Fairy Tale Friday: The Wide-Awake Princess

I love fairy tales, and I love fairy tale adaptations. I’ve read so many that I’ve decided to make them their own special blog day!

The Wide-Awake Princess is written by E. D. Baker. It was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury. Baker’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“When Princess Gwen (otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty) pricks her finger and sends herself and the whole castle to sleep for one hundred years, only her younger sister, Annie, is left awake. And only Annie—blessed (and cursed) with being resistant to magic—can venture beyond the rose-covered hedge to get help. She must find Gwen’s true love to kiss her awake.

But what about the one hundred years? And who is Gwen’s true love? Her irritating suitor, Digby? The happy-go-lucky prince Andreas, who is holding a contest to find his bride? The conniving Clarence, whose evil motives couldn’t possibly spell true love?

Joined by Liam, one of her father’s guards, Annie travels through a fairy-tale land populated with characters both familiar and new as she tries to find the prince to rescue her sister…and perhaps even discover a true love of her own.”

Thoughts:

A great, unique twist on a classic fairy tale! More than one, actually. All the fairy tale characters we met in this book had a different spin, such as the witch from Hansel and Gretel being forgetful and writing down instructions on how to cook children on candy hearts and sticking them to her walls. Even the story of Sleeping Beauty was different in execution and, of course, in resolution.

Annie was one of those “rebellious princesses” (and by “rebellious” I mean “not wanting to conform to princess rules”) but I actually quite liked the trope this time because Baker executed exactly the way it should be executed, in my opinion. Annie wasn’t rebellious for no apparent reason as many of the trope are. She wanted to do everything her sister didn’t do; thus, she could read, ride horses, etc. That’s a much better way to portray that trope then the standard.

I loved how Annie just went out and got every single prince to come kiss her sister, and I love how, after the successful one woke her up, Gwen freaked out and then, when Annie said, “He’s your true love!” she immediately switched to the prince being the love of her life. Actually, it’s a great illustration of how everyone in the kingdom is silly (because of the magic?) to some degree, and Annie is the only non-silly one (besides Liam) and thus can get stuff done that others can’t.

Oh, Liam, why couldn’t you have stayed a soldier? Why did you have to conveniently be a prince the entire time? (Well, okay, this is a fairy tale…)

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

Gwendolyn turned the tree around, revealing another, smaller key at the base of the egg. Beaming with delight, she wound the key, which made the egg spin and play a merry tune that soon had the ladies tapping their feet. This time when it stopped, the sides split in quarters, revealing a tiny object covered with precious gems.

“What is it?” said Gwendolyn.

The sides of the egg continued to lower. When they were down all the way, the object tilted to one side and tumbled out of the egg.

Gwendolyn’s hand shot out and caught the object before it hit the floor. “I have it! Look! It’s lovely. What do you think it is? Oh!” she exclaimed, looking at her hand in dismay.

“No, it can’t be!” cried the queen.

~Baker 24-25

Andreas frowned. “If you didn’t want to marry me, you shouldn’t have entered the contest.”

“It isn’t that I wouldn’t like to marry you, but my sister, Gwendolyn—”

“Princess Gwendolyn? Isn’t she supposed to be the most beautiful princess in all the kingdoms?”

“I understand how angry you must be with me, but Gwennie needs you and—”

“All she needs is one kiss? Then what happens, I mean, after I kiss her and she wakes up?”

“Why, it would mean that you were her true love, so I suppose you would get married and—”

I would marry Princess Gwendolyn? The most beautiful princess in all the kingdoms?”

“Yes, and I know that wasn’t what you had in mind, but—”

“No, no! I’d be happy to help. When do we leave?”

~Baker 127

Overall Review:

A great twist on a popular fairy-tale, with tons of fun moments and an awesome princess who can scare even the most dangerous fairies just by threatening to move in with them. The only damper was Liam, who was cute but a convenient prince.

You can buy this here: The Wide-Awake Princess

From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: What Kind Of Language Is “Hiding Out In”?

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is written by E. L. Konigsburg. It was published in 1967 by Atheneum. More info about Konigsburg can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would go in comfort—she would live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She saved her money, and she invited her brother Jamie to go, mostly because he was a miser and would have money.

Claudia was a good organizer and Jamie had some ideas, too; so the two took up residence at the museum right on schedule. But once the fun of settling in was over, Claudia had two unexpected problems: She felt just the same, and she wanted to feel different; and she found a statue at the museum so beautiful she could not go home until she had discovered its maker, a question that baffled the experts, too.

