You Should Read: MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Synopsis: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather— were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. – Quirk Books

Yes, sometimes I read YA fiction. I don’t judge a book on whether it’s YA or not, though if I hear described first as “young adult” before hearing the plot I may not be interested. There’s too many books for whom the genre is the point of buying it, and I prefer books with strong characters, gripping language, and interesting new ideas. Which is to say that I’ll read YA if it’s just as good without the label.

When I bought Miss Peregrin’s, I didn’t know that it was marketed for younger people, only that it involved strange children and orphans and monsters. My kind of book! It turned out to be a wonderfully fast read – I started and finished it inside of three hours, though I didn’t do anything else but read during that time. Oddly, the publisher says the book contains 352 pages, while my ebook version only contained 225. I have to admit that after the ending I did a little Googling to make sure that my version wasn’t missing something. As far as I can tell, I have the full book, even down to the author’s notes at the end, but if that’s where the story is supposed to stop … well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

First the pluses: Weird, Cthonic cannibal monsters! Children trapped in time, aging without aging, and all possessing of mystical powers! It’s like X-men, in 1940, without the spandex outfits! Continue reading

You Should Read: M. Rickert (various stories)

It’s worth repeating: I love having friends who read because they introduce me to wonderful new writers, all of the time. Today’s great author is M. Rickert, suggested to me by the same person who gave me J.G. Ballard and Kelly Link and Ted Chiang and others. I read four of her stories, and here’s what I thought:

“Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter’s Personal Account,” Fantasy & Science Fiction, Oct/Nov 2008: The pure and beautiful devotion of a young woman to an ideal that just happens to want her mother dead. The girl, the narrator, speaking to us as if revealing her thoughts to a journal she suspects will someday be read, tells us about just one aspect of her life: the executions of women who had abortions at some point in the past. By describing how this one part of society affects every part of her life, the story of a future America gone mad unfolds. Simply, easily, as if it is fact, as if it is true, and we can’t do anything now but watch it happen. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading: LOVECRAFT, Lovecraft-inspired, and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne

This week’s reading roundup is all about the graphic novel, and in honor of HPL’s birthday today, I’ve got two collections that are all about Lovecraft (and another one about a wisecracking robot, but we’ll get to that in a minute).

First up, LOVECRAFT, adapted from Hans Rodionoff’s screenplay by Keith Giffen, illustrated by Enrique Breccia and lettered by Todd Klein. The basic idea is nothing new, and one I’m not actually fond of: that Howard Phillip Lovecraft wasn’t original, creative, inventive, imaginative, or insane, but instead the things he wrote about were real, and monsters truly did follow him around. He merely wrote down the things he saw. I think this idea discredits the incredible amount of literary work the man actually did – his research, influences and the circle of writer friends and editors who helped shaped his writing as much as he shaped theirs. Forgiving that, the book is actually worth looking at. What’s most brilliant about it is the illustrations, watercolor blending of line and hue that suggests more than it defines. The paintings are bright and lovely if you can see the beauty in being presented with graphic depictions of violent sex, vivisected animals, and mental institution nightmares. I’d recommend this to fans of HPL’s work who’re familiar enough with his life to get what the writer is hinting at, and who’re looking for the imagery which HPL writes about but rarely gets illustrated.

VERTIGO, ISBN 1-4012-0143-1, the graphic novel is complete in this collection. Continue reading

You Should Read: Elizabeth Hand’s ILLYRIA (plus a note about why I do book reviews)

These book reviews I post when the mood strikes me aren’t in a category called “Books I’ve Read” or “Book Reviews” – they’re in a category called “Books I Recommend”. That’s because I read quite a lot of stories and collections and novels, but the ones I talk about here are the ones I think you should be reading too. I don’t review everything, and if I can’t find something worth suggesting you go out and pay actual cashy money for your own copy of the work, then I won’t mention it. Nothing good comes from me tearing apart the work of other writers, and if you’re looking for a bad book I’m sure you can find one on your own. That doesn’t mean I won’t point out where I think a story could have been better, because I’m honest like that, but it’ll be a story or a collection that is has other pieces which are lovely and moving and will expand your idea of what writing can be. If that wasn’t true, I wouldn’t mention the work at all.

I’m not a book blogger. I am a writer, and a reader, and sometimes I write about the things I’ve read.

I started working through the big pile of books that I brought home from Readercon 22, and the first one to be finished is Elizabeth Hand‘s ILLYRIA.

This book is a perfect example of what I think of when I say “magic realism”.

Continue reading

You Should Read: Fran Lebowitz’s METROPOLITAN LIFE

I got my copy of METROPOLITAN LIFE from a friend about a month ago. It’s a small paperback, found languishing in a used book store and saved from obscurity. Or, at least, saved from being bought by one of those English Literature students who is more likely to line a wall with books by famous authors than they are to actually read any of them. I have been reading it in bits and pieces, whenever I needed a quick shot of crisp humor to pick me up or clear my head. Lebowitz is brilliant, insightful, and sharp, there’s no doubt about that. She’s also truly humorous, in a dry and brittle way, as if the humor is mainly to be found in realizing that you get the joke many others would not. I love her. (Note: PUBLIC SPEAKING, the Scorsese documentary, was one of the ones I recommended a few weeks ago.)

The book is broken up into sections which contain a great number of tiny essays, most two or three pages long, which largely appeared in Interview and Mademoiselle before being collected into a book. There’s a quick introductory essay about how little she can get done in a day, and then the essays are sorted into the following categories: MANNERS, SCIENCE, ARTS, and LETTERS (capitalization hers). Some of the essays cover topics such as race or feminism, and a few contain ideas that may seem outdated now, but to be fair, it is nearly 40 years since she wrote the essays in the first place. For the most part, they are just as funny as they would have been to someone reading them when they first appeared in print.

There are too many to review individually but some of my favorites from MANNERS were “Vocational Guidance for the Truly Ambitious”, where I discovered that I was a natural dictator*, “Children: Pro or Con?”, where she explains that the right child is more useful than one might assume, and “Notes on ‘Trick'”, a handy guide which might serve some of us even today. In SCIENCE I was especially fond of “Weak Speech Handsets: Aid for the Dull”, where she invents a device to make some people worth listening to, and “Why I Love Sleep”, where she lists famous people who appear to also have slept at least once in a while, and “Food For Thought and Vice Versa” where she explains that real food is meant to be eaten instead of merely being pretty, and that “Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who live in hutches eagerly awaiting the return of Easter.” ARTS focuses on design, and furniture, and her inability to find either that doesn’t rob “comfortable” to make “modern”. In “Color: Drawing The Line” she explains the true meanings behind the primary colors, none of which she particularly approves of. In it she describes blue by saying, “In dealing with champions of this hue one could do worse than remember that water is also the favorite environment of sharks and is the cause, nine times out of ten, of death by drowning.” I cannot argue with her on either point, though I will note that I rather like both blue and sharks. I am less fond of drowning. In LETTERS she writes on the act of writing and the meaning of being a writer, and therefore I can recommend each essay in this section. Very important is “Writing: A Life Sentence” where she helpfully describes the things by which you can tell if your child is doomed to become a writer, so that you can avoid this at all costs.

If you have no idea who Fran Lebowitz is, and certainly some of you don’t, go out now and pick up this little book with great haste. You can thank me later.

* Please note: I already knew this.

Publisher: Fawcett (The edition I have is 1978)
ISBN-13: 978-0449241691