Currently reading: Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues Book 4)

book4

Squee! Finally Book 4 of The 39 Clues series is here. I’ve been so excited to read this, after reviewing Maze of Bones and One False Note and The Sword Thief. I’m halfway through Beyond the Grave but I am reviewing it for Manila Bulletin so I won’t be able to post the review here just yet.

In the meantime, you’ll find ten things about the book beyond the cut. Don’t worry, no crucial spoilers!
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The Three Investigators

endpapers
Three Investigators endpapers, photo from www.empireonline.com

I just finished reading a 3-in-1 Three Investigators book containing The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints, The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon and The Mystery of the Singing Serpent (books 86-88 of 2009)

Before I even started reading Nancy Drew, I was hooked on the The Three Investigators series, because it was my older sister’s (Tattie’s) favorite series when she was in grade school and she always talked about it.

As soon as I had access to the bigger library (4th grade), I found a whole shelf of the books and I didn’t even have any competition – nobody was checking them out! Nobody my age had even heard about them – the last borrowers were a good five years or so back – and so I was able to read them in order.

I was hooked, and I ended up checking out two or three of them at a time (three was the maximum number we could check out at one time at the library, and I was one of the few girls who were pushing the limit and filling up back to back blue borrower’s cards).

In fact, I ended up reading so many them that my mom had to curtail my reading time to half an hour a night (depending on her mood) and only after I did my homework (and then eventually I was limited to reading ONLY during the weekends; I had a reading ban on weeknights while the rest of my siblings got TV ban and I couldn’t have cared less about the TV). This is, I think, the reason I learned to read fast (and read on a moving vehicle on the way to and from school), to maximize reading time.

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Making the mark

I’ve always wanted a way to establish my identity on my books. I usually scrawl my name and the date inside, but I’ve longed for a more “official” mark for a long time now,  and I’ve grown tired of running out of book plates and stickers to label my books.

I thought of a rubber stamp, but I didn’t really want to mess with ink, and I was still not sold on the self-inking kind. And then one day,  I mooched a book that had a dry seal on it, and I got the idea of having my own dry seal made for my library.

Luckily there was a dry seal maker next to the post office and I was finally able to get mine made yesterday.

The results? Here you go:

flyleaf
Yay!

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Frenching it up

Setting is one of the important factors that draw me to reading a book, especially when I’m trying out an author for the first time. I find that there are certain settings that appeal to me more than others, and sometimes, the setting alone influences my decision to purchase a book that I’ve never even heard of.

I’m particular about setting because by nature, I’m an escapist reader – I like getting lost in the imagery of the words, transported to the very heart of the story, forgetting for the moment the never-ending to do lists, looming deadlines, and the general chaos of daily life. The setting just makes everything so much more real for the imagination, bringing the plot and characters to life.

 

the escapist reader
the escapist reader

 

I like the centers of art: Florence (as in Sarah Dunant’s Birth of Venus, Diane Haeger’s The Ruby Ring) and Delft (Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring); the musical city of Vienna (Eva Ibbotson’s A Song for Summer and Star of Kazan); Spain, rife with mystery (Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind and Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas and The Fencing Master); the English countryside, sometimes romantic, other times forbidding (Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Eva Ibbotson’s The Morning Gift, Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale); the vibrant Venice (Sarah Dunant’s In the Company of the Courtesan, Zizou Corder’s Lionboy, Donna Jo Napoli’s Daughter of Venice); and the exotic Morrocco (Barbara Hodgson’s The Tattooed Map, Zizou Corder’s Lionboy) or Greece (Eugene Trivizas’ The Last Black Cat).

The Italian countryside can be quite charming (Under the Tuscan Sun, Every Boy’s Got One), but for a rustic gastronomic adventure, books set in the French countryside always hit the spot for me, providing a heady experience of sights, sounds, tastes, and textures, as in Peter Mayle’s Chasing Cezanne and A Year in Provence; or Joanne Harris’ Chocolat.

Today’s books are non-fiction, but also set against the backdrop of pastoral France: Champagne: The Spirit of Celebration by Sara Slavin and Karl Petzke; and Sara Midda’s South of France: A Sketchbook (books #84-85 of 2009), both rummaged at Book Sale for P20 ($0.40) and P40 ($0.80) each, respectively (squee!).
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The Sisters Grimm

sisters grimmAs soon as I saw the Sisters Grimm series on the bookstore shelf, I knew I wanted to read the books. Of course, as I rarely buy books full price (I have to really really really want a book with that can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-reach-for-the-stars-over-the-fence-world-series kind of feeling to buy it full price), I passed them up and ended up adding them to my BookMooch wishlist.