The former owner of the statue was Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Without her—well, without her, Claudia might never have found a way to go home.”

Thoughts:

Claudia and Jamie have this great rapport throughout the book; Claudia is the bossy, know-it-all older sister, and Jamie is the partially annoying, yet consistently smart and innovative younger brother who doesn’t bat an eyelash over running away. Both of them seem older than their ages (Claudia is 11 and Jamie is 9) but this time I didn’t feel as if it was a result of inaccurate voice. This time, I think it’s more of a result of different time periods. Claudia and Jamie’s voices didn’t seem off because of poor writing, but rather because of period difference. And by that I mean that Claudia and Jamie sound like children in books that were written in the ’60s and earlier.

The whole time I was reading this book I wondered if what Claudia and Jamie did could be done today. Probably not, since there are things like motion-detectors now, but still. Perhaps the updated technology explains why people don’t write books like this one, although I think books like this one are vastly superior to other books written today. Any book about runaways is much more depressing and dark nowadays, because apparently every kid suffers from some sort of deep-seated angst and/or depression and we have to be able to connect with them or something. Personally, I think Claudia’s desire for appreciation and to be “different” in some way resonates more with children than a novel that has a young boy freezing to death in a playground. Or maybe it’s just that I prefer my books a little bit lighter than the heavy, dark norm today.

The Rolls Royce! Reminds of The Three Investigators, their magnificent hidden junk-yard secret headquarters, and their Rolls Royce and driver. So awesome.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

“What woods?” Claudia asked.

“The woods we’ll be hiding out in,” Jamie answered.

“Hiding out in? What kind of language is that?”

“English language. That’s what kind.”

“Who ever told you that we were going to hide out in the woods?” Claudia demanded.

“There! You said it. You said it!” Jamie shrieked.

“Said what? I never said we’re going to hide out in the woods.” Now Claudia was yelling, too.

“No! you said ‘hide out in.’”

~Konigsburg 23

Angel was that way. An answer to running away, and also to going home again, lay in Angel. She knew it was there, but she didn’t know what it was. It was just escaping her as the answer to the question on the test had…except this was even harder, for she wasn’t exactly certain of the question she was trying to answer. The question had something to do with why Angel had become more important than having run away or even being safe, at the museum.

~Konigsburg 95

 Overall Review:

Konigsburg has created a delightful tale that makes me wish more contemporary children’s lit. utilized plots like this one (Chasing Vermeer is all I can think of, and that’s more of the art aspect than the museum aspect). Claudia and Jamie have perfect brother/sister dialogue, and Claudia’s insistence on what she considers proper English reminds me of myself. This also contains some information on Michelangelo, which means it’s educational as well as a great story. Yeah, Education!

You can buy this here: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

The Dragon of Trelian: Lost Potential Makes Me Sad

The Dragon of Trelian is written by Michelle Knudsen. It was published in 2009 by Candlewick Press. Knudsen’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Calen is a mage’s apprentice who is not especially skilled at magic. He certainly never dreamed that Princess Meglynne would ever need his help. And Meg never imagined that she would share her biggest secret—the orphaned dragon she found in the forest—with anyone.

But lately something strange and frightening has started to happen. Meg thinks she can feel the dragon in her mind, calling to her, even when he’s far away. And with her sister getting ready to marry a foreign prince to end a hundred-year war and the whole kingdom caught up in the preparations, Calen seems to be the only one she can turn to.

Together, Calen and Meg discover that their unlikely friendship may be the only thing standing between the kingdom of Trelian and a devastating tragedy. Can an apprentice, a princess, and a dragon combine their strength and magic to bring down a secret traitor before it’s too late?”

What I Liked:

There were several moments throughout the book where I was suitably impressed with the world Knudsen has built. The dragon/human connection was interesting and the mage marks added a nice touch to the magic system. The dark creatures were decently scary, too.

Sarek was probably the best part of this book. It took only about two lines of dialogue before I chose him as my favorite character. He gets even better during the last half of the book.

What I Didn’t Like:

There were moments when I was impressed, and then the rest of the time I was lamenting over the complete waste of worldbuilding. This world could have been so excellent if we had just seen more of it, and there was so much wasted potential in the brief snippets of the world that we did see.

Meg was the average princess protagonist and Calen was the average mage protagonist. Maybe mediocre would be a better word. There was nothing spectacular or new about them; Meg was a rebellious princess, sigh, and Calen was the Super Special Magic mage, sigh.

