Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R. L. LaFevers, was published in 2007 by Houghton Mifflin.

Theodosia Throckmorton has her hands full at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. Her father may be head curator, but it is Theo—and only Theo—who is able to see all the black magic and ancient curses that still cling to the artifacts in the museum. Sneaking behind her father’s back, Theo uses old, nearly forgotten Egyptian magic to remove the curses and protect her father and the rest of the museum employees from the ancient, sinister forces lurking in the museum’s dark hallways. When Theo’s mother returns from her latest archaeological dig bearing the Heart of Egypt—a legendary amulet belonging to an ancient tomb—Theo learns that it comes inscribed with a curse so black and vile that it threatens to crumble the British Empire from within and start a war too terrible to imagine. Theo will have to call upon everything she’s ever learned in order to prevent the rising chaos from destroying her country—and herself!

Rating: 3/5

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos reminds me a little bit of a much tamer version of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, minus the gods, or maybe something more along the lines of Serafina and the Black Cloak combined with Withering-by-Sea. I’m not really a fan of the “young girl is more competent than the adults around her” trope, but Theodosia has some good moments with her parents and there are enough competent adults that it slightly alleviated my disgruntlement with the trope.

The plot revolving around the Heart of Egypt was a little hard to follow, especially once Theodosia gets to Egypt and the tomb, and there were one or two plot threads that seemed totally random (i.e., the whole thing with Isis getting possessed, which seemed completely unnecessary), but I do like how LaFevers wove in the tension leading up to World War I with her supernatural/fantasy plot so that amidst all the magic and cursed artifacts lies that historical thread. LaFevers also includes a lot of other little things about that time period, too, such as Britain’s occupation of Egypt and their archaeological fervor, Kaiser Wilhelm, the growing tension with Germany, and other historical facts that, again, lend a nice note of reality to the supernatural premise of the novel.

While I didn’t enjoy it so much that I’m itching to pick up the second novel, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos was enjoyable enough that I wouldn’t mind reading more, if only to find out more about the ambiguous “forces of Chaos,” the secret society that Theodosia stumbles across sworn to combat them, and how other historical details will fit in with the story as it unfolds. The main thing holding me back from immediately getting the next book is my annoyance at Theodosia as a protagonist, who is one of those smart-alecky characters who always knows what to do better than the characters around her. Theodosia, luckily, has a few flaws which makes her more endearing and less annoying, but I’m still not incredibly pleased with her.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Luckily, everyone’s eyes were focused on the artifact so they didn’t see me shiver violently, as if I’d just caught a ghastly chill. The truth of it was, whatever was in that package was cursed with something so powerful and vile it made me feel as if my whole body were covered in stinging ants. When Mother lifted off the last bit of paper, she held a large scarab carved out of precious stone in her hand. IT had gold wings curving out of its side and they were inlaid with thousands and thousands of jewels. A large round carnelian, the size of a cherry, sat at the head, and a smaller green stone decorate the bottom of the beetle. “The Heart of Egypt,” she announced. “Straight from Amenemhab’s tomb.”

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1923 Newbery Medal: The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

I’m starting a new series/reading goal: reading every book awarded with the Newbery Medal! While I will not be sticking to straight chronology, I do plan to go as chronologically as possible. Each book I review will have [Year] Newbery Medal before the name in the title of the blog, and I will have a separate page just of the Newbery Medal books I review. I have read some Newbery Medals already, so I will add to their titles.

The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting, was first published in 1922. I read the Illustrated Junior Library version published in 1998.

Doctor Dolittle, the veterinarian who can actually talk to animals, sets sail on the high seas for new adventures with Polynesia the parrot, Jip the dog, Chee-Chee the monkey, and young Tommy Stubbins. Together they travel to Spidermonkey Island, brave a shipwreck, and meet the incredible Great Glass Sea Snail.

