BONUS BOOK: Hollow City: The Graphic Novel by Ransom Riggs and Cassandra Jean

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“Now, you might think it would be far better to be locked in a cage than to be shot and mounted upon a wall, but peculiar creatures must roam free to be happy, and after a while the spirits of the caged ones wither, and they begin to envy their wall-mounted friends.”

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “After fleeing an army of terrible monsters, Jacob Portman and his peculiar friends find themselves lost at sea, and the only person who might be able to get them ashore safely, their illustrious headmistress Miss Peregrine, is stuck in the form of a bird! Hoping to find a way to get Miss Peregrine back to normal – or as normal as a peculiar can get – the children journey to London. But no matter where they go, trouble follows after them…”

Review: I was really looking forward to reading Hollow City: The Graphic Novel, given how much I liked Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel. I thought that the first graphic novel was actually better than the first book and, for that reason, I had really high hopes for the second graphic novel. Unfortunately, Hollow City: The Graphic Novel ended up being somewhat of a letdown. After some pondering, I think the most likely reason is that Hollow City itself is not as good of a book as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The illustrations in the graphic novel were still nice, but I didn’t really enjoy reading it. Overall, it certainly wasn’t worse than Hollow City, but it also wasn’t better. Whereas I felt that the illustrations in the first graphic novel improved the story, the illustrations in this second graphic novel could not save what was ultimately a not-so-great book.

Rating:

Three_Star

BONUS BOOK: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

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“A moment to sort out one friend from another – the friend she had loved and who had lied to her at every chance, and the friend she had hated and who she had kept secrets from herself… hated, until love and hate had met in the middle, fused by loss.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire – for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past… She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die for her. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return. The fourth volume in the New York Times bestselling series continues Celaena’s epic journey and builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.”

Review: This is the first book in the Throne of Glass series that has actually made me say wow. It is also the first book that has made me really want to get my hands on the next book, Empire of Storms. In my opinion, Queen of Shadows is by far the best Throne of Glass book I’ve read so far and Maas’ writing has dramatically improved in this fourth installment. FINALLY I feel like Celaena/Aelin lives up to the mighty reputation she has created for herself. She is bloodthirsty, daring, cruel, and unstoppable in Queen of Shadows. Part of this improvement comes about due to the inclusion of Rowan in the storyline, which I think completely improved the overall plot dynamics. I also think that Maas finally did a good job with female friendship in the book. As I noted in my review of Crown of Midnight, it was always hard for me to accept that Aelin and Nehemia were best friends, largely because they hardly spent time together and were mostly angry at one another when they were together. The introduction of Lysandra in Queen of Shadows was very well done, and I could understand why, at the novel conclusion, Aelin and Lysandra considered themselves best friends. Once again, I also really enjoyed reading from Manon’s perspective, as she works to balance the desires of her ruthless witch grandmother with her growing conscience. All in all, Queen of Shadows finally found the right balance of characters, plot, and pacing to make this a four-star book. I can’t wait to read Empire of Storms!

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman with John Shiffman

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“He cited a Latin phrase whispered by wise security professionals, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos cutodes?‘ Who shall guard the guards?”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “The Wall Street Journal called him a ‘living legend.’ The Times of London dubbed him ‘the most famous art detective in the world.’ In Priceless, Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair. Rising from humble roots as the son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career that was nothing short of extraordinary. He went undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black-market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid. In this page-turning memoir, Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: The golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king. The Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement. The headdress Geronimo wore at his final powwow. The rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African American regiments. The breadth of Wittman’s exploits is unmatched: He traveled the world to rescue paintings by Rockwell, Rembrandt, Pissarro, Monet, and Picasso, often working undercover overseas at the whim of foreign governments. Closer to home, he recovered an original copy of the Bill of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. By the FBI’s accounting, Wittman saved hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of art and antiquities. He says the statistic isn’t important. After all, who’s to say what is worth more – a Rembrandt self-portrait or an American flag carried into battle? They’re both priceless. The art thieves and scammers Wittman caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate looters. The smuggler who brought him a looted sixth-century treasure turned out to be a high-ranking diplomat. The appraiser who stole countless heirlooms from war heroes’ descendants was a slick, aristocratic con man. The museum janitor who made off with locks of George Washington’s hair just wanted to make a few extra bucks, figuring no one would miss what he’d filched. In his final case, Wittman called on every bit of knowledge and experience in his arsenal to take on his greatest challenge: working undercover to track the vicious criminals behind what might be the most audacious art theft of all.”

