Hello out there, all you in blog land! TGIF.
Well, G & I were supposed to report on the Buckley book together this week, but she doesn't have her homework done, so I'm flying solo here today. G, would you please explain to the class why you are unprepared today?
G: Er, um, uhh ...sorry, Teach. You know I've got a good excuse!
E: Yeah, I suppose. Two sets of page proofs arrived on your desk this week.
G: That's right. My fiction-reading time got taken up by doing the final corrections on my adult novel as well as both of us doing our final read of The Lost Heir.
E: If you guys are unfamiliar with the term "page proofs" or what writers used to call "galleys," these are the typeset pages where you get your last chance to fix any mistakes, typos, etc. before the book goes into the final step of binding and so forth. We are getting really close to The Lost Heir being "born"! Anyway, onto the book discussion of the week... (And further down, we'll fill you in on the fun stuff we got to do last weekend.)
The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley kicked off in 2007 with Book 1, THE FAIRYTALE DETECTIVES. It is recommended for kids 2nd Grade & Up. In this story, Sabrina (age 12) and her little sister Daphne Grimm receive an introduction to their unusual family heritage from an eccentric, kick-butt grandmother they never knew they had.
Unfortunately, Grandma Relda gets abducted by a GIANT (a very dull-witted giant with poor personal hygiene) and it's up to the girls to rescue her.
Since this is the girls' first time fighting fairytale villains (the destiny and job of a Grimm), they have their hands full not only trying to save their grandmother, but also trying to understand their role in the bigger picture of their world. Along the way they meet all sorts of famous fairytale creatures. My favorite of these were the Big Bad Wolf and Jack (of Beanstalk fame).
The story is fast paced, with clean writing, and a smooth, simple narrative that will keep kids entertained. It was fun to revisit favorite fairytale characters and to see the humorous twists Buckley gave to them--the Three Little "Pigs" for example are the town cops (ha, ha). The tale takes place in Ferryport, a little Upstate New York town where all the fairytale creatures known as "Everafters" have settled.
G: Magic aside, the town descriptions reminded me of the quaint little Upstate NY town where we went to college, E! E and I went to the State University of New York College at Fredonia...
Fredonia is right near Lilydale, a quirky little village near Lake Erie that was founded by Victorian-era spiritualists.
E: Yeah, that's right! I forgot about that. Weren't there two sisters of the late 1800's who claimed to be mediums and held seances and stuff.
G: Yep. The Fox sisters. You can still go there today and talk to a psychic and get your tarot cards read and stuff if you are so inclined. I understand they have big thing goings-on there each Halloween. Mystical folk still live there... You know something, E, all that sounds right up Jake's alley. (Jake is the main character of the Lost Heir and he can see ghosts!)
E: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
G: Road Trip!!!
G: So what else do you have to say about The Sisters Grimm?
E: The ending was really good. The identity of the villain came as a surprise to me, and I always like surprises in my reading. Also there was a lot of teaser information dropped that sets up the next book in the series. You see, the parents are missing--that's how the girls end up with their grandmother in the first place. They eventually find out in this story that their parents are alive, being held captive. So in future installment in the series, I would expect we're going to see how the girls go about rescuing their parents.
G: Well, don't say anymore than that! I don't want you to give me any spoilers For my part, I got about halfway thru before I was so rudely interrupted. I was really enjoying it. Buckley writes with a lot of charm. I really liked Relda. OTOH, Sabrina had the moody tween thing going, so I wasn't feeling too much of a bond with our heroine at times. She had good reasons not to be the happiest kid in the world, but at times, I just found her a little too negative. She refused to give Relda any amount of trust whatsoever. I did get a kick out of the little sister, though. She was more of a sunny type of character. One thing I really liked about Sabrina was her protectiveness toward her little sister. As a big sister myself, I can relate to that! All 3 of my younger sisters know that if anybody messes with them, they're messing with me. *g*
E: The Sisters Grimm series is already up to Book 9, The Council of Mirrors, which came out April 2012.
G: We've got a long way to go till then, don't we? We're all the way back at Book 2, the Unusual Subjects, which looks cute, too. So, E, tell all the nice lovely people what we did last weekend!!!
E: Sure! Last weekend we went to the Annual International Children's Festival near downtown Pittsburgh. Grownups were allowed, too. They had all kinds of things for kids like face painting, crafts, etc, but we wanted to see Mirazozo.
What is that, you ask? It's a gigantic inflatable piece of art that you actually go inside and walk through. It's full of tunnels and chambers and it's all sewn out of some special canvas. Inside they have soothing music playing and cool lighting effects...
The only downside was that everyone had to take off their shoes so the material it's made out of wouldn't be damaged.
Well, G. made the mistake of looking down at the bare feet of the guy in front of us.
G: I could puke thinking of it. The guy had hoofs for toesnails. Feet like that could be grounds for divorce. SICK. Get thee a nail clipper, dude.
