Wildwood Dancing


Book:  Wildwood Dancing

Author:  Juliet Marillier

Publisher: Knopf

Pages:  432

Format Read: Paperback

Jenica, or Jena, fifteen and the second oldest of five sisters, has a secret. She and her sisters know of a portal that opens during the Full Moon. And that portal, in all its magic, leads them, and her, to a Dancing Glade, where faeries gather for their moonlit revel. There is dancing, and music, and, as Jena discovers as the story progresses, hidden secrets and danger lurking in the shadows.

Set in Transylvania, “Wildwood Dancing” vividly depicts the old castle Jena and her sisters live in, and the woodlands surrounding the castle are steeped in magic and folklore. I found the setting mysterious, and Marillier’s prose fluid. Jena’s father leaves his daughters for a few months on the doctor’s orders – he is ill, and needs rest away from home, somewhere warmer. That leaves Jena, who must manage his business and his merchant trade, until her rather bigoted and narrow minded cousin Cezar arrives to take it all away from her.

All that keeps Jena going is the promise of the Other Kingdom and its Dancing Glade. Until that too causes her worry when her older sister Tatiana decides to pursue a dark suitor from the realm beyond. There’s nothing Jena can say, or do, to prevent that forbidden romance.

Jena finds solace in Gogu, her best friend. And a frog. A talking frog, except nobody can hear him other than her.

Woven through the story is also a childhood tragedy, that of Cezar’s cousin Costi who drowned in the nearby Deadwash. His death has apparently driven Cezar to near madness and a maniacal need for control. Whoever heard of girls doing business anyway? That’s his argument for anything Jena tries to do. Besides, she’s too assertive for his tastes, and so, naturally, in his own words, a shrew.

I found this book deceptively simple. The story has many threads running through it – enchantments, lost lives, romance, mystery and magic – and all of them are brought together to form a strange and unexpected conclusion. Cezar is incredibly annoying and believes in the inferiority of the female mind. Jena, intelligent and mature beyond her years tries to make the best of a horrible situation. Tatiana is…well. Tatiana is simply in the throes of her romance. Gogu, Jena’s frog, is sweet tempered and supportive, and not quite what he seems.

“Wildwood Dancing” is an enchanting book with a beautiful cover. I’m glad I read this one.


Daphnis and Chloe


Book: Daphnis and Chloe

Author: Longus, translated by Phiroze Vasunia

Publisher: Penguin (Little Black Classics series)

Pages: 110

Format Read: Paperback

The grove was beautiful, full of trees and flowers and flowing water, and a single spring nourished everything…”

Longus, “Daphnis and Chloe”, translated by Phiroze Vasunia

Classified as an ancient Greek novel, “Daphnis and Chloe” is a pastoral romance, usually dated to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Not much is known about the author Longus. He does say that he was hunting in Lesbos, and that he found a painting in the grove of the Nymphs, and that he wove the story of the painting in words. And from those words came the story of the young man Daphnis, the goatherd, and  the young woman Chloe, the shepherd.

Both of them were adopted – and both were suckled by animals for a short period of time. Dryas and Lamon, their fathers, are told in a dream to send their children off to become a goatherd and shepherd, presumably so they can meet. Neither father is happy about this choice of vocation, but the dream was sent by the Nymphs, and there can be no defiance.

“Daphnis and Chloe” is a simply told tale, heavy on the romance. Both protagonists are naïve and when they discover their feelings for each other, neither knows what to do. Which leads to some comical scenes. And of course they cannot take their eyes off each other, for has not Eros put a spell on them? But before that happy conclusion where they can finally be together, there are challenges. Rival suitors and fledgling jealously, and a disgruntled rival bemoaning the loss of his best cheeses. Raider attacks. A hint of the supernatural. Daphnis is handsome and Chloe is beautiful, and both are really, really awkward.

Also, the pastoral countryside, the customs of the time and the uniqueness of the religion of the area are all drawn out skilfully, providing a wondrous glimpse into an ancient time, beautifully told. The translation in this one is natural and fluid.

The Penguin Little Black Classics edition simply presents the text of “Daphnis and Chloe” – there are no introductions, or notes, or footnotes. I didn’t have a problem with that though because the story tells itself eloquently.

This book definitely grabbed my interest. Also, for me, “Daphnis and Chloe” was a happy read.