The dialogue got a bit melodramatic at times. So did the revelations. By the time the Man Behind the Curtain showed up I was pretty much just rolling my eyes every page.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: A few scary situations.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

Finally, the dragon slid back over to where Meg was now sitting. It curled up around her and appeared to go back to sleep. Calen shook his head in wonder and went to sit beside her.

“His name is Jakl,” she said. “Or at least that’s what I’ve been calling him.”

“How—?” Calen didn’t even know how to finish the question. His mind was still reeling. A dragon!

~Knudsen 84

“What are you smiling about?” Calen asked, startling her out of her reverie.

She shook her head. “Nothing.” Back to business. “Do you think Serek might be able to help them find us?”

“I don’t know,” Calen answered. “I’ve been wondering about that myself. He might have discovered we’re gone by now. I contacted him, just for a moment, before Sen Eva began casting.”

She turned to stare at him. “You did? Why didn’t you tell me?”

He looked at her sheepishly. “I forgot.”

~Knudsen 213

Overall Review:

There was so much opportunity lost for the worldbuilding and the characters were so mediocre that it legitimately made me sad. Sarek was pretty awesome, though.

You can buy this here: The Dragon of Trelian

The Dragon In The Sock Drawer: Strange, But Cute

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer is written by Kate Klimo. It was published in 2008 by Random House. It is the first book in the Dragon Keepers series. Klimo’s website can be found here

Summary/Blurb:

“Ten-year-old cousins Jesse and Daisy have always wanted something magical to happen to them. So it’s a wish come true when Jesse’s newly found thunder egg hatches, and a helpless, tiny but very loud baby dragon pops out. Soon the two kids are at the dragon’s beck-and-call, trying to figure out what to feed her.
An Internet search leads them to the library, which leads them back to the Internet, where they find a very strange Web site called “foundadragon.org.” It is here that the cousins discover that the dragon’s hatching has designated them “Dragon Keepers” and that not only do they have to feed her, but they have to keep her safe from the villainous Saint George who has kept himself alive over centuries by drinking dragons’ blood.”

What I Liked:

This was an interesting book. It’s some strange cross between historical lore and fantasy, with Saint George (that’s the Saint George from Saint George and the Dragon) as the villain and a talking website as the kids’ helper.

“Strange” is a good work to describe this book, really. From Daisy calling her dad “my adorable poppy,” to the talking website, to Emmy Talk. Ing. Like. This, to her disguising herself as a sheepdog…strange is definitely appropriate, here. But it was a good strange, or at least an “I can see myself reading more of the series” type of strange.

Loved the Narnia references! I also loved the illustrations.

What I Didn’t Like:

It was a bit simple for my tastes, and I’m not sure of any future plot potential it has.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy, Realistic

Passages/Quotes:

In the middle of everything, something that looked like a lizard was standing on its hind legs and peering around. It was no bigger than a newborn kitten. Its bottom half was stout and covered with shiny scales. They were green (or blue, depending on how you moved your head), with the rainbow sheen of oil on a puddle. Sprouting from its shoulder blades were two dark green bumps, not so much wings as the idea of wings. Two long dark green ridges ran down its back and along its pointed tail. Its head looked like a sea horses’s, only broader.

Jesse knew very well what he was looking at. But he didn’t want to say it. So instead, he said, “Whoa!”

~Klimo 34

St. George’s eyes narrowed, and he said, “Hmmm. Well, I have to be going now. I have tests to do.”

“Wait a minute,” said Daisy. She pulled up the hem of her T-shirt and wiped away her tears. Then she took the purple kneesock out of her pocket. “She needs this.”

St. George stared at the sock suspiciously. “Why?”

“It’s far too complex for a mere grown-up to grasp,” Jesse said through his teeth. “She just needs it, St. George.”

“That’s Dr. St. George,” he said. “And where I come from, one pronounces it Sin George.”

~Klimo 105

Overall Review:

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer is strange, but the kind of strange that’s oddly appealing and leaves you wanting to read some more. Emmy’s pretty cute, and Klimo has at least the potential of a good lore behind the series, although the book is pretty simple and the series might fail to deliver on that front.

You can buy this here: The Dragon in the Sock Drawer

Tuesdays at the Castle: Children Saving The Day With Their Sentient Castle!

