Book Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

  • By karen.jones
  • 14 Jul, 2017
This is the follow-up to Riggs' first novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. A continuation of the first book in the series. In this one, the peculiar children (who, by this point, the reader should know and understand) are on the run from their former safe home (a time loop), and trying to rescue/save their beloved Miss Peregrine, who is trapped in her bird form. And that's the structure of the book, as the children go from one place to another, one adventure to the next, with not always a lot of continuity between them. Like the first book, the story here revolves around a bunch of old and odd photographs that depict characters and settings that the author incorporates into his story. Sometimes they make sense, but oftentimes I felt as though Riggs was just throwing something into the story to fit with the photos he'd chosen. It's like a creative writing exercise run amok. Occasionally, things are a bit too convenient. (The kids come across, and are kidnapped by, a group of gypsies, who just happen to understand peculiardom and end up helping.) Still, the story can be fun and adventurous, though it does seem a bit darker and more horrific than what I remember from the first novel. And like the first novel, it just kind of ends without any wrap up, leaving the reader in place for the next volume. I mostly liked it; there's just not much depth here.

Chapter 2 Books Blog

By 7016508153 18 Jan, 2018
Didn't know quite what to make of this when I won it from Goodreads' First Reads program (and it finally arrived). Using numbers, math, statistics, big data to analyze literature? But as I read through it, I became more and more fascinated. Blatt's data size is huge - thousands of books, millions of words - and the statistics and conclusions he draws from it are compelling, if occasionally lacking in context. Just by using the prevalence of the words "the" and "and" (number of uses per 10,000 words) he is able to predict authorship (in head-to-head comparisons between two writers) 83% of the time. Amazing. But more than just statistics, the book delves into the differences between male and female authors, British and U.S. writers, word counts, sentence lengths, and more. (This is the first time I've ever seen a formula used to determine "grade level" for a book - not based on content as one might have assumed, but words per sentence, syllables per word, etc.) Anyone who knows me knows I'm fascinated by lists, and Blatt includes quite a few that I'll return to. He lists the 50 most popular books of classic literature written by men and women (compiled from a number of different such lists) and I found that I'd read 45/50 of the novels written by men, but only 13/50 of the ones written by women. That tells me something about myself, not just the literature. As I was getting close to the end, I started to think how useful this book could be in a creative writing course. There's certainly plenty here to make one think about one's own writing.
By 7016508153 16 Dec, 2017
I hadn't read anything by Daniel Wallace before, though I remember liking the movie Big Fish, based on one of his previous novels. Extraordinary Adventures is the story of Edsel Bronfman, a quirky, 34-year-old loner who goes to work and visits his starting-to-fall-into-dementia mother, and not much else. Bronfman collects pens, and that may be the most interesting thing about him. One day he gets a call from a company called Extraordinary Adventures, offering him a free trip to a resort, but he needs to bring a companion with him. And that starts Bronfman off on his own adventures (far more ordinary than extraordinary - the irony of the title is not lost), as this 34-year-old virgin attempts to find a girlfriend. The book itself is quirky, fun, and I found Bronfman an endearing character, albeit one who struck way too close to home for me at times. I felt like I was - or could have been - Bronfman. I have to say I really understood Bronfman - his actions, his thoughts, his motivations - as he dealt with the people, new and old, in his life. The ending was perhaps a bit disappointing, but probably couldn't have happened any other way.
By 7016508153 11 Dec, 2017
As I read this novel, I kept vacillating between a 4- and 5-star rating. (And before embarking on my review, I read a few of the 1-, 2-, and 3-star reviews on Goodreads to see if I'd missed something. I didn't.) This is a pretty basic psychological thriller with some maybe kind of stock characters, but it's well written. I found the idea of the "final girls" pretty clever and unique. You know the one girl who survives to the end of any horror/slasher film? That's who this book is about: 3 different women who have survived a multiple killing spree. The main character is Quincy Carpenter, the lone survivor of a group of college students who are camping out in a remote cabin when they're attacked by a knife-wielding assailant. Quincy doesn't remember any of the details of that night (and therein lies the mystery and a bit of a twist), and it's many years later she encounters another Final Girl. It's a page turner, and I found myself often not wanting to put the book down, but to keep going. There are a couple of major twists toward the end of the novel - one involving the identity of one of the characters, and the second involving the cabin killer/slasher from Quincy's past. That final one didn't make a lot of sense to me and didn't ring true with the rest of the book, which brought me down from a 5-star rating to 4 stars.
By 7016508153 08 Dec, 2017
I've been a fan of alt-country music since before it had that label, thanks to the Jayhawks and other bands of their ilk. When I saw the description for this novel ("A contemporary alt-country ballad of heartbreak, failure, love, and unquenchable yearning in novel form") on the Goodreads page, I was very intrigued. An alt-country ballad in novel form? Bring it on. This is a superb novel. It tells the story of two underemployed, middle-aged people: Yadin, a failed former musician and songwriter who works for a carpet-laying company, and his uninspired and uninspiring girlfriend Jeanette, a former assistant records clerk for city hall who is currently working as a housekeeper at a hotel. These are the normal, everyday, blue-collar folks that one rarely encounters in novels (at least at the center of novels), and very rarely are they presented with such honesty, compassion, and insight with all their foibles and small triumphs. The novel details their current lives and through flashbacks shows us how they came to be who, what, and where they are today. The details and descriptions give such a clear picture that I could visualize every moment; this would make a great indie film - someone needs to grab those rights immediately. I loved the fact that each chapter had a title, and those titles were songs written by Yadin (each chapter title comes with a timing for the song - very clever). A very emotional and satisfying read.
By 7016508153 06 Dec, 2017
I'm a big fan of short stories and anthologies of such. This makes for an interesting collection - the editors solicited stories from well-known writers (and friends) without any kind of apparent theme or connection between them. As with any anthology - as other reviewers feel inclined to point out - there are ups and downs and everyone points out their favorite stories, as well as those they disliked. I'll be no different. Many of the authors here are favorites of mine, while others, being well-known names that I'm familiar with, I haven't read much or anything from before.

