Review: “Hollow City” by Ransom Riggs

Hollow CityThe second story in the “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” series continues the beautifully, fantastic tale by Ransom Riggs.  The story picks up with Jacob, our modern-day hero who has just discovered his own special peculiarity (being able to sense and see the otherwise invisible, child-eating monsters known as hollows), and the peculiar children of the 1940’s loop running for their lives.  The wights (humans who wish to capture all of the peculiars) and hollows are chasing after them in an effort to destroy Peculiardom.  Somewhere along the way, Miss Peregrine is rescued from the wights in bird from and is unable to transform back.

The group manage to row to the safety of the Welsh mainland where they not only have war continuing to rage on, but also run into a band of seemingly vicious gypsies and shortly thereafter, a terrifying crew of wights.  Despite the setbacks, Jacob, Emma, and everyone else manage to find another loop; this one inhabited by peculiar animals.  It is in this loop that they meet the peculiar animals mourning the loss of their Miss Wren.  She has left to try to find the rest of ymbrynes in London.  Jacob and Co. leave the loop with a new destination in mind and though they find Miss Wren, they find a great deal more and tragically end the book by being captured by the wights.

My synopsis is far too brief and I fear does little to persuade someone to read this adventurous series.  Ransom Riggs is quite simply one of the best authors I’ve read this year and weaves an amusing and gripping story around a collection of antique photographs he has collected over the years.  Like many of the books I read, I read parts of it and listened to parts of it.  Jesse Bernstein does a great job reading the story and giving each character depth, but the pictures Riggs include add something else too.  You really can’t go wrong with this book so long as you read it.

Review: “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson

2839Having gone from outdated copies of the Trixie Belden series straight to John Grisham legal thrillers, I missed a lot of the typical coming-of-age youth fiction including “Bridge to Terabithia.”  Up until I was asked to do a reading intervention with a group of fourth grade students, my knowledge of “Terabithia” was entirely limited to “I hear it makes children cry.”

It stars Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr., a soon to be fifth grade boy who is struggling to hide in the gender-based stereotypes of a post-Vietnam America.  While the boys want to talk about football or watch television, Jesse hides his artistic side.  His problems don’t stay at school though.  At home, he is the only boy among far too many women and is expected to do all of the chores.  It isn’t until Leslie Burke moves in next door, that he has a friend he can trust.  The two are incredibly different but, of course, form a bond.  This goes so far as to have the duo create their own magical world in the woods: Terabithia.  Their idyllic woods are not for long however when sadness strikes and their kingdom is wrenched apart.

I’ve enjoyed the process of reading this book with my students and I understand why it would be popular in schools.  I think it would be a great example for someone who struggles to unlock their imagination; an example that you are never really too old to make believe.  The better angle for the story was that it was, without a doubt, told entirely from Jesse’s perspective.  The audience never learned anything until Jesse did.  It seems with many books these days, the narrator lets something slip to the audience.  Unfortunately, this book didn’t tug at me the way I expected to after ears of recommendations.

Review: “The Battle of the Labyrinth” by Rick Riordan

The_Battle_of_the_Labyrinth-1I have a well-documented affection for the Percy Jackson story and so it is with great sadness that I must say that the fourth in the series was okay.  Not great, but okay.  It was a good story now that Annabeth is a part of it but overall I wasn’t as impressed with it as I have been with the others.

The war with Kronos is growing and even so, a more personal war between Percy and Annabeth seems to be near eruption.  Meanwhile Grover is also facing great peril as he is being threatened by the leaders of the satyrs: find Pan or be banished.  Each of these battles come together as they realize that within the camp (and inside the magical boundary) is an entrance to Daedalus’ labyrinth.  Should Luke be able to navigate through the maze, he could lead an army straight into the camp.  Annabeth is given this quest and takes Percy, Grover, and Tyson with her.  Into the maze they go running into Hera, Nico, a sphinx, empousai, hellhounds, giants, and ultimately, Kronos himself.

The shining arc for this book is the interpersonal relationships and interactions between the characters.  The on-going tension between Percy (and maybe Rachel Elizabeth Dare) and Annabeth (and maybe Luke) is borderline annoying until you remember that they are young teenagers dealing with being teenagers and also being heroes.  You mostly want to shake the two and yell at them, but not quite so much as when Percy starts leaning on Rachel.  It seems to be a sort of betrayal to the reader.  Grover and Tyson also have a number of scenes together and though their species are very much opposed to one another, they become each others protector.

