Book Review: The Road To Long Beach and The Witch’s House

review-cover-the road to long beach and the witch's houseTitle: The Road To Long Beach and The Witch’s House ]Anne and Colleen 1]

Author: Anne Norchi Iglesias

Genre: Children’s Fiction, Mystery

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis:

Anne Santoro is finishing up her junior year in high school, in her new home town in Upstate New York. She is reminded of a tale she was told as a child of the witch’s house. The house was on the road she and her family took to get to the beach.

She and her best friend Colleen McFadden decide to visit Smithtown, NY, where Anne grew up, to see if the witch’s house is still there. Anne has kept parts of her life on Long Island to herself and faces painful moments when she returns. How will her best friend react?

As a child, Anne anticipated seeing this house with every trip to the beach. Is it still there? The quest becomes more than just finding the house. It becomes a search to find a young Native American Indian girl who disappeared over 100 years ago. Finding clues to solve this century’s old mystery is tough enough, but when deciphering a ghost’s way of communicating, tough takes on a whole new meaning.

What will Anne and Colleen discover? Follow them on their hunt to find the Witch’s House and see if they uncover the answers they’re looking for.

The Road to Long Beach and the Witch’s House is a story of mystery and suspense. The adventure brings to light the weight of being bullied and how passing judgment on others can last through centuries of time.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I hate DNFing books, but sometimes you must. I could not get into this book, almost from page one. The narrative was incredibly choppy and punctuated. There was no flow to it. I don’t know if it was simply over-edited, or outright written to be so halting, but it made the narrative hard to enjoy.

There were other, smaller issues with the writing; improper tense, sloppy narrative style, but it was the punctuation that killed me. As a copy editor, I find it difficult to get past technical errors and style issues – that will not be the case for everyone, and if you are one of those people who can overlook such issues, I sincerely hope you enjoyed the book – truly- I’m just not one of those people.

Book Review: The Tail of Emily Windsnap

review-cover-the tail of emily windsnapTitle: The Tail of Emily Windsnap [Emily Windsnap 1]

Author: Liz Kessler

Genre: Middle Grade, Children’s, Fantasy

Rating: 2 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Everybody has a secret.

Mine’s a little different, though. I didn’t even know about it until the first day of swim class in seventh grade. You see, I’d never been allowed to go in the water before. As it turns out, swimming comes naturally to me. Very naturally. In fact. So naturally that you might even say… well, it’s true.

Here’s my secret:

I figured out that I’m a mermaid.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I have to give this book a little bit of leeway because it was most definitely a middle-grade book geared towards young children. So, we’ll start off with the good—the book was extremely well edited. It was easy to read, fast-paced, and had enough humor and shocking moments to fully entertain my 13-year-old daughter (who I read it with). Emily’s adventure in becoming a mermaid and seeking out her father was an interesting plot, and it was very entertaining. My daughter loved the book!

From an adult’s point of view, though… It was cheesy. Very cheesy. The characters were one-dimensional, even pretty stereotyped at times. The twists in the book were ridiculously easy to see figure out well before the characters figured them out, and the world-building was rather unimaginative and well, silly. Mermaid reporters and underwater limo’s with seatbelts was a bit much.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun book, and my daughter was entertained… but as an adult, had I read this on my own, it would have easily gotten 1-star. The last few chapters of the book were a bit of a letdown, and definitely very unrealistically resolved, and even my daughter had to admit that it got pretty ridiculous. It didn’t feel like there was anything to learn from this book. There were no real life lessons or situations I could talk about with my daughter, other than the main character’s terrible decisions to lie to her mother, sneak away in the middle of the night to swim in the ocean, break into a prison (no, I’m not kidding), and generally cause havoc for all the adults in her life. She was a bratty 12-year-old that didn’t think about the consequences of her actions, and somehow avoided all of them. The book was pure fluff.

Overall I gave this book two stars, because although I wasn’t a fan of it, and it was definitely not geared towards me, my teenage daughter did enjoy it. Was it her favorite book? No. Was it a good book? Meh… It was entertainment and served its purpose, but I don’t know that I’d delve deeper into the series.