E: LOL. She was so grossed out she couldn't get that image out of her head all night.
G: Ew, I don't want to think about it anymore. MOVING ON. After walking thru Mirazozo, we went to the awesome Drums United "World of Rhthm" concert. It was the first time I ever went to a percussion-only concert, and I love doing things I've never done before. They were Awesome.
E: Drums United combines master percussionists from all different kinds of musical backgrounds from different international styles - Check it out! Here's a taste of their show from their promo vid. I defy you to sit still when you listen to this.
Well, we're going to have to find something fun to do this weekend, too. A Happy Memorial Day Weekend to you all! We're glad this day is set aside each year to pay our respects to all the brave men and women who've given their lives for our country.
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Skulduggery Pleasant is no ordinary re-animated skeleton. He's a snappy dresser and he solves supernatural crimes--with the help, of course, of his 12 year old protege, Stephanie, who inherits a fortune and creepy old mansion from her horror writer uncle. This is a colorful tale (to say the least) that School Library Journal recommends for Grades 5-8.
Scepter of the Ancients is Book 1 in the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy, published in 2007 by HarperCollins. The series continues with Skulduggery #7 coming out in September.
I had a lot of fun reading this book. Here are some of the things I liked the most about it. Skulduggery himself is a lovable guy, er, skeleton and his detailed backstory as the fearless leader in a battle of good versus evil elevates him to truly heroic levels. Yes, he has no skin or flesh, but he makes up for it with guts (of the metaphorical kind). But my favorite part of him is his sardonic sense of humor. The contrast of macabre bony appearance and suave humor is hilarious. Another great aspect of Skulduggery is that, already being dead, he seems indestructible, unkillable, no matter what the various baddies in the story throw at him. If he loses a limb, he simply picks up his bones and puts himself back together again, and with all the danger Stephanie finds herself in, this is reassuring!
Stephanie is spunky and resourceful, and while she is restrained in her emotional reactions (at least from my American perspective, reading a book written by a European), she never falls into that annoying chip on the shoulder attitude that makes many a YA protagonist verge on sullen and bratty. My favorite thing about Stephanie was her ability to see absolutely weird, bizarre things, take a deep breath, and just roll with it. She has a realistic view of her abilities and her weaknesses, and she's brave. Oddly, she does not have a single kid friend who appears in the book. Since friends are SO important to this age group, that kind of jumped out at me as a gaping hole, but I'm guessing it was simply a matter of having to keep within the publisher's word count limitations.
The books presents an interesting blend of detective noir crime-solving and comedy, while bringing in a splash of high fantasy. An odd blend, but it works. In the latter vein, Landy makes interesting use of mythology. I particularly loved the bit about the Book of Names, and how everyone's got three names, and anyone who finds out your true name can control you if they know it. That was pretty powerful, I thought.
In all respects, regarding world-building, it's clear that Landy has fully developed Skulduggery's world (even from the first book in a series, which is especially impressive. Most series take a while to fully flesh out the world). No oddly hanging threads or only half thought-out reasons or consequences concerning magical things happening.You see that sometimes with magic-themed books, as if the writer sort of forgot midway through that everything has to have a point. You can't just stick something in there because it's cool; things have to tie together, and Landy doesn't miss a beat.
A positive Booklist review for this novel does mention that the level of violence may be disturbing for some young readers. That is a point well taken. I wouldn't say it's overly bloody, but when the villains make various characters suffer, Landy doesn't pull any punches. What else do you expect from a former horror movie writer? *grin* (His former career, according to his author bio.) Landy is also a blackbelt in kenpo karata (which E and I study) so the fight scenes are well done, although for me, a few of them went on a little longer than necessary, but maybe that's just me being a "chick."
The final point that I really liked about this book that I wanted to mention was Landy's voice as a writer. (As a stylistic aside, there are, thank G-d, no puns that plague so much of middle grade writing.) Landy's writing is unpretentious (yay), fast and funny, highly readable, but what jumped out most to me is a warmth that I'm very sure has something to do with his being an Irishman. With my Irish blood, I know it when I see it! I really, REALLY appreciated the absence of snark in his voice. You see a lot of that in middle grade and YA, too, the sort of (IMO) cold, deliberate snark that made Lemony Snicket famous.I know lots of people like that style, but it's not my cup of tea. I like a book with a sense of kindness underlying the writer's voice. In Landy's book, you get that--a subtle, underlying warmth that hints at a writer with a good heart, and whether it "should" be or not, that's important to me as a reader.
In all, this was a fun and unique story, perfect for a long car drive or a lazy weekend. I'll definitely keep reading in the series. Next time, E. and I will both be discussing The Sisters' Grimm, Book One, The Fairy Tale Detectives, by Michael Buckley. We're both enjoying it so far. :)
Have you read Skulduggery Pleasant and if so, did you like it? What did you like best about it? Have you read other books in the series? (Don't give away any spoilers, please! I want to be surprised about what happens!)