The story of Daedalus was an interesting twist to this story however, for a character who played to such constant importance throughout the story, he ultimately played a very minor role that managed to be both redeeming and irksome.

Personally, I’m hoping for an epic conclusion.

Ask an Elementary Reader

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This is clearly from someone in my fourth grade reading group. We’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the stereotypical gender roles as presented in the book “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson. Equally important (apparently) has been our ongoing discussion on whether or not having a certain amount of “swag” is necessary for a fulfilling life. Miss V. has a solid opinion that is at odds with the youths.

Review: “The Titan’s Curse” by Rick Riordan

Titan's CurseThe Percy Jackson series is to me like delicious appetizers at a party; you joke that the first one was really good but you should probably keep eating to make sure.

The third book picks up with Percy (son of Poseidon), Annabeth (daughter of Athena), Thalia (daughter of Zeus and formerly a tree), and Grover (a satyr) are on the way to a boarding school where Grover has discovered two demigods.  With Kronos’ army getting stronger, the half-bloods and gods alike are preparing for war and they need all of the demigods they can find.  Bianca and Nico half parentage of unknown origin but there is certainly something about them.  This something is also a cause for concern and has in fact been recognized by the demon running their school.  The demon-principal and Annabeth wage battle and it would seem that neither win. Annabeth is lost.

With Percy and co. grieving the loss of Annabeth, Artemis and her Huntresses arrive and provide support.  Bianca joins the Huntresses leaving Nico in the company of Percy and the campers however, this is seemingly moot as Artemis leaves on a quest requiring the Huntresses to begrudgingly make their way back to camp.  Artemis is taken prisoner and the crew is formed to go and rescue her and (hopefully) Annabeth.  This quest brings them clear across the country to San Francisco (where you might be surprised to discover is the location of the palace of the Titans) where Luke is making yet another stand with Kronos, Annabeth has been tortured, and Artemis has been tricked into holding up the sky by Atlas.

It was yet another enjoyable Percy Jackson story and I’m excited to finish the series.  As you might guess, as the main character, Percy has been set up for a life-altering challenge by the end of the series and it was far more pronounced in this book than the previous two.  Also, while I understand that Annabeth provided motivation for Percy, I missed her.  She was hardly in the story and she is one of the stronger female characters not only in the series but I would argue in children’s literature as a whole.

Review: “The Fire Chronicle” by John Stephens

The sequel to The Emerald Atlas picks up nine months later with Kate, Michael, and Emma back in their rather disagreeable Baltimore orphanage where Dr. Pym leaves them after mysteriously leaving on Christmas Eve.  When monsters interrupt the uppity orphanage director’s party, the trio make their hasty exit through time and space.  Or rather, Michael and Emma make an exit for Dr. Pym and Kate drags the beast one hundred years into the past.

Their stories are told in linear fashion with Michael and Emma searching for the second of the Books of Beginning, the Fire Chronicle.  The two take on their beasts, the Dire Magnus’ legion of Screechers, and Michael and his cunning use of logic becomes the Keeper of the Fire Chronicle.  But before he can grab hold of the Chronicle, the two meet up with Gabriel and head to Antarctica.  They meet the Guardian who protects the Chronicle until its Keeper arrives.  The problem of course is that the Guardian has been protecting the Chronicle for thousands of years and is unlikely to give it up anytime soon.  Also, its doubly protected by an elf princess who has been turned into a dragon.  Also, its in the bottom of a volcano.

Meanwhile, Kate is one hundred years in the past where the Separation has yet to occur.  The magic world and non-magic world are entwined but not for long.  Magic folk have been hunted and killed forcing them into hiding.  The magic world will soon disappear (at least from view of the non-magic folk).  Kate joins up with a group of orphans all possessing some magical ability including their young leader, Rafe.  Rafe and Kate know each other somehow but so does the Dire Magnus.  He is prepared to rip not only the two apart, but the entire world to maintain his power, his influence.

The story was enjoyable but left me wanting.  The three kids have very distinct personalities but going into the second book, they seemed predictable.  Kate is the born leader who never makes mistakes, Michael consistently needs to prove himself, and Emma is bull in a china shop (but not to worry, Gabriel will always be there to clean her mess).  I wanted to see Emma be more compassionate and Michael more genuinely confident (and not the false bravado he seems to have acquired).  I am also a little irritated that Stephens chose the very obvious route of having Book 1 go to the oldest, Book 2 go to the middle child, and presumably the final book to the youngest.  It’s a little too formulaic for my tastes.  Regardless, I am excited to see how the series ends.