Book: Crenshaw

Author: Katherine Applegate

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 246

Format Read: Kindle

Jackson is an intelligent and articulate child. He wants to be an animal scientist when he grows up, and “Crenshaw” is told from his point of view. And while he has his grown-up profession all mapped out in his head, his life at the moment is fraught with difficulties. He lives in a cramped apartment with his parents and five year old sister. Their finances are dwindling, and Jackson’s father is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Most of the family’s possessions have to be sold – and Jackson is terrified that they will become homeless, and forced to live in their minivan.

And in the middle of all that, a large (outsize, actually) and friendly cat turns up. His name is Crenshaw, and Jackson is pretty sure he isn’t real. Cats do not take bubble baths and surfboard. His rational, scientist mind is appalled at the idea that he, of all children, should have an imaginary friend.

But there it is.

Crenshaw the cat really shouldn’t be there, but he is. And his presence gives Jackson a sense of purpose, and the strength to deal with the crisis around him. Something about Crenshaw gives the boy a chance to reflect, and something to hope for.

Essentially, “Crenshaw” is the story of an imaginary friend who keeps a lonely child company. Crenshaw the cat knows all that Jackson knows, obviously. But he also knows a little more than the child knows. So is he really imaginary?

I also found Jackson’s best friend Marisol an interesting character. On the surface, Marisol is as rational as Jackson is. But Marisol, unlike Jackson, is hardly surprised by an imaginary friend. Because she believes in magic, even if it is imaginary magic, because it gives her something to believe in and hope for.

And for Jackson, accepting Crenshaw (bubble baths included), as a friend was exactly the kind of magic he needed. Even if he is only imaginary.

Except that his dog Aretha can see Crenshaw…

A very true and vibrant children’s story, “Crenshaw” was definitely worth the read.

“I’ll leap on to their beds and walk on their heads. It will be amusing.”

Crenshaw in “Crenshaw” by Katherine Applegate

The Isles of the Blest


Book:  The Isles of the Blest

Author:  Morgan Llywelyn

Publisher: Open Road Media

Pages:  170

Format Read: Kindle

“The Isles of the Blest” is a short book based on an old Irish tale, that of Connla of the Fiery Hair. Son of the battle-hardened warlord of Erin, Conn of the Hundred Battles, Connla is a man of many talents, young and handsome. He is also sensitive to beauty and magic. So when the supernaturally lovely Blathine comes to him, and offers him an enchanted apple, and a life in the magical Isles of the Blest, Connla cannot resist. She enchants him when she laughs, for her laughter bright and silvery.

But blight has overtaken the land, and there seems to be a lingering curse that cannot be lifted. The blame, of course, falls on Conn’s druid Coran, who has no answers. As for Connla, he is enraptured by Blathine, whom no one else can see. With each bite of that apple, a little more of his will is lost. He withdraws from reality each time she smiles at him. Eventually, when Conn figures out that Blathine is more than mortal, Connla is almost completely enthralled by her.

And then, naturally, Connla follows her to an ethereal otherworld that has no death, no time, and too much Blathine.

This was a quick and fascinating read. The author’s prose is evocative and the imagery is delicate, and I liked the magic, and the mystery, and the characterization – especially that of the faery creatures and of Conn of the Hundred Battles. I have always like faery stories, myths and mythologies – and this book introduced me to something entirely fresh.



Book:  Scaramouche

Author:  Rafael Sabatini

Publisher: Vintage

Pages:  346

Format Read: Paperback

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

– Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche

“Scaramouche” (originally published in 1921) is set during the turbulent times of the French revolution.  The aristocracy sees itself as superior to the population at large, and there is hunger and poverty among the working class. The upper classes, however, are cynical, and wealthy, and excessively touchy about having their apparently endless powers contained.

It is in such a world that Andre-Louis Moreau is born, and this is the world he must put up with. Adopted by the well-to-do Lord of Gavrillac, Quintin de Kercadiou, Andre-Louis has had a noble’s upbringing – with books and oratory, some fencing, and writing. He has some of the cynicism of the nobility in him, and a whole lot of detachment. After all, the world’s gone mad, and he prefers to keep himself away from the insanity of the class clash.

That is, until a very idealistic friend of his, a certain Philippe de Vilmorin, is murdered by a cold, calculating noble, M. de la Tour d’Azyr. Vilmorin’s death and the guile and deception of its execution leaves Andre-Louis shaken, and then determined to carry forward his friend’s idealism – and bring some justice to the downtrodden, especially to those suffering  under the caprices of the aristocracy.

