Quick sum up: Most of this book was pretty terrible. The awful love triangle keeps trying to take over wh...more 3 Stars - Review when I get back from holiday
Quick sum up: Most of this book was pretty terrible. The awful love triangle keeps trying to take over what little plot there is and the whole book is even more poorly paced than the previous ones. But it is very readable.(less)
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...more 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.(less)
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...more 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.(less)
A fun little novel, I tossed up for a good ten minutes or so whether to give it 3.5 or 4 stars and eventually decided to round it up (think of...more 4 Stars
A fun little novel, I tossed up for a good ten minutes or so whether to give it 3.5 or 4 stars and eventually decided to round it up (think of it as a 3.75 if you like). This was a bit of an impulse buy – I went into Waterstones to pick up another book, had a quick browse through their special offer’s tables, marked this down as something that looked interesting, and left, walked halfway down the street, turned round, and went straight back into the shop. My wallet’s not particularly happy with me about it (I had to buy a third book to get the ‘buy one get one half price’), but I’m very glad I did. Impulse buys can always be a bit hit or miss (We, the Drowned and War with the Newts were both brilliant, The Sunday Philosophy Club was a steaming pile of shit I couldn’t even finish) but I like to make them when I have the spare cash. There’s just something about picking up a book you’ve not heard anything about that I really love. And although I didn’t fall in love with this book, I am very glad that I picked it up. I really enjoyed it and it’s probably a book that would have completely passed me by otherwise.
It’s a short, cute, little novel set in 1980s France. An accountant treats himself to a fancy meal while his wife and child are away and is stunned to find that his neighbour on the next table is the President, François Mitterrand. Eating as slowly as he can, so that he can bask in the moment, Daniel watches the President and his dining companions leave, only to discover that Mitterrand has left behind his black felt hat. Choosing to keep it for himself rather than return it, Daniel leaves the restaurant with his new hat on his head and a newfound sense of self confidence. Suddenly he’s talking back to his superiors at work, eating breakfast with very important men, and being promoted to regional director. He attributes all this to the power of the president’s hat, and when he loses it himself, he is determined to get it back.
The story follows the hat’s various different owners as it passes from person to person, changing all of their lives for the better. From a woman in a nowhere relationship to a washed up has-been perfumer, the hat seems to have some power to bring back confidence in those unhappy with their situation in life. It is, in some ways, almost a selection of linked short stories, and with limited page time all of the characters have to be painted in quite broad, shallow strokes. Daniel’s quest to reclaim the president’s hat provides a much needed bookend to the story and adds a sense of narrative drive that stops the book from feeling too aimless.
It’s a fun little book and a very easy read – I was surprised just how quickly I got through the (admittedly small) page-count. The writing flows easily and gives you just enough information to contextualise events – the 1980s in France are certainly unfamiliar territory for me at least – without getting bogged down in historical detail. For those who remember the 80s (I’m an ’88 baby, so I don’t) I imagine it’s also a nostalgic look back at a ‘simpler time’, where men still wore hats everyday, television only had so many channels, answerphones still used cassettes, and illicit love affairs were only just beginning to be arranged through online message boards. Laurin weaves in real historical events throughout the narrative and presents the story in the epilogue as something that ‘could’ really have happened.
I’m going to disagree with the ‘Reading Group’ suggestions at the back of my copy and say that this isn’t really a book I want to ask lots of probing questions about right now. Whether the hat really is magic or not doesn’t particularly matter to me. It was simply an enjoyable, refreshing, and rather charming little summer read. And probably a book that I will return to for a reread at some point too, it's certainly quick enough to get through.(less)
I hesitate to call this book the best in the series only because Rivers of London holds a very special place in my heart that is absolutely...more 4.75 Stars
I hesitate to call this book the best in the series only because Rivers of London holds a very special place in my heart that is absolutely impossible to replace. It was an impulse buy and the first book I read after seeking help to manage my depression – and as such marked the first time I had managed to truly and unreservedly enjoy anything for months, possibly years. But, if I try to remove that from the equation, Broken Homes is definitely the best written and best plotted of the Peter Grant books so far and, without a doubt, has the most exciting climax.
