This is one of the first books I read all by myself. My year one teacher, Mrs. Heath, kept a personal stash of decent children’s books in a cup 4 Stars
This is one of the first books I read all by myself. My year one teacher, Mrs. Heath, kept a personal stash of decent children’s books in a cupboard and after taking a week or so to ascertain that I was reading beyond the required level of ‘Biff, Chip and Kipper' she let me and a couple of others plunder from this cupboard as much as we liked during school hours – with the one stipulation that we couldn’t take the books home, so these books were read in short snatches during 'quiet reading time' and wet-play when it was too rainy to take breaks outside. So rereading this at almost 25 the first thing that strikes me is how much shorter it seems to be than when I was 5. It is still, however, a very fun little story about animals that it’s hard not to love. Seriously, who doesn’t love dodos?
‘Oh, Beatrice!’ cried Bertie. ‘You are the most beautiful dodo in the whole wide world.’
The whole wide world was, for the dodos (though they did not know this), a smallish island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There were no dodos anywhere else on earth.
The date (though they did not know this) was AD 1650, and before very long (and, luckily, they did not know this either) there would be no dodos anywhere at all on earth. The dodo would be extinct.
Or that’s what everybody has always thought.
So opens a very funny, charming little story about the extinction of an entire species.
Beatrice and Bertie, a young dodo couple are among the first to witness the arrival of the first ship carrying ‘sea-monkeys’ to their previously uncharted and uninhabited island. With no natural predators, the dodo are a naturally trusting (and comically stupid) bird, so it is to everyone’s horror when the sea-monkeys start massacring them for food.
Even when the sea-monkeys depart, leaving behind Sir Frances Drake, a friendly green parrot, the danger is not over yet. For the island has become infested with vicious rats from the ship and Bertie and Beatrice must be constantly vigilant to protect their newly laid egg. And when the rats begin to overun the island, Bertie, Beatrice and a small group of friends and relatives, led by Sir Frances Drake, put to sea in an abandoned boat to found a new dodo paradise elsewhere.
Of course it’s not exactly an accurate portrayal of how the dodos were wiped out – it took longer than the book implies, humans rarely ate dodo, and, as well as rats, deforestation and the introduction of domestic dogs, cats and pigs (now believed the most important factor) meant sudden competition for limited food. But it’s a nicely compressed kiddies version of the basic idea – and it is certainly the interpretation of the extinction that most people are familiar with (or at least that I was as a child interested in natural history in the 90s).
But what the book is, is a story that, despite not being historically accurate, does have a lot of educational value as an introduction to the concept of human-aided extinction and the environmental impact of invasive species, while also being a very funny book with loveable characters an exciting and fantastical plot and a silly but happy ending.
As one of Dick King-Smith’s less known books, I’m not sure if this story is even still in print but I do highly recommend it as a book for young children. At 79 pages it’s not intimidatingly long, and split into 12 chapters and a postscript it’s easy to digest in small chunks. The language is simple and easy for an early reader without the content of the story being patronising or babyish, it invites questions and discussion about natural history and extinction, and its got funny parts that both parents and kids can appreciate (I know I didn’t pick up on the Hamlet reference when I read it as a kid). Easily a four star read for me....more
Another fun little novel from my childhood by Dick King-Smith. A bit of a departure from his normal ‘farmyard fantasy’ (Dick King-Smith is a pr 4 Stars
Another fun little novel from my childhood by Dick King-Smith. A bit of a departure from his normal ‘farmyard fantasy’ (Dick King-Smith is a prolific author of books featuring talking pigs, mice, and various other animals), Tumbleweed is a fantasy-comedy featuring a very clumsy, nervous, knight who meets a friendly witch, befriends a lion and a unicorn, and goes off in search of damsel to rescue from a dragon.
As a kid I loved stories of knights and castles, so when, aged about 8 or 9, I picked this up for weekly ‘read aloud’ sessions with one of my primary school’s teaching assistants, I absolutely adored it – despite it being a very short and easy read. So my four stars rather than three is completely driven by nostalgia. It’s probably one of those children’s books that’s best read when you either are a child or have children to read it to/with. But it is fun – and I did love Jones, the Welsh Dragon – I hadn’t picked up originally that he used actual Welsh speaking patterns so that got a little laugh out of me, I could definitely hear the accent when I read it this time. It also has some fun jokes and really cute cartoonish black and white illustrations that I don’t remember from reading as a child, but really loved this time around.
If you’re reading with kids and like to discuss themes and messages with them then it’s got a couple of those too; ‘what is courage?’/'can you be brave and afraid?’, as well as judging people on appearances, what makes a good friend, and the morality of taking credit for other people’s actions.
