Book Recs: Disney All Grown-Up

A dream is a wish your heart makes.

Whether this list is a dream or a nightmare…we shall see.

This book rec list has been in the works for quite some time, but it’s finally here! Lauren and I started this list at the start of Love Yo Shelf so it’s only right that I finish it at the end of our first year. This list is just a small peek into the wild conspiracy-theory-type conversations we have about books, so some of these comparisons are a bit of a stretch (okay, a HUGE leap and then some), and the book versions of these princesses are a bit more jaded than the singing-with-animals ones we’re used to. Nonetheless, our bookish protagonists feature some of my favorite elements from Disney (and DreamWorks) movies that definitely made me view them all in a different light.

Mulan meets Project Runway

Synopsis: Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Maia’s attempt at honor by pretending to be her own brother (and solidifying the fragility of masculinity in the process) mirrors that of Mulan’s journey, right down to meeting the handsome stranger that discovered her secret. If Mulan was your fave butt-kicking non-princess, Spin the Dawn will bring you all the classic elements of the original with the added dimensions of magic, fashion, and of course, the girl worth fighting for.

Aladdin and Shrek…but on a heist

Synopsis: It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

I have to admit, Lauren and I had a good time justifying this one. Like Shrek and Aladdin, Severin is working to reclaim his title with the help of some plucky sidekicks/found family. And all three of our clueless wonders have a girl they don’t think they’re worthy of, and say some pretty hurtful things because of it (you know what I’m talking about). With all the charm and humor of our movie counterparts, and the excitement of a good heist and secrets around every corner, The Gilded Wolves is a layered onion that will most definitely make you tear up a bit.

Hercules goes dark

Synopsis: When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Welcome to How to Become a God 101! In Hercules, we watch him work to prove himself a hero in order to join his family in Olympus. Rin’s methods and motivations are much more hardcore and direct, and we see the exact cost for calling down the gods. Featuring backstabbers, revenge-seekers, and a true zero to not-quite-hero, The Poppy War is all grit and pure godly power. And if you’ve read The Dragon Republic, Rin surely goes the distance to find where she belongs. If you ache for a morally gray, belligerent badass who is discovers she’s more powerful than she thinks, meet Fang Runin.


Synopsis: Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

LMAO I KNOW OKAY JUST HEAR ME OUT! So maybe Tali doesn’t have the magical hair, or a sassy pet chameleon, and she prefers to hold a sword instead of a frying pan. But what they do have in common are dreams that are crushed by parental figures who have groomed them (haha) for exactly what they wanted them to be. As much as Tali wants to rule in peace, her father’s legacy weighs on her shoulders and one of their biggest fears? Disappointing Yeshin and Mother Gothel. When Tali and Rapunzel are finally able to break out of their roles, they meet con-artists who become the only people who can treat them as almost normal people. HA. Honestly, I didn’t even think I’d pull that one off. But, like all you lovely folks, I’ve got a dream.

Moana 2: The desert is a friend of mine

Synopsis: Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.

Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.

One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

Each of us a Desert was one of my favorite surprise reads last month, and like Moana, Xochital isn’t quite sure who she is and what it is that draws her to isolation in the desert. On a journey towards finding herself, Xo comes face-to-face with every debunked myth she grew up with as a cuentista. Away from the family who doesn’t understand her, and the heavy weight on her shoulders, Xo is tested harder than she’s ever been, but finds that it was all worth it in the end. If you substitute the rock-eating chicken for a mysterious enemy-adjacent turned traveling-companion, and the ocean for the vast dry desert, you couldn’t tell the two apart.

I hope you all enjoyed seeing the wild leaps my mind makes to connect things like this, and honestly, this was more for fun than anything else. I know a lot of these books are on many of our lists but we will not stop until everyone has read them – sorry, not sorry. Now, in the words of Maui, demigod of the wind and sea, hero to all, you’re welcome.

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