Guest by Mary Downing Hahn


I read this purely because I had been dithering about whether or not to purchase it for school and then a student told me she bought it at the book fair and loved it.*

I think that while I probably didn’t love it as much as she did, I definitely enjoyed this. It reminded me a lot of how much I used to love old fairy tales (The Red Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book, etc.) when I was a kid. There is nothing cozy about this at all. The changeling that the fairies leave behind when they steal Mollie’s adorable brother is offensively homely. The dark wood sounds cold and damp and treacherous and filled with danger. And even when the villagers aren’t in the scary fairy land, I pictured a vaguely bleak existence. I mean, they live in a place where you have to constantly beware and can’t praise a baby for being bonny. So, if you’re prepared to feel gloomy darkness, try this story! Hahn really evokes a vivid picture of this place and the people in it. I found it to be a pretty quick read and just the right amount of spooky suspense and child bravery and trickstering for young readers.


*I saw that student today and told her I read the book and liked it and she was stunned that I read it in a day as she has been reading it literally since she bought it at the book fair two months ago and still isn’t done, despite it being a book that she loves. How can you enjoy reading a book so slowly??

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

This is not just lovely to read, but it’s also beautiful to look out. A handsome cover with lovely artwork and gilded letters, chapter headings decorated botanically, and both small and full page occasional illustrations. Plus it’s a retelling of a fairy tale (one I can never remember, so I made no comparisons at all while reading it.) It’s so lovely I bought it for Christmas last year for Tabby and me. And then we never read it. And it sat there accusingly. Until I said we must read it before this Christmas! And then Tabby got sick and I said “a-ha! What could be better than lying on the couch under the quilts while I read this aloud?” and indeed, it was a wonderful way to pass some time. We enjoyed this so, so much. If I was 10 or 11 I’d probably reread it many times, especially enjoying the physical quality of the book–exactly as I read my Tasha Tudor illustrated Frances Hodgson Burnett books.

Snow and Rose are beautiful sisters who have to move to a cottage in the woods with their mother after their father disappears. They aren’t afraid of the woods, but there’s definitely something there and it may or may not have to do with what happened to their father. The girls make friends with a boy who, improbably, lives underground! There’s some magical elements, some excitement, some weirdness, and a big bear.

We both loved this.

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

My mom passed this one on to me and it’s so the sort of thing I like I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. Time travel + fairy tale origins! I thought it had a bit of a slow start, but I got really caught up in it and couldn’t wait to see how it worked out. Ivan basically kisses a sleeping beauty  (defeating a bear to do so) and ends up saving her and in the year 950 (her time.) I loved the time travel aspect of this. As a linguistics scholar Ivan is fascinated by the history and the language of this ancient Russian place (which, as a scholar of the language, he happens to be one of the few modern people who can speak his Old Slavonic language.) He’s landed in a time that believes in and uses magic, thinks he is a weak sissy, and is embroiled in magic/political war with Baba Yaga. I’m familiar with Baba Yaga and her stories from library school studies and general children’s librarianship, though not super into her. Still, I really liked seeing how all of that tied together.  This was a unique take on these ancient stories, and somewhat wonderfully meta since Ivan himself is pondering the old stories and how they survive and change with modern times.

Lost in a Book by Jennifer Donnelly

The cover of this book is so enchanting–Belle, a swirly beautiful library, it’s very enticing. Plus Jennifer Donnelly is the author which immediately bumped this up in my esteem. I was pretty excited to read this as I’m a fan of Beauty and the Beast. I did slightly misunderstand the premise, though. I thought Belle would be dipping in and out of lots of magical books in the library. Actually it’s just one book and she is a pawn in a game between Love and Death, with Death tempting her in to a realm that she soon won’t be able to leave.
If you had never seen the movie Beauty and the Beast, no fear because the story (film version) is completely explained here. In addition to the enchanted Death book plot, the story mostly serves to fill in how Belle and Beast can grow to care for each other and become friends. Honestly, I found those bits a tad tiresome. What I really liked were details about castle life.
I’m only giving this 3 stars and not 4 and one of the reasons is that there were too many manufactured cliffhangers. “And then her eyes snapped open!” type things.

But overall, girls who enjoy magical adventures and who long for more detail of this charming film, will enjoy this. My favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling remains Beauty by Robin McKinley.

The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz

I wasn’t even sure if I’d read this one or not, and at times I thought “maybe I did read this?” because it is quite similar to the previous two books. It’s got the same wonderful style, gleeful delight in the gore of Grimm, and absolutely engaging storytelling. And then a wonderful meta-surprise that did indeed make this a wonderful conclusion to the other two books.
I would love to share these with my 4th grader, but honestly even though the gore and and violence is tempered by the humor, I think it may actually be too much for him. I thought this was funny, touching, and clever.
This final installment is about Jorinda and Joringel, whom I vaguely remember from the Andrew Lang fairy tale collections. It doesn’t matter what you remember about the original Grimm tale, though, because in the must-read afterward Gidwitz tells you that it was mostly their names that he liked and used.