Not as totally awesome as I remember, but still a cute and funny story aimed pretty squarely at younger readers....more
Sloooooly replacing my lost books/tatty Narnia paperbacks with these beautiful hardbacks (looks seriously better than it appears in the cover pictureSloooooly replacing my lost books/tatty Narnia paperbacks with these beautiful hardbacks (looks seriously better than it appears in the cover picture here - all quality paper and beautiful spine and shiznit). Will do a reread* once I've got the set. :D
*and try not to get too angry at the odd preachy/racist/sexist/stupid bullshit....more
One of very many children’s books on Greek mythology, I picked this one up mainly because it’s Usborne (I grew up on Usborne books and I have a 4 stars
One of very many children’s books on Greek mythology, I picked this one up mainly because it’s Usborne (I grew up on Usborne books and I have a certain amount of loyalty to them despite the fact that they keep puttingoutgenderedshitlikethis) and because the pictures inside are pretty dang gorgeous. With so many of these sort of books about though it’s always worth flipping through a few in the bookshop, maybe reading a couple of the stories, and getting the one that works for you. This one, I have to say, doesn’t quite work for me. It’s very good, perfect for the purpose I got it for – which was to ensure my Greek storytelling event later this month is age appropriate – and I’ll be keeping it in my library of Greek myths, but it’s far too kiddified in places for my own personal liking. For public storytelling where I don’t know how (over)sensitive or protective children’s parents are it’s great. For my own kids/nieces/nephews (if I were ever to have any) I would want something that didn’t gloss over Theseus leaving Ariadne, or pretended that Jason and Medea didn’t murder her brother.
It’s a beautiful book though, and I think it achieves its aim of working for both children too young to read and children just learning. It’s written in a way that works very well when read out loud, while the typeface is big, bold, and easy to read for when the child wants to pick it up for themselves, and it's all accompanied by some really lovely and eyecatching illustrations. There’s also a pronounciation guide for the Greek names at the back, which is very useful. And then it’s got some really nice stylistic touches. Every page, even when it isn’t illustrated, has a patterned border running round it – spiders for Arachne, snakes for Perseus and Medusa, a variety of Greek pot patterns etc etc. but a unique pattern for every story. The longer stories (Hercules, Odysseus, Jason) are broken up into smaller sections, making them easier to digest if you’re reading ‘one a night’ with a child, and each story is written on different coloured pages, making it very easy to tell when one story ends and another begins. I don’t have a working scanner or I’d put in a few examples here but I did find one bookseller site that did have a single page sample:
For me, though, though the book itself is beautiful (the dragons and sea serpents are all particularly great) the content of the text plays it just a little too safe: Medea doesn’t kill her brother, she lives happily ever after with Jason, Ariadne doesn’t get abandoned, Theseus’s dad doesn’t commit suicide, and the battles against monsters seem a little too perfuntory, making them less compelling than they should be. And yes, it’s for kids (Usborne.com says 7+ but it’s clearly aimed at younger), but the Usborne books of mythology I was reading when I was that age didn’t shy away from that stuff – they may not have gone on to detail Medea’s infanticide, but they showed her killing her brother to help Jason escape. Lessons and videos we watched at primary school discussed Theseus leaving Ariadne. The ending of the Theseus story was always bittersweet, with the minotaur having been killed but, due to Theseus’s neglect in changing his sails, his father having given him up for dead and jumped into the sea in grief. That’s the emotional heart of the story.
I just find this book a little too codling in places and I know that, as a child, I prefered my monsters scarier and less easily dispatched and that what drew me, and continues to draw me, to Medea was her ruthlessness – she was so unlike any princess I’d ever read about before. A great book for read aloud sessions with groups of young children you don’t know because, personally, I don’t particularly want to step on someone else’s parenting. But if I was reading this aloud to kids I knew well I would be surreptitiously adding more of the ‘unsuitable’ bits in for them. Kids can deal with a lot more than people think and I think it’s the fact that Greek myths often don’t conform to the ‘happily ever after’ narrative that makes them so intriguing....more
Whilst the Sisters Grimm series still suffers from all the problems I went into a little in my last review – mainly inconsistent pacing, tone,4 Stars
Whilst the Sisters Grimm series still suffers from all the problems I went into a little in my last review – mainly inconsistent pacing, tone, and writing – I liked this book a lot more than Tales From the Hood. Finally, finally, the ‘mystery’ formula has been dropped to allow the overarching plot takes centre stage and the villain’s have started acting like the competent bad guys they appeared in the alternative future of Magic and other Misdemeanours and not the bumblingly ineffective bunch of petty villains with patchy motivations they have always appeared in the other books. This is a book that, to be honest, should probably have come a lot sooner in the series, but I am glad that, even if it only happened in book seven, the plot is making some forward movements.
The Everafter War picks right up where the story left off in Tales From the Hood, with Golidilocks and the three bears standing on the Grimms doorway offering to help break the sleeping spell put on Sabrina and Daphne’s parents. Only when they do wake up, it’s not quite as Sabrina was hoping. Her father still treat her and Daphne as if they’re the age they were when he fell asleep two years ago and it’s plain to see where Sabrina gets her bouts of total dickishness from. Henry Grimm vowed before his daughters were born that he would never return to Ferryport Landing and now he’s awake he fully intends to drag his family out of there, impending civil war or not. Instead of a joyful reunion, Sabrina and Daphne find themselves babied and witness to huge family arguments, bickering, and sulking.