A brief explanation for the uninitiated – Peter Grant is a London Police officer. He is also an apprentice magician. In that order. One of the best and most unique elements of this urban fantasy series is that – though there might be magicians, river goddesses, dryads and fairies – it’s actually very ‘realistic’ in tone. Peter and his partner, Lesley, do real policework, not the ‘maverick cop’ or ‘lose cannon’ stuff you see in most crime novels and TV, but real PC plod stuff, slowly putting together a case and working with, rather than against, their superior officers. It's a really refreshing approach - though often the rest of the police would really rather not have anything to do with the ‘weird shit’ Peter’s department specialises in.
So when said ‘weird shit’ starts happening, mutilated bodies turning up in the woods, a man cooked from the inside out, a very suspicious suicide, and a stolen book of magical spells, Peter is the one who has to piece it all together while the local police work on their separate murder enquiries. And all clues seem to lead to a council tower-block in South London, and Peter’s nemesis, the Faceless Man.
It’s a bit slow to get started at first, with Peter being given case after seemingly unconnected case and the links between them forming quite slowly. For the first few chapters, I actually quite enjoyed that, it’s part of the ‘realism’ of the series and I really like the way Peter describes crime scenes and police procedure. Around the point where there was an interlude for Peter and Lesley to police a magical festival I got a little irritated though. It seemed a bit plonked down and nothing to do with anything, the net result of it only being a couple of slightly tiresome ‘why aren’t you fucking Beverly?’ conversations later in the book (Peter’s narration is really best when it’s not talking about women he fancies). But after that brief interlude things really started to come together again and the last half of the book is absolutely brilliant.
I just love this series (with the exception of the second book). The characters are great – more so now that Lesley has moved from ‘romantic interest’ to ‘close friend’ – the magic system is unique, and it’s just full of oddball but wonderful ideas. The narration, a first person account from Peter, is really well done, and London is portrayed as the diverse city it really is rather than peopled (and policed) by exclusively straight white dudes. The series keeps adding to the rich world-building with each book and there’s lots of new stuff to learn here without it ever really feeling particularly info-dumpy.
This book also turns the Faceless Man into a real threat for me. Maybe he already was, but he was introduced in Moon Over Soho and I found that book so crushingly disappointing (lots of too-stupid-to-live moments and sex scenes that jarred with the tone) that I’m not sure I really took in much about him until this book. But, despite Peter’s boss Nightingale insisting that he’s ‘no Moriarty’, this book showed him to be a calculating and very credible threat that I look forward to seeing more of (though I have to say that Moriarty is a shitty villain who was defeated in his first story by being pushed off a cliff, most master criminals in most books are better villains than Moriarty). Also, this book finally let Nightingale show off just how badass he is is and it was AWESOME. Finally a full on wizard's duel!
A really really great book with an absolutely brilliant ending. A couple of pacing issues in the first half are really all that’s holding me back from awarding five stars – but I am sorely tempted.
Very very much look forward to the next book in the series and I’m going to continue buying these in hardback the moment they’re released.(less)
Sloooooly replacing my lost books/tatty Narnia paperbacks with these beautiful hardbacks (looks seriously better than it appears in the cover picture...moreSloooooly 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.(less)
‘LITTLE INDIAN BOY GOES ON WEIRD BOAT RIDE WITH MEAN CAT.’ - so reads the entirety one of the top rated reviews of this book on goodreads and...more 3.5 stars
‘LITTLE INDIAN BOY GOES ON WEIRD BOAT RIDE WITH MEAN CAT.’ - so reads the entirety one of the top rated reviews of this book on goodreads and, to be honest, it’s hard to think of a way to expand on that. This one of those books I have a hard time saying much about – it’s a good book, there’s lots to like about it, and I can see why it’s such a popular and well-loved novel but, for me, it just didn’t do much but fill a bit of time and I can't find much of interest to say about it. It felt a bit like a beach read – one of the books my mum used to hand to me once I’d exhausted all my own stuff while we were on family holidays – a book that, yes, I quite enjoyed but was reading more because it was there than because I was particularly enthralled by it. In fact, and this is something that doesn’t happen all that often, I prefered the film version.