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

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Title: Howl’s Moving Castle [Howl’s Castle 1]

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Children’s, Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Romance

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

It’s hard to talk about Howl’s Moving Castle (the book) without comparing it to the 2004 animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki. Though both similar and vastly different in various ways, both tell the fantastically beautiful and epic tale of Sophie Hatter, the elder, dowdy daughter of a hat maker who spends her days in the back room of her parent’s shop resigned to the dull life of adorning patron’s heads. On an unexpected whim, an old witch bursts into her hat shop one day and curses Sophie with the visage of a 90 year old woman…. and Sophie’s adventure begins.

The story is filled with demons, magic, castles that move on mechanical legs, star-eating wizards, and portals between worlds. This is a story of family, friendship, and love, and I adored nearly every moment of it. Like the movie, the book boasts a colorful cast of characters ranging from the very normal Sophie, to the insanely pieced together Turnip-Head scarecrow that bounds miles across the land in search of it’s missing pieces. There’s drama, hijinks, romance, and comedy sure to delight any middle-grade reader, and if you liked the movie, you’ll probably like this too. There are some major differences between the movie and book, especially towards the end, but I think for the most part, the changes will only add understanding to what may not have made sense in the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie (I highly recommend you do), this story is probably going to be a little more complicated for you to get through (there is a LOT going on), but it’s no less enjoyable without the movie to back it up.

The world building of the story is panoramic in it’s scale. There’s so much going on that at times it’s hard to soak it all in, but the world is rich and detailed in a way that can’t help but suck you into the story. The characters are distinct, colorful, and loveable in so many ways (Sophie and Howl of course being my favorites), but I will admit that the romance is a bit lukewarm. It’s understandable—this is a novel geared towards younger readers, but I couldn’t help but feel that the connection between Sophie and Howl, particularly at the end, seemed to be very loosely tied together. I really wish the story had delved deeper into their friendship and subsequent romance (and I certainly hope it develops in the later books of the trilogy).

Technically speaking, the story was pretty well written. There weren’t any obvious grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes, and the text was clear and easy to read. My only complaint, if one at all, is that the voice of the narrative is very “tell-y” There’s very little dialogue comparatively to the descriptions within the story, and at times it does feel like the author is spending too much time telling the audience what is happening rather than showing us… BUT I also realize that this was part of how stories were written back in 1986.

If I had a complaint at all about this book (and this is the largest reason why this got 4 stars instead of 5) it’s that the story can be overwhelmingly complicated at times. Particularly near the end of the book, a lot of plots are being brought together, our idea of what and who characters are is changed, and there’s a lot of conflict going on between the characters. It gets a bit “busy”. There are so many ideas and subplots going on outside of the main Sophie’s Curse plot, that it’s a little hard to keep track and understand what is going on. Think of it as trying to hear a particular conversation in a room of several dozen people, all animatedly trying to get your attention. It was a bit much.

Overall, I still loved the book. I don’t know that I loved it more than the movie (because it is one of my favorite Hayao Miyazai films), but I’d say that it’s certainly on par. I’m so glad to have been able to read this book, and I’d certainly read it again given the chance. I’m thrilled to be able to move onto the next few books in the series, and if you like Middle-grade / YA Fantasy, I’d certainly recommend this book.

Book Review: The Humming Room

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Title: The Humming Room

Author: Ellen Potter

Genre: Children’s, Juvenile, Mystery, adventure, fantasy

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Hiding is Roo Fanshaw’s special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment’s notice. When her parents are murdered, it’s her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.

As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn’t believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.

Despite the best efforts of her uncle’s assistants, Roo discovers the house’s hidden room–a garden with a tragic secret.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

First: Gorgeous cover, and for once, entirely accurate to the story. I tip my hat to the artist.

The Humming Room is a reimagining of a familiar children’s classic: The Secret Garden. It’s a bit of  a short read (182 pages), but perfect for a younger audience. Unlike the original story of The Secret Garden, The Humming Room is a more modern retelling—but we’ll get more into that in a moment. As far as the technical aspect goes, the story is flawless. There were no misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctuation problems. The text was clear, easy-to-follow, and engaging. My only nitpick about the way it was written lies with the use of a few rather heavy-handed words. There was just a spattering of what I’d call “Thesaurus words” throughout the narrative that were a little big for your average middle-grade reader, one even made me pause and try to figure out how to pronounce it. These are few and far between though, and certainly didn’t deter me (Or the 4th grader I was reading the book with) from enjoying the story.

