©2005 Michael Buckley; (P)2005 Recorded Books, LLC
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I liked this story. It is not a re-telling of fairy tales with different endings, but a story of how the fairy tale creatures are alive and living in a modern day time. Of course fairy tale creatures would have to deal with many things, and we certainly see the other side of their personalities. Not a deep drama, but a light hearted mystery with a different perspective.
If you like Roald Dahl books then you should like this one as well.
"Not My Cup of Tea, but the KIDS Dig it."
This isn't a book, I'd normally download and listen to, but the kids were growing troubled by listening to Dante's Inferno on the way to school. 9 and 11-year olds can be so damn fickle. Once we got to the 7th circle of Hell my kids (both OK with heresy but not OK with violence) were ready to bail on me, Virgil and Dante.
So, finding myself now lost with my kids (and without an audiobook to distract me from their constant questions about truth and beauty) while driving through the woods, I decided to download the Sisters Grimm. Definitely more my kids' speed.
"Fun, Funny, Fairy, and the Kitchen Sink"
Ever since their parents vanished a year and a half ago, eleven-year-old Sabrina Grimm and her seven-year old sister Daphne have been escaping from bad foster homes. And in the opening scene of Michael Buckley's The Fairy-Tale Detectives (2005), the first novel in his popular Sisters Grimm series, the girls are taken by their pinch-faced case worker Ms. Smirt to Ferryport Landing, NY, a quaint town without movie theaters, malls, or museums, to live with a dead woman. It develops that the woman, their grandmother Relda Grimm, is alive and well, and among the things the girls will soon discover is why their father lied to them that she was dead and what happened to the girls' mother and him.
They will also learn that nearly every fantastic being and artifact that ever appeared in any fairy tale, legend, or myth really existed and did the things that have been written about them, so that, for instance, a collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales is a history book and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow a true story. We don't encounter such things in real life today because when the age of fairy tales was ending around the start of the 19th century and fantasy beings--Everafters--were being persecuted, they moved to America, where with the help of Wilhelm Grimm they settled in the mostly unsettled woods and fields of Ferryport, thinking to find there an unmolested haven. As time passed and more normal Americans began moving to Ferryport, however, persecution loomed again, so some Everafters tried to wage a pre-emptive war on humanity, but were prevented by a Baba Yaga spell limiting all Everafters to the five square miles of the town for as long as at least one Grimm descendent remains alive. So for 200 years the Everafters have kept a low profile, mostly hiding their magical natures and items, and the Grimms have been playing detective troubleshooters to defuse any problems arising between fairy folk and humans.
That premise permits Buckley to use any fantasy character (including Snow White, Little Bo Peep, Glinda the Good Witch, the Three Little Pigs, the Queen of Hearts, Gepetto, Ichabod Crane, and Mowgli) or item (including Excalibur, Cinderella's fairy godmother's wand, magic beans, and "the" magic mirror) he chooses. It's part of the trend in movies like Shrek (2001), books like Neil Gaiman's American Gods (2001) and TV shows like Once Upon a Time (2011-) to combine figures from various fairy tales, myths, and legends (often in our own world, often revised so that, for example, traditional villains become heroes and vice versa) to revivify such stories and their characters and to make them more relevant to today's readers. And it's fun to meet fantasy characters from beloved childhood tales rubbing shoulders in a new story.
But such stories may turn into inconsistent anything goes affairs, as when Relda Grimm tells her granddaughters that not all fairy tales are true, saying "For instance, a dish never ran away with a spoon," but why or where Buckley draws the line is fuzzy. Similarly, if fantasy stories are true histories of real events, how could characters who got killed in them appear alive now, like the Hansel and Gretel witch and Grendel? Worse, a diminishing of magic, a numbing of wonder, and a mundaning of fantasy may kick in the more disparate familiar characters are tossed together in a story, especially when, instead of fantastic effect, an author pushes page-turning action (as when the sisters ride on Aladdin's flying carpet--complete with a "kamikaze" dive, a car chase, and a moment when the rug "screeched to a halt"), and gives fantasy characters banal personalities and relationships (as when Beauty and the Beast bicker over being late for a ball), all of which is too much the case in The Fairy-Tale Detectives. The mystery genre itself is about solving rather than evoking mystery, and if fantasy characters are real, what happens to fantasy?