Tuesdays at the Castle is written by Jessica Day George. It was published in 2011 by Bloomsbury. George’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Tuesday at Castle Glower is Princess Celie’s favorite day. That’s when the Castle magically grows a new room, a turret, or sometimes an entire wing. No one knows how or why the Castle does it, and no one except Princess Celie has ever bothered to map out the Castle’s many twists and turns. But when the king and queen disappear and Councilors from neighboring kingdoms arrive to “advise” the three Glower children, even the Castle seems to know that something is wrong….Take the new tower room, which is stocked with mysterious objects and has a knack for appearing just when Celia needs it. Then there is the secret passageway that leads the children to a room the Councilors don’t want them to know about. To find their parents and hold on to their kingdom, Celie and her siblings will need all their ingenuity, Celie’s maps, plus some help from their beloved Castle—before it’s too late.”

Thoughts:

This book was so cute! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. The idea of a sentient castle is very original for the most part, and the fact that children are the ones who saved the kingdom just makes me chuckle. This is what makes Middle Grade fiction so great, right here. Great plot + great characters + original concept = happiness. I never knew that I could have so many feels about a castle. But the part where the castle wakes up because Celie gets hurts and then gets rid of Khelsh and then goes all soft so she doesn’t get hurt/killed is pretty much the best part of the book. I think the castle was my favorite character, seriously. There’s a sequel! Excitement! I have to read more Jessica Day George. I’ve actually read quite a few of her books, but I need to do it again because they’re that good.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: There’s a part at the end that could be a little scary to some younger readers. Think menacing prince attacking young princess.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy Passages/Quotes:

“They’re trying to take over the Castle,” Lilah hissed. “But let’s wait until we get to my room to explain.” “Is your room up there?” Pogue looked doubtfully at the spiraling staircase they had now passed twice. “I think this is the same staircase that was back there.” He had encountered the Castle’s foibles and changes many times, of course, but was not half as skilled at navigating them as the royal family. “My room should be right here,” Lilah said, frowning. “It keeps showing me this room,” Celie said, pointing up the stairs to the Spyglass Tower. “I’m starting to wonder if it’s important.” ~George 32 Celie turned to run, and there was only a large arch—the doors were gone—leaving the guards standing with startled expressions. She snatched up Lilah’s hand and pulled her older sister though the arch. They darted between the guards to another arch that had opened on the far side of the main hall. It closed behind them with a crash of stone, sealing the guards out, and the sisters looked around to find themselves in Celie’s room. Through another arch they could see Lilah’s room, and the other way out was the narrow staircase to the Spyglass Tower. Celie spun around, staring at the sudden changes. “How did the castle…this was never…” ~George 110-111

Overall Review:

I loved this book! Tuesdays at the Castle is probably one of my favorite contemporary fantasy Middle Grade books now and goes above and beyond the usual standard of quality. It’s fun, full of suspense, and the ending is so sweet that you almost forget that Castle Glower isn’t actually alive in the human sense.

You can buy this here: Tuesdays at the Castle

Eight Days Of Luke: Norse Harry Potter! Well, Not Really…

Eight Days of Luke is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1975 by Macmillan. Jones’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“There seemed nothing strange about Luke to begin with, except perhaps the snakes. If they were snakes—David wasn’t sure. He was just grateful for a companion as agreeable as Luke, who seemed able to twist anyone round his finger, even David’s odious relatives. “Just kindle a flame and I’ll be with you,” Luke said, and he always was—which turned out to be more awkward than useful in the end. For who were the people who seemed to be looking for Luke: the man with one eye; the massive, malevolent gardener, Mr. Chew; the offensively sprightly Frys; the man with ginger hair? Why were there ravens watching, one in front and one at the back gate? And then of course there was the fire….”

What I Liked:

So, basically this is Jones’s take on Norse mythology. She has a handy note at the end that tells you who the characters are, which I found really helpful because I’m unfamiliar with Norse myth. Even the reactions of the people to the gods were related to what that god was (such as the Frys), which was great.

David’s relatives reminded me a ton of Harry Potter’s. I kept thinking “Harry Potter” when David was around his relatives. It was very similar treatment, although Harry had no Astrid (or Luke).

I loved the “outwitting” parts of the book, such as David and the meat, and trying to confuse Mr. Chew. I also liked the more mythological aspects, such as the Tree and the cave where Brunhilda lay.