The novel tells the story of Pi Patel, a religious Indian teenager, who finds himself stranded at sea in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. And I would probably have liked the book a lot more had it got that point a lot sooner. The first portion of the book instead is devoted to Pi’s childhood as the son of a zookeeper (interesting), his fascination with religion (also interesting) but is frequently interrupted by the ‘author’ (it’s one of those fake ‘real stories’) breaking in to describe his impressions of older Pi, the house older Pi now lives in, or the food older Pi now cooks, or the family older Pi now has. It was a really clumsy, lazy way to hear more about how Pi's life turned out in the end and on top of that it was written in italics, in the present tense. People who insist write in the present tense should all be put on lifeboats with a tiger and sent out to sea. People who write in first person, present tense should be put on a lifeboat with two tigers. People who do both of those things but do it in italics as well should be sent out on a lifeboat full of tigers.
And while I found younger Pi’s interest and practice of various religions interesting (one of the highlights of this portion of the book is where his priest, his imam, and his pandit all run into him at the park and realise he has been practicing other religions behind their backs), I found older Pi judgemental, full of himself, and annoying. ‘[Agnostics] get stuck in my craw‘, ‘To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to chosing immobility as a means of transportation’. Fuck off. Because someone does not know whether a god exists or not does not mean they are chosing ‘doubt as a philosophy of life‘ , it just means that they don’t know (and let’s be honest nobody does). Pi is one of those irritating people who doesn’t seem to understand that simply not being interested in whether god exists (as opposed to being either religious or vehemently atheist) is not only perfectly possible but perfectly valid. And then there’s his ‘I was such a great student I would have won all sorts of awards for my brilliance but my department didn’t offer awards so I didn’t’ stuff. Blech.
But once the story moved onto the lifeboat the book improved vastly. The author stopped butting in and the focus moved back to young Pi and onto how he survived 200+ days stranded out at sea with a tiger. Now I freely admit I’m a sucker for castaway and survival stories. If someone is putting together a water purification system using nothing more than a bit of string and a ballpoint pen (or something equally ridiculous) I’m happy. So although fishing bores and disgusts me in just about equal measure in real life, I enjoyed reading about Pi’s attempts to catch fish, his descriptions on how best to de-shell a live turtle, how to train a Bengal tiger with a plastic whistle, and the way to build a raft using lifevests and a couple of oars.
For as long as the Robinson Crusoe type stuff’s going on I was pretty happy, that portion of the book was really damned good in fact. But then, much like Stig of the Dump ruins the ‘making a livable house for a caveman out of rubbish’ magic by throwing in real magic and time travel, Life of Pi ruins the ‘boy and his tiger adrift at sea’ magic by throwing in a random encounter better suited to Gulliver’s Travels or The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Yeah, I know, it’s meant to be “symbolic”, to remind the reader that Pi is potentially an unreliable narrator who may have been lying the reader, and to make me ‘believe in god’ but it just felt…bleh. Maybe if there had been more of it, if the story had got progressively weirder rather than just these couple of random things shoved in right at the end of an otherwise ‘realistic’ account I could have bought into and enjoyed it a bit more. As it was I thought they were very interesting ideas – that seemed to belonged in a whole different book.
