Book of Enchantments Review

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Review:

Book of Enchantments is a collection of short stories by Patricia Wrede, author of my all-time favorite children’s fantasy series, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. It really shows off her versatility as a writer, as the stories are written on a variety of themes and in a variety of styles. Unfortunately, I don’t own a copy and it’s been awhile since I read some of the stories, but as best as I can remember them, here are my thoughts on each:

  • Rikiki and the Wizard – This is set in the shared world of Liavek, which I am unfamiliar with, so I didn’t get a whole lot out of it. It was originally published in The Players of Luck.
  • The Princess, The Cat, and the Unicorn – I was already familiar with this story due to its inclusion in The Unicorn Treasury, but I’m very fond of it, so it was nice to bump into it again. It’s set in the same Enchanted Forest as the one in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, but doesn’t have any of the same characters. However, the story is very similar in style and tone to the series, with another unconventional princess trope-busting her way through an encounter with a unicorn.
  • Roses By Moonlight – A fantasy about fate and choices inspired by the story of the Prodigal Son.
  • The Sixty-two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd – A humorous story about a young woman whose family is cursed with lycanthropy. It was originally published in A Wizard’s Dozen.
  • Earthwitch – I honestly can’t remember this one.
  • The Sword-Seller – This one is set in Andre Norton’s Witch World, which I’m also unfamiliar with, so I didn’t get much out of it either.
  • The Lorelei – As you can probably guess, this is a story about the Lorelei myth of Germany. I remember enjoying it, particularly because it has a teenage girl rescuing a boy, rather than vice versa.
  • Stronger Than Time – A melancholy Sleeping Beauty AU in which the Prince didn’t come.
  • Cruel Sisters – A retelling of the same legend told in Loreena McKennit’s The Bonny Swans.
  • Utensile Strength – A funny story featuring Cimorene, Mendanbar, and Daystar (among others) from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, as well as the Frying Pan of Doom. (Comes with a recipe for Quick After-Battle Triple Chocolate Cake.)

In general, I prefer Wrede’s humorous stories to her more serious ones, so I’d say my favorites were “The Princess, The Cat, and The Unicorn,” “Utensile Strength,” and “The Sixy-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd.” However, I enjoyed most of the stories. Like the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, it’s also great feminist fiction – nearly all of the stories have female protagonists, with a variety of personalities and skills. There are also several nice depictions of supportive female family relationships and friendships, as well as some that are more dysfunctional.

Although several of the stories (especially the Enchanted Forest ones) are suitable for younger audiences, I’d say most of them are better for young adult and adult readers, rather than children.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Review

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Review:

Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles is my all-time favorite children’s fantasy series, and one of my favorite comfort reads to this day. This funny and exciting series centers mainly around Cimorene, a very atypical princess who decides to run away from her life in the pleasant but boring kingdom of Linderwall and become a dragon’s princess. Wrede gleefully and hilariously demolishes fairy tale stereotypes and tropes throughout all four books of the series, but in the end its real attraction is its memorable characters. Cimorene, Kazul, Morwen, Telemain, and the rest are like old friends, and I never fail to be cheered up by dipping into their lives.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is also great feminist fantasy, as it stars multiple intelligent, powerful, and independent-minded female characters and plays with gender roles in interesting ways. In dragon culture, for example, “King” and “Queen” are the names of positions with distinct duties and responsibilities, and the gender of the dragon who holds them is irrelevant. Over the course of the series, there is both a female King of the Dragons, and a male Queen. It’s also suggested that dragons can choose their gender when they reach a certain age, but this is never explicitly stated.

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Dealing With Dragons

Book one of the series could easily be read as a stand-alone fantasy novel, but I don’t personally see why anybody would want to. It introduces Cimorene, the dragon Kazul, the witch Morwen, and the dastardly wizards, who Cimorene must foil in between whipping up cherries jubilee for Kazul and trying to get rid of the annoying knights and princes who keep interrupting her work to try and rescue her.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Searching For Dragons

The wizards are at it again! This time they’ve kidnapped Kazul and Cimorene must set off through the unpredictable Enchanted Forest to rescue her. Luckily, her companion is none other than the King of the Enchanted Forest, Mendanbar. I remember being a little disappointed that the story was told from Mendanbar’s point of view when I first started reading this book at age 10 (or so), but it actually ended up being kind of fun seeing Cimorene, Morwen, etc. from somebody else’s point of view, and though I wouldn’t say Mendanbar is Wrede’s most memorable character, he’s certainly one of the nicest, so I couldn’t dislike him for long.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Calling For Dragons

