Books of Bayern // by Shannon Hale


//published 2003//

I’ve read the first three books in this series multiple times, but the last time I read the series (back in 2013) was the first time I had read the final book, Forest Born, which was published a few years after the rest.  So I was excited to revisit the series as a whole, and especially Forest Born, which I found to be a very thoughtful and engaging read the first time around.

The series begins with The Goose Girl, and is a retelling of the fairy tale by the same name.  Growing up, I always found this fairy tale to be particularly intriguing – there are so many just plain weird elements: the blood-stained handkerchief, the talking horse head, the gruesome punishment of the villain.  Hale’s retelling is the only one I’ve read that incorporates all the weird elements and makes them into a story that makes sense.  It’s honestly one of the best fairy tale retellings I’ve read, period.  She does an amazing job fleshing out the original into a thoroughly engaging full-length story.

//published 2004//

It’s also a book that completely works on its own – and doesn’t feel like it is leading into a sequel at all, yet when I started Enna Burning, it was as though Hale had gone back and gently teased some threads loose from the first book so that the second could flow naturally from it.  Enna’s story takes us into more of the culture and magic of Bayern.

//published 2006//

River Secrets is the only book that focuses on a male protagonist, and since Razo is one of my favorite characters in the whole series, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There’s also a bit more of a mystery to this story.  And again, even though Enna felt complete in and of itself, the third book follows a natural flow and answers questions that I didn’t even know I had at the conclusion of Enna.

//published 2009//

The final book feels, in many ways, as though Hale is tying up the loose threads of her world-building almost as much as the threads of her characters.  Throughout the series, she has introduced the readers to a world where certain people are born “with a word on their tongue” that allows them to speak different languages – wind, water, fire – and people.  People-speaking is an inherent ability to be convincing, to persuade people to do whatever you want them to do, a seductive and corrupting power.  In Forest Born, Hale circles back around to people-speaking, and brings together a story about choosing to do what is right that is excellently told.

Throughout the entire series, the theme seems to be able balance.  If we allow ourselves too much power in any one direction, it can destroy us.  The key is finding balance and rhythm that allows us to live fully.  It’s a message that resonates with me, because I see a lot of people around me who are out of balance, or who are trying to live in a season that isn’t happening right now, instead of embracing who and where they are in life.  That kind of life of small discontent eats away at our happiness and peace.

While these aren’t perfect books, they are easy 4.5* reads for me.  If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, and fairy tale-esq stories, I definitely recommend these.

Book vs. Movie: Austenland

I’ve read Shannon Hale’s Austenland a few times in the past and found it to be an entertaining and lighthearted read, full of humor, fun, and likable characters.  Recently, my sister and I had a great time watching the movie version, which came out back in 2013.  Both the movie and the book focus on the story of Jane Hayes.  In her early 30’s, Jane knows that part of the reason she is still single is because she is not-so-secretly yearning for her own Mr. Darcy.  When Jane has the chance to go on a special vacation to a location that has all of its guests dress and act like they would have in the Regency era, Jane decides to get the whole Mr. Darcy business out of her system once and for all…

Like I said, it’s all in good fun.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed the movie as well as the book – below are some of my thoughts on which of them told the story better…  (note: there will be spoilers)

  • Jane Hayes  //  Winner:  Book – While the movie does a great job portraying Jane, the book focuses a lot of Jane’s internal dialogue and direction, and that’s hard to get to in a movie.  Even though the book is in third person, we still spend a lot of time knowing what Jane is thinking and wrestling with.  The actress who plays Jane in the movie, Kari Russell, does do a pretty fabulous job relaying a lot of those thoughts through Jane’s expressions and body language, but it’s pretty hard to beat having those thoughts written out in black and white.
  • Miss Charming  //  Winner:  Movie – Movie Miss Charming is so completely perfect in every way.  Jennifer Coolidge nails her character, managing to make her obnoxious, ridiculous, and completely loyal and warmhearted at the same time.
  • austenland-nobley-jj-feild-37000191-469-268

    Seriously, how adorable is he?!

    Mr. Nobley  // Winner:  Toss-Up – I really like Nobley’s character in both the book and the movie.  Honestly, the movie gets an edge, but I think it’s mostly because JJ Feild is heart-stopping handsome in this one, plus has the perfect voice.  I shipped Jane and Nobley way more watching the movie than I did in the book.