Yes, this is a very shallow reading of the book that pretty much ignores the symbolism and religious messages running through it. But there’s plenty of reviews that already go into that at great depth and the reason I don’t is simply because I didn’t find the symbolism and religious themes of faith and belief in this book anywhere near interesting or thought provoking enough to go into. It’s a book that’s been sold as a lot ‘deeper’ than it really is – a beach read being promoted as a lifechanger. Does believing the magic tiger story mean you believe in god? or does it mean you’d rather believe in pretty lies than face the truth? Which story is true? Which would you rather believe? I can definitely see the attraction of this book and I can understand why so many people do love it. But I can’t be the only person who ultimately doesn’t care, can I? They’re both made up stories. Oh wait, there I am with my ‘philosophy of doubt‘ again.
An ok book. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would once the 'author' shut up and stopped butting in to tell me about Pi's cooking. And there will be bits that will stick with me, particularly from the middle section, but it’s not a book I can love. It reads like something my mum would lend me (in fact this copy is actually hers), a nice quick read picked up from the bestsellers chart. And although I generally like my mum’s taste in books, really, I do, it’s not really mine.(less)
I actually read these stories in two different editions. I started with the Collector’s Library edition of Jacobs’ Celtic Fairy Tales before realising...more I actually read these stories in two different editions. I started with the Collector’s Library edition of Jacobs’ Celtic Fairy Tales before realising that they had cut all Jacob’s original annotations and end-notes. Purely by chance I then I discovered this rather dusty copy hiding in the spare bedroom, spotted that it had all those end-notes and also contained Jacob’s follow-up More Celtic Fairy Tales, and did a bit of a book swap. The Collector’s Library edition is undoubtedly the more attractive book – this one is pretty old, has awkward page numbering that starts over again at 1 halfway through, and that annoying thing where illustrations are followed up by a completely blank page even in the middle of a story – but for me having access to Jacob’s notes on each story was more valuable than how pretty the book was. Sometimes in fact those notes were more interesting, and in several cases rather longer, than the stories they were about – though I didn’t always agree with some of his comments. Probably not something that matters to a lot of readers, but if you’re interested in the provenance of the fairy tales it’s definitely worth checking out whether the edition you pick up contains these end-notes or not.
Now, onto the stories. As with most fairytale collections they’re a very mixed bag. A lot I had heard before, some I hadn’t and many many echoed very similar tales I had heard from other European traditions. Some are magical, some are mundane, some are funy, some are sad, some are preachy, and some are just plain weird. Most I liked, some I didn’t, but almost all of them were interesting in some way or another. One thing I will say though – these Celtic fairy tales are less likely to have happy endings than the ones most of us are used to and more likely to end with a nice bit of polyamory (though Jacobs’ very obviously changes at least one ending to avoid this – which I did not appreciate). Also many of the names are damn near unpronounceable.
And there’s not really that much more to say. Taken out of the historical context of the 19th century fairytale revival and Jacobs’ role in that, it’s just a nice little book of slightly unusual fairytales – and not always told in the most accessible way. What really makes it special, apart from the detailed notes on each tale is the illustrations. John D. Batten’s work is absolutely beautiful, utilising a variety different styles to match the tone of each story – so the tragic episodes taken from Irish mythology are given lovely almost Art-Nouveau plates while the sillier more humourous stories have simple more cartoonish illustrations.
The Story of Deidre
Hudden and Dudden
My copy of this book isn’t a particularly good or quality printing, being just slightly more advanced than a bound photocopy of the two original publications (I hate that the page numbering restarts at 1 when you reach More Celtic Fairy Tales). But I can imagine an edition with the annoying format niggles ironed out and maybe a fancy hardcover, would make an absolutely beautiful addition to any library of fairy tales.(less)
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...more 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.(less)
Kraken is one of those beautiful natural history hardbacks that I normally gaze longingly at for several minutes in the bookshop before remin...more 3.5 stars
Kraken is one of those beautiful natural history hardbacks that I normally gaze longingly at for several minutes in the bookshop before reminding myself that a) it’s probably far too expensive for me b) I don’t read non-fiction that often and have a whole bookshelf of it already that I haven’t managed to read yet, and c) I’m not as much of a sciencey person as I would like to be and probably won’t understand it anyway. However, this winter I managed to get myself a temporary Christmas job in Waterstone’s entitling me to 40% (40%!) discount for the month of December. So naturally I not only bought absolutely all of my Christmas presents there, I treated myself to some as well by ignoring all the paperback fiction I normally pick up and going straight for the stuff I always talk myself out of buying.
