Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

[amazon_image id=”1594744769″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image]Ransom Riggs’s novel [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link] is part bildungsroman, part gothic fairy tale. Its hero, Jacob Portman, is a teenager living in Florida. He is close to his grandfather, Abe Portman, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. Abe tells crazy stories about an orphanage in Wales where he grew up, and he shows Jacob the most fantastic photos of the children who lived there—a girl who could fly, a boy who had bees living inside him, and an invisible boy. As Jacob grows up, he stops believing his grandfather’s fantastic stories until he witnesses a terrible attack on his grandfather that makes him question everything. Jacob’s family believes he is unable to cope with the stress of losing his grandfather, and Jacob begins therapy with Dr. Golan. Finally, Jacob decides he must travel to Wales and see the orphanage where his grandfather grew up in order to come to terms with his grandfather’s death. When he arrives, he discovers his grandfather’s wild stories just might be true.

This book was a delight from start to finish. It has moments of laugh-out-loud humor and hair-raising terror. I really liked the way Riggs managed to describe the reason for everything from sideshow “freaks” to cannibalistic serial killers to the Tunguska Event. After reading this book, you’ll look at mysteries in a new way. Most reviewers who read this book remark on the way Riggs manages to seamlessly weave bizarre photographs into his narrative, but it’s true. I would not read this one the Kindle. You will not enjoy the full effect of the photographs in that way. Jacob is a likeable hero; in fact, I liked all of the characters in this book. I also enjoyed the time-travel aspect. A word of warning: the book is ripe for a sequel, and if you pick it up, who knows how long you’ll have to wait until the next installment (and I hope there will be one!). This novel is one of the most unusual, fun, and absorbing novels I read this year. Perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge!

Rating: ★★★★★

R.I.P. Challenge

Why the R.I.P. Challenge Works

R.I.P. ChallengeEvery year it seems Carl manages to generate a lot of interest and participation in the R.I.P. Challenge. Why is this challenge so successful? As both a participant in several challenges and a challenge host, I have been thinking about it, and I think what Carl gets right that other challenge hosts, including myself, don’t, involves several key factors.

First, Carl is running it for the sixth year in a row. I decided to host a challenge on a whim, and I have no intention of hosting the same challenge next year (and, if I’m honest, I can’t even really muster the enthusiasm to complete it!), but that is probably the best way to generate interest in a challenge. I can’t confirm this (perhaps Carl could), but my hunch is that he has more participants each year. It stands to reason that as those participants talk about the challenge on their blogs and convince others to participate it grows each year a little bit like those old Faberge Organics commercials from the 1970’s and 1980’s. Carl has built the R.I.P. Challenge into such an event that he would have to recruit another host if he ever tired of it.  It’s one of the longest-running challenges that I can think of.

Another element of the R.I.P. Challenge that differs from other challenges is that while it doesn’t quite completely take over Carl’s blog for the two months it’s running, it is certainly prominently featured. For example, Carl usually finds an artist to design the buttons and banners and features that artist in a post. Carl also hosts several giveaways related to the challenge. The giveaways might be fun Halloween decorations or bookmarks. Carl also features R.I.P.-appropriate books during the challenge. In other words, he doesn’t just create a post explaining the challenge and leave it at that. The challenge becomes an event that drives people back to his blog to participate more.

Another thing I think Carl gets right is the length of the challenge. A lot of challenges, including most of the ones I am currently participating in and the one I am hosting, are year-long challenges. Year-long challenges are nice in that they allow late-comers to participate and also give participants flexibility without time-pressure. However, in keeping the challenge at two months and running it only during a certain time of year, Carl makes the R.I.P. Challenge more of an event, like a festival. Part of the appeal of festivals is that they don’t happen every weekend. They happen once a year, and they become something to look forward to and plan for.

Finally, I think Carl has married the perfect form of literature to time of year with the R.I.P. Challenge: creepy, gothic, scary stories are perfect for fall. By keeping the definition loose and allowing users to decide what constitutes the perfect R.I.P. book, but also putting constraints of some sort, Carl encourages readers to read books that for whatever reason just seem to define fall. It culminates appropriately with that old pagan holiday that celebrated the new year when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was especially thin—Halloween, of course—long celebrated for ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties. And naturally perfect for the challenge.

Carl does all of this with his Once Upon a Time Challenge as well, but I think the one element that the R.I.P. Challenge has that Once Upon a Time does not is that perfect marriage of time of year with subject matter. I don’t care what the temperature is outside, when I see the R.I.P. Challenge has begun, it suddenly feels like fall. The air feels crisper and I can almost imagine the leaves turning, even here in Georgia, where fall happens so much later.