I found it most interesting that Luke here is portrayed as someone around David’s age, despite the fact that his (Luke’s) wife is in the book, too. Although, Jones does slip in a few times that Luke seems or looks older than David. I suppose Luke did it that way to get closer to David.

What I Didn’t Like:

This book isn’t nearly as plot-twisty or deep as Jones can usually go. It’s much more simple. It’s still a very good book, but it lacks some of the depth of her other works. This could be due to audience, however.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic (in parts), Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

The next second, the gravel was covered with angry orange flames, pale and vicious-looking in the sun and dust. David backed out from them desperately, until his shoulders hit the hedge and held him up. But the flames had gone by then. They just flared through the dust as if someone had dropped a match in a pool of petrol, and then went out. David was sure his curse had punctured a gas-main. He looked the heaving ground over hurriedly, to try and locate the leak before going to confess and get help. He saw a round thing, something like a pipe and at least as thick as his arm, writhing among the rubble, and he thought it was a gas-pipe. It was covered with an ugly mosaic pattern which glittered in the sun. There were others, too, further off, and if David had not known they were gas-pipes, he would have sworn they were snakes—snakes somehow swimming in the rippling ground, as if it were water.

~Jones 21-22

“You don’t know much about me, do you?” said Mr Wedding.

David looked up at him to agree, and to protest a little. And he saw Mr Wedding had only one eye. David stared. For a moment, he was more frightened than he had ever been in his life. He could not understand it. Up till then, there had been nothing strange about Mr. Wedding’s face at all, and it had been perfectly ordinary. David had not noticed a change. Yet one of Mr Wedding’s eyes was simply not there. The place where the second eye should have been had an eyelid and eyelashes, so that it looked almost as if Mr Wedding had shut one eye—but not quite. It did not look at all horrible. There was no reason to be frightened. But David was. Mr. Wedding’s remaining eye had something to do with it. It made up for the other by gazing so piercingly blue, so deep and difficult, that it was as wild and strange in its way as Mr. Chew’s face. As David looked from eye to empty eyelid and back, he had suddenly no doubt that what he was seeing was Mr Wedding’s true face, and his real nature.

~Jones 71

Overall Review:

Eight Days of Luke, while being slightly more simple than some of Jones’s other books, nicely interweaves Norse mythology into David’s everyday life in a way that is both a great introduction to Norse myth and a pleasure for those more acquainted with it. David deals with the Norse gods so nicely that you’d almost expect him to be connected with that world in some way, and it makes for some of the better parts of the book. Another great work from Jones.

You can buy this here: Eight Days of Luke

The Far West: It’s Like The Oregon Trail But With Dragons

The Far West is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It is the third and final book in the Frontier Magic trilogy. It was published in 2012 by Scholastic. Wrede’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The Far West, out beyond the settled territory, is a dangerous place. Eff knows this better than most—she’s traveled past the Great Barrier Spell, seen steam dragons, fought a pride of saber cats, and killed a medusa lizard before it could turn her and her brother to stone.

But even though there are changes at home—new nieces and nephews, a wildlife study center for the college—Eff finds herself drawn to the Far West. The government is organizing the first expedition west in a decade, and Eff wants to go with her twin brother, Lan; her best friend, William; and her mentors, Professor Torgeson, Wash Morris, and Professor Ochiba. The group of scientists, army troops, and magicians will map unexplored land and discover new types of magical wildlife. Eff will learn more about her magic and ways of looking at the world than she could ever have guessed. And she’ll need all her knowledge and strength to help take on a new threat from the West, one that could not just destroy the frontier but devastate the entire continent.”

What I Liked:

This book was an awesome culmination of everything Eff has learned over the last two books being used to counter a threat that I must say I didn’t see coming. I definitely thought that the dangers of this book would be more wildlife-based, especially considering the pattern of the last two, but while there was wildlife danger, the Big Danger was not. And it led to Eff doing some pretty cool things that everyone was shocked about, obligatorily but yet still awesomely.

Remember what I said in my review of Thirteenth Child where I thought this would be a “misunderstood creatures” type of plot? Well, thank goodness I was wrong! I don’t think I would have enjoyed this series nearly as much if that was the resolution, but the trilogy was focused more on magic than on the wildlife, and in the end the wildlife was just wildlife. And pretty cool (and scary) wildlife, at that.

William! Yes! I knew it! I mean, it was pretty obvious, but still! His jealous moments were hilarious, Eff’s obliviousness was hilarious, and overall the romance was very subtle, not sappy, and very sweet.

