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??

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

I wanted to start this post by saying “it’s been well established that Bronson Pinchot is my favorite audiobook reader” but I see it’s not well established at all here. I don’t have any entries for the books we’ve listened to, but I did find this 2014 end of year sentence: “We discovered The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. Bronson Pinchot (yes, Cousin Balkie!) is my new favorite audiobook reader. These books are looooong on audio (10 hours!) but so worth it. He is an amazing reader and the book is hilarious.” So, yes. He is an amazing reader and I was delighted that Paul found us another one of his books to listen to on our way home from Maine last week.  This was a wonderful story and I’m so glad we found it. I would never have picked it up off the shelf based on this cover:  Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley - Used (Acceptable) - 0525428437 by Penguin Young Readers Group | or this one  Circus Mirandus; Paperback; Author - Cassie Beasley  I think it just looks like circus hijinks.  I think this drawing is much more evocative of the magical mysterious lovely story within.Image result for circus mirandus

(By the way, that art is by Diana Sudyka, but I can’t identify where that art originally appears.) [Goodreads says fans of Big Fish, Peter Pan, and Roald Dahl will like this story and I agree with that.]
While I think that Cousin Balki could make any book sound great, I do think this was a great story. There is some back and forth in time so that we understand how the old man in present day, was once a little boy who found the magical and life changing Circus Mirandus, and how he extracted the promise of a future miracle from the Light Bender. In the present day that old man’s grandson is desperate to find the circus and have the promised miracle save his grandpa. Obviously everyone thinks that his grandfather’s stories of Circus Mirandus were just fairy tales, but Micah believes them and is determined to find it and meet the Light Bender.
Heartwarming, sweet, magical, this was a terrific story.


This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This was SO WONDERFUL. A nice heavy (really-I think it was printed on heavy paper) good long graphic novel. This is a super charming tale, that reminded me in many ways of the show Over the Garden Wall.  This was terrific blend of completely realistic and magical. And one of the charming things is how the magical stuff is accepted, even though it seems to be established at the start that the boys live in a regular world like we do.

The two boys, Ben and Nathaniel, really aren’t friends, but once were. And as so often happens one remains quirky and “weird” and the other now has a new group of friends who make fun of the first kid.

Ben and Nathaniel and other boys have made a pact to follow lanterns that their town puts in the river every year and see where they go. As the other boys drop off it ends up being just Ben and Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s persistently cheerful, “wow isn’t this exciting!” “Oh hey, a talking bear!” attitude is absolutely delightful. Ben, of course, finds it quite annoying.

This bike ride turns into a quest with all kinds of adventures and magical moments. I loved their bear friend. I loved the dialogue, too.

A total winner.

*I’m seeing a lot of comparison on Goodreads to Miyazaki films and I’d definitely agree with that. As a fan of those films, it makes sense that I liked this so much. Also thought it was interesting that I saw someone list as a negative the length of the book, but I thought it was a plus. I loved that there was a fair amount of text to read and the story was pretty long. I was immersed in it and sorry to see the journey end.

A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff

It was just coincidence that I read two Lisa Graff books within a couple of weeks.  And the two are totally different from each other (and from the previous book I’d read by her –The Thing About Georgie. I have to say I’m admiring the variety of stories she writes. They all have some nice messages and characterization, but packaged up differently each time.)
This one was right up my alley–magical, but real. Kind of like a Sarah Addison Allen novel for kids. The magic is well known and a part of life-most people have a Talent. What’s kind of fun is how bizarre some of them are. Things like “knowing the exact right cake to make for any occasion.” I loved the different Talents and how they weren’t all things like levitation and mind reading. The story takes place at a camp for children with Talents. The director is kind of shady and something is going on with the lake and the Talents. I liked how it was all tied in to a prologue (which, upon checking this on Goodreads I find out refers to a first novel that is a companion to this one.)
Very enjoyable.

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

I loved The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart and have been recommending it left and right at work. You can imagine my excitement then to just see this sequel on the shelf at the public library.  Unfortunately, while this was good, it didn’t match the first book in greatness. Maybe because it wasn’t about a dragon and thus didn’t have the funny bits about the dragon adjusting to humans and their ways? Also I happen to get very fed up with characters (this seems a pretty common plot in books and movies and tv) who make bad choices out of some kind of love but one of the bad choices is simply not flat out telling the family/loved ones that they are loved. Which makes no sense written out like that but it’s totally a thing in stories. And drives me nuts.  I also thought the ending wrapped up way too neatly.

The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag

The Hidden Witch (The Witch Boy #2) Sequel to Witch Boy. This was a good follow up and once again I thought it was so nice how, well nice, the two main characters were. I suppose some people might find it a bit too easy, but I didn’t. I liked it that Sedge–the bad cousin from the first book-opened up about his issues and got a resolution. I loved how kind Charlie (the non witch character) was and nice about making friends with the mysterious new girl.  And I liked how the main story that was left unfinished in Witch Boy was resolved in this sequel. I’d be happy to spend more time in this world Ostertag has created and get to know many more of the characters!

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 After-Room by Maile Meloy

afterroomI wasn’t expecting a follow up to The Apothecary and The Apprentices, so it was a real delight to see that there was this. Although I didn’t remember too much about Janie and Benjamin’s adventures in the last book, I remembered the important stuff-the avian elixir that allows them to become birds and that they are trying to stop the use of nuclear warfare. In this conclusion Janie and Benjamin meet someone new who also has unusual powers and wind up in Rome. Benjamin, who is grieving for his father, discovers that due to the powder they had drunk before he died are able to connect in an “after-room”-a sort of waiting area for the dead. Of course this has issues of its own, and added to that they are trying to assist Jin Lo, who is in China searching for a nuclear warhead.  I thought the focus on the afterlife and those who have died and our communications with them was a wonderful part of this story.  And, as I felt with the other two books, I really liked this whole concept and time period, which I think is a bit unusual in kids’ stories. A great conclusion to a unique story.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

thornsAn exciting faerie book that felt steeped in traditional elements of storytelling, especially fairy stories, but was sexy and exciting.  Feyre is so poor her family barely survives, yet she is the only one who does anything about it. She’s a hunter and that’s how they manage to live.  One day she shoots a wolf, but it was no ordinary wolf. Feyre is taken into the faerie world where she lives with Tamlin in a court where magic is changing and everyone has a mask fused to his face. It’s mysterious and she knows there is more going on that she is told. This felt very Beauty and the Beast like to me, but then there was much more to it. Political machinations, revenge, and of course a love story. I thought this was marvelous, vividly created, and can’t wait to read the sequel.

Hugo & Rose by Bridget Foley

hugoI found the premise of this book absolutely enchanting. Every single night since she was a little girl Rose has dreamed of the same place, a land where she has adventures with Hugo. Hugo and Rose meet together in their dreams every night and have grown up together. Now, even though Rose is a happily married adult, she still sees Hugo every night and has merry adventures.  Her husband and children know about Hugo, but her husband knows that Hugo is the man in her dreams, not of her dreams.  Then one day Rose sees Hugo in real life. I mean, how great is that premise? What will happen next? Will it affect her marriage? Does Hugo feel the same way about Rose? Can they tell people? It’s just such an interesting concept. And it really didn’t go in any way I thought it would from that point.  I found the ending sad, but couldn’t think of any better way for it to conclude (and it did make sense.)