Magical Doorway Reads

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Three book covers by Rick Riordan, Cassie Beasley and Wayne Thomas Batson with author Elizabeth Van Tassel

My reviews for MMGM, Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, under the Magical Gazebo this week include three books that all involve going through a portal or transition to a land beyond. They couldn’t be more different than one another but each has a distinctive experience in another land, powerful lessons they learn there, and key decision points that will change their lives forever.

The Magical Gazebo on Thorn & Vine blog with middle grade fantasy author Elizabeth Van Tassel.

Three book covers by Rick Riordan, Cassie Beasley and Wayne Thomas Batson with author Elizabeth Van TasselCircus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

A dying grandfather shares amazing stories of a circus with an invisible tiger, a flying birdwoman, and the magician called The Man Who Bends Light, stories that may in fact be real. Young Micah and his friend Jenny try and find the circus and collect a miracle which is still owed to his grandfather, before it’s too late. The kids are swept into are real-life story where parrots deliver messages, elephants are great at math, and feelings and magic are real. But can they make a new reality for his ailing grandfather?

Beasley is a master with words, and this lyrical novel is compelling and draws you along. I read it in two days (the audible version is wonderful too) and also felt like I’d round the corner and see a circus calling to me, her descriptions and the angst of finding a cure or miracle are so compelling. It is sad to see the grandfather’s health decline, but perhaps the sense of wonder and unexpected twists are worthwhile. And the path Micah makes to understanding himself and growing as a boy during all his trials is worth the ride. Great for elementary aged kids.

Magnus Chase – The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

This is the first in the series more concerned with Norse gods. Magnus Chase has been on the run for years, living under bridges or wherever he can in Boston. When he finds out someone is tracking him, an eccentric uncle, he runs but falls right into his hands. But his stories of a lost weapon and about Asgard, wolves, and end times with terrible creatures emerge as truth. All of Magnus’ dreams may actually be his reality. What will he be if he dies?

This book was packed with adventures and mythic, unbelievable, and sharp scenes. I loved that one of the main characters is deaf and portrayed in a believable way, great strong character with charm and fun. Magnus goes from being concerned just about himself to helping to save so many and I liked watching his character grow in this way. The scenes in other lands are amazing, wonderful settings like in Percy Jackson. His situation is very dire, though, so I’d personally recommend this for older middle graders rather than the younger set. Perhaps for those who’ve grown up through Percy Jackson and are ready for more adventures of a new kind. The humor is a bit in your face, but that’s the character too. You’ll have a strong reaction to this action-adventure, one way or another!

The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

Aiden Thomas has just moved and lost a lot, and is often stuck caring for an ailing grandfather. In his basement, he discovers three ancient scrolls and comes to see that the amazing adventures and battles described in them are not only real – they’re issuing an invitation for him to join the characters in another land. Aiden believes in the story, and joins the battle in this medieval world filled with dragons, knights, and castles. He wonders how a normal kid could add anything to such a situation with high stakes, the welfare of three kingdoms and two worlds. It’s his personal journey to seeing his own strengths that was also a wonder to watch as he transforms into the twelfth knight.

It is rare as a parent that you find a book to teach your sons about chivalry and have a sampling of King Arthur or something gallant in a contemporary fantasy work. There are gentle wisps of faith and a higher hope throughout which are also encouraging. I highly recommend this for young and older middle grade readers.


­­­­Middle Grade author and gemologist Elizabeth Van Tassel with quartz gems.

Elizabeth Van Tassel writes compelling middle-grade fantasy. She brings her knowledge and expertise in the field of gemology to the page and infuses her love of folklore into modern adventures filled with mystery. A wildfire survivor, Elizabeth also understands the both power of loss and the power of hope. And she’s always on the hunt for a great story. Elizabeth currently resides in the Bay Area with her husband and two sons. She can be found wandering the gardens of Filoli House, enjoying her favorite coffee shops, and engaging with other writers.

You can find MMGM (Marvelous Middle Grade Monday) reviews from other authors, originally created by Shannon Messenger, and continued by author Greg Pattridge HERE.


13 Responses to "Magical Doorway Reads"
  1. Janet Smart says:

    thanks for your reviews. These sound like stories fantasy-loving kids would really like.

  2. Janet Smart says:

    I lost my internet connection while posting a while ago, so I’m re-posting in case it didn’t get through. Thanks for the reviews. They sound like stories that fantasy-loving kids would like.

  3. Three very different books, two involving aging grandfathers. All three sound like fantasy books the readers will have fun with. Riordan is especially popular. Thanks for sharing.

    • evantassel says:

      Thanks Patricia. You are right, two involve aging grandfathers and have a very poignant way of having grand moments with them. I hadn’t connected that till you pointed it out here. We just lost one of our grandfathers but my son found the Door Within very good and perhaps it’s a way of celebrating gallantry and fun with someone you have loved. He hasn’t read the Circus Maximus yet but I loved it – had some kleenex nearby but it was glorious too.

  4. My boys and I have read and enjoyed the first two books you mention, but we hadn’t heard of The Door Within. We’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the review!

    • evantassel says:

      Thanks Beth, my son loved it and has already read the others in the series. I’m trying to catch up! Wayne Thomas Batson is a middle grade teacher I wish I’d had – his whole room is decorated like a castle and he’s so fun. I got to meet him at a fantasy writers conference last year and really enjoyed it. You may already know his YA writing, which is extensive too and includes The Curse of the Spider King.

  5. The only one I’ve read is Magnus Chase but have added the others to my future read list. Enticing stories for young and old. Thanks for featuring these today.

  6. Glad you liked the Rick Riordan book. I haven’t read a book by him in years. Maybe I’ll read this one and tell my daughter about it too. Thanks.

    • evantassel says:

      It’s quite different from Percy Jackson, so I’d sample the first couple of chapters on line – but the adventure is good!

  7. All three sound pretty interesting. Thanks for the post.

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