Tag Archives: fiction

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

One of the projects in my high school creative writing class was a photo journalism assignment with a twist:  after taking pictures of an event, we sifted through the images and selected one or two to serve as the inspiration for a short story.  The only caveat was that the story had to be completely removed from the actual event in the photo.

Reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, I kept thinking of that creative writing assignment and wondering if Riggs went through a similar process to come up with the plot and characters for this novel.   From authentic, vintage photographs culled from the personal archives of several special collectors comes an unexpected, well-plotted and highly unusual story peopled with fascinating characters.   This imaginative cross-over novel begs for a sequel.

When he was a child, Jacob believed the bizarre stories his Grandpa Portman told him about horrific monsters and he was enthralled with the strange photographs he shared of the levitating, invisible, and freakishly strong children with whom he’d once lived.  As time passes however, Jacob loses interest in fantastic tales and his family grows stronger in their opinion that Grandpa is losing his mind.  Then a shocking family tragedy occurs that sets Jacob on a path to visit the remote island where his grandfather once lived and uncover the secrets of the children’s home where the stories and photos originated.  Jacob’s discoveries will leave him doubting all he ever knew about his family history and believing in things he never dreamed possible.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, YA Literature

The Shakespeare Stealer

By Gary Blackwood
Classification:  YA Literature
Genre:  Historical fiction
Age Level:  10+
Subjects:  Elizabethan theater, apprentices

“When you go to London, you will attend a performance of a play called the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  You will copy it in Dr. Bright’s ‘charactery’ and you will deliver it to me.  Now.  Any questions?” ~ from The Shakespeare Stealer

Summary: Retrieved from an orphanage by a preacher who needs an assistant, Widge is educated in English, Latin, and a curious shorthand of his master’s invention.  With no thought of right and wrong, Widge obey’s Dr. Bright’s commands to write down sermons given in other towns.  Then Widge is purchased from Dr. Bright by a brooding, fearsome man named Falconer.  Falconer delivers Widge to a new master who tasks him with stealing a play from the Globe Theater’s playwright—a one William Shakespeare.  Widge goes to carry out his duty, but ends up falling in with the company of players…and finding himself a real home for the first time in his life.  Suddenly, Widge understands the meaning of loyalty, and of betrayal.  With his master’s assignment hanging over him and Falconer watching his every move, Widge must confront the hardest moral dilemma of his life.

Notes:  A good companion book to a middle school student’s first Shakespeare play.  Widge is likable enough, so the book is a fun way to introduce Elizabethan theater to young readers and actors.
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The DeGranville Trilogy

By K.M. Grant
:  YA Literature
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Age Level:  12+
Subjects:  Family, self-discovery, honor, loyalty, betrayal, cultural identity, Crusades

Blood Red Horse (Book 1)
Summary:  Brothers and rivals, Gavin and Will deGranville have much to prove to themselves and each other when they join their father, Sir Thomas, in King Richard’s crusade to the Holy Land.  Riding the exquisite red horse Hosanna, Will proves his mettle as a Christian soldier.  At the same time, fighting on the opposite side, Saracen warrior Kamil proves his own worth.  When Hosanna falls into Kamil’s hands, soldiers on both sides of the conflict realize there may be common ground between them after all.  But can one horse really forge peace between armies out for blood?

Green Jasper (Book 2)
Summary:  Constable Piers deScabious barges in on Gavin and Ellie’s wedding with the claim that King Richard is dead!  John claims the crown and has given Ellie to deScabious as a bride.  DeScabious carries off his intended, leaving Will and Gavin to sort out their next move.  Will wants to rescue Ellie, refusing to believe Richard is dead without proof, but Gavin is reluctant to pursue deScabious and risk John’s displeasure.  Meanwhile, Richard is very much alive, held captive by the German Emperor.  The rightful king dispatches Saracen soldier Kamil to contact the deGranvilles.  En route, Kamil rescues Will’s beloved horse Hosanna, but what will become of Ellie in the midst of feuding monarchs and families? 

Blaze of Silver (Book 3)
Summary:  Kamil has been living in the deGranville household for some time, and this odd arrangement has finally come to the attention of the Old Man in the Mountain.  The Old Man sends his faithful servant Amal to England to entice Kamil into betraying his Christian friends.  When Kamil discovers Amal’s and the Old Man’s treachery, he is horrified and ashamed and also cornered.  All the while, Will and Ellie are learning to rely on each other as they attempt to reach their captive king.  Once more, across faith and cultural lines, everyone seems to find hope in one red horse.  But when the previously infallible Hosanna cannot keep pace with the silver mare Shihab, the fates of a family, a kingdom, and two countries, as well as the lives of the deGranvilles and Kamil, all hang in the balance. 