Meanwhile the baddies in the Scarlet Hand have finally grown a backbone, the Sheriff of Nottingham amazing everyone when he actually uses the weapon he was pointing at someone. Army lines are being formed, side characters are being killed, and dragons are being released to terrorise the town. The dark future Sabrina and Daphne caught a glimpse of in book five finally seems to be on its way.
Except…well it all happens a bit too suddenly really. When the Grimm family visit Charming’s rebel camp he and his followers have built a full on fort to protect themselves and their ranks have swollen through refugees from the town. Only…well all this has happened in a single day and Mr Canis’ flippant explanation that ‘we work fast around here‘ is one of the biggest arsepulls I’ve ever read. In one day (probably less than in fact), Charming has built a fort and declared war on the Scarlet Hand, Snow White has started training an army, Mr Canis’ memories have started to return ‘slowly‘ (lol) and the Scarlet Hand have conducted a campaign of fear extreme enough to drive every friendly everafter out of town. It just doesn’t add up, and when the author’s had 6 previous books to get this stuff rolling properly there’s absolutely no excuse for it.
Also I have to question the logic behind all the friendly everafters being able to find the fort no problem while all the unfriendly ones seem to find the task impossible. And why is it suddenly Charming in charge when it was Robin Hood and his Merry Men (surely a better choice of commander) who left to found it in the last book, with Charming really only tagging along. Robin Hood (in any incarnation) will always be much better than any fancypants Prince Charming.
But, niggles aside, this book steps up its game over most of the previous ones. There’s tension and deaths and big plot revelations (at least one of which is even surprising!). Because it doesn’t have the ‘detective mystery’ framework of the earlier books to hold it together it can sometimes feel a bit like lots one thing happening after another without much plot, but if the plot of the single book suffers, at least the plot of the overall series is being advanced....more
I’ve given all the previous books in this series four stars but that’s a probably bit misleading. Although I have really enjoy them that is des 3 Stars
I’ve given all the previous books in this series four stars but that’s a probably bit misleading. Although I have really enjoy them that is despite a lot of issues present throughout the series – but that came to a bit of a head for me in this book. The overarching plot is very drawn out with some of the books (2, 4, and 6 so far) failing to do anything much to advance it, Sabrina’s character development keeps going two step forwards in each book only to be followed by one step back in the next whilw no one else really gets much character development at all, and the writing is often a bit clumsy. Buckley’s method of opening each book in medias res with a snippet from the climax before going back a few days to start the story again at the beginning is only the most blatant example. Rather than adding to anticipation or tension, I find it detracts from it and tends to make the climaxes anti-climactic. What I have given the previous books four stars for is entertainment value - the execution isn't always great but it's a fun series full of neat ideas. This book had those good ideas but I didn’t find it anywhere near so fun to read.
And the primary reason for that was something that first cropped up to a lesser extent in the third book. Red Riding Hood’s portrayal and the way the characters view and describe her is horribly, horribly ableist. Sure, in book three she was the primary villain and set a Jaberwocky lose on the Grimms. But she’s also assumed to be suffering from PTSD and the language used about her was something I found genuinely jawdroppingly ignorant and offensive. ‘The little lunatic was probably having another delusion' 'Not the nutcase' 'She’s what we in the medical profession call a loopty loop' – the first two of these are from the heroines, Sabrina’s internal monologue and Daphne’s dialogue respectively, the last is from Red’s nurse. It’s all sorts of problematic and made worse by the fact that it is never called out or portrayed as a problem in the book. Only Robin Hood out of all the heroic characters registers any sort of concern for her treatment or outrage at the response that she isn’t getting any. Sabrina, who has been consistently told off for her rudeness and bigotry since book one and spends a lot of this book getting punished for having doubts about Mr Canis is never once told off for her use of ablest language about Red. Nobody in the book seems to have a problem with her being described as ‘crazy’ ‘nutcase’ ‘lunatic’ ‘disturbed’ or ‘delusional’. And a major part the plot pretty much revolves around her mental illness. I even get the impression in some parts that the author believes he's portraying it sympathetically.
It’s…eugh. If reading this series to or with a child I would strongly recommend a long talk about mental health, PTSD, and what is and is not acceptable language.
But away from the bits that made this a less fun than the previous books and onto the story! The last book ended with Mr Canis being arrested for crimes the Big Bad Wolf committed against Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother. In this book he goes to trial, with the Mad Hatter sitting as judge and half the jury members of the Scarlet Hand determined to find him guilty. The Grimm family employ Robin Hood and his Merry Men (litigation lawyers who sue from the rich to give to the poor) to defend him. But with the trial so prejudiced against Mr Canis, they have to do their own detective work to find out what really happened to Red Riding Hood and her grandmother.
Meanwhile Uncle Jacob is trying to track down Goldilocks, the only person who can break the sleeping spell on Sabrina and Daphne’s parents. With the help of Hans Christian Anderson’s travelling chest, the chase takes him and the girls from Venice to Paris as they try to persuade her to come back to Ferryport, where she will once again be trapped forever, to break the spell (why they don't just arrange to take Henry and Veronica out of Ferryport and meet her in the human world is a plothole that is never addressed).