But Andre-Louis discovers that he is hotheaded and his speeches are inflammatory. Which means he must go into hiding, and join a travelling theatre troupe. There, he dons the role of Scaramouche, a theatre-buffoon, and is a tremendous success. Naturally. Andre-Louis, being Andre-Louis, is an exceptionally gifted character. He acts with élan. He writes plays that are huge successes. Later on, he takes up fencing, and within months, his rudimentary knowledge develops into extraordinary skill. People listen to him when he speaks, and are influenced enough to riot on his behalf. He is acutely aware of his abilities and revels in them, almost to the point of being insufferable.

And there is also the beautiful, accomplished, free-thinking Aline, who is on Andre-Louis’s mind as he traverses this quagmire of intrigue.

“Scaramouche” is an adventure novel, and Andre-Louis is by no means infallible. He is often called heartless by his peers, and he makes mistakes during his hiding that almost lead to his discovery. He manages to annoy and enrage the Lord of Gavrillac and he makes powerful enemies because of his excessive honesty that is more handicap than virtue a lot of the time.

“Scaramouche” is an engaging, gripping read, one that I enjoyed very much.

Songs of Sappho


Book: Songs of Sappho

Author: Sappho, various translators

Publisher: Peter Pauper Press, published 1966

Pages: 62

Format Read: Hardback

“The stars around the fair moon fade

Against the night,

When gazing full she fills the glade

And spreads the seas with silvery light.”

–  Sappho, Moonlight, translated by H. De Vere Stackpoole (page 10)

Personally, I enjoy ancient and classical literature, and I have been on the lookout for a translation of Sappho’s works for some time. Sappho, who was born around 630 B.C. on the Greek island of Lesbos, was a lyric poet – and perhaps the best known. Most of her poetry has survived only in fragments.

It was with a great deal of surprise that I discovered the Peter Pauper Press translation of Sappho’s work at a local bookstore – and the book was published in 1966. It’s a little volume, with 124 fragments put together by various translators. The fragments are beautiful, lyrical, and often sensuous – and they deal with a variety of themes, from odes to Aphrodite to wedding songs. Some of them are full of light and cheers, others are tinged with sadness, and still others have in their words enchanting imagery.

Since these pieces are fragments, most of these poems are tantalizingly short and incomplete. It makes you wonder what they were like before they were lost, since the fragments themselves are musical. The translations are sometimes a little archaic, but they’re still poetically lovely and very readable.

Also in this book are full page illustrations on every other page reminiscent of an ancient style. “Songs of Sappho” is beautifully compiled, and I consider myself lucky to have found this volume unexpectedly.

“Cool waters tumble, singing as they go

Through appled boughs. Softly the leaves are


Down streams a slumber on the drowsy flow,

My soul entrancing.”

–  Sappho, Orchard Song, translated by T.F. Higham (page 11)



Book: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 416

Format Read: Kindle

All Scarlett of the Conquered Isle of Trisda ever wanted was an invitation to the magical circus-carnival called Caraval. For her sister, for course. For years, she wrote to the Master of Caraval, Legend, and he never wrote back. Until that final letter – she was getting married, and she asked him not to invite her.

So he did.

“Caraval” opens with Scarlett’s series of letters, beginning with her hopeful childlike note, and the first chapter ends with her reserved, after engagement notice, to the Caraval Master. That was intriguing in itself, because those letters reveal that Caraval is hard to attend, but it is magical enough to make a child, then teenager, then young woman, continue trying to get an invitation.

But when she does get the invitation, Scarlett has other problems. Her father is abusive and thinks nothing of whipping his daughters. Her younger sister Donatella has grown breathlessly daring, and has found a strange sailor called Julian for her current dalliance. Scarlett herself is engaged to a man she has never met, but he has sent letters to her that sound sweet and romantic. Of course, all she wants is to get out of her father’s household, and take Donatella with her.

And then Donatella disappears, apparently gone to Caraval on her own, and Scarlett, panicked, must find her before their father does. The only company she has is the infuriating and irrepressible Julian.

I found “Caraval” suspenseful and original, and very magical. Caraval, where Scarlett eventually finds herself, is part carnival, part circus, all of it dreamworld, with altered timescales and mysterious actors all playing a part, and players – like her – caught in the web of the Caraval Master’s games. Scarlett, after a point, has no idea who’s real and who’s not, and no idea who to trust. All that keeps her going is her desire to see her sister again and keep her safe.

This book does keep you guessing until a surprising conclusion (not exactly subtle, that ending, and a little farfetched, but that is a minor quibble). The writing style is lyrical, and suited to the theme and setting of the book, a little strong on metaphor. The characters are well drawn out and quite memorable actually, especially Scarlett and Julian.

“Caraval” is mysterious and strange, and a book I really liked.