Rating: 4/5

Dr. Doolittle is a series that I read a lot when I was younger. For a story about a man who can talk to animals, it’s surprisingly mature and lacking in silliness. The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle is very much a seafaring adventure whose main character also happens to have the ability to speak to animals. The only thing lacking that would make this a standard adventure novel are pirates and buried treasure, and Lofting replaces those with a shipwreck, a battle, and politics, all of which make for sometimes funny, sometimes serious adventure that is much more mature in terms of language and plot than I remember it being.

Now, having been written in the 1920s, all the things you might expect an author from that time period to include that would be different from today are there. I definitely don’t think either Bumpo or the natives of Spidermonkey Island are portrayed in a negative light, but it would not surprise me at all if there was some essay or argument out there explaining perceived negative stereotypes. Bumpo is an intelligent African prince studying at Oxford, who does use language incorrectly but only for comic relief (although some people might have a problem with even that initial premise). As for the natives, Long Arrow, in particular, is described many times as a great naturalist and while the terminology to describe the natives are not terms we would use nowadays, I feel like Lofting dealt with them with a great deal of respect. Perhaps you disagree, and that’s okay.

The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle is technically the second Dr. Doolittle book, but it is absolutely not necessary to have read the first. It’s a fun little adventure about a naturalist who can talk to animals and his adventures with his assistant, his friend, and the animals who accompany him (Polynesia is the best). It also says some good things about duty and responsibility, curiosity, and helping others. It brought back a lot of fond memories for me and was an auspicious start to my Newbery Medal reads!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Includes what some people today would probably deem “cultural insensitivity” at least.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Children’s

“From what the purple bird-of-paradise tells me, Long Arrow’s knowledge of natural history must be positively tremendous. His specialty is botany—plants and all that sort of thing. But he knows a lot about birds and animals too. He’s very good on bees and beetles. But now tell me, Stubbins, are you quite sure that you really want to be a naturalist?”

“Yes,” said I, “my mind is made up.”

“Well you know, it isn’t a very good profession for making money. Not at all, it isn’t. Most of the good naturalists don’t make any money whatever. All they do is spend money, buying butterfly nets and cases for birds’ eggs and things. It is only now, after I have been a naturalist for many years, that I am beginning to make a little money from the books I write.”

“I don’t care about money,” I said. “I want to be a naturalist.”

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Fairy Tale Friday: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2000 by Tor.

Lovely young Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by the brothers who love and protect her: Liam, the natural leader; Diarmid, with his passion for adventure; the twins, Cormack and Conor, each with a different calling; the young, compassionate Padriac…and her other heart, rebellious Finbar, grown old before his time by his gift of the Sight. Sorcha is the light in their lives, and in her young life she has known only peace and happiness. But that joy is destroyed when her father is bewitched by the woman who has won his hear and her brothers are bound by a spell that only Sorcha can lift. To reclaim the lives of her brothers, Sorcha leaves the only safe place she has ever known and embarks on a journey filled with pain, loss, and terror. When she is kidnapped by enemy forces and taken to a foreign land, it seems that there will be no way for Sorcha to break the spell that condemns all that she loves. But magic knows now boundaries, and Sorcha must choose between the life she has always known, promises made…and a love that comes only once. And in that choice, perhaps shattering her world.

Rating: 5/5

Daughter of the Forest is a stunning retelling of “The Wild Swans” fairytale. Marillier beautifully combines the fairytale with a Celtic setting, blending history with fantasy seamlessly. While the novel starts off slowly, once the initial set-up to the fairytale begins, the book flies by as the reader is swept up into Sorcha’s journey.

And what a journey it is. Sorcha is a wonderful protagonist, quietly strong and steadfast in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I love female protagonists of this sort, so it helped me connect with Sorcha even more. Marillier has perfectly crafted the circumstances and the effects; everything Sorcha does is explainable and believable in light of the world and the plot and what happens to her is also so, even the terrible parts. Fair warning, there is quite a violent, difficult scene to read at the beginning of Sorcha’s quest to free her brothers. It’s not graphically detailed, but it’s not glossed over at all—so, in a way, it’s much more graphically detailed than you might expect. Sometimes authors use things like this as a device or as another obstacle the protagonist must climb, but I feel like Marillier included it more for worldbuilding’s sake, to depict just how cruel the world can be at times. Or perhaps it’s to show how deep Sorcha’s bond with Red became, or perhaps it’s both. In any case, it’s handled deftly by Marillier.