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The third book in the series ends on a rather annoying and distressing cliffhanger. Apparently, the fourth book, Talking With Dragons, was actually the first book to be written and published, so by the time Wrede got around to writing Calling With Dragons, she was already stuck with having to make poor Mendanbar disappear for 17 years while Cimorene raised their son without him. Nevertheless, the book is tons of fun, thanks in part to the fact that its main POV character is Morwen, so you can understand her cats. There’s also a 6 foot 11 inch floating blue donkey with wings named Killer (he used to be a rabbit) and lots of witty repartee to liven things up despite the disappointing conclusion, so I’ve always considered it my second favorite after Dealing With Dragons.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Talking With Dragons

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A big jump in time and another POV switch, this time to Cimorene’s now 17 year old son Daystar. As I mentioned above, Talking With Dragons was the first book in the series to actually be written, and it follows a somewhat more traditional quest format, with poor Daystar being shoved into the Enchanted Forest with inadequate information (although an excellent education) about what he’s supposed to do and having to unravel it along the way. In the process, he runs into many old friends, including Morwen, Telmain, and Kazul, and makes some new friends of his own.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

If you can find them, I recommend buying the Enchanted Forest Chronicles in hardcover thanks to Trina Schart Hyman’s beautiful cover art:

There is also a story about the Enchanted Forest (set after Talking With Dragons) in Wrede’s short story collection Book of Enchantments. It’s called “Utensile Strength.”

Weirdoes of the Universe, Unite! Book Review

Weirdoes of the Universe, Unite! by Pamela F ServiceReview:

Weirdoes of the Universe, Unite! was one of my favorite books as a child. Mandy and Owen are outcasts at school and start their own club to celebrate weirdness. While collaborating on a school project about mythological characters, the characters suddenly start coming to life – and before they know it, Mandy and Owen are being called upon to help save the world from an alien invasion!

Weirdoes is a funny read, with some great banter between the different mythological personalities (who include Baba Yaga, Coyote, and Siegfried), and I really loved the concept of Otherworlds, where all the different mythological characters and creatures dreamed up by mankind exist somewhere, even the ones that nobody has believed in for thousands of years.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Although I don’t remember them as well, I also enjoyed Pamela F. Service’s novels The Reluctant God, about an ancient Egyptian prince who wakes up in the modern world, and Being of Two Minds, about an American girl who has a telepathic connection with a European prince, a connection that becomes extremely useful when he is kidnapped.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones

Publisher Description:

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If the past is prologue, then George R. R. Martin’s masterwork—the most inventive and entertaining fantasy saga of our time—warrants one hell of an introduction. At long last, it has arrived with The World of Ice & Fire.

This lavishly illustrated volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that’s been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site Westeros.org—perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator.

Collected here is all the accumulated knowledge, scholarly speculation, and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons, maegi and singers, including

  • full-color artwork and maps, with more than 170 original pieces
  • full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen
  • in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros
  • 100% all-new material, more than half of which Martin wrote specifically for this book

The definitive companion piece to George R. R. Martin’s dazzlingly conceived universe, The World of Ice & Fire is indeed proof that the pen is mightier than a storm of swords.

Review:

Want to read

George R.R. Martin has been open about his desire to create “the best fantasy concordance ever published” for his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (the source for HBO’s hit show A Game of Thrones. Based on reports so far, he may have succeeded!

 

Dragonsdale Book Review

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Review:

I am pretty sure that if I’d read this book as a 10 year old girl, I would have loved it unconditionally. Reading it as a 30-something woman instead, there were a few conditions, but I found it to be an enjoyable read.

Dragonsdale is essentially a horse book with dragons instead of horses. This is a good thing as far as I’m concerned – I loved horse books as a girl and making the horses into dragons was a fun twist. Wikipedia tells me that 16 year old “Salamanda Drake” is actually two middle aged guys named Steve, and the two Steves must be commended for putting some real thought into the differences you might expect between a riding academy for dragons and one for horses. The worldbuilding was nicely done, especially for the audience, with enough details to bring Dragonsdale to life, yet plenty of scope for the eager imaginations of young girls dreaming of a tame dragon of their very own. 

