Howl’s Castle Series by Diana Wynne Jones
First Book: Howl’s Moving Castle
Publication Date: April 1986
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
What’s Howl’s Moving Castle:
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
Our Thoughts: Diana Wynne Jones has a unique writing style that is whimsical and has a slightly dry humor to it. Her heroine keeps a practical no nonsense attitude in the face of all her trials and difficulties, which endears her to you while you smile at the absurdity of it all. The hero, a laz-about wizard, leaves much to be desired at first but by the end of the novel you grow to love him as much as the author clearly does. With a slight fairytale like feel, it will keep you on your toes with every new chapter, a very good read. (Studio Ghibli made this into a full length animation that is a favorite in our home.)
Young Wizards Series by Diane Duane
First Book: So You Want to be a Wizard
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Publication Date: 1983
Publisher: Delacorte Press
What’s So you Want to be a Wizard about:
Something stopped Nita’s hand as it ran along the bookshelf. She looked and found that one of the books had a loose thread at the top of its spine. It was one of those So You Want to Be a . . . books, a series on careers. So You Want to Be a Pilot, and a Scientist . . . a Writer. But his one said, So You Want to Be a Wizard.
I don’t belive this, Nina thought. She shut the book and stood there holding it in her hand, confused, amazed, suspicious–and delighted. If it was a joke, it was a great one. If it wasn’t . . . ?
Our Thoughts: This novel is Harry Potter meets Star Wars. It is the story of two misfits that stumble upon a “how to guide” on How to Be a Wizard after which they get recruited by other wizards to fight the ultimate source of evil to save the universe. Each have their own unique ability that they learn to master over the course of the series. We also liked that both of them came from very strong family relationships (this made things hard at times when they had to sneak off to fulfill a mission?). It does touch on serious topics – how to let someone you love go when they die, dealing with prejudges, and accepting yourself. Be prepared for lots of feels (emotions for the adults out there) while reading this series, but persevere through the smiles and tears because these books are worth the effort.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
First Book: Dealing with Dragons
Genre: Fantasy, Comedy
Publication Date: 1990
Publisher: Jane Yolen Books
What’s Dealing with Dragons about:
Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart. . . .
And bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon . . . and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for.
Our Thoughts: In this story, fairy-tales come to life. We follow along with the most nontraditional princess ever—from her appearance to her activities. She stumbles through one story after another helping those she comes across with their stories or at times just listening to them. We liked this set of novels because it is full of a cast of colorful characters, including a king that endured the pomp and circumstance of his position just to make his butler, an elf, happy, and a witch that had so many cats that we refer to her among ourselves as the “cat lady witch”. We loved that the books stressed the importance of being polite because even the most impolite person knew you lived a lot longer if you remembered to be polite to a dragon (and you get changed into frogs a lot less too). We would definitely label this series “delightful”, but then we have rarely gone wrong with Patricia Wrede.
Beastly by Alex Flinn
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Publisher: Harper Teen
What’s Beastly about:
I am a beast. A beast! Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll,stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.
Our Thoughts: A modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, we liked it because you got to see the background of why the Beast was cursed. In this version you get to know more of the woman who places the spell to see that she wasn’t just a person passing by; she was a being who was invested in his life and cared what happened to him. This adaptation follows the original French fairy-tale extremely close so be prepared the father is not your Disney version. This is not simply a romance were the Beast learns to be kind to Beauty to get what he wants; he grows and learns to be kind to all those who are around him. As a cute side note, you will enjoy the Fairy-tale Chat Room the Beast regularly visits for all those that have been subjected to a curse. If you have seen the movie, don’t discount the book because though it is close there are several differences (enough that we would strongly suggest you read the book).