The story follows a young girl named Roo. Roo has led a hard life; she was raised in a broken down trailer by drug-dealer parents, and the story starts after they’ve been murdered, and Roo is left to her own devices. To be honest, the subject matter gave me a moment of pause. You don’t see a lot of children’s books where the parents aren’t loving and don’t work normal jobs. Roo was neglected. She steals, lies, and spent the first few chapters of the book living in a foster home where she was mistreated by the other foster children. It isn’t a pretty picture, and certainly not what I expected. Despite the strange and unconventional beginning, I have to admit that Ms. Potter did an excellent job breaching the subject. Sometimes children don’t grow up in a happy home. In reality children often do live in situations like Roo’s, and as much as parents would like to shield their children from believing this is true, I must commend the author on tackling the subject. If you have misgivings about such a sketchy beginning, then let me put your fears to rest: though Roo’s upbringing isn’t favorable, the topic was handled well. There was no gore, no outright mention of murder, and no visible drug use. The story is told from Roo’s point of view, and while the adults reading this book will understand clearly what has happened to Roo, the subject is skimmed over in a way that I think will keep most children from becoming upset. It’s not graphic, and it doesn’t give any images that will traumatize your children. I found that the subject matter was handled tastefully.

What follows from Roo’s rocky beginning is a story I think most children will identify with. The story is filled with a little girl’s attempts to understand the very grownup world around her. There is mystery, adventure, wonder, sadness, and even anger. Roo struggles throughout the book as she learns to come out of her shell and make friends. Sometimes she gets angry, sometimes she gets sad—and I think a lot of children will identify with her. Everyone has moments where they are so angry that they blow up and do outlandish things. Everyone gets sad and lonely, and like Roo, every child is curious and yearns for the mystery and adventure of the world around them.

I read this book along side a 10-year-old, and we both loved every minute of it. We finished the book in three days (sometimes reading up to six chapters at a time). We just couldn’t put it down!  Children will love this modern re-imagining of The Secret Garden, and I think adults will find the familiarity of the original story, hidden within it’s pages, a comfort. I loved the book, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a middle-grade reader. Though it’s not a happy story where everything is perfect and whimsical (not that the Secret Garden ever was!), I think it’s a wonderful adaptation of a classic story, and it could be a good opportunity to teach younger children that sometimes the world isn’t always perfect… but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy ending.

Book Review: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Box Set

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Title: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Box Set

Rating: 5 Stars

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genres: Fantasy, Children’s, Juvenile, Young Adult, Adventure

Description:

Collected together for the first time are Patricia C. Wrede’s hilarious adventure stories about Cimorene, the princess who refuses to be proper. Every one of Cimorene’s adventures is included in its paperback edition–Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons–in one handsome package that’s perfect for gift giving.

This box set includes:

Review:

This series was FANTASTIC. I first read The Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a  young teen in middle school, and the impression it left me with was so strong, that decades later I asked for a box set of the children’s books for Christmas. My family looked at me a little funny (being that I am now 30 years old), but lo and behold, I obtained the box set come Christmas morning. I spent the next few months reading through the four books (a chapter a day) with a 10 year old member of my family, and wasn’t surprised to find, that I still loved the series every bit as much as I did as a child.

The series follows the lives of a colorful cast of fantasy characters ranging from the princess who doesn’t  want to be a princess, to a baby dragon that wants to grow up too soon, an ill-tempered fire-witch, a boy who doesn’t realize he’s a prince, and a giant blue donkey that flies and used to be a rabbit. The pages are filled with humor, adventure, mystery, romance, magic battles, and familiar fairytale characters that have been adapted to this wonderfully entertaining series. The books are perfect for children of all ages, ranging from about 3rd grade on up—and even adults will love these light-hearted stories. I wouldn’t change a thing about these books… I’m only saddened that there weren’t more books to the series.

If you’re looking for a series of fantasy books to share with a child in your family (or at your school) you would do well to pick this series up. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Book Review: Talking To Dragons

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Title: Talking To Dragons [The Enchanted Forest Chronicles 4]

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Juvenile, Children’s, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Always be polite to dragons!

