Land of Stories Series, Part 2

img_0684A Grimm Warning

In the third book from the Land of Stories, Alex and Connor are living in separate worlds, both dealing with some struggles and learning to navigate their worlds as individuals. Alex is in training to become the next Fairy Godmother, and Connor is working to survive middle school. He has a teacher who sees promise in his writing, encouraging him and allowing him to be part of a school trip to Germany related to the Brothers Grimm. In Germany, Connor recognizes a message in a newly discovered story by the Brothers Grimm, realizing that the Fairy Tale World is in danger from the Grande Armée. He sets off across Germany with his school friend and crush, Bree, to find a way back into the fairy tale world. Meanwhile in the Fair Tale World, Alex is dealing with difficulties developing her magic and interest in a boy, while villains plot to take advantage of the Grande Armée’s arrival.

As in the previous book, we find the Fairy Tale World in danger, and the twins need to come together to save it. This one moves away from the “scavenger hunt” plot that was used in the previous two novels. At this point in the series, the majority of the characters are established, and Colfer begins with some more original story lines (rather than building directly from the fairy tales as in prior books). There is much more build up and suspense used in this than seen before, which makes this a very different type of story. The novel does not wrap up quite as nicely, without a completely happy ending. While the Fairy Tale World is saved for the moment, the Fairy Godmother has died (“returned to magic”), Alex has lost faith in her developing crush, and the Masked Man is still on the loose. We also have our first true cliffhanger of the series— in the final chapter, when Alex encounters the Masked Man, she sees beneath his mask and recognizes the face of her father!

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Beyond the Kingdoms

The fourth book in this series kicks off a whirlwind of activity that flurries through the final three books. Alex and Connor are in pursuit of the Masked Man, believing him to be their presumed-dead father. While this is happening, Alex is continuing to deal with problems related to her magic, spells not going as planned and difficulty controlling her emotions leading to unintentionally harming those around her. The Witches are working with the Masked Man to disrupt life in the Fairy Tale World, while they secretly prepare for a show down. Alex and Connor do learn the truth about the Masked Man, and also discover his ultimate plan: he has made a portal portion that will allow him to enter any written work, and he has begun to recruit an army of villains from class literature. The twins chase him through various stories, attempting to stop him, but also recruiting the heroes of many tales to help them.

With this book, the series has shifted into considerably darker territory. We get a bit of a throwback to the original books with a miniature scavenger hunt plot included, as the twins gather what is needed to make their own portal potion. However, this is not the main plot of the book, which really starts to move when they are on the trail of the Masked Man through the classic tales. There is some good and bad character development here—Red, who is a hysterical but often annoying character, seems to grow up a bit and come into her own; Alex, however, does not fair so well with the transition from ambitious young girl to angsty, melodramatic teenager. Overall, the book feels busy: there is a ton going on here, and much of it is set up for the conclusion to the series. I occasionally found myself getting annoyed with the introduction of new plot points, especially in the latter half when I knew there was not enough left to resolve then satisfactorily. There is a main cliffhanger at the end of the book, which almost serves as an introduction to the next, but also many other unresolved story lines.

Land of Stories Series, Part 1

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The Wishing Spell

Our first introduction into the Land of Stories begins a bit slowly, but picks up quickly. We get to know Alex and Connor Bailey as twins who are having a hard time adjusting to life after the loss of their father. Alex is quick to retreat from the world, which is the impetus that leads to their accidental discovery of the Fairy Tale World. Upon entering this new world, the twins embark on an adventure to gather the items needed to invoke The Wishing Spell, which they hope will take them back home. Their journey takes them across the various kingdoms of the fairy tale world, where they encounter myriad characters connected to popular stories and nursery rhymes. While most of their difficulties in finding each item are solved fairly easily, there are some twists added in to keep things moving. In the end, the twins learn a bit more about the Fairy Tale World, and their connection to it: their grandmother, the Fairy Godmother.

I enjoyed this one for the most part. The plot is engaging, but the writing does leave a bit to be desired. This is clearly a novel from a first time writer, although I think the fact that it is aimed at a younger audience lessens the negative impact of this. The short, often simple sentences do make it easier to read for those who might be struggling, and the story itself is creative enough to stimulate some imagination in young readers. One of my favorite aspects was seeing the “other side” of some of the fairy tales, in this case the story behind Snow White’s Evil Queen and her obsession with the magic mirror. I liked that this story felt complete in its own right—while we are getting an introduction into the Fairy Tale world, which leaves possibilities open for future adventures, the story of the Wishing Spell is wrapped up by the end of the novel.

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The Enchantress Returns

The second installment gives a bit more plot happening in the read world. Alex and Connor discover that their mother has been seeing someone from work, and help him to plan a surprise for her. When she does not arrive home as expected, the twins and Dr. Bob become worried, later discovering that she has been kidnapped and taken to the Fairy Tale World. Although the twins are eager to help, their grandmother leaves them in the care of Mother Goose while she deals with the situation. The twins take advantage of Mother Goose’s troublemaking spirit to sneak into the Fairy Tale World, where they embark on another scavenger hunt type adventure to defeat the Enchantress who has kidnapped their mother and is wreaking havoc across the kingdoms.