But really, this book doesn’t do much to advance the ‘main plot’ at all until the very final page. The hellish vision of a future ruled by the Scarlet Hand is never mentioned, Prince Charming becoming a member of the red hand in the last book is resolved in this one without it ever serving any particular purpose, and the villainous Sherrif of Nottingham seems to act as the plot dictates, ignoring and flouting the law most of the time but then following it when the author wants the Grimm family to get off. It’s very weird and inconsistent and after the work done in the last book to make the Scarlet Hand a credible and real threat, this just helps to bring them right back down to incompetent mooks again in this one.
So yeah… this book is a lot more tied into the main plot than a couple of other books in the series (book 2 and particularly book 4 are very much ‘breather episodes’ from the main plot) but things are still very slow to move, and the way mental health is addressed here meant that I couldn’t enjoy it as much as previous books. (Though Robin Hood as a sexy redhead gets my approval – I’ve been a big fan of sexy redheads ever since the Weasleys.)...more
After their trip to New York, the Sisters Grimm are back in Ferryport Landing for their best adventure yet. Magic items have been stolen from t 4 Stars
After their trip to New York, the Sisters Grimm are back in Ferryport Landing for their best adventure yet. Magic items have been stolen from three of Ferryport’s most powerful witches and tears in the fabric of time have started opening up in town, letting through dinosaurs, American civil war soldiers, and providing the sisters with a rather grim glimpse into their possible futures where dragons roam the skies and the Scarlet Hand rules Fairyport.
The mystery, as normal, I was able to solve myself very easily, but then I’m a good fifteen years older than the target audience so I can’t take too much pride in that. I thought it was far more deftly handled than in the previous books, however, with not every clue being flagged up too obviously and no characters forced to act particularly dumb to make the plot work. That the story was just as focussed (if not more) on the time rifts and how to stop the possible future also helped pull this book up from another simple mystery, with both the main plot and the series arc working together here better than in the previous books. I also appreciated the character development in this instalment. Not only does the time rift offer a glimpse of how some of the major characters might turn out in fifteen years time, but Sabrina has finally stopped being so prejudiced and become instantly more likeable. I’m also really loving what’s going on with both Mr. Canis and Prince Charming and it was great to see Uncle Jacob back after his disappearing act in the last book.
The plot is very Days of Future Past in places but I quite like that, despite not always being a fan of time travel. After four books of the Scarlet Hand just being this shadowy organisation that kidnaps and assassinates people using one agent at a time it’s good to see more of the organisation as a whole, what their aims are, and just how terrible a future ruled by them would actually be. Just this one little glimpse into this possible future ups the stakes for the series and the characters considerably. I have a feeling, going forward, that the stakes will continue to be raised as the series plot becomes progressively more important than the ‘mystery’ framework of each book. Which, I have to say, is absolutely fine by me.
There were less of the small funny moments here that characterised the first four books. Most of the important players seem to have been introduced now, but Cinderella as a radio agony aunt, the witch from hansel and Gretel as a dentist, and Mordred as a sad loser addicted to computer games were nice little reminders of the quirkiness the series is built on.
All in all my favourite book of the series so far. It’s nice to see both it and its protagonists start to mature. Am really looking forward to book six and what promises to be a Mr. Canis/Big Bad Wolf heavy instalment and one that might challenge the established fairytale narratives of some of the key characters.
Quick note: since I’m moving to uni in September, I’ll probably get through the remainder of the series pretty quickly now, having checked to find it completely unavailable to order from my new library. So expect reviews of 6, 7, 8, and 9 in the not so distant future once my currently library manages to get them in for me....more
Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out 4 Stars
Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out for me. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great little series and I have a lot of affection for it, but it’s the small things – the way fairy tale (and now literary) characters have been modernised, eg. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol becoming a medium – that I really enjoy. The mystery itself, as in previous books, remains predictable; something a bit of deductive reasoning and ‘who would benefit from this crime?’ sort of common sense would solve quite quickly – not helped by the cover kind of giving a big part of the game away as well. But whether you guess the baddie or not, it’s a fun ride and there are lots of new characters, expanded world-building, and amusing cameos to enjoy. And a bit more light gets shed on the big mystery of Sabrina and Daphne’s parents disappearance and the sinister ‘Red Hand’.
The last book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger; Puck seriously injured and in danger of death with only his family beyond the magical barrier that protects the town able to heal him. So for the fourth book it’s roadtrip time! Leaving behind the familiar setting of the previous books and taking the action, temporarily, to New York and the secret court of Shakespeare’s fairies where Puck’s father, Oberon, rules a divided community of urban Everafters. But adventure always follows the Grimms, and barely have they arrived before Oberon is murdered and his body marked by the sign of the Red Hand so it’s up to Granny and the Sisters Grimm to find the killer. In some ways it’s a breath of fresh air and it works very well as a story by itself – new setting, new characters, the chance for a different sort of adventure – but it does distract slightly from the other ongoing storylines set up in the previous books and sometimes results in an odd change of tone from the rest of the series. Uncle Jacob and Elvis only get mentioned once in the whole book, the storyline from the previous book of ‘magic as an addiction’ seems to have been abandoned, and the situation they left Ferryport in is almost forgotten. In fact with the addition of a fairytale community in New York I have to question the whole point of Ferryport’s magical barrier.