My main issue with the book (and again, this is the perspective of an adult reader – I don’t think it would bother most children) was the behavior of the father. Admittedly, grief can make people behave quite irrationally, but for a guy so traumatized by his wife’s fatal accident that he can’t bear to let his daughter ride, he doesn’t seem to have any issues riding himself. It seems just plain cruel to forbid her to ride at the same time he’s raising her surrounded by dragons, and forced day in and day out to watch others ride them, including others far younger or less knowledgeable than she herself. Imho, it’s way beyond irrational and into the realm of stupid to expect her to obey him forever under those circumstances.

Similarly, I’m sure dealing with the spoiled daughters of aristocrats is a nightmare (yay democracy!) but as a former equestrian, I was really giving him the side-eye when he let his anger get in the way of his judgement enough to foist off an untrained mount on a rider he knew to be both incompetent and cruel, thus putting the life of both the rider and the dragon at risk. It would be bad enough if it were a horse, but something that can fly, breathe fire, and eat people? Seriously?

Despite my issues with the father’s characterization, Dragonsdale was enjoyable, and I think it would make a great read for kids about 8-12, especially girls who love horses.

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

The Magic Tree House Series

Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series has been a big hit with my daughter, and luckily (given how many of them there are) they’re easy to find at used book sales. In the books, a pair of ordinary children named Jack and Annie are sent on missions by Morgan Le Fay (and later Merlin) to historical and fantastical locations with the help of a magical treehouse, learning about history, mythology, and science along the way. My daughter also enjoyed the games at MagicTreeHouse.com.

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Princess Smartypants Book Review

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Review:

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants. On the one hand, it’s an entertaining and funny book. On the other hand, I don’t think that Princess Smartypants herself is a particularly good role model for girls (feminist or otherwise), so if you’re looking specifically for princess books that do have good role models, this one probably shouldn’t be on the list.

One of the most common types of Rebellious Princess is the princess who doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Princess Smartypants takes this one step farther and doesn’t want to get married, period. She is quite happy being single, thankyouverymuch. I think that’s great. Not all women do want to get married, after all, and it’s fantastic to see a heroine who’s a confirmed bachelor and not just “waiting for Mr. Right.”

That said, I thought that some of the methods Smartypants uses to get rid of her unwanted suitors were mean-spirited. Later, when one of her suitors manages to outsmart her and pass all the tests she devises to win her hand in marriage, she gets rid of him with a dirty, underhanded trick. Prince Swashbuckle isn’t exactly a charmer himself – he’s conceited and smug and when he passes her tests, he concludes that Smartypants isn’t so smart after all – but I would have preferred that she beat him fair and square. As it is, she comes off as kind of a spoiled brat and this mars an otherwise fun book.

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

The Paper Bag Princess Book Review

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Review:

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, was originally published in 1980 and was one of the first children’s books to feature a princess who did more than sit around and wait to be rescued. More than 30 years later, it’s still one of the best.

Its heroine, Princess Elizabeth, starts out as a Princess Classic who loves pretty dresses and is looking forward to marrying a prince named Ronald. Then a dragon demolishes her castle (burning up all her clothes) and kidnaps Ronald. Elizabeth dresses herself in a paper bag that somehow survived the fire and sets off in pursuit of the dragon. She rescues Ronald, but when he turns out to be a snobby, ungrateful jerk, she dumps him and skips off merrily into the sunset by herself.

I like The Paper Bag Princess because the message about valuing yourself despite what other people might say (even other people you thought you loved) comes through loud and clear without being preachy. It’s a fun and entertaining story, not just a lesson plan from Personal Empowerment 101.

Another thing that makes The Paper Bag Princess one of the best princess books for young readers is that Elizabeth ends up defeating the dragon using brains, not brawn. I like this because it’s more realistic for a girl who started the story as a completely stereotypical princess than having her turn out to be some secret swordfighting whiz. Even better, it teaches the valuable lessons that brains can defeat brawn and that there’s more than one way to be smart and brave… and girlie girls can do it, too!

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My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Munchkin

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Review:

Want to play

This game caught my eye due to its D&D inspired gameplay and silly names (i.e. “The Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment”). I wonder if there’s a Frying Pan of Doom?

Brave Movie Review

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Review:

The first Pixar movie with a female protagonist, which is slightly depressing given that it’s also the 13th Pixar movie. At least it’s a fun, strong-minded, and memorable female protagonist!

Merida feels misunderstood by her proper and traditional mother, so she makes a wish that inadvertently turns her mother into a bear. Oops.

The quest to undo it is a rollicking good adventure with much for girls, boys, and their parents to enjoy. Beautiful animation as well, especially Merida’s amazing hair.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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