A Peculiar Peril: Book Review

I’m going to do something that I don’t do very often… review a book. I personally am not a fan of book reviews. They are either rave reviews or really hateful. You rarely find anything in between. So, as a reader and writer, I kind of ignore them. Additionally, I pretty much like something about every book I read. I rarely read something and want to give it less than three stars.

However, I’m going to review a book I recently finished. If you plan on reading A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer, don’t read any further; there will be spoilers.

The reason I want to review this book is because I’m hoping someone can help me find some clarity after reading it. I honestly don’t know (even though I read all 600+ pages of it) whether or not I like it or not. I find it odd that after reading that many pages I can’t decide. Parts of the book confuse me.

Because I’m not sure about my feelings for this particular tome, I’m going to ask a series of questions about the book and then proceed to immediately answer them.

Question 1: Why is this book in the YA lit section?

I read a fair amount of YA lit and I just don’t think this belongs there. I think that perhaps the publishers felt that because the main characters are teens, it should be YA lit. I can also see that it has an Alice in Wonderland meets Chronicles of Narnia on speed vibe, but that’s not enough for it to be in the YA lit section. I really believe that most YA readers would start this book and then not finish it because of the style (more about that later).

I say that it has vibes from other stories, and by that I mean that it is a story about parallel worlds and in those worlds animals talk. There is also a series of magical doors involved. That, however, is where the comparison ends.

If I were asked to categorize this book, I would put it with “Weird Tales.” I love weird tales btw. It’s one of my favorite type of stories to read.

Someone asked me what is a weird tale? My answer: you know it when you read it.

That’s how I felt when I read this book. It belongs with adult lit, and with the weird tales, wherever they are.

Question 2: Was he drinking?

I’m being completely serious. The reason I ask this is because almost all of the conversations between characters in this book are impossible to follow. It reminds me of being in a room with drunk people and you’re the only one sober. There are 10 conversations going on and no one is having the same one, but they are all talking to each other anyway.

At first I thought maybe the author was trying to be silly, but it continues throughout the whole book (did I mention it’s 600+ pages)?

The stilted conversations are not the only style choice that I struggled with. There were what felt like an unnecessary amount of puns and play on words. I’m not sure what the point of most of them were. All the double meanings and trick word play and weird conversations made whole sections of the novel very hard to follow.

I think most of what I find odd about this style is simply a choice the author made. Perhaps it makes more sense if you drink while you read it? (Again, should not be in the YA lit section if it requires alcohol to understand).

Question 3: Why are there so many characters?

This is not the first author to include an astronomical number of characters (anyone heard of Charles Dickens), but some of the characters didn’t even appear until page 500 or so. Additionally, because the author likes puns, some of the characters have nick names given to them by other characters.

And then what felt like randomly a character we hadn’t heard from in 100+ pages would show up again. IDK but sometimes I felt like I was falling into a rabbit hole. And other times I started to wonder if maybe there were pages from a different book accidentally printed with mine…

Conclusion

Further investigation is needed. I have added another VanderMeer book to my TBR list because I am curious if this is his style or if this was something new for him. I am going to figure this out.

Plus, despite the length of this book, the story isn’t finished and if the next part is published, I will be reading it. I have to know where all this nonsense was going.

Ultimately, I did find the plot engaging. It’s about parallel worlds, and big baddies versus inept teenagers. There are also lots of spies and wars going on. Distilled down to it’s essential plot, it’s a great story, and I really do want to know where it’s going.

Anyway, that’s enough from me….

Happy reading and writing today!

Cover of A Peculiar Peril

March’s 2021 prompt

In an effort to actually motivate myself to get things done, I’ve been making myself a list (in my head) each morning of the three things I have to do BEFORE I am allowing myself to play video games or watch tv. Believe it or not, this has been working for me. I’m pretty good at holding myself accountable (sometimes).

Additionally, I’ve been working on some self improvement things in my diet by trying to drink less caffeine. I have given up soda (though about once a week, I have one), and I’ve given up drinking sweet tea too. At first I was having horrible headaches, but I’m doing much better now. I didn’t give them both up at once. I cut out soda in January and once I felt like I had a handle on not wanting it ALL THE TIME, I gave up tea. Now the only caffeine I have each day is in my cappuccino in the morning and one in the afternoon. In addition to drinking less caffeine, I’ve altered my sleep schedule. I’m not going to lie, I usually have a horrible sleeping schedule. I stay up WAY TOO LATE and sleep in way too late. I’ve been working on it for a month or so now and I’ve been doing much better. I try to be asleep by midnight and up around 9. I’ve never been a morning person, and believe it or not, this is a big change for me.