The book starts off well with one of my fave writers, Roddy Doyle, and an interesting take on the vampire story, featuring an Irish family man. It's a good story, with touches of Doyle's trademark humor, but it ends without really reaching a satisfying conclusion. That problem, I felt, popped up in several of the stories here.

I'd read both Gaiman's contribution, "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains," and Joe Lansdale's "The Stars Are Falling" in other anthologies, probably year's best-ofs. Both are good, and Lansdale's story is particularly chilling. Many (though not all) of the stories here contain a fantasy element or touch. Lansdale's tale is straight-up horror.

I've loved many of Michael Marshall Smith's short stories, and while "Unbelief" was a fun take on a classic holiday character, it didn't quite have his typical bite to it. Jodi Picoult's "Weights and Measures" was wonderful, a sad tale of parents dealing with the death of a child and the unusual, physical effects it has on them. I haven't read much Picoult, but this story was a stand-out. "Catch and Release" from Lawrence Block is a bit of a crime fiction bordering on horror (or at least the horrific), and another stand-out, memorable story here.

Jonathan Carroll's "Let the Past Begin" contains some intriguing notions, as a man tries to come to grips with his past and present (and future), but unfortunately ends on somewhat confusing and dangling note. Jeffrey Deaver's "The Therapist" doesn't have that problem; it's a long(er) piece and takes a major turn about a third of the way into it becoming a completely different story (and type of story) than what I thought I was reading. Enjoyed it. Tim Powers (who has been recommended to me, but the one novel I read by him fell short) contributes a nicely twist-y story called "Parallel Lines," which is really a nice, tight example of telling a good, complete story in 10 succinct pages. "Human Intelligence" by Kurt Andersen is the one story here that's straight sci-fi. It's a nice change of pace.

I didn't care much for a few of the other stories: Al Sarrantonio's "The Cult of the Nose" went nowhere and made me wonder if it only got included as he was Gaiman's co-editor. Joanne Harris' "Wildfire in Manhattan" is a(nother) take on gods in the modern world that adds nothing to that often-used trope. Elizabeth Hand's "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon" is a long, meandering tale, and at nearly 50 pages, the longest story here. I found it a struggle to get through. But by far the worse thing in the book was Michael Moorcock's "Stories." Not sure what this was all about: a very meta tale of a writer's life, with lots of name-dropping, fairly gratuitous sexual descriptions, and no real plot or point. It left me wondering how much this was about Moorcock himself, and then realized that I really didn't care.

The book ends on a high point with Joe Hill's "The Devil on the Staircase." One might call it experimental in form, as the sentences are printed throughout to resemble stairs going up and down (except for one section in the middle, where the main character spends some time on a platform between stairways). Normally, I find this kind of thing to be pretentious, but as I read further and further into Hill's story, the more I appreciated the technique.

