Proud to be a tea-sippin' nerd of a mommy!
Proud to be a tea-sippin' nerd of a mommy!

By Chris Colfer:

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, twins Alex and Conner leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.  But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

Impression after Finishing:

I had a lot of fun reading this book, but when I got to the chapters “Heart of Stone” & “The Man in the Mirror,” holy WOW! It went to epic levels. I was floored at the unveiling of the Evil Queen’s story. While protagonists Conner and Alex have their quest, there is another protagonist in the background that gives us the true climax to their quest (yes, villains can be protagonists too). Reading these chapters, I felt that breathtaking moment where you realize this book spun itself on its head and you love it even more because of it! I think this is one of the most tragic and vulnerable Evil Queen stories, and I loved how it was unveiled. Re-reading the prologue again after finishing the story revealed the nuggets Colfer left in between the dialogue, especially when Snow White is holding the stone heart. The Evil Queen’s “end” I found to be extremely creative. Seriously, I get chills over how awesome the last ¼ of the book is! But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?…

 

Aesthetics:

Picking up this book, you feel yourself get excited just by its cover. I judge books by their cover because I love beautiful artwork such as that which illustrates this book. The cover art is lovely in its depth. There is also a map of the fairytale world directly inside the cover. I love books that have maps and this one looks especially enchanting. I liked comparing the map with the story action.

 

The Story:

I think the line at the beginning of the book says all: “Someday, you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.” - C.S Lewis. I guess I’m at that age again! Once Upon a Time, twins Conner and Alex are still coping with the recent loss of their father, their home, and the life they once knew. While this book starts a little heavy, my 10-year-old son read through this without feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Colfer lets the reader into the kids’ thoughts as they remember helpful advice from their father, who died shortly before their 11th birthday, as their upcoming 12th birthday looms ahead. I felt the first couple chapters were very compelling and speaks to each twin’s individual personality.

 

Once the characters drop into the Land of Stories, things really pick up. The book had a great pace and cast of characters. I think the way the fairytale characters were portrayed was both true to commonly held beliefs yet inventive. I loved exploring each land. It’s a richly detailed world with unique areas that are vivid in their descriptions and enchanting when seen through the character’s eyes (although sometimes not so enchanting depending on the residents). Plus, you get a chance to practically feel iconic items from these fairytales including Cinderella’s glass slipper, the Sleeping Beauty spindle, Red Riding Hood’s basket, jewels from Snow White’s coffin…

 

This is not just a walk through enchanted woods, this is a fleshing out of lands and characters that have been told hundreds of times in a hundred different ways. I also loved Chris’ explanation for why there was more than one Prince Charming. Plot wise, however, the events and details of this book follow more along the Grimm stories versus the Disney re-tellings, and I think that really helps this book stand out from the massive influx of fairytale reinventions out now. The Little Mermaid’s story did not end happily, as we see in one chapter. Things are a little darker in this world that hard-core Disney fans may not expect, but which I found refreshing.

 

The children must survive insurmountable odds in a world completely unlike theirs. I think the way they dealt with situations was great. Sometimes they’d use sarcasm, sometimes they’d absorb their surroundings with relish, and sometimes they’d breakdown in tears. It was an emotion trip for the characters and the reader. I found their journey sweet, funny, heartbreaking, bittersweet, and surprising. The characters are witty and unpredictable in their reactions, which made the read that much more fun. In fact, Conner’s outside-the-box perspective allows for some hilarious conflict resolutions like his “vegetarian” wish and walking across the stream instead of solving the bridge troll’s riddle. Conner has the quick thinking and spontaneity to help them out of some situations, whereas Alex's compassion, intelligence, and knowledge of fairy tales gets them out of other jams. Conner and Alex are perfect complements to each other and are great characters to follow in this fairytale realm.

 

There were some good twists throughout the storyline. While some elements were predictable -- Froggy’s identify, the journal writer’s identity-- that did not make me enjoy the read any less, and these predictable moments were not major plot points, like the Evil Queen’s reasons for being obsessed with her beauty and hating Snow White, what Alex sees in the Mirror of Truth. I will not spill too many beans though (wouldn’t want any beanstalks growing)! Some critics come down upon the fact that a few items the kids were looking for were simply handed to them. My opinion: so what? There was so much adventure. I’m glad that Colfer is not afraid to write characters that are genuinely nice. Some characters offer to help because they like to help others, and that’s okay. I think Colfer addresses this with the sea sprite when she asks why the twins question her motivations. It fits with the setting. 