That’s what Daystar’s mother taught him… and it’s a very wise lesson—one that might just help him after is mom hands him a magic sword and kicks him out of the house. Especially because his house sits on the edge of the Enchanted Forest and his mother is Queen Cimorene.

But the tricky part is figuring out what he’s supposed to do with the magic sword. Where is he supposed to go? And why does everyone he meets seem to know who he is?

It’s going to take a particularly hotheaded fire-witch, a very verbose lizard, and a badly behaved baby dragon to help him figure it all out.

And those good manners certainly won’t hurt!

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’m sad to have finally reached the end of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. This series was fantastic, and the last book, Talking To Dragons, went out with a bang. This book was a little different than the previous three in the series. It was told from the point of view of Daystar, Cimorene’s son, and follows an entirely new cast of characters (though the much-loved characters from the first three books still make an appearance). It is entirely stand alone, and easy to get into even if you haven’t read the previous books in the series. I’ll admit it took a little getting used to at the start—not because of the change of cast, but because unlike the previous three books, this book was not told from a third-person point of view, but first-person instead.

The narrative was clean, easy-to-follow, and engaging. It was well-edited with a decided lack of punctuation, spelling, or grammatical mistakes, and just like the previous books in the series, the narrative was filled with misadventures and humor. The book contained a colorful cast: an ill-tempered fire witch, a rural boy who is tragically new to adventuring, a baby dragon that wants all-too-quickly to grow up, and a curious little lizard named Suz. Their journey leads them deep into the heart of the dangerous and often-times confusing Enchanted Forest, through the perilous depths of the Caves of Chance, and straight into an all out war between the dragons and wizards. There’s romance, adventure, daring battles, mystery, and a good dose of humor within these pages that is sure to be enjoyed by children and adults of any age.

I loved this series, and I loved this book. It’s  perfect for younger readers as it is littered with familiar fairy tales, quirky characters, and silliness that would make any child grin from ear to ear. I read through this with a 10 year old, and by the end both of us were squealing in joy and laughing out loud and the antics of the characters. At one point we broke into a fit of laughter that lasted so long we had to set the book down for a few minutes just to get it out of our system. If you’re looking to introduce a child into the joys of reading fantasy, be sure to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.  If you’re an adult looking for some light-hearted reading, this is easily entertaining to readers of all ages. My only regret is that there wasn’t another book in the series. Alas, all series must end. I cannot recommend this book, and this series enough.

Book Review: Calling On Dragons

 

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Title: Calling On Dragons [Enchanted Forest Chronicles 3]

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Children’s, Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Princess Cimorene is now Queen Cimorene… and she’s faced with her first queenly crisis—the Enchanted Forest is threatened with complete destruction!

Those wizards are back—and they’ve become very smart. (Sort of.) They’ve figured out a way to take over the forest once and for all… and what they have planned isn’t pretty.

With a little help from Kazul the dragon king, Morwen the witch, Telemain the magician, two cats, and a blue, flying donkey-rabbit named—what else?—Killer, Cimorene might just be able to stop them.

And some people think that being a queen is easy.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I can’t help but love this book and the others in it’s series. It is one of the funniest fantasy stories I’ve ever read, and even though It’s meant for Juvenile readers, I enjoyed it every bit as much as the 10 year old I’ve been reading it to.

The characters in this series are witty, stubborn, and sometimes short-tempered. They are vibrant and funny, and sure to make any child grin from ear to ear. I’ll admit, I can’t decide which character I liked best: Fiddlesticks the cat who has an alarming penchant for fish and a decided lack of common sense, or his mirror, Killer, the rabbit who can’t help but nibble on bits of magical things when he finds them. It’s no surprise the poor blotchy rabbit has turned himself into a 7’11” (at the ears) hovering, blue, insubstantial donkey with oversized wings. Killer made me laugh throughout the book.

The story was filled with adventure, hijinks, danger, and grumbly self-important wizards that have to ruin everyone’s day. The writing was engaging, clear, and easy to follow. Reading it aloud to a 10 year old, I was being begged for just “one more chapter!” on a daily basis. Most days we ended up reading three or four instead of one as we had originally planned.

Overall, I loved this book. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Would I recommend it to others? Honestly, if you have a kid, I’d make it mandatory. Any child will love this book, and it’s filled with messages of self-empowerment (males and females both!) amidst all the silliness. I think you’ll love it every bit as much as I do.