I’m currently reading [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link] by Ransom Riggs for the challenge, and despite compiling a longlist the other day, I may or may not read those particular books for the challenge. After all, I just acquired [amazon_link id=”1463612214″ target=”_blank” ]Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes[/amazon_link] by Bernard J. Schaffer for $2.99 on my [amazon_link id=”B002FQJT3Q” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link] (it is still available for that price!), and who knows what else I might get my hands on before the end of October.

The Sunday Salon

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 31, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Sharyn McCrumb’s [amazon_link id=”B000MWFFS8″ target=”_blank” ]The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter[/amazon_link]. I have just been tearing through her books, but this one is fairly dark! Still good. I think I should finish it before too long, and then it’s R.I.P. Time.

Speaking of which…

Peril the First

I’m doing it this year. I am not playing around. Four books or bust! Actually, I think I have a shot this year since I seem to have figured out, at nearly 40 years old, how to read a little faster. Better late than never.

I recently finished [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb (review).

I am not sure which books I’ll read next yet, but I have several ideas. Sharyn McCrumb books count for the R.I.P. Challenge! [amazon_link id=”0345369068″ target=”_blank” ]If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O[/amazon_link] arrived in my mailbox today via PaperBackSwap, so maybe that one. Looking forward to the challenge, as I do every year.

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 24, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb, and it’s engaging in a different way from [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link], which I recently finished (review). A few choice quotes:

It is difficult to explain the law to laymen. They seem to think that justice has to do with right and wrong, with absolutes. Perhaps when we stand before our Maker on Judgment Day, His court will be a just one, but those trials held on earth are not about what happened, but about what can be proven to have happened, or what twelve citizens can be persuaded to believe happened. Sometimes I think the patron saint of lawyers ought to be Pontius Pilate, for surely he said it best: What is truth? (227)

Sounds to me like an excellent explanation of law, or at least courtroom trials. Here is another I liked:

Colonel Newland eyed me sadly. “You are dealing in justice, Mr. Gaither,” he said. “I am dealing in mercy. I hope some day—before it is too late—you find that Mrs. Silver is deserving of both.” (230)

Frankie Silver, if you didn’t know, may or may not be the first woman executed for murder in North Carolina (Wikipedia cites a news article describing an earlier case, but everyone else says she was the first—plus, I’m not sure about the source as it isn’t on a news site). She supposedly killed her husband with an ax and dismembered him. Keeping in mind that I am not finished with this book, and some new twist may change my mind, I have two theories about Frankie Silver:

  1. She did the crime because, as we say in the South, her husband needed killing. A translation for non-Southerners: He was doing something like beating her or hurting their baby or even cheating on her. Now, I don’t mean to say that people deserve to be killed. I only say that when they commit wrongdoing, and they are subsequently murdered, the “He needed killing” defense has been considered viable in some corners of the South.
  2. She didn’t do it, but she knew who did, and she was protecting them for some reason.

In either case, I think her trial, if it happened the way it is described in the book, was a gross miscarriage of justice. Even if she did the crime, some procedural mishaps should have resulted in a mistrial or she should at least have been granted an appeal.

I am not sure what I’ll read after this book. Everyone at work wants me to read [amazon_link id=”0553386794″ target=”_blank” ]A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One[/amazon_link], and I want to, but it’s so long! I want to be done with any books I pick up before the R.I.P. Challenge, and there is no way I can finish that book in a week. I am going to win that challenge this year. I mean it!

R.I.P. Challenge Longlist

R.I.P. Challenge Longlist

R.I.P. Challenge Longlist

I’ve compiled my longlist for the R.I.P. Challenge—assuming, of course, that I don’t acquire other books to add to this list before the challenge begins, which is quite likely. After all, I have quite a number of Sharyn McCrumb novels coming to me from PaperBackSwap. My favorite challenge every year! You can learn more about each of these books by clicking on their covers below:

[amazon_image id=”0316068624″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Wolves of Andover: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0345506014″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Summer in the South: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1416550550″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Forgotten Garden: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0312335881″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1594744769″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”B002NPCTH2″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]A Dead Man in Deptford (Burgess, Anthony)[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”B004J8HWKU” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Seance[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0385521073″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Ghostwalk[/amazon_image]

Reading Update: October 24, 2010

flareAll the maple trees around here are beautiful shades of red and orange. Fall is my favorite season.

I think I am pretty much done with the R.I.P. Challenge. I gave up on Wuthering Bites, and I don’t see how I’ll finish Jamaica Inn when I haven’t even started it. However, I did read four books, which is two more than I thought I could, so I still met the challenge of Peril the First—for the first time ever!

I am still reading How the Irish Saved Civilization. If I have one complaint, it’s that I like books divided up into more chapters. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish a chapter, and the chapters in this book (at least some of them) are looooonng, which makes me feel less like I’m getting anywhere.