As in the Wishing Spell, we get to see a bit of back story on some traditional characters, and even get to see some redemption for Rumpelstiltskin who is more well known as a villain. The story is imaginative, and the writing is tightened up a bit from the first. Colfer is a great storyteller, but still relies a bit heavily on the “telling.” Descriptions of characters and settings are simple enough to invoke imagination, but much of the action and motivations are laid out rather straightforwardly. Like the fist novel, we do get a completed storyline in this book, although the ending itself left the characters in a situation that feels like it needs more.

Land of Stories Treasury

img_0706This month on Books On My Cat, Boris and I have decided to do things a little differently. Rather than update on our current reads, we will be featuring a series! I started reading The Land of Stories, written by Chris Colfer, shortly after the first book came out. The series following the adventures of twins Alex and Connor after they accidentally enter the fairy tale world by falling into a book given to them by their grandmother. It consists of six primary novels, as well as several companion books. Throughout the monthly of July, I will post about each of these, as well as three of the companion books, starting with the Land of Stories Treasury. (In addition to the books I will cover, there are two children’s picture books as well as a “behind the scenes” guide created for fans of the series.)

The Land of Stories Treasury is a collection of classic fairy tale adaptations, and ostensibly the book cited in the series as “starting it all.” It includes versions of all of the fairy tales that are referenced throughout the series, as well as a few additional stories and traditional nursery rhymes. There are a few bonuses added at the end, including a “survival guide” for anyone who finds themselves trapped in a fairy tale, as well as brief biographies of the authors—those who created this collection, as well as each of the original authors featured.

I really love this collection—the book itself is beautifully made, and the illustrations are a perfect complement to the stories. While the stories are adaptations and the language is updated a bit, they are for the most part true to the original stories. At least, I should qualify, the stories that I am familiar with true to the original. Despite my love of fairy tales, I freely admit that I have not read all of the original material. Each of the stories is kept brief, told within about 10 pages or fewer including illustrations, which would make this a great book of bedtime stories for kids. I am looking forward to sharing these with by niece and nephews when they get a bit older!

Around the World in 80 Days

img_0515Dates Read: June 2 to 9, 2019

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

This was my choice for the June prompt for The Unread Shelf Project: a book about travel, or set in a country that you’ve never been. When considering the books I had that fit this description, it was an easy choice. Not only does this seem the quintessential choice for a book on travel, it is primarily set in countries that I have never been.

I actually had some high hopes for this book, being a classic that has been recreated in many forms, and frequently referenced in popular culture. Despite many renditions of the story being available, I knew relatively little about the actual story going into the book. It is an adventure story about a man who travels around the world. Well, yes, but not exactly. The premise of the book is straightforward, and similar to my expectations: Phileas Fogg has entered into a wager that he cannot travel around the world in 80 days, and so he sets out to do so.

Fogg is initially presented to us as a precise and practical man. He is particular about his routine, and does not vary. It is a bit surprising at first that we would agree to such a wager, but after he does, it should not surprise anyone that he goes about it in the most practical and routine way possible. Phileas Fogg is not interested in travel, adventure, or seeing the world—simply in traversing it. The style of the writing matches this, as it is fairly straightforward and matter of fact. While I can agree that it is fitting with the character, I did find it a little dull. We do get some glimpses of the sights through Fogg’s manservant, Passepartout, and I did enjoy some of the facts and information about locations that were included. The inclusion of the detective chasing Fogg around the globe was interesting addition as well.

It does make sense to me why this became a classic, but I feel like it is, unfortunately, one that did not age particularly well. There is definitely comedy and adventure here, but it does not really meet the same criteria that we use to define those things today. It’s not quite a laughing type of funny, but more of a “oh, ha, that was clever” type of comedy. Similarly, when taken in the context of when it was published, I imagine that many of the locales and descriptions made by Verne were strange and exotic. Much of the information included was not common knowledge, and not accessible to the general population. However, it just did not hold the “wow” that I was hoping for. I definitely appreciate it for what it is, but overall it just did not excite me.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think this Fogg guy has the right idea about life: it’s all about routine. I would have never taken that bet though; it would interfere with my napping schedule. 3 paws.”

How to Yoga

img_0651I discovered ChristieCreative a few months back when I was looking to add some inspiration into my Instagram feed. Her illustrations are beautiful, and come with the perfect mix of good tips and humor. It was just what I was looking to add in to my scroll of friends, books, and cats.

I have practiced yoga for about four years now, but have mostly focused on the physical aspects of practice. In the beginning, this was a necessity– many of the poses were very difficult for me, and so much seemed inaccessible. As I grew into my practice and realized I am capable of more than I imagined, I developed my own interpretation of yoga philosophy based on my experiences of the mental aspects and benefits I associated with my practice. However, I have never really looked into true yoga philosophy beyond what has been incorporated into the studio classes I have taken.

