Land of Stories Companions

img_0673The Mother Goose Diaries

The Mother Goose Diaries purports to be just that—a diary written by the zany Mother Goose character from the Land of Stories. Honestly, I had some pretty high hopes for this one, but it left me feeling a little… meh. I love the eccentric Mother Goose that Colfer created for this series, the misfit fairy who is a bit wild and always up for adventure, but generally has good intentions. That is not quite the Mother Goose that seems to have written this diary. This Mother Goose comes off as more obnoxious than eccentric, and is perhaps too wild. The drug and alcohol references were more blatant and more frequent than expected, considering that this is a middle grade level book. There were definitely interesting uses of history in some places in the book, but at other times the history included seemed flippant and a little annoying.

I think my biggest issue with the book is that I had a hard time seeing it’s connection to the rest of the series. The diary follows Mother Goose through history, but there is minimal mention of the work of the fairies to spread stories of the Fairy Tale World. It is included, but generally glossed over rather quickly. Although the series talks about fairies sharing stories with authors like the Brothers Grimm, they are never mentioned. Nor are the twins, or any of the events from the series brought up at all. I realize that as a companion book this is intended to be separate from the primary series, but felt like there should have been something tying it to the other books.

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Queen Red Riding Hood’s Guide to Royalty

As we near the end of our journey through the Land of Stories, we come to Queen Red Riding Hood’s Guide to Royalty, another companion book authored by a character from the series. This book was a pleasant surprise for me. While I find Red’s character hysterical, she often becomes annoying. I thought that a whole book dedicated to her might be a little too much, but I think this was done perfectly. It was a short and quick read, which definitely helped it from being too “over the top.” I really enjoyed reading this, but I suspect that anyone who was not a fan of the original series may not fully appreciate the humor here.

In the later books in the series, Red finds an affinity for reading books from the “Other World,” although she often does not understand them or remember the correct names of authors. It is one of those books that inspired her to write this one, The Prince by “Nicole Macarena.” The book includes a little bit of back story to Red and her place in the kingdom that was not included in the original books, but the majority of it is taken up with her advice. As would be expected from her character, most of it is written rather condescendingly, and much of the time she presents as ridiculous and outrageous. However, there are actually some good points and advice included there, despite their somewhat ludicrous presentation.

Land of Stories Series, Part 3

img_0732An Author’s Odyssey

An Author’s Odyssey, the fifth series book from the Land of Stories, mostly serves as a bridge between the fourth and the sixth, final, book. After gathering characters from classic literature to join the fight against the army of literary villains, Alex and Connor venture into Connor’s own stories to begin building an army of their own. There is a mix of action and stagnation here: the main plot of the series is put on the back burner, while Alex and Connor travel through the various stories. There is a mini-adventure of sorts within each story, as they attempt to recruit Connor’s characters. While there were fun things happening here for readers, there is not much movement in the story as a whole. It was fun to revisit some of the characters from previous books in a new light, as the majority of Connor’s characters are based on those that he has met in the Land of Stories. We see new versions of Goldilocks, Red, Mother Goose, and a few others, and then also get to see some of these characters introduced to their counterparts.

Overall, I did like this one, but much of it felt like filler material. Most of the book was a continuation of previous storylines, some of which are carried over further into the final book. One story with resolution here is that of the Masked Man, who follows the twins into one of the stories, only to be confronted by others from his past and killed. As is the norm for the books in the second half of the series, this ends with a bit of a cliffhanger and lead into the next book. Now rid of the Masked Man, various witches from the Fairy Tale World have combined forces and intend to carry out the remainder of the plot he had started. They reveal their secret weapon: a powerful curse placed upon Alex that intensifies her already negative outlook and allows them to control her powers to their advantage.

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World’s Collide

The sixth and final installment to the Land of Stories series begins a bit differently than the previous tales, with a prologue set far into the future. Connor has become a well-known author, primarily by writing about his adventures and friends from the Land of Stories. He is celebrating his 80th birthday with an event at a bookstore, where he is asked a question about his sister and cannot remember what happened to her. He turns to his final book to glean some information, and we then jump back into the story. The two main events through the course of the book are a rescue mission to find Alex, and then the final showdown between the literary armies. Without giving away too much of the plot here, we do get the traditional fairy tale ending, “happily ever after” and all.

