Category Archives: Reviews

And Then I Read: THE MYSTERIOUS CIRCUS by Jane Langton

Cover art by Peter Malone

Jane Langton had a long and busy career as an author of novels for children and mystery novels for adults. In 1962 she began a series of fantasy novels called the Hall Family Chronicles with The Diamond in the Window. They take place at #40 Walden Street in Concord, Massachusetts, not far from where Langton actually lived. In each book some kind of magical device brings adventures to the Hall family: father Freddy, mother Alex, son Eddy and daughters Eleanor and Georgie. As the series went along, other friends joined them in the adventures. An Uncle Krishna in India is often the source of the magic items, and each book has one or more villains who plot to destroy the Hall family and the things they love, which include the natural wonders of their home area and the beloved work of Henry Thoreau. I read and enjoyed most of the seven Hall Family books as they came out, but recently learned there were two later ones I hadn’t read yet. This is the first of them, book six. Of course it would be best to start at the beginning, but each book stands on its own.

Uncle Krishna calls from India to say he is sending a cousin to visit them, one they’ve never met. When Andy arrives, the Halls learn he is obsessed with circuses. He wants to be in one, and he has some real magic powers that could make him a fine circus performer, if only he had a circus to join. Before long the Hall children and their friends have taken up his cause and are planning a circus of their own on a vacant lot nearby, where Andy magically sets up a circus tent and reveals the first of Uncle Krishna’s gifts, a real elephant.

While the children are enjoying learning to be circus performers, a lady named Matilda MacIntosh has very different plans for the wild Mill Brook Meadow across the street from the Hall house. She’s decided to make it into a Henry Thoreau theme park, complete with an animatronic Henry and a fake Walden Pond and cabin. She pushes her plan through the town council, despite the objections of Fred Hall, and soon bulldozers arrive to begin clearing the natural landscape to make way for the artificial one. Now the children have a new cause, and they rally to it, but what can even Andy’s magic do against bulldozers?

A fun read, though lightweight and rather predictable. The story arc of all the books in the series is about the same. Still, the characters are appealing and the magic is creative. Recommended summer reading.

Jane Langton on Wikipedia.

The first book in the series and this one:

And Then I Read: ASH & THORN #2

Written by Mariah McCourt, art by Soo Lee, colors by Pippa Bowland,
letters by Rob Steen, cover by Jill Thompson

This new series from Ahoy features a logo I designed. I read the first issue while I was doing that many months ago, too early to review it. Now the second issue has arrived, and it’s equally fun. It follows the Ahoy model of mixing humor and horror well.

Lottie Thorn, shown in action here, is meant to be the world’s new champion against montrous evil, though she has some issues with that. She’s older, cranky, and not sure she wants the job. Her teacher, magician Peruvia Ashlington-Voss wants to train Lottie to meet the challenges of her new role, but seems to be learning on the job too. When she tries to summon her mystical leaders, they have the phone off the hook, and only a small imp turns up to join them. The evil is real enough, not only a magical threat but a menacing corporate presence in the real world. It’s hard to imagine how Ash and Thorn can prevail against them, but then that’s the story, isn’t it?

I love the writing by Mariah McCourt. The art by Soo Lee is uneven at times, but the storytelling works fine. Mariah also supplies some tasty-looking recipes. I enjoyed reading this. Recommended.

The book on Comixology.

Rereading: HENRY REED’S JOURNEY by Keith Robertson

Henry Reed's Journey illustrated by Robert McCloskey.

I think this second book in the Henry Reed series was my favorite when I first read them as a child. It was just as funny and entertaining as the first one, but with added travel descriptions to places I’d never been that sounded interesting.

Henry’s second summer in America begins in San Francisco this time. His diplomat father has been transferred to Manila in the Phillippines, and Henry flew from there. Fortunately, his friend from New Jersey, Midge Glass and her parents are in San Francisco for her father’s business convention. Mr. and Mrs. Glass fill the same roles in this book as Henry’s aunt and uncle did in the first one. Mr. Glass has been convinced by Henry’s Uncle Al that Midge and Henry are chaos agents: trouble and commotion erupts wherever they are, even if they seem to be innocent. He’s right, it’s true. Some of the adventures they get into are: capturing a lost parakeet, witnessing an explosion in their hotel, and falling off a cable car. That’s in San Francisco before the journey really starts. On the way to Yosemite, Midge and Henry trigger a gold rush. In Los Angeles, a monkey gets locked in their car. In Disneyland, Midge falls into the river in the jungle ride. In Arizona, Midge and Henry become honorary members of the Hopi tribe and are featured in a parade. In the Grand Canyon, Midge seems to have fallen off the trail, and Henry causes trouble with a horned toad. Well, you get the idea.