To be honest, I bought this book on a whim, while scrolling through Instagram to put off getting out of bed one morning. I had seen posts about it before, but something in that moment told me that I should buy it. I am so happy that I did! This was exactly the introduction to yoga philosophy that I needed, providing a basic outline and information to get my feet wet. To my delight, much of this is in line with the thinking that I had come to on my own. I appreciated the personal connections and tips throughout the book, which made the concepts and philosophies more accessible to me as a beginner. The illustrations are lovely, and provide a nice balance to the text. I found some inspiration for my practice that I did not know I needed, and will definitely be referring back here as I continue my yoga journey.

Bridge to Terabitha

img_0492Date Read: May 28 to June 1, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those classic children’s novels that I somehow never read when I was a kid. Even as an adult reading it, I was quickly drawn in to the story. Jess is a boy that feels himself on the fringes of society. He does not quite fit in with his family, and does not quite fit in with the kids at school either. What seems to start off rocky with a new girl at school develops into the most meaningful friendship of his life. Jess finds a refuge in his friendship with Leslie, and their made up world of Terabithia.

While I was able to avoid direct spoilers for this one, I had been forewarned that it was sad and dealt with loss. Even knowing that, this one hit me harder than I was expecting. This is not merely a sad story, it is the kind of sad that I want to tell everyone I know that they need to read this book—but I also do not want to pass this profound sadness on to others. I usually try to avoid major spoilers when writing, but I do not know how I can give this book justice without them. Stop here if you do not want to know. Leslie dies, unexpectedly and tragically. Jess is away, having a “perfect day,” when this happens. The later chapters, as Jess begins to process and accept what has happened, are full of so many things that are difficult but so important.

Stepping away from the book for a moment, I need to talk about Samantha. Samantha was one of my closest friends in high school. She was fun, she was sweet, and she was one of those people that you knew you could always count on to be on your side when you needed her. We created cartoon characters to draw in each other’s notebooks, and talked about all of the things that we would do after high school. I was a few years older, and we started to see less of each other after I graduated. Despite ending up at the same college a few years later, we only saw each other occasionally. Although we were no longer every day friends, each time we saw each other, it was as if no time had passed. She was still my friend that would always be there—until she wasn’t. Samantha died unexpectedly at 22.

I don’t know if it’s fair to generalize the loss of a friend as a young adult to the loss of a friend as a child—but I do know that many of the actions, thoughts, and feelings of Jess after losing Leslie reflected my own experience. Paterson perfectly captures the essence of a great loss, and Jess’s reaction to his loss is so genuine that I grieved for him as well as Leslie. Every new piece hit home for me, starting from the initial shock and unreality, the sorrow of the loss itself, and then adding on secondary pain caused by the reactions of others, or even your own thoughts.

In the end, Jess does begin to see hope in a future without Leslie—while he misses her terribly, he recognizes the impact that she made on him, and uses that to move forward. I still think about Samantha often. I cannot say what path our friendship would have taken if she were still here, but I can say with certainty that I am fortunate to have known her. There are bits of her in many of the things that I do and think every day. I remember a gift she gave me for my birthday one year—a necklace and a pair of flashy earrings that I had admired at the store, but decided not to buy. She told me she knew I thought they were impractical, but that I needed them: it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks if I like them, and there’s never a good excuse not to wear hot pink. What an attitude to have.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think I would have liked her. 4 paws.”

Not Quite Narwhal

img_0255This is a silly, but fun story about friendship and belonging. Kelp lives at the bottom of the sea, but feels that he does not quite fit in with the other narwhals. One day he finds himself further away from home than expected, and sees something unusual on the distant land—a land narwhal! Kelp ventures onto land and realizes that he, too, is a land narwhal: a unicorn. He learns a bit about what that means, but inevitably becomes homesick and returns to the sea. When he gets back to his home under the sea, he is afraid to tell his narwhal friends about what he learned. Naturally, they knew this all along, and still loved him just the same. Kelp is sad that he would have to choose between two lives: in the sea with the narwhals, or on land with the other unicorns. The solution? A narwhal-unicorn beach party, of course!

I am a bit of a sucker for books that can be silly, but still give a good message for kids. You don’t have to give up you who are to fit in, and there are ways to have the best of both worlds if you think creatively! Who better to teach a lesson of acceptance than a unicorn? The illustrations are cute, and just “sparkly” enough to grab attention but not overdo it. I like this book as a read aloud. The story is fairly short and straightforward, and there are plenty of good places to pause for questions or predictions.

Unicorns seem to be particularly trendy right now, which I suppose works in favor for this book. I do get a personal giggle when it comes to unicorns, and this book hit that a little extra for me. A friend has admitted that she was an adult before she learned that unicorns were not real—“I didn’t think they were magic or anything, I just thought they were an animal that lives in another part of the world. There are other animals that have one horn, rhinos and those whales, why couldn’t there be unicorns?” Thanks for being a Unicorn Believer!

Boris’s thoughts: “Are we invited to the beach party? Do you think they have snacks? 3 paws.”