Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi in the South Seas, by Astrid Lindgren, was published in 1959 by Viking. It is the sequel to Pippi Goes on Board.

Rating: 2/5

Pippi in the South Seas sounds distinctly different from the first two Pippi Longstocking books. At first I thought it was because of the small gap in years of publication between this book and the previous, but then I realized it may have to do with the translator. However, that would only affect language, not characterization, and I felt Pippi was a bit different in this book. Then again, I don’t think Lindgren was especially concerned with consistency.

The book starts with a few adventures in Sweden, but then goes into the main part of the book, which is the journey to Pippi’s father’s island monarchy. This book has the most unbelievable plot incentive in order to get Tommy and Annika to Kurrekurredutt Island, where their mother just cavalierly lets them go, in the middle of the school year, to a remote island for months without any way of knowing when they’d be back (or if they even survived the journey). Okay, yes, yes, children’s book and all that, and certainly when I read this as a child I didn’t even think about things like this.

Anyway, at the island, Pippi and friends have their usual adventures, this time involving pirates/bandits and tropical island activities, and there’s a sweet little scene at the end of the book where the trio return after Christmas and Pippi holds a little Christmas celebration for them anyway.

These books completely lost their shine reading them again as an adult, but I did really enjoy them as a child, and many of the things that disgruntled me now I completely missed or ignored then, so I would say these books are successful children’s books, just not successful enjoyable-for-adults-too books.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction, Fantasy (?)

The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf by Gerald Morris

The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, by Gerald Morris, was published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin. It is the sequel to The Squire, His Knight, & His Lady.

Rating: 4/5

I am enjoying this series more and more with each book that I read. At first I wasn’t sure if Morris was trying to play Arthurian legend straight or be cheeky and humorous. Now, I think I’ve finally got a grasp of his tone, which is…both, really. It’s clear he loves Arthur, but it’s also clear he’s trying to make things enjoyable for his audience, especially those who may not be as familiar with Arthurian legend. The best thing is that all of these books are based off of real stories (usually Malory), explained by Morris in an author’s note at the end.

I don’t know the exact tale that Morris based this story off of, but the novel itself was delightful. There’s a fierce, yet still ladylike protagonist, a witty dwarf, a bumbling knight, and lots and lots of adventure. Plus, Terence makes a few appearances (and is responsible for maneuvering the characters into the places they’re supposed to be).

I figured out a majority of the plot twists before they were revealed, but I think Morris wasn’t as concerned with keeping things secret as he was with making sure his story was enjoyable. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t recognize the source material meant that I was able to simply enjoy this book as a story, not as an adaptation. Arthurian legend has never been my favorite, so I love that Morris has managed to make it palatable for me.

Romance played a central role in this book, much more so than the others, Perhaps because it’s the focal point of many medieval stories. Lynet is torn between the noble knight Beaumains and the sarcastic, gruff dwarf Roger, but it’s not nearly as love-triangle-y as I’m making it sound. It’s actually a very sweet, if predictable, romance.

The more I read these books, the more I want to read. That’s great praise for a series centered around one of my least favorite topics to read about, but Morris has a great way of making everything fun and interesting—and for filling in the gaps of Arthurian legend in a reasonable and sensible way.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Archenemies, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2018 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Renegades.

Rating: 4/5

*minor spoilers*

I keep expecting to know how Meyer will do things, but the first book surprised me and this book, though it didn’t surprise me in the same way, still didn’t end the way I expected. The plot is a little more basic in this one: for the entire book, Nova’s goal is to steal Ace Anarchy’s helmet (which somehow amplifies his powers, but we’re never told how or why). There’s some side plots that crop up along the way—Agent N, which was introduced in the first book, and the Vitality Charm—but the main action at the end is focused around the helmet. This is a long book to have such a simple plot, and it definitely shows in areas.

Once again, I expected Nova’s identity as Nightmare to be revealed, and once again, it was not, except now it’s gotten to the point where I have no idea how Meyer can possibly pull any sort of happy ending out of this. Adrian is angry at Nightmare, Nova is angry at Sentinel—how can there be anything large enough to get past that? Will there be a mysterious big villain coming out of nowhere that requires them to team up? Or is Meyer going to use the number of times Nightmare and Sentinel get associated with things that they didn’t actually do be the thing that brings them back together?