Anyway, that’s enough about me… let’s get down to the real reason you’re here… the short story of the month prompt for March:

I said it and I meant it, and I was right. Still, I wish I could take it back, because there’s no way I can make it up to her, no way I can ever make her feel…

Complete the Story

Now, get writing!!

And as always, happy reading and writing today and everyday!

Numerology

(February 2021’s short story of the month)

He wasn’t sure how he was able to do the math problems in his head like that. He just closed his eyes, and the numbers found their places, like trained dancers, or like magic. It didn’t matter what type of problem or how challenging. He could solve them all.

When he was in grade school, his teachers thought he was gifted, and this meant being placed in the highest math class available. By the time he was in middle school, he realized not everyone solved math like he did. They didn’t just see a problem and know the answer.

He started to guard his secret. He was afraid it meant something was wrong with him. When he was 8, he’d told the cashier that a total calculated by a computer was off by a few cents because of a sale sign. His parents had looked embarrassed that he argued with a grown up. And then another time, he’d told his dad that he’d calculated a tip wrong and had underpaid a waiter. His father told him very promptly that he was only 10.

Not long after that and a few other incidents involving grown ups giving him dirty looks because he knew the answer that was so clearly right in front of them, he started to protect his “math magic.”

That’s what he started to call it, but only to himself. He never said it out loud. He was afraid that if he even whispered the word magic, that it would be taken away from him.

He learned to hide his secret by writing out most, but not usually all, of the steps to solve a problem. He didn’t need to do it, but sometimes when he wanted to show off, he would just blurt out an answer in class. His teacher always glared at him. One time his teacher asked if he was cheating somehow. He was being questioned even though he’d written out his work. The teacher had never seen a student not miss a single problem the entire school year, even the problems that were bonus questions using math they hadn’t been taught yet. He just mumbled through the meeting and said, “I’m just good at math. Math makes sense to me.” He shrugged, and the teacher didn’t bring it up again.

The next year in school, he had the same teacher, and he knew he should be careful, but there was a new girl. He couldn’t help himself; he kept showing off by solving the problems fast in front of the class without writing out any steps. The teacher sat at her desk with her arms folded across her chest tapping her foot. She clearly thought he was cheating somehow.

Number Magic

He did everything to try and get Daisy’s attention, but she never looked up at him when he stood proudly at the front of the class. He always glanced to see if she was looking, but normally, she was just writing out the problems herself.

Walking home from school after another day of showing off in math class, he was surprised to see Daisy sitting on a fence on the route he walked. She usually walked home in the opposite direction. He looked around as he drew nearer to her to see if maybe she was waiting for someone walking behind him.

The only students behind him were not even in their grade. He hefted his backpack higher and tried to stand taller as he walked past her, but he didn’t say anything.

“Hey, Sean,” Daisy said hoping off the fence.

She knew his name. And she was saying it out loud. She was waiting for him. He tried to appear nonchalant about the whole encounter but inside his stomach was filled with butterflies and there was a voice in his head yelling, while he imagined himself running a victory lap, while simultaneously fist bumping himself.

“Hey. You’re…” he said trailing off, “Daisy, right?”

“That’s right. I was wondering if you were out of your mind?” She was glaring at him, and if looks could kill, she was repeatedly shooting him with laser beams.

“I… I… wait. What?” he stammered. He couldn’t look at her when she was staring at him like that. She was intimidating and powerful. Why did he think that? He wasn’t sure, but he knew it was true.

“I asked if you were crazy.” She was tapping her foot and waiting for him to respond.

“I’m honestly not sure what you are talking about?”

She took a step closer to him and looked around to make sure no one was within hearing range. “You can’t use your magic like that right in front of normal people. Didn’t your parents teach you better?” She was whisper-yelling.

“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?” He took a step away from her.

“Your magic.” She rolled her eyes and took a half step back. And then she was whisper-yelling again, “You know… that thing you do in math class. That magic. Whatever it is, you need to stop doing it in front of everyone. You’ll get reported to the council.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He was staring at her now. She was clearly crazy. Did she think magic was real? What was this council she was talking about?

Daisy stared at him without blinking for what felt like forever but was in reality only a matter of seconds. “You really don’t know?” She peered at him now, squinting her eyes and leaning closer to ascertain the truth.

He leaned away. He liked the attention, but she was being really weird. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Magic isn’t real. Is this some kind of prank?”

“Would you like to come to my house for dinner?” she asked.

That was unexpected. “Sure. I’ll text my parents, so they won’t worry.” He smiled at her.

This was going better than he thought. As they turned and walked the opposite way of his house, he asked, “What was that all about? Were you trying to freak me out or something?”

“It’s nothing,” said Daisy. “We should do our math homework at my house while we wait for dinner. My mom is really good at math.” She kept walking.