Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Reviews, yay! And a bit about "my process"

I am back, utterly unscathed by the "tsunami" of inches. I've been continuing the job hunt, writing some (not as much as I want to be, but making progress), and reading a lot.

So at a minimum, I usually go to a bookstore a week, on occasion I go less often, more likely I go to multiple bookstores. On one weekend trip, I was with a friend and we wandered around manga, through YA fantasy, and ended up staring at the mid-grade novels. My eyes caught the cover of "The Time Travelers" by Linda Buckley-Archer, about two kids who have just met, who end up hurtled to the year 1763 by an experiment gone awry. There they meet Gideon, gentleman and [former] cutpurse (the original print was titled Gideon the Cutpurse, making the new title an interesting change, to me, to analyze for fun), who basically looks after them, and helps them find the device that will get them home. Unfortunately, the Tar Man (unpleasant fellow to say the least) has stolen the device and isn't going to give it back without a fight.

I really enjoyed this book. It's about the size of an early Harry Potter (maybe Prisoner of Azkaban), but the story really pulled me in. Peter and Katie, the kids, are about 11/12, and generally enjoyable. I felt like their reactions were genuine, though not always agreeable. They react more emotionally to little, or jump into action without thinking when I'm like, "But you just promised not to do that!" But they're kids, and children do that sometimes. I teach first graders, that's how they act sometimes, so rather than be a point of frustration--where I think "If that were me, I'd do it this way--it just adds another layer of detail to fall into.

It also doesn't hurt that the cover, which first drew my attention, was illustrated by James Jean, who creates the covers for the Fables graphic novels (fairy tale people come from their own worlds to modern-day New York), and has done pieces for Entertainment Weekly (and Rolling Stone if I recall correctly).

Now, after reading "The Time Travelers," I was ready for the second book in the series, and the third, if it was out (alas, it's hardcover, so that one must wait), but this was a period of time when I couldn't seem to get to the bookstore very much, and when I did, they didn't have book two, "The Time Thief."

Here's the thing, and the reason why (proceeesss!) I can't read a lot while I'm in the writing groove: because I get into a reading groove, which eats my brain, so I don't want to write or edit or draw, or do anything other than find an entire series and read it to the end. When I get in the groove and one series runs out, I jump to another. Which is what I did this time.

Speaking of James Jean, and thus Fables, back in May I received a graduation present of a gift card for the university bookstore. It's expensive and other than textbooks I didn't shop there much, but I looked through, found a couple of giant cookies (cappuccino and a pumpkin spice, I believe), then veered, as I am wont to do in any store with books, towards the book section. They had books 4 and 5 of The Sisters Grimm series, by Michael Buckley.

The main reason I picked up number 4 is because I love books the retell or play around with fairy tales, myths, and nursery rhymes. Sisters Grimm is like Fables for middle grade readers.

But I also love to (read: have to, almost obsessively) read books in order, so a few months ago I found book 1, then when I couldn't find a copy of "The Time Thief," read "The Fairy-Tale Detectives," then hunted down the rest of the books in the series. (Now that I've read all six of those, and have hunted down TTT, I'm switching back to Buckley-Archer.)

The second smaller reason I grabbed TSG 4, is because one of the sisters is named Sabrina. I know, it's a silly reason to pick up a book, and if it had been a genre I didn't read or if the description didn't appeal to me, seeing my name in print wouldn't make a difference. But I've only met/known of a few other Sabrinas in my life, and fictionally, only my namesake, Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina.

So anyway, I am a big, honking dork.

To the review: I've read all six books now, only number 3 out of order, because I really had a hard time finding it, so this is about the series in general.

Perhaps the worst part about it was the data-dump backstory in the first few pages of books 2 through 6. But it din't hinder my enjoyment, because I figure it's a little more acceptable for a younger audience, and I know it's difficult to explain everything that's happened in the past two or four or five books. Once again, there are young protagonists: Sabrina, 11, turning 12, her sister Daphne, 7, and Puck, who's thousands of years old, but acts like a 12-year-old. Again, it was interesting to look at the way they interacted with each other, and tugged on my emotions, especially when the older sister acts with the intention of protecting her sister and family, but ends up just making everybody mad. It's hard to try to do what you think is right, and end the day with your sister not speaking to you, turning her back on you, and having to face your grandmother's quiet disappointment.

The books are definitely set up for readers to empathize with Sabrina, and I found myself tearing up quite a bit when those sort of scenes ocurred, because even if I'd act differently, it was still hard to imagine being in that position with that kind of harsh fall-out. ('Cause remember, I am a big, honking dork. =P )

The series premise centers on the girls and their grandma trying to find their parents, and then releasing the sleeping spell upon them. In the process, they meet various fairy tales characters, some of whom act much like their story counterparts, others of whom are rather different from the ways they're portrayed in stories. They're handled well, a balance between these two degrees, and none feeling like two-dimensionl caricatures. Mayor (formerly Prince) Charming is a great example of this, and I liked how Buckley played with the Big Bad Wolf, usually seen as a thin, old man with watery grey eyes called Mr. Canis. Canis goes through a lot of transformations--the sort of character you just want to hug.

Perhaps one of the best things I can say for the series, besides I'm a big ol' softy, is that I'm never quite sure where things are going, whether from the beginning of a book to its end, or from one book to the next.

Warning to readers, though, there are a few books (2 to 3 to 4) that should be read in order at the same time. They have those "To Be Continued" sort of endings. Although the main events of the book are wrapped up, the last chapter or so will lead into a new thread that is picked up whole-heartedly in the next book.

[Weird feeling of deja vu, but I know I've never blogged about these books, or the TBC-ness of this series. ~Twilight Zone theme~]

If you don't mind a younger protagonist, these were two fun series, and I definitely recommend them to fans of fairy tales or time travel stories.

Happy reading,


Jennifer Ambrose said...

I can't read a lot when I'm writing either. Although I've noticed that sometimes when I crave a book while I'm in the middle of writing, it's because I need a creative recharge.

I love books that put a modern twist on fairy tales and fables, too. I just wish there were more out there for adults!

Sabrina said...

It's a sad fact there are only so many hours in a day, and it's easy for a book or a series to eat up all of that time, happily so. And I was reading a new book yesterday and it helped me with a problem I had with one of my novels.

Re: loving a modern twist--Same here. After reading Fables and The Sisters Grimm, I really want to try my hand at an ("adult") urban fantasy version.