Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: The Map of Time

The time travel continues in a much more literary form with The Map of Time. After Ruby Red, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (which is not exactly time travel but does involve traveling through time... what?), and Hourglass, I wasn't sure if I wanted any more of this genre. (And yes, I have read other things with no time travel in between that I haven't written about yet.) But this sounded so different, I couldn't wait to jump in.

"Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time is a page-turner that boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence." I have to be honest, I didn't read this bit from the back of the book before I started reading the book. I had been given an even briefer description - Victorian London is in a time-travel fervor after H.G. Wells writes The Time Machine - and was already sold. I'm a big fan of the steampunk sub-genre, and this hinted to having a bit of that aesthetic.

In reality, this book is not one narrative but three, although they do all intertwine and feature H.G. Wells as a main character. And the way author Felix J. Palma handles the idea of time travel in a society with far fewer technologies than our own is masterful. Whether it's the man who wants to save the woman he loved from being killed or the boy who loves a girl and wants to stop her from doing something destructive, these characters approach time travel from very real and, often, very personal perspectives. I especially liked how Palma touched upon the idea of paradoxes repeatedly, because the ideas of changing the past or meeting yourself in the past are something that have to guide the storytelling when dealing with shifting timelines.

As much as I loved this book, which is a bestseller in Palma's native Spain, I had some trouble getting into it. Specifically, the paragraphs are loooong and overly-verbose, although I have a feeling that this was done on purpose to give the book a more Victorian feel. The very beginning, especially, when there is a whole page devoted to which kind of gun a character is going to use to kill himself, can get a bit tedious. Push on,though, like I did, and you'll be well-rewarded.

As a side note, H.G. Wells is a main character throughout this book, and it is mentioned frequently that all of London is so excited by time travel specifically because of his book The Time Machine. While it's quite possible to read this book without having read The Time Machine, I'll take a moment to plug the classic. It's really very short and easy to read, plus you'll sound smart when you say you've read it.

I never read many classics when I was younger (except what was forced upon me in school), so this one had escaped me until a few years ago. Then I discovered DailyLit, which feeds you classics in tiny bite-size pieces that are easy to digest. I had The Time Machine sent to my RSS reader (but you could get them emailed to you too), and in about a month, I had read the whole thing without trying. Best part: it's free. Really, do it. Even if you don't want to read The Time Machine (but you should), give DailyLit a try.

Also, The Map of Time has one of the coolest covers I've seen in a long time.

Check out the first chapter - in text or audio - on the book's website.

5/5 stars

Disclaimer: The advance copy of this book was provided to me for free from the publisher.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: Hourglass

More time travel. See? I'm betting on this being the Next Big Thing. Hourglass by Myra McEntire sounded more paranormal and less time travel on it's back cover, but I assure you, travel through time they do.

Emerson sees people from the past. Like, she's trying to walk through the front door of her apartment, and there's a real straight-off-the-plantation southern belle standing in her way. This started two years earlier, just before her parents were killed in a freak accident, and it's only gotten worse since. Thomas, Em's brother, keeps finding "specialists" to help her, but none of them actually have helped. But when Michael shows up and introduces Em to the Hourglass, she starts to fully understand what's happening to her.

**Here Be Spoilers** Emerson learns from Michael that her ability to see people from other times is actually a small part of her ability, which actually allows her to travel back in time. Michael himself can travel forward in time, and together, they make a perfect pair - like, a-love-greater-than-the-stars perfect. And Dr. Xavier's School - sorry, The Hourglass - is where all the mutants - ugh, sorry again, I mean people with the ability to manipulate time in some manner - learn to hone their skills. **There Be Spoilers**

Is this a ground-breaking novel? No. In fact, there are so many teen girl clich├ęs in here that I got mad at myself at one point for enjoying this so much. But then I just stopped caring because, you know what? This is a fun book, and I was once a teenage girl, so I'm going to revel in the feeling of being 16 again. In fact, I'm pretty sure even if you were never a teen girl, you'll understand.

It's been a while since I was really smitten with a YA novel, but this one hit me full force and made me stay up all night to find out what happened. My only hope is that there are more books about Emerson and the Hourglass coming soon.

5/5 stars

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher through my bookstore job.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: What Alice Forgot

Sometimes you pick up a book and read the back and think that it's going to be a great read, but once you get into it, you realize it's nothing like what you expected. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty was exactly like that for me.

The story sounded intriguing: a woman hits her head while at the gym and wakes up thinking she's 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child, while in reality, she's a 39-year-old mother of three who's in the middle of a messy divorce. Her life is drastically different than she imagined it would be, and she has to work to gain her memories of the past ten years back.

The actual book was both exactly what it sounded like and completely different than I imagined. That story really is what happened, but while I imagined some great mystery as to why or how Alice's life had tumbled, I was left with fairly standard chick lit drivel about an overworked husband and a missing best friend. I guess I had rose-tinted glasses on when I looked at this book, but I wasn't expecting chick lit.

And while I've read some chick lit that I've absolutely adored (Meg Cabot's epistolary stuff is great, like The Boy Next Door), this left me wanting. Because Alice has a head injury, there is a lot (a LOT) of time spent with her saying "Why don't I know this fact about my life?" and characters rehashing past events. If the book were a hundred pages shorter, it would still have gotten the point across without me wanting to throw it at the wall. Overall, What Alice Forgot is fine as a fun beach read, but don't expect to be captivated.

2/5 stars

Disclaimer: The advance copy of this book was provided to me for free from the publisher.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

When the advanced copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children came into the bookstore, we passed it around and laughed over how it smelled. There was a serious amount of ink in the book (there are a large number of full-page photos), and that much ink smells strange. But then I read the back cover and I forgot about how it smelled. (Note: I haven't picked up an actual copy to see how it smells.)

When Jacob's grandfather (with whom he was very close) dies suddenly and tragically, Jacob understandably has a hard time dealing with it. He becomes obsessed over the stories his grandfather used to tell him about his youth at a strange orphanage in Wales and the odd photographs he had as proof. So obsessed, in fact, that his therapist and parents think he should visit the tiny island in Wales and see for himself that there is nothing strange going on. Well, that backfires. Wouldn't be much of a story if it didn't.

Like I mentioned, the book is peppered with photographs of odd children, many doing impossible things like floating or creating fire in their hands. Author Ransom Riggs is also a photographer and collector of old photos. He began collecting the images in the book and quickly saw a story forming; he collected more to fill in specific gaps in the story as he wrote. The outcome is that the reader gets a much firmer grasp on these odd people than if there were no images to go along with the text. I'm not saying I want to see this tactic taken with too many more books (I'm sure it would get old), but I love the interplay between the text and images in this case.

The story is fast-paced and quirky. I wanted to know more and more about this odd little Welsh island, both past and present. Jacob's relationship with his father, an ornithologist who accompanies him on his trip, is very realistic, especially their exasperation with each other. As the story went on, the mythology became more and more complex, and there is clearly more than one book's worth of story to be told. Definitely an enjoyable read that is great for both the YA and the adult sets.

4/5 stars

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher through my bookstore job.