Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Princess Ben is not your typical princess. Instead of a proper, waif-thin, ladylike teen, Ben (short for Benevolence) is loud, big-boned, and opinionated. Her parents encourage her independence and are her best friends. Unfortunately, Ben’s life is forever changed when her mother and father are murdered while on a day trip to her grandfather’s grave. Ben is left an orphan and becomes the ward of her aunt, Queen Sophia. Too young to rule her country, Ben is to be properly groomed by Sophia before becoming the ruler of her country.

Queen Sophia is cold and seemingly cruel to Ben- forcing her to learn how to be a princess, how to dance, and worst of all, how to eat a “princess portion”. Ben, never stick-thin, turns to food for comfort during her grief and Queen Sophia is furious. She locks her in a tower and forbids her to leave unless Sophia allows her to leave the room. Even worse is the fact that Queen Sophia has been grooming her for suitable suitors!

However, everything changes when Ben discovers the magic. Ben is amazed by the discovery: a hidden magical room. There she learns spells from a mysterious spell book while the rest of castle sleeps. But Ben will have to learn more than magic if she’s to ever escape from aunt’s clutches and keep her country from being overrun by the very people that conspired in her parents’ murders.

This book is very different from Dairy Queen, but there are similarities. Ben is a strong female character and not your typical, waif-y princess. She grows and changes throughout the novel, becoming stronger and more mature but never loses herself. This is not the story of a damsel in a distress who needs to be saved from the dragon. This is the story of a damsel saving herself from the dragon!

A fun YA read, I would recommend this to fans of Ella Enchanted. Ben is an inspirational strong female character that I think many young girls will love. Murdock has skillfully woven the mythology of this new fairy tale kingdom into the fabric of the rest of the fairy tale world. There are cameos by famous fairy tale characters, which left me laughing out loud, but they never distract you from the story at hand. Fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdock and fairy tales will love Princess Ben!

The Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I’ve heard Dairy Queen bounced around the kidlitosphere for about a year now, and never got around to reading it. When I saw the paperback edition at Borders, I decided to pick it up. I just finished reading it and very much enjoyed it! Catherine Gilbert Murdock has created a memorable character in DJ Schwenk and captures her perfectly in the conversational tone of the book. DJ speaks to the reader, in a casual and chatty manner, sometimes irritating you and other times making you want to just hug her.

DJ Schwenk is 15 (almost 16), the only girl in her football-loving family, and is single-handedly running her family’s dairy farm. Her father (himself a former football player and coach) had a huge blowout with her older brothers currently playing college ball, and they haven’t been home since. Coupled with his hip injury, that leaves just DJ to run the farm. It’s been a miserable year for her, and she even managed to fail English. That failure would keep her from playing basketball and running track in the next school year if there were any chance at all that she could get away from the farm. But knowing that won’t happen, DJ has very little motivation to finish her incomplete work and pass the class over the summer.

Just when she thinks shoveling manure and baling hay (with her family’s ancient baler) is the worst she will deal with that summer, family friend and rival high school football coach Jimmy Ott tells DJ he wants her to train his quarterback. Brian turns out to be snobby, rich, and quite a wuss when it comes to both farm work and football training. However, both Brian and DJ grow over the summer…..leading to DJ’s decision to finally do something that makes her happy- trying out for the boys’ football team. Her decision has many unintended consequences, some of which alter her life in ways she never could have imagined.

DJ is a strong female character, which I am always on the lookout for. She is self-aware, but not unrealistically so. She may complain sometimes about her looks, her family, and her life but she has come to terms with her own reality and her complaints are more realistic than many of her contemporary novel heroines. I never got sick of her voice, which meant I never got tired of her thoughts. Murdock has done a great job of capturing a realistic and sympathetic female heroine.

For those who are worried, the book is definitely about football, but you don’t need to know a lot about it or even necessarily enjoy the sport in order to love this book. Catherine Gilbert Murdock has crafted a wonderful story and I am looking forward to reading the sequel, The Off Season.

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