Kraken, unfortunately, doesn’t quite live up to its gorgeous cover (and it is a gorgeous cover). I liked it, I almost really liked it, but in the end I just had too many reservations about the writing style to enjoy it as much as I had been hoping to. It started well, for the first few chapters I was utterly hooked – cephalopods fascinate and creep me out in almost equal measure – but then it seemed to lose direction. I’d had some issues with Williams’ writing in the early chapters – it’s very obvious from early on that she’s a science journalist rather than a scientist and it reads like Sunday supplement journalism – always bringing it as much back to the author of the piece as the actual subject. Too many unneccessary ‘I think’ and ‘This reminds me of’ or slightly over-flowery scene-setting that actually distracted my attention from the subject and reinforced the presence of the author in moments that didn’t need it. But after a few chapters it seemed to lose something in the sense of direction as well.
Although each chapter does flow on from the other and although it’s full of fascinating stuff, I still can’t really quite work out the logic to the structure. It all seems to flow in a slightly aimless way, a bit hither and thither, sometimes moving onto something else and sometimes revisiting things from earlier chapters – which leads to quite a bit of repetition. Of course it’s probably thanks to Williams’ journalist background that I can actually understand the science involved at all and am not overwhelmed by technical words and details. It’s definitely an accessable read that doesn’t require any qualifications in marine biology before you can understand it – but I do think that it could have benefited from a more scientific approach to structuring the chapters.
The second disappointment was that it wasn’t as much about squid as I had been expecting based on the title. And I’m not talking about the fact that squid share their page time with octopuses and cuttlefish – which are both equally fascinating – but the human characters who fill up the book. In many places it’s almost more about the human experts and cephalopod research scientists than it is about the animals themselves. ‘The Curious, Exciting, And Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid‘ is not just the science of how a squid works but how the squid has helped human scientists with other problems. So as well as learning about the evolution of the squid eye we get descriptions of the harvesting of squid for research purposes, stomachs being removed, heads cut off, and their enlarged axon (nerve cells) studied by students of neuroscience because they’re similar in structure but much larger than human axons. Now I’m not squeamish and I didn’t actually mind this, it makes fascinating, if slightly gruesome reading in fact – it just simply wasn’t quite what I had expected when I picked up the book. Interesting as I find dissections and scientific research (I was always upset that we never got to dissect an eye for GCSE biology at my school, a squid would have been amazing!) I’m more interested in the animals themselves than how Julie’s PHd about them is going (very well, as it happens) and would probably have prefered a lot of the human research stuff to appear as little asides rather than as the main focus of whole chapters.
But that’s a problem with my expectations – obviously Williams is more interested in the research and scientific potential of squid and it’s totally valid that she does chose to write about that. I’m not sure I would have picked it up had I known how the balance of science of squid/squids contribution to science was weighted, but I’m very glad that I did, it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I would probably, however, recommend it to people more interested in the sciencey side of things than the animal side – quite a few other reviews I’ve read were pretty disgusted with the animal cruelty of the scientific experiments and harvesting (I was pretty horrified myself actually by the octopus who had had the left and right sides of its brain split to function individually). For me the thing that bothered me most though was the ‘me-ness’ of the writing style – it’s rather like a tv documentary where the presenter is just slightly overdoing it so you’re always aware of their presence (more ‘The One Show does marine biology' than David Attenborough’s Blue Planet). But that didn’t stop it from being both an enjoyable and extremely educational read.(less)
Whilst the Sisters Grimm series still suffers from all the problems I went into a little in my last review – mainly inconsistent pacing, tone,...more4 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.(less)
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...more 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.)(less)
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...more 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.(less)