 

The rescue scene was so exciting. Things happened rapid fire like a major movie sequence, and I loved it. It was high-stakes swashbuckling, chase scenes, cannons firing, daring rescues, and mysterious discoveries. While I doubt aiming and firing a cannon to save someone would have taken less time than the motion of a dagger swipe, I still found the overall action enthralling and gripping. And talk about an exit for the Evil Queen. Surprising, magical, and also tragic. Plus, wow, that Goldilocks is fierce! Seriously, movie deals need to be made. This story is (as I said earlier) epic!

 

This book is so full of enchanting magic and is a lovely read. I did not want to put it down. Of course, my son kept checking my progress as I was reading. I did, however, get through this book in 3 days. That’s not to say it’s a simple read. It’s just so enjoyable! I loved it! I love the ideas presented in this story, especially: “…what the world fails to realize is that a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.” – Evil Queen. While this book is written for younger audiences, it's also complex and original enough to be entertaining for parents and grandparents. This book was brilliant.  I want more and am excited to start book 2. I want to experience more adventures in this world and visit these characters again.

 

The Land of Stories #2: The Enchantress Returns

After decades of hiding, the evil Enchantress who cursed Sleeping Beauty is back with a vengeance.

Alex and Conner Bailey have not been back to the magical Land of Stories since their adventures in The Wishing Spell ended. But one night, they learn the famed Enchantress has kidnapped their mother! Against the will of their grandmother, the twins must find their own way into the Land of Stories to rescue their mother and save the fairy tale world from the greatest threat it's ever faced.

I liked book 1 better, but this story is also amazing. This book had a slower start than book 1. I didn't really get that "non-stop" feeling until the idea of the wand developed. However, everything included is intentional, and it all ties together smoothly in the end.

 

I felt there was a lot of back story dumping. I loved the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Evil Queen. The Enchantress dropped her story early on. But Colfer did weave in elements of her history throu If I could, I would actually give this 4.5 stars, because I liked book 1 better. This book had a slower start than book 1. I didn't really get that "non-stop" feeling until the idea of the wand developed. However, everything included is intentional, and it all ties together smoothly in the end. I felt there was a lot of back story dumping. I loved the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Evil Queen. The Enchantress dropped her story early on. But Colfer did weave in elements of her history throughout the book, which was very enjoyable.

Colfer is a master at lacing in well-known fairy tales into the story line. He's also great at developing personality for these characters. So there are new mysteries as well as old friends. There's good character development with a variety of people, and the humor is sharp.

 

Colfer also provides some very heartfelt moments. One of my favorite scenes is when the kids encounter Evly in the mirror. It was so well written. Colfer is excellent at developing emotionally-charged character moments. Its so easy to connect with his characters, including Rumpelstiltskin even though he's not in a lot of chapters. Somehow, Colfer gives small characters like this depth and makes them easy to root for. Colfer can juggle a mass of characters with ease along with creating well-developed back stories and unique, fun personalities. All fairy tale characters get a chance to shine in the book, which also works within the flow of the plot development.

 

Finally, Colfer finds a way to continually surprise the reader. Even the last chapter gives you a twist with Alex's story and the closing of the portals. I know her choice to leave her mom hit very close to my son's heart -- he felt how difficult a moment that would be. He even admits to feeling "choked up" at the end.

 

Colfer has worked magic and created another great story! And I'm very excited for more. Things are only going to get more magical.

The Land of Stories #3: A Grimm Warning

Connor Bailey thinks his fairy-tale adventures are behind him - until he discovers a mysterious clue left by the famous Brothers Grimm. With help from his classmate Bree and the outlandish Mother Goose, Conner sets off on a mission across Europe to crack a two-hundred-year-old code.

Meanwhile, Alex Bailey is training to become the next Fairy Godmother... but her attempts at granting wishes never go as planned. Will she ever be truly ready to lead the Fairy Council?

This series' strength comes from the characters. Colfer creates such a vast array of characters who all have depth and who can always surprise you. For instance, each book I find myself liking Red more and more. She's hilarious in her spoiled and aloof nature, but she also has moments of strength that seem to come out of nowhere and redeem the reader to her. Each book also offers up new characters who you hope to see in later chapters. Plot twists and turns come from character actions and character development. This is a quality of truly excellent books.

 

I'm sure Mr. Colfer gets a lot of his characterization from his acting background as when I read some of the characters, I discover great movie moments and a character who would be a dream to portray (yes, former theater actor here).