Notes:  Even though Will and Kamil share a special bond with the Blood Red Horse, readers expecting to become emotionally attached to Hosanna will be disappointed.  In all three books of the trilogy, the primary focus is the human characters.  The horses function as necessary literary accessories in a story about knights in armor.  That said, the trilogy is great reading and there are splendid passages about horses and riding.  Light and entertaining, it is emotional without being draining and will satisfy readers who enjoy a blend of history, romance and adventure.
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Filed under YA Literature

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Classification:  Fiction
Genre:  Fiction/Literature
Subjects:  Epidemic, human nature, loss of sight, civilization and savagery
Content to be aware of:  graphic violence

“You never know beforehand what people are capable of, you have to wait, give it time, it’s time that rules, time is our gambling partner of the other side of the table and it holds all the cards of the deck in its hand, we have to guess the winning cards of life, our lives…” from Blindness

Summary:  Beginning with one random motorist and spreading rapidly throughout an unnamed country, an epidemic of blindness deprives a nation of sight.  Only one is spared and thus forced to witness the descent of a people from civilization into savagery.  In an attempt at containment, the government quarantines the afflicted.  During their internment, a small group of protagonists forms, including an ophthalmologist (ironically) and his wife, a young woman, a boy, an old man, and another husband and wife.  The group bands together in a fight to survive even when all hope seems lost.

Notes:  Though I highly recommend this novel, it is not an enjoyable story to read.  Gritty and harrowing, it reminded me of the similarly disturbing work of William Golding in Lord of the Flies for its theme of the fragility of civilization.  What tethers humanity to civilization?  Truly could we so easily transform into beasts?  The author employs reader-response technique, writing with minimal punctuation and depriving the reader of conventional descriptions and characterizations (such as names and additional identifying features), which can make for slower reading, but is effective for simulating the confusion and unknown experienced by the characters.  Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.
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Blindness (Miramax, 2008)
Director:  Fernando Meirelles
Main Cast:  Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover
Rating: R

Synopsis:  “White sickness” sweeps through a metropolis, blinding an entire population.  Initially the sightless are interned in an unused asylum, and conditions degenerate as more and more people are crammed into the facility.  Among the interned is the only woman whose sight has been spared.  She attempts to care for and protect her husband and the small group of people with whom they have banded together.  When another group of internees seizes control of the food supply and demands payment in exchange for food, a horrifying war ensues as the interned struggle to survive.

Review:  A project requiring the adaptation of a story about blindness to a medium wholly dependent upon visual effects cannot be anything but doomed from the outset. (Click the movie poster image to link to the Rotten Tomatoes page for Blindness.)
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Book or Movie? Book.  Blindness is about people in general, rather than individual characters.  In the novel, the plot propels the reader forward, not an attachment to the characters.  The characters are “Everymen,” but this characterization technique is not successful in the film.  Without a dynamic, charismatic personality with which to identify, the audience fails to develop any emotional investment in the story.

Why I chose this book and filmBlindness is my husband’s book.  He is Portuguese and I imagine he wanted to read Saramago solely for that reason.  Indeed, Saramago is the only Portuguese writer I can name.  A couple of weeks ago I found myself prowling around our book room in search of something to read and decided to give Blindness a go.

I was surprised at how quickly I was absorbed in the story.  This is not an easy book to read, firstly for the lack of punctuation and paragraphs, secondly for the dark, gruesome imagery.

I was also surprised to discover the controversy that surrounded the theatrical release of Blindness in 2008.  In this press release, the President of the National Federation of the Blind expresses his anger at the portrayal of blind people as “incompetent, filthy, vicious, and depraved.”  He goes on to claim that “to portray the blind in this manner, even as alleged allegory or so-called social commentary, is outrageous and reprehensible–and it is a lie.”

With all due respect to the President of NFB, I have to question whether he read and understood Saramago’s novel.  Blindness is not a story about blind people.  It is a story about a nation of people who suffer a tremendous catastrophe and the ensuing chaos.  It reflects on the dark side of humanity and is an important social commentary in a world whose people are increasingly dependent on this one of five senses.  In response to the objections of the blind community to the movie, Saramago was quoted as saying, “Stupidity doesn’t choose between the blind and the non-blind.”

For Jose Saramago’s autobiography, click here.  For Saramago’s 1998 Nobel Lecture, click here.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Books & Their Films