This is a very Man vs. Nature (or in this case, Man vs. Magic) book, which is appropriate for the Wild West, Western expansion feel of it. I still love that meld, by the way. I wish more authors did it.

Loved the little bits and pieces of alternate history thrown in. Even though it’s not prominent, Wrede did a lot of work with her worldbuilding.

I gushed about Eff’s character-type in Thirteenth Child, and let me just point out this gem of a reply that I absolutely loved: “Of all the nerve! What, you think that just because I’m going on the expedition, I’ll turn into some kind of tart?” Thank you, Eff. Thank you.

What I Didn’t Like:

I still don’t really like that the series never had a human villain. Again, this is a Man vs. Nature book (and series), not a Man vs. Man book, but some sort of human obstacle would have been nice to see.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Scary images.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

There was a brief, stunned silence. “Absorbing magic?” Professor Torgeson said finally, half to herself. “How is that possible? The thing is dead.”

“I don’t know,” Professor Ochiba said. “But every time a spell touches it, it soaks up the magic and converts it directly into more spell-resistance.”

“No wonder no one’s been able to get the evaluation spells to work,” Professor Jeffries commented.

Professor Ochiba nodded. “And if people have been trying to evaluate this creature magically, I’m surprised your preservation spells haven’t failed already.”

~Wrede 51

Slowly, I started the concentration exercise Professor Ochiba had taught me back in day school. When I was calm and centered, I let my world-sensing go just a little, just enough to feel the pendant and the layers of spells around it.

Before, I’d always studied the pendant as a whole thing, partly because that was the way I thought of it and partly because that was the way Aphrikan magic looked at most things. But the pendant and the spells weren’t just one thing. Nothing ever was, really.

What other things is this? I thought, and started a mental list of everything I could think of. The pendant was an ornament, a necklace. It was an Aphrikan teaching tool—I knew that from what Wash had told me. It was a physical thing (the robin’s egg whorl of wood) plus a bunch of magic things (the spells that wrapped it). I paused and considered on that for a minute. A bunch of spells—not just one layer wrapped around a core, but lots of layers, like an onion.

~Wrede 199-200

Overall Review:

The Far West is a great finish to the trilogy, and Eff does even more awesome things. It’s still a bit plodding, but if you can get through the first two books this one should be no problem. Love the complex magic system Wrede explains throughout the trilogy, and although I wish there was a human villain, the nature threat is pretty unique and the exploration aspect is the best part of the book.

You can buy this here: The Far West (Frontier Magic)

The Phantom Tollbooth: The Discovery of Knowledge

The Phantom Tollbooth is written by Norton Juster. It was published in 1961 by Random House.

Summary/Blurb:

“Through the Phantom Tollbooth lies a strange land and a series of even stranger adventures in which Milo meets King Azaz the Unabridged, the unhappy ruler of Dictionopolis; the Mathemagician; Faintly Macabre, the not so wicked Which; Alec Bings, who sees through things, and the watch-dog, Tock, who ticks, among a collection of the most logically illogical characters ever met on this side or that side of reality.

In his quest for Rhyme and Reason, Milo helps settle the war between words and numbers, visits the Island of Conclusions (which can only be reached by jumping), and ventures into the forbidden Mountains of Ignorance whose all too familiar demons menace his ever step.”

Thoughts:

The Phantom Tollbooth is part Alice in Wonderland, part Oz. It’s deliciously fun, and Juster is a genius at showing the embodiments of phrases, words, sounds, ideas, and the like. Things like Milo literally having to eat his words, the stairway to Infinity, and the Island of Conclusions are simply wonderful. This is, essentially, a story about a boy discovering (or rediscovering) his imagination and the wonder of the unknown.

This book would be great to give to kids, but I think the real charm in it lies in its ability to communicate even to adults. I chuckled at Short Shrift and loved the image of the “But” that Milo keeps in his mouth. Everything about the way Juster depicts ideas just makes sense, and his descriptions or embodiments of things like triviality or din are so imaginatively rich. And the fact that Milo, rather than continuously yearn to return to that land, suddenly realizes that, with all the other places he could go and all the other things he can discover, he doesn’t know if he will have the time to return, is so great. Rather than be forever stuck in one place or stuck on one idea, Milo seeks knowledge and enrichment. He wants to broaden his experience, not limit it. That’s a great message for a book for children.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

“Are you ready with the menu?” reminded the Humbug.