***SPOILERS follow***

 

While I did not find this book as gripping and as humorous as the last two, the author still creates a wonderful story that whispers of its fairytale history but creates a fresh, new, inventive world. I enjoy how the author still finds things in our world to tie into the fairytale world, and I wonder why I never thought of Neuschwanstein Castle before as, of course!, being associated to a portal to the other world.

 

The book certainly ends with a bang, but instead it left me a little confused. I have my theories, and there is certainly a time gap (3 years since death vs 10 years in prison), as to who the masked man is versus the person Alex thinks he is. However I am extremely excited for the next book which no doubt surrounds this man and the mysterious "other heir."

 

***END SPOILERS***

 

Colfer is an amazing story teller who creates beautiful settings in stories, and who can create such layered stories and characters. No this wasn't my favorite of the series, but I love all of his books and I wait on bated breath for the next. I thank the author for sharing his imagination with the world and wholeheartedly agree with his opening dedication. Colfer is the author for my son's generation, the author who will teach those kids to believe in magic as the authors he dedicates this book to did for him.

The Land of Stories #4: Beyond the Kingdoms

Fairy tales are just the beginning.

The Masked Man is on the loose in the Land of Stories, and it's up to Alex and Conner Bailey to stop him...except Alex has been thrown off the Fairy Council, and no one will believe they're in danger.

Fairy tales and classic stories collide in the fourth adventure in the bestselling Land of Stories series as the twins travel beyond the kingdoms!

That cliffhanger was TERRIBLE!  You know that point in the book where you realize the storyline is not going to tie up by the end?  You can sense there are just not enough pages left.  Yeah… as I kept turning the pages, the excitement built up but so too did the disappointment factor because I knew problems would not be resolved by the conclusion.  It ended up feeling like little of anything happened.  There is some character development, but advancing the story of the Land of Stories was such a small portion of the book.  Thus, the ending felt very unsatisfying as so little was accomplished.  On the flip side, can you even imagine how awesome the next book is going to be?  There’s going to be lots of expectations on book 5, and I feel a grand adventure is in store!

 

I loved the evolution of Red Riding Hood.  Her relationship with the Lost Boys provided the funniest sections.  I liked how she decided to do a little rescuing herself!  Red went through some of the most difficult challenges and growth in the book.  Conversely, Goldilocks was sadly a very minor in this book.  She’s been my favorite since book 1.  But I like seeing Red & Goldilocks working together!  Another hilarious character was Robin Hood.  <SPOILER>Loved the “we heard you from a mile away” (paraphrased) comment from the Sheriff of Nottingham when he tried to arrest Robin.<END SPOILER>

 

Colfer needs to work on the use/limitations of magic.  Magic was used inconsistently in the story.  At times, Alex was able to save everyone.  At other times, magic became useless.  I was surprised at how unhelpful Alex’s magic ended up being.  There needs to be clear definitions of why magic will work in one sense (stopping a house from dropping out of the sky) and not in another sense (like quickly tying up/handcuffing the Masked Man while standing on top of a house dropping out of the sky).  The best use of magic in the book was when Connor discovered how to channel his.  I loved the relationship between Connor’s writing and his ability to use magic.  Well written!

 

"Maybe greatness isn't about being immortal, or glorious, or popular - it's about choosing to fight for the greater good of the world, even when the world's turned its back on you.”

 

I enjoyed the conversations between Alex and Arthur, especially regarding being a part of another person’s story and following one’s heart. <SPOILER>I was so disappointed that Arthur was left behind!  I really hope he snuck through the portal without Alex seeing for a surprise in book 5.  I kept thinking: if there are thousands of tales of King Arthur, why can’t the one Alex is in be one where he is defined by leaving it for Alex’s adventures?  To be continued, I hope…<END SPOILER>

 

Overall, I enjoyed the read and got through it rather quickly because each chapter leaves you wanting more!  However, this was not at the level of the previous books in the series for me.  My son (12 years old) absolutely loved it, and his only gripe was not enough Wonderland exploration.  I would have liked at least one of the plotlines being resolved when this book ended.  It would have given a partial sense of closure.  However, I think there is something huge in store for the next book, and the standards are going to be set almost impossibly high for Colfer’s next book to really deliver.  I wait on bated breath for book 5!  The main pro of this book is the introduction of new, lovable, quirky characters.  The main con is that there is very little plot development.

My novels:

Just released December 2016: "The Forgotten" volume 2 "Heir of the Heretic"

Reviewed and awarded the

2016 Indie Editor's Choice

by the Historical Novel Society.

Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.

Reviewer for:

Historical Novel Society Volunteer

NetGalley Professional Reader

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