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
First Book: Cinder
Genre: Romance, Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
What’s Cinder about:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
Our Thoughts: We have read this entire action packed series (that is out so far) and recommend all of it – but thought that we seem to do that a lot, so we’re trying to shake things up a bit. This book is set in China but the main female character is not Asian (which we were a little disappointed in), but the male lead is. (As a side note, not to influence others too much, but some of us envisioned him having some of the characteristics from the South Korean band CNBlue mainly the lead guitarist Lee Jong-hyun – if your a casting director out there keep that in mind.?) More about the book, we liked that she was real. Her problems (powers aside) seemed real, and the push and pull she felt between what was right and the direction she perceived her powers would take her appeared to be a genuine way to keep her from becoming evil. We really liked that she could be strong but realized that she needed others to help her accomplish her goals. Her sassy, fashion obsessed sidekick robot was epic, and we really liked her sister (but wished that things could have turned out differently for her). This was an interpretation of Cinderella that we really enjoyed and hope that you do too.
Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien
First Book: The Fellowship of the Ring
Genre: Epic High Fantasy, Adventure
Publication Date: July 29, 1954
Publisher: George Allen & Unwin
About The Fellowship of the Ring:
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit. In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.
Our Thoughts: Yes, we know, The Lord of the Rings Series. But you have to understand, though only two of us have gotten old enough to push our way past the slow and very descriptive start, this is a family favorite. We have actually watched all three movies (the extended four hour each versions) in a row (yes, that is more than twelve hours when you count potty breaks) and considering that he is the father of modern fantasy (from our recommendation thus far you can see what that means to us), we feel that no reading list is complete without this series. The movies were amazing, though you may not believe it, but do not contain everything that was in the books – and there was so many wonderful and complex characters. It is actually not surprising that there is something left out such as Tom Bombadil. Tolkien put so much time and effort into creating this world, but it all comes together to help you frame a picture in your head: from the Hobbits and their Shire to the Elves and their language, from the Orcs and Goblins in the caves to The Eye of Sauron. If you have trouble making your way through this series, don’t give up because getting to know Sam alone will make it worth your while.
The Curate of Glaston by George MacDonald
First Book: The Curate’s Awakening (original Title – Thomas Wingfold, Curate)
Genre: Fiction, Slice of Life, Christian
Publication Date: 1876 (original) 1987 (reprint)
Publisher: Bethany House (reprint)
About The Curate’s Awakening:
A young minister’s honest search to discover the truth of Christianity.
Our Thoughts: The author of this book series is one that you should definitely look into further. He is a truly amazing writer of both children’s books and adult fiction and non-fiction. He influenced many writers such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carol, and Madeleine L’Engle; so if C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien are the fathers of modern fantasy, then that would make this man the Grandfather (he certainly has the beard to be one; it’s fantastic!). I (Moira) liked the fact that this novel shows Thomas’ progression or growth in Christ starting from him reading other people’s old sermons from the pulpit to actually reading the Bible for himself and writing thought provoking sermons after being encouraged by a local parishioner, Polwarth. Polwarth is such a well written character; he is called MacDonald’s “saint” and for good reason. He helps not only Thomas to grow but us readers also without the preachy feeling. He is the person that we all wish that we could find here on earth to be our mentors and what we all aspire with the help of God to become. It is a meaty read, and at times you may have to take breaks to digest what the Holy Spirit is trying to help you understand. The effort is so worth it so don’t give up.
The Chronicles of Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander
First Book: The Book of Three
Genre: High Fantasy
Publication Date: March 12, 1964
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston
About The Book of Three:
Since The Book of Three was first published in 1964, young readers have been enthralled by the adventures of Taran the Assistant Pig-keeper and his quest to become a hero. Taran is joined by an engaging cast of characters that includes Eilonwy, the strong-willed and sharp-tongued princess; Fflewddur Fflam, the hyperbole-prone bard; the ever-faithful Gurgi; and the curmudgeonly Doli–all of whom become involved in an epic struggle between good and evil that shapes the fate of the legendary land of Prydain.
Our Thoughts: The world in this series is very vast and complex, and it is influenced heavily by Welsh Mythology. You will follow along through these stories with the assistant pig keeper, Taran, as he grows and finds his destiny. There are other colorful characters such as Princess Eilonwy who spends most of the novels harping on him, Gurgi who is a strange mix between a man and a beast that loyally follows him regardless of his fears and constant need for “munchies”, Fflewddur Fflam who with every attempt to lie would cause one of his harp strings to brake with a very loud “twang”, Dallben who was the wizard/wise man of the group and was a grandfather figure to Taran, and I could go on but the books are full of so many wonderful characters that helped to make this series a humorous and great read that I would end up boring myself before it was done (well, maybe just you because it would be like visiting past friends for me). This book series can be dark at times, but I really liked the principle this story teaches that you have to stand up for what is right even if it is not pleasant because peace and freedom has a cost.
Anything by T. A. Baron
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Our Thoughts: Some of the books that I (Moira) have read by T. A. Baron include series such as: The Merlin Saga (Book 1: The Lost Years of Merlin) and The Great Tree of Avalon (Book 1: Child of the Dark Prophecy). The amount of detail he places in his books is near Tolkien-esk, which is just one of the reason I like him as an author. He includes maps, timelines (even pre-story timelines), and in depth descriptions of people and places all so you will enjoy and understand the novels better. Another reason is the complex characters which are made up of real flaws and strengths because nothing is more boring than a perfect hero and heroine. He does utilize magic and pagan gods in his narration but in a mythical sense. His stories are epic, and I hope that you will give this author a try.
Chronicles of Nick Series by Sherrilyn Kenyon
First Book: Infinity
Genre: Fantasy, Mythic
Publication Date: May 25, 2010
Publisher: St. Martin Griffin
At fourteen, Nick Gautier thinks he knows everything about the world around him. Streetwise, tough, and savvy, his quick sarcasm is the stuff of legends. . .until the night when his best friends try to kill him. Saved by a mysterious warrior who has more fighting skills than Chuck Norris, the teenaged Nick is sucked into the realm of the Dark-Hunters: immortal vampire slayers who risk everything to save humanity.
Nick quickly learns that the human world is only a veil for a much larger and more dangerous one: a world where the captain of the football team is a werewolf and the girl he has a crush on goes out at night to stake the undead. But before he can even learn the rules of this new world, his fellow students are turning into flesh-eating zombies–and he’s next on the menu.
As if starting high school isn’t hard enough. . .now Nick has to hide his new friends from his mom, his chain saw from the principal, and keep the zombies and the demon Simi from eating his brains, all without getting grounded or suspended. How in the world is he supposed to do that?
Our Thoughts: I (Moira) was really, really excited when I first found this series because I had always wanted to read stories by this author but was never allowed too. (Mother read something of her paranormal romance and had to stop because of its inappropriateness.) When we saw that she had done a young adult series, we felt we had to try it (and have been glad that we did.) Be prepared this series is very dark and contains many mythical creatures and gods – it is an adaptation of the Greek and Roman Myths and is an extension of her adult series without the sexual content. It is a story of good verses evil. Nick is a young man that is supposed to become the worst demon of all time, and a version of himself before this happens, comes back in time to try to stop it. The story follows his struggles as he fights what seems to be his destiny. One of the things that we like about this on going series is Nick’s mom who is constantly pointing him to what is right (a interesting side note is that she gets her understanding of right and wrong from the Church). I would not recommend this series for very young, young adults which is why I placed it in this list, but anyone that is older – older teenagers, young twenties, and even Moms – will very likely enjoy this fascinating story.
Final Thoughts: We had so many books that we wanted to include in these lists. It was a struggle to narrow it down. We have always loved walking around our library pulling books off the shelf or picking up books that the librarians placed out to be seen. It has become a joke among us that we “judge a book by its cover”. We are notorious for picking up books just because the cover caught our eye; however we only continue with the book if there is something in it worth our time. Sisters Grimm, Percy Jackson, Charlie Bone, and the Lunar Chronicles are a few of our favorites that we found after seeing the cover, and it’s sad to think that we might have missed out on Cinder and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles if they had been assigned a bad cover artist.