Book Review: Searching For Dragons

 

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Title: Searching For Dragons [Enchanted Forest Chronicles 2]

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Children’s, Juvenile, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Cimorene, the princess who refuses to be proper, is back—but where is Kazul the dragon? That’s what Cimorene is determined to find out.

Luckily—or perhaps not-so-luckily—she’s got help: Mendanbar, the not-very-kingly King of the Enchanted Forest, has joined her in her quest. So with the aid of a broken-down magic carpet, a leaky magical sword, and a few buckets of soapy lemon water, they set off across the Enchanted Forest to tackle the dragon-napping and save the King of the Dragons.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I cannot get enough of this series. Like the previous book in the series, Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons is a hilarious, witty romp of Juvenile Fantasy. The book follows Cimorene, a princess who doesn’t very much like the idea of being a princess, as she sets out on a mission to discover what has happened to Kazul, the King of the Dragons—her employer—who has gone mysteriously missing. She teams up with Mendanbar, the King of the Enchanted Forest, as well as Morwen the Witch and Telemain the Sorcerer in order to defeat the conniving wizards in their plot to steal the magic out of the Enchanted Forest.

I’ll admit, even as an adult, this is still one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek fantasy series of all time. The characters are hilariously witty and sometimes outright absurd. Patricia C. Wrede has managed to piece together a children’s fiction that is both clever in it’s storyline, and deliciously fun for any age of reader.

In this particular story, I enjoyed the new dynamic of having a love interest pop up for Cimorene. I wasn’t sure how Ms. Wrede was going to handle a decidedly adult topic in a children’s book, but I think she handled it spectacularly well. I’ve been sharing this particular series with a 10-year old in my family over the past few weeks and we both squealed like the girls we are when the romance sub-plot of this story started to unfold. I think the author did a great job of building up the romance in a way that wasn’t in-your-face, and remained comfortable for younger audiences, while still managing to reach the point where the romance felt satisfying between the characters with little more than a few stolen kisses.

Honestly, I don’t have anything I can criticize this book for. The series is great, the novel was brilliant. I can’t wait to read book 3! Overall, I really enjoyed this story—every bit as much as the first—and I’d be happy to read it again, and share it with others. I highly recommend it for anyone who may have a younger family member to share it with, but it’s equally as entertaining for any adult who enjoys silly fantasy. I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Book Review: Dealing With Dragons [Enchanted Forest Chronicles 1]

 

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Title: Dealing With Dragons [Enchanted Forest Chronicles 1]

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Middle-Grade, Children’s, Fantasy

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Take one bored princess. Maker her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family. Have her run away.


Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.

Princess Cimorene has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul. But then, she’s never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, or a stone prince either.

Princess Cimorene ran away to find some excitement.

She’s found plenty.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’ve done something I haven’t done in a very long time. I read a middle-grade book. More importantly: I thoroughly enjoyed a middle-grade book. I first stumbled upon this series about 18 years ago, when I was 12. It was one of the first fantasy books I ever picked up in middle-school, and it left enough of an impression that many years later, as an adult, I was willing to pick it back up. Surprisingly, I had loved the book so much all those years ago, that I still remembered almost the entire plot.

Dealing with Dragons at it’s heart is a story about the Princess Cimorene. She’s the youngest of seven daughters, and the only one who detests being a princess. She’d like nothing more than to do something exciting with her life—and she tries. She takes fencing lessons, cooking lessons, even learns foreign languages for fun, but her plans are always put to a stop by her over-bearing parents, and when they start to arrange her marriage for her, she decides enough is enough. Cimorene runs away and throws everything to the wind, giving up her life of riches and nobility to become a dragon’s maid.

What ensues is a hilarious romp through Middle-grade fantasy with an empowered princess who isn’t going to let anyone tell her what to do with her life anymore. In the process she makes friends like the dragon Kazul, Alianora the neighboring captured princess, a stone prince,  and Morwen the witch. She fights a dastardly wizard, fends off enamored knights and princes intent on “rescuing her”, and has the adventure of her life.

This book is a hilarious twist on your usual fairytale, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone—children and adults alike. Get the entire box set, you won’t regret it.  I’d personally recommend it for anyone 3rd grade and up.