Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

This post does NOT contain spoilers.wildwood

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4/5 on Rachel’s Rating Scale
PG for mild violence
Young adult, historical fantasy, fairy tale retelling

Sorry this post is a few days late in coming. I was up in Virginia, singing for the beautiful wedding of two very good friends. But I have now returned, and the promised review has arrived. And this book is worth every second of your time.

As I said in my first post, fairy tale retellings are what I live for. After reading a number of her novels, Juliet Marillier quickly leaped into position as one of my favorite authors, particularly for her emphasis on historical fantasy, drawing heavily from folklore including Celtic, Norse, and Romanian. Which, if you know me at all, you will realize are three of my favorite mythologies.

Marillier’s skills as a storyteller are apparent in the surreal images she draws for the reader, pulling her audience into a past world where the old tales of fairies, goblins, and wood folk are startlingly real. Marillier makes the reader believe that magic still exists. For those of you who do like vampires, this is that book I mentioned in my first post that actually does vampires well. But, like I said, she draws on the original folklore of the vampire, does not call them vampires, and they are not the main focus of the book.

Since they first discovered the portal to the Other World in their old castle home of Piscul Dracului, Jenica and her sisters have been passing through on each full moon to join the dances of the wood folk. It is a secret known only to them as well as to Jenica’s pet frog and best friend, Gogu. As her father’s health wanes, Jena is placed under pressure from her cousin Cezar to marry and cede ownership of Piscul Dracului. With her eldest sister quickly losing her heart and her mortality to a mournful man of the wildwood, Jena must keep Cezar from seizing control of her beloved home, as well as solve the ten year old mystery of her cousin Costi’s death.

I first read this book when I was sixteen, and the predominant emotion I can remember feeling was frustration. It was a feeling I would come to know well the more I read Juliet Marillier, but it is an emotion that drove me to read on. I promise you will want to scream and throw the book across the room at points, but that is what makes it worth reading. You won’t want to leave Jena’s world, and, don’t worry too much, because Marillier wrote an incredible sequel called Cybele’s Secret that I almost think is better than this book. Either way, read this book and its sequel.

If you want to know what fairy tale the book is based on, it’s kind of a mix of the Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Frog Prince. So, hopefully that doesn’t give too much away.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

This post does NOT contain spoilers.

Blue Castle cover

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5/5 on Rachel’s Rating Scale
PG
Historical, romance

As a kid, I adored LM Montgomery’s most famous novels chronicling the adventures of Anne Shirley. I even went so far as to read all eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series, following Anne as she grew from the feisty, stubborn orphan to a grown woman with children of her own. I delighted in the world of mesmerizing characters Montgomery had created, never wanting to leave their world. When I was done with the books, I set them aside and never realized Montgomery had written anything else.

I don’t know exactly why I grabbed this book off my library shelf, but I read it before I realized who the author was, and Valancy’s Blue Castle has forever enchanted me. While not dabbling in fantasy as most of my favorite books do, The Blue Castle takes on a magic of its own in Valancy’s moments of triumph and the enduring sweetness of her new-found relationships. It is a book full of wit, hilarity, and will leave the reader cheering as Valancy finally stands up for herself.

Valancy Stirling is 29-years-old in the early 20th century, unmarried, and living under the suffocating thumb of her family. In those days, Valancy is considered an old maid, unlikely to ever marry and leave the confines of her mother’s house. When Valancy finds out she has only a year left to live, she keeps the secret from her family and for the first time in her life, decides to take her own destiny into her hands. Shocking her family and the entire town, Valancy takes up with the most disreputable folks in the area, Roaring Abel Gay and his daughter Sissy, as well as the mysterious loner, Barney Snaith. With nothing left to lose, Valancy stands up for her right to live a full life, and, against all odds, finds love and acceptance in the most unexpected places.

I was afraid, at first, that this book was going to be dull, but it was anything but. The stuffy hypocrisy of Valancy’s family will make the reader cringe, but it is done in a way that is so delightfully humorous. You will laugh and cry with Valancy as she experiences the world in a way she never knew could exist. And, of course, the romance is also a delight, subtle, and equal parts frustrating and sweet. Plus, the book is full of twists and turns that the reader may or may not expect.

So, yes, DEFINITELY read this one. I’ve read it a bajillion times, particularly when I need a tale of triumph. And I would not limit this book to just young adult audiences. The Blue Castle holds something for all ages.