That leads me to the thing I adored most about this book, which was Sorcha and Red. I think I’ve mentioned before that I tend to love the “agonizing” types of romance more than most other types, and Daughter of the Forest is full of agonizing—from Red, from Sorcha, from the people around them who see what’s happening and feel powerless to do anything about it. The relationship is slowly and beautifully developed, to the point where I cried at a particular part of the book that is poignant and beautiful and made me not want to put the book down even though I had to go to bed. And the romance ends perfectly, too, in a wonderfully satisfying way—usually I feel disappointed at the end of a book, or at the moment the love interests get together. But not in this book. In this book, I felt nothing but satisfaction.

I thought I loved Marillier already from reading her previous books, like Shadowfell and Wildwood Dancing, but Daughter of the Forest made me adore her. It’s a fantastic fairy tale adaptation, but it’s also a fantastic story, filled with love, loss, sorrow, pain, hope, and all the other things that make a particularly good book stand out from the rest. There are some hard things to read in this book, but there are many more beautiful things, and, like Sorcha, the reader comes to the end with a remembrance of the pain but with the knowledge that things are, as much as they can be in that world, going towards “happily ever after.”

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, death, rape.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale

“Listen to me, Sorcha. No matter where we are, or what we do, the seven of us will never be truly separate. We’ll always be the same for one another. But we are growing up; and grown up people do marry, and move away, and let other people into their lives. Even you will do that one day.”

“Me!” I was aghast.

“You must know that.” He moved closer and took my hand, and I noticed that his were large and rough, a man’s hands. He was seventeen now. “Father already plans a marriage for you, in a few years’ time, and doubtless then you will go away to live with your husband’s family. We will not all remain here.”

“Go away? I would never go away from Sevenwaters! This is home! I would die before I’d move away!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2mEPqig

The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale

The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, was published in 2015 by Bloomsbury. It is the sequel to Palace of Stone.

After a year at the palace, Miri and her friends are ready to return home to their beloved Mount Eskel. But when the king orders Miri to start her own princess academy in a faraway swamp for three royal cousins, she is utterly dismayed. She must go on this journey alone, away from everyone she loves and everything she knows. Miri’s new students are not at all what she expected. Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting, fishing, and wrestling than learning about etiquette and history, and they know next to nothing about their royal ancestry. As Miri spends more time with the girls, she starts to suspect that they are part of a long-buried secret, and that the key to uncovering the truth rests in her and the sisters’ hands. With her new friends at her side, Miri must gather all her strength to solve the mystery—and finally make her way back home.

Rating: 2/5

The Forgotten Sisters ranks lower than Palace of Stone only because I thought the message of the latter was stronger—and because the middle of The Forgotten Sisters is a bit of a trudge to read. I’m not sure if it was quite necessary to even have this book, but clearly popular demand led Hale to write another. The plot is a little bit of a mess, although I suppose, in retrospect, you could argue that Hale does indicate something in Palace of Stone in terms of the queen’s sorrow that could potentially tie to this novel. But for me, the plot seemed a little stilted and a little thrown together, and the reasoning behind it all was tied to a brief, flimsy little story told hastily in the beginning of the novel and never dwelled on again.

However, I will say that the ending of the novel was delightful, all thanks to Sus. The entirety of the section with the girls in the Queen’s Castle was good, but Sus (and Kaspar) just made it all that much better. It was cute, funny, and exactly the sort of matter-of-fact dialogue in a tense situation that I love to see executed well (the kind that just ignores all the mean people glaring and simply carries on a conversation in a subtly brilliant way).

Princess Academy is definitely the strongest in the series, with the two sequels not entirely necessary, in my opinion. Hale manages to pull some things together for The Forgotten Sisters, but overall the plot is a little contrived and the pace drags in the middle. There’s also some flowery bits of description that fall a little flat, at least in my opinion. But the ending is charming, and at least the book ended on a high note. However, if Hale writes another one of these, I probably won’t read it, as they’ve declined in quality since the first.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Something you didn’t know, Astrid,” said Miri. “Something I was able to teach you.”

Astrid shrugged. “All you did was put a fancy name to what we can already do.”

Miri opened her mouth to answer but had nothing to say.

Astrid passed very close to Miri on her way outside and whispered, “And I’m older than you, tutor.”

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The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

The Poison Throne, by Celine Kiernan, was published in 2008 by Orbit.

When young Wynter Moorehawke returns to court with her dying father, she finds her old home shadowed with fear. The king has become a violent despot, terrorizing those he once loved. His son and heir Alberon has fled into exile and now there are whispers everywhere of rebellion. Meanwhile, Alberon’s half-brother Razi has been elevated to the throne. He struggles to meet his King’s demands while remaining loyal to his beloved brother and to his friend Wynter. Now she must choose—her father or her dreams, her friend o her king, her duty or her love.

Rating: 2/5

What is it with me reading lackluster fantasies recently that somehow manage to compel me enough to keep reading? The Poison Throne, à la Falling Kingdoms, was the sort of book where every chapter I thought, “Okay, I’m going to stop reading” and then I kept reading for some inexplicable reason.

It definitely wasn’t the characters that kept me reading. Every other page one of them is yelling, or screaming, or kicking something, or shouting “NO!”, or crying, or doing a myriad of annoying things. Wynter was a sad, passive excuse for a character, although at the end she gets a little better. Christopher and Razi were bland and boring, and all the characters were so melodramatic that it was hard to take any of them seriously for long.

It also wasn’t the world. It reads like a fantasy at first, and then Kiernan suddenly reveals that it’s a medieval fantasy, set in the Middle Ages, but with some convoluted and inconsistent building that hints at a non-Earth setting even though it’s so desperately trying to be alternate history. Kiernan cobbles together actual places and people groups with fake ones, making it a muddled world overall.

The thing that kept me reading might have been the plot, which had glimmers of hope. The mystery of why the crown prince is reportedly rebelling was vaguely interesting, and the end of the book, with Wynter leaving to go find him (although it’s never stated why, exactly, she’s doing this), was intriguing. The rest of it was as muddled and melodramatic as the plot and the characters, but slivers of interest kept poking up amidst the muck.

Or maybe the thing that kept me reading The Poison Throne was the “It’s so bad it’s good” concept or the “can’t stop watching this train wreck” concept. Every page I turned, every chapter where I half-thought I would close the book, was the page or the chapter where I thought, “Well, maybe just one more, just to see what happens.” I’m certainly not a fan of The Poison Throne, nor do I consider it above a mediocre fantasy (if even that), but it’s one of those books where, if I was browsing the library shelves and had nothing else I wanted to read, I might just pick up the sequel. You know—just to see what happens.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, a small snippet of swearing.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“Where is Alberon, Razi?” Wynter asked. She kept her voice low and only glanced sideways at him. They had had no contact for the last five years; had, until now, not even been sure if the other survived. Now, questions, if asked at all, would have to be asked gently, obliquely, for fear of opening old wounds or uncovering secrets best left hidden.

Razi cleared his throat and shook his head. “I don’t know where Albi is, little sister. He is not here. Father says…Father says that he has sent him to the coast, to inspect the fleet.” Their eyes met briefly and Wynter looked away.

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Rose & Thorn by Sarah Prineas

Rose & Thorn, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster. It is the sequel to Ash & Bramble.

After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by the handsome and mysterious Watcher, Griff, and his witty and warmhearted partner, Quirk, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?

Rating: 4/5

Rose & Thorn is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a reimaging. Rose & Thorn is a sequel of sorts to Ash & Bramble, which set up the idea of Story forcing people to fulfill fairy tales over and over. So, the main goal of the characters is to not have the original fairy tale happen, so things go a little differently than one might expect (although saying that may be spoilery, but oh well).