Henry’s obsession this trip is finding and buying fireworks. I understood that completely as a kid. The only place I was ever able to buy them was in Canada on summer vacations. Now, home fireworks annoy me, but then I’m old! As you can imagine, fireworks are found and create a spectacular finale to the book.

Highly recommended summer reading.

My review of Henry Reed, Inc., the first book.

Keith Robertson on Wikipedia

And Then I Read: GREENSLEEVES by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Shannon Lightley is eighteen and completely confused about the direction she wants to go next. The daughter of a famous actress and a TV news reporter, she has been traveling around Europe for most of her childhood, after a few years in idyllic Oregon that she remembers fondly. She decided to finish high school there, but it all turned into a mess. The other kids shunned her, her aunt and uncle failed to understand her problems, and now she is set to fly back to Europe to be with her father, but she doesn’t want to go. Everyone in her family has plans and expectations for Shannon except herself. At the last minute she doesn’t get on the flight, and and turns to an old family friend, a lawyer she calls Uncle Frosty because of his white hair, and who has a practice in Portland, for help.

Uncle Frosty has an interesting job for her. He needs an undercover agent to investigate people named as beneficiaries in a will by an eccentric old lady, Mrs. Dunningham. The will is being contested by her daughter. Shannon jumps at the chance to become someone completely different for the summer. She has her red hair redone in a beehive and adopts the personality and mannerisms of the hairdresser, becoming Georgetta Smith. She rents the room that Mrs. Dunningham had lived in in a boarding house, and takes a waitress job at the local cafe, and is soon meeting all the people named in the will. Her job is to uncover any plot or scheme by those people to cajole or trick the elderly Mrs. Dunningham out of her money. As the summer progresses, she gets to know all the beneficiaries and comes to like them, making her job difficult and building her guilt at fooling them. Not everyone is fooled, but her cover is not blown. When she starts to fall in love with one of the beneficiaries, though, Shannon/Georgetta has some hard choices to make.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s books previous to this were all historical novels for young readers, many of which I’ve enjoyed. This was her first contemporary story, and has recently been reissued as an e-book. I liked the characters and the storyline as described here, which is about the first two thirds. Then it takes a turn away from the detective aspect and becomes a teen romance story, which I found less appealing. I enjoyed reading it, but would have preferred the author sticking to the original idea. Still, recommended.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw on Wikipedia.

Rereading: HENRY REED, INC. by Keith Robertson

Front cover of Henry Reed, Inc. art by Robert McCloskey.

I’m not sure if this was the first Keith Robertson book I read, but it was an early one, first published in 1958. I would have found it in my grade school library some time after spring 1960. I was probably already familiar with the illustrator, Robert McCloskey, even if I didn’t know it, as we had his picture book for young children, Make Way For Ducklings. His style is full of charm and humor, just right for this book, which is not unlike McCloskey’s own novels for children, Homer Price and Centerburg Tales, which I also enjoyed.

Henry Reed’s father is an American diplomat in Italy, where the family lives. In a series of journal entries we learn that Henry is spending the summer in the tiny community of Grover’s Corner, New Jersey (near Princeton) with his mother’s brother Uncle Al and Aunt Mabel, who live close to where Henry’s uncle and mother grew up. That family home is gone, but a large barn remains, which Henry is delighted to discover he owns, along with the property it’s on. Before long, Henry and his new friend Midge Glass as well as Henry’s beagle pet Agony, have opened a research center in the barn. Henry’s been asked by his teacher in Italy to engage in some free enterprise business on his vacation, and that’s how he decides to do it.

Henry and company seem to attract trouble and excitement like honey attracts bees, which Uncle Al says was also true of his mother. Midge offers to contribute a pair of tame rabbits to the pigeons and turtles Henry soon accumulates, but one of them escapes, and the kids and Agony spend the rest of the summer trying to catch Jedediah. Meanwhile, Agony also tangles with Siegfried, the cat of neighbor family The Apples. Mr. Apple has something odd going on in his back yard that the kids can’t figure out, but if they or their animals set foot in it, they’re in big trouble, which happens a lot.

Henry and Midge manage to make a surprising amount of money in various ways while chaos happens around them, or because of them, with adventures like Agony getting stuck in a pipe, Midge dousing successfully for oil, Henry finding a rare pot, and Jedediah jumping out of a mailbox into the face of the mailman. Their final adventure involves a hot air balloon carrying both Siegfried the cat and Agony the dog inadvertently into the sky. Several of these adventures end up in the local paper, entertaining Uncle Al, but Mr. Apple is not amused.

Not only is this a great read, as are all Keith Robertson’s many books, but it held a particular fascination for me because I lived not too far from Princeton, NJ when I read it, and had been there a few times. Henry Reed returned in several more books that I’ll be rereading this summer, and I think they all are easy to find online.

Recommended.

Robert McCloskey

Keith Robertson