“Well,” said Milo, remembering that his mother had always told him to eat lightly when he was a guest, “why don’t we have a light meal?”

“A light meal it shall be,” roared the bug, waving his arms.

The waiters rushed in carrying large serving platters and set them on the table in front of the king. When he lifted the covers, shafts of brilliant-colored light leaped from the plates and bounced around the ceiling, the walls, across the floor, and out the windows.


“Then with whatever Azaz agrees, you disagree.”

“Correct,” said the Mathemagician with a tolerable smile.

“And with whatever Azaz disagrees, you agree.”

“Also correct,” yawned the mathemagician, nonchalantly cleaning his fingernails with the point of his staff.

“Then each of you agrees that he will disagree with whatever each of you agrees with,” said Milo triumphantly; “and if you both disagree with the same thing, then aren’t you really in agreement?”

Overall Review:

The Phantom Tollbooth is a tale of imagination and wonder, and of obtaining knowledge and constantly learning new things. It’s as wonderful for adults as it is for children, for sometimes even adults need the adventure and the lesson that Milo learns.

You can buy this here: The Phantom Tollbooth

Across the Great Barrier: A Little Plodding, But A Nice Plot Anyway

Across the Great Barrier is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It is the second book in the Frontier Magic series. It was published in 2011 by Scholastic. Wrede’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Eff could be a powerful magician if she wanted to. Except she’s not sure she wants that kind of responsibility. Everyone keeps waiting for her to do something amazing—or to fail in a spectacular way. Worse, her twin brother, Lan, a powerful double seventh son, is jealous of all the attention she’s been getting.

Even as Eff protests that she’s just an ordinary girl, she’s asked to travel past the Barrier Spell with one of the new professors at her father’s school. The land west of the Barrier is full of dangers, both magical and wild. Eff will need to use all her strength—magical and otherwise—to come safely back home.”

What I Liked:

Wrede has a knack for making day-to-day living interesting rather than boring, and each day in Eff’s life is peeling back another layer of her character. I absolutely loved her extremely nonchalant “Got it” at the very end, as if she hadn’t just done something incredibly amazing.

I loved the main plot of this book. It was set-up nicely, vaguely unsettling, and even hinted at what the next book will entail. I loved Lan’s turnaround, especially since I was getting annoyed with him, but I felt sorry for the way his turnaround happened. Unfortunately, sometimes things like that are the only way for people to realize certain things about themselves.

I’m glad to see that Wrede isn’t making this part romance novel, as so much YA is. While I’m still holding out for Eff and William, and I guess I’ll have to wait for the third book, the romance probably won’t be very pronounced there, either. And I like the fact that Eff’s development is focused on her magic and what she finds out about the wild and her pendant, and only slightly centered on romance.

I’m anxious to see what happens with Rennie and the Rationalist settlement. Nothing bad, I hope…

What I Didn’t Like:

The book can plod a bit, and while Wrede makes it interesting, it still has that draggy feel to it. The part where Eff is back from her trip before she goes East is probably the worst. The way Wrede writes these books is very plodding, too, although most of the time it can be ignored.

I thought Eff was being so stupid when she kept blabbing to Professor Lefevre about the animals! Seriously, Eff, don’t you know that you never give important information to people you don’t know? I mean, in this case it turned out to be okay, but then I felt it was odd that this conversation, which was basically a repeat of what we already found out earlier, was in the book if it wasn’t significant. Maybe this was just more plodding.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None (well, the stone animals are a little creepy).

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

When we got back to Bejmar, we had to go over the whole business one more time for the settlement magician. “Thank you,” he said when we finished. “Both for the warning and the help.” He shook his head tiredly. “I’d hoped that with so much forage and cover gone, we’d have a year or two before the big predators came back, but it seems not. Though the smaller wildlife aren’t much better.”

“Those cats shouldn’t have been there at all,” one of the men who’d come with us burst out. “They were starving, all of them; since when does a starving animal come to a place where there’s no food?”

~Wrede 108-109

Resting in the palm of her hand was one of the grayish white rocks like the ones we’d used to line the firepit—only this one was about two inches long and the exact shape and size of a squirrel’s front paw and forearm. If you looked close, you could even see where two of the claws had broken off.

“Huh,” Champ said after a moment. “Looks like somebody’s been here before us. So?”

“How could that be?” I said. “Nobody’d come all the way out here and bury a broken statue in the middle of a big old hill, especially one that’s been around long enough to grow tress all over it. I don’t see how anyone could do that.”

