The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye
Publisher: Puffin Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.) (6-11 yrs.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she’s so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone’s surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!

What a delightful story! It’s quirky, enchanting, entertaining and a wonderful fairy tale that was a true pleasure to read.

The style is third person narrative and Princess Amy is most often referred to as The Ordinary Princess for most of the book. It’s very reminiscent of Cinderella but it has a mixture of Snow White as well, what with the addition of Mr. Pemberthy and Peter Aurelious; they act as the prerequisite forest friends to the princess.

As in Sleeping Beauty, there is the one fairy that uses her magic to gift the baby Princess Amy with a very unexpected, unique and shock-worthy gift. It causes the Queen to have fits, and the King basically crowing “I told you so!” because he just knew something ghastly was going to happen. Everyone in the castle believed that it was a horrible thing, and that belief lasts until the very day the princess gets her happy ever after.

What I liked about this story was its easy style. It had an innocence to it that was refreshing, from the dialogue, the choices the princess makes and her relationship with Peregrine, the man-of-all-work. I enjoyed watching as they escaped the drudgery of their lives by visiting the forest when they had time off – a place they could be themselves without anyone telling them nay, or reprimanding them if they wanted to climb trees, get muddy or lay back among the flowers and watch the clouds drift by. I even thought the creation of The Birches was romantic in and of itself. It was a commitment of sorts, a foretelling of what could be because of how it was built. A romantic idea crossed my mind and the happy ever after wrap-up proved it true. It was sweet and adorable, and I could believe in the fairy tale – they lived happily ever after.

I found humor in the most unlikely places. The king and his flamboyant reactions to when he was pleased or displeased was one example. The wild and wacky dragon idea was worthy of an eye roll.

The one thing I noticed was the author’s clear descriptions about the environment, the jewels, the castle, how people dressed, descriptions of rooms – it’s quite easy to envision the scenes. The illustrations helped get some perspective on some of it, but there weren’t that many of them to classify this as a picture book. This is a story of words and ideas. It’s not flashy, loud or full of adrenaline. It’s a nicely written and well-told story of a girl meeting her forever sweetheart in a most unlikely fashion; of princesses, princes, kings and a crusty old fairy named Crustacea (kids will probably need help pronouncing that name plus some others in the story) who has a well-guarded marshmallow heart hiding inside all those shells and seaweed.

The Ordinary Princess is a treasure of a story and should be on anyone’s reading list who likes Cinderella, Snow White, any princess story you can name, or just fairy tales in general. Princess Amy is no ordinary princess. She’s special and readers will enjoy finding that out for themselves when they read it too.

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
Samurai Detective #1
Publisher: Puffin Books
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery/Thriller, Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

While attempting to solve the mystery of a stolen jewel, Seikei, a merchant’s son who longs to be a samurai, joins a group of kabuki actors in eighteenth-century Japan.

One night in the Tokaido Inn will change Seikei’s life forever.
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I recommend this book for the young adult age group if they are reading this tale on their own for a couple of reasons. First, there is quite a bit of discussion about seppuku. This is when a samurai commits suicide rather than suffer dishonor. This is significant and essential to understanding Japanese culture, but it is a heavy topic. I believe the book can be read aloud to younger children, but again I would recommend plenty of discussion on what seppuku is and why it was viewed positively in Japanese culture during this period in history. Second, there is also some gore surrounding a death near the conclusion of the book. It isn’t overdone, but there is enough detail that younger readers might be sensitive to that material.

Seikei is a very likable boy. He’s smart, curious, and honest. He tries to live his life according to the samurai ideals. In fact, he dreams of being a samurai, but as the son of a merchant he knows he can never be one. His future is already laid out for him, or so it seems. Everything changes when Seikei witnesses the crime at the inn. Seikei soon finds himself working side by side with the samurai magistrate, Judge Ooka. Not only will Seikei help solve the crime, but he’ll also have the opportunity to learn more about the ways of the samurai. For Seikei it is the experience of a lifetime. His excitement is palpable, and I admired his fierce determination to do his best. However, can Seikei ever go back to the life of a merchant after tasting the life of a samurai?

It becomes apparent about midway through the book who the thief is, but the motive remains a mystery. It soon becomes clear that there is much more to the thief’s plan than the theft of a jewel. As Seikei digs for the truth, he uncovers a plot that has been years in the making. As I raced through the pages, I found myself asking if the thief was indeed the true villain!

There is a lot of historic detail packed into this exciting mystery! Japanese customs, etiquette, class structure, religious views, etc are all explained within the context of the story. As a result, the pacing never suffers. It is all simply part of Seikei’s life. This is can spur some great discussion on Japanese class structure in the 1700’s under the rule of the shoguns, and dare I say, make learning about history fun!

I had a lot of fun reading The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn. Seikei is a likable character, the mystery is compelling, and the conclusion is gripping. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mystery with a good dose of historic detail!