Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book Review: The Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley (Sisters Grimm #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Creative story and decent characters
Cons: A little slow to get started
The Bottom Line:
Creativity
Abounds in this fun series
Building in book two




Round Up the Unusual Suspects - The Sisters Grimm Have Another Case

I really didn't intend to take a year to get to this book.  And yet it's been almost exactly a year since I first discovered the fun debut in The Sisters Grimm.  The Unusual Suspects is the second book aimed at early teens.

The series centers around sisters Sabrina and Daphne Grimm.  In the first book, they learned that they are decedents of the famous Brothers Grimm who wrote down fairy tales.  But the brothers' stories were non-fiction.  Now all the famous characters from fairy tales and other kid's fantasy stories are living beside humans in Ferryport Landing, New York.  They are trapped there as long as a Grimm remains alive.  The sisters have also learned that their parents are being held captive by some strong magic created by one of the Everafters, the name these mythological characters have given themselves.

As this book opens, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are spending every spare moment looking for some way to free their parents or working with their grandmother to keep the Everafters in line.  All that changes when their social worker shows up and threatens to take them away from their grandmother if they don't enroll in school right away.

And so the two start classes at Ferryport Landing Elementary.  Daphne is thrilled to have Snow White as her teacher.  Sabrina is less enchanted with her teacher, Mr. Grumpner.  Her students are horrid bullies, at least the ones who are actually awake.  The rest just seem to sleep through everything.  But when Mr. Grumpner is found murdered, Sabrina really suspects that something strange is going on at her new school.  Can she figure out what it is?

The beginning of the book did a good job of reminding us of the mythology already established in the first book in the series.  Because it had been so long since I read book one, I was glad of that fact.  However, the set up for the main story did seem a little long.  I was more than ready for things to get started when they finally did.

Fortunately, once Mr. Grumpner dies, things pick up in a hurry.  I got caught up in events and didn't want to put the book down.  In fact, I read the second half in one sitting.  I did see a few of the plot points coming, but others caught me off guard.  And the book ends with a cliffhanger that will have readers of all ages reaching for the next book as soon as they can.

For the most part, the characters are good but not great.  There are moments that show us some complexity.  The majority of the time, they seem to have one or two notes, however.  I could see them being build upon in later entries.

Now this isn't to say the characters are bad.  Take Sabrina, for example.  As our viewpoint character, we spend the most amount of time with her.  She is often angry and stubborn.  There were times I wanted to smack her.  But I always understood her motives and actions and usually sympathized a little with what she was doing.  Like Sabrina, all the characters absolutely work in the context of the book.  And they will certainly capture the target audience.

I've seen one place that says these books are targeted at fourth through sixth grade.  Personally, I would have said sixth through eighth.  This entry is close to 300 pages and only 10 chapters long.  The writing style is great and the print is large enough that the pages fly by.  Still, I think it would be daunting for all but the biggest readers younger than that.  Plus some of the action is a little scary and gruesome for young kids.  Each chapter does include one detailed black and white illustration.

I think my favorite part of the book is how author Michael Buckley manages to weave so many famous characters into a new story that is logical.  In fact, I got a kick out of seeing just who would show up next.

Fairy tales may be the base of this book, but these aren't like anything you've read before.  If you want something creative and fun, be sure to check out The Unusual Suspects.

While these early books aren't as connected, by the end you'll be thankful you read the Sisters Grimm Series in order.

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