Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Likeness by Tana French

This is French's second novel. I read her first book, In The Woods, but I can't, for the life of me, remember what it was about. Apparently the main character in The Likeness, Cassie, was a primary character in her first book. That was totally lost on me. Fortunately, you don't need to have read In The Woods to know what is going on in The Likeness.

The Likeness takes place in Ireland, where a Trinity college student has been found murdered in a cabin. Although Cassie Maddox works in the domestic violence unit, she is called back to work undercover on the Murder Squad for this case. We get hints of her previous time on the murder squad, which she left after nearly getting killed while undercover. Despite her hesitation, Cassie is drawn to this case, partially because she is bored with her current unit, and also because the victim bears a striking resemblance to herself. So much so, that Cassie is able to pose as the victim, Lexie, and continue Lexie's life with her four unknowing roommates.

At its heart, this is a murder mystery, from the perspective of an undercover cop. We have the usual suspects, the not so usual suspects, and a lot of emotional baggage thrown in for many involved. The pace of the story is a bit slow. It took me several months to read the book - I would read it between other books. As the story evolved, I found myself more interested, but I can't say I was entrenched in it. I wasn't a fan of many of the main characters, either. Lexie's four roommates are all Trinity College students, academics. And if you want to stereotype an academic (no TV, listening to old music no one's ever heard of, peppering your conversations with literary references, blah blah blah) then you have that in this book. I was annoyed with the roommates' pretentiousness. My apologies if you do any of these things, but trust me, it's not to the extent as this lot. If it is, we're probably not friends anyway.

So I guess I kinda have a meh feeling toward this book. It wasn't horrible, but it is one I'll probably quickly forget. If you have nothing else to read, it will do. But don't go out of your way to buy it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I've said it before and I'll say it again, kids are creepy. What can take a horror movie to the next level? A creepy kid. Remember the kids in The Shining? That boy who would make his finger talk and say "redrum" over and over? Or those twin girls? What about The Others? Or The Sixth Sense? Or all those other movies I haven't seen because they have creepy kids in them and I'm too scared to watch them? Who doesn't agree that dolls are creepy? And why were garbage pail kids so popular back in the day? Creepy kids. Has anyone seen the teletubbies? Weirdest shit I'd ever seen.

Having said all that, what drew me to this book was the eerie picture of a girl floating on the cover. The picture looks real, and it looks old. Which brings me to another creepy device...old stuff. And this is a black and white photo, so it's old. At least, it looks old. After I did some asking around, I realized the book's premise is based on several photos that the author obtained. They are an eclectic bunch of pictures, many of which involve amateur photo tricks like the picture of the girl floating on the cover. Some of the photos don't involve any kind of trick, per se, but they're just strange, out of context images. And a lot of them involve kids. Creepy kids. Riggs uses these photos as inspiration for his story, and every now and then, he'll describe a character or a scene, and voila! On the next page is a picture of just what he is describing.

So what's the deal? The story is about Jacob, a teenager who has grown up hearing strange stories from his grandfather, who fled to Wales during WWII. His grandfather grows up in a home with other children, who are all special in some way. Set in modern times, Jacob finds himself delving into his grandfather's past and visiting the orphanage to better understand the strange tales he heard growing up. Although the orphanage and its inhabitants are from the 1940's, Jacob finds a way to connect with his grandfather's past.

It's difficult to get more detailed without giving anything away. But the book is basically a mix of X-Men/sci-fi/fantasy all in one. My reaction to the book was a little it is with creepy kids in general. I'm a bit put off, but intrigued at the same time. Although I was more intrigued than put off in this case. I felt the incorporation of the photos was creative, but contrived at times. I could see the author thinking, "How do I get this photo into my narrative?" and then making up a random scene just to make it work. That took me out of the story a couple of times, but I was still excited to see what photo would be next and it definitely made the tale more visual for me. The story definitely fits a young adult genre though, which I find (except in a few cases) can dilute the potential of a story (if that makes any sense to anyone other than myself).

I agree with many others who have reviewed this book - the pictures are creepier than the story itself; and the tale is somewhat immature and underdeveloped. But despite the mixed feelings, if you like fantasy stories or are a YA fan, you may get a kick out of this one.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Finally, a story about a circus that is cool. There aren't creepy clowns or abused animals in this circus. All of the food sold at this circus is out of this world and probably doesn't give anyone indigestion. And while there is no shortage of bizarre entertainment, the freaks in this circus have talents most other circus performers don't...and that's the secret of the Night Circus.

Morgenstern's debut novel takes place in England in the 1800's. We meet two men...The first is Prospero the Enchanter, who has natural magical abilities that he disguises as illusions for audiences. The second is the mysterious Mr. A. H. who agrees to a challenge with Prospero. They will each raise a protege to compete in a magical competition of sorts. Prospero's protege has natural ability while Mr. A. H.'s will be taught. Unbeknownst to the proteges, they will compete against each other in this strange competition. So begins the Night Circus.

Imagine you wake up one day and see black and white circus tents set up that weren't there the day before. No one heard the trains arrive in town, no one noticed the tents being set up, but there it is. And even stranger, the circus is only open from dusk to dawn. Instead of a main tent, there are many tents and exhibitions...too many to explore in one evening. There are performers like Celia the illusionist, Tsukiko, the contortionist, and Isobelle, the fortune teller. There are experiences like the ice garden, the labryinth, or the wishing tree. And each thing you see and experience seems geniune. You don't know how the illusionist made a person in the audience disappear, or how the contortionist fit in that glass box, but you are enchanted and find yourself obsessed with the circus.

Besides the competition between Propero and Mr. A. H.'s students, the Night Circus involves a host of other characters. Morgenstern introduces us to many of them, and they are as interesting and integral to the story as the others. We learn that although the Night Circus is a magical place, it isn't immune to human weakness. Can the circus be sustained? Can its secrets be kept? And how will the strange competition that began it all end?

This book left me satisfied. Morgenstern is a very visual writer. She takes the time to describe everything in delicious detail and as I read, I kept seeing everything as if it were a movie - which is my hope (apparently the film rights have been sold to Summit Entertainment so maybe her visions will come to fruition). The book has a victorian, romantic, and yes, magical feel. While I'm not sure it's an automatic pick for my year's top's definitely a candidate.