~Wrede 173

Overall Review:

Across the Great Barrier continues the great mix-up of Western/fantasy, with Eff as the still-developing, quiet, awesome protagonist. While the worldbuilding and the magic system are quite complex, the book plods in places due to the “everything is important” narration-style and often repetitive elements. The stone animals, though, are suitably creepy and a great segue into the main plot.

You can buy this here: Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic)

The View From Saturday: The Visual Joke Was The Best Part

The View from Saturday is written by E. K. Konigsburg. It was published in 1996 by Atheneum. More about Konigsburg can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“How had Mrs. Olinski chosen her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team?

It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski’s team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen?

It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die. It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.

Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success. What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.”

What I Liked:

It’s E. L. Konigsburg! Her book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books to read growing up, but I’ve also read this one a couple of times as well. When I got it at the library, the cover just gave me such nostalgia. I haven’t forgotten that cover, despite the fact that it’s been maybe 10 years since I’ve last read the book.

So, basically, this book is four short stories centered on an overarching narrative. There’s not really any “plot,” per se, except maybe the Academic Bowl, but the start of the book is towards the end of the competition and the entire book is essentially a flashback until the last few chapters, so it’s not a “traditional” plot. It’s more about the characters. Noah and Ethan are probably my favorites; I liked their stories best, anyway. This is a very character-driven book, and I think the “lack” of plot is made up for by the presence of the characters. Each kid has a distinctive voice (fact: I love Noah’s facts) and I loved the way Konigsburg structured it so that each child answers a question that somehow relates to the story they are about to tell (and yet it doesn’t completely overshadow the story itself).

Are sixth graders really that mean? I mean, the utter callousness of Hamilton shocked me. The kid’s, what, twelve? What twelve-year-old writes “Cripple” on the teacher’s blackboard? Granted, this was mostly for story purposes, but still…(this is under “Liked” for the sheer reason that Hamilton’s character in the story was really used for character development, which I liked.)

Also and finally, Julian correcting the commissioner was hilarious, and I absolutely loved the visual joke that Konigsburg gives near the end of the book (see quotes below), which is one reason why I love reading books and not listening to them.

What I Didn’t Like:

It gets a bit weird at the end. A little New Age-y, a little too…weird. Yeah.

It drove me CRAZY that Nadia never used contractions! She started sounding like a robot after a while. She was also way too melodramatic during her story, although I guess I sort of understand where she’s coming from and why she acted like that.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

No one answered when he rang the front doorbell because we were all in the back loading the cake into the red wagon, so he walked around back to the patio. Unfortunately, he didn’t see the wagon handle, so he tripped on it, slid on the wet concrete, fell in the puddle of melted ice and, unfortunately, toppled the wedding cake.

The little top layer was totally smashed; it fell in the same puddle as Allen, and the little bride and groom were seriously maimed.

So was Allen’s ankle. Which fact I detected when he grabbed his foot and started to moan while still sitting the puddle on the patio. Grandpa Nate called 911. Grandma Sadie returned to the kitchen to whip up a repair batch of icing. Grandpa Nate took the remains of the cake to the clubhouse, and I sat with Allen until the ambulance came. He was not good company.

The groom called to see what was taking Allen so long. I answered the phone, and I thought I would have to call 911 for him, too. “Don’t panic,” I said. “I’ll be your best man.”

~Konigsburg 15

The previous year when Mr. Homer Fairbain had been master of ceremonies for the district playoffs, the contest had been broadcast on educational TV. When he was to ask the question, What is the native country of Pope John Paul II? Mr. Fairbain asked, “What is the native country of Pope John Paul Eye Eye?” The day after the broadcast, there were five letters to the editor in the paper about Mr. Fairbain, none favorable.

Dr. Rohmer knew that this year’s broadcast would have a larger than usual audience, partly because people were curious about having a sixth grade team be a contender for the district middle school championship but mostly because everyone would be waiting for Homer Fairbain to goof. Dr. Rohmer had to let Mr. Fairbain be master of ceremonies again. It would be his one chance to show the community that he had learned a thing or II.

~Konigsburg 134-135

Overall Review:

It’s all about character in this book, and that is pretty great. The short stories are memorable, the four kids are smart and (mostly) mature and sound that way (hooray!), and the Academic Bowl shenanigans at the end are pretty funny. Nadia’s voice and the weird New Age-y stuff at the end are really the only dampers.

You can buy this here: The View from Saturday

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