Hero by Alethea Kontis

After a promising start to the new year of reading, according to Goodreads I’m already one book behind schedule! That’s because I was trying to read a book for review that I just didn’t enjoy and felt too guilty to read other books during that time. Given dispensation to stop reading it I was able to turn my attention to a book I was eager to get to-Hero, the sequel to Enchanted. (and btw, I’ll next be turning my attention to the YA reissues Paul bought me a subscription to-Me and Fat Glenda here I come!)

heroI really loved Enchanted and was excited to read the next story of a Woodcutter sister-this one is about Saturday, who is strong and tall and not blessed with magic of her own. Saturday’s big adventure begins when she accidentally uses magic to flood the land. Various things happen and she ends up in the tallest mountain in the world, locked inside it with a boy who’s been held there under a curse for years. This is where the heart of the story takes place and, unfortunately, I just couldn’t warm to it. It’s like I felt as claustrophobic as they might, living inside a mountain that smells of brimstone. It could be that I just couldn’t picture it as a living space or how they managed to stay alive? It could be that in the beginning I thought it was but one stop in a series of adventures but it turned out to be the whole adventure? Or maybe I didn’t really understand what they all needed to do to escape.  However, I did love the characters she was with-Peregrine (the cursed boy) and Betwixt, a chimera who could change form.  Like Enchanted it was well written and Saturday was a terrific strong character.  So much so, that I’m hoping the next story will be from her point of view, but I assume it will be from the view of another sister.  I really like how these books are all tying together so cleverly and look forward to more!

Twice Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

twiceIt’s been many, many years since I read Once Upon a Marigold.  At the time I loved that and thought it was hilarious, funny, clever, and charming.  I used to recommend it all the time to kids.  Imagine my surprise to find out (via a friend’s Goodreads updates) that not only was there a sequel, but also a third book!

Even though it had been so long since I read the first book, Ferris easily caught me up to date and I’d even say that you could read this without having read the first book and still thoroughly enjoy it.  Just like the first one it’s funny and clever, mixing in anachronisms and fairy tale bits.  I think if you liked The Princess Bride you would like this very much. I was especially tickled by the attempt of a wizard to explain a new type of joke called a knock-knock joke.  In this sequel Christian and Marigold have been married for one year, enjoying peace and romance and being King and Queen.  The evil mother had vanished at the end of the first book, but it turns out she’d washed ashore in a little town and had amnesia.  When her memory returns she returns to the castle and is determined to take over again.  Hijinx ensue as Chris and Marigold attempt to rid themselves of her once and for all, before she executes the king.

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

grimmlyI loved A Tale Dark & Grimm so much that I had to get this second book right away to read.  And everything I loved about the first book is present in this one! Funny asides to the reader, gruesome action, familiar faces and bits from various fairy tales, and so on. In general, I just really like the style this author has going on.

This story is all about Jack & Jill. And yes, Jack does go tumbling down and break his crown, and Jill goes tumbling after.  But who Jack & Jill are and how they end up on a quest is really nicely imagined and put together.  Their story is quite an epic adventure and includes goblins, scary mermaids, a beanstalk, and all sorts of things. There’s a talking frog from a well in this story, which would be the second time in just a few weeks I’ve read about that (first-Enchanted.) This was a wonderful adventure and I hope that we’ll be seeing more of these.

On an unrelated note, I’m not doing so great with my Hub Reading Challenge and am very concerned I won’t finish it.

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

grimm2I’m not sure where I recently heard about this book-a magazine? a library list? Whatever, it’s GREAT! I loved this so much and am dying to recommend it to someone, but who? I think all the kids I know are a wee bit too young for it. I imagine it would be wonderful to listen to, too, but it’s certainly too much for my five year old to be listening to in the car.

What particularly delighted me about this book were the frequent interjections by the author to the reader. Especially when he warns you that it’s about to get gross or sad or scary so young people should leave the room. All very funny. The story is the story of Hansel and Gretel, but not as you know it. Some of it you recognize, such as the candy house, but did you know they ran away from home because their parents cut their heads off? Sure, they came back to life, but it’s hard to feel safe at home when that has happened.

This is a great fairy tale with all kinds of ups and downs, frightening bits, gory bits (true to true Grimm fashion body parts get hacked off and people get boiled alive), and a wonderful ending. I really loved this and I believe he has another book that I will be getting as soon as I can.


Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

enchanted(Reading Challenge: BFYA)

I was completely enchanted by this book. hahaha. But seriously, I loved this. Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, so she is bound to be magical. They live in a world where fey abound and magical things happen. Basically they live in a fairy tale! There are fairy godmothers and enchanted nameday gifts and Sunday’s sisters are all named after the other days of the week. In the wood by an old well one day Sunday meets and enchanted frog. She and the frog fall in love and though she kisses him it does not turn him into a man. But of course he actually does and then must set about meeting Sunday in human form and having her fall in love with him that way. But alas, their families are all mixed up with bad history and curses.  What I loved so very much about this lovely story was that it was not a retelling of just one fairy tale. Instead there were bits of everything woven together-old woman and the shoe, princess and frog, Cinderella, Jack and the beanstalk, Rapunzel, and so on.

I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings and this was a very original take on it. I loved it!

I can tell from Goodreads that this is Woodcutter #1, letting me know that the author intends to make this a series or trilogy. You know I normally hate that, but in this case it’s ok. The story ended completely, was fully satisfying, but there are so many other characters (6 other sisters who’ve all clearly got their own stories) that it would be very easy and natural to tell each of their stories.  Sort of like how Marian Keyes’ books are about all these sisters in the same family. Except when they came out people didn’t announce ahead of time first book of a big named series. It was just she wrote a book. Then the next book you were reading you were like “hey! She just referred to a sister who seems to be the person I read a last book about.” and it was all very low key and cool. That would never happen nowadays.