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"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

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Just months short of his 16th birthday, Jacob Portman holds his grandfather’s mutilated body and witnesses his death. Moments later he sees in the dark forest the face of the inhuman creature which surely must have done this to well-loved grandfather. Thus begins the hair-raising and death-defying adventures of young Jacob; these adventures include nightmares and panic attacks, apparent hallucinations, time travel, the killing of monsters bent on destroying him, and even love.

By now, the particulars of Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are well known, because it has achieved a very high degree of popularity. And this popularity is well deserved. Mr. Riggs portrays his teenage protagonists in a highly realistic way, and the internal dialog of main character Jacob rings very true from beginning to end. This book contains elements that set it somewhat apart from other “teen fiction”: supernatural creatures of several kinds, including the “peculiar” children and the monsters who want to murder them. It includes the touching teenage “everyman” musings of Jacob, who matures by leaps and bounds, and remains a well-meaning youth throughout.

Paced well, with excellent descriptions of very oddball goings-on, this is a fun, gratifying, and sometimes very suspenseful read.

"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson

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Through most of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand I found myself glibly telling myself that I knew what that last stand would be. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Numerous lines in this novel will make you laugh out loud, if you enjoy a dry, understated wit. You will also share in the hero’s outrage at his own rather closed society’s prejudices. We the lucky reader are ultimately struck, however, with the very sympathetic, if highly unorthodox, leading couple, and their triumphs and tribulations. This novel features some very satisfying scenes with this couple, and an extremely unexpected and harrowing climax.

Author Helen Simonson sets her story in the parochial society of an English village, in Sussex, and deals extensively with the tension which flows when such a society’s expectations clash with the needs of its citizens. This energy propels the action, and propels the eponymous hero to some surprising conclusions. Ms. Simonson plays with our expectations – toys with them you could say – and the whole is a gratifying, memorable package.

Chief among these memorable features is the hero himself, Major Ernest Pettigrew, British Army,
retired. Even though his grown son already views him as half-enfeebled, the Major proves him wrong time and again, and frustrates his greedy intentions in the process. A staunch and conservative man himself, Major Pettigrew finds it more and more difficult to toe the village’s restrictive line. No, bless him, he proves resourceful enough to follow his heart when it is captured by the charming and long-suffering Pakistani widow, Mrs. Ali.

For the funny lines, for the heartwarming bits, for a knowing treatment of the tragic potential of religious fanaticism and prejudice, take up Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s mature, sympathetic, topical and lovely.

"Enon" by Paul Harding

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After his stunning, Pulitzer Prize-winning debut Tinkers, Paul Harding follows up with Enon, and it is a companion-piece to his first novel, in more ways than one. It continues the narrative of the same hard-pressed Crosby family, it contains more of the baroque symbolism from the first book – clockwork imagery figures prominently – and the prose is again so artistic and rewarding, that I simply remain in awe of this author. This is rather more than I’d hoped for after Tinkers.

Enon plumbs the depths of Charlie Crosby’s drug-addled grief and despair in a manner reminiscent of Thomas De Quincey. Charlie has lost his adored thirteen year-old daughter Kate in a traffic accident. Anger and grief rule his life for the next year, and he greases the skids with a frightening slide into drug abuse. This bald exposition does nothing to describe the book, though; along with unfolding Charlie’s story, Mr. Harding engages us in a level of thought, of imaginative speculation, that I don’t see other writers attempting.

For instance, an old, spinsterish woman’s house, and more particularly a unique tall clock within the house, become in Charlie’s fevered imagination, the very heart of Enon, Charlie’s home town, and where he still lives. In a particularly lurid
bout of delusion, Charlie saws a hole in his living room wall so that the addle-pated math functions he has scrawled on the wall can flow into it, as though it is a black hole, and maybe is late daughter can somehow be materialized in the process. The episode of the hole occurs while a hurricane bears down on Enon, and while the macro-winds of destruction blow through the town, Charlie loses consciousness while holding a wand attached to his vacuum cleaner, which runs all night in his hand.

This is the sort of construct to which we’re treated in Enon. The author paces the wildness and terror of Charlie’s deterioration beautifully. We are everywhere challenged to comprehend yet another new image, and try to decide whether it reflects everyday fact, or some chimera of Charlie’s mind. By no means do I intend to warn readers off of this high accomplishment – on the contrary, it’s stunning, well worth your time and effort. It’s as breathtaking in its way as Tinkers, and for me, there’s no higher compliment to be paid.