A few months later I was able to mooch the first two books of the series from a friend I’d made on BookMooch, wired_lain, a Filipina based in Japan, who’s been sending me a lot of great stuff, from Japanese Harry Potters for my collection to Studio Ghibli books to little Japanese snacks (sweet potato flavored Kitkat!) and other odds and ends (including a talking calculator!)

So approximately one year later, I finally got around to reading the books: Michael Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-tale Detectives (Book 1) and The Unusual Supects (Book 2) – Books #82-83 of 2009.

The Sisters Grimm series is about Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, whose parents have mysteriously disappeared. They are sent off to live with their grandmother Relda (whom they believed to be dead) in the town of Ferryport.

But things are not what they seem. The girls find out that Ferrytown – originally Fairytown – is home to the Everafters, or characters out of storybooks. Puck is their housemate, the mayor is Prince Charming, Sheriff Hamstead is one of the pigs in Three Little Pigs, their Grandmother’s friend Mr. Canis is the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White is a schoolteacher, and the Pied Piper is their principal. And the girls are actually descendants of the thread-spinners themselves, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm.

To keep the Everafters from wreaking havoc in the world, the Brothers Grimm enlisted the help of the witch Baba Yaga ang created a magical boundary that keeps the Everafters in Ferryport as long as there is a surviving member of the Grimm family living in town.

Together with their grandmother and their dog Elvis, the Grimm Sisters solve fairy tale mysteries involving Everafters and get closer to the key to their parents’ disappearance.

Here is a trailer of the series, from The Sisters Grimm website:

The books remind me of The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi because of the sibling action, except that the Grace siblings dealt with actual faeries rather than fairy tale characters. There is also a similar plotline about giants in A Giant Problem (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles series) and The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives. Both series also have lovely illustrations — Di Terlizzi in The Spiderwick Chronicles, Peter Ferguson in The Sisters Grimm — that establish the atmosphere of the stop.

Storywise, the Sisters Grimm books are fast-paced and the Shrek-like premise is engaging enough, but I’m not completely sold on the series.

First, I didn’t find the Sisters Grimm very likeable. Sabrina, 12, is too angsty for her age. Sure, they’ve been volleyed around in foster homes. Sure, their parents have been missing for 18 months. Sure they’re taken in by a crazy old woman that they’ve never seen in their lives. But she has so much anger inside her than is actually believable for a pre-teen girl that she was kind of annoying. In Book 2, I find out that the intensity of Sabrina’s emotions had a significance to the plot, but that made it even more contrived for me. I think that if her character was a bit older, she would have been more credible.

Daphne, 7, on the other hand, I find to be too cute, as in Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls. She is overly enthusiastic about their detective duties (and life in general), says things you can only describe as “precious,” and is nice to everyone except occasionally to her sister. Perhaps this is to provide a foil to Sabrina’s personality, but she’s entirely too twee for my taste.

This makes me wonder if their personalities evolve in the future.
Another thing I don’t like about the book is the vocabulary lessons sprinkled throughout the book, like when a character uses a word Daphne doesn’t understand, she has to ask what it means and it is explained to her. I find this extremely annoying because they weren’t particularly difficult words (e.g. alliance).

This “vocabulary lesson” seems to be common in children’s books these days, I also noticed this in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (which I didn’t read past the first book) and I don’t like it because it talks down to the reader and assumes the reader doesn’t know what it means. And anyway, even if the reader doesn’t know what a word means, I think that makes it too easy for them, robbing them of a more important lesson: context clues. I think with the proper context, and some creativity from the author, meaning can be more effectively (and less blatantly) established.

(And heck, when I was a kid, I would read books with a dictionary on hand to look up meanings of words I don’t understand — I distinctly remember looking up “vouchsafe” when I came across it reading the unabridged Heidi when I was seven!)

On the whole, I think the series has promise — I looked it up and there are now 7 books out in the 9-book series and it looks like more exciting things are about to happen in the next books. I do hope the characters are developed more throughout the series. While I’m not compelled to buy the books one after the other (hopefully I can mooch them), I do want to know what happens next in this series.

***
M y copy: trade paperbacks, mooched from Japan

My rating: The Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives 3/5 stars; The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects, 3/5 stars