Category Archives: Reviews

Rereading: OCTAGON MAGIC by Andre Norton

While best remembered for her science fiction novels for young readers, Andre Norton wrote all kinds of books, including fantasies like this one. The octagonal house featured was a popular if unusual style in the nineteenth century, and it seems likely Norton based hers on a real one.

Lorrie Mallard’s parents are dead, and the grandmother she loves and has been living with had to go to England to help another family member, so Lorrie has been parked with an aunt she doesn’t like so well and sent to a school where the other children make fun of her and tease her. Her walk to school takes her past an intriguing octagonal house, and Lorrie meets the inhabitants one day after rescuing their black kitten, Sabina. The cook and housekeeper, Hallie welcomes her, and takes her to meet the house’s elderly owner and other inhabitant, Miss Ashmeade, who seems to have sprung from a past century, like her house. Miss Ashmeade is unable to walk well, and keeps busy doing needlework, which she soon begins teaching Lorrie. She sends gracious notes home to Lorrie’s aunt, who then allows her to visit regularly. While in Octagon House, Lorrie has magical adventures sparked by a dollhouse replica of the place and a rocking horse that sends her back in time to meet some of the past inhabitants, and take part in their troubles and trials, which often involve helping the poor and unfortunate find safety. Back with her aunt, Lorrie learns a new highway is planned that will require the destruction of Octagon House. What can she possibly do to stop it?

I liked this book when I first read it as a teenager. I still do, though now the plot seems more predictable. Still a good read and recommended.

Octagon Magic by Andre Norton

Rereading: THE GHOST OF FOLLONSBEE’S FOLLY by Florence Hightower

Florence Hightower’s novels for children are all mysteries of one sort or another, and this is a good one. It has some elements and character descriptions that might be considered politically incorrect today, but for 1958 it was progressive and sensitive. There is one very large coincidence in the plot, but it doesn’t harm the story.

Mr. Stackpole always wanted to live in the country, and he’s moved his reluctant family to an old, run-down rural New England home to fulfill that desire. Mrs. Stackpole is always supportive, his children Tom, Elsie, and the infant twins Richard and Paul, are less enthused, and their African-American cook Angela Gittens is already thinking of quitting. The house, nicknamed Follonsbee’s Folly after the original owner, needs lots of work, more and more as they look further into it, but Mr. Stackpole remains optomistic, even though his funds are shrinking. For Tom, the best part is the large yard and the woods beyond it running along a river. Tom finds a rowboat that seems in good enough shape to use, but also finds someone camping there who feels the boat belongs to him. Joe is a drifter who’s settled for the summer in this previously abandoned section of woods, and he’s been restoring the boat. Joe and Tom become friends, and finish the boat together, thereafter using it to explore the river.

Meanwhile, strange noises are being heard at the house, and Angela and Elsie are sure it’s haunted. Elsie begins investigating, and turns up surprising information about the Follonsbee family that makes her think there’s more to the house than they’ve yet found. Meanwhile, the conniving real estate agent who sold them the house has plans for a large housing development right next to them that will destroy the woods Tom and Joe are in love with. When a massive rainstorm hits and the river begins to flood, everyone is in danger, and secrets are revealed.

An exciting read and a fine mystery. Recommended.

The Ghost of Follonsbees Folly by Florence Hightower


With this seventh title in the Freddy the Pig series by Walter R. Brooks, the titles settled into the final pattern of always beginning with the word Freddy, and he and his best friend Jinx the Cat are usually front and center in each adventure.

When Freddy and Jinx visit Freddy’s cousin Ernest at a nearby farm, they meet his son, young Weedly, who is very shy and timid, but Weedly and Jinx take a shine to each other, and Jinx agrees to take the young pig back to the Bean Farm, where they live, vowing to strengthen his character. Continuing from the previous book, Freddy the Politician, the Beans are away in Europe, and the animals have taken on all the farm work themselves, but suddenly a new problem arises. Mr. Bean’s Aunt Effie and her husband have arrived for a visit. Not discouraged by the closed up house, they’ve found a way in and are planning to stay for a while. Effie has a quest, she wants to find the silver teapot given to Mr. Bean by a deceased relative they share, which Effie believes should be rightfully hers. She won’t go home until she’s found it. Further, she and her husband don’t believe the stories they’ve heard about the farm’s capable talking animals, or that they even talk, and decide to take up running the farm themselves.

Meanwhile, Jinx has a plan to help Weedly gain some courage. He goes around to all his animal friends on the farm to tell them about it, and later, when Weedly is introduced around, everyone seems quite afraid of him. That does perk up the young pig, but perhaps too much!

Great fun. This in one of the few Freddy books I could never find, and I only read it when it was republished in 2002 by the Overlook Press, who produced beautiful hardcover facsimiles of the series. All the Freddy books can be read separately, but this one continues right on from the previous book in many ways. Recommended.

Freddy’s Cousin Weedly by Walter R Brooks

Rereading: THE LAST BOOK OF WONDER by Lord Dunsany

Illustrations by Sidney H. Sime

Published in 1916, when Dunsany was serving in World War One (as told in his brief preface), the author seemed to be turning away from the fantasy stories of his earlier books, while at the same time remembering them fondly. Many of the stories have a mundane real-world setting with a single fantasy or horror element, like “Thirteen At Table,” which is a very English ghost story involving fox-hunting. There are a few stories with the old otherworldly flair, as seen in the illustration above by Sime, though the gods of Pegana are absent. The longest story by far is “A Tale of Land and Sea,” which returns to the pirate Captain Shard from an earlier book, this time in the seas of our world. He is pursued by the navies of several nations, and seems to fall into a trap in the Mediterranean Sea, but then unveils his plan to turn his pirate vessel into an actual ship of the desert. Clever and fun. This book is worth reading, but not quite as magical as Dunsany’s earlier short story collections. Still recommended.

The Last Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

Rereading: TIME AT THE TOP and ALL IN GOOD TIME by Edward Ormondroyd

Illustration from Time At The Top by Peggie Bach

I’m a fan of time-travel stories, always have been, and these connected books are entertaining ones. Susan Shaw lives with her father in an old apartment building in New York City. She’s having a very bad day when she meets an elderly lady on the street and rescues the lady’s hat. The woman mutters something odd as a thank you, “I’ll give you three.” Susan has no idea what this means, but soon finds out. Back home, she decides to get away from her problems by going up to the roof of the apartment. She enters the ancient, sluggish elevator and pushes the button for the top floor, the seventh. Something odd happens, and the elevator opens instead into the hallway of a very different place: a large Victorian home in a rural neighborhood in 1881. Susan soon meets a girl her own age who lives there, Vicky, and before long she’s drawn into a plot to try to save Vicky’s mother from a suitor who Vicky is sure is only after her mother’s money. Susan manages to adjust to the startling changes in her situation, and is soon using her acting ability to help Vicky and her brother Bobbie get rid of the slimy fortune hunter, Mr. Sweeney, by convincing him they’re penniless. Then they all discover that Vicky’s mother has lost her money for real, and the family must soon move away. All seems lost until Susan has an idea, but it will require her to return to her own time and place on the elevator. Will that use up the last two rides?

The second book continues the story with a much more complicated situation, in which Susan’s father travels back with her to 1881 on the elevator, and they are both hard pressed to save Vicky’s family from both the persistent treasure hunter and a truly awful relative, who’s arrive to take charge. Even the fortune they’ve found may not be enough to help.

I enjoyed rereading these, though the first book is better, the second gets overly tricky and complex. Still, both are recommended.

Time At The Top by Edward Ormondroyd

All In Good Time by Edward Ormondroyd