The main point of this book, though, is as a turning point in Sabrina’s character arc with her coming ‘home’, learning more about her parents, and finally changing her anti-Everafter prejudices. That’s how the story is presented anyway and I do hope it proves correct because she really was insufferable at times. I’ve tried to like her, I’ve tried to understand her and, though I’ve managed the later, the former has been almost impossible at times. Whilst Daphne, Granny, and all the fairy-tale characters are loads of fun (but not particularly complex), Sabrina has been a grumpy funsponge for four books in a row now and it’s getting old. I get that life has hardened her, I get that she’s got trust issues but she is, in Daphne’s words, a ‘jerkazoid’ for most of the book. If I’m right this time though (I’ve had my fingers crossed ever since book one that she’ll be better in the next one) I will be delighted. One of my favourite things about this series is that it’s a children’s series, and an action adventure series at that, where both primary leads are female – so I desperately want to like both of them! Us girls get relegated to ‘brainy friend’ or ‘boring love interest’ too often in these sort of books for me not to enjoy it when we get to be the flawed heroes ourselves! All I want is for Sabrina to become likable as well as flawed.
So fingers crossed for the next book! A less prejudiced Sabrina and a return to Ferryport. Looking forward to it....more
Apparently Winnie the Witch is actually older than me. I had no idea. I read a grand total of one Winnie book when I was a child and that when3 stars
Apparently Winnie the Witch is actually older than me. I had no idea. I read a grand total of one Winnie book when I was a child and that when I was already too old for picture books and was just killing time. So although I quite liked it I have no particular fond memories of Winnie as a childhood favourite - I was more of a Meg and Mog kinda girl. Since I was volunteering for a Winnie's Dinosaur Day themed half-term event at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (including a guest appearance from the illustrator) though, I thought I'd better check the book out.
Winnie the witch enters a 'draw the best triceratops' competition at her local museum and decides to travel back in time to see what they really looked like. A nice fun picture book for younger readers (and perhaps their parents) to read. The pictures are great and the story is suitably silly. Not sure how it measures up to the million other Winnie the Witch books in the series, but I thought it was good. Wouldn't mind a miniture triceratops as a pet either (though my dog might!).
Being the geek that I am one of my favourite things about it was that the local museum depicted in the illustrations is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Hence the themed half-term events - where we made triceratops masks, Winnie and Wilbur hats, cetiosaurus stick puppet and held out own 'draw your own dinosaur competition'. Unfortunately my slightly punky sauropod failed to make any impression on the judges in the 9+ age category :(
Still in post-novel afterglow here (this is what happens when you’re more interested in books than people). I really love this little series, i 5 Stars
Still in post-novel afterglow here (this is what happens when you’re more interested in books than people). I really love this little series, it’s like a slice of childhood, I just want to drizzle cream and chocolate sauce all over this book and gobble it up. But that would ruin a very beautiful paperback (and probably my digestive system too) so instead I will simply love it and stroke it and tuck it carefully back on my bookshelf to treasure for all time. Like, seriously, if I could do the Gollum voice that is exactly what I would be doing right now.
And now that I’ve scared all the normal people off I’ll get onto the review. . .
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (henceforth to be refered to as ‘Revels‘, because the title may be gorgeous but it’s also very long and I’m a slow typist) is the second book in Catherynne M. Valente’s children’s series, Fairyland, and is all the more worthy of those 5 stars up there for being a sequel that doesn’t dissapoint. In fact I might even prefer it to the first book, which was one of my absolute favourite reads of last year.
The protagonist, September, is a year older, and matured from a heartless child (all children are heartless according to the narrator) to a young teenager with a freshly grown, raw and inexperienced heart. She’s spent the time since her first visit to Fairyland being the lonely, excluded kid at school, missing her father (away fighting in WWII), and spending her free time reading up on Fairytales and mythology. So by the time the book starts she’s just as impatient as I was to jump back into Fairyland and meet up with her old (and odd) friends there. Only when she gets there Fairyland isn’t quite as she remembered. Magic is now being rationed, just like sugar back in her homeworld, people’s shadows are disappearing and September believes she know’s why and is determined to stop it.
Now, I’m going to admit that it took me a good few chapters to fall in love with the first Fairyland book – maybe because I wasn’t used to Valente’s style and the old fashioned fourth-wall-breaking narrator, maybe because the story seemed to wonder aimlessly about for a long while before the plot was revealed – but I had no such problem with Revels, I jumped straight in and fell in love immediately. We’re taken to different parts of Fairyland in this book, notably Fairyland-Below, and meet a whole host of new characters, but everything that I loved about the first book is still there too. There’s Ell the Wyvern who’s half-library, and Saturday the Marid, the characteristic quirky wonderful narration (perfect for reading aloud to children at bedtime), beautiful chapter illustrations by Ana Juan, and then the book throws in great new stuff like a ‘night dodo’ called Aubergine as well!