Of course, I’m assuming the series will end with their identities being revealed, but now that I think about it, that doesn’t have to be the case. It may, in fact, be more interesting if they were never revealed.

The most interesting thing about these books is that Meyer has stuck strictly to Nova’s ideas of the Renegades throughout, never once showing another side. Not even Adrian’s point of view chapters have much to do with countering Nova’s ideas, and any opposite viewpoint is interspersed with Nova’s curt questions. It’s clear, especially at the end of the book, that Meyer wants us to agree with Nova.

I hope the plot for the third book is a bit more tricky and complex than this one, but otherwise I’m surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying this series. Hopefully Meyer doesn’t pull anything outrageous or annoying in the last book.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: LGBTQ+ themes

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Goes on Board, by Astrid Lindgren, was published in 1957 by Viking. It is the sequel to Pippi Longstocking.

Rating: 2/5

Most of the time, books I grew up reading I enjoy again while reading as an adult. The Pippi Longstocking books are turning into one of the exceptions, I think. It’s not that they’re bad; it’s just that I spend half the time wincing and half the time rolling my eyes at Pippi’s antics.

Pippi Goes on Board has a slightly more tolerable Pippi in terms of manners around adults than Pippi Longstocking did, but Lindgren chose instead to focus on “Pippi solves every one’s problems” for every chapter, so (almost) every chapter has Pippi saving the day in some form or fashion. In addition, Pippi continues her tall tales of the countries and islands and people she’s seen, whereupon most of the wincing will occur, as Lindgren peppers her speech with references to the “Hottentots” and to various made-up tribes. Things are made more wince-worthy when Pippi’s father returns, who has been crowned king of a cannibal tribe just as she has always said, and parades around in his cannibal/jungle gear. To be clear, nothing is bad in terms of language—just really ignorant (as one might expect from a book from the 50s, honestly).

However, that being said, Lindgren does a lot to show off the caring side of Pippi, especially when it comes to Tommy and Annika. From the tree that “grows soda” (re: Pippi puts it there) to buying mounds of candy for everyone to comforting Tommy and Annika when they really think they’re shipwrecked forever to foregoing sailing off with her father because she can’t bear to see them sad, Pippi shows that she’s not all rough around the edges.

Plus, there’s a truly delightful illustration where she’s standing fiercely tall with a pistol in hand, glaring at imaginary cannibals.

I’m truly afraid the last Pippi book will be even more wince-worthy than Pippi Goes on Board, as 50s Europe (remember, the book was written in Sweden, though 50s America probably was similar) clearly echoes lots of ideas that modern times have sought so hard to remove or change completely. At least these books are a good lesson in how people in strange cultures/lands were talked about.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2017 by Feiwel and Friends.

Rating: 4/5

*minor spoilers*

Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series gave me a taste for superhero novels, so I decided to give Meyer’s (the author of Cinder) YA trilogy a shot. I liked her Lunar Chronicles well enough, except for Winter, so I figured I might enjoy this though it’s a different genre.

At first, I thought Renegades would be predictable. I mean, there’s only so many ways you can take a “girl infiltrates her enemy’s headquarters and seeks to overthrow them from the inside” plot. So, I figured that Nova would, in the course of her Renegade disguise, fall in love with Sketch/Adrian, but then discover that what she thought about the Renegades wasn’t true and/or get unmasked before she can do anything. The book would end with her true identity as a villain/Anarchist revealed.

Things looked good to be heading in that direction, until the very end when Meyer proved that she wasn’t just following a predictable, overused trope.

For one, Nova isn’t unmasked. For another, she still really and truly sticks to her Anarchist roots throughout, and while she learns a lot about the Renegades, she’s still dissatisfied with the way they run things (this whole book seems to be about Big Government Ruining Things because Nova is very into individual responsibility and not letting beaurocrats make all the decisions and solve all the problems). For a third, Meyer pulls a plot twist out of thin air at the very end of the book, a twist I didn’t see coming—and the great thing is, it didn’t come out of left field at all, AND it wasn’t particularly obvious.

So, in terms of plot, I can’t really fault Meyer. She did a much better job than I thought she would do, though the length of the book seems too long. There’s a stretch in the middle where everyone runs around a library that goes on forever. However, I can fault her for worldbuilding because it made very little sense. She’s simply too vague about the way things happened and nothing really is clear as to how things got the way they are. There’s no sense of place or time to the novel. Meyer seems to be being deliberately vague about many things like technology and other familiar things that would ground the novel, but then casually throws out words from modern day that fly in the face of a world-completely-changed narrative.