It’s a beautiful retelling of Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale I don’t actually much like, and there’s loads of originality throughout. Rose is a great protagonist, the type of female protagonist I like. She’s not all gung-ho, “I can do everything cool and awesome” warrior-esque, which can get so tiring and boring. She’s much quieter and understated, which I prefer.

The romance was a little boring, but I find most romances boring in YA since it’s so clearly designed to appeal to teenagers. Griff as a character, at least, was interesting, although I thought the ending was a little rushed—it was believable, but definitely could have been more so in terms of his change.

The main problem of Rose & Thorn, and of Prineas’s fairytale retellings in general, is the concept of Story as this malevolent force that constrains people to its will somehow (through a Godmother, but then at the end it’s revealed it can act on its own, so why does it need a Godmother?) and forces them into fairy tales over and over. But not all stories are Story, only some—if they’re “your own stories,” whatever that is (seemingly the one you want). What if the story you want is the same one that Story wants? Anyway, it’s a little hard to swallow and several times it seems a little forced in the story, as if Prineas also realizes that an idea like Story is hard to convey or accept as realistic.

However, despite the problems of its underlying concept, Rose & Thorn is an imaginative, fresh retelling of Sleeping Beauty with memorable characters (even if you haven’t read Ash & Bramble) and an interesting protagonist, and carries enough appeal to make me want to keep reading Prineas’s fairy tale retellings.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

“Ohhhh,” I breathed. This was the Forest. It had offered the clearing as a baited trap, I realized, and it had reached out to take me as I slept. Merry had told me that the Forest was evil, and maybe I should’ve been frightened, but I suddenly felt excited. Ready to go where the Forest led me.

It was, I realized, my story beginning. “Once upon a time…,” I whispered to myself.

I ate a quick bite of breakfast, rebraided my hair, washed my face in the stream—which hadn’t disappeared, like the road—put on my cloak, slung my knapsack over my shoulders, and, ready to start, turned in a slow circle, looking for a way through the trees.

“Once upon a time,” I repeated, “there was a girl who was searching for a path through an enchanted forest.”

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Mischief in Fez by Eleanor Hoffmann

Mischief in Fez, by Eleanor Hoffmann, was first published in 1943.

Until Mousa’s father, the judge, brought a stepmother home to their palace in Fez, Mousa had always been very happy. But no sooner did Fatma arrive than trouble began. Such trouble! The beautiful fountain became clogged with date stones, thrown there by someone. The oranges disappeared from the judge’s favorite orange tree—not to mention ever so many other upsetting things, most of which were blamed on poor Mousa. Mousa felt sure that Allak, Fatma’s disagreeable gazelle, had a great deal to do with this mysterious mischief. But he never would have solved the riddle without Baha, the little desert fox, or without the magic the Toubib gave him.

Rating: 4/5

Mischief in Fez is a story I read over and over again as a child. It was featured in one of the many anthologies of children’s literature my parents had. I’ve always remembered the story, but until recently, I couldn’t remember the name—until I did a quick Google search. Then, to my delight, my library carried it. I was all set to delve once more into a beloved childhood story.

Mischief in Fez may be short, but it’s full of myth and culture in a way that I don’t feel is haphazard or disrespectful at all. It’s almost reverent, in a way, of Middle Eastern beliefs, and it reads as if Hoffman actually spent some time in the area. Perhaps other people feel differently, but I feel as if Mischief in Fez is an accurate, if a small representative sample, of Middle Eastern culture. And to be honest, that’s not seen a lot today—for various reasons.

The story/novella is quite short, so there’s not much else I feel I can say about it besides the story is good: suitably tense in places and delightfully heartwarming in others. What I remembered most is the little fennec, Baha, and he is definitely the star of the show, even more so than Mousa, who I scarcely remembered at all.

Mischief in Fez is a perfect read-aloud or read-along book for children, with plenty to discuss about myth, certain aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and, most importantly, the drive to defeat evil. It’s a fond memory of my childhood, one I’m glad I decided to return to.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy

Only the bride herself remained aloof and indifferent to the new mischiefs that seemed to be occurring each day. As she passed from room to room, her beauty made all her servants forget the grave looks of the master. And Allak, the gazelle, as he frisked about the court, cheered them with something alive and graceful to look at, for, like Mousa, they missed the doves.

