Tag Archives: female protagonists

The Unusual Suspects, Michael Buckley

The Unusual Suspects, Michael BuckleyThe Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley
Illustrated by  Peter Ferguson

Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 290 plus afterword (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Sisters Grimm #2

Rating:

For Sabrina Grimm, living in a community of fairy-tale characters means always being ready for trouble. And something is definitely wrong at her new school. The adults seem too angry, the kids seem too sleepy, and the gym teacher likes dodgeball way too much. Of course, her little sister, Daphne, is having the time of her life. (Who wouldn’t with Snow White for a teacher – she’s so good with little people!) But when Sabrina’s teacher, Mr. Grumpner, is found dangling in a giant spider’s web, even Daphne’s convinced Ferryport Landing Elementary has a monster problem. Can the Sisters Grimm solve the crime?

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.

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The Fairy-Tale Detectives, Michael Buckley

The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
Illustrated by  Peter Ferguson

Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 284 plus afterword (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Sisters Grimm #1

Rating:

For Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, life hasn’t always been a fairy tale. After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, the sisters are sent to live with their grandmother – a woman they believed was dead! Granny Relda reveals that the girls have two famous ancestors, the Brothers Grimm, whose classic book of fairy tales is actually a collection of case files of magical mischief. Now the girls must take on the family responsibility of being fairy tale detectives. Their first case? A roller-coaster ride of an adventure to stop a giant from destroying their new hometown.

And a high 4 stars (yeah, that rating system is definitely getting a haul-over in January). I really enjoyed this book. It’s not perfect by any means and a lot of it felt quite predictable but it’s aimed at younger children than most of the books I’ve been reading this year and it’s got a nice cosy childhood feel to it. It’s also in a genre I tend to like – fairy tale mash-ups. It seems you can’t escape them at the moment what with Once Upon a Time (started strong, got too boring to watch a few episodes in) and Grimm (started dull, got stronger as the series went on) as well as the flood of mediocre Snow White and Red Riding Hood films in recent years trying to be the next ‘big thing’. People seem to have cottoned on that they don’t have to pay copyright charges on fairy tales and are milking it for what it’s worth.

For me though my affection for the genre started when I was very small with Each Peach Pear Plum – a classic of the ‘read aloud to your baby’ picture books – and The Jolly Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman – a brilliant interactive pop-up series for young readers that I honestly cannot recommend highly enough for people with young kids. Of course there’s the retellings – Revolting Rhymes and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs were practically required reading in primary school and they’re both great – but for me it’s always been about the shared-world thing where characters from different and sometimes very disparate fairy tales live alongside and interact with  each other. Jasper Fforde does a similar thing for and adult audience with his Nursery Crime series and uses out-of-copyright literary characters for the same purpose in his Thursday Next series (both brilliant – Thursday Next more so than Nursery Crime). And anyone who’s been reading my blog/following me on  goodreads for any length of time knows I’m totally hooked on Bill Willingham’s Fables series which transports fairy tale characters to modern-day New York. So…how does Michael Buckley’s work compare? And is that even a fair question? Continue reading

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Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Publisher: Collector’s Library
Pages: 650 including Afterword (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: Standalone

Rating:

Jane Eyre  has long been one of the most popular of all literary classics. It tells the moving and eventful story of Jane, an orphan entrusted to the care of her aunt by her dying uncle. The aunt cares greatly for her own children, on whom she lavishes praise and attention, but dislikes Jane, whom she ignores and unfairly punishes. Jane escapes by being sent to a strict Evangelical school where, despite the austerities of the environment, she finally meets pupils and teachers who nurture and encourage her. From there she goes to work as a governess at a large country mansion, where she falls in love with the mysterious master of the house, the Byronic Mr Rochester, a charismatic character with a troubled past. Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror, part love story, Jane Eyre is the archetypal account of an orphan’s progress through a confusing and often cruel world. 

A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because  I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not to know, even if you’ve never read it. Normally this isn’t a problem for me, I read classics I know the story to or have seen on film/tv/stage all the time. The problem is that with this book, like  The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Rebecca, knowing the basic plot essentially robs you of the ‘aha!’ moment when the twist is revealed, and all the uneasy suspense and questioning you should be doing leading up to it. It worked for me in the same way rereading does; knowing the big twist, I could spot the hints and the foreshadowing, and appreciate just how good a writer Charlotte Brontë was and how well plotted and put together that bit of storytelling is – but I felt robbed of that ‘first read’ feeling and as a result the book wasn’t an unputdownable five stars. Continue reading

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Top 5 – Female characters in children’s fiction

This month’s top 5, an issue  I think is very important – children’s books that get it right when it comes to female characters. As I’m sure a lot of girls will attest to it is disheartening as fuck when the characters who are meant to represent you are always portrayed as wimpy and annoying, relegated to a side character to fawn over the male hero or, even when given the title role, have a character arc that consists of silently putting up with all sorts of crap so that they can win the heart of a rich and handsome man they’ve barely even had a conversation with before. Not that there’s not a place for those stories – there is strength in traditional femininity and for some women finding a husband and starting a family is the most important thing,  and there’s nothing wrong with that – but it’s not true of all women and it shouldn’t be the sole characterisation of all women in literature either, especially that aimed at children in their formative years. So this month I’m going to celebrate a few authors who do something more with their female characters.

Actually, I think these days children’s books get it right more often than adult books when it comes to portraying women as something other than an object to be either won, overcome, or jerked off to. In fact, I ended up temembering so many awesome female characters that I decided to split this into two parts and do a top 5 female characters in illustrated books for smaller children next month.

Most of these books are pretty modern for the simple reason that I avoided the children’s classics that were marketed towards girls like the plague when I was a child precisely because I wasn’t a girly child, and the ‘boys own’ classics I did read didn’t have many female characters at all. This sort of marketing is actually something I would love to see change –  girls should enjoy Robin Hood and Treasure Island and boys fairy tales or Black Beauty without being made to feel abnormal for it. I’m sure there are strong female characters in older books though and I don’t mean any slight by not including the girl from ‘The Secret Garden’ or ‘Little Women’ or whatever – I simply haven’t read those books. I’ve also tried to keep it ‘children’s’ and not cross too far into  ‘teenage/young adult’ – so no Tamorra Pierce here (who does do a good job of portraying women of all personalities as strong, even if I think her plotting and worldbuilding are pretty shit) or Katnis from The Hunger Games (which I haven’t read and don’t really have any intention to). Also not included are any ‘girl disguises as boy’ plots where the reveal is meant to be a big surprise, that’s just spoilery. I’ll have to sneak that awesome heroine in through in another top five instead.

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