In addition, while several of the superpowers are clever (especially Sketch’s power) and most are standard ones you can think of, some are mindboggling strange. Like Ruby/Red Assassin, who swallowed some rubies and then suddenly has blood that turns into crystals??? What? And then there’s continuous mention of “bloodstone” with no reference as to what, exactly, that is…a drop of her blood that she uses as a jewel on her weapons? Or does she make weapons with her blood and then adorns each of them with this drop of blood (if so, why?)?

However, despite those things, as you can tell I still rated this a 4 out of 5, so my issues with the novel weren’t big enough to take away from my overall enjoyment of it, especially when Meyer changed things up and surprised me in a good way. The last (third) book just came out (though the end of this book seems to imply that it was originally only supposed to be 2 books), so I’m glad to read a series that’s actually finished already so I don’t have to wait too long.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Minor LGBTQ+ themes

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren, was published in 1950 by Viking.

Rating: 3/5

Ah, Pippi Longstocking. Another of my childhood books that I read over and over to the point of memorizing. These books sat next to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family books. Even now, years since I’ve picked up the book, I still remember reading it, and all the inflections I put in all the character’s voices.

Pippi Longstocking was first published in Sweden, which explains why at one point Lindgren (or the translator?) describes someone speaking in Swedish as well as all the names and sometimes odd references. It’s the story of an incorrigible nine-year-old who lives by herself (with a monkey and a horse), but who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself due to her immense wealth and strength. With a pirating background and loads of practicality and literalness, Pippi makes a scene wherever she goes—and still somehow manages to avoid major adult interference.

Lindgren writes Pippi in such a way that children will be sure to love the books, though adult readers might find her a bit wearing. She’s so…present in every scene, and all the characters fade into the background, even her friends Tommy and Annika. Though Lindgren makes it so that Pippi comes out on top nearly every time, there are at least some hints where you can see Pippi’s lack of education and discipline showing through in a more negative light, such as when she disrupts a tea party with her terrible manners and constant interruptions to tell stories about her or her family’s life (which she admits she makes up). She’s cheeky and incorrigible and exactly the sort of messy children’s protagonist that children love (I did). As an adult, though, I found her a bit taxing and annoying.

Pippi Longstocking is a book that didn’t hold its charm for me as an adult, but I still had an enjoyable nostalgic read of it and I’m looking forward to seeing if the book where Pippi, Tommy, and Annika go to an island where her father has been crowned king of cannibals is as cringe-worthy as I think it will be.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction, Fantasy (?)

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer, was published in 2019 by Bloomsbury.

Rating: 4/5

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is continuing the streak of YA books that I’m pleasantly surprised with. It’s a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” involving parallel universes, curses, and a fairly decently developed world. Harper, a girl with cerebral palsy, is taken into another world in order to break the curse of the prince of that realm. The curse, of course, can only be broken by true love, but since Harper was kidnapped, she’s really not at all interested.

The thing that I was most impressed with was how Kemmerer resolved the curse. Honestly, overall, I thought she did a fantastic job with building the relationship between Harper and Rhen, and then to make it even better, she doesn’t rush the ending or force the characters into something that doesn’t make sense—instead, there’s a question raised, and a resolution to just try and figure things out. It was done really well, in my opinion, and it was a great way to “modernize” the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale.

My biggest criticism is probably the parallel universe aspect of it. Harper being a character in the fantasy world makes no sense and would not have worked in the book at all, so I understand the idea behind having Harper be from Washington, D.C., but the parts involving her family back in D.C. were the weakest in the book. Kemmerer’s decision to give Harper’s family a loan shark background really didn’t work very well and seemed only to be used to generate drama, especially since nothing came of that side story, anyway. Scrap Jacob’s role as loan shark muscle and you still have all the incentive Harper needs to miss home and to want to return home later (i.e., her sick mother). So, that part fell a little flat because it didn’t really seem to contribute anything besides more drama that wasn’t needed.

Despite that, however, I really enjoyed A Curse So Dark and Lonely. It was not a traditional “Beauty and the Beast” retelling and I thought Kemmerer did a great job of making things new and original, and especially in changing certain things about the fairy tale that are more problematic and making them more realistic. There’s a sequel coming out eventually, so I might pick that up when it does!

