Review: The Two Princesses of Bamarre

The Two Princesses of Bamarre Cover“I was no hero. The dearest wishes of my heart were for safety and tranquility. The world was a perilous place, wrong for the likes of me.”  

I’ve been downsizing and that means I’ve been going through my bookshelves. And it’s something that really makes me pause when I see how well-worn some of the books I have are. There are books I read over and over and over again, so entrenched I was in their stories. And they didn’t even have to be big names.

One of them was The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine. She’s best known for writing Ella Enchanted (which in no way is at all similar to the movie).

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is set in a classic fairy tale kingdom, focusing on two royal sisters. There’s twelve-year-old Addie, who looks up to her courageous sister Meryl. Meryl wants to follow in Drualt, their legendary hero’s footsteps and do the same as he did–go on adventures and rid the kingdom of the evil beasts that lurk in the wilderness.

Addie would be content with staying at home, and not doing any of those things. After all, they already lost their mother, why risk endangering themselves any further?

But Meryl falls victim to another one of the kingdom’s evils—the illness known as the Gray Death. Finding courage she didn’t know she had, Addie sets out into her kingdom to do the impossible and find a cure.

This story reminds me of The Princess Bride because it has everything: adventure, danger, twists and turns, wit, and romance that won’t make you gag. Spectres, ogres, griffins, and even dragons lie in her path, but she keeps going for her sister. She doesn’t have strength to rely on, just her own pluckiness and willpower. As a kid who was athletically-challenged and constantly with my nose stuck in books, this appealed to me. If I ran into danger, I just had to persevere and keep fighting in spite of fear.

Acting as a backdrop against Addie and Meryl’s story is the story of the legendary hero who disappeared mysteriously ages ago. It fleshes out the kingdom’s history, a bit of world building for future readers of A Song of Fire and Ice or Lord of the Rings. 

The novel has a complex ending, one that doesn’t tie things up as nicely as you might expect in a children’s book. Like life, there is both happiness and sadness in the ending. But the one constant through the story is the sisters’ unshakable love and devotion to one another.

This is not one of your “one day my prince will come” fairy tales. Gail Carson Levine has a penchant for taking the fairy tale world and empowering girl characters within her worlds to face their fears and overcome challenges.

Even as a middle grade novel, I am ready to read this book again! And… again. Addie’s quest speaks to the feelings within all of us. About finding our inner strength, and doing what we need to for the people we love.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

girlsatthekingfisherIt opens like a fairy tale: twelve beautiful sisters, shut up tight in their rooms, defy their father and sneak out at night to go dancing. They are enchanting, these sisters, and they sparkle like diamonds in the speakeasies they inhabit.

Does this premise sound familiar? That’s because Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a 1920s retelling of the the tale of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” But whether you make that connection or not, this is still a story worth reading. This fairy tale enchantment follows the Hamilton sisters through The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, but remember: for all their enchantment, fairy tales have villains and hard times, too.

Valentine’s novel, released in June of 2014, follows the twelve daughters of a controlling father who, ashamed that his wife could not produce a male heir, has chosen to shut up his female offspring in the upper rooms of the house. He wants nothing to do with his daughters, but he doesn’t want to turn them out, either. Instead, he seems to be waiting for them to be of marrying age so he can be rid of them for good.

The eldest daughter, Jo, has been nicknamed “The General” by the younger girls. She keeps everyone orderly and speaks on behalf of the rest of the daughters. While some of the younger girls have had little interaction with their father, Jo meets with him to go over expenses and various affairs. But there is no warmth in their interaction; Jo’s dealings with her father are cold and business-like.

Jo and Lou, the second oldest sister, have been fortunate enough to leave the house in the past and sneak into movies. When they see dancing scenes in films, they’re overcome with longing and secretly learn to dance (and teach their other sisters) in their rooms. In time, an operation is set up: the Twelve Dancing Princesses visit speakeasies at night, herded in by The General. The Hamilton girls mystify the smitten men in these establishments, and their dancing skills are unmatched.

When their father grows suspicious and hatches a plot to marry off the oldest girls, the sisters must fight to keep together and keep dancing.

Valentine’s writing, like a fairy spell, enchanted me from the beginning. The descriptions of the dancing sisters in their beaded gowns, the drunken splendor of the speakeasies, and the handsome men the girls called their dance partners entranced me from the beginning. It was easy to fall in love. While I was able to connect with the older girls, I had a hard time feeling attached to the younger girls of the bunch. Like their father, I felt distanced from these girls – after a while, there were too many to keep track of!

However, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a beautiful read, full of gorgeous lines and unforgettable scenes. I recommend taking a spin on the dance floor with the Princesses. You’ll fall in love with their magic.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: We Are The Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

wearethegoldensMy new favorite narrator is Nell Golden, the protagonist of Dana Reinhardt’s We Are the Goldens.  With a publication date set for May 27th, I highly recommend picking up Reinhardt’s newest book.

Nell is a freshman at City Day, a high school for smart, liberal, talented students – just like her older sister, Layla. Nell and Layla have always shared a special bond, and a lot of the time Nell sees the two of them as one person. Case in point: when Nell was younger she called herself “Nellayla,” unable to comprehend that Layla was not a part of her own name.

Nell’s narration is directed towards her sister. As she shares her thoughts, hopes, and fears with Layla, we detect a tinge of regret in her retelling of events. We follow Nell through her first months of freshman year at City Day, sharing in her excitement when she makes the soccer team, when she flirts with the handsome upperclassman Sam Fitzpayne in play rehearsal, and when she goofs off with her best friend, Felix. Despite all of these positive things, we can detect that something is not quite right with Nell and her sister.

As Layla withdraws from her sister, it is nice to see that Nell still has one strong relationship in her life. The bond between Nell and Felix is sweet and compelling, and their banter is wholly realistic in the realm of best friends. An interesting addition to the story: Nell sometimes has imaginary conversations with the Creed brothers, two young acquaintances who died when Nell was younger. The brothers often appear when Nell is troubled, and offer their own advice or point out painful truths. While the causes of their deaths remains unclear, Nell imagines that, when it comes down to it, one brother couldn’t live without the other.

The main focus of the novel is the relationship between siblings. After a trip to see a palm reader, Layla begins acting strange. She makes excuses to get out of family obligations, and she starts shutting Nell out. Nell is devastated when her sister, who for so long seemed to be a part of her, wants to separate. Nell  must come to terms with her sister’s new choices, and determine the best course of action. She always wants to be on her sister’s side – but what happens when that side feels like the wrong one?

I think I found Nell’s narration so relatable because it brought me back to my own high school days. I remember the sinking feeling of dread when I was unsure whether I should speak up about something that seemed wrong.  Nell’s desire to feel love – from a boy, from her parents, and most importantly, her sister – is so realistic. We are reading about the fragility of a young girl toeing the line into adulthood. Reinhardt pulls this off very well.

The only complaint I have about this story is that the ending felt a little abrupt to me, and while I understand why it ended where it did, I would have liked to see an epilogue of sorts.

We Are the Goldens is a painful, but thought-provoking read with glimmers of sweetness. I think this is a book worth picking up for any YA fans who are looking for a new kind of narrative.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.