Although some may find the happy resolution to be too easy or cliché, I thought that it was fitting for the series. Perhaps the highlight of the series as a whole here comes from the wisdom imparted by the twins father, which helps to break the curse put upon Alex: “Happily ever after does exist, it’s just not what you think. Happily ever after isn’t a solution to life’s problems or a guarantee that life will be easy; it’s a promise we make ourselves to always live our best lives, despite whatever circumstance comes our way. When we focus on joy in times of heartbreak, when we choose to laugh on the days it’s hard to smile, and when we count our blessings over our losses—that’s what a true happily ever after is all about.”

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!

Beauty and the Beast

img_8589Date Read: November 26, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is not the story of Belle and the Beast that you think you know. It is, of course, a translated and somewhat adapted version of the original tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Although, I am under the impression that the version I read is at least close to the original. Interestingly, this is also not quite the typical original fairy tale vs. popular story scenario either.

To start, our heroine’s name is never actually mentioned, she is just referred to as Beauty by everyone because she is beautiful. She is not the only child of an eccentric inventor, but is one of 6 children of a wealthy merchant who has lost everything and moved to the country. She adjusts a bit better to the new lifestyle than her sisters, who constantly complain about being poor and bored, but also refuse to do anything to help around the house. Beauty’s father does stumble upon an enchanted castle, where he is well treated. The Beast appears only when he has decided to steal a rose from the garden to take home for Beauty. However, the Beast is not the jerk that you suspect him to be. He is, from the beginning, a generally decent guy. Beauty’s father pleads his case to return to his family to at least say his goodbyes, and leaves in the agreement that either he or one of his daughters will return. Upon learning that it was her request for a Rose that caused this problem for her father, Beauty returns to the castle despite her father’s protests.

The next bit of the story proceeds without much incident or discrepancy from the more popular version. Beauty has a generally pleasant time at the castle, her and Beast get along well from the beginning. She does become homesick, and Beast agrees to allow her to return to visit her family, after she gives her word that she will return after a week. This is where we depart from the popular version of the story, to one that is a bit less dramatic. There is no jealous suitor after Beauty, there is no mob with torches and pitchforks. Beauty returns to visit her family, and her sisters continue to spite her for her new life living in a castle. As the end of her week draws near, they convince her to stay longer– not because they have missed her, but because they hope that she will be punished by the Beast for breaking her word.

Beauty stays, but after an additional week decides that she must return to the castle. We return to the castle to find, not a dramatic battle for the love of Beauty, but a heartbroken Beast. When Beauty did not returned as promised, he was devastated by the loss of her and is in a deep depression. Feeling guilty for the pain she has caused him, Beauty apologizes and declares her love, thereby breaking the spell. Beauty lives happily ever after with the prince, and her sisters are punished for their evil and selfish ways. Although the ending is quite similar, it actually a much friendlier seeming version than the one that we all know from Disney.

Boris’s thoughts: “Day reads make nice snuggle times. I approve. 4 paws.”

Ísland (Iceland) Fairy Tales

img_7408Date Read: July 11, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I first saw this little book at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík. While I decided to pass on it then, it kept nudging at me each time that I saw it. I thought I had left without it, but when my flight home was pushed back an additional 2 days, I ended up back in Reykjavík at a gift shop I had not yet visited. There it was, and I decided that I would take it as a sign that the book needed to come home with me.

Although clearly intended as a book for tourists, it was a nice little introduction to Icelandic folklore. There were definitely some familiar elements in some of the stories, but more emphasis on ogres, trolls, and similar creatures. After experiencing some of Iceland, I understand why there is a history of these kinds of beliefs. I can easily imagine trolls or elves hiding in the nooks and crannies of the Icelandic landscape. Despite some issues with editing (and perhaps poor translating), it was a quick little read that left me satisfied with the content. I also found other books that i am hoping will give me a more in depth picture of the country’s mythological history.

Boris’s thoughts: “I’m glad your home, but I’m not talking to you yet. 2 paws. I guess.”