So, like any anthology, we have ups and downs, but I would say the highs outweigh the lows. A solid 3 1/2 stars.
By 7016508153 21 Nov, 2017
I remember John Coyne's name from several stories in the thick, year's best fantasy/horror anthologies that Datlow & Winding used to edit and I read cover-to-cover every summer. His short stories made me want to read more by him. The Hunting Season starts out very well , but after about the first third (which contains some frightening, startling bits that would play great on a movie screen), it becomes a bit boring and by the end, devolves into a blood-splattered gorefest. I like my horror to be more cerebral and suspenseful than just bloody and gory. And there's a big "twist" toward the end (it has to do with the revelation of who the "bad" guy is) that is simply way too coincidental to be even remotely believable. The writing style is good, and the book flows quickly, but there's just not enough substance here.
By 7016508153 11 Sep, 2017
A few years ago, I read Blackburn by Bradley Denton, a pretty funny book about a serial killer. I liked that one a lot. Lunatics is very different. This book resembles, more than anything, a romantic comedy (certainly not my favorite genre). The story starts with Jack, a recent widower, who meets Lily (real name: Lilith), who is the goddess of the moon. She comes to Jack once a month (only during the full moon) and they engage in sex. Jack falls head over heels in love with her, and isn't bothered by the once-a-month contact or the fact that Lily has wings and bird-like feet. An intriguing fantasy concept. Much of the book revolves around Jack's circle of friends: a married couple, a committed couple, and a single mom who hops from relationship to relationship. Lily's presence causes their love (and sex) lives to careen wildly out of control. The book is funny and sexy, though at times, it's also sad and melancholic. It isn't anywhere near the quality of Blackburn, but it's a light, engaging, fun read.
By 7016508153 07 Sep, 2017
I'm one of the (many millions of) people who discovered Gillian Flynn through her novel Gone Girl, which I loved. I'd heard positive things about her previous two novels, and Sharp Objects did not disappoint. Once again, we have a narrator who, if not unreliable, definitely has a viewpoint and an agenda. And some issues. This is a disturbing look at a small town, several murders, and a bunch of creepy, unfriendly people - several of whom are the narrator's own family members. I liked most everything about this novel: the narration, the storyline, the disturbingly graphic murders, the characters, the sex. Actually, some of the sex was disturbing in itself, as was a lot of the drug use. Probably the element of both some of the sexual situations and drug use that was most disquieting was the age (13) of the characters involved. It's an unsettling novel, in the best possible way. The identity of the killer was obvious to me early on (this character is presented in such an unflattering and unlikable way), even though the author tries to lead the reader down another path that doesn't quite ring true. I've never quite understood the whole "cutting" phenomenon, although I've known at least one teenage girl who suffered from it. Flynn takes it to a whole other level here. Plenty of scenes in this novel might offend or bother some readers; I loved all of it.
By 7016508153 06 Sep, 2017
First of all, let me say that this book deserves a wider audience.

I got this book because it sounded interesting: a coming-of-age story featuring a father-son team who study people who throw cigarettes from cars. When the book arrived, it had the look and feel of a self-published effort, something which I generally try to avoid. It's published by Ecphora Press (which is misspelled as "Ephora" on the back cover - not a good sign* - which they corrected after I posted this review on, but checking them out on the internet, it looks like Auto Flick is the only book they've published. So...essentially self-published. But unlike most self-published books, I found very few errors while reading (one use of "passed" instead of "past" if I remember right, and a few words at the ends of lines split incorrectly, but nothing too bad), which allowed me to concentrate on the story.

Three things about this story should have bothered me: several characters occasionally quote lines from Moby Dick the way others quote Shakespeare. I've never read Moby Dick - it's probably the biggest glaring hole in my reading of the classics. Secondly, the main character works as a caddy at the local golf course, and there's some description of golf games. I don't play golf and don't really understand or care about the game. And lastly, the author frequently describes in detail the cars that the characters follow. And I don't know much or care about cars. But despite all this, I was never bored or annoyed by the story. The writing is just that good. In fact, the writing is very good. I found myself chuckling every few pages, especially in the early parts of the book, at a description, some dialogue, or a turn of phrase. I keep an ongoing list of quotations that gets added to periodically. This book generated at least five additions to that list. Here's just one example of a sentence that jumped out and amazed me: "Her smile captured and gave me the sun." I mean, wow, right?

The story is a lovely coming-of-age tale about a 16-year-old boy and his quirky father set during one summer, 1968. And when the book jumps ahead 34 years (!) for the final third of the novel, it does so at a very appropriate moment. It comes off as less jarring and more logical, even as the tone becomes more serious; an adult in 2002 has a decidedly different point-of-view about life than a teenager in 1968, but it was definitely the same character. I was very impressed with this novel, and it deserves to be picked up by a national publisher. It would also make a pretty damn cool movie.

As I said at the start, this book deserves a wider audience. As my small part to try and make that happen, I've brought in a couple extra copies of the book to the store, and they're available now.
By 7016508153 19 Aug, 2017
A well-written thriller. Some of the early parts of the novel seem to move rather slowly as we get a lot of the domestic lives of the characters. However, this really serves to establish the characters and set up the contrast to what happens to them later on. Some of the domestic stuff hit a little too close to home for me (Zoe is a single mom with adult children who live with her, as does her new boyfriend Simon) that it made me uncomfortable. The book is written in alternating chapters, with Zoe's in first person and present tense, while the other chapters center around policewoman/detective Kelly Swift, and those chapters are written in third person and past tense. Normally, those type of switches would bother me, as they tend to take me out of the story, but here, somehow, it worked (or at least didn't bother me too much). Swift's chapters are essentially a police procedural, while Zoe's are a more intimate look at the crime/mystery situation (all of this emphasized by the difference in viewpoint and tense). Set in London, the book has a strong British feel to it - Zoe and her family take the Tube to work; there's an intense level of surveillance (cameras everywhere); while arresting a suspect, the police use a variation of what we in the U.S. know as Miranda rights. The biggest mystery is who is the mastermind behind a criminal enterprise in the book that affects Zoe and her family. Approaching the end of the novel, there were 4 or 5 different characters who might have been the guilty party, and I didn't really have a clue as to who it was. And it turned out to be someone completely different, but in a way that made sense given what we'd seen and learned earlier. This is good writing.
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