  • Martin  //  Winner:  Movie – I think part of the reason that I liked the Jane/Nobley relationship better in the movie is because the movie didn’t work as hard to make Martin likable.  We get some hints much earlier on that Martin may not be everything he is pretending to be.  Also, the book leaves us a little ambiguous as to whether or not Martin really did like Jane on her own merits, so I couldn’t help but feel a smidge bad for him.  Movie Martin is way easier to dislike in the end (but Bret McKenzie is the perfect hottie for the role!).
  • Background Stuff  //  Winner:  Movie – One of the super fun things about the movie was that we got to see behind-the-scenes with the people who were working at Austenland, which meant that we knew Nobley, Martin, and the other guys a little more. It added a fun level to the characters.
  • Jane’s Mr. Darcy Obsession  //  Winner:  Book – The movie just took it a bit over-the-top.  Jane’s bedroom was completely unhealthy, and there is no way that her friends would have let her go so long without some kind of intervention.  Book Jane’s character really just wanted the romance and commitment of a Mr. Darcy – Movie Jane literally wanted Mr. Darcy himself, and it was a little too weird.
  • Jane’s Crazy Aunt  //  Winner:  Book – Mainly because her crazy aunt isn’t even IN the movie!  That was probably my biggest disappointment.  In the book, Jane’s crazy aunt is the one who leaves Jane the trip to Austenland in her (the aunt’s) will.  Even though the aunt only appears in the first chapter, I still thought she was a great character, and a perfect catalyst for Jane’s venture to England.  In the movie, Jane just decides to go to Austenland on her own, and spends her life-savings to get there, all of which just added to the weird level of Darcy obsession.
  • Ending/Epilogue  //  Winner:  Movie – The ending of the movie was A+ perfect and I loved it.  That like three minute ending was way better than the entirety of Midnight in Austenland.  I loved the way that we got a chance to see Jane and Nobley in their “regular” clothes, we got to see what happened to Miss Charming (fabulous), and just everything about the way it ended made me happy inside.

So, in the end, I’m really not sure which I liked, which is unusual – I generally way, way prefer either the movie or the book.  But in this case, I think that they both have a lot to offer.  It may be because Hale helped write the screenplay, so I think that she had a lot of influence to make sure that the movie didn’t stray too far from her original story.

There were definitely parts of the movie that just went a little too far into the “completely weird” direction, which I think the book never quite did.  But the casting for the movie was just completely perfect, and that, combined with a very satisfying ending, may mean that I ended up liking the movie just a little bit better…

Both are definitely recommended.

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone


by Shannon Hale

Published 2012

So I discovered this sequel to The Princess Academy at the library, and I was super excited because I really enjoyed the first book.  In this sequel, Miri and her friends are traveling to the capital city to attend the royal wedding.  The girls are to stay the whole winter, and possibly an entire year.  Miri is excited about an opportunity to attend a real school, and Peter is traveling along with the girls in order to apprentice himself to a stonecarver in the city.  When they arrive, though, the girls discover that there is much unrest in the city and the surrounding countryside.

I really enjoyed this book; I think that it had more depth than the first.  Miri befriends some rebels who are full of grand-sounding ideals, and it is interesting to watch her learn that there is no Utopia; change can bring good for some, but will always bring pain and difficulty to others.

Also, I was really scared of the love-triangle aspect of the story, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal.  Actually, it was exactly as big of a deal as it should be, which basically never happens, so that was exciting, too.

This was definitely a 4/5 and a strongly recommended read.

The Princess Academy


by Shannon Hale

Published 2005

I actually read this book just a year ago, but I wanted to read it again before reading the new sequel Hale published last year.  I really like this little book.  The story is happy, and I love the way that the heroine realizes the beauty of home and the value of family.  4/5.

Midnight in Austenland


by Shannon  Hale

Published 2012

So.  First off, I have no idea what Hale is up to, but she published two books last year–this one, and a sequel to The Princess AcademyPalace of Stone.  I read both of them within the last month (actually, I think I’ve read almost all of Hale’s books in the last couple of months, as I read all the Bayern books and Austenland as well), and I think that she may have devoted more of her talent to Palace of Stone, which I greatly enjoyed, and not enough into Midnight in Austenland, which was a disaster.

Midnight is a loose sequel to the original Austenland.  While our heroine from the original book does not return, the setting is the same, and several of the minor characters are back for Round 2, and overall it makes sense to read the two books in order.