I am also going to begin Anne Fortier’s novel Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is fun to teach, and this will be the first year I have taught high school that I haven’t taught the play because it’s the first year I haven’t taught ninth grade. I love the play, but I needed a break. Instead, I will be starting Macbeth pretty soon. That one is great fun to teach.

I am looking for some good steampunk book suggestions that I can read for the Steampunk Challenge. I already plan to read The Dream of Perpetual Motion, and a friend in the know recommended Leviathan. If you have read any good ones, please share.

What are you reading?

photo credit: Aunt Owwee

Dracula, My Love, Syrie James

Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina HarkerIt’s Sunday night, a school night. It’s 11:29 P.M. as I begin this blog post. I should go to bed, but I have some bizarre compulsion to type out this review first.

Syrie James’s latest novel Dracula, My Love is a fresh take on the Dracula story. The story is told exclusively from the point of view of Mina Harker and re-imagines Dracula as a suave, seductive, charming man rather than Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula as a hideous monster. Dracula is drawn to Mina based on the picture Jonathan Harker carries with him and seeks her out in Whitby. Though Mina is engaged to Jonathan, she quickly falls under Dracula’s spell. Readers will wonder by the end of the book how much we can truly trust Mina’s version of events as compared with the version told by the narrators in Stoker’s version, for she is enthralled by and in love with Dracula. Is he truly the monster he’s always been depicted as, or is he misunderstood?

Based on the interview included at the end of the book, James had some of the same questions about Dracula that I did—what would happen if the book were told from one viewpoint rather than multiple narrators? Also, when so much of our common lore depicts vampires as beautiful and seductive beings, why is Stoker’s Dracula so unappealing? And why is he so drawn to Mina? (The movie starring Gary Oldman came up with an explanation similar to James for Dracula’s attraction to Mina—she looked like his dead wife.) What is the connection between Dracula and the infamous Vlad Tepes, often said to be the man with whom the myth originated? And finally, why does Dracula lurk in the background, appearing so seldom in the action of the book bearing his name?

Readers are treated to James’s answers to these puzzlers in a novel that nevertheless adheres closely to Dracula. In fact, it’s possible to read both as true depictions of the story, from a certain point of view anyway. Dracula, My Love was longer, I believe, than James’s other novels, possibly because of her attention to Dracula in her narrative. Fans of Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer will find much to rejoice about in this novel, which corresponds much more closely to those authors’ depictions of vampires than Stoker’s original. However, in my opinion, James is a better writer than either. I actually think I enjoyed this book more than I did Dracula, though the English teacher in me recoils to admit it. It’s a perfect read for the month of October and the R.I.P. Challenge. If you like vampire stories, you’ll love Dracula, My Love, and even if you don’t like vampires, you’ll probably like it.

Rating: ★★★★★

R.I.P. Challenge V

This novel was my fourth selection for the R.I.P. Challenge, which means I have actually completed Peril the First! For the first time in three years! I have never been able to complete this challenge, so I initially only committed to reading two books—Peril the Second. If my exclamation points didn’t tip my hand, I’ll say outright that I am really excited. I’m going to keep going with the creepy books, though. October is too perfect for reading spooky stories.

Reading Update: October 10, 2010

Stone Cross Draculas Castle - Bran Castle Transylvania Romania

It’s 10/10/10! Such dates only occur about nine times each millennium, according to my friend Roger’s research.

I found the image above on Flickr. It’s a cross outside Bran Castle in Transylvania—Dracula’s castle. I’m still reading and very much enjoying Syrie James’s Dracula, My Love. I read Dracula last year (read my review here) as part of the R.I.P. Challenge, although I didn’t finish it in time to count it (November 8). And now I’m reading Dracula paraliterature for this year’s challenge! One of the things I wondered about was whether Stoker’s choice to tell the story in an epistolary fashion would have altered if he’d chosen a character from whose point of view to tell it. I like James’s choice of Mina Harker. The novel has been great so far! I haven’t caught any departures from Stoker’s novel aside from the ways in which point of view always alters the story. Syrie James’s Dracula is much more seductive—more like our current school of thought on vampires (Lestat, Louis de Pointe du Lac, Edward Cullen, and the like) than Nosferatu. I do enjoy how James turns Professor Van Helsing into something of an ass. That’s fun.

Aside from Syrie James’s take on Dracula, I haven’t read much. I have been enormously busy at work and grad school. It’s not that I don’t have time to read—I do—it’s just that with all the extra work, the time I do have is often at the end of the day when I’m tired.

I still haven’t started Jamaica Inn. If I don’t start that one soon, there’s no way I can count it toward the R.I.P. Challenge, although when I finish Dracula, My Love, I will have completed four books, so anything else I read is gravy.