But Mousa, to his surprise, found no pleasure in watching his stepmother’s gazelle. In all his life this was the first animal that he had not loved,–perhaps because he had been so sharply forbidden to touch him, perhaps because of the disdainful twitching of his nostrils, the hostile glowering of his eyes. Was it possible, he wondered, that Allak had stolen and devoured the oranges?

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The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan

The Siege of Macindaw, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Sorcerer of the North.

The kingdom is in danger. Renegade knight Sir Keren has succeeded in overtaking Castle Macindaw and now is conspiring with the Scotti. The fate of Araluen rests in the hands of two young adventurers: the Ranger Will and his warrior friend, Horace. Yet for Will, the stakes are even higher. For inside Castle Macindaw, held hostage, is someone he loves. For this onetime apprentice, the time to grow up is now.

Rating: 4/5

Flanagan manages to continue to be inventive and new with every book he writes, even if the formula is predictable. This is something that Brian Jacques failed to do in his Redwall series, with each progressive book becoming more and more tedious, but Flanagan manages to avoid this entirely and makes each book fresh and fun.

The Siege of Macindaw isn’t quite as good as I thought The Battle for Skandia was, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Will has several moments of “I’m going to DIE” realizations, which is nice because up until now our Plucky Heroes have seemed nearly invincible. Luck (and Horace) help him out a lot, but still, it’s nice to see a protagonist miscalculate at times, especially when he’s known for his usually good strategy. In fact, the entire “the characters will never die” trope that Flanagan continuously exhibits, probably the weakest point of the series, made it so that I was shocked when the details about the last book in the series were revealed (which I’ve actually never read). But that’s a different conversation for a different time.

The added romance was done pretty well and wasn’t cheesy at all—and Horace poking fun at Will for the “I think this way and don’t realize you think the same way so it’s really awkward all the time” tension is a great tongue-in-cheek moment. The romance also makes a lot of sense, in that the characters are growing up and are starting to think more and more about things like love.

What can I say that I haven’t already said about Ranger’s Apprentice? I love this series to death, and The Siege of Macindaw is another great installment of a series that is continuously fresh and fun with every book.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Horace shrugged. “No matter. I’m sure we can manage. So, how many, exactly?”

“You mean, counting you and me?” Will asked.

… “Yes. I think we’d better count you and me. How many?”

… “Counting you and me, twenty-seven.”

“Twenty-seven,” Horace repeated, his tone devoid of any expression.

“But they’re Skandians, after all,” Will said hopefully.

His friend look at him, one eyebrow raised in disbelief. “They’d better be,” he said heavily.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2lVQcpF

Fairy Tale Friday: Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella, by Megan Morrison, was published in 2016 by Arthur A. Levine. It is the sequel to Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel.

Ella Coach has one wish: revolution. Her mother died working in a sweatshop, and Ella wants every laborer in the blue kingdom to receive fairer treatment. But to make that happen, she’ll need some high-level support. Prince Dash Charming has one wish: evolution. The Charming Curse forced generations of Charming men to lie, cheat, and break hearts—but with the witch Envearia’s death, the curse has ended. Now Dash wants to be a better person, but he doesn’t know where to start. Serge can grant any wish—and has: As an executive fairy godfather, he’s catered to the wildest whims of spoiled brats from the richest, most entitled families in Blue. But now a new name has come up on his list, someone nobody’s ever heard of…Ella Coach. This is the story of three people who want something better, and who work together to change their worlds.

Rating: 2/5

Grounded was one of my favorite adaptations of the Rapunzel fairytale I’ve read, so I was excited to read Morrison’s latest work, this time taking on Cinderella’s fairytale—or so I thought. Instead, what I got was a preachy, “all rich people are evil” narrative without the faintest trace of Cinderella except for the main character’s name.