More than any of these wonderful Fairyland characters though, I loved September. I enjoyed her practical attitude in the first book but it was impossible for anyone to compete with Ell there as the breakout character. In this book I absolutely I adored her though. Her fresh new heart and extra year’s maturity add a slightly different tone to the book; it’s still quirky and brilliant, but it’s not just a rehash of the first book with a different enemy. September thinks of her parents more in this book, considers both her own and other peoples feelings more, tries to understand them, and deals with teenage emotions and changing relationships. She’s still the same person as twelve-year-old, heartless, September, but she’s grown up, just a little. Everything is more complex, less black and white, right and wrong, than in the first book. Instead of fighting the Marquis, September’s foe in this Revels is herself, or rather the shadow of her twelve-year-old self. And shadows are not inherently bad but simply the sides of ourselves we repress and keep hidden – ‘The Hollow Queen’s’ motivations are those September shares and sympathises with, her actions those September, were she less restrained and a bit more wild, could easily commit. It adds shades of grey to the adventure that I really enjoyed and left me guessing as to just how it could all be concluded.
But, and this will surprise no one I’m sure, it was concluded! And in a way I was really happy about too. The last few pages also won me completely over to the idea of a September/Saturday relationship in the future – he was very quiet in the first book and so harder to instantly love to the same degree as Ell or September, but something he said in the here just won me over completely. If only all men were as sensible and sweet and understanding as Saturday the world would be a totally better place.
Loved, loved loved the whole book and cannot wait for the next one, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, which comes out this year in America, so probably next year in the UK. May just have to bully a friend to send me a US copy....more
The library finally got it in for me! And I think it might just be the best in the series so far – though not without a lot of problems. The ma 4 Stars
The library finally got it in for me! And I think it might just be the best in the series so far – though not without a lot of problems. The major one being that the author can’t do a natural sounding recap for shit. So after the big cliffhanger the last book ended on, we get a first chapter of what should be an exciting action/revelation scene being awkwardly interrupted for massive infodumps to tell us everything that has led up to this point – and not even particularly accurately. Two mysteries solved does not equal ‘as they solved one mystery after another, the girls had started to discover a disturbing pattern‘ except in the most strict technical sense. As a result of this ‘stop and explain everything’ approach, the flow of the early portions of the book feels very disjointed and it’s a while before the writing finally finds its feet. It’s practically an advert for why some series are much better off sticking a ‘the story so far’ page in before you get to the prologue. But once those pacing issues are ironed out, the standalone plot for this novel is much more interesting than the last entry in the series.
This book marks a pretty big advancement in the overarching ‘who kidnapped the Grimm’s parents? and how to rescue them?’ arc, with Sabrina and Daphne beginning to uncover more about the mysterious ‘red hand’ organisation as they encounter one of its deadliest members – and her pet Jabberwocky. It also introduces the Grimms to yet another long-lost relative, and fills in some important elements of the backstory – why their father never told them about their heritage, why he was always so against telling them fairy-tales, and how one of the ‘goodies’ of the fairy-tale world turned out to be the big bad of the book. And well…if I thought attitudes to mental health were bad over here I would hate to live in Ferryport Landing! I’d be setting my pet Jabberwocky on people after that too!
The Jabberwocky, of course is the biggest threat in this book and the main plot revolves around finding and reforging the only weapon that can kill him – ‘The Vorpal Sword’ (unfortunately lacking in ‘snicker-snack sound effects) – a quest which takes the young Grimms into the most dangerous corners of Ferryport Landing and to meet some of the most interesting characters. Twinned with this plot is the return of the black sheep in the Grimm family and the tension between his and Granny’s way of doing things. So while Daphne follows Granny Relda’s practical and down to earth approach, Sabrina begins to use and abuse magic props to do things the ‘easy way’. It’s all a little bit Buffy; a heavy-handed ‘power corrupts’ aesop, and a ‘magic=drugs!’ anallogy which felt pretty tired to me. But then, the seven-year-olds this is aimed at probably haven’t watched Buffy and with any luck don’t have much knowledge of drugs. It still rankled a little bit, especially as it’s Sabrina, yet again, who’s being an idiot. I love little Daphne, I do, but I think it’s her turn. And just once I’d like to see the black sheep return and actually be right (or at least not totally wrong) while still keeping the older generation sympathetic.
And one more bit that niggled. The hetronormative attitude that means after saying only ‘the kiss of someone with royal blood‘ can break a curse, the characters rush to Prince who hates them rather than approach the friendly Princess they know who would be more than happy to oblige. The cursed character’s a child – it’s really not like it’s going to be a romantic kiss either way. And even if they hadn’t thought of it themselves it would be nice to have seen Snow White stepping forward to do it after Charming starts kicking up the fuss that he does – it’s not like the two characters weren’t hanging out together for most of the story.
Overall though I really liked this book. Buckley is by no means the best writer in the world, but he’s good with ideas and there was a lot in this book to like. It’s got a more exciting and less predictable plot than the first two Sisters Grimm books and it really pushes the overarching-plot along as well.
