’ll see. Hope everyone’s having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Info for my edition of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children:

  • Published 2011 by Quirk Books
  • Hardcover, 352 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-59474-476-1

 

Let’s Talk Books — Lolito

Warning: Spoilers!

I’ve got no quirky background story for once! I was browsing Barnes & Noble, I saw Lolito on the shelf with an interesting font on the spine, wondered if this was like Lolita only with the gender roles reversed, thought it sounded really interesting, and bought it. Just one of those spontaneous, random books you buy one day, I guess.

I’ve never actually read Lolita; I only know the basic premise of the story. So I’m not going to be drawing any parallels or differences between that book and this one (although I’m sure there are plenty to make for both sides). I will say the premise for Lolito does sound similar, just with the gender roles reversed and with a modern setting.

Etgar is an extremely anxious teenager. He finds out his girlfriend, Alice, had cheated on him shortly after she went on a family vacation. His friend Aslam has been getting on his nerves lately too, whether it’s being totally unhelpful and unempathetic to Etgar’s situation or trying to force Etgar to be social when he just wants to sit around the house and be miserable. His parents have left him home alone for a week while they attended a wedding out of the country, and Etgar is letting the world and its loneliness crush him.

He decides to mess around in an adult chat room and eventually starts privately emailing a woman named Macy. Etgar pretends to be about ten years older and starts to form a sexual relationship with her. He splits his time between mourning over Alice and taking out his sexual frustrations by chatting with Macy.

One day Macy says she’ll be in town on business and wants to meet up with Etgar. Etgar takes all of the money his grandmother left him after she died and goes to spend a few days with Macy. At first it’s pretty awkward; Macy can see he’s a teenager but doesn’t mention it. But they have a lot of fun on their date and become comfortable enough with each other to share a couple of intimate nights with.

When Etgar returns home, he’s busted. The police have found out what the two of them are up to, and Macy was arrested. Etgar breaks down and tries to convince everyone that Macy didn’t do anything wrong. Despite what people say, Etgar holds his ground and keeps trying to convince everyone that he wasn’t taken advantage of and that he wanted to fool around with her.

After being called to testify one day, Etgar awaits news of what’s to happen to Macy. All along he keeps praying that Macy doesn’t go to jail. His father eventually brings him news that she won’t be going to jail, but she’ll be going to a psychiatric hospital and won’t be able to work with kids again. The ending is abrupt and almost anti-climatic, but I feel that it’s pretty strong. Despite getting what he wanted (Macy not going to jail), Etgar’s disappointment in the fact that two extremely lonely people couldn’t enjoy each other without such a permanent scar on her life is too great for him to be happy about it.

Loneliness —ย  I think that’s the central concept of this book. Lolito shows two extremely lonely people who just wanted some companionship. Etgar’s a pretty immature teenager. He’s at the heart of conflicted feelings and extreme emotions most teenagers go through, in addition to practically being an alcoholic. He’s very self-destructive, as we can see when he intoxicates himself and goes to watch animal abuse videos online for no other reason than being bored.

Honestly, that makes him sound pretty unlikable. In fact, most of the characters in this book don’t seem to be very likable. And yet somehow, I sympathize with Etgar. I think a large part of that is how the book is written — it reminds me a lot of Chuck Palaniuk’s writing. There’s a lot of rapid, short, powerful descriptions that are broken up in such a way that really left an impact for me.ย  That being said, I know a lot of people either love or hate Chuck Palaniuk, so keep your opinion of him in mind before going into this novel (if you have one at all).

Anyway, there’s a pretty interesting shift in Etgar’s tone after he hooks up with Macy. He lets himself become a lot more vulnerable around her. She does as well, in fact. There’s a scene where they’re in the hotel room, just having fun and making some kind of fort with the sheets and pillows, both desperately wishing they don’t have to go back to their real lives. And it’s really sad. I could really see how alone both of them felt and how connected they felt with each other on an almost childlike level. It was like both of them were experiencing a connection with another person they haven’t felt in a very long time, a connection they both desperately craved.

And I guess it’s because of this that I really ended up feeling for Etgar when Macy’s life was jeopardized. He breaks down and keeps insisting that Macy didn’t do anything wrong, that he knew exactly what he was doing and he was fine with it.

I actually feel pretty uncomfortable discussing this in a post. I mean at the end of the day, a grown, married woman with children hooked up with a teenager. That’s not okay. But considering the circumstances of everything in both of their lives, the fact that Etgar was perfectly fine with what they were doing, and how genuine their relationship felt (even if it was the basic need for human touch and love)… I don’t know. The question of how right and wrong this situation is doesn’t feel so black and white. Is it because I’m a guy? I feel like guys would relate more to this situation than girls. And that brings forth another question: would I feel the same sympathy for this relationship if the genders were reversed?

There wasn’t a whole lot I disliked about Lolito. I’m guessing if other people had an issue with it (other than the right or wrong concept of the whole book), it would be Etgar and his friends. Etgar really is an immature, obnoxious teenager. The fact that he spends so much of the book hating his ex-girlfriend for cheating on him while he himself has sort of a bang buddy relationship with another friend (in which he views there’s nothing wrong because they don’t have feelings for each other and they’re not really having sex, just sort of dry humping) says a lot about how much he needs to grow up. But considering the novel never gave me the impression I was supposed to think of him as a mature person, as well as the way the book was written, he ended up being more likable than if he were to appear in a different book. Then again, I’m a Chuck Palaniuk fan, andย Lolito is written very similarly to one of his books, so there’s probably some personal bias there.

Other than that, the first chapter kind of sucks. It’s one of those scenes where a few different conversations are going on at once and it’s kind of hard to tell what’s happening. The font size and margins are a little big, and it left me sort of nervous I was about to dive in a melodramatic YA novel. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but you know I have a thing about font sizes. :b

I definitely liked this book and would recommend giving it a try, but it’s not for everyone. There’s obviously a lot of sexual themes; if that’s not your thing, this book won’t be either. But it left me thinking more than I thought it would, and the book took a surprising, yet effective, change in tone towards the end.

Hope everyone’s having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Info for my edition of Lolito:

  • Published 2015 by Regan Arts
  • Paperback, 288 pages
  • ISBN 978-194139335-2