Defending Jacob

What if an assistant district attorney had to defend his fourteen year old son in a murder case? Sound like a television Father’s Day drama? That’s just what William Landay delivers in his courtroom crime story – Defending Jacob. Although the characters follow a formulaic stereotype and some of the dialogue is reminiscent of Mickey Spillane, the plot is fast-paced, easy reading, with enough change-ups to keep you reading.

Jacob’s middle schooler life is a mystery to his parents until one of his classmates is found stabbed in the park adjacent to the school. Suddenly, the bullying, the hidden knife, a fingerprint, and Jake’s loner personality implicate him as the murderer. Landay effectively uses two catalysts in the mix: the internet – citing Facebook, Twitter, and iPads as adding to public suspicion; and the “murder gene” – a genetic tendency to violence.

I’ve had this book on my shelf and decided to give it away to make room, but, first had to read it. A quick read – less gruesome than other crime novels – Defending Jacob has some father/son relationship angst and family-in-crisis warts, but, for the most part – just another good legal thriller – scheduled to come out in a movie theater soon with talk of Michael Shannon playing the father.

The ending came as a surprise; don’t stop reading after court adjourns.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Grandpa Portman’s stories of war monsters and his childhood escape from Poland to a safe haven at a Welsh orphanage were magical to young Jake.  But as he grew older, Jake thought of them as concocted tales with fantastic doctored pictures that his grandfather used to entertain – until his grandfather’s brutal death, and the cryptic message in his dieing words.  In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs creates a world of fantasy mixed with history of World War II and a cast of strange characters.

In an effort to cure his nightmares and to uncover his grandfather’s secrets, teenager Jake and his father travel to the Welsh island to revisit the bombed orphanage.  Jake discovers a trunk full of old photographs, some copies of those his grandfather used in telling his stories.  Was there really a boy whose body was full of bees that escaped when he opened his mouth, a girl who could levitate, another girl with a mouth in the back of her head?
As Jake continues to pursue the mystery of his  Grandpa Portman’s past, Gothic elements seep into the narrative: a 2700 year old body of a sixteen year old preserved in the bog, hearts pickled in jars, a peregrine falcon who appears at Jake’s bedside.  Riggs also borrows from several familiar characters – Edward Scissorhands, Harry Potter and friends, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck family; he even throws in time travel.  Be prepared to suspend belief and enjoy yourself.

Jake accidentally solves his grandfather’s directive and finds the “peculiar children,” each with particular powers – think X men in training. Every adventure must have villains, and when they appear, the action gets scary with the battle of good vs evil.

But the adventure is just beginning for Jake, and the next book in the series is due out in the Spring of 2013.

Riggs conveniently includes real old black and white photographs reprinted throughout the story – one of the best parts of the book. The eerie pictures from vintage collections or garage sales – all credited at the end of the book – bring life to the action: a little boy in a bunny suit, planes in the air, a lighted tunnel, and all those “peculiar” children.