I’ll wait a little while before ordering the next book from the library, but it’s definitely a series I plan on carrying on with....more
So, after reading a few stories in a row that didn’t quite ‘click’ with me I thought I’d pick up something nice, easy, and fun – and this prove 4 Stars
So, after reading a few stories in a row that didn’t quite ‘click’ with me I thought I’d pick up something nice, easy, and fun – and this proved to be exactly what I needed. Without spoiling the first book too much, The Sisters Grimm is a fractured fairy tale/fairy tale mash-up series following the adventures of Sabrina and Daphne Grimm as they solve fairy-tale crime and try to track down their abducted parents. If I’m honest, it’s not the best-written of series so far, but it’s very fun, the ideas are good, and as a sucker for reimagined fairy tales I’m kinda moving towards loving it. Enough that I’ve already put in a library reservation for the next book anyway.
The Unusual Suspects follows closely on the events of the first book, the gap between them being a mere three weeks, with Sabrina and Daphne just starting at the local school and beginning to settle into the weird world they’ve been thrown into. Or Daphne is settling in anyway, Sabrina, the primary protagonist, is really not. Already the less likable of the two sisters, Sabrina is actually a bit of a brat in this book, taking her initially understandable distrust of the fairytale ‘everafters’ to the point of outright bigotry. To be honest this didn’t bother me too much as I could understand, to an extent, where Sabrina’s character was coming from. Her development is obviously going to be a big theme throughout the series though as she learns to accept other people’s views, let them in emotionally, and stop thinking of herself as the sole person looking out for her younger sister. But for that to happen she has to start off pretty angry and closed off and for me, at least, Buckley managed to straddle the line with her character just about right, though she was occasionally annoying I never disliked her – but I can understand it being a potential stumbling block for other readers. Daphne, of course, is still wonderful and I love the easy way she trusts people and enjoys almost everything the story throws at her without questioning its total oddness, but then that’s eight-year-olds for you.
Now I said the writing wasn’t the best. For me it was particularly noticeable in the first portion of the book where there was a lot of info-dumping to bring readers up to speed with the setting and the events of the first book. Once that’s ploughed through though it’s actually fine. Though Buckley is definitely guilty of the trap, particularly common in busy settings such as schools, where the author only bothers to name those background characters who later turn out to be plot-important, meaning that a large portion of the ‘mystery’ turns out to be not so mysterious with the guilty parties pretty easy to identify by halfway through the book (imagine Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if the only named student besides Harry, Ron and Hermione was Ginny, or a Poirot where nobody but the guilty character was given a name or description). But then again this is a story where you’re obviously meant to solve the mystery alongside or slightly ahead of the characters, where the focus is more on the ‘fairy-tale’ aspect than the ‘detective’, and which is written with a pretty young audience in mind. So for what it’s trying to do it works pretty satisfactorily with enough hints and not too many red-herrings that a younger reader shouldn’t feel the mystery beyond them and might even have a few ‘I knew it!’ moments without the characters themselves looking too stupid either.
I have to say I wasn’t as impressed with the standalone plot for this book as I was with the first book, The Fairy-Tale Detectives, it felt a bit lacklustre in comparison, but what I really enjoyed in this book was the character interactions. After not quite loving Puck as much as I think I was meant to in the first book (it felt a bit like the writer had wanted to use Peter Pan but then remembered that copyright is ridiculously muddy so just switched the name) I think he started to come into his own in this one. I’m probably not the target audience for his 'hilarious' burping, nose-picking, and whoopee cushion antics, but his enthusiasm for dodgeball and his stubborn insistence that he’s a villain won me over. He’s not as good as Daphne but I like him. Mr. Canis and Granny Relda I continue to absolutely love (more Canis, please!), and we began to see a bit more of other everafters and what their ‘everafter-ness’ meant for their family lives. The real hook to pick up the next in the series, however, lies with the developments in the overarching plot of finding and rescuing Sabrina and Daphne’s parents from the mysterious ‘Scarlet Hand’ and the cliffhanger of an ending. I wasn’t expecting so much movement so soon into the series, but am very eager to see where it leads.
A definite four star read and a series I would recommend to people with children if I actually knew any. Am very surprised it’s so hard to find in British book shops and libraries (I’ve had to order in the next from London as my local library service for the region doesn’t have anything beyond the first two books and I’ve only seen them once in a brick and mortar bookshops). Definitely deserves a bit more attention than it seems to be getting over here....more
I think this is the point where me and Alex Rider have to part ways. I thought the potential was there in the last book, the seeds of some good2 Stars
I think this is the point where me and Alex Rider have to part ways. I thought the potential was there in the last book, the seeds of some good turn-you-brain-off fun were there and I gave it the benefit of a second chance for being the first book of a series with room to improve. But with this second book I’m now totally convinced: Alex Rider just isn’t my thing. Maybe when I was a pre-teen, perhaps, but, for me, this isn’t one of those children’s or young adult books that is written in a way adults can enjoy as well. And, as much as I loathe gendered reading and saying ‘this is for boys, this is for girls’, it’s especially not written in a way for adult females to enjoy. I’m not going to say it’s not a great children’s book though – because there’s a lot to love if you are the target audience and if the target audience love it and it gets kids reading than that’s the main thing and I won’t say a word against that. But it’s not for me in a pretty big way.