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A. Craig, was published in 2019 by Delacorte.

Rating: 4/5

House of Salt and Sorrows is a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”—kind of. In this version, there’s only 8 “princesses” alive at the beginning, and Craig really uses the fairy tale as more inspiration to weave her own ghostly, mythical story. I actually really enjoyed this book, despite the presence of tropes I don’t like such as insta-love/lust, based solely on the world, the story, and Craig’s wonderful writing.

Like I said, the story is inspired by “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” but Craig interprets and creates so many new and interesting things from it. I loved the plot and the whole mythology/supernatural vibe, and I especially liked how Craig managed to make each character stand out and, in the case of solving the mystery, not too suspicious. There wasn’t any one character that stood out as “oh, that’s the villain obviously” and the main plot twist was cleverly hidden and deftly revealed. Things get a little spooky, a little gory, and a little wacky at the end, but it fits Craig’s spooky, mythical setting perfectly.

Mainly the one thing I didn’t like was the insta-love between Cassius and Annaleigh. At least it’s sort of explained through his origins, but still—not my favorite. However, at least Craig made me forget about it for most of the book, and the ending was fine. I’ve gotten away from YA for a little bit, but I’m coming back to it slowly, and books like this remind me why.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Kissing, gruesome scenes.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Whittington by Alan Armstrong

Whittington, by Alan Armstrong, was published in 2005 by Random House.

Rating: 2/5

I thought at first that Whittington would be some sort of retelling of “Dick Whittington and His Cat.” The cover art of the version I had strongly suggested that, as does, of course, the title. And it is—kind of. But it’s really about the descendant of Whittington’s cat going to a farm and interacting with the farm animals there while telling the story of Whittington to the animals and to the grandchildren of the owner of the farm, one of whom is struggling in school.

It’s a little bit of a weird book. Or perhaps the fact that I wasn’t expecting it to be mostly about farm animals threw me off. The story of Whittington is woven into the story of the everyday life of the animals pretty neatly, but there’s still really odd chapters every now and then that don’t seem to fit, whether it’s a random story about a horse, a dog, or even the humans. Even Ben’s struggle with reading seems a bit out of place at times. And I didn’t remember enough of “Dick Whittington and His Cat” to know if this book was a retelling, an alternate version, or something else entirely.

I think maybe if I hadn’t been so thrown by the content, and if I hadn’t been reading other books that were more interesting to me, I might have enjoyed Whittington a little bit more. Unfortunately, I found it a little boring, random and sporadic in pacing and story, and not appealing enough to hold my interest for long.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction, Realistic, Fantasy

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn, by Elizabeth Lim, was published in 2019 by Random House.

Rating: 3/5

Spin the Dawn is one of those books where everyone screams about it based solely on the cover and the summary. It was all over Goodreads as well as some other websites I frequent that talk about books before it was even published. It seemed interesting to me, which is why I got it, though I shudder at any “girl disguises herself as boy” plot. I was also hoping for something more fairy-tale-like, which tends to be more palatable to me.

And, all right, the highest praise I can give it is that it was actually pretty good (and knowing my track record with YA, that’s high praise from me!). It didn’t make me want to tear my hair out or anything. Honestly, I thought the plot was handled nicely, even the girl-disguised-as-boy part, Maia was fairly interesting, and the romance was cute. Lim also manages to make a “girl saves boy” plot work, too, without ridiculous hoop-jumping and other eye-rolling plot conveniences.

I mean, there were places where I really wasn’t a fan. The first part of the sewing contest thing was a bit rocky because I thought Maia was too eager to use the scissors for being such a supposedly good tailor, and I thought Lim tried just a little too hard to give her flaws during that part. But the rest of the novel flowed much more nicely and in the end I actually believed Maia when she kept describing how she had changed because it was clearly developed. Also, the romance was cute, but wildly predictable and almost saccharinely sweet in places. Though I liked the successful and believable “girl saves boy,” that entire aspect was too predictable (though not, I suppose, the part at the end with the curse).

Spin the Dawn is probably one of the less irritating YA fantasy novels I’ve read recently. I did have some issues with it, but overall it was enjoyable and I liked the majority of it.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: The romance is between an eighteen (seventeen? I don’t remember)-year-old girl and a hundreds-of-years-old enchanter. There’s also lots of kissing and sleeping together, though the kissing is described much more. 

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy