Marry Date or Dump: White Bearded Wizards


Okay, so maybe Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Merlin are all considered to be father figures and not romantic heroes. And perhaps old wrinkly men and long, long white beards aren’t your thing. But if the BBC’s Merlin has taught us anything, it’s that these old wizards were once young and they could be pretty cute. So, as per usual, let us know in the comments who you would marry, who you would date, and who you would dump when faced with these three magical contenders. You can decide based on your favorite book or film, by who seemed cooler when they were younger, or even who you think looks the best in a pointed hat. You can also say that you want to “just stay friends” with all of them. But isn’t it more fun to buckle down an choose?  Continue reading “Marry Date or Dump: White Bearded Wizards”

Beautiful Creatures: It’s not all black or white

Book  Beautiful CreaturesWe have read three books about witches for the blog. I think that I’ve liked them all, but Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl has definitely been my favorite (even though they are pretty pointedly called casters not witches). The novel is told from sixteen-year-old southerner Ethan’s perspective.

Ethan has lived in Gatlin, South Carolina his entire life. Despite having a recently deceased academic mother, voodoo practicing and tarot card reading housekeeper and reclusive father, Ethan seems to have fit in to a certain extent – he is a star basketball player and is accepted by his peers as “one of them.” A large part of this is that his family is ensconced in Gatlin history, with roots that go back beyond the Civil War or as they call it in Gatlin “War of Northern Aggression”.

Continue reading “Beautiful Creatures: It’s not all black or white”

A Discovery of Witches: A Vampire Story for Smart People

Many reviewers, recommenders, and readers have described “A Discovery of Witches,” by Deborah Harkness as a Twilight story for academics. In fact, book reviewer, Karen Valby called the book “Twilight for the tweedy set.” This description is both apt, in that the novel combines allusions to academic subjects from obscure Renaissance authors to genetics with literal fantasy illusions (i.e. magic).

In fact, the book uses fantasy as a multifaceted theme. The fantasy is clear as this is a world where modern-day witch Diana Bishop is pursued by Daemons, other witches, and oh-so-swoon-worthy vampire Matthew Clairmont. Just as these fantasy elements require a willing suspension of disbelief so does the romantic fantasy.

The romance between Diana and Matthew, while forbidden, is also inevitable. Just like in Twilight, the fact that these two characters are soul mates, meant to be, or whatever you want to call it, is a given. When they touch there is weird electricity that runs through their fingertips. They are mysteriously able to separate out each element of each other’s sent. I mean who really smells like cinnamon, cloves, and cedar? From Romeo and Juliet to Fifty Shades of Grey, if you can accept these relationship statuses you will buy into the novel, if not there is little chance the reader will enjoy the book.

If I had a criticism of the book, it would be that despite a relatively slow pace the book is trying to accomplish too many things at once. In some parts this is a strength- there are details such as the inclusion of yoga and magic explained through DNA, which add to the believability and uniqueness of this world. However, this is also the story of woman discovering secrets from her past; and a woman’s discovery her self and her magic abilities; and a forbidden love story; and a Lord of the Rings style hunt for an ancient and powerful book; and a story about different groups of people trying to exist in the same world; and probably even more plot lines than I’m thinking of right now.

That is a lot to fit into one book, even if it is almost 600 pages. At times certain parts of these story lines are left unresolved, which can be unsatisfying. However as the book moves on the dominant plots come to the forefront (hence their classification as dominant) and I will say that these multiple variations didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

If you think you fall into the category of people who are willing, or eager, to believe the love at first sight/meant for each other books then I definitely recommend this book. I loved it, and liked the subsequent sequel Shadow of the Night, even more.  Happy reading.

The Witches of East End: A New Spin on Magic

I liked “The Witches of East End” by Melissa de la Cruz, but it didn’t read to me like it was young adult – as promised by’s list of new hot young adult reads. In fact, it says right on said Amazon page that it is meant for readers 18 and up. Maybe that is more of a lesson for me to read carefully.

That being said, even though it wasn’t written for teens, it is exactly the kind of book I would have loved in high school. It has magic, sisters and enough sex that I would definitely have been intrigued, but not so much detail that it would have felt trashy (something I have obviously gotten over).

The story follows three Beauchamp women – Joanna (sacrificing mother), Freya (free spirited little sister) and Ingrid (the cautious and uptight older sister).  For those of you that don’t know me, this pretty much mirrors my family make up exactly.  The women live in a quiet town in main, holding on to a huge secret – they are witches banned from using magic. What happens when they can’t help themselves?

It’s kind of Bewitched meets Chocolat meets the Crucible, but with more sass and descriptions of what the women are wearing. The story is very fast paced. The plot has some holes, but the characterization is enough to make you overlook the book’s flaws.

Aside from some strong writing, the book has some very unique and imaginative uses and explanations of magic. They involve many cultures mythology, current conceptions, and plenty that I’d never heard before in any book.  I’d love to say more by I will let you read for yourself.

This one wasn’t my favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably keep reading the series!

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The Night Circus: More Hunger Games than Harry Potter

When I started reading The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, in November I didn’t know the name of this blog or what it would look like. But I did know this would be a great choice my first review.  Why? Besides being written by a Smithie and combining several of our favorite literary themes and genres. I also was intrigued by the comparison to Harry Potter.

I see where the Wall Street Journal was going when they categorized these books together. Morgenstern received the holy grail of publishing advances with six figures from Double Day: an almost unheard of amount for a first novel. The novel also, especially in the beginning, centers around the secret magical training of two children, Celia and Marco, though it is more often referred to as illusion or manipulation.

Still, for me the comparison stopped at these basic similarities. The book seemed more closely related to fellow young adult blockbuster series The Hunger Games. Marco and Celia are raised for the sole purpose of a magical competition they have no choice but to participate in. The novel’s setting, the glamorous magic circus, was created for and exits only to serve the competition, similar to the Arena in Hunger Games. The questioned that ran through my mind throughout this book is what was the actual purpose of the competition?

The central issue of the novel, one present in all three, is control. Marco and Celia are in ways completely controlled by their guardians and the competition. They physically can’t abandon the game, yet they can’t choose to win or lose because they don’t know the rules. However, the crux of the competition is for each to use their magical skills to exert control over the setting, both audiences and performers, and  at times over each other.

While these similarities to both hugely successful fiction franchises no doubt are part of the reason behind this debut novel’s wide readership, Night Circus is more complex than either. It didn’t read as YA to me. Structurally,  it jumps forward and backwards through time and weaving together multiple points of view – including the best use I’ve second person I’ve ever read. Thematically, there is no good or evil. This is no Harry Potter where the reader is firmly on the side of Dumbledore and against Voldermort. There isn’t even the popularity contest of choosing Peta or Gayle of belonging to Team Edward versus Team Jacob.  You have to root for both Celia and Marco.

In my mind, Morgenstern accomplished a lot by presenting the theme of asserting independence in a world controlled by adults in a new and complicated way. The plot lagged at times, but I remained captivated by the characters and delighted by the circus descriptions. I wouldn’t expect any less from a Smith College graduate.

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