Isn’t the R.I.P. Challenge is the best way to spend October every year? September never really feels like fall in Georgia, but starting the R.I.P. Challenge gets me into the spirit, so to speak. However, by October, when our leaves are changing and temperatures are falling, reading creepy books feel great. Thanks so much Carl for hosting it every year and always making it such a highlight in terms of reading experiences.

Some of my blogging peers are talking about the big readathon this weekend. I can’t participate in that kind of thing during the school year, or I will be dead come Monday. And I can’t be dead and teach teenagers how to appreciate Geoffrey Chaucer and Arthur Miller. However, I really want to try one over the summer. Anyone know of one? Or do we just need to throw that shindig ourselves?

In other completely unrelated news, I got a haircut (click to embiggen, as Wil Wheaton always says):

Dana's New Haircut

photo credit: VSELLIS


WintergirlsLaurie Halse Anderson’s novel Wintergirls is the story of Lia Overbrook, whose former best friend Cassie has just been found dead, alone, in a motel room. Lia is anorexic, and her friend Cassie was bulimic. Cassie begins to “haunt” Lia after her death, beckoning her to the other side to join her. Lia begins to succumb to her disorder and descends into depression and psychosis. Lia is crying out for attention from her parents, but they don’t see her as she really is, and Lia has no one to turn to who believes her, who understands.

I didn’t read this book with a mind toward counting as part of the R.I.P. Challenge, but I am, because it is without a doubt one of the most frightening books I have read for some time. If you are the parent of a teenage girl, or will ever be the parent of a teenage girl, you should read this book. I never had an eating disorder, but I was really thin as a teenager, and I know people probably thought I was anorexic. I developed a very real complex about my body. I thought I was fairly hideous. I used to wear sweat pants under my jeans so that I would look just a little healthier and heavier. I wish I had been able to hear that I was normal and OK and fine the way I was. I never tried to harm myself, and age and metabolism eventually took care of my body image problems, but I think most girls have body image issues of some type, even if they don’t go to the extremes Lia does, and we do not do enough in our society to tell our girls that they are beautiful and strong and fine the way they are.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel is haunting and realistic. Her writing style is often poetic, pitch-perfect stream of consciousness that works well for depicting Lia’s descent into the maelstrom. I found myself pulling hard for her the whole time, being angry with her, being frustrated with her, and being angry with the adults in her life for not seeing her. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best YA writers working right now, and her messages are so important for our kids to hear, to read. It sickens me that her books have been the subject of challenges even as recently as last week. I read this book for Banned Books Week this week in honor of Laurie Halse Anderson and the important writing she does for our kids—for all of us. Those who would seek to silence writers like Laurie Halse Anderson because they seek to be honest in the way they portray us to ourselves are only hiding from the truth and hiding the truth from their children. One way or another, the truth has a way of coming out. I hope book banners’ children don’t have to become Wintergirls in order for their parents to see, and I can’t imagine how anyone who has lost a child to an eating disorder would try to keep this book out of the hands of any child. In fact, I’m pretty sure they would give anything if their daughters could have read it.

Rating: ★★★★★

R.I.P. Challenge V

This is my third book for the R.I.P. Challenge. One more book will complete the challenge. I’m also currently reading Dracula, My Love, which will count towards my challenge goal of four books. However, I also have two other R.I.P. worthy books in the hopper.

Reading Update: September 25, 2010

The Kindle Gazer, after Lilla Cabot PerryI am falling behind in my Everything Austen Reading Challenge, everyone. I set aside The House of the Seven Gables for now. I might still dip into it a little bit here and there, but I really need to finish some of the Austen-related reading I committed to. To that end, I picked up Syrie James’s novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I finished the R.I.P. Challenge at my commitment level (two books), so I am going to try to finish two more and meet the challenge level for Peril the First—four books. The two books I’ve chosen are Dracula, My Love, also by Syrie James, and Wuthering Bites, by Sarah Gray. Wuthering Bites is, of course, a mashup of Wuthering Heights and a vampire story. If you have read this blog for a while, you’ll recall Wuthering Heights is my favorite book, so it will be a test of my sense of humor to see how I deal with Heathcliff as a vampire, but then, if you think about it, it’s not much of a stretch.

I’ve added a new plugin that allows you to share your Twitter handle when you comment. There is a box beneath the text box for entering your comment that invites you to input your Twitter username. You don’t need to enter the URL for your profile, just your username. It should save the information and will work each time you comment unless you change your Twitter username. If you don’t have Twitter, you can safely ignore it. I thought it might be a fun way for commenters to discover great new Twitter feeds to follow. If you prefer not to put your Twitter username in the space, feel free to leave it blank.

So what are you reading? How are the reading challenges going?

photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com