Favorites Friday: Romantic Couples, Revisited

I was planning to finish up my Wrath of Khan spoof this week…but then it occurred to me that Valentine’s Day fell on Friday, and it just didn’t seem appropriate.  A couple years ago I did a post on Favorite Romantic Couples, and since I’ve read some wonderful romantic stories in recent years, I thought another list would be in order!

I don’t think any of these are big surprises within their books, but if you’re particular about spoilers, this post will give away everything about who ends up with whom.  I warned you!

Heir to SevenwatersClodagh and Cathal, Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Marillier is one of my favorite authors for truly lovely romances.  And this book features a romance between two of my favorite archetypes: the dark hero with a good heart, and the “ordinary” woman who has to find her strength.  Besides being good characters individually, these two simply fit together so beautifully.

Return of the King

Eowyn and Faramir, Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

It shocks me that Tolkien got a couple on this list.  But I love these two characters–and to be honest, after the whole trilogy with barely a woman in sight, Tolkien had set the bar low.  The fact that he spent any time on the romance was thrilling.  And, well, the credit should really probably go to Peter Jackson, since the extended edition of the movie features the world’s most beautiful forty-eight second love story.  It works because I’m assuming this isn’t their first conversation–and because both characters are so beautifully developed and complex that I can see why they belong together without needing to be told.

Magicians and Mrs. QuentThe Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

This is the extraordinarily rare book (trilogy, for the full picture) with a love triangle where I actually managed to get enthusiastic about both romantic pairings.  Details feel more spoilerific here than for the other books, so perhaps I’ll just leave it there…

Northanger AbbeyCatherine Morland and Mr. Tilney, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I know everyone’s favorite is supposed to be Mr. Darcy–but Mr. Tilney actually smiles!  And is witty and personable!  And has a first name (Henry) that comes up more than once!  And I suppose I just like a romance between two people who meet, like each other and go on liking each other.  Sure, there’s a fight in there, but basically, they just like each other.  It’s refreshing.

Gryphon's EyrieJoisan and Kerovan, The Crystal Gryphon Trilogy by Andre Norton

On the other hand, even though these two so clearly need each other and belong together, they still take an entire trilogy to quite sort things out.  However, even if I find Catherine and Mr. Tilney refreshing, I suppose I also have a soft spot for romances between two people who both care about each other but need to do some growth as individuals and as a couple before getting to the happily-ever-after part.

Thrawn TrilogyHan and Leia, Star Wars

I don’t usually think of romance when I think of Star Wars, but I just read the Thrawn Trilogy and Han and Leia really are a wonderful couple.  Typically, books seem to focus on the falling-in-love part.  This trilogy, and other Star Wars Extended Universe novels, give us that rare story, a happily married couple!  And there’s also the aspect of Leia being so amazing, and Han being so unthreatened by that.  He remarks at one point in the book trilogy that some men might be uncomfortable with a wife who can think faster than they can, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.  AWW!

Your turn–what romantic stories do you like?  Any suggestions on ones I should read?

Blog Hop: Christmas Wishes

First of all, Happy Friday the Thirteenth!  Watch out for ladders and talking ravens. 🙂

book blogger hop

This week’s Book Blogger Hop question: What books do you want for Christmas?

You know, there are less than you might think…because I get the vast majority of my books from the library, and when I madly love something, well–I usually buy it!  And then, I’ve been working on collecting books by my favorite authors for so long, I own all the obvious ones.

However–that doesn’t mean I don’t have an Amazon wishlist…  And near the top are Cybele’s Secret and Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, and (bookish if not actually a book) the Masterpiece Theatre film of Northanger Abbey.  Maybe the best would be The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente, because I must admit I’m balking rather at the current list price (downside–it won’t actually be released until December 31st).

What books would you like to receive?  And may I suggest a really great book to put on your Christmas wish list? 🙂

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Heart's BloodI’d just like to say, when Juliet Marillier is good, she’s really good, and I’ve been having a nice run with her books lately.  After recently reading Heir to Sevenwaters, I jumped into a reread of Heart‘s Blood, in part so that I could try to actually notice sooner this time that it’s a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling…  It took me far too long to figure that out on the first go-around.

The heroine of the story is Caitrin, who flees an abusive situation and, in desperation, seeks refuge and work as a scribe at Whistling Tor.  There are strange rumors about monstrous spectres in the woods around the Tor, and about Anluan, the chieftain.  Anluan proves to be bad-tempered and unfriendly; he was stricken by illness as a child and it left him semi-paralyzed on his right side.  He nearly runs Caitrin off at once, but instead she stays, becoming part of his very unusual household and delving into the myserious curse afflicting the Tor.

You probably already see some “Beauty and the Beast” parallels, and there are also enchanted mirrors scattered throughout.  It’s really only “Beauty and the Beast” in the broad strokes, though, and most of the story focuses on deducing the origin of the curse, as well as on an outside threat from foreign invasion.

I was also struck by Jane Eyre parallels, particularly in the second half of the book, so I don’t want to get into details too much.  Even at the beginning, though: a talented young woman sets off from a difficult situation, and finds work with a gruff employer at a big house on a misty moor (or Tor…)  He’s unfriendly but secretly attracted to her, while she comes to see the value behind his unattractive exterior.  (Although no, there’s no first wife locked in a tower.)

This was an interesting one to read right after Heir to Sevenwaters, because it was once again two of my favorite archetype characters: a heroine who has to find her own strength and worth, and a dark hero with a heart of gold.  That’s not to say, however, that Caitrin and Anluan are the same characters as Clodagh and Cathal.  They have their own unique characteristics and paths to walk.