I mean, it was a good cause Ella was yelling about for the entire book, but it was the complete over-the-top descriptions and the numerous speeches (literally) that made it feel more like a pamphlet on fair labor laws and trade than a fairytale retelling. It was also completely devoid of almost everything from the Cinderella fairytale, except for miniscule aspects such as her stepmother and stepsisters. I get that Morrison is trying to be original here, but why even bother masking this as a retelling of Cinderella when it’s not? It would have been better to introduce it as an original story set in Morrison’s fairytale world.

Also, I think I would have been a little more sympathetic towards Ella if she had stopped acting like only she knew what the laborers were going through and that only she stood for what’s Good and Right in the world (not helped by the author painting every rich person as selfish, cruel, and completely devoid of compassion). Luckily, at least a few of the characters point this out to her, and by the end of the book she’s slightly better in terms of her overall attitude.

So, Disenchanted, while having an interesting world with several clever fairy tale elements woven into it, is far from a good Cinderella reimagining. I could barely recognize the original fairytale in the plot and world Morrison created. That’s not a bad thing that Morrison expanded on the world she built, but it would have been far better not to attach the Cinderella name to it at all. As a world with fairytale references, Disenchanted is clever and fun. As a Cinderella retelling, Disenchanted is irritating, preachy, and unrecognizable as such.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

“Don’t tell on me,” he begged. “Please. I can explain.”

“You stole Ella’s contract. What were you thinking, Jasper?”

“The same thing you were thinking!”

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

“You thought it was wrong to ignore a child just because she couldn’t pay,” said Jasper. “You proved it by letting me come here, didn’t you?” His breath came fast. “We should do this together. We should help Ella.”

“Presumptuous.”

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Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms, by Morgan Rhodes, was published in 2012 by Penguin.

In the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has long been forgotten. And while hard-won peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest now simmers below the surface. As the rulers of each kingdom grapple for power, the lives of their subjects are brutally transformed…and four key players, royals and rebels alike, find their fates forever intertwined. Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus are caught in a dizzying world of treacherous betrayals, shocking murders, secret alliances, and even unforeseen love. The only outcome that’s certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

Rating: 2/5

Reading Falling Kingdoms was like driving down a one-way street, knowing that there’s no way through but still wondering what the end will look like. I briefly considered putting it down about a third of the way through, but I kept reading.

Why did I keep reading, you ask? Well, it wasn’t because of the characters. Stock, predictable characters who do stupid things for the sake of the plot don’t really interest me. My favorite was probably Magnus, even though the “forbidden love” aspect was gross and annoying. And then we have Lucia, who is supposed to be a main, viewpoint character but is usually pushed aside in favor of Magnus. And Jonas, who is annoying. And Cleo, who’s exactly like every single female protagonist I’ve read in YA, which means the majority of readers probably love her. Oh, and her love story, which is so predictable you can see it coming before the book even starts.

I also didn’t keep reading because of the plot and world. The “this kingdom is oppressing this one and so it decides to fight back, oh and there are some evil kings who want to take over the world and some type of magic and a prophecy and some mystical items to find” plot isn’t developed nearly well enough to make up for its unoriginality, and the world is the standard magical kingdom variety, complete with dead goddesses and The One Sorcerer to Rule Them All.

So, what was it about Falling Kingdoms that made me finish the book and go, “Hmm, I could read the next one”? Since I didn’t enjoy any of the characters, the plot, or the world itself, I can’t honestly say. Maybe it was the simple feel of the book itself, that “you know I’ll be terrible but you want to read me anyway” atmosphere that exudes from books like these. Maybe I just like driving down one-way streets, because they might, somehow, end up somewhere interesting.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Incestual thoughts, violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“I need to see him,” Jonas murmured. “I need to do what Tomas wanted to do. Things need to change.”

Brion looked at him with surprise. “So in two minutes you’ve gone from single-minded vengeance to potentially seeking audience with the chief.”

“You could put it that way.” Killing the royals, Jonas was realizing soberly, would have been a glorious moment of vengeance—a blaze of glory. But it would do nothing to help his people chart a new course for a brighter future. That was what Tomas would have wanted above all else.

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