Except you should stop after you read the first book, and not bother moving on to this one, unless you enjoy unnecessarily convoluted plots lines, a murder that no one seems to care about, a murderer whose motive makes absolutely zero sense, and a completely depressing heroine who has dragged along the apparently necessary modern-day story of a woman whose divorced because her husband left her for someone else and now she has to find herself  because her entire identity was just her husband before and now that he’s gone what will she do well what she will do is find out that she’s a strong and independent woman who can live life on her own and be witty and clever and pretty and super funny and she can realize that her husband was a sleezeball and that it’s entirely his fault that their marriage fell apart because she’s actually perfect and made the ideal wife and never made any mistakes and it’s all the fault of that slimy husband because men are terrible unless they happen to  be this one handsome dude with a British accent that she just met who is actually perfect.

Just.  Whatever.  I’m just tired of stories about divorced people.  I realize that lots of people are divorced, so maybe they relate to this, but I’m tired of my fiction being filled with bitter, depressing women and stereotyped stupid men who can’t keep it in their pants.  It. Is. BORING.  Divorce happens because two people have decided to not work through their difficulties before one of them started cheating on the other.  I’m not saying that anyone is ever justified for cheating on his/her spouse (at ALL) but I’m tired of the assumption being that the cheater is the only person who did anything wrong, ever.  Anyway.

So yes.  Where Austenland was fluffy and funny and light-hearted, Midnight is depressing and bitter.  It has its moments of cleverness and funny lines that made me laugh, but the overall story was just so weak (seriously, the whole murder made no sense) and Charlotte is completely uninteresting to me as a person.




by Shannon Hale

Published 2007

This novel, set in present day, follows the life of Jane Hayes, an average American woman with a secret obsession with Mr. Darcy.  Through a series of events, Jane is given a trip to England to spend three weeks in Austenland–and Jane Austen-era resort where she is able to wear Regency clothes and spends her days embroidering and wandering through the gardens.

This book is incredibly playful and fun, and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has ever had a crush on Mr. Darcy.  ;-)


Forest Born


by Shannon Hale

Published 2009

In this fourth and final (so far anyway) book in the Bayern series, all of our favorite characters are back.  However, this story focuses on Razo’s youngest sister, Rin.

This is my favorite of the Bayern books, actually.  I love the way that Hale addresses the idea that Dumbledore famously presents to Harry–“It is our choices that show what we really are, not our abilities.”  In this book, Rin has abilities that could very easily be used for evil, but she chooses to work for the good.

Forest Born is a 5/5 for me, more details on that opinion below, complete with some spoilers–

Continue reading

River Secrets


by Shannon Hale

Published 2006

This is the third of the Bayern books, and an excellent addition.  I love the way that Hale started with a known fairy tale (the Goose Girl), and manages to expand and embroider it into four books, creating a fascinating kingdom and a whole new realm of magic.  It’s fantastic.

River Secrets focuses on one of my favorite characters, Razo.  It’s fun to see the perspective of a guy for a change, and Razo is great fun.

Another easy 4/5.  More details on my thoughts below–

Continue reading

Enna Burning


by Shannon  Hale

Published 2004

First off, I really like this cover art.

Secondly, this book is the sequel to The Goose Girland the second in the Bayern books.  While the focus is on a different heroine, many old friends reappear.  This book is an easy 4/5.  The story is excellent and well-paced.  The characters are easy to relate to and endearing.  The friendship between Enna and Isi is a beautiful thing.

More thoughts, but they do involve some spoilers–

Continue reading

The Goose Girl


by Shannon Hale

Published 2003

So I read this book several years ago, and just checked it back out for a reread.  I usually enjoy Hale’s books, and I hadn’t read this series since she wrote the fourth book (Forest Born).  Also, The Goose Girl has always been a fairy tale that fascinated me, and I’m not sure why.  Something weirdly creepy about the dead horse’s talking head, and the fact that the villain was killed by being dragged around naked in a barrel spiked with nails.  The story is just so bizarre.

Hale does an excellent job in the retelling, making all of the weirdest parts make sense, and creating a very understandable and lovable heroine out of Isi.  The friends that she makes are also wonderful and happy.  Still, the story retains a little bit of that dark side of the original story, although I’m not sure I can lay a finger on exactly why or how.  It’s an intense story that is woven together wonderfully.

Overall, a 4/5, and a recommended read for anyone who enjoys fairy tales.