1) Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue
Kissing the Witch is a retelling of classic fairy tales, but it’s one of the first ones I’ve seen to alter the stories so that they are focused more on women and their relationship to other women. I don’t want to say that this is a lesbian or LGBTQ+ book per-say, but many of the stories do give that impression. The thing that really draws me to this book instead of similar ones is how each story is connected. Donoghue wrote the story so that each fairy tale flows into the other, with a character from the previous story prompting the next story from someone else. It sounds like it’s a bit much, but Donoghue manages it very well. Emma Donoghue made her name with her novel, The Room, but this was the first work of hers I read and I was in love. It is beautifully written, a certain kind of prose I haven’t seen in other retellings of fairy tales. One of my all time favorite quotes comes from this book as well, ” “In the days when wishing was having, I got what I wished and then I wish I hadn’t.”
2) Magyk, Angie Sage
While everyone else was reading Harry Potter, I got sucked into the world of Septimus Heap. I could not explain to anyone what this book series means to me. While this is technically a children’s book, I think it is well worth the read. The first book has everything a good fairy tale should; a stolen princess, a ragtag family trying to make ends meet, a dragon, magic, a crazy lady who knows more than she should. The story follows the Heap family as Jenna, their only daughter, finds out she is the long lost princess. The entire book series is well written, with incredible character development. I am a strong believer in the idea that kids can generally handle more than adults let them, and Angie Sage seems to believe the same. The books cover everything from fighting parent figures, to unconditional love, to forgiveness, to facing your fears, to abuse. The art in the book is also incredible. If you like Harry Potter, you would love this.
3) Wicked, Nancy Holder
I don’t know if it counts as cheating, but I did read Witch and Curse at the same time, in an edition in which both books were sold together as one. Either way, this book is fantastic. It’s a bit cheesy, as it is basically Romeo and Juliet with witches, but there is something charming about this book. I will admit, it’s not for everyone. The thing that draws me to this story is that the main character, Holly, is often horribly unlikeable. She is rude, bossy, makes the wrong choices, and rarely (if ever) apologizes. She is a deeply unlikeable character, but her friends aren’t. I want everyone around her to succeed, so I have to deal with Holly in the meantime. It was one of the first books I read to make the main character unlikeable but bearable. Holly is a unlikeable, yeah, but the bad guys are still evil compared to her. The romance is the story can be a bit far-fetched between Holly and Jer, but the other romances are really well done. Nicole, another main character, is written in such a way that I go from hating her to be willing to die for her. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I couldn’t get enough.
4) American Gods, Neil Gaiman
American Gods is a bit different than everything else on this list. It’s the first work of Neil Gaiman’s that I ever read, and I’ve read a number of his books after this. American Gods follows Shadow, a man who just got out of prison, as he struggles to piece his life together on the outside. He meets a strange man, named Wednesday, who hires him to act as some muscle. Gaiman is incredibly talented. He makes the characters so believable I feel like Shadow and Wednesday really are out there, running around, pulling scams together. There is actually a TV series released this year based on the book, starring Ricky Whittle (Lincoln, from The 100) as Shadow. This book has changed the way I judge literature as a whole.
5) Queen’s Own Fool, Jane Yolen and Robert Harris
My sixth-grade teacher had this book in her classroom and it caught my eye. Queen’s Own Fool is about Nicola, a peasant girl who gets invited by Mary, Queen of Scots, to serve in her court as the Queen’s fool. While there is some history in the story (Mary starts off as the Queen of France, her husband passes and she goes back to Scotland), the story is mostly focused on the relationship between Nicola and those around her. As a peasant, she has a unique point of view compared to all of the nobles around her. Mary, Queen of Scots, is the big sister we all wished we had. She is funny, caring, and sometimes in over her head. If you generally like historical fiction, this is very light on history. My favorite part is that each section starts with a poem by Queen Mary.