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

There are NO spoilers in this post.summersatcastle

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5/5 on Rachel’s Rating Scale
PG for mild violence and sexual references
Young adult, fantasy, royalty, magic, fairy

I actually find it refreshing that the title of this book is not something flashy and dark like most young adult book titles these days (ie. City of Bones, Bloodlines). I never realized it before, but the title fits the book so well because it describes exactly what the books is–a lilting, beautifully crafted tale that flows gently along with the laziness of the summers in which it takes place. Like the maturing of summer, the book matures as the main character grows up. I read this for the first time when I was seventeen, and Sharon Shinn did what so few authors have ever been able to do. She had me hooked from the very first sentence: “The summer I was fourteen, my uncle Jaxon took me with him on an expedition to hunt for aliora.”

I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve read other novels by this author, none of which I found particularly wonderful, but there was something about this book, and this first sentence, that I knew instantly that I had found one of those rare gems.

It was the book I was reading when this picture was taken:

backpacking

Yes, that is my seventeen-year-old self backpacking and reading this book. I was only 10 pages from the end when we got off the boat that had taken us 3 hours across Lake Superior to Isle Royal, where my family and our friends would be backpacking through the wilderness of the remote island national park for the next week. And yes, it was for these ten pages that I was willing to stuff an extra hardcover book in my backpack (which is NOT something that is recommended for backpacking . . . I took this book over an extra pair of underwear) and lug it around for seven days. And I finished those ten pages before we had hardly stepped onto the island. I think I actually held up the other nine members of our group so I could finish it.

It was worth every extra minute and every extra pound.

Coriel Halsing has spent glorious summers at Castle Auburn since she discovered she was the illegitimate child of a nobleman, summers made even sweeter by her love for Prince Bryan–a love every other girl in the realm seems to share. But Prince Bryan is engaged to Corie’s half-sister, who seems to be the only girl in the kingdom not thrilled to be marrying the heartthrob prince. As the years pass and Corie grows up, the once light-hearted days at Auburn subside, and she must come face to face with a darkness in those she thought she knew–particularly through the castle’s conflict with the fay aliora, and Bryan’s approaching coronation.

So that’s something of a summary. But seriously, Sharon Shinn crafts an incredible tale of magic, romance, and intrigue (my three favorite things) that is blindingly subtle and will leave you guessing until the very end.

Of course, there is romance, and, like in Crown Duel, the romance is so wonderfully understated and intelligent, completely unlike most young adult romances that are generally based on sexual attraction. This romance is slow, deliberate, and surprising, particularly for Corie, who is far more surprised than the reader when everything comes out.

This is a definite must read for anyone who enjoys fantasy, medieval style tales, fairy tales, intrigue, and romance.

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

This post does NOT contain spoilers.Image

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5/5 on Rachel’s Rating Scale
PG for mild violence
Young adult, fantasy, historical, humor, magic

Have you ever been in the middle of Pride and Prejudice and thought: “you know what this book needs? Wizards.”

Because that is exactly what this books adds. And its awesome.

One of the best parts about Sorcery and Cecelia is that it was crafted as part of a letter writing game between two highly skilled and hilarious authors. Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer wrote letters back and forth, each from the perspective of a different character, Patricia as Cecelia and Caroline as Kate. The authors were not allowed to talk to each other about the future of their stories, and they simply had to play off each other’s letters. The result is one of the most hilariously entertaining novels I have ever encountered.

Cecelia and Kate are cousins and best friends who are separated when Kate is taken to London for the season. As the girls begin their correspondence, Cecelia starts to uncover a world of magical ability despite her aunt’s hatred of the subject. Meanwhile, in London, Kate stumbles upon a feud between two wizards, and somehow finds herself in a sham engagement to a man who drives her crazy. As the cousins continue to exchange letters, they unravel a sinister plot that threatens both girls and the people they hold dear.

The above is not really a great synopsis, but with two conjoining story lines its hard to summarize. Just take my word for it though that it will be one of the most entertaining reads you will ever have. Cecelia and Kate are both wonderfully witty, bold, and mischievous, often taking matters into their own hands without waiting for someone to do things for them. And, of course, these are also two excellent romances woven throughout, which are just as amusing and hilarious as the rest of the book.

The end will leave you craving more, and though there are two sequel books, I have never been able to get all the way through either of them (believe me, I’ve tried multiple times), so I wouldn’t recommend them. Which actually makes me quite sad.

Either way, this is NOT a book to pass up on if you’re looking for something fun to read.

And also, Jane Austen and magic. How can you say no to that?