Putting aside the totally ridiculous, insane, plot for a moment – it could have worked for me under a better writer – the main problem is the narration. Omniscient third person with little informative asides about how the technology behind certain things work and how that applies to what Alex is doing/about to do. I suppose it’s necessary for the story he wants to tell, there are several scenes of the evil villains in their lairs, the MI6 back home that would be impossible to tell from a first person or third person-limited. What it does do though is create a distance between the reader and the main character – hell any of the characters. It’s all tell and no show ‘Alex felt this’, ‘Alex did this’ without ever really feeling that I know who Alex even is or anything about what actually makes him tick. My favourite example would have to be ‘‘The words were cold and absolute and Alex felt the fear that they triggered‘ – I mean…how hard would it have been to make that sentence avtually about Alex’s feelings? He sounds and acts like some creepy automaton at least half the time in this book. The only thing we’re ever shown is action and the characters only exist in the most sketched-out half-arsed way to deliver that action. I thought perhaps, in the last book, Howitzer needed a bit more time to get properly into his characters but after this book I just don’t think he cares.
Even when Alex is apparently reacting in a human way he comes off as a psychopath. The book pretty much opens with an anvilicious ‘selling drugs to secondary school pupils is bad’ lesson where Alex chases down a drug dealer (apparently his best friend who we’ve never heard of before and can’t imagine we’ll hear of ever again has been hooked and Alex is out for revenge), decides he’d rather take care of it himself than call the police, and recklessly endangers the lives of possibly hundreds of people as he causes thousands of pounds worth of property damage breaking almost every bone in the drug dealers body. Eugh… maybe I’d have found this a fun scene if I was a child though. And if he’s not being a psychopath he’s whining (sometimes he even does both at the same time). The book opens with him moping and upset because everyone thinks he’s a wuss for taking two weeks off for ‘flu’ during the last book and he’s sad because he can’t tell them that he was actually being a super spy. The teachers aren’t sympathetic and his friend’s think two weeks for illness is excessive. Except that that whole concept is ridiculous – teachers will be sympathetic to somebody taking two weeks from school right after their guardian has died (of course Alex himself got over it in approximately two seconds, but his teachers couldn't know that, a normal teenager probably would be having trouble for at least a fortnight). They might not understand why nobody contacted the school for support but they’re not going to be frowning and tutting and disapproving when he comes back – or at least none of the teachers I have ever had reacted that way to children whose parents had recently died and needed time off. Eugh…adult-me just can’t even deal with how stupid the set up and characterisation is even before we get to the evil villain stuff! Not a good sign.
Unfortunately there’s more stupid to go through before we get to the evil villain stuff too: a stay in the country with a posh family and Alex’s first ‘Rider Girl’. If I tell you that she’s introduced (in a bikini) with the following words it’ll probably tell you enough: ‘Her body was well shaped, closer to the woman she would become than the girl she had been. She was going to be beautiful. That much was certain. The trouble was, she already knew it’. Again the problem of third person omniscient narration – this would have sounded far less creeptastic written from Alex’s point of view (either first person or third person limited) where it would have been less about the transition from a child and just about finding a girl of his own age attractive. As it stands it sounds like an adult narrator trying not to sound too pervy and coming off even worse for it ‘oh she’s not beautiful now, she’s only a teenager, but when she grows up… ‘ Not creepy at all! And note how she’s obviously a ‘bad’ person. She knows she’s beautiful so she must be a bitch. Give me a fucking break. Of course she then proceeds to be a bitch, quelle suprise, but falls for Alex anyway. Yawn.
I was almost grateful when the real plot finally got going and Alex got whisked away for ridiculously unbelievable spy shenanigans. And when I say ridiculous I mean it. I’m not going to spoil the details of the big evil plot but it’s totally insane. Oh and the villain is an evil albino South African with an ugly South African henchwoman (described as a ‘muscle-bound freak of nature’ by Howitzer in the afterword) who wants to bring back apartheid. I’m honestly not sure whether to be glad some children will at least learn about apartheid for the first time and hopefully start asking questions, or to head-desk at the execution.
But onto the good. The action scenes are still fun, though they’ve lost a lot of their tension now that Alex is such a Mary Sue. In my review of the last book I said Howitzer did a good job of making you almost fear for Alex’s safety – but I didn’t feel that any more here, even when the situations were much more dangerous. If you just want a children’s action adventure book though it’s pretty solid. There’s snowboarding, chimney crawling, men with guns and all sorts.
Overall though, while I could see the appeal to the target audience, I simply didn’t like this book and couldn’t even enjoy it much when I ‘switched my brain off’. I am glad my library gave me the tenth anniversary edition with the afterword by Howitzer though. It was enlightening - apparently he's not too enamoured wih the plot of this book either. But again I’m not sure whether to be grateful or to head-desk that he is obviously aware of the potential for reading racism into his books (even though he doesn’t intend them to be racist), and that he realises how problematic his practice of giving disabilities to the villains is. I mean good, he is aware of and aknowledges the issues, but unless that awareness actually translates into trying to improve his handling of these elements in future books it means precisely jack.
The afterword also furnished me with a basic overview of the rest of the Alex Rider books, and a glimpse into some of his favourite James Bond villains – which leads me to quite confidently say that I don’t think either series will ever be for me....more