Review: This is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in a long time. I first heard about Priceless after reading Stealing Rembrandts, where the work of Robert K. Wittman was briefly discussed. Both books deal with art crime, and both are amazing for different reasons. In Priceless, I really enjoyed the overall format of the book. Oftentimes, nonfiction books end up having chapters that are just too long. I think most books benefit from shorter chapters, and Priceless took advantage of this fact by dividing its 318 pages into 25 chapters. Each chapter focused on a particular art crime case that Wittman worked. The stolen item’s history was discussed, as well as the circumstances of its disappearance and the individuals behind each theft. The end result was a spell-binding book that simultaneously felt informative and captivating. Wittman and Shiffman do a great job of making the reader feel like they are in each undercover situation, running a gauntlet of emotions that range from fearful to ecstatic. Similar to Stealing Rembrandts, Priceless tries to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the theft of 13 paintings and antiques from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. As the largest private property theft in history, the Gardner robbery remains, to date, unsolved (for those who are unfamiliar with the crime, I recommend you do some digging; it’s a fascinating theft). Wittman relays what may have been the FBI’s best (and potentially only) shot at recovering the stolen Gardner works, and how bureaucratic red tape, coupled with strong personalities and an international arms race, may have prevented the recovery of the missing art in the early 2000’s. All in all, Priceless was a really excellent book, and I would recommend it (along with Stealing Rembrandts) to anyone interested in art crime or just looking for good nonfiction in general.

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: The Siren by Kiera Cass

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“So why, here and now, in this frozen, useless time, did someone have to make me feel this way?”

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again. Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude… until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can’t talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny… and Kahlen doesn’t want to. Falling in love with a human breaks all the Ocean’s rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen’s feelings, she’ll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.”

Review: I’m not entirely sure why I decided to read The Siren. The book jacket synopsis doesn’t sound promising and, having read all five books in Kiera Cass’s Selection series, I knew that the odds of The Siren being really stand-up writing were slim. But the Selection series was entertaining, if nothing else, so I decided to give The Siren a try. Unfortunately, this book is not worth the read. Firstly, the Kahlen/Akinli relationship is the most grotesque example of young adult fiction “instalove” that I’ve ever read. Kahlen decides that she is in love with Akinli after their third interaction. Seriously, she’s met the boy three times and can’t even talk to him during those three interactions, but is still certain that she’s in love with him. On the subject of Kahlen, she overwhelmingly fails as a protagonist, largely because she mopes ALL OF THE TIME and doesn’t show any interest in spending time with her siren “sisters.” They got fed up with her and I did too. The only slightly redeeming quality of this book was the role the Ocean played, which I found to be somewhat refreshing and interesting. But this single positive component could not make up for the utterly terrible characters, all of whom felt very one dimensional and boring. The Siren was Cass’s first book, which she had the opportunity to go back and rewrite after her Selection series success. In my opinion, her rewrite does little to fix a fundamentally flawed and flat novel.

Rating:

One_Star

BONUS BOOK: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

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“It had become one of the defining truths of my life, that no matter how I tried to keep them flattened, two-dimensional, jailed in paper and ink, there would always be stories that refused to stay bound inside books.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children. They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all. Like its predecessors, Library of Souls blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

Review: I must admit, I’m rather happy to be done with the Miss Peregrine’s series. Try as I might, I could never quite get into it like many other readers have. I knew after Hollow City that I wanted to finish the series, but it wasn’t until I saw Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in theaters that I really felt a push to read the final book (I really enjoyed the movie, by the way!). For me, the first half of Library of Souls dragged. As Jacob, Emma, and Addison raced around Devil’s Acre, looking for clues to the location of their peculiar friends and ymbrynes, I consistently had trouble staying engaged. Despite a surplus of action, I often felt bored with the plot pace. The last third of the book is an improvement, with Jacob discovering the full extent of his peculiar abilities and working to free his friends from Caul’s fortress. Overall, however, I never really became invested in the characters or the storyline, which meant that each novel in this series essentially extended the plateau I had reached in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I also felt like the second and third books did not incorporate Riggs’ vintage photographs nearly as well as the first book did, which contributed to an overall disappointment in the storytelling on my end. I’m happy to have finished the series but likely won’t return to it anytime soon.

Rating:

Three_Star

BONUS BOOK: The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey

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“I felt seduced by the animals I hadn’t seen yet.”

 Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Travel thirty miles north, south, or east of San Francisco city hall and you’ll be engulfed in a landscape of thick traffic, fast enterprise, and six-dollar cappuccinos. Venture thirty miles due west, however, and you will find yourself on what is virtually another planet: a spooky cluster of rocky islands called the Farallones, battered by  foul weather, thronged with two hundred thousand seabirds, and surrounded by the largest great white sharks in the world. Journalist Susan Casey was in her living room when she first glimpsed this strange place and its residents sharks, their dark fins swirling around a tiny boat in a documentary. These great whites were the alphas among alphas, the narrator said, some of them topping eighteen feet in length, and each fall they congregated here off the northern California coast. That so many of these magnificent and elusive animals lived in the 415 area code, crisscrossing each other under the surface like jets stacked in a holding pattern, seemed stunningly improbable – and irresistible. Casey knew she had to see them for herself. Within a matter of months she was in a seventeen-foot Boston Whaler, being hoisted up a cliff face onto the barren surface of Southeast Farallon Island – part of the group known to nineteenth-century sailors as the “Devil’s Teeth.” There she joined two biologists who study the sharks, bunking down in the island’s one habitable building, a haunted, 120-year-old house spackled with lichen and gull guano. Less than forty-eight hours later she had her first encounter with the famous, terrifying jaws and was instantly hooked. Curiosity yielded to obsession, and when the opportunity arose to return for a longer stay, she jumped at it. But as Casey readied herself for shark season, she had no way of preparing for what she would find among the dangerous, forgotten islands that have banished every campaign for civilization in the past two hundred years.”

Review: This is my second time reading a book by Susan Casey, the first being Voices in the Ocean. After finishing The Devil’s Teeth, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I appreciate Casey’s ability to tell stories and write quality nonfiction from a literary standpoint, I really, really, REALLY don’t like her as a person. The Devil’s Teeth starts off promisingly enough, with a fascinating look at the history and biology of the Farallon Islands. I really enjoyed reading about the many failed attempts to domesticate these islands. I also enjoyed learning about the amazing wildlife that calls the Farallon Islands home, including thousands of seabirds, colonies of pinnipeds, and the stars of this story, the great white sharks. What I did not enjoy, and what almost completely ruined the book for me, was Casey’s role in the story. Her introduction to the Farallones is innocent enough; she’s a curious journalist given a coveted day-pass to the islands. But that first introductory trip leads to a subsequent trip, which somehow leads her to getting a once-in-a-lifetime position as part of the Farallones great white shark research team. Despite an almost complete dearth of boating experience, coupled with virtually no biological experience, Casey somehow finds herself as the sole caretaker of a borrowed sailboat that serves as both research headquarters and Casey’s home for the field season. Her complete ineptitude is hinted at when she discusses certain items she brought along for this field stint, including a deluxe sleeping pad and a $160 handmade Ouija board. Not only does she come off as inexperienced, but she also clearly wants all the perks of great white shark research and living in a biological hotspot without the actual work and effort of field research. This is best evidenced when she says the following:

“I was driving. I’d tried to beg off; the water was, in Peter’s appraisal, “snotty,” and I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want to have to think, or worry, or demonstrate any kind of skill. I wanted to sit in the whaler’s scooped-out bow staring passively at the surface and wait for some amazing creature to poke its head up. That was all.”

Yes, as someone who has worked in tough field conditions, I understand that there are days where you JUST. DON’T. FEEL LIKE IT. But this attitude of Casey’s is pervasive throughout the book and highlights what I see as her underlying, flawed motive: to have amazing nature handed to her on a silver platter with little to no effort on her part. Overall, I think my immense frustration with Casey stems from the fact that, as someone in an intensely competitive field, research positions like the one Casey managed to acquire are heavily sought after by extremely qualified individuals. Short and sweet, she didn’t deserve the spot she got. And her ineptitude ends up having devastating consequences towards the end of the field season: the borrowed sailboat is lost at sea after a storm frees it from its mooring (Casey was supposed to be on the boat, but instead she was illegally on the island because she couldn’t handle being alone). The aftermath of losing the boat results in Peter Pyle, dedicated great white shark scientist, losing his job.  Pyle himself is certainly complicit in the events that unfolded, but the root cause can always be traced back to Casey. Other readers have often drawn comparisons between The Devil’s Teeth and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and I can understand the comparison; both tales involve journalists getting in over their heads and underestimating the power of nature. Having read both books, however, I feel that Krakauer was much more qualified for his Mount Everest attempt than Casey was for her Farallones stint. All in all, I appreciated the history on great white sharks and the Farallon Islands, but Casey’s role in the story effectively ruined this book for me and resulted in a three-star rating. If I could separate the book, I would give the first half four stars (although Casey had already started getting on my nerves at that point) and the last half one star.

Rating:

Three_Star