Kvetching aside, The Fairy-Tale Detectives is enjoyable. Although Buckley's writing mostly lacks poetry, magic, and wonder, it is exciting, funny, and vivid, and has some heightened moments, like when the sisters walk through the mirror, and some great lines, like "You would hug the devil if he gave you cookies," or "Who could tell what a woman who had swords hanging over her bed was capable of?" The sisters are spunky (if a little too snappy), loyal, vulnerable, and strong, and their growing realization that they may finally have found family and home is moving. Other characters like Relda Grimm and Mr. Canis (her lupine border, bodyguard, and friend) and Elvis (her 200-pound, slobber-tongued Great Dane) are appealing. I liked Puck, the 4,000 year-old self-proclaimed Fairy Prince and Trickster King who has decided to stay in the form of a twelve-year-old boy till the sun burns out. And Prince Charming makes a fine mayor: arrogant, snide, and power-hungry.
The reader L. J. Ganser's appealing voice and energetic manner are fine (especially for Sabrina and Daphne), with one exception: he's unconvincing and inconsistent with foreign accents like Relda Grimm's slight German one and Prince Charming and Jack the Giant Killer's thick English ones (especially when Jack says things like, "You can't keep a bloke like me down, can you? Nosiree-bob!").
Finally, although Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland on a Ship of Her Own Making (2011) is more magical, being written with rich, poetic, and wonder-filled prose and peopled with characters of the author's own devising rather than with ones plucked from classic fantasy stories, kids must love The Fairy-Tale Detectives, and adults who like (sub)urban fantasy, everything-fairy-and-the-kitchen-sink stories, and exciting, funny, page-turning kids' books should like it too.
"Uneven: A lot of whining, not enough detecting"
The narration by L.J. Ganser was fine. A few clever surprises and characterizations were fun, but the heroines couldn't keep up. I'd like to make allowances for the young Sisters Grimm--they've had a hard life, what with being orphans and surviving a series of rotten foster families, and they're YOUNG, but at some point--at least, if this were a real Grimm's tale--they would stop griping and bickering and get down to business. I've enjoyed many YA fantasies and quite a few for younger readers, but maybe I'm too old for this one. Particularly annoying: the author's tendency to regularize all irregular verbs, and to insert definitions of long or unusual words into character conversations. That's what dictionaries (or even Kindle word look-ups) are for. Allow children to be enterprising. My advice: read the original Grimm tales.
"Great Story Teller"
At first I was somewhat critical as the story sounded like a blend of Harry Potter and the Unfortunate Events series, but as the story progressed I quickly came to realise that The Sisters Grimm is a great novel in its own right. I am planning to use this story in my classroom as I believe my 11year old students, both boys and girls, will love the plot and the characters.
"My daughter liked it ..."
and so did I. It was a great listen. My daughter doesn't usually like books narrated by a man, but she enjoyed this one. It is a fun premise, and a well written story.
My grandchildren and I have been listening to this book and having a wonderful time. They laugh out loud several times a night. We can't wait to get to the rest of the series. I highly recommend it.
"One of my 11 year old's favorite series"
My 11 year old son would say it is one of his all time favorites. It didn't capture me quite the same way, but then again, I am not in the target demographic. There are a lot of books and series out now that attempt to retell classic fairy tales or set them in modern times or with modern characters. This is one of the better entries.
One of the things my son has particularly liked about this series is the way they are so interconnected, instead of being discrete episodes. The disadvantage is that he wants to rip through all of them back-to-back instead of interspersing with other books.
"Funny childrens book"
This is a book for children, and adults do not have to like it. The concept is funny and quirky. A nice and easy going book accessible to most children. And if they like it, there are more in the series which is a great gift idea.
Listening to this was not the best use of 6+ hours, but I was moderately interested most of the way through. Even though transplanting fairty-tale characters into a remote corner of modern America sounds like a recipe for great creativity, it seemed, instead, to be immensely predictable. There was nothing offered to enrich any of the characters, they just seemed to robotocically perform for a modern adventure of sorts. I like few things better than really beautiful and/or creative children's literature, and I felt this offered neither quality. At the same time, the adventure moved along at a nice pace and kept me somewhat involved.
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