Caitrin has a particularly difficult journey, overcoming abuse in her past.  Marillier focuses less on the bruises and more on the psychological damage, which is deeper and far more complex.  I ultimately found Caitrin’s path to be immensely satisfying.  Anluan has different internal demons to overcome, and though we get less of his internal thoughts (Caitrin narrates, but we do get into Anluan’s journal) his development is intriguing too.

The magic is spooky at times, creepy at others, and delves into questions of good and evil and the hazard of judging too quickly whether someone is one or the other.  There’s a nice balance of character growth with unraveling mysteries and, as is usual for Marillier, the last hundred pages are breathless and hard to put down.

Highly recommended. 🙂

Author’s Site: http://www.julietmarillier.com/

Other reviews:
Ivy Book Bindings
Academics Go Clunk
The Book Rat
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Heart’s Blood

Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Heir to SevenwatersOne of my goals for Once Upon a Time was to continue my way through the Sevenwaters series by Juliet Marillier.  It’s a wonderful series that has been taking me far too long to read!  I just finished Heir to Sevenwaters, and can happily report that it’s my favorite of the series so far.

This could possibly be read independently of the first three, but there would be spoilers for the earlier books, and sorting out the family members and their various backgrounds and context could be confusing without knowing the first three books.

The heroine of this story is Clodagh, one of the daughters of the Chieftain of Sevenwaters (and if you lose track of the family tree by this point in the series–I did–there are helpful guides at the beginning of the book).  Clodagh considers herself a rather dull, domestic type, unlikely to do anything of any great excitement or depth.  When her newborn baby brother is kidnapped, however, she must set off on a quest to rescue him from magical forces.  And meanwhile there’s the question of Cathal, a young man who plainly has some connection to the recent turmoil, but whether for good or ill is much harder to say.

This is Book Four, placing us beyond the original Sevenwaters Trilogy which all tied more closely together.  It felt slightly removed from the first three, in tone and focus.  Certainly it’s still part of the series, still in the same world, but it feels a little bit lighter and a little bit more focused.  Of course, when I say “lighter,” that doesn’t mean there isn’t still dark magic and grim adventures!  But it deals less with sweeping forces that will decide the fate of entire countries, and the magic has taken a less mysterious turn.

The magic in the previous books was certainly present, but there was a strong Otherworldly mystique to it.  We saw the magic folk mostly as very cerebral, very distant figures who drift on the edges of human affairs.  This book had more of  a straight fairy tale or folklore feel to it, with some elements reminscent of the ballad of Tam Lynn, and the magical creatures more resembling fairies or leprechauns of folklore.  I love fairy tales, so I enjoyed this brand of magic.

I liked Clodagh quite a bit, as I always have a soft spot for heroines who don’t realize their own strength.  I really liked Cathal as the book developed and we learned more about him.  Slight spoiler (though not much) to say that I inevitably loved him because I have an equally strong soft spot for grim, forbidding heroes who are hiding hearts of gold.  The romance fell together a little easily, but for the most part it was an absolute delight.

There are some clever plot twists in here that I don’t want to give away, and some very clever use of stories-within-a-story.  I love books that feature the power of stories, and of folk lore as the key to a riddle or the answer to a quest.  The novel is immensely engaging throughout, and I found it very difficult to put down during the last 150 pages or so (a common feature of Marillier’s writing, by the way).

So: unknowingly strong heroine, gruff but good hero, fairy tale elements and the power of stories.  Yeah, this is definitely my favorite so far…

Author’s Site: http://www.julietmarillier.com/

Other reviews:
Gilded Page Reviews
Zeitgeist Reviews
Caressing the Muse
Me and My Books
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Heir to Sevenwaters

It’s…Sunday, What Are You Reading?

itsmondayAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there’s a fun meme by Sheila at Book Journey inviting people to share their reading plans.  Normally it’s on Mondays…but I have a book review already scheduled for tomorrow, so I’m posting early!

I went through my pre-Thanksgiving stack, and weathered the long library close over the holiday weekend.  Legacy was, well, a behemoth.  Mort was enormous fun (of course!) and Roughing It was excellent when Mark Twain demonstrated his talent for tall tales.  When he got into actual history, it was (with exceptions) not as exciting.  But the tall tales and weird adventures were good fun.

Reading Stack

I’m currently reading Lady Friday by Garth Nix.  Next in my line of books is Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier, the next book in her Sevenwaters series–and another book for my Finish-the-Series challenge, though I don’t expect to finish this one by year’s end.

After that, I’m deeply curious about The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, ever since seeing his TED talk.  I’m hoping he’ll help me solve that moment, when you’re on Netflix’s streaming catalog and there are ENDLESS choices and yet nothing looks quite interesting enough.  Not exactly a large-scale problem, I admit!  But I’m always fascinated by why the brain works the way it does.

And after that, probably, Villette by Charlotte Bronte, because I so love Jane Eyre, and this was recommended to me as another good one.

However, everything gets rearranged if either of my two on-hold-at-the-library books come in.  I’m presently #1 of 142 holds for The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom–when I got in line I was around #65.  I’m also #6 of 46 holds for Son by Lois Lowry; I was about #25 when I got in that line, and I’ve had time to reread all three previous books in the quartet while waiting.  Sometimes the library is a little slow about new books…but no matter, they come eventually